Sunday, May 31, 2020

he’s not a person

It occurred to me today that I have never seen a production of How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying and I am not even sure what it's about. This thought came to me when I realized I am not entirely sure I can remember the plot to today's movie: The Secret of My Success. I knew it involved Michael J. Fox, and I think there's a boss lady who wants to sleep with him, but I was also conflating the film with For the Love of Money and was excited to see a young Gabrielle Anwar because I had the biggest crush on her for a few years there... after this movie was in theaters, after this movie was something we had on VHS and we watched it more than a few times--
(But, if you're paying attention, you should know that the current theme in this blog is movies that were "fixtures" in my "childhood" but I'm 11 now in 1987, and in retrospect, things keep blurring into my teenage years, my 20s, my 30s, and the present, but who want's to talk about the present? Pandemic. Riots. Dictators. And, I've got a wish list on Amazon just for the coming apocalypse... Because I grew up in a cult bent on eschatology and the one thing I have always been at planning ahead for (at least in my head) is every fucking thing falling apart. Entropy, destruction, Armageddon, just the end of another day that went strange or went as you expected. As I expected. Same shit different day, or "anything different is good" and all that, as I'll be watching Groundhog Day again in a couple days, and I am kinda looking forward to it. 
Because, comfort? Maybe.
I mean, it's nice to know that something like a fixture still exists in my life--)
--and I can't even remember what this particular fixture--The Secret of My Success, that is--is even about. I am hoping it's about sexual harassment, but I think it's more comedic caught-between-two-women, but the woman on the non-boss side isn't going to be Gabrielle Anwar, so it won't be as good as the movie I was inventing in my head going into today's blog...

Which, I haven't even pressed play yet, because I wanted to get all that out there before I probably resort to random comments as the movie plays because, really, I do not remember any specifics except at one point a naked woman is covered only by a couple pillows, possibly in a poolhouse.

The description on HBO MAX says:
Goodbye, Kansas... Hello, New York! In this sharp and sassy comedy, Michael J. Fox plays a pint-sized charmer with big ambitions. Fresh off the farm, he comes to New York determined to climb to the top of the corporate ladder--any way he can.
I don't like the use of "sassy" in there. I am no longer looking forward to this.

I am pressing play.

The opening shots of main guy's parents are unnecessary, but fuck it, cut to 80s music no one remembers, and bus arrival in the big city. And, look, it's Alex P. Keaton and he's fucking quotes Dorothy Gale, because that's not obvious as fuck.

And then, I'm imagining covering this movie like I cover, say Annihilation on my podcast Annihilation, and all these random shots of city people under the opening credits would be a nightmare and a waste of time, because that shit (I assume) has nothing really to do with the plot to come.

As Alex P. Keaton interviews for job after job, I think I just remembered what is going to happen. Like riding a bike, The Secret of My Success returns to me. He is going to get like a mailroom job or some lowly shit, and then he switches outfits and pretend he has a better job than he actually has until people start believing it. I think this is that movie...

But then cops just shot up the phone booth where he's making a phone call because this movie is trying for satire I probably didn't get when I was 11 and saw this for the first time, and you know that bit where I said I was no longer looking forward to this? Yeah, fuck that. I'm in.

He lives in a tiny apartment with cockroaches, and we get a flashback to him telling his parents he's only ever going to return to Kansas in his own jet, and I'm reminded (not for the first time today, mind you) of my time in Tennessee (1 month) and Arkansas (3 months, but was supposed to be indefinite) and how moving off to some other state completely transforms your life. But, I did it (allegedly) for love, and whatever this guy's name is, Alex P. Marty McFly J. Fox, he did it for fucking capitalism, and I do not approve of this reasoning.

Wait, his name is Brantley? What the fuck kind of Kansas farm family names their kid Brantley? That should be is made up name when he pretends to be New York high society or whatever the fuck...

And, oh my god, this just turned into some really creepy fantasy sequence with Helen Slater drinking water in slow motion and then wearing a dress and marching in like she's Billie Jean again, but less rebel, and more awful fantasy that a guy like Alex Prantley Keaton would have at a fucking drinking fountain.

And then he's deconstructing the way Pemrose does business and casually staring at Slater's Christy from a distance... But then, he has to drive Vera somewhere for work and he isn't a trained driver so he makes conversation like this is fucking Uber and not a company car, and that freaking song from Ferris Bueller over extreme closeups of Ver putting on her lipstick (which is fine, because stalker boy Alex can see that, but then closeups on her legs, which he cannot see from the front seat, and I guess her took her home, but the only Litchfield in New York is 237 miles form New York City. Litchfield, Connecticut is only 108 miles. But, nevermind the distance and why random mailroom kid would get stuck with this job, no matter if his uncle owns the company and gave him the job, he's in the pool with Vera and she pulls off his shorts but the skintone trunks he's still got on under that are really obvious, which makes the moment quite horrible--this woman who is clearly above him at the company just talked him into a pool and then removed his clothes without consent, but Fox couldn't be bothered to actually get nude for the moment, so it barely matters... But then I wonder if the image was clear enough on VHS to notice that.

And then, it turns out that Vera is married to the boss--Brantley's uncle--and Brantley has to make a run for it, and before he gets chase off by a Doberman, there's that moment I remembered with the pillows, and dude just fucked his aunt, but CUT TO the city and we really get an 80s love song playing as Brantley fantasizes about taking over an empty office and I'm not sure I care. I mean, he works the mailroom--I've done that--he runs around with a cart of deliveries--one of my favorite jobs ever was doing just that but delivering and picking up books for the library at a law firm in downtown Los Angeles, and listening to talk radio all day in my earbuds, because I was constantly on the movie and entirely contained in my own little world at the very same time. And, I didn't need an office, though maybe that would have been nice, because I had the entire law library to myself most of the time. Had a great view from the tallest building in the city.

But, this movie is aiming for some weird romantic comedy twisted together with a gender-switched sleeping-with-the-boss plot, and really Brantley is going to get fired for not doing his regular job, while pretending to do another job, or maybe the satire's angle is that he can do both these jobs because offices are actually that inefficient. But, I'm just reminded of that "Double Date" episode of Family Ties in which Brantley P. Keaton has two prom dates and fucks it all up. And then I'm thinking about Working Girl because at least there she doesn't jut invent an entirely new person, right? And she doesn't come across as a creepy stalker every time she goes near Harrison Ford.

And then there's business business business, and I guess in 1987, we're just supposed to assume that Carlton Whitfield (née Brantley) knows what he's talking about, and of course the real bosses who want to make cuts are clearly evil because this is Reagan's America, and you have to build build build, or something.

And, he's conducting the sounds of sex from next door and I love that I saw this movie when I was 11 and my mother was probably embarrassed as all get out when he climaxes by opening his can of beer, because blatant sexual metaphors belong in mainstream comedies, and really, it's a little sad that this late in the 80s, we're not getting more casual nudity and sexual capers...

Cue, Auntie Vera arriving at Brantley's tiny apartment, and CUT TO Uncle Boss Man hitting on Billie Jean which is, you know, clearly morally wrong, even though we are not immediately as horrified by Auntie Vera coming to Brantley's, or maybe that's progressive for '87. By the time I'm writing about it, we're on to new scenes, and I'm marveling at Brantley's choice to not only switch outfits in the elevator but specifically to switch out his socks, because while the higher ups might notice white socks, the mailroom guys are not going to care if he wears black socks. Hell, he shouldn't even be changing his pants, and could probably get away with not changing his shirt... I write as he arrives with the wrong pants for a meeting and immediately gets noticed, so I guess they're saying that would matter, but I've been teaching in blue jeans and T-shirts for years because I don't much care for dress codes.
And, then the movie has like 30-40 minutes left and I get distracted because how does this thing have that much plot left?

Saturday, May 30, 2020

they are. i’m not.

