Tuesday, June 30, 2020

she will come back

Willow starts a little basic--a bit of onscreen text (that is entirely superfluous) about a prophecy involving a baby that will grow up to bring down Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh).
(The plot is a little like The Lord of the Rings except it's a baby instead of a ring, and Gandalf is an old woman who was cursed into the shape of a possum.)

Nurse gets the baby out of the dungeon (though the mother is killed) and manages to get the baby as far as a river, where she pulls a a Moses allusion sending the baby on her way. The nurse, like the baby's mother, is also killed. The baby is Elora Danan and it occurred to me just an hour or so before turning the film on tonight that this story has a lot of female energy to its cast, despite its leads being Warwick Davis as the titular Willow and Val Kilmer as Madmartigan.

In the opening scene, we've already passed the Bechdel test, and we probably don't realize it just yet but we have also passed the Mako Mori test. The main plot may be Willow's, but it is driven by 1) saving Elora Danan, 2) on the behalf of Cherlindrea (Maria Holvoe), 3) with the help of Fin Raziel (Patricia Hayes), and 4) eventually with the help of Sorsha (Joanne Whalley).

Back in 1988, I don't think I would have even noticed the gender balance in the film. Willow's quest begins as a very male-heavy quest. Meegosh (David Steinberg), Vohnkar (Phil Fondacaro), Burglekutt (Mark Northover) and at least two others (Tony Cox and Malcolm Dixon), and of course, it is the High Aldwin (Billy Barty) who sends them to give the baby to the first human they see.
(I remember in the novelization, each of these Nelwyn "warriors" has their own backstory told along the way.)
At first. Once they find Madmartigan, they all abandon the quest but for Willow. He continues on with Madmartigan. And, to be fair, these two will be joined by brownies Rool (Kevin Pollak) and Franjean (Rick Overton), and in the big battles later in the film, Airk's (Gavan O'Herlihy) presence will matter, but none of these characters have their own storylines. Cherlindrea sends Willow to get Fin Raziel. Cherlindrea sends Rool and Franjean along with him. The obvious central story is Willow proving himself capable by taking Elora to safety and even facing off against Bavmorda (alongside Fin Raziel, of course). But, watching the film again after many years, I am trying to focus on the female characters.
(By the way, I've never read the followup series of novels written by Chris Claremont, but they take place about 15 years after the events of the film and teenage Elora is the main character.)
Cassandra Bausman, in "Conflicted Hybridity: Negotiating the Warrior Princess Archetype in Willow", explains
While women worried are a familiar presence in fiction, and television screens have been graced with strong heroines since Xena took her place as a small-screen queen--
And, certainly well before Xena, I would point out. From Wonder Woman to the Bionic Woman, for two examples.
--there is a comparative lack of such characters in fantasy film. In most such films, women have often played central roles, but those roles have frequently reinforced gender stereotypes, remained two-dimensional, and been supporting rather than leading. More broadly, women have historically played very limited roles, often restricted to evil (or good) queens and/or sorceresses, beautiful princesses and/or love interests, saucy and buxom wenches or barmaids, or mythical creatures like fairy queens...
As Bausman points out, all of these types exist in Willow, but I would contend that the sorcerer Nelwyn, the self-professed "greatest swordsman", and a couple comic-relief brownies are hardly normal male character types, strictly speaking. Well, Madmartigan is. But, he spends a good part of the film in pink pants (fashioned from a dress he wore to pose as a woman before his reunion with WIllow), and Kilmer fuels him with a chaotic energy that one would never expect in, say, Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings. Willow and Madmartigan get the most screentime, but their stories are beholden to the women around them. And, the women all have some sort of power, whether magical, political, or both. Even the nurse's defiance in taking Elora away was powerful.

