Friday, April 27, 2018

since when can weathermen predict the weather?


see a lot of movies by myself. Hell, I see most movies that I see by myself. There is often overlap with my ex-wife's viewing habits where we can have conversations about certain movies, but mostly, it's me, and, well...







An audience that cannot--at least in any particularly meaningful fashion--talk back. So, it's just me and the screen, usually my iPad, that has been a fixture of this blog since before I even had a smartphone or a fire stick or a moviepass. Sometimes, rare times, I want more. Like after I saw I Feel Pretty a few days ago, or after Infinity War just this afternoon. I want to walk out of the theater talking about what we just saw, start digesting it at least in a shallow way as it settles.

I had a few ideas recently about new ways of doing all this, reacting to, responding to, conversing with all the various movies I put into my head. I've even made some steps toward one of them, and I had this feeling like that lead-up week to Day 1 of this very blog. I've told this story before, but I can't recall when. I could wake up my smartphone and do a search, and I'd probably find it, but you know what's fun. Telling stories time and time again, no matter their detail, no matter their depth, no matter their meaning. Like watching movies on repeat.

I went to a screening of Groundhog Day in Old Town Pasadena. An outdoor screening, projected up onto the wall at One Colorado. My son's with me. And, between the time that screening started and the time it ended my life had changed. Somewhere in there I was reminded of Lawrence, Julie & Julia Project and I was feeling listless (though grad school was about to get started). I went home, I secured, I set up a Twitter account and a Facebook page (neither of which will I link now because I don't use them anymore; I just use my personal Twitter and Facebook.

(I checked on the availability of another URL this past week. It was available.)

A week later, August 2nd (which in retrospect was a day off because if I chickened out on doing a year, the six months done would have actually happened the day before that titular holiday), I sat down at my computer, the movie playing on my iPad... Or was it the other way around? The moment of it in terms of what's come after is different than the moment at the time. I remember starting--and I don't want to check the actual wording--with something about how I never wrote a review of Groundhog Day. No. It was something like, I don't think I've ever written a review, yada yada yada. I knew damn well I hadn't written one. I only reviewed new movies at my other, entirely irregular blog. But, I was jumping into a sea I was not entirely prepared for and I was protecting myself with... What is that? It's not self-deprecation. But, there's an armor in the casualness of that wording.

And, now I break down and double check the exact wording, because obsession is my middle name.

"I've never written a review of Groundhog Day, as far as I know."

Such simplistic bullshit. While implying something bigger. Like there's this possibility that I've written so many reviews that I have no idea what I have or have not written. I was already inventing a persona for myself. I just didn't... I was going to say that I didn't realize it. But, I think I realized what I was doing, I just might not yet have had a full grasp of what it meant. I would end up writing my master's thesis about the construction of self on the Internet, so, there was more to discover, or at least to label. I had certainly been playing on the internet for a while at that point. I first made my website--still hosted in the exact same location--in April 1999. I was relatively new to the Internet then but I had been online before. Message boards. BBSs (or however you pluralize BBS). Hell, my first experience talking to other people via modem was in the late 80s, just a few years after Back to the Future--which is playing right now, even though I don't think I have anything else to say about it that hasn't already been said in all of the ranting I've done for 1364 previous blog entries about so many other movies.

I did have a thought today, though, about what movies meant to me when I was a kid. About, maybe, some key I might subconsciously have been looking for this past year, delving back into movies that were on repeat during my childhood. I've said before that I grew up thinking I didn't have a future. Literally. End of the world literally. The thing that I thought of today--and this relates to the ending of Infinity War but I don't think I will bother SPOILING it here--was that what movies offered, especially when they were available on repeat, was an infinity in the moment. Like maybe this is what captivated me in Groundhog Day in all those resumptions and repeats during the first year of this blog and (just slightly more than) every month since. If a movie ends on a down note and that down note doesn't sit right with you, you can start it over, and everyone who died is alive again. Everything that has been discovered can be found new again. Everything that has been destroyed is intact again. And, the end of the world, mortality--these things don't mean anything. Which is a weird thought considering that the end of the world and mortality are themes found in so many movies. Even Back to the Future deals in the possibility of erasure. Not death, but erasure. A comforting thought, I suppose in some of my more depressed moments. But--and maybe this is because the spring semester is nearing its end, or maybe it's because I've been fantasizing about (planning for?) new ventures--something far away from my thoughts right now. My identity can be boiled down to a handful of things if I need to simplify. Blogger is a big one. But, blogging is just one way to interact with film. I think I want to try some others.


So, nevermind determinism or predestination, or challenges to the same. Nevermind time travel. Nevermind Back to the Future and the specifics of what I might have gotten out of it as a child. I've said many times in this blog that movies are not just about escape. A better word might be vacation. The point to a movie is not the movie itself for me but what comes after. How does this movie affect my understanding of the world, of myself? What does the world look like when I come out of that theater? How has it changed? How have I?

Deconstructing my childhood experience with movies on repeat always left gaps for the movies that weren't on repeat. Some of those had bigger impacts in the long run. But they didn't fit this particular narrative. I imagine watching every movie that I've ever seen all over again, picking each one apart, figuring out just how I became this person I am today, sitting here on the floor, typing away on my wireless keyboard.

I want to complain about how the white pages list Doc Brown as Brown Emmet L scientist and his address is on the next line and there are (almost) no other entries like that. Which makes it a bit obvious. The other visible two line entry is Brundage Vernon E and I wonder if that's the guy who made this phone book mockup, and who is at fault for an all too thick phone book for what it supposed to still be a rather small town in 1955. There are too many Browns (hell far too many Browns with first names starting with E), and far too many Brundages. But, that's not where I am today...

I say after kind of doing just that.

Because manipulating me for the reader is quite fun.


So, the matter becomes a question of where I go from here. Two years ago today I ended this blog. Day 1000. I turned in my master's thesis that day as well. A year ago tomorrow--Day 1001--I picked up where I left off, same film, same thought. I drifted through a few months before settling into Phase Four, this childhood deconstruction. My "movie life" list began with Blackbeard's Ghost from 1968. It's 1985 now. I'm nine years old. I've already got plenty of movies in my head. There are many more to come.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

if grandpa hadn’t hit him, then none of you would have been born

I never really got around to talking about destiny yesterday.

Probably because I really didn't want to. There is a bit of a deterministic streak to Back to the Future, and I've written about stuff like that before in this blog. How what we call "free will" is just a long series of tiny events leading to all the inevitable decisions you will make and actions you will take. It's both entirely plausible and entirely pointless at the same time.

At the moment, I'm more interested in a couple details from the end of the film that have little to do with time travel.

1) who parked Marty's truck in the garage at that weird angle? It's impractical, and actually would have been fairly difficult. But, it shows off the truck real nice, so I guess it's good for the product placement.

2) And this is interesting because I have got to wonder if the placement is deliberate. So, the Libyans drive a blue and white VW bus. When Marty gets away in the DeLorean, they crash into a Fox Photo booth.

They probably are not dead. But, Doc Brown drives Marty home and then heads into the future, so he's not around for them to find. Except for this: how did they find him the first time? Did they follow Marty from Doc's place? Or had they already linked Marty to Doc and they had been staking out the McFly residence? If they had been staking out the McFly residence, then the other VW Bus might be a little suspicious. Especially, since it appears out of nowhere.

HBO NOW won't let me do screencaps or I'd show you. [But YouTube would.] When Doc drops Marty off at home, there's a blue truck (and I think it's a sort of old fashioned truck, too--maybe a nod to the 1955 portion of the film--but I don't know what make and model it is) parked across the street. There's a car parked on the McFly side of the street.

And, the next driveway down has a striped van in it. When Doc arrives the next morning to pick Marty up, that blue truck is still across the street. As Doc initially talks to Marty and then grabs trash for Mr. Fusion, there seems to be the same car as the night before parked on the McFly side of the street. The striped Van is gone, but it's like 10:30 in the morning on a Saturday; maybe they had somewhere to go. But, now that it's light out, we can see that in a driveway across the street there is a blue van. Then things change.