To continue somewhere before I left off, I was not sent off to boarding school like Morgan. I just had private school, which meant very few friends in my neighborhood, and limited interaction with my friends outside of school, which limited my social life, I'm sure. Or maybe my introversion has other sources and it is just easy to blame the religious environment in which I grew up, and which isolated me from the larger world for a while. I definitely blame that upbringing for my attachment to film. I mean, why wouldn't I envelop myself in fiction as much as fucking possible when I'm being told on a regular basis that the world is ending?

But then, I'm trying to come up with a comedic way to talk about the differing politics of my parents and me, even my oldest siblings and me. But, there's a pandemic and rioting and I am inclined to get into a serious rant instead...

Or to focus entirely on the film today to avoid all that.

As if that's possible.

I mean, the whole prank setup early in the film is pointless, though it does set the stage for this brilliant bit: "We did it! We did it! We did it!" Beat, as they realize the headmaster is behind them. "We didn't do it." And, it makes for the strange twist of Morgan not being kicked out of school, rather he's just being called home to, as it turns out, give his senator father's reelection campaign a better family image. Because flying your helicopter to pick up the kid is fine but I guess having your kid at a great school is not... Anymore. For some reason. The premise doesn't quite work, but it allows for interesting interactions later that are nice...

But I'll get to that. I only just realized that Morgan's mom walks in on his roommate masturbating, and when she enters the locker room the guy brushing his teeth is apparently just standing there naked, and both of these things are strange.

But, it's also strange that boarding schools exist and there are families rich enough to send their kids to them...

I mean, the mother also takes the helicopter to the hairdresser and isn't that silly? Morgan doesn't even know where his family lives and he is left on the roof, alone. And, she expects him to just be the son she wants him to be? I know she says she doesn't subscribe to the buddy-buddy school of parenting, but seven years of neglect for Morgan and seven years of absence for her--unless she cares not a whit for her son, which maybe that's the problem--shouldn't be something where either of them think it can just become something comfortable with no transition time, no change, no negotiation.

That Morgan is brought home as a prop is one thing, but that somehow his parents still see him more as a prop--or a puppet--once he is home and in front of them, and they can see his quirks, and his personality, suggests that his parents are not just oblivious but are actively uncaring and cruel.

And, the film never fixes that. I mean, Morgan's conversation with his father at Arby's is kinda sweet. But then, the end of the film--as abrupt as it is--paints a simplistic picture of magic family repair triggered by Morgan saving his father from having to drop out of the campaign (which if you've not seen the film, is because his executive aide is blackmailing him), but the movie might actually play out more genuinely, when it comes to the family unit, if the senator is not reelected, and they have to actually get along as a family... Hell, there's a better premise--something like Schitt's Creek; having to drop out from the campaign, they can't afford boarding school anymore and have to bring their worldly son home and actually try to get along with him.

Except, they've created a son who is nothing like them. I mean, that is their fault.

Similarly, my own parents sending me to private school, taking me to church, positioning me in between constant messaging of a finite lifetime and access to movies and tv and fantasy books and toys and what do you expect is going to happen? Of course, I'm going to enjoy things like Choose Your Own Adventure books and the more RPG-style Lone Wolf books--which I won't tell the whole story again this time, but those books got me in trouble at the private school, got me sent to the office, got me a stern talking to at home, and got my collection of said books tossed in the trash not unlike Morgan's collection of horror film posters, but of course I was going to latch onto fantasy and stories and anything that offered me a larger world than reality was offering. And, in connecting with so many characters in so many stories, of course I would drift away from the black and white morality of my upbringing, and then the Cold War would end and suddenly, the world was open and I had no real idea what to do in it, so I went off to college I was unprepared for, got office jobs that anyone could do, and lived a socially isolated life still stuffed with movies and books and tv and comics and toys and whatever made the world bigger than my corner of it actually was... Safely. Because, I had no idea how to expand my social circles properly, because private school miles from home meant I never had consistent social circles. What few neighborhood friends I had were entirely separate from school friends, and none of either had staying power once I was first out of high school and then, second, we moved to a new house.

I don't imagine that Morgan will be comfortable with his parents... Maybe ever. His father will continue to be a senator, his mother will continue to be controlling and dismissive. And, Morgan has interests that--nevermind the abrupt voiceover at the end of the film--will never jibe with his parents' lives.

He should trade places with Emily's little brother, really. Let the irritating snitch live with the rich folks, while Morgan and Emily enjoy watching horror films alongside her parents.

Because sometimes a kid needs space. Or a parent needs space. Rather than trying to force the other to fit into the niche you think they should. You know, let people be who they are...

Which sounds easy. Sounds cheesy. Sounds like simplistic bullshit, really. Sometimes trite is easier than the real things you want to say. And, it's easier to pretend that we should let everyone be who they want to be, nevermind that some people are just awful. Some people are too far gone already, too twisted by whatever upbringing and surroundings they had to mold them into the form they fill. And some people aren't even awful, they are just too stuck in their own selfish urges to notice that there are better options than the choices they make, the things they say. It's easier to pretend our differences are shallow than to necessarily fathom the actual divide between some of us.

Like Morgan's mom thinking getting rid of his posters and grounded him from leaving the house will change who he is.

It ain't that easy.

Friday, May 29, 2020

this is my room

Open on a poster for Zombie, drift down over more horror posters, and we know something about Morgan before we even see him. He has a specific area of interest and he overlaps his fucking posters, which most of the time, I'd say, is wrong, but there was a time in my early 20s, still in a small bedroom in my parents' house, that I had to overlap things on my wall in order to put up everything I wanted up.

My room was very small. Not sure if I've shared images before. Well, let me backtrack. As a kid, I had a race car bed that was in the dining room of all places, not because we were particularly poor but because there were a lot of us. I had six older sisters. The oldest two got married in the early 80s and then I got a very small room to myself upstairs. Barely long enough for a twin bed and only a couple feet wider. Third and fourth sister moved out and the remaining two each got larger rooms while I kept the small one. When they both left for college--the same year, I think--I finally got a bigger room. I had a rather large desk I bought at a yard sale for $60, my bed, a drawing table, and I set up a small alcove in one corner with bookshelves and a bean bag chair. And, like any teenager, I spent a lot of time up there. I didn't have my own VCR(s) or cable box until we moved into a new, smaller house when I was just out of high school. Then in a room a bit bigger smaller than the last, and a bit bigger than the one before that, I was old enough to have regular jobs, spend regular money, fill up shelves and binders with magazine and comic books, fill up shelves with books, then add more books that didn't fit on the shelves, and summer 1994 on, I was also recording a hell of a lot of tv and movies on far too many VHS tapes and those took up their own shelves.

Here's a glimpse of that room, the east wall and the west wall:

I could show you the even messier portions, but I don't want... Okay, fine, one more--the southwest corner.

This room, I spent a lot of time in. I had at one point two different cable boxes and three VCRs, I had my stereo, a whole lot of CDs (more than you can see in that one photo above), I had my word processor and I had my computer. Mid 20s, I even had my own phone line.

By the time I was in high school--not long after Morgan Stewart's Coming Home was a fixture on our family videos, but a few years after the film was in theaters--I had my own taste in films, my own taste in books, magazines, whatever. I would still sit for a movie with the family, because I would watch most any movie at least once. For a few years, the best movies I'd see were at my sisters' houses because they would rent movies our mother wouldn't. Though conservative--and this was where I was going with all this--my mother was the one who introduced me to horror films, who showed my 80s comedies that included nudity and sex, showed me action movies that involved plenty of violence and bloodshed. But, honestly, that was still the conservative version of things. We avoided some horror films, some more-adult comedies, some sexually explicit dramas, and in my teens, I sought those things. I'd mostly given up on religion already, but only in retrospect. It wasn't until my first year in college right out of high school that I openly realized/acknowledged that I was an atheist, and then, while I never discussed as much with my parents, I never lied about it and never did anything to imply I still believed any of the stuff they'd been trying to get stuck in my head my whole life. And, as far as my taste in movies, all bets were off. I would watch anything. And, along with the younger two of my sisters, back home from college, we would rent plenty of movies, from crap to classics.