But Bausman continues:
The warrior princess or "chick in chain mail" is comparatively rare.
However, the classic fantasy adventure film Willow (1988) manages to feature all of these character types... Bob Dolman, the screenwriter chosen to fix [George] Lucas' story to the page, has confessed to just such an agenda, admitting that he "was secretly trying to get more women into the movie and attempting to make it different from all other movies George had done." The injection of female roles is notable, with the role of eccentric magical teacher (Yoda) and evil ruler (Emperor Palpatine) both made women...
I guess by this metaphor, Cherlindrea is Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Kiaya (Julie Peters), Mims (Dawn Downing) and Ranon Mark Vande Brake) are lucky they didn't meet a fate like Owen and Beru Lars.
But, back to Bausman:
...and, while there is a feisty Princess paralleling the Leia role in Sorsha, the struggle between good and evil, the choice between her mother's rule and the cause of a band of freedom fighters which echoes Luke Skywalker's epic journey, is also, ostensibly, made hers. Indeed, Princess Sorsha, Willow's dominant female character, is an important character in the history of screen heroines, as she, as a sort of archetypal hybrid, represented--
Represents, present tense.
--a kind of heroine not often seen and yet remains one of the most nuanced examples of a warrior princess in a fantasy film.
Bausman goes on to argue,
[in a] tale of unconventional heroes uniting to fight for what's right... [Sorsha's] character arc, by virtue of a liberalized conversion from antagonist to protagonist, is arguably the most transformative and significant in the film, perhaps best explicating the themes of the film as a whole.
Sorsha's choice to join Madmartigan and Willow against her mother is pivotal to their quest going the direction it goes. Without her, they wouldn't have survived the fight at Tir Asleen. As Bausman points out, after that fight, Sorsha's role becomes far less important, more a tagalong to Madmartigan than her own person. But, in terms of decisions, actions, that affect the outcome of the plot, hers accomplishes more even than Madmartigan initially taking Elora from Willow at the crossroads, because he rather quickly loses the baby to the brownies whereas Sorsha remains a central force in the final conflict against her mother's forces. Bausman suggests,
...in allowing the character to be so easily read in this limited way [as following Madmartigan], the film trades complexity in for type, evolution for tradition, and, in so doing, skirts the need to explore the motivation and consequences of her decision, thus reducing Sorsha's role in the final third of the film--
It's more like a quarter, but still problematic.
-- to a somewhat awkward accessory rather than a primary agent in the coming final battle. This [sic], we find the flagrant erasure of a female character and her experiences and motivations.
Like the chaotic energy of Kilmer's Madmartigan, I would argue that Whalley infuses enough energy in her role as Sorsha that even pushed aside in terms of action, her presence ahead of the army at the gates of Nockmaar.

Bausman cites earlier material associated with the film, and Sorsha's increased role there, for example, after "joining the rebels, she pursues and defeats a number of enemy soldiers on horseback with a superb demonstration of bother her skills as a warrior and her new allegiances, [but] the film does not [provide this scene]."

Effectively, Sorsha's final overt act (aside from simply being part of the mass attack later) is to kiss Madmartigan. Her princess role over her warrior role. Bausman argues,
once Sorsha joins the other heroes, the film no longer needs her to b a warrior, it has other characters, traditional male characters, who fulfill that function, rendering her suddenly secondary rather than necessary in that capacity.. As careful as the film seemed to be in initially establishing a respect for her identity as a warrior, it's final scenes grant Sorsha little to do.
Except it is Sorsha who kills Bavmorda’s seers, clearing the way for Raziel.

Monday, June 29, 2020

the people that come in here need help, not condemnation

From the opening slasher moment I mentioned yesterday, Jack's Back cuts to a cheap knockoff of Peter Gabriel's "Red Rain"--and they purportedly wanted "Red Rain" but couldn't get it. And, it's obvious that 1) this movie is taking itself seriously, which will be good later, and 2) this movie is going to feel fairly generic if you've seen enough movies, and will be even more generic if you watch it a few decades later and write about it.

And then the movie goes from the knockoff song to jumping to the day of the final copycat murder, which is a waste of a far more interesting plot, but I will get to that below.

Roger has a great Line about the plot of this film:
All of this sounds contrived. Of course it is contrived. A movie like this is nothing without contrivance, and one of its pleasures is to watch the plot gimmicks as they twist inward upon themselves, revealing one level of surprise after another.
Roger may have bought Jack as the killer. Been taken by that ruse. And yet he does not complain about the alleged killer--who is copycatting Jack the Ripper, mind you--being named Jack, but really, that is not the biggest issue with the Jack the Ripper connection.

This is not a movie about Jack the Ripper murders is the thing. As Scott Drebit at Daily Dead puts it, "This would be my one quibble with Jack's Back--if you're going to make a Jack the Ripper movie, give me more kills."