The wide shot of the street, DeLorean backing out of the McFly's driveway, shows that parked in front of that car on their side of the street is a yellow VW Bus. (Also, in this shot, we can see the blue truck and the blue van, and it's like someone accidentally deconstructed the blue VW Bus from the night before.) And, I find myself wondering if there are armed Libyans in that Bus. And, now Marty is flying off into the future with Doc Brown and those Libyans are going to take the McFlys hostage while (though that "while" is debatable) Marty is off getting a hoverboard and fancy shoes.

So, I find myself trying to recall the order of events of the sequels--especially Part II--rather than paying much attention to the original playing on my TV. First thing's first, I find Part II on HBO NOW and start it playing on my phone, see the reenactment of the end of the original with Jennifer recast. Because they seem to have cut original shots in with the new ones, it's fairly seemless.

But, as I'm obsessing about background vehicles right now, I notice a red pickup truck in a driveway across the street that wasn't there before, and I wonder what kind of time travel incident altered Jennifer's face and put that pickup there but doesn't seem to have changed much else... Except maybe it did change a lot else. Like maybe just down the street, past those Lyon Estates signs, there is a zombie apocalypse going on. Also, there is a VW Bus parked at the curb, and already visible as Doc comes over to talk to Marty. But, it's not yellow. It's green.

It also seems to switch which property it is parked in front of from shot to shot.

But, that just makes me think that it is the Libyans, and they've seen Doc arrive, and they backed up to figure out how they're going to approach him this time. They did see him die last night--or so they think.

The blue van is briefly replaced by a blue car.

The van is yellow again for the wide shot, because they're just reusing the original footage. And, the added bit with Biff running out to show Marty the new matchbooks for his detailing company is weird, because Biff's truck is gone from the driveway, was already gone from the driveway in the original sequence, and I thought he left after the arrival of George's books. But, they've got to set up Biff's plot-driving role for this more convoluted mid-trilogy film. This also allows for some dodgy CGI as the DeLorean lifts off the ground, and that red truck has been replaced by a camper, because the background vehicles are both random (and maybe just the locals' vehicles) and (maybe) deliberate.

Anyway, after Doc knocks out Jennifer for some reason, she eventually faints when she comes face to face with her 2015 self. She is unconscious when they return to 1985. This 1985, they will figure out later, is different from the one they left because Biff has done his almanac thing that is basically the main plot of this one. I remember some talk about how the repaired timeline would reshape itself around Jennifer, but the transition from Part II to Part III has nothing to do with 1985, so we won't get back to Jennifer again until the end of the trilogy. At the end of Part III, Marty returns to 1985 (the repaired version) and Jennifer is still on the porch where they left her. She remembers the visit to 2015.

My question here is this: in this version of 1985, Doc still got the plutonium from the Libyans, right? So, after Doc flies away on his train with Clara and their kids, does Marty go home to find Libyan terrorists have taken over the house and are holding his family (and maybe Biff) hostage? Where is that movie? And, why does Doc get to say damn the consequences and Marty's going to end up dead in an violent interactions with Libyan terrorists?

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

my density has popped me to you

I like to find in-universe reasons for things even if practical behind-the-scenes reasons explain stuff. That's a given. One that caught my attention watching Back to the Future yesterday was Doc Brown's photos of scientists. In 1955, he has four of them on his mantel--Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, and Albert Einstein. So, it took the second viewing in as many days to notice that in the opening tracking shot, there are just three of these photos hanging by Doc's bed in his 1985 abode--the garage of his old house (which burned down and then he sold off the property--

and which exists (the filming location anyway) next to a Burger King that is still there--and I forgot about heading there after work to get a photo... His 1955 house exterior--the Gamble House--still exists not too far from here as well, but I didn't get over there either. I would love it if I had time to get to every nearby location--and living in LA, there are a lot, for many a film--but, alas, there are often other errands to be run, other tasks to be done.

And yet, for some reason, I've been thinking of new things to do beyond this blog again, lately. Because, I operate under the illusion--or maybe it's my reality; I don't really know--that I thrive when I've got too much going on. I also tend toward downward spirals into depression, but maybe that and thriving are the same thing sometimes. Anyway, more on that another day. I actually had a specific thing to talk about today...)

--per the newspaper headline that Doc has framed for some reason.)--and the one that is missing is Isaac Newton. Here:



Newton is missing, and I want to know why. Or I want to imagine why. Because a film that deals so much in predestination and course correction and all the usual time travel tropes feels like something where every little detail should mean something. To be fair, certain details, like Mayor Goldie Wilson, and potential ex-mayor, homeless guy Red, have nothing to do with the plot. They are just dressing to draw attention to time period differences. Strickland and his lack of hair--it's funny, because we laugh at baldness, because we're assholes, but it really doesn't matter to the story. Remove him from the film and the story still plays. It doesn't really tell us anymore about Marty that he gets caught when he's late for school thats it does that he is regularly late for school. But, I talked about the lack of a real character arc, or serious characterization outside of reacting to the situation, for Marty yesterday. (But, it's worth noting, especially if you follow Cinema Sins videos, that being late as a character beat is overdone and mostly pointless.)

And, is it wrong that I wish that the twelve wooden crates filled with cocaine that washed ashore in Boca Raton (the other news story in the opening shot) tied into the plot like the stolen plutonium? Or, does it? Is that why Doc seems so wired? He's doing nothing but cocaine and research.

Another Sidenote: I only realized this week rewatching this movie that the "Hill Valley Preservation Society" doesn't want to fix the clock tower. For three decades plus I've thought that old lady was taking donations to fix the clock, but she specifically says the mayor wants to fix it but the preservation society wants it to stay just how it is.

Also, the age makeup for George and Lorraine and Biff feels a decade too old. They are in their late 40s, but look older.

But, what I really wanted to talk about today was destiny. Or at least what Back to the Future has to tell us about destiny.

But then, the Doc distracts me, because leaving Einstein sitting outside the truck, but not (apparently) to signal Marty's arrival--Einstein doesn't make a sound--is weird.

And the double meaning of "You disintegrated Einstein" is kind of clever.

But destiny--

Or Newton. I'm looking up Newton to suggest a specific reason that Newton is the picture Doc has either misplaced (or at least separated from the other three). And I find myself reading something about optics and I get sidetracked thinking about Annihilation for reasons beyond this blog.

Also, Marty is not good at time travel. You do not announce that you've seen a tv show in a rerun (even though reruns did exist at the time). You just laugh along and act natural, damn it. And, knowing at this point that you're in 1955, you don't claim that a street is John F Kennedy Dr. Just accept that it's Maple and move on. Lorraine's father is correct in calling Marty an idiot.

But, destiny... Does Marty really affect the timeline? Does Doc? Or were George and Lorraine always going to get together, and the details just came down to how happy they might be?






Doc's confusion at Marty's use of "heavy" is also silly. Obviously, slang changes. If I meet a time traveler and every other word is "station" I might ask what it means, but I won't assume it means what I think it means. You know?

But, destiny...

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

he was a slacker, too

The opening shot of Back to the Future is almost perfect. All those clocks, the slow pan. That one clock that foreshadows the climax of the film. All of Doc Brown's morning routine--the radio and the clock, really?--and the automated machinery. Plus The plutonium is set up and gets a mini-pay off already with the end of that tracking shot.

The opening scene, if you move into the next bit, with the giant amp and Marty's particular style of "rock and roll", also sets up both a defining characteristic of Marty McFly--he tends toward too much--and a particular problem in what is often considered to be a flawless film. Seriously, people study this screenplay as an ideal example of screenwriting. (Nevermind, of course, the multiple drafts it took to get to the final product.) And it is fantastic in terms of structure, in terms of setup and payoff. Every scene serves a purpose. Characters and events all interact just so. But--and I've written a bit about this, for example, in connection with Star Wars Rogue One--some people like more of a character arc than Marty gets. Take one aspect of who he is--his music--the opening scene tells us what we need to know. he takes his music too far. In that first scene, it explodes the amp and knocks Marty across a room.