And, over the years, our mother got more conservative, more offended by sex or profanity in films. Me--I didn't care. I sought violence. I sought sex. I sought the profane and profound equally. I'd been watching the oscars since I was a kid but started really obsessing about them soon after I was out of high school. Then, I sought indie films as well as genre films, popular films as well as obscure low-budget stuff. Any everything in between. I went to USC out of high school, hoping to get into their film program, but after two years there, I dropped out because as I have mentioned before in this blog, I wasn't good at planning for the future, and certainly wasn't good with contingency plans when what plans I did have failed.

My room filled with more videos, more books, more magazines, more comics. I started writing regularly. Had I had internet access in my room (instead of on my sister's computer, which was in the dining room) I probably would have kept to my room all the time. Except when I was walking or taking the free bus across town to see a movie in the theater, or hit a book store.

And, I said very little about the film today. It happens.

If you've been following this blog for a long time, you know that, of course.
Since you stuck around this long:

Thursday, May 28, 2020

we didn’t do it

I imagine that Morgan Stewart's Coming Home owes its title, if not it very existence to Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

And, it is an Alan Smithee film. Only the second one to be feature in this blog, I'm pretty sure. The other was Hellraiser: Bloodline

Starts with the titular boarding school kid (Jon Cryer looking like he's about 12) learning that he will not be going home for Thanksgiving... Or Christmas. But then, a revenge prank gets Morgan in trouble and suddenly he is called home. The immediate implication is he's expelled but it turns out his Republican Senator father and equally as conservative mother need him home so they can appear more like a family.

Nice little details early on. Morgan has been in boarding school for so many years, he' snot even sure where home is. The butler Ivan is reading Robert G. Allen's book Nothing Down: How to Buy Real Estate with Little or No Money Down like he's trying to move up in the world, but he barely speaks English. Of course, Morgan is into horro films and immediately decorates the walls of his room with posters. But, maybe the best is that when Morgan runs to say hello to his father, a bodyguard tackles him.

Morgan's mom is great*. Casually intrudes into the showers at school to find Morgan. Says there's no room for a humanitarian in the senate. Goes on a tirade about eating meat at the party. She "does not subscribe to the buddy buddy school of parenthood."
(* great character, not great person)
That Morgan does not rage more at his mother having Ivan incinerate all of his posters is madness. But, I guess the point is we are supposed to assume Morgan still wants a family even if he has been isolated from them for years. He is so desperate for their love that he sits reading The American Family in Crisis and watches The Brady Bunch and waxes the floor to one large room in the house before breakfast.

What he doesn't realize with that last move--and later washing windows--is that doing work around the house is just going to make him invisible to rich assholes like his parents.

And, nevermind the film for a moment. At the mall, it is at Waldenbooks that Morgan lines up to meet George Romero (signing The Zombies that Ate Pittsburg) and meets Emily. I used to love Waldenbooks. Bought a lot of fantasy and science fiction novels at Waldenbooks. Bought Star Trek technical manuals at Waldenbooks. First regularly bought comic books from Waldenbooks. First bought a Playboy from Waldenbooks.

Speaking of pornography, it amuses me that not only does Morgan's mom call his movie posters pornographic, but so does the doctor they call for a house call after he sings about being in love. This movie couches itself very neatly into a conflict between Morgan's liberal leanings (not that horror fans need to be liberal per se) and his parents' conservative foundations, and I love that this was a movie we had on video and would watch often because my parents were conservative, of course. I grew up going to church every week, to private school every week day, and just a year after this my own poster displays would start drifting into interesting directions. Maybe sooner, actually. But, I know in '88, I had a couple posters from Willow in my room, one of General Kael because awesome skull mask, one of Sorsha because hot. And by '93 in particular, I know I had a couple posters of Jason Voorhees on my walls. And, I've mentioned before that I had subscriptions to Starlog and then Fangoria and through the 90s lots of more general film magazines, but those first two set me up for obsessing about films, and especially genre films. I will mention it again when (if) I get there, but it was in 1988 that I saw a movie in the theater by myself for the first time.

Had I known the directors (yes, there were two) of this film didn't want credit for it back when I first saw it, I would have been amazed. It's not a great movie, by any stretch, but it is a solid 80s comedy, and pretty wholesome compared to some other 80s comedies I would have seen by the time. To be fair, I did not see this movie in the theater... I don't think. We caught in cable, and then liked it enough to record it later, I'm pretty sure. It's got a basic premise, easy to follow, a zany climax with a great villain in Paul Gleason (a la The Breakfast Club. And, honestly, the parental roles here feel familiar. The mother is the overbearing one, the father feels like he's be forgiving for sure and probably even encouraging if his wife wasn't there.

Morgan runs into his father incognito at an Arby's eating meat when the mother is so much against meat, and there's a nice conversation about the family they used to be.

But then, home to getting caught by his mother for having gone out.
Regarding my opening line above, by the way, it is merely the title--the production title was Homefront--that is playing off the success of Ferris Bueller's Day Off; this film was actually filmed first, in 1985, but probably for whatever reasons Alan Smithee gets the credit, the release was delayed.

Speaking of which, Leonard Klady, Los Angeles Times, offers a fun description for Smithee, September 13, 1987:
Unheralded by press and public, Smithee's reputation within the industry is legendary. Mere mention of his name stirs violent debate among the cinema cognoscenti. But, curiously, he remains without a champion. Even the French have failed to embrace the idiosyncratic style that pervades his oeuvre
Why, in the era of the auteur, had Smithee escaped notice? 
Some tell he literally doesn't exist. Yet, the credits are there... 
He accepts only impossible projects. His forte is films abandoned by others.
And, I learned something I didn't know from Klady's piece--directors who invoked the Alan Smithee credit were not allowed to talk publicly about the film in question. (At least in '87. I don't know if that has held up, and I've heard that Alan Smithee doesn't exist anymore.) And, even more than that, according to a DGA spokesperson,
the credit [was] "a signal" to the industry and press that "moral foul play" had occurred.
I always just assumed it meant the producer and director argued over where the film would go and the director left or was fired from the project... Which, come to think of it, could pretty easily involve disputes that meet a definition for "moral foul play.".

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

i want to fly

That Ema Hesire just does not want to marry any old guy her mother chooses for here is progressive enough that I think her urge to fly is too much, and unnecessary. But, it makes me realize that the balance of the story is off. We start with Emmy, then we go to Switcher and it is more than 10 minutes into the movie before we see Emmy in the window, and close to half an hour before she comes to life. The movie plays as Jonathan's story but the emotional payoff is Emmy's. I mean, a romantic comedy should have a payoff for both its leads but it feels like Jonathan gets what he wants before Emmy is even in the story. Richards, Felix, B.J., even Roxie--they're obstacles but not significant ones to Jonathan. Ultimately, they endanger Emmy's life (but not really, as I assume she would just be born in some future piece of art and start her cycle again), they don't endanger Jonathan's job.

And, thinking about that made me realize something. I never thought of this movie as a romantic comedy, and that is strange. In fact, I always say I am not a big fan of romcoms, as it were, but clearly I'm a fan of certain ones. Case in point, Groundhog Day. No matter how much I argued in phase one of this blog that Groundhog Day is not a romantic comedy, obviously, it is one, even if it is also a different kind of comedy. And, apparently, I grew up on a bunch of them...

So far in this Movie Life childhood deconstruction, I've covered (and skipped because I'd already covered them in this blog previously) the following films that could be construed (perhaps at a stretch) as romantic comedy:

And there are a bunch more coming now that I've reached 1987. I won't SPOIL things but out of 17 movies on the list for 1987, 10 could be construed as romantic comedy. Also, I think 1987 has the most movies altogether out of any of the years on the list.