Drebit offers a little consolation in suggesting that director Rowdy Herrington didn't intend to make a movie about the murders; rather,
He's clearly aiming for a Hitchcock (man falsely accused tries to clear his name), and achieves it regardless of the smoky, late '80s sex and saxophone vibe that was only a few years shy of turning into the prevalent "erotic thriller" of the early '90s.
But, Herrington doesn't even get the one "Jack the Ripper" murder that happens during the film right anyway. So, 1) it might be a good thing that the other murders aren't depicted, nor their aftermaths but for one photo we see clearly. Mary Jane Kelly, the Ripper's last canonical murder, was mutilated and dissected to a far greater degree than would be possible in the time between Jack giving Denise Johnson (the last victim here) an abortion and him going to get her a prescription and returning.

But more importantly, 2) aside from it happening to be 100 years since the original murders, there is no reason that this movie needs to have anything to do with Jack the Ripper at all. Jack's Back wasn't even the original title. Herrington wanted to call the film Red Rain, hence wanting the Gabriel song. But, the budget was only a million dollars, and a) they couldn't afford Gabriel and b) Red Rain (and Red Harvest after the replacement song) don't fit the plot or tone of the film anyway.

Todd Martin at Horror News Net says "that one of the strongest things going for this movie is the fact that it has a strong script and is very well-written." 1) that's redundant, unless you have seen a "strong script" that was poorly written, because that feels rather impossible. But, 2) I disagree. What works in the film has very little to do with its script, and more to do with the focus on characters. Herrington writes and directs and he is clearly better at the latter. The script includes things like cops wondering if twins have the same fingerprints--they don't--and a reporter recognizing that Rick looks like his dead brother when she shouldn't have seen the dead body, and the cops should not have been handing out photos of the dead guy at the scene where he hasn't even been taken away to the coroner yet. The script includes dreams and hypnosis in a story that would be better served being grounded in reality.


John doesn't work at a free clinic and moonlight at some homeless village; he works at a hospital and moonlights at a free clinic. Why? Because then we have room to actually get to know Sidney as a character beyond 80s paint-by-numbers police captain (which is already silly in addition to shallow because he's not a police captain and there is a police captain in the film). We see him yell at Denise--a prostitute who is also pregnant--so we might assume he dislikes prostitutes, but it's so brief we hardly care. And, when he turns out to be the Jack the Ripper copycat in the end, we might enjoy the twist in the moment but if we put any thought into it at all, it falls apart. Why is Sidney copying Jack the Ripper? Why is he killing prostitutes? Does the former lead to the latter or vice versa? But, if Sidney's problem with prostitutes comes out in his interactions with John--yelling at him for working at the free clinic and helping out the dregs of Los Angeles--instead of yelling at Denise, who we never get to know as a character (and if we blink at the wrong moment, we never even learn what she has to do with John in the first place, when they recognize each other--she was his... prom date, I guess; we see a photo) and then disappearing for a good portion of the film.

Let John survive longer into the film. Let him get caught up in the mystery of who is killing prostitutes because he knows the victims from his work at the free clinic. And, then there is more time for Jack to also be set up as the first red herring because there would be more scenes at the clinic and the hospital and we might actually have room to try to solve the mystery of who is killing prostitutes--

--and who is not copying Jack the Ripper because that is a far different film that needs to spend time with its killer more than spend time with its investigator(s). Go watch Time After Time if you want to see some good Jack the Ripper action. Or, in a pinch, watch From Hell but really you should skip the movie and just read Alan Moore's graphic novel if you want to go that route.

Doctor who has grown tired of helping poor people and prostitutes at the county hospital or wherever decides to just rid the world of them one at a time. One of his med-school interns starts to take an interest in the murders and gets a little too close. Fortunately, another intern (or whatever Jack is) is acting suspicious because he has been giving some of these same prostitutes abortions on the sly. The twist with Jack killing John in a rage and then disguising it as a suicide still happens. And we can still get the surprise twin brother...

But, maybe set up the twin with more than just one little photo we pay no attention to. Mention a brother, but not that it's a twin. The way the twin revelation plays is one of the best parts of the movie.