At the school audition, he and the Pinheads are "just too darn loud" and Marty laments, "We'll never get a chance to play in front of anybody." Jennifer tells him that "one rejection isn't the end of the world." We, of course, know nothing about his music other than what we just saw. He isn't untalented, but you gotta know your audience. "I just don't think I'm cut out for music," he says. Jennifer replies--and we have to trust her: "But you're really good, and your audition tape is great. You've got to send it in to the record company." That last line is just vague enough as to be both supportive and useless. The record company, as if there is only one. She adds a line that is a little strange--"It's like Doc's always saying... If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything." Except we never hear Doc say it (we do hear George say it in the new present at the end of the film, but he heard it from Marty) and it took Doc 30 years to accomplish his latest anything. And it took George those same thirty years to get his first novel published. I don't think Marty wants to wait that long. (Also--and I didn't want to bring the sequels into this just yet--Marty will not manage to make a living as a musician.) Marty offers up a line that George will echo in 1955 later: "What if I send in the tape and they don't like it? What if they say I'm no good? What if they say, 'You've got no future'? I can't take that kind of rejection." (Then, quite aptly, Marty adds, "I'm starting to sound like my old man.")

An aside: in the middle of that conversation, we get another bit of Marty's personality, although there is no payoff to this one. He checks out two girls who walk by in workout clothes. And Jennifer notices, but does very little about it. But, maybe she knows that Marty is too much of a coward to chase after someone else. Except, he's not really a coward to fear rejection. The coward thing--the chicken thing--that doesn't really become a thing until the second film, and then too much of a thing (like when "Bazinga" became a thing in the second season of Big Bang Theory and they wrote it like that was something Sheldon has always said). Marty is not afraid of being called "chicken", he's afraid of being nothing, and quite thematically appropriately, of being told he has no future. (That is something it seems Principal Strickland tells him all the time, but teenagers don't listen to teachers or principals, so that's probably in one ear and out the other.)

It isn't that Marty doesn't have musical talent/skill. He plays just fine when he's with the Starlighters (not to be confused with Starfighters), but even there, when he's given the chance to do his own thing, he takes it too far, has everyone in the room staring at him like's the alien he pretended to be a few nights earlier in his father's bedroom. The scene is funny. But it also demonstrates that Marty really hasn't learned anything about himself. He already had that line about sounding like his old man, even before he went back in time and learned that George was creative. That he maybe got his wandering eyes--which literally have no impact on any part of the story so don't feel all that important--from his mother doesn't mean much. So, what has Marty learned?

For that matter, who is Marty McFly? Who was he when the movie began and has he changed? At all.

At best, he had his fantasy of playing in front of an audience fulfilled and maybe that would give him the confidence to work toward it in the present. (There is actually a possible clue that this is the case, retroactively--like his father's confidence helped him be more confident, but that timeline just hasn't caught up to Marty yet, and maybe won't. Going by the second film, we can see that the timeline adjusts around Marty, not through him. He is still the same person he was before (but a week older).) That clue: Marty emerges from his bedroom in the new present with a padded envelope in hand, maybe it’s that audition tape, ready to be sent, and maybe he’s wondering who put it in an envelope because he surely didn’t.

Monday, April 23, 2018

i’m going to be around to see 1985

Movies blend together sometimes. That's the life of a person like me, watching movies all the time for decades. Marty talks about how great that 4x4 is and wants to take it up to the lake, and I'm thinking of the 4x4 from the opening sequence of The Goonies and the lake trips from The Last Starfighter.






And, I realize there might be very little to actually say about Back to the Future. I almost watched the trilogy a few years ago in time for the 30th anniversary, but opted not to because of this very problem.

One thing, though: when Doc first drives the DeLorean out of his truck and gets out, there's smoke inside of both. And, some weird tube thing attached to Doc's hand--

--and I think we can assume Doc has been sitting in that truck smoking something special (like the band later in the movie) while he waits for Marty's arrival and his own potential demise. It ain't just head injuries that put DeLorean time machines in your mind.






And, I found a flaw. Lorraine's dad sets up a tv on a moving stand so they can "watch Jackie Gleason while we eat" as if it's just the moving bit that is new, but a moment later Lorraine tells Marty, "Our first television set. Dad just picked it up today."






And, back to movies blending together. Marty steals that kid's scooter like Brand stole that other kid's bicycle.






And, I'm just sitting here, enjoying the movie and reading about the Westermarck Effect and theorizing how it actually makes sense that Lorraine would be attracted to Marty under the circumstances.

And thinking a bit about the future.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

keep going this far down, we’ll reach china

I was raised white. Let me just be honest about that. Born in the 70s, much of my formative development happened during the Reagan 80s and I can't change that. I can't change who I am in that regard, no matter what I do. I saw a lot of movies with hypermasculine heroes killing a lot of foreigners. I saw a lot of random women bare their breasts for a paycheck because the Internet hadn't been invented yet and that kind of thing wasn't available for free. (Weirdly, the new thing these days, in the... Twenty tens? Is showing a penis in your film because that's subversive or something. But, penises are available for free on the Internet, too, so it is a bit... Deliberate, I suppose. All those years exploiting all those young women, I supposed it's fair play that male actors have to show their penises whether they like it or not. Because fuck men, especially white men. They've had the power for far too long.

Like One-Eyed Willy. I mean, who does he think he is? He's got all that treasure. Somehow, he attracts the ire of the British king--even though the Spanish would have been more likely to get involved on the western American coast in 1632--and he gets him and his men trapped in a cave outside Astoria. (Except Astoria didn't exist yet. Wouldn't exist for another century and a half.) And, you not only remain there as your men repair the ship, but you have them also set traps for a bunch of adolescents even farther into the future than the town of Astoria, because that is what a pirate does. And, one of them is Asian, which is offensive because if you've got just one Asian, you can' take him the clever one who makes odd contraptions because that draws on stereotypes about wise Asians, and positive stereotypes are still stereotypes you pirate bastard. Then, there's also the fat stereotype, who is a klutz more interested in a snack than anything else. And, like many a fat character from the 1980s he will inexplicably wear checkered pants (Ricky from Better Off Dead comes to mind in particular, but who wants to be thinking about Dan Schneider at a time like this?) when he would be more likely to wear jeans or tough skins. Because that is what us fat kids wore in the mid 80s. Well, to be fair, I wore tough skins because the private school where I was being trained as a Christian--and, while my white cisgender male training would hold, my Christian training wouldn't quite take over time--did not allow us to wear denim. I actually don't know why. Probably something to do with those commercials with topless young girls bragging about how they don't wear anything under their Calvins. Jeans were too sexy and sex was an anathema unless you were married, and I was never going to be married because the world was going to end in an atomic firestorm and Jesus was going to swoop in and forgive us all for sins like shallow Asian stereotypes in popular movies. Because, Jesus was cool like that.

On the one hand, it's unfair to expect every single character to represent everyone who might be similar. Data's Asianness, for example, is never actually commented on within the context of the film. He's just Data, good (and occasionally bad) with gadgets, and he gets bullied apparently (see Bully Blinders!), but switch Sean Astin and Ke Huy Quan and Mikey is still a doofus who gets words wrong, but Data becomes less of a stereotype... Or at least a different stereotype, one that isn't racist. He becomes a nerdy white kid. (Also, you would have to cut that dumb line about seeing Data's auntie if the tunnels go all the way down to China.) But, I suppose that's the point, isn't it? Mikey is not the brightest of kids. He messes up words all the time, he gives cheesy speeches, he tries to keep his friends away from museum property until, just a moment later, he finds something he wants broken. But, he's the white kid, so are we debating the characterization of Mikey Walsh all these years later? Of course not. Mouth is a little asshole, prone to bullying his own friends, lying to the hired help, and casually insulting everybody. But, he's white so we don't debate the characterization of Clark Devereux all these years later. We do worry a little about the characterization of Chunk, of Sloth, of Andy and Stef. Because they might be white, but they are overweight, disabled, female, and female, respectively. They didn't have the power in 1985. They were props in Mikey's story.

Except for Chunk, I suppose. He's got his own plotline wending its way through The Goonies. Plus, Jeff Cohen thinned out when he was older, and still does interviews about the movie... Plus he was white. Kids like me could connect to him. We could see ourselves up there on the screen and have the adventure of a lifetime, vicariously. In a recent AV Club piece about the documentary The Problem with Apu, Danette Chavez writes,

No one wants to think that the pop culture they love doesn't love them back, but that's the situation in which people of color (any marginalized group, really) often find themselves. They're underrepresented on screen, which makes every appearance significant--and all the more disappointing when their inclusion is limited to caricatures.