And, as a metaphor, I suppose wanting to fly is like finding romance, when it comes to romantic comedies and the implicit magic of romance. There's a great line from Richard Curtis

(that I got from my cohost Luke on our movies by minutes podcast Two Minutes About Time)
about the realism of romantic comedies. Curtis, writer of Four Wedding and a Funeral and Notting Hill, writer and director of Love Actually and About Time, tells Times of India, that "he is unable to comprehend the argument that serious films are more real than romantic comedies. 'I am so lucky that people watch my films again and again,'" he says. "'I disagree That romantic films are not realistic. It is so strange that someone makes a movie about a serial killer--there have been only three of them in the history--'"

(awkward wording there, plus I am not sure by what definition Curtis thinks there have only been three serial killers. (It might be that India (which the particular publication I'm quoting here is from) has only had three, but I doubt that.) And, this is coming from a guy who shares a name with a serial killer)
--"'and everybody says, "Oh, that is terribly realistic" as if the world is full of murderers and haters.'" Because, it's hardly unrealistic for people to fall in love--people do it every day.

They fly too.

And, they watch romantic comedies.

I try not to.

(And, maybe that is because there were so many around when I was a kid, and the family wouldn't just let me watch Krull and Star Wars and Flash Gordon all the time.)
But, I guess I will be watching a few in the upcoming weeks.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

if we sleep together tonight, we’d only confuse things

Let us get the silly out of the way up front. The setup in Egypt is silly--
and the set builders did not to a great job (except for the fact that they, of course, did not want this set to be taken seriously) as there is some weird thing on the wall that looks more like a... Had to double check, but it's a harpy on the wall between Emmy and the next mummy. And, who wrapped Emmy up like that, anyway? And, what was the point of it? Was she just going to stay in the tomb forever? And, how is it so well lit? And, why do the cracks all look horribly fake? Why are the hieroglyphs scattered instead of spaced uniformly spaced?Why are there some weird repeating shapes even with the tops of the alcoves that look like a deformed pharoah's head with an erection, and why are they not evenly spaced? You had one fucking job, set decorator, art director, production designed, whoever the fuck messed this up. Nevermind the Staff of Aesculapius-looking decorations at the sides of the mummy alcoves, because that shit is Greek, not Egyptian, and I stand by my line yesterday, however silly it may be, that anyone from Ancient Egypt should be offended by the start of this film. 
Based on the age Emmy offers later in the film, by the way, she should have been alive during the reign of Mentuhotep II
--but it serves its purpose. The animated opening titles feel very mid-80s but play a little too silly for me. Emmy hooked up with

  • Romans
  • Vikings
  • Druids
  • Michelangelo
  • Leonardo da Vinci (whose life overlaps with Michelangelo so how did that go?)
  • Christopher Columbus
  • (Possibly Marie Antoinette)
  • Robots in the future (however that makes sense)
  • And then some random dude in Philadelphia in 1987
She traded down.

The balloon bit is nonsense. The hedge bit, the pizza bit--Switcher is a selfish ass who should not be hired to do anything creative where he also has to follow instructions.

Illustra is tacky AF.

And Jonathan is definitely queer. He had a love he dare not talk about publicly (in 1987). He is an artiste, he works with Hollywood Montrose, Felix Maxwell definitely suspects that he is gay, and in the end, his partner has to undergo a strange transformation (at the flamboyantly tacky Illustra) to exist in "her" new body in order to be with him. And, he and Emmy are the victim between Mr. Richards and B.J. Because dick and a blowjob are not gay at all.

Rachel Bays at The Advance Titan describes some cinematic gay coding: "...soft-spoken, moving about in a 'dainty' fashion or being physically weaker than the leading male protagonist." Jonathan Switcher is the male protagonist, of course, but he is definitely soft-spoken, and his movement could be called dainty, but most importantly, he is physically weaker than everyone in this film except maybe Estelle Getty's Claire Timkin. As noted yesterday, of course, all the males in the film feel a little effeminate in their various ways. Armand is the most overtly heterosexual but in a way that feels like overcompensating. Just like Felix runs around trying to be hyper masculine (walking around with his baton out), but with his highwaters and his impulse to homophobia, he feels a little like a closeted, self-loathing homosexual himself. He does seem a little too eager to strip-search Switcher. Richards' slicked down hair presents him as an 80s douche, obviously, but also potentially coded gay himself. Looking to turn on the old-school Prince and Company and join the flamboyant Illustra. B.J.'s outfits work the same way--obvious 80s douche, potentially gay.

It occurs to me that a lot of men dressed pretty gay in the late 80s.
(Weird note: I never got Hollywood's line about meeting Albert for dinner following by "Hope he doesn't mind." And, it just hit me as something hilarious that he's going to surprise his boyfriend maybe out at dinner with other people, maybe at home. Hollywood is hilarious.)
Felix just openly attacking Switcher after he finds him rolling around with Emmy is a) a homophobic attack? 2) an envious/jealous attack? 3) a metaphor for the gay sex Felix wishes he was having with Switcher because he's stuck wandering around at night with a dog as his best friends because he couldn't possibly come out of the closet because it's 1987 (technically, it's '86, actually, given the calendar we see outside B.J.'s office), Reagan's America, and he's a good Texan boy working security.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Thomas (a fellow Prince and Company employee) thinks nothing of Jonathan and Emmy spending time in the Women's restroom.
(I always thought that old couple on the street was funny, but it's newly funnier. They see Jonathan with Emmy on his motorcycle. The woman says, "Look at him, with a dummy." The man replies, "Who are you to criticize?" Which feels at first like he's insulting her, which I think is how I always took it. But, if she's criticizing Jonathan for being with a dummy, her husband's question means she is also with a dummy. So the man is insulting himself.)
Then, Armand has a problem getting it up (which, was this the first instance of that problem I'd seen on the big screen?) and Roxie needs to stop trying to date guys who are not into 'normal' women.

To Felix, all the female mannequins look alike.

Jonathan is really quick with handcuffs.

Hollywood likes to fight and kiss boys, and he gets to turn a hose on cops (or at least security) which is a great moment for a gay man, and for a black man.
And, I never got back to the Advance Titan piece, or any other piece on gay coding... But, I think I made my point.

Monday, May 25, 2020

it’s that switcher

1987 will be a far more fun year than 1986 was in this childhood deconstruction--
which, let's be honest, has lately been me complaining about movies that I didn't know enough not to like when I was young, and might get worse with the string of comedies in '87--
and it might also get more serious in the dismantling of 80s cinematic tropes. The casual racism and sexism, homophobia, reliance on stereotypes and simplistic characterization--it ought to be interesting.

Beginning with Mannequin.

The opening of this film ought to be offensive to anyone from ancient Egypt. At least they didn't play "Walk Like an Egyptian" over the animated titles.

Roxie should have been Julia Louis-Dreyfus, coming off of Soul Man, but it looks like Louis-Dreyfus was looking into tv work in '87. She was in the Family Ties spinoff attempt, The Art of Being Nick in August, then an episode of Family Ties (as a different character) in '88 before being a regular on Day by Day, '88-'89. But Roxie isn't the point, is she. We've got Estelle Getty right in the middle of her run on Golden Girls, James Spader coming off of Pretty in Pink, G. W. Bailey coming off of two Police Academy films already, among other things. Meshach Taylor coming off of...

Actually, this is worth its own thing. I don't think I knew Taylor before his role here as Hollywood, but his IMDb says he had done a bunch of tv roles before this, a couple movies, including Explorers, which when I was a movie I loved as a kid, but for whatever reason we just never had it on video so it didn't make it onto this "fixture" list of mine. So, while I loved that movie, I don't remember it like I remember so many others, and I cannot recall Meshach Taylor in that film. Ethan Hawke, sure. River Phoenix, sure. Even Amanda Peterson (who starred in Can't Buy Me Love which made the list but I will be skipping because I already wrote about that one). And, I only just learned that Taliesen Jaffe (from Mr. Mom and Critical Role and many things in between) was in Explorers as well. I should watch that movie again sometime... Only, not here, I guess, because I am well past 1985.

Then our leads: Kim Cattrall coming off Big Trouble in Little China. And, Andrew McCarthy--who, like one of his two nemeses here, Spader's Richards, was also coming off Pretty in Pink.