Then, since the film is going for a film noir vibe (just listen to the music that plays when Rick visits John's apartment), sure, the police turn their sights on Rick, and Rick has to investigate what happened to his brother while running from the cops
(And it would be more than just two cops since the news report early in the film suggests that four murdered prostitutes has led to one of the biggest manhunts in history)
and he has to also investigate the initial string of murders because the cops are too busy chasing the wrong man. And, to play up the social commentary and Sidney's classist drive to murder, maybe Rick has to get close to some seedy characters. Like he isn't already a little criminal himself, doesn't already know where to find a gun on short notice but has to figure out these things, and work closely with prostitutes and pimps and derelicts, humanizing them at the same time the film monsterizes Sidney (and maybe even Jack). Film noir often involves classist critique and commentary. There is room for the first act's passing focus on the homeless and on prostitutes to actually matter and not just affect the plot but affect the people in the audience.
Also, I swear the police in this film do absolutely nothing in this entire film that follows proper procedure.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

you mean it wasn’t you?

I remember two things about Jack's Back even though years ago I watched it many times. The premise and the twist. If I spoil the twist I will warn you.

Opening scene is a little too slasher, and the first scene after the rather plain titles sets up the premise--someone is copying the Jack the Ripper murders 100 years after the fact--too explicitly and also we're already at the night of the last murder? What is this movie even about?

Spader is a med student, or maybe a doctor already, and he helps administer aid to homeless people, and stops by a free clinic (he may work there) and I have no memory of any of this but for his Cubs hat.
Oh no, his boss' speech reads like every police captain in every 80s movie. John (Spader) talks himself out of getting fired and then he's on a news report talking about the homeless situation in LA and I am intrigued, because plotwise this is a thriller, but I suppose a little social commentary is not outside of its purview.
It occurs to me--oh, there will be SPOILERS right away, now--John's med student role, his interest in the homeless--that might feel like something that is going to turn interesting except John is not going to remain our main character for very long. That's just a minor SPOILER. The big one is yet to come. Like Bloodsport--although the I may have neglected to mention this yesterday--Jack's Back's story structure seems right on the nose. Just over half an hour and John is hung, presumed dead, cut to... John? Waking up. Was it a dream? Why does he see police outside? (I know the answers to these questions. This is the twist I remembered. John is dead but in the moment watching this all those years ago, it was a big what the fuck? moment. This James Spader introduced for act two is John's previously unmentioned twin brother Rick.

Now, I just remembered only a few minutes ago as John was being murdered that Richard will later... be hypnotized I guess, to remember the details of the scene because he dreamed about John's death as it was happening. What I forgot, or maybe I'm overthinking it now, was that Rick is a little psychic otherwise, as well. Sitting in the interrogation room at the police station, he is left alone briefly, he nods his head toward the obvious 2-way mirror, lights a cigarette and starts to smoke, then offers his cigarette toward the mirror like he knows the Doctor behind the mirror (Robert Picardo) is also smoking.

And, now Picardo wants to hypnotize Rick, and if that happens this soon, I really don't know what else is going to happen in this movie. I remember who the actual killer is, but I don't know what else is left. The homeless stuff is gone now, any social commentary probably gone with it.

Okay, this hypnosis just helped him see who killed his brother. Which--SPOILERS--is not the same killer copycatting Jack the Ripper, though the movie wants us to think it is, which is strange, because then what do we expect is going take up the rest of the movie?

The way I remembered it was that John's death was the transition from act two to act three, not act one to act two, and we spent more time with John somehow getting connecting with the police investigation. I guess I conflated part of Rick's part of the movie with John's.
Rick finds a Polaroid of his brother and others at the clinic, including Jack who killed John, except then Jack just shows up at Rick's place before he's had any chance to find out who he saw in the photo. Someone is copycatting Jack the Ripper 100 years after the fact, right? But, the police are wasting their time blaming dead John and then chasing Rick as their new suspect, and the movies is spending all of its time on its own red herring in Jack.
I was kinda hoping for social commentary about homelessness.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

brick not hit back

All that being said, I don't have much of a problem with violence in film. Violence can work really well (if done well) in film. But, I do think that Bloodsport has a cheap structure in building the story around its violence. From the stereotyping in the opening montage of fighters to Chong Li being the villain in the third act because he beat Jackson. It's simple.