White kid is a caricature, so what? There's another three white kids right next to him (five if you count the females). But, one Asian kid. What do you do with him? Whether it's the script up front or the casting altering the script as it was--and since Spielberg knew Ke Huy Quan from Temple of Doom, it was probably a mix of both--Data becomes a stereotype. Not because the production is intent on minimizing the Asian presence. It isn't as sinister as that. It doesn't have to be. Systematic systemic racism doesn't have to be sinister, doesn't even have to be deliberate. It's just a measure of the filmmakers' imaginations that they can can imagine multiple white kids but only one Asian one. So to speak.

In a recent episode of The Simpsons, they commented a bit--some say badly--on the Apu problem. Marge edits one of her favorite books from when she was a kid because it was full of offensive elements that won't fly today. She tells Lisa, "It takes a lot of work to take the spirit and character out of a book. But, now it's as inoffensive as a Sunday in Cincinnati." Lisa says, with a photo of Apu on her bedside table coming into view, "Something that started decades ago, and was applauded and inoffensive, is now politically incorrect. What can you do?" And, response to this moment has been, expectedly, negative. Sure, The Simpsons has a unique problem as it has been on the air a really long time; some of its jokes, some of its characters, were "acceptable" when introduced but time has passed them by. But, the phrasing that gets me is that line about "the spirit and character" of a thing, as if the point to The Simpsons back in the day was in producing racist caricatures like Apu. Like updating such a character, fixing such a character would mean the soul of the show is somehow lessened. Jen Chaney, writing for Vulture has a great line about how this scene ends. Marge tells Lisa, "Some things will be dealt with at a later date." Los responds, "If at all." And, Chaney writes, "Then mother and daughter stare into the camera blankly as if they're being held hostage by their own cartoon." In a way, The Simpsons is being held hostage by its own longevity, but if it wants to be the clever satire it has often been, it needs to update itself.

The Goonies is a different beast, altogether in that it was released in 1985, and only in 1985. I think it's okay if we forgive past artistic product its timely offenses. More than we should forgive narrative lapses or plot holes, certainly. And, for me, looking back now on all these movies I watched a lot as a kid, I have to think of what the movie was then. For me.

I liked Data. I liked his gadgets. (Similarly, I liked Short Round, and wanted to be out there with Indiana Jones, fighting bad guys.) I liked Mouth and all his horrible shenanigans. I liked Chunk and his stories, and his immediate love for Sloth. I liked Mikey and his persistence in saving his family home. It didn't matter to me that Data was Asian. But, imagine if the lead had been the Asian kid, and the story had... something else to it because of the cultural and racial differences. Would I have liked it as much? Would we have had the movie on video and watched it often at home? Or would I have wanted to see some pop culture that looked a little bit more like me?

Saturday, April 21, 2018

i see data dropped by

I can forgive--fairly easily because I grew up in the 80s so I know how movies were with the casual racism and sexism and whatnot--that the Fratellis feels like Italian criminal stereotypes and Data is the quintessential Asian stereotype (minus some martial arts skills, but Ke Huy Quan had already done a bit of that in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) of the 1980s. Well, East Asian. If he'd been from farther west, he would have been a villain of some sort. But anyway, I can forgive that. Because, it's 1985, and America is very racist, very sexist, homophobic, and heteronormative. (Like today, only the most bigoted of us didn't have to claim so energetically how much we weren't. We just let it flow.) But, I cannot forgive Mrs. Walsh (Mary Ellen Trainor) for her racism. I mean, seriously, Mouth is a smartass little jerk, Chunk swears constantly--and Mrs. Walsh specifically dislikes swearing, mind you--but when they are both in her house, who does she notice? Whose presence does she call out? Data's. Mouth can bullshit his way to seeming charming. Chunk is just so damn lovable. But, Data? He's just so Asian.

I mean, clearly, he'd be good at math to build all those awesome things.

(Also, now that I finally pressed play on the movie for today, I would like to say that the 007 with smiley faces for the zeroes on Data's belt buckle/dart launcher is adorable.)

(Also, separate from all the racism, I must say, If not for Chunk's specificity I wouldn't be too sure about the product placement stuff with the Jeep Cherokee in the opening sequence. Mama Fratelli, sure enough, says, "Throw her into four-wheel drive and hold on to your hats," which sounds like product placement scripting. But, later, she will also, rather than saying turn on the blender, she will say "Hit purée" and when she sees a shoe print, she doesn't say follow those footprints, she says, "Follow them size fives." SPecificity is just part of her character.)

And, to be fair, Mrs. Walsh has just walked through the ripped screen door. But, she is clearly insane in some way because she tells Rosalita, "I would really like the house clean when they tear it down." That is madness. Folks force you out of your house, you leave that place as messy as you can. Plus, she thinks you can "come down" with asthma. She probably broke her arm doing something really stupid, or being racist... Although, to be fair, I'm not sure how being racist would get your arm broken.

(Sidenote: I don't believe for even a second that Mouth and Chunk and Data have not found their way into the Walsh attic many, many times while they have all been friends. There is no way they have not explored all of Mr. Walsh' sexual torture devices many, many times. Also, Mikey being so protective of that stuff does not gel with him immediately calling for Chunk to break the glass on that map when he could just open the back of the frame.)

Also, everyone who comments on Data's broken English forgets to mention that Data still has a better vocabulary than Mikey.

But, my real thought for today, is--and I think I know the answer, but the question is still worth asking from time to time--why do we have to take one character as some exemplar of every character like them? Why can't Data just be this one kid? Named Richard, by the way. Why does every single instance of some minority in whatever film from back in the day need to be some grand proof that we thought everyone like that was like that? I mean, aside from the obvious--that we populated every film with so many white folks that obviously when we put one Asian kid in-- No. Let us be specific. Ke Huy Quan is Vietnamese and Chinese. But, I think after he got attention in Temple of Doom, we all assumed he was just Chinese because we don't like nuance. So, put one Chinese kid in a movie like this, and that affects our impression of every Chinese kid around us, and our impression of every Chinese adult around us. We see Data's broken English and his obsession with invention and we find our every thought about Chinese people not conforming with our society--because our society is the end all, be all of history and reality and whatever, Murica forever!--and should be working in some IT department somewhere, or running a factory in China making computers because those things are awesome. My family had a Texas Instruments computer (the TI-99 (released in 1980), I think) sometime early in the 80s. I don't know exactly when. We later had a Commodre +4 (released in 1984). I remember programming in BASIC on both of those machines. I remember checking out Micro Adventure novels from the library in Hastings Ranch--they were basically Choose Your Own Adventure novels but with basic (BASIC) computer programs tied to the story. The only specific one I remember produced an animated gate opening on the screen when a gate opening was part of the story. Basic stuff. BASIC stuff. I'd have an IBM-style PC somewhere around 1990. For a computer class in high school I would write an animation thing in BASIC that involved a battle between the USS Enterprise and the Death Star, and you got to choose who won at the start of the battle, and it played the theme to Star Trek: The Next Generation. Because I was into that then.

But, 1985. America. Racism. We could have a kid like Mikey, who could barely handle a vocab quiz but damn it, he could get sentimental about pirates because... reasons. Or because, in the crappie you cheesy dialogue of 1985, "It's our time. It's our time, down here." Because, that is what kids like me want to hear. The characters might be younger, but MArtha Plimpton was 15, Josh Brolin was 16, Kerri Green was 17. These were the oldest of the Goonies.*

(*Technically, Andy was not a Goonie at the start of the story. But, Brad declared her one, so I guess by the third act she was one.)

Adults are either absent through most of the film, or they are the villains. (John Matuszak is the exception, and there are those who say that The Goonies has us "laughing at the physically and mentally disabled" but the whole point to Sloth is that by the end of the film, we are with him. Like Chunk (and common complaints about size-shaming)--the character is so captivating that the initial distancing detail goes away and we are there with them. Data is a dorky Asian kid. Chunk is a fat kid who can smell ice cream. (And, who can't, really?) Sloth is deformed (and I would argue that he is not necessarily mentally disabled so much as he has been kept from any formal education, but then, he should at least speak as well as Madison in Splash.) but we get past that.

(Quick sidenote, and maybe it's connected: there is a guy with an eyepatch in the shower at the country club when the Goonies mess with all those pipes. It feels random, arbitrary.)