And, it is remarkable how much I still have some much of this movie's dialogue in my head.

Also, unlike with Hoosiers the last couple days, I am inclined to put myself again in the time and place where I first saw this and wonder something. Hollywood is a bit of a caricature, the nervous, flamboyant homosexual, except even at the time I loved that character. So, my wonder now is, was liking this character one of the first times I was a fan of an openly gay character, was it a stepping stone to me getting past my conservative upbringing and accepting people that weren't that same old cisgender heterosexuals? The movie uses passing lines about homosexuals that might be offensive--Felix assuming Jonathan is also gay like Hollywood and, his great line: "You mean, they got 'em in Ohio?", for example. But then, I'm wondering if one couldn't make an argument about this whole Pygmalionesque plot as a sort of metaphor for being queer. You know, secret love you can't share with the world. Happens at night. The male authority figures are all very suspicious (and eventually openly violent). I mean, Jonathan's last name is Switcher, for Phil's sake.
What is amusing now is that Richards, Felix, Armand--even B.J.--are not the most masculine specimens. I mean by 80s standards, doesn't Richards scream a little gay?

Sunday, May 24, 2020

i know what i’m doing

The music to Hoosiers sounds like something else to me, like a bit from a song... Or maybe I've just heard this soundtrack so many times that I recognize it easily. Like the music from The Man from Snowy River (1288 1289 1290) or... So many others, actually. Friday night was the sabbath growing up, and that often meant some music playing and a card game, or older sisters would come over with their husbands and kids, once they had husbands and kids. Later when I had a wife and kids, we'd drop by my parents' house on a Friday night sometimes, too. A tradition left behind now. Waiting for a new generation, maybe.

But... Hoosiers.

I have complaints, and I will get to them. One of my complaints I am inclined not to bother much about because it turns out the Myra Fleener/Norman Dale relationship got short shrift in the editing process when the film got streamlined from a much longer first cut. As it is in the end product, Myra plays a vital but entirely manipulative and ultimately unnecessary part in act one, disappears as act two goes, and then suddenly she shows up for Norman to kiss her--I will complain about that scene later--as if their relationship had been building steadily. But, it wasn't building at all. I will assume the article I saw that mentions the first cut and what got lost after was correct, and say, it sucks for the final film that this relationship that might have been quite vital to the original seems like something tacked on instead.

Norman Dale is a liar, by the way. He tells Myra that if he is convinced to go after Jimmy, she will be "the first to know" but then he just shows up and talks to Jimmy, and goes all reverse psychology on him because Norman is kind of an ass.

Jimmy is shooting baskets--and Maris Valainis just ignored Hackman and shot to make all those shots in a row--and Norman approaches. "Jimmy, I didn't see you in class today. Any reason you want to tell me about?"

Jimmy doesn't answer.

"You know," Norman says, grabbing the ball and passing it back to Jimmy, "in the ten years that I coached, I never met anybody who wanted to win as badly as I did." Jimmy keeps shooting. "I'd do anything I had to do to increase my advantage. Anybody who tried to block the pursuit of the advantage
[like Myra Fleener]
I'd just push 'em out of the way. Didn't matter who they were or what they were doing.
[like looking after a boy whose mother is sick and whose father recently died]
But that was then." Jimmy keeps shooting. So, Coach Dale turns his focus. "You have a special... A gift. Not the school's. Not the townspeople's. Not the team's. Not Myra Fleener's. Not mine. It's yours... To do with what you choose.
[then maybe don't show up at his... I guess it' s outside the school, not his home... to manipulate him]
Because that's what I believe." Coach Dale holds the ball a little longer on this one instead of just passing it back. "I can tell you this: I don't care if you play on the team or not." He passes it back. Jimmy takes another shot, and this time he misses. CUT TO Myra watching, then Jimmy making shots again. This is a kid whose mother is sick and whose father recently died, remember. The coach's move here is a dick move.

But then the entire school one-ups him at the pep rally, and Coach Dale steps up and defends the players he's got, and I think we're supposed to be moved, and to think that Myra is moved.
And, the movie doesn't give us any time with Jimmy, no time to get to know him, know what he's dealing with, or to know why he bothers to show up when the town wants to get rid of Coach Dale.
(And, it's really simplistic writing that Myra's own reason for coming back to Hickory is the same as (her reason for) Jimmy not being on the team: her mother got sick and her father died. One one level, it gives her reason to care about Jimmy, I guess. But, on another level, it's lazy screenwriting. But, maybe in the longer cut we cared that Myra tried and failed to make something of herself outside of Hickory.)
Dale insists to his boss that he knows what he's doing, and the movie wants us to believe him. But, it doesn't actually show us that we should. A big part of my master's thesis was about how I manipulate your impressions writing this blog. I control what you think of me. I cite sources casually, I reference other films and previous blog entries, because I want to demonstrate that I know what I'm talking about. I want to provide evidence for as much in the examples I offer, the sources I find. I don't just want to you agree with me because me say that I am right. It's basic research/citation management that I (try to) teach my speech students. And, instead--and I am hesitant to say this next line--I am getting a horrible politician vibe from Coach Dale, even a, dare I say it, Trumpian vibe. Say you know what you're talking about, and we are just supposed to believe you. Nevermind that the team is still losing until the star player comes back. Nevermind that your last coaching gig, a dozen years ago, ended because you punched one of your players. Nevermind that you then were in the navy for a decade and that feels like a footnote more than an influence on who you are today. You are simply what you say you are, and not in the positive way I sometimes might suggest when getting all leftist and preaching about identity and you be whoever you want to be and all that. Instead, here, Coach Dale says he's something, and the audience believes it, and I really just don't know why. At his best, he's setting up one of his Hickory players--I swear, other than Jimmy I don't know which is which--to punch a player from the opposing team. And, he should be removed from his position as coach. He could go back to the Navy, change his name to Reigert, and 15 years later be responsible for Owen Wilson miraculously deciding that the military is the life for him, nevermind that a whole other movie has failed to provide evidence for character growth or change.
And then there's that SMASH CUT to Coach Dale dunking Shooter's head in a sink even though the movie has not bothered to show us that Shooter's drinking is a problem yet.

And then there's that conversation late in the film where we learn about his past problems and he transitions from that to immediately kissing Myra and I kinda want her to punch him and file a grievance over his taking liberties because, seriously, that moment is not earned in the shorter cut, and I would wager that even in the longer cut, it is hard to go from I once punched one of my athletes to hey, why don't we kiss and be a couple because movies got to have romance or something.

And then there's that final play of the final game, where the movie just throws out everything the coach has supposedly done for this team and it's just give Jimmy the ball and win...

Except that was set up from early one, wasn't it? Coach Dale told Jimmy, "I never met anybody who wanted to win as badly as I did." So, of course, damn his own coaching, damn his own four passes before the shot, just give the ball to JImmy and win already because the audience wants to cheer like mindless fools and head home happy as can be.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

more to the game than shooting

The description on STARZ for today's movie begins: "The best sports film ever?"

As I tell my Speech 101 students, don't start with a question. It gets me thinking, gets me not paying attention to you speaking and, in the case of this description, has me thinking about other films. I'm not a sports film kind of guy. I mean, I like some of every kind of movie, I'm sure, but if I ranked my genres--and I recently did just that, actually, while running a bracket of my favorite films on my podcast Cock & Bull--sports film is not near the top. My top 380 has so few that would qualify that when I broke down the list for an excel sheet, there wasn't even a column for it.

A couple that might qualify:
A couple documentaries:
  • Hoop Dreams
  • Free Solo
The Wrestler comes pretty close to what makes a "sports film", and that's on the list as well.
But, the only one on the list that, I suppose, is really a "sports film" is The Karate Kid (1343 1344).