In fact, as the film is starting, I should mention because 1) I think it is rather silly that everyone turns away from Chong Li when he kills another competitor on the runway, that 2) the first thing we hear about the Kumite (when Jackson is approached while hitting a punching bag) is that you could get killed there. Later, Janice says she heard the Kumite was "unnecessarily brutal" and she compares it to a cockfight. It is silly, by the way, because the only rules we are ever told for the Kumite is how to win--knock out your opponent (unconscious, and dead should certainly qualify), knock your opponent out (off the runway), or get them to say "mate". Otherwise
(the fighters will also be disqualified for fighting outside the arena or for showing up late, apparently, but those barely seem to matter)
it's full contact, and if it were wrestling, I'm sure someone would call it "no holds barred". Fighters can do whatever it takes to win. Including killing each other.
(And Chong Li has killed in the Kumite before, we are told. Additionally, the snap when the sumo guy squeezes the bouncy black guy feels like 80s back-breaking, which if the guy survives is kinda worse than just killing him as far as any rules should be concerned.)
But, the movie wants a villain. And, I guess Jackson threatening to kill Chong Li after his (Jackson's) first match, is forgivable because Jackson is... White? Our deuteragonist?
(and I wonder how much of Chong Li's few bits of dialogue--other than Dux and Jackson, Chong Li is one of only two
(maybe three; I'm not sure if the guy with Hossein during the coin switch scene is a fellow fighter or just his hanger on)
competitors who even get lines--and ominous staring came from the supposed re-edit after the first version of the film was reportedly quite awful)
and it will have a villain because Dux running away from the army guys barely plays as a running joke, and is really just a distraction. The movie is smart enough to leave its primary distractions behind as it progresses, at least. The childhood flashbacks are almost entirely within the first act. By the second act, Janice has found her way into the Kumite to report on it and been horrified, so her storyline is basically over except for a few reaction shots in the later fights. And, by the third act, the army guys--
who are played rather strangely anyway, with Forest Whitaker's character pushing a little too hard and the older guy immediately giving in on more than one occasion
--have given in and just watch alongside Janice.

The only throughline--aside from the Kumite matches themselves--is the rather fast attachment that Dux and Jackson form, Jackson losing to Chong Li and nearly dying in the process, and Dux taking revenge by doing what he was going to do anyway--win. According to Ortigue, Bianchi-Demicheli, Patel, Frum, and Lewis (2010), people can fall in love in .2 seconds, so I suppose trophy romances like Dux and Janice in action movies like this one are realistic. And, maybe Dux and Jackson are besties after three days. Jackson saying he'll be there for Dux, anytime, anyplace--I get that; Jackson is a little crazy. Dux's "I love you" seems a little early in the relationship. But, I guess when you avenge your brand new friend's loss in a martial arts tournament, love is inevitable.

But, what do we go to movies for, anyway? And, better yet, what did we go to them for in the 80s? Fantasy. Action that is far more exciting than our own lives. Love that is immediate and powerful. Friendships that last a lifetime. And vengeance that is swift and satisfying.
In fact, circling back to the real Dux's lies, certain details seem to only be in this film to establish credibility that this is based on a true story. Janice's existence in the story. The Army guys. The dim-mak. Even Chong Li "cheating" (which, really he isn't because it is not against the rules) during his final match with Dux; that little detail--altered from how Dux was really temporarily blinded in the "true" story, by the way--exists because it 1) reinforces Chong Li as villain, 2) it makes Dux look that much more awesome, and 3) (like the other things I just mentioned) it adds a specific note of reality to the proceedings.

The gold tooth bit is one of those elements, too. Just specific enough that it reinforces the idea that this is all real.

Having read a couple versions of Dux's "true story", I imagine there could have been an even better movie here than this one. You know, cut out the Army guys chasing Dux, instead have Dux actually be operating a clandestine military operation infiltrating the Kumite. Janice can help with the infiltration and there would be more intimacy in that than just being curious about the tournament, and their romance would make more sense. And, the dramatic turn after Jackson is nearly killed (or if they want to alter Dux's "reality" for dramatic effect, actually killed by Chong Li) would be that Dux is no longer interested in the infiltration side of things and just wants to keep winning to get to that final fight with Chong Li and get revenge, when for whatever infiltration reasons, Dux is supposed to lose earlier to get close to some fighter or official with specific ties to the IFAA or organized crime in Hong Kong or whatever. Dux's friendship with Jackson is more important than his fling with Janice; maybe he's just using Janice for information, but his very manly relationship with Jackson takes on real, personal import, and his secret mission gets left to the wayside. We still get all the flashbacks. We still get all the fights. And now there's real conflict when the awesome 80s ballad plays.