If we connect with the characters--including Data, including Chunk, including Sloth--then how offensive are they?

I mean, for white people. There's plenty of room for people of East Asian descent to complain about the characterization of Data, or for people of weight (TM Robert E G Black, 2018) to complain about the characterization of Chunk, or for physically (or mentally) deformed people to complain about the characterization of Sloth, but I do a google search and find folks that are not claiming any of those identities but, like us SJWs at our best, are denouncing the presentation in this film anyway, because fuck the 1980s, fuck casual racism, and sexism and ableism.

And, for that matter, fuck lazy scripting that has Chunk in desperate search for food but then magically has him have a Baby Ruth in his pocket when it will be useful to get Sloth going.

Oh, wait. That's an entirely different issue.

Friday, April 20, 2018

it’s good enough for me

Incompetent police force. Jeep commercial disguised as car chase, and I'll get to the racism and sexism later. But, the first moment of genius comes early--Mama Fratelli, driving the getaway vehicle for her son's jailbreak, and she's eating, casually.

And that car chase allows for some simple introductions to all of our main characters, and offers details on who they are. Andy (Kerri Green) is a cheerleader... That's all. Cheer captain, I guess. Rosalita (Lupe Ontiveros) is (appropriately, I suppose) jumpy, and maybe not that bright. Police cars have sirens so, for example, you don't get caught in the middle of the crosswalk as they come speeding through. (This characterization might actually matter regarding one of the complaints later. [Or tomorrow.]) Mouth (Corey Feldman) tries to be helpful with his father. And it is not their house, mind you--the Mad Jack's Plumbing truck is parked askew at the end of the driveway with traffic cones in front of it. But, he's easily distracted, and maybe has no attention span for being a plumber's helper. Still, he's there. That's something. Stef (Martha Plimpton)... Well, her sticking her head in water to catch a crab tells us nothing useful for later. She's the more tomboy of the two girls. I guess this covers that. Data makes crazy contraptions, but they do work. IN the case of the first one we see, it actually works too well. Chunk (Jeff Cohen) likes food so much that he is eating pizza and drinking a milkshake while standing at a arcade game. But, he's also so aloof that the distraction of the car chase causes him to smash both his food and his drink against the window without realizing until after. And, he swears.

No Mikey (Sean Astin) or Brand (Josh Brolin) in this opening sequence. But, car chase over, it's time for the movie to really get started. CUT TO: Mikey, bored in his room. Brand working out nearby. Mikey uses (wrongly) an inhaler. Brand is a fairly nice older brother. They're going to be moving. And, Mouth shows up to make it even clearer, this is their last weekend together.

Mouth is a jerk to Chunk. It seems like Data set up the Rube Goldberg fence opener... and Chunk's excitement about the car chase sets up an interesting angle for a lot of what's wrong with the movie--the racism and sexism excepted. The car chase is "the most amazing thing I ever saw" but Chunk's claim is immediately challenged. Mikey asks, "More amazing than the time Michael Jackson came over to your house to use your bathroom?" Mouth asks, "More amazing than the time you saved those old people from that nursing home fire, right?" Brand asks, "More amazing than the time you ate your weight in Godfather's Pizza, right?" Chunk's response: "Okay Brand, Michael Jackson didn't come over to my house, to use the bathroom." Beat. Then, excitedly, "But, his sister did." Later on the phone, the Sheriff (Paul Tuerpe) will add to Chunk's tall tales--"Yeah, like the time you told me about the fifty Iranian terrorists who took over all the Sizzler steakhouses in the city... Just like that last prank about all those little creatures that multiply when you throw water on 'em?" And, never mind the play-by-play; let's just get to one side of what matters here. All the problems with the plot--and the inclusion of the octopus line when that scene was deleted--are covered if we just assume that we are watching Chunk's version of the story. And, in this case, he's an even more unreliable narrator because he didn't even see half the action himself.

There are pipes in the supposedly unexplored tunnel--no problem if this is just the story Chunk is telling.

Data's overdesigned contraptions--no problem if this is just the story Chunk is telling.

Brand should be dead from getting run off the road--you know where this is going.

And a big one, and I'll quote Robert F Mason's piece over at Ranker--"Things You Have To Ignore In Order To Enjoy Watching The Goonies"--

Forget historical accuracy (although... you guys... it would have been the Spanish, not the British, who chased One-Eyed Willy in the Pacific in 1632); the folktale itself is ridiculous. One-Eyed Willy and his crew got trapped underground by the British... and decided to spend their time and resources carving out a dungeon crawl for future D&D LARPers instead of, you know, maybe digging their way out or something? Maybe letting the British believe they were dead, and hiding their treasure somewhere nearby?

And this:

But this whole story depends on One-Eyed Willy and his crew having been trapped underground. If they built a device that could have freed them, why didn't they use it? Instead, they apparently sat around a table trying to eat all their gold or something, and all died at the same time.

Because, according to the legend, Willy killed them all to prevent them from getting to his treasure. The treasure that was sitting right in front of them when they died. Along with Willy.

Yeah, Willy died, too. Whatever he did to kill his men also proved fatal to Willy himself. Thus defeating the purpose of his elaborate plan to build a giant booby trap that could easily free him but he had chosen not to use, because it's in the script that way.

All of that--just fine if this is Chunk's version of the story. It doesn't have to make total sense. Hell, even if the events happened exactly how we see them, the we get One-Eyed Willy's story from Mikey, who we know gets things wrong. Trying to delete himself, and retroaction, indeed.

Nice visual reverse--Brand goes flying off the screen downward on that stolen little bike. CUT TO: Mikey, Mouth, Data, and Chunk come upward into frame over the edge of the hill, carrying their bikes.






Treasure maps, generally speaking, don't make sense in movies. You make a map to remember where you buried your treasure. The map is for you. So, you make it with just the right amount of vagueness, in case someone else finds it, but just the right amount of specifics so you can find your stash later. One-Eyed Willy's booby traps do the opposite of the map, basically, so if this isn't just a story, then One-Eyed Willy spread the story about the British and all that so that some other folks later could have an adventure.

Meanwhile, another great little moment--and so many pieces I found call the characters one-note--when Jake Fratelli (Robert Davi) turns on the light inside the jeep for Chunk to see him, in his moment of panic, Chunk starts reciting his Bar Mitzvah aliyot, "Baruch Adonai" and all that.






Then, I forgot to keep writing because this movie is just too fun. Nevermind its problems. The bad stuff is outweighed by the good stuff.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

if this were at all legible

The best part of Fletch is not the humor, not the one-liners, or Fletch's deliberate obnoxiousness. The best part is that the plot works, and works well. And, like many a "detective" story--

like Jonny Gossamer novels in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, "the plots, they all have this thing, this formula that was so cool... two cases that were seemingly unrelated. One's normal, and the other' some wild shit... Then you' defined out that they're connected. That it's all one case."

--the two cases/stories that Fletch is working end up more connected than just the coincidence of him hanging out at the beach to look like a junkie and Stanwyk picking him because he seems aimless and disposable. And, the connections don't feel arbitrary. SPOILERS. But really, if you haven't already seen Fletch, you should just go watch it now, come back later. Stanwyk's connection the drug trade is a pretty good reason for him to fake his death and make a run for it. Also, we see Stanwyk and the Chief (Joe Don Baker) about a half hour in. The clues are there just enough that we can almost keep up with Fletch. Almost.






Fletch makes great use of underlings. He talks to nurses, secretaries, mechanics, real estate agents, drug dealers. All to get information on their higher ups, to get access to file folders and travel and deal details. He poses as a waiter in a crunch. The "help" are invisible. And they are privy to things.

He talks to parents, who are all too willing to talk about their kid.

And, he's got great asides that mean nothing. Like when he tells the mechanics that he needs "10 quarts of antifreeze, preferably Prestone" then he changes his mind, which sells the lie better; "No, make that Quaker State."

Also, I imagine that the waiter (Nico De Silva) at the club knows damn well that Fletch is not there with the Underhills. He's just tired of Mr. Underhill's mistreatment.

And being this kind of reporter (or private detective, as Fletch is effectively the same), lying to people left and right--this sounds fun. Hell, at nine-years-old, I should have been wanting to be someone like Fletch rather than, say, Luke Skywalker or Indiana Jones.