I feel like my general distaste
--but, not necessarily dislike; for example, Hoosiers is a great film
(and is the one I'm watching today, by the way. Just realized I hadn't said that.)
but not because it's a great sports film. It's a dramatic story done well--
for sports films is similar to my dislike of most movies about writing or about artists. Usually, the cinematic version of such a story cannot really tell you the story of the creative process. And, maybe a film like this one tells you plenty about the sport
--I actually don't know, because I also have never played much of sports outside of school. I was on varsity in volleyball and I did play basketball for a church team (though only because I had to, and I eventually got out of it) and I tried out for baseball as well. I also don't watch sports much. I used to watch a Dodgers baseball game from time to time because my family was into that, but give me access to a second television or a computer and I'm watching something else or playing a video game instead--
but it feels more like the sport is just dressing. Someone who likes basketball can appreciate it. If I remember right, the games for this film were not choreographed per se except for certain moments. They just had the players play and worked out what made sense for the story.

But also, sport is not the point. Of this film, or of any sports film. Like most any action film, adventure film, even any romantic film, the points is the characters dealing with a struggle. In this case, as a team. Not much different from, say, The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars.

Half hour into Hoosiers, I'm not even sure Coach Dale knows what he's doing. It's like a movie about a teacher. We're stuck with that teacher, this coach, so we have to assume he's doing it right. But, I'm thinking of the recent The Way Back with Ben Affleck, for example, where it plays pretty close to Stand and Deliver (739) or Dangerous Minds (743) than something specifically sports related. New authority figure comes to the school, other adults don't necessarily like what they're doing, some of the kids don't necessarily like what they're doing, but they just keep doing it until the script tells us that it works, and all ends well.
(Or, SPOILERS, in the case of The Way Back it actually doesn't end all that well, which may have been the one bit of that film that made it feel somewhat original, or at least bold. But even in that, it's like Hoosiers except Coach Dale (Gene Hackman) and Shooter (Dennis Hopper) have been mashed into one character.)
In his book The Sports Film: Games People Play, Bruce Babington offers Invictus as his initial example of a great sports film. Invictus, he writes, "through its sports narrative addresses not just sporting matters but wider issues, not implicitly as many do, but very explicitly, this providing an overt opening example of the genre's workings." Hoosiers, just on a casual pass, is perhaps just as interested, as it is in basketball, in the idea that small town folk can feel stuck, and need to find a way out. Myra (Barbara Hershey) is not just arbitrarily trying to keep Jimmy from being on the team; she specifically takes a dig at Dale, after saying she wants Jimmy to get an academic scholarship:
I don't want this to be the high point of his life. I've seen 'me. The real sad ones. They sit around all their lives talking about the glory days when they were 17... A man your age comes to a place like this, either he's running from something or he has nowhere else to go... Just stay away from Jimmy. I don't want him coaching in Hickory when he's 50.
And that's what Hoosiers is about more than basketball. It's about a guy who failed at his job--in this case, he assaulted one of his own players--and needs a comeback. All we really know about his way of coaching is that it is unlike the last coach or the interim guy or what the players' fathers might want. He demands four passes before a shot. Is that good? I don't know. Does it even work? The film suggests it doesn't go well. I mean, the team doesn't start really winning until Jimmy joins the team to keep Coach Dale from being removed. Why Jimmy believes in Dale--the film doesn't really tell us. The basic gist is Dale cares more about playing well than winning. But, for a sports program to survive long, I would expect one thing to be the other and vice versa. You don't have to be the best but you gotta do something to justify your existence.

The problem I have is I want something less vague. What about Dale's coaching makes the Huskers better? What about Shooter made Dale think he could coach at his side? What about Dale made Jimmy want to return? Actually, that last one is easy; Jimmy clearly enjoys the sport and would have probably come back at some point; the bigger issue is why after Jimmy returns does it feel like Myra's reasoning for keeping him away--and Myra's role in the film, really--just doesn't matter anymore. Jimmy's absence feels like a gimmick for the first act, or two acts, I guess; I wasn't paying attention the timing on when they wanted to get rid of Dale and Jimmy deus ex machinaed Dale's continued job as coach.

Roger says the film's structure is
the broad over-all structure of most sports movies: It begins with the problem of a losing team, introduces the new coach, continues with the obligatory training sequences and personality clashes, arrives at the darkest hour and then heads toward triumph.
To be fair, if you boil any film down to its primary beats, everything is pretty generic. Every horror film is a bit like every other horror film. Every science fiction film is a bit like every other science fiction film. Every fantasy film. Every romantic comedy. Every buddy cop movie. Every sports movie. Jimmy is in this movie because the movie needs Coach Dale to be the underdog and barely survive the town of Hickory. Shooter is in this movie because the script needs something horrible to happen in act three. Myra is in the movie... Actually, once Jimmy is on the team, I'm not sure why she ever was in the film at all. She was an obstacle posing almost as a potential romantic interest, but then she just kinda went away (she will be back later, but it's like a stray unrelated subplot at that point).

The aforementioned Babington suggests that sports films typically follow a pattern described by Bordwell, Thompson, and Staiger in The Classical Hollywood Cinema: "causality, consequence, psychological motivations, the drive towards overcoming obstacles and achieving goals." One of those doesn't really fit well in Hoosiers, though. What are any of these characters' motivations aside from the ones we put on them because maybe we've been in a similar place before? Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with letting the audience identify with characters and put ourselves into the story, but Myra's urge for Jimmy to have something better than basketball is important. Her own inability to really make it out of Hickory--she did go to grad school but ended up back in the small town--is important. Dale's anger issues are important. Strap's religion is important. But, do we know any details about any of these things. We almost get detail about Myra, but then the movie moves on. We start to learn about Dale's history--which might hint at the reasons for his anger issues--but then the movie moves on. Character, psychological motivation, is secondary to just playing, winning, overcoming obstacles and achieving goals.

And, while I'm watching a film like this, I guess it works for me. But, afterward, I'd generally rather watch something else.

Friday, May 22, 2020

even though I’m white on the outside

Opening music: "Hoochie Coochie Man" by Muddy Waters. Minus a point right off the bat.

Mark spent the previous night drinking, and wakes in bed with a woman he does not remember. Not a race problem, but still an immediate negative. This guy should not be going to Harvard.

(That woman in his bed is Missy from Bill & Ted and Kim from Summer School. Amy Stoch as girl who doesn't even get a name here.)
He also has a bucket of tennis balls to turn off two separate alarms (set for noon). He's a Ferris Bueller-wannabe asshole, is what he is.

Minor thing in Mark's favor later: as a lawyer he may be able to sue his father over spending money from what his father specifically calls his "tuition account" on a timeshare in a condo in Barbados. Calling it a "tuition account" sounds like at the least an oral agreement, and based on how banks deal with things like that today, the account itself might have been labeled per its purpose and probably had Mark's name on it. So, talk her white privilege and turn it on your folks, boy.

Janet Maslin says the movie is "a blithe, silly, good-natured movie" and its "quick pacing and high spirits" goes "a long way toward making up for any underlying obtuseness or insensitivity." Roger suggests it has a "lot of potential" and says the premise is "a genuinely interesting idea, filled with dramatic possibilities, but the movie approaches it on the level of a dim-witted sit-com."

Landlord doesn't want a black man living in one of his apartments. His daughter immediately takes an interest in the token black man in the neighborhood--if you remember any line from this movie, it might be hers: "I really don't feel that there's black and white, only shades of gray."

In an interview with Meriah Doty, Rae Dawn Chong suggests that the film "was only controversial because Spike Lee made a thing of it...
He'd never seen the movie and he just jumped all over it... He was just starting and pulling everything down in his wake... If you watch the movie, it's really making white people look stupid.
The movie does make white people look stupid. They are bigots or they are slackers...

For example, the basketball scene is an example of the casual bigotry in display from the characters, which is obvious, but the scene also begins by showing the other black guy on the floor making a shot, effectively displaying the exact stereotyping that Ron Reagan and the other team captain are--we are meant to infer--mistakenly assuming.

The precedent/president scene paints the white students as I'll-prepared fools, either too nervous to answer or too confident while also being wrong. Typical white people, as it were.