And we can still include Dux yelling with bromantic pain when Jackson goes down just like Rocky when Apollo Creed went down just a few years earlier.

We will have to fix the world records list at the end of the film, so that the kick is measured in seconds instead of mph just like the punch and the fastest knockout. That inconsistency makes a hard sell that none of us should have bought back in '88.

Friday, June 26, 2020

a bunch of guys who have to prove themselves by beating each other's brains out

A thought occurred to me while watching Bloodsport last night.
(It's on again right now, but it has only just started, with the random bits of violence against objects and that one white guy fighting that one black guy and shots of people setting up the competition space.)

I'm not sure why my parents enjoyed this movie. I mean, I know the movie is somewhat enjoyable on its face. American's love action films, generally. But, 1) I swear we saw this movie more than once at the second-run Academy Theater and 2) other action films make more sense for, you know, religious folks. I mean, Rambo fights evil Communists, John Matrix fights, um, that guy who's raising his own army for... reasons I don't remember. John McClane fights "terrorists". Etcetera. Frank Dux is just fighting other fighters for... well, for sport, I guess. But, it' snot like my family were fans of wrestling or boxing. They watched baseball, and fairly exclusively baseball. No basketball or football, and no soccer. They'd watch the olympics, but not the fighting sports. But, put the violence on the big screen and they were there. All the obvious action movies. Arnold. Sly. Chuck. Clint. Not much Seagal but he showed up about the same time Van Damme did, and maybe they didn't watch much Van Damme either. I know we saw Kickboxer in the theater. And Hard Target. And Universal Soldier. And Timecop. But, after that it might've been more me and my sisters.
Or maybe just me.

Hell, about a decade ago--I forget exactly when, but I know it was a piece I was working on for the speech team at Glendale, or maybe it was Calstate LA--I watched just about every Jean Claude Van Damme movie, rewatching the ones I'd already seen (which was most of them) and catching up on some of the later direct-to-video ones. I was working on a translated version of his awesome fourth-wall-breaking monologue from JCVD for an interp speech.
(Which, I think doing a translation was definitely frowned upon and probably even against the rules. But that monologue was great and I wanted to act it out.)
But, I'm me. They are them.

The 80s were weird. It's like Russia could launch a nuclear attack at any time, so here watch some white guy or another hit, kick, and/or shoot some folks (often) with darker skin. And, people ate it up. I mean, there were the huge actions stars, but then there were just so many little action movies, direct-to-video action movies, and it feels like we saw them all. Saw a lot of horror films too. I remember when I record my first episode of my Michael Myers Minute podcast, my sisters Brooke and Bobbie and I wondered why our mother loved the original Halloween so much. And, loved its sequel. And loved the fourth one, when Michael came back. But, she also was the reason we drove away from the drive-in showing A Nightmare on Elm Street while the film was still going, and we never saw any Friday the 13th films on the big screen until Jason Takes Manhattan. Little horror films for rent on video, sure. Why not? Except, why? And, why did our mother (more than our father) get more conservative later? And, why was it sort of pick-and-choose through the 80s? Why did we watch every Chuck Norris film and every Arnold Schwarzenegger film and every Sylvester Stallone film? Why, when Bloodsport came out in '88 did we go see it more than once?

I imagine it's just a constant sort of hypocrisy, or like a razor's edge judgement call. At least, I imagine that when I'm feeling generous. Or, taking it further, was it an existential thing in the 80s? Like it didn't matter that we saw comedies with a bunch of sex and nudity and horror and action films with blood and violence because the world was about to end anyway. And, when the Cold War fell apart (and not long after, the church I was raised in also broke apart), there was room to breathe a little, and that meant also there was room to be more strict. Or maybe the way several of us kids turned in different ways away from how we were raised scared them into trying harder. Or maybe they just got older.

The specific thing for our parents, our mother, could be one of multiple things, or several things combined.