And, it only just now occurred to me that Sally Ann never actually shows up in the story. She remains on the periphery. (The police are going to pick her up at the Airport Marriott, according to Fletch's letter, but she is also supposedly connecting on a flight from Provo so shouldn't need--but could have, depending on the layover--a hotel room. Also, Fletch confirmed the booking, in Alan's name (when it should be under an alias as Alan is faking his death), on flight 441, but in the letter at the end of the film, he tells the police that it is flight 306.)You gotta wonder how much she knows about what Alan has been doing. Does she know he's got another wife? Does she know he is involved in the drug trade?

Anyway, I'm nine now. And, Fletch and his deliberate obnoxiousness is something I enjoy a lot. And all these other movies I've been rewatching this year--they're on regular repeat on video at home, and movies are infecting my brain more thoroughly, thank god, than, well, god. Despite weekly church, and bible class five days a week in school. Movies are more evocative, more fun.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

if you’re so bored, why don’t you go to utah

The Harold Faltermeyer music gets going and I'm all in when Fletch is on. We can start there.

(Even though Hollywood Reporter reviewer Duane Byrge called the "eruption of mechanical drumming and percussive bass lines, appropriate in action and triumph-type movies... Annoying and incongruous here", the music helps define this film for me in a good way.)

The titular Fletch (Chevy Chase) and his sardonic, sarcastic, deadpan disdain for everybody sat well with me when I was just turned nine and it sits well with me today.

(Sidenote: I know the "Pup 'N' Taco" line could be taken as racist and dismissive, but I think it is just Fletch playing unsophisticated because he doesn't trust Alan Stanwick (Tim Matheson) one bit. Hell, most of Fletch's character, and his unsophisticated, boorish, childish behavior, is deliberate.)

Meanwhile, in 2007, Reihan Salam, writing for Slate, calls the film "abominably bad" and I am baffled. Salam does capture a certain tone of the film, though, when he describes the era and context for this film:

Reagan has just been re-elected by a landslide when the film hit theaters in 1985, and Fletch reflects, in a strange and roundabout way, an era of wrenching liberal despair. While the enlightened bourgeoisie and their scruffy spawn were no longer running the country, they could at least laugh along with Chevy Chase as he poked fun at Reagan's America--the nouveau riche, the pig-headed cops, the Mormons.

And there are some beautiful comedic visuals, some fairly subtle. When Fletch talks to his editor ten or so minutes into the film, he (Fletch) doesn't quite have finished the story he's working on. The editor picks up a pot of coffee and his hand is shaking and Fletch picks up a cup and purposely shakes it as he offers, "Can I help you with that?"

And silly ones like Fletch slipping after dressing like a surgeon, with the little booties over his shoes.

But back to Salam and his inability to laugh at anything.

Or--and let's go broad, because I'm in a mood for broad--any conservative that can't take a fucking joke. Or any liberal who can't take a joke, either, for that matter, but for the moment, let us stick with the conservatives. For example, just the other day Breitbart publishes a story: "NBC's 'Timeless' Mocks Christians: 'God Doesn't Exist'". And, for the record, I saw this story because a very conservative, very religious Facebook friend (my high school history teacher, in fact) posted a link to it. The story describes a conversation from a recent episode of the time traveling show (after being sure to point out that "not an episode passes without a major politically correct theme being infused into the storyline... They find racism, sexism, hate, intolerance, and ignorance in America of old"):

Jiya asks Rufus if he ever thought there was "something bigger out there," or a higher power in the universe. In reply, Rufus garbled the concept of prayer and mocked Christians for bothering.

Rufus calls Jiya's "visions" a side-effect of time travel and tells her, "There's no such thing as a higher power." And, he offers a variant of the classic agnostic query: "If everything happens for a reason, then what's the reason for JFK getting shot by some crazy dude with three names?" Then he gets serious. "Look," he says, "when I was a kid, my mom used to thank God for every good thing that happened. And when something bad happened, she'd say, 'Everything happens for a reason' or 'God has a plan'. I watched my mom get on her knees and pray every night, begging God to take us out of our crappy neighborhood. But, you know who did? Me. God doesn't exist." Maybe it's because I'm inherently an asshole and a long-time atheist, but I see no mockery there, and no garbling of prayer, of religion, or any of it. But, even more, this is not the show saying anything about God. This is one character with a point of view. Because, characters are better when they have inner lives and thoughts about the things they do and the things that are done to them. And, honestly, this conversation feels like one of two things in a show like this: 1) a one-off, or maybe just a recurring debate between these characters for them to talk while waiting for other things to happen, or 2) this is a setup, and God himself is going to show up at least on the periphery by the end of the season, and Jiya's "visions" will very much be proven, or at least suggested, to be sourced from that higher power.

Warner Todd Huston, author of the Breitbart piece, says, "Once again we see the insistence that because bad things happen this somehow proves there is no God." Since, I'm going broad, I will counter that it could also just prove that God is a dick. Huston cites a video produced by Dennis Prager about suffering, a basic question of which is, "[H]ow can 'suffering' exist without an objective standard against which to judge it? Absent a standard, there is no justice at all, [Philosopher Peter Kreeft] explained. If there is no justice, there is no injustice and if there is no injustice, there is no suffering. On the other hand, if justice exists, God exists."

Which--and here's some of that mockery that wasn't in that Timeless episode--that's a bunch of circular logic bullshit. You don't need an objective standard to come up with the idea of suffering. Things hurt. We have a nervous system. We have sentience and a deeper understanding of our life and our circumstances than (apparently) most of the animal kingdom. I don't recall the argumentation term for what they're doing here, but it's a bit of putting the cart before the horse, suffering is a concept that comes into being and then gets defined, not the other way around. Similarly, justice is a concept we define based on our own understanding of suffering and fairness. If we require God to define these things for us, then we don't really have as free a will as God supposedly gave us, because all these definitions back us into a corner that would then quite readily teach us about injustice, about unfairness, about suffering, because the threat of punishment will be our only reason for doing good. And, that last line there--which is Huston's phrasing and maybe not Kreeft's, which would explain how simple it is--is not a logical statement because the relationship between the two things has neither been defined or proven well enough to get through this lazy syllogism to that conclusion.

But, that is where faith gets you. Stuck on premises you cannot prove and depending on them to make conclusions that you think now have basis in proof.






And, then I get distracted laughing at Fletch's antics, and I bother to click on that suffering video. And, I almost couldn't get past this--"If there were no God there would be no absolute standard for good"--because no shit. But, the supposition that we cannot have any standard for good or evil just because some higher power didn't define it for us is, well, silly. Simplistic. Reductive. And presumptuous. Kreeft says,

The most we could say about evil if there were no God was that we, in our subjective tastes, didn't like it when people did certain things to other people.

Yeah, that works for me. His premise here goes on to be that we cannot call something evil simply because we don't like it. But, that is literally how language works. Evil is something we defined after the fact. And, we've codified our standards plenty--but not absolutely, because we don't need to--in establishing and maintains our various cultures and religions and philosophies. Kreeft says,

If you do not believe in God, your subjective feelings are the only basis upon which you can object to natural suffering.

Again, works for me. And, that is why we discover and study things like medicine. This is why we create police and other organizations set to help people in trouble. "There's just nature doing what it does," Kreeft says. And, again, no shit. But, that is why we rein in nature, that is why we build houses and make clothes. That is why we have vaccines. Kreeft is correct when he says that us not liking bad things happening is not evidence that God does not exist. But, his presupposition that God is the only basis for judging good and evil is flimsier. So, I am okay with that.

And circling back to Rufus in Timeless--and weirdly ignoring Fletch--that is his problem with his mother's religious beliefs. She thanked God for the good things and assumed a plan for the bad. Rufus' understanding of religion, of God, may be simplistic. But, that doesn't make it unreasonable. And, I take offense when Kreeft says "You're private standard [for unjust suffering], means nothing." My private standard means everything.