Whitney's line about feeling 400 years of oppression in every thrust when she has sex with Mark is a low point among the various race-related issues in the film.
Roger has a great bit:
Consider, for example, the scene where Howell has his parents (who do not know he is "black") in the kitchen, a sex-mad white girl in his bedroom and Chong in the living room. He races back and forth like a Marx brother, pulling on a. Ski cap so his parents can't se his face, and we realize that all of this idiotic farce is an excuse for avoiding the tough dialogue that would have to be written for realistic scenes involving these people.
The movie fails to combine its attempts at social commentary with its attempts at romantic comedy. And that means that neither of those things really succeed. I mean, it would take a fantastic writer to make the social commentary really work here without it being at least offensive in passing. The romantic comedy moments work a little better but depend too much on the social commentary paying off better than it does.

Instead, the jokes are cringeworthy. If you can forgive the 1986-ishness of the movie, it's not that bad a comedy. But, nearly a quarter century out, we deserve better.
(Also, the eviction won't hold up either, if Mark and Gordo dispute it. I really doubt Boston in 1986 would allow eviction because a black tenant had sex with a white girl... Although, it's America. That sort of law could still be on the books today in some places.)

Thursday, May 21, 2020

america loves black people

It feels wrong that I hope Soul Man is horribly offensive. I mean, the premise is offensive enough, but we recognized that even when the movie was new. We. Just looked right on past it because the movie justifies (or tries to justify) itself with a nice romance at the center--and the church I grew up in had until recently been very much against miscegenation--and, of course, deep down, it's a movie about a white guy put upon by the world who just wants to make good. And, that makes it all okay.

And, I imagine I will not be able to contain the smartass with this one. Sorry.

First, a surprise: Steve Miner directed this thing. He directed Friday the 13th Part II and Part III. He directed House. He'd go on to direct Warlock and Halloween H20, and Lake Placid, and we'd even see him directing a scene from Forever Young in person one night when we spotted some bright lights in... I think it was San Marino, but I don't recall the exact street. I was 16 and barely driving yet at that point; I don't quite recall if it was San Marino, South Pasadena, or farther south in Alhambra. But Mel Gibson on the porch of a random residential house filming a movie was awesome. He wasn't problematic just yet, or at least I didn't know that, or didn't know what that meant. Or, I was still not quite out from under the conservative umbrella I'd been raised beneath...

But, that's 1992. This is 1986, still. And a white guy who I was very familiar with from my sister Bobbie's bedroom wall was about to pretend to be black, hook up with that girl from Commando

and take classes from Darth Vader, just to be a successful American.

See, that's the thing; this is like the quintessential American film. White guy feels a little put upon, so he steals from black people. What's more American than that?

But, now I'm imagining a modern remake in which on his first day in Cambridge, Mark forgets he looks like a black man and gets gunned down and the movie is over and the audience is put out of its misery.

(Also, I must nitpick: if you're going to say your lead took pills to darken his skin, then maybe be sure that the neck of all his shirts don't wipe away some of his makeup.)

But nevermind the racism for a moment--neither Mark (C. Thomas Howell, the aforementioned, 130+ pictures of him on my sister's wall guy) nor Gordon (Arye Gross) feel like law students. Maybe it would play better if they were freshman in college and not transfers from UCLA.

But,, James Earl Jones just showed up and this feels like a real movie. At least for the moment.

And then Mark is condescending as fuck, offering to help Sarah (Rae Dawn Chong) with her homework, because of course, he's better at everything than she is, of course, because he was raised white.

Oh shit, the basketball captains fight over Mark because he's black, mix up his name with the other black guy, and just get his name wrong because Mark sounds too white, I guess. It's like this movie wants to be horribly offensive and be subversive satire at the same time.

And so, I look up the screenwriter--Carol Black. Good name
and in case you don't know my name, that's not a race reference but a surname reference)
but she wrote for Growing Pains before this, would go on to create and write for The Wonder Years and Ellen later. I'm not sure how much of an authority on race relations she is. And, the previously mentioned Steve Miner isn't bringing much to the table regarding as much. But, this is America. You want to a movie about black people... Or at least like 2-3 black people, of course you get a white writer and a white director and, I assume, white producers, because that's who is going to get a movie into theaters and play everything for laughs just enough that butts are in the seats and the movie will be #32 at the box office for the year. I mean, it is. But, that is the problem, right.

And the even bigger problem, in context of this white guy--me--and his blog, is that I register that the premise for this film is offensive but I'm not sure I care. Ten years old. White boy who already likes watching any movie you'll put in front of me.

And, this movie is trying to be something smart, satirical. When Mark goes to dinner with Whitney
(Melora Hardin as the girlfriend who barely registers, just like in Iron Eagle)
and her family, the visions they each have of him--the mother seeing him as some dark-skinned savage out to ravish her, the son imagining him as Prince, the father seeing him as a pimp who has impregnated his daughter--are sadly simplistic but feel like the writer aiming for something.

Not that I want to defend this movie, just yet.

As a teacher, for example, I don't like that Mark doesn't just fail to turn in his paper on time because he got arrested but because he had not written it yet. You're waiting 18 hours before the paper is due, that's you're fucking fault, white man; don't come running to your black professor looking for special treatment just because you're black now. Write that shit ahead of time, and get your life together.

And really this movie has a similar problem to Crocodile Dundee in that the characters are inconsistent. Sarah is the A student when the semester begins and Mark is the slacker get a C. But, throw in a child because of course the young black woman had to be a single mother in the mid-80s. Then, when she starts to have trouble, he's right there to study with her, because romantic comedy has to be romantic comedy.
In its best moments, this movie is a romantic comedy, and I'm not the biggest fan of romantic comedies, or at least I say I'm not. Mark taking a liking to Sarah's kid, Sarah's first snow. These moments work despite and separate from the race elements of the story.

But then race comes back in. Mark got the scholarship that Sarah should have gotten. But, he feels bad about that and it seems he's going to go turn himself in over it. But, when a rather sinister talk (which turns out to be unrelated) with Professor Banks (Jones) gets him rethinking his choice to come clean, we get a deus ex machina (without payoff) instead. Barely in the movie Lisa (Julie Louis-Dreyfus) and Brad (Mark Neely) happen to see a list of Brouchard Scholarship recipients and recognize Mark's name because his name is the only one on the plaque that includes a middle name as well--Pelfrey.

And then the white guy has to defend his actions based on the color of his skin and the privilege that he has been raised to be accustomed to.

It would be brilliant if it weren't so wrong.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

a strange emptiness about it

Obviously, Crocodile Dundee has some casual sexism and racism...

And, some unfortunate choices regarding the same, nevermind it being the 80s. For example, Sue begins the film several weeks into a stay in Australia, writing for the New York-based Newsday. She goes on her own to find the titular character in the outback, then goes with him out into the wilds. And, just like Willie in Temple of Doom or Joan in Romancing the Stone, she freaks out at animals sure. Eighties woman gotta eighties woman. But, Mick says she couldn't last on her own in the outback and she not only immediately picks up her stuff to leave on her own but also, when he tells her to take the rifle and mocks her by point out the dangerous end, she fires it right next to his toes without even raising it to aim. This is like cinematic code for she's a badass. And, we're set up for Sue being on equal footing with Mick. She even is smart enough to wear a hat and a big ol scarf over her head while she's out there walking. But then--in a moment spoiled by the trailer for the film, it turns out--she strips down to her g-string bathing suit, and fills her canteen in a watering hole occupied by a croc.

And, of course, Mick has been following her, gets to eye her bare flesh in a very 80s display, and then leaps to her defense when the croc grabs her canteen and could very well drag her into the water and kill her. Because, that bit where she was badass--that meant nothing. Instead, she needs Mick to survive, and he's also going to turn out to be the real man she wants to be with later instead of her successful boyfriend back home in New York. A guy who works in publishing and wearing a light blue triple-breasted suits; by 80s code, he's a douche, and he kinda is one but that's not the point. The film has almost no plot. Sue crosses a bit of outback with Mick, then she convinces him to come back to New York with her. He has misadventures where he saves random people, gets driven around by Sergeant Al Powell a couple years before Die Hard, misunderstands prostitution, assaults a trans woman and a "normal" woman, who of course is turned on by him pulling a Trump move on her, and we're supposed to like this guy?