And then I got bored. I think there were a few more minutes left. Huston claims--inaccurately--"Timeless assumes you are a fool to be a Christian." And, I swing back around to Salam:

Watching Fletch again, I experienced the shock of recognition: The film perfectly captures the rise of the ironically detached hipster sensibility. Chevy Chase... dons a seemingly endless series of "comical" disguises in the haphazard pursuit of a big scoop on the Los Angeles drug trade. And yet he always radiates the same genial contempt. Fletch is handsome, self-confident, and he certainly sounds affable. Listen closely, though, and you'll find that his pleasant demeanor masks the condescending jackass within.

That is the thing, though. As much as far too many of us are still Christian--or claim to be--we love a jackass, we love an asshole, we love a scoundrel. And, Fletch is careful to show us that Fletch is effectively (almost) always in disguise. He keeps everyone on their toes, because it makes them more likely to tell him things that they shouldn't.

Salam continues:

Fletch has no time for squares. He's happy to charge many a Bloody Mary and steak sandwich to some rich asshole while he's infiltrating a posh country club.

And, this:

He claims to stick up for the downtrodden. But like the uber-educated hipster kids clamoring to secede from "Jesusland," his disdain is directed against the God-fearing, hard-working rubes of the Heartland.

Like that's a bad thing.






And, who hasn't wanted to charge a meal to the Underhills now and then?

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

you have been recruited by the star league to defend the frontier against xur and the ko-dan armada

The thing is, despite some of what I said yesterday, it's a good thing that Alex's college plans are not too specific, that his goals are not too concrete. That the skillset that gets him recruited by aliens for a universe-saving adventure isn't that impressive.

Like Centauri's previous recruitment practice on Earth involving a sword called Excalibur. (Note, of course, that the Starfighter logo includes a sword with wings.) All one had to do was be chosen enough to pull it out of a stone and/or have some lady in a lake toss it to you. And, by the way, strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.

Or from video games.

Alex's problems are deliberately pretty universal.

(And, really vague. I realize watching the early scenes again now, they don't even specify that it was a college loan that Alex didn't get. A Mr. Brenner brought the notice by the diner so Alex's mom could bring it home right away. This is not how college loans work. This is a loan from the local bank. Was Alex going to start a business?)

His lot in life ain't much, is the point. And we can all relate. Even if, relatively speaking, our lot is better than most, dissatisfaction is pretty fundamental to the human condition, especially in America.

He's got problems with his future, just like anybody. Doesn't matter what the future is, just that he wants out of his present.

Similarly, his girl is dealing with the same. Maggie (Catherine Mary Stuart) has her granny to take care of. Even Alex's little brother Louis (Chris Hebert) is basically dreaming of something far from home and his usual lot in life with those Playboys and "Yolanda, baby". I actually think it's interesting--and either a lazy bit of characterization or a brilliant one--that when Louis sees Alex and Maggie kissing, he says "Diarrhea," and looks away. If I'm Louis' age--and I'm just a bit over two years younger--and I see anybody kissing Catherine Mary Stuart outside, flesh and blood, I am watching that action.

But, maybe that's just me.

Anyway, little else to say about the film itself. Visual effects that were awesome at the time but don't hold up well; some wonderfully realized trailer park folks, mostly background players but feeling like real people; and a simple wish-fulfillment story that works in the universal, lacks in some of the specific. For eight-year-old me, it's a nice idea, like many an adventure story, young kid recruited to do something awesome. And, it's nice space story that isn't set in the future, because there ain't no future as far as I'm told in school and church.

Anyway, moving on to 1985.

Monday, April 16, 2018

save the whales but not the universe, huh?

So, I was listening to the soundtrack to the stage musical version of The Last Starfighter today. I only even learned of its existence today, actually. And, it starts off a little goofy, I'm not particularly liking it--production notes online about how they use the trailer park and a picnic table in particular for the trailer park denizens to act out the story, without much else actually seemed like it could be fairly cute, but the music felt immediately wrong in tone for a film that starts so casually, with the sleeping dog and the cat in the mailbox, awnings raising, Otis (Vernon Washington) scraping foot off a plate. Maybe it would be different on stage... I assume it would be different on stage. But, the songs alone don't quite get that same sense that this is a small-knit group of folks who all know each other and are used to passing messages from person to person all the time like they do early in the film when Elvira's (Peggy Pope) power is out and she's gonna miss her soaps.

An annoying detail as well, the musical mentions the zandozan being in the video game, but the game is clearly all about gunstar fighting, and the zandozan has nothing to do with that. Not that I've seen the movie many, many times... Except that is exactly why I'm writing about in this blog today. The Last Starfighter is my last film in this childhood deconstruction for 1984.

But, the thing that I wanted to write about today is actually an improvement, in my opinion, on the film version that arises at the climax of the musical. See, movie Alex (Lance Guest) is basically the handyman of the trailer park, and obviously he's good at playing that videogame, but aside from that there is no real indication that he should be escaping the trailer park. He wants to, but what is he doing about it? Early in the film, right after that on-the-nose shot of the weather vane, we see Alex in his room, and a gust of wind sets his planets mobile in motion and he stares at it, and we can imagine he's dreaming of flying away from the trailer park, maybe flying into space, dreaming of doing all the stuff he's going to actually get to do later. But, what does he do to earn it?

He plays a video game.

That's it.

Every videogame-playing kid's dream--that sitting there playing is going to mean something.

(That scene in which he breaks the record on the game is a great one. The excitement among the trailer park folks is palpable, and it feels real. You really get a sense that this group all care about one another.)

But, even after Alex has that call to adventure in Centauri (Robert Preston) arriving, he rejects it. (Almost twice.) As the hero often does--just check your Joseph Campbell. But then, he only returns because 1) he's in danger and 2) the rest of the starfighters are dead.

Alex gets rejected for his loan. For... some university, I guess. He's got a Save the Whales sticker, and the Beta Unit comments on it later, but otherwise, we aren't told what Alex wants to do. Just that he wants to do... something. His mother says he can still go to city college and he has himself a little tantrum. This is our hero. He happens into an adventure (though Centauri, in passing, suggests it was fate because that particular Starfighter game was supposed to be in Vegas), but his actual skill set--the handyman stuff--has nothing to do with any of it. Even when he decides to hide in a cave, that is a deus ex machina kind of detail that comes out of nowhere; the film has not previously established the hide and seek with his brother. It has established Alex's ability to fix things.

The musical, though--it does a better job. In the film, the death blossom is the big weapon, the thing that wins the final battle. At first, I thought it was cheap that the musical made the death blossom be not quite enough. Like the adaptation had to one-up the original. But then, I thought of what the death blossom was--a deus ex machina to win the unwinnable. In the musical, they have another weapon, the Target Z, and it will surely win the battle except for one thing--it has been damaged in the prior fighting. So, to win the final battle, Alex doesn't just get lucky that his gunstar has some special attack mode. He has to repair an alien weapon console on the fly. He has to actually use the skills that he has been shown to have, in order to be victorious. (In the film, Grig rewires something, sort of.) The video game leads to the gunstar, sure, but the film's final victory is not based on Alex's skill. The musical's final victory is.






Also, Alex's change to deciding to be a Starfighter, even after that conversation with Grig about their families, is cheesy 80s sudden. In the musical, he responds to the offer to go home again with an immediate sense that his family would be in danger.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

have we not met before, monsieur?

It's remarkable sometimes how the silliest of films can work just as well as the best of them to bring me back to long ago, you know, happier times, when I was a cute little kid without a care in the world except for, well, the second coming of Jesus, Armageddon, the apocalypse, and everything* that I've ever cared about ceasing to be.

(* except for my loved ones, of course, but damn it, what about my toys? What about these movies I loved? What about books? Games? The important stuff in life.)

No cares but the biggest.

And, Top Secret!, in particular, plays on some of that biggest stuff. Late in the Cold War...

And then I got to wondering about exactly when this film takes place. I mean, Nick's music is very Elvis. So, I paused on the Billboard Top 40. Nick Rivers has #1 #2, & #4, with "Skeet Surfin'", "Skeetin' USA" and "Skeet City", respectively. He also has #3 in a duet with Tammy Wynette on "You're Skeetin' Heart". Then Eric Clapton has #4 with "Sloe Gun Blues" but #4 is a real song: Duran Duran's “Is There Something I Should Know?" which came out in 1983. Putting Top Secret! roughly in 1984 when it was filmed/released.