And, Sue is supposed to not only turn away from her regular life but have no blowback from it all? Seriously, her father drives her to find Mick at the end of the movie. There is zero consequence to her turning down Richard's proposal (and she doesn't even quite turn him down, the movie just kinda skips that part).

There are no stakes to this film, is the thing. Which, given the film's invoking of "walkabout" could have been something deliberate, like an earlier form of Eat Pray Love or Wild or even Into the Wild, or any of those wander-off-into-the-wild-to-discover-yourself kind of movies. Imagine we had a better sense of Sue as a person before she's already off in Australia, or, he'll, just take what we know of her from the opening scene--she's been on an extended work trip already, and she decides she's staying longer to chase another story. After Mick tells her about the croc attack--the death roll monologue--she notices the spent rifle shells in his boat and knows damn well he wasn't just fishing. She is good at her job, she does what she wants, and she gets what she wants. She shouldn't be panicking at the sight of a snake like the aforementioned Willie or Joan. She calls her ex-husband "the original rebel" and says, "You name it, we marched. Anti-nuke. Women's Lib. Save the whales." The cheap, easy way out is to think she marched because she was a poseur and her stint in the outback is the same thing. But, Linda Kozlowski's performance sells something better.

To be fair to the movie's overall underselling of Sue, she says of where her ex is currently, "He's probably marching right now for the gay Nazis." Whatever that's supposed to mean, other than some bullshit conservative messaging on the gay agenda, and she' stunned from someone with an interesting (to me, at least) past as a protestor to something boring. Then, it' she very next morning that she separated from Mick to go on her own. The movie just can't help but send mixed messages about who Sue is supposed to be. After that gay nazi remark, she asks Mick, "Haven't you ever protested anything?" He replies--very amusingly to the 80s audience, I'm sure--"Sure, every time I get thrown out of the pub."

"I'm serious," she says. "Where would you sat ad on, say the nuclear debate? What about the arms race?" These are legitimate questions that, again, imply a legitimate woman.

"None of my business," he replies.

"None of your business? How can you say that? It's everybody's business. Got to have an opinion." It could be an early you-go-girl kind of moment, but no, Mick can't take it seriously, and the writers let him dismiss it with some pseudo-knowledgeable bullshit when instead she asks him about the Australian Aborigine's land claim. Mick offers a line that sounds more like something someone wrote about Aborigines than anything that actually fits them. A line about how they don't own the land, they belong to it. Which a) ignores the point of her question and b) ignores the larger issue because Mick just can't be bothered to care.

Nevermind his lies. Telling time by the sun after secretly checking a watch. Shaving with his knife after really using a razor. His can of beans. (Even the water buffalo bit feels like a scene meant to have a payoff where we discover that particular animal has been trained for this display.) Saying Nev "thinks his way" through the bush right before we (and Sue) hear Nev off in the distance stumble over something and proclaim that he hates the bush. Mick is just a series of punchlines, and the film refuses to let Sue be anything but a sounding board or a target, even after repeatedly giving her more meat to dig into.
Regarding the potential reboot with Danny McBride, Luke Buckmaster at Australian Film has a great line: capture the spirit of the original three Crocodile Dundee movies... In addition to being vulgar and witless, the new film would need to be sexist, racist, homophobic and transphobic. It would need to have awkward jokes unfunny at the time of release and even less amusing when revisited years later.
The thing is, when this movie was new, we were amused. We didn't care about the sexism or the racism, laughed at the transphobia, laughed at cause violence, laughed at jokes that, yeah, do not hold up. And we certainly didn't care about the 2-decade age difference between our leads (especially since they got married in real life and remained together until 2014).

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

still be there when you and i are gone

It feels like, however much I had things to say regarding the last film on the list (Stand By Me 1381 1382 1383 1383 1385 1386), with each further movie on my "movie life" list, it is much more about commenting from the present than remembering from the past, because for some of them--like today's Crocodile Dundee, for example--they were so briefly what I've been calling fixtures, that their influence is negligible beside something bigger and more attractive to my imagination like Dune or Masters of the Universe or Willow...

Actually, Willow might be on the list. But, I'm not sure, say, Batman is, even though I saw that movie 6 times on the big screen, bought the VHS on the day it came out, listened to both soundtracks constantly, and went retro watching reruns of every episode of the 60s tv show and the '66 film, and when I started reading comics regularly a few years later, the Batman comics were on my pull list for more than a decade. But, it's harder to define these fixtures a certain number of years out from my birth. We recorded movies off cable, and we bought the occasional VHS (but they could be expensive sometimes), but we also rented a lot of them. And, movies like Scream for Help or Humongous or A Nightmare on Elm Street
(I'm not sure I ever told the story of that first experience with Elm Street in this blog... Confirmed, at least in the two entries specifically regarding the film: 435 760, I did not recount that story. I probably told it on a podcast. Maybe Michael Myers Minute. Simple version: the movie was too much for my mother or she thought it was too much for me, so she made my father drive us out--we were at a drive-in--after just the first act. I sat backward on the backseat watching the movie in silence as we drove away. Didn't see the movie through to the end until it was on television. And a handful of years later, I bought every movie in the franchise on VHS for myself.)
or Slaughter High, Return to Horror High, House, The Gate, Remo Williams, Red Dawn, Spies Like Us, D.A.R.R.Y.L., Cloak and Dagger, movies I saw once or twice but we just never owned them. Even The Day After which I think I've only seen the one time. But, it certainly made an impact. I'm guess there are odd little movies we rented in the 80s over in Hastings Ranch (and there were definitely some we rented at Now Playing in the 90s that had an impact on what I thought of movies, what I wanted to do with movies, or with writing, and I don't even remember their titles.

One movie is all movies, and all that. All in all, they're all just bricks in the wall. Or something. We'd head out to the second-run theater and see a double feature more than once a week sometimes. Catch a new release on the weekend somewhere else that same week. There was a time I had the phone numbers of every movie theater within easy driving distance memorized...

For the youths in the audience, this was before smartphones. For the not-quite-youths, this was well before Moviefone. You wanted to know what was on a a particular theater, you had to check the newspaper listing or know the phone number to call for the prerecorded list of showtimes.

Had the benefit of growing up in Pasadena, suburban Los Angeles as it were. Not as suburban as the tract homes and gated communities and whatnot, but suburban enough. But, we had a bunch of movie theaters available. Pacific (one big screen in the 80s, turned into 6 smaller ones later) and Mann (3 screens) in Hastings Ranch. The Colorado, the Esquire, the United Artists theater and somewhere in the mid-80s the Academy along Colorado. Then, the United Artists Marketplace (6 screens) opened in the late 80s, and the AMC One Colorado (a multiplex we just called the "underground" because it was, well, underground) right at the front end of the 90s. Add the Mann 6 our in Monrovia, the two Edwards theaters down in Alhambra, and we had most any theater release available. Once I could drive myself to a theater farther away, and all the way into the present (well, before quarantine closed theaters) there are upwards of a hundred screens around, maybe two hundred. Including all the Laemmle theater and independents where Oscar-hopeful films do their required big-screen time in December. I've been seeing movies alone in the theater since as soon as I didn't need to beg someone else to take me.

Going with other people was still fun, is still fun. But, during the movie is for time for watching the movie so it hardly matters. Plus, I always want to see more movies than everyone else I know.
The thing about movies on and off my list is they left a mark. They all leave a mark. The cynical take is that each one fills up a piece of something that has been missing inside me since I was a kid afraid of the end of the world. The more hopeful take is that whatever damage my childhood did to me, I chose--and I choose--to rebuild or build upon what's there with all these stories because that makes me a far bigger person than I would be otherwise. Roger's empathy machine and all that. I used to end my YouTube reviews by saying you should see more movies. You still should. It'll make you better people.