But, there are more jokes. #12 is The Rolling Stones with "Enough Already". #14 Aretha Franklin with "Boy Is She Great". #15 Barbra Streisand with "Theme from The Nose".

And then I got curious about the magazine covers. None of them seem to have dates, but the Guns & Bullets cover is interesting, because there's the cover story on Nick Rivers, but also some other story (ALSO INSIDE the cover screams)--or maybe it's part of the Nick Rivers story and we just aren't privy to it--that says: MY DAUGHTER IS DEAD... BUT SO IS THE BURGLAR.

I meant to be talking about the Cold War and how weird it is to reminisce about a time when I was regularly being told that the world would be ending soon. But now, I'm imagining some backstory involving Nick Rivers, his daughter's death, that left him reeling and running off to tour Europe, including behind the Iron Curtain because he's got nothing else to live for anymore.

But, maybe the point is that "What phony dog poo?" sits right next to the idea of a nuclear winter in my head.

Then again, there are odd details like the not-very-funny bit of the restaurant making Nick a whole new suit right next to the idea that Reagan was a great president... Not an idea I had. I don't think. Jokes that don't make you laugh. Nonmedy, as Rich Evans would call it.

Hillary's uncle escape America in a balloon during the Jimmy Carter administration--that's funny.

And the little German joke is a classic. But, that runs right up against the food--"pork bellies marinated in diced pig entrails or the roast swine knuckles poached with flaming hog balls"--which I think is supposed to be funny. But, I don't get it. Germans eat a lot of pig, I guess.

And then the brilliance of "Some things are better left unsaid?" "Like what?"






Why does the Rare Swedish Books shop have a book called Lesbian Bars of North Carolina, and why is it displayed so prominently?

Meanwhile, so many jokes about sex. Irreverence all over the place. But, at school, it's all follow God's commandments, follow the school rules, and I think I held the record every year for the most swats--we still had corporal punishment--because I was apparently having none of it. But, look back at the movies I've covered this year, so many films about rebels, about irreverent heroes who didn't follow the rules, and we had these on video, we watched them often. And, the Bible could never keep my attention the way that all these movies could.

And, that's really it, isn't it?

The Bible, and church, and Bible class--those were boring, those were telling me all these rules about what I should and shouldn't do, without every explaining why. Meanwhile, movies would actually offer up commentary on the rules. You break the rules when it helps people. You don't get a great respect from the rules from mainstream movies.

Cue religious parents dragging their kids away from the movie theater, except no, that's a good thing. Fuck reverence. Fuck rules without explanation. Even in Top Secret!, Nick has no reason to do what's right, except he meets a cute girl who has sex with him, and East Germany is about to kill a bunch of people. And the guy who turns out to be a traitor gets fucked by a bull because that is American justice in the 1980s. Of course, Nigel had already made that face when he talked about the sailors who "took advantage of [him] in ways that [he] cannot describe." They were foreigners, of course, and he is coded queer, despite his island romp with, and immediate re-attachment in the present to Hillary.

And it occurs to me during "Straighten Out the Rug" that this movie is basically framing 1980s East Germany as 1950s America but with Nazis... Or really, that's just 1950s America. INSERT: rim shot.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

we are not experiencing technical difficulties

Started the day with Blumhouse's Truth or Dare, finishing it with The Mating Habits of the Earthbound Human, after a nice game night. Will probably return to Top Secret! tomorrow. In the meantime, thoughts....

Regarding Truth or Dare, the idea works, but the execution drags a bit. Oddly, I think it would work better in a longer form, let the events--and characters--breathe a bit. And, not bother with jump scares; it's not that kind of horror film but it insists on having a few anyway. In context of the Truth or Date game going on, jump scares can literally have no affect on the plot, and do have no affect on the plot. So, they feel cheap. I imagine a Netflix miniseries instead, but the characterization and depth I imagine really wouldn't be the thing that usually comes from Blumhouse.

Mating Habits, on the other hand, might end up being good. But, I am instead thinking that this week has been very strange here at the Groundhog Day Project. Jim & Andy got me headed in some strange directions--and I rather want to dial it back a. Bit now. This week, I swear, nothing but the childhood deconstruction movies, finishing off 1984, moving on to 1985...

Unless something else captures me and forces me to write about it for days on end, for thousands of words, and gets me stuck on a lot of outside research...

Like, for example, just last night I got my hands on a copy of the novels Annihilation and The Crystal World. Also, Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, and I got out my copy (that I already had) of Alison Bechdel's Are Your My Mother?... Which you'll see the connection of all that if I get back to--yes, back to--writing about Annihilation again.

In other news, I learned of a group of podcasts that are right up my alley--and right up the Groundhog Day Project's alley--called Movie a Minute podcasts. Basically, people watch movies, one minute at a time, and podcast it. And, one in particularly--Groundhog Minute--contacted me about being a guest, which is awesome. But also, talking about movies like this, a minute of screentime at a time (but talking for much longer), appeals to me. I've been trying to find something else to do. I liked doing my YouTube reviews, but wished I could do them a little differently, and the previous version of a movie podcast required another person (or preferably several persons) to be involved as well. This simpler version might be easier.






While I have often decried voiceover in this blog, Mating Habits is one example of where the voiceover matters, and needs to be here. The dialogue itself is, presumably deliberately, rather bad most of the time, and the voiceover is where the jokes are. Or rather where the humor is; David Hyde Pierce's deadpan alien narration about the central humans is the point. Also, the singular joke that might've made a fantastic short film but doesn't quite work for a feature. Anita Gates' New York Times review says it fairly well: "The film... Is largely idiotic, but hints of charm do occasionally rise to the surface."

Friday, April 13, 2018

how silly can you get?

Now, we let that madness go and return to childhood. I'm eight years old when Top Secret! arrives in theaters. It's absurdist visuals work for me very well. It's utter ridiculousness still holds up, unlike some other, similar comedies. I did write about Top Secret! in this blog before. But, no return to my childhood, and all the movies that were on regular repeat would be complete without this one.

(In other news, I saw Rampage in the theater today. Not much to say about it but if you want to see it, you will probably enjoy at least some of it. Of note for this blog, though, as I'm sitting through the end credits, a name jumps out. Rick LeFevour. Actually, it turns out it, double checking on IMDb when I got home, to be Rick LeFevour, Jr. (Also a Matt LeFevour listed under stunts for Rampage, but while all three work for Midwest Stunts, I have not confirmed that Matt is related to the Ricks.) Anyway, Rick LeFevour was the stuntman who jumped off the top of the Pennsylvanian Hotel in Groundhog Day. Note: the climax of Rampage takes place in Chicago. The LeFevours are Chicago-are stunt people.)






Meanwhile, Top Secret! plays and I find I can still find some of its craziest bits funny. "What phony dog poo?" "This isn't the Howard Johnson's." The East German National Anthem. HIllary means "she whose bosoms defy gravity" (and I definitely knew what bosoms meant because they used that in Private Eyes back in 1980.

I would figure out some other things from this movie, though...

(And, I only realized after choosing the image for today's blog entry that I used that same image when I wrote about the film before. My observations are repeating.)

So, here's this, too:

An aside that many won't get, Scream for Help may have been on video by the time Top Secret! was in theaters, too.

The bulges in the ballet were amusing back then, of course, but I just noticed just how quickly that old lady sitting next to Nick picks up her opera glasses when the first guy comes dancing onto stage.

And, the mouse that "crashes" when Hillary is looking down at the street below... That is just wrong. But, oh, so funny.

"Let me know if there's any change in his condition." Beat. "He's dead."






And then I spit a mouthful of Diet Dr. Pepper onto my iPad screen when Dr. Flammond tells Nick, "If they find out you've seen this, your life will be worth less than a truckload of dead rats in a tampon factory." I swear I have never heard that line before, and I'm still laughing after pausing the movie to clean up.






And later I feel like a fool because I never noticed a glaring mistake this film make (presumably on purpose). (And, I didn't even notice it now; I was browsing trivia and goofs on IMDb.) The film takes place in East Germany but there are still Nazis and there is still a French Resistance.






Throw in Nigel's experience as the backend of a cow and there was a lot of strange sexual things going on here.

And, when the Germans crash into the pinto, that dummy flying into the air only to come right back down is awesome.

Eight-year-old me definitely enjoyed this more than church or bible class.