The larger American problem is, well, a larger, American problem. We love violence. It makes sense, as I'm sure I've argued in the blog many times before, because our country was born in violence, born in revolt. And, as an ongoing thing, violence fits the American Dream approach to everything else. If at first you don't succeed at something, hit it harder, as it were. If you don't succeed, it's because you didn't hit it hard enough. We built our cinematic Western mythology (and our American myth) on rugged individualism and good men fighting off bad men to protect what is theirs.

And, it isn't law bad order that we love, either. It is might makes right or as we probably often feel it instead, right makes might. If a person is stopped by the police, he must've done something wrong because we want to believe the police do the right thing, because otherwise, it's all falling apart. If an action hero takes down the bad guy, we cheer, and it's all the same damn thing. As long as we can know, explicitly in a scripted story, or implicitly in life, who the bad guy is, "turn the other cheek" is just a cute line in our scriptures, but what really matters is going old school, Old Testament on someone and beating them down because they're bad, they deserve it.

But, then I gotta circle back around to Bloodsport because there is barely a bad guy. I mean the movie plays at Chong Li as a villain, but he's only specifically worse than any other fighter in the Kumite once, maybe twice. I mean, he does kill a guy, but that is not actually against the rules. And, it might've been smarter for some of these fighters to just kill their opponents outright, get in, get out, and win.

That's how I think about it, because I was raised on shit like this. Action films. Violence. Even Bloodsport now--the fight scenes all hold up pretty well still. The acting, especially from the kids in the beginning, is not great. But, those scenes are just backstory and filler so we can get to some violence, some blood, and some awesome (but forgettable) 80s movie anthems.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

any technique that works

Bloodsport opens with a montage of violence, mostly against inanimate objects: blocks of ice, coconuts, punching bags, boards, Cut together with setup for the Kumite.

Watching the film for the first time in many years, I'm reminded by the lies behind it. Like Frank Dux--the character played by Jean Claude Van Damme in this supposedly true story--said the following in Martial Arts magazine:
My involvement in that tournament was part of a plan, launched in 1975, t infiltrate the criminal organizations that organized the fights. The original idea was to participate in the Kumite tournament and make a few contacts. We initially assumed I would lose, but eventually I became one of the best Kumite fighters to ever participate in the event.
A 1980 article about Dux and the Kumite in Black Belt magazine opened with this disclaimer:
Although there is no convenient way to verify each and every detail connected with this story, the editors have verified enough of the basic facts to feel confident in publishing it. But since we are not at liberty to share the corroborating evidence with the public, we acknowledge that each reader may have a different idea of what the facts permit him to believe.
John Johnson, 1 March 1988, Los Angeles Times:
Military records show that Dux never ventured closer to Southeast Asia than San Diego. His only known war injury occurred when he fell off a truck he was painting in the motor pool.
I would point out that Dux claimed that the 1975 Kumite in which he fought was held in the Bahamas. That the film puts it in Hong Kong is a separate issue... And Johnson covers that just a paragraph later, so the line about Southeast Asia was a little disingenuous.
Duc's trophy from the Bahamas event was at least partially made in the San Fernando Valley... The ceremonial sword he won in the fights was sold, Dux said, in a failed attempt to buy freedom for... Philippine orphans [held by pirates].
Dux argues that his claims are difficult to prove or disprove because of the secrecy surrounding both his military record and the clandestine tournament... 
The real story of Frank Dux, say many who know him, is one of a bright but undistinguished young man who, using cleverness and chutzpah, re-created himself as a super-hero a decade ago, painstakingly authenticating his new persona with military medals, trophies and newspaper clippings of questionable origins... 
No trace of [his teacher] Tanaka could be found in historical texts or from independent martial arts experts.
Nicholas Raymond, writing for Screen Rant, 6 April 2020, cites the film's cowriter Sheldon Lettich, who
says the only alleged witness of Dux's participation in the Kumite later confessed to him that he was told what to say by Dux. Lettich said that the premise of Bloodsport came from Dux's tall tales.
But, regardless of Dux's likely lies, deepjuillet, 13 July 2017, offers this:
But, in a time when we hear many more lies every day from the people we trust, I'd raise a glass to Frank W. Dux and say, "Your story may well be a lie, but it helped many to believe in themselves, that they can do impossible things, if only they persevere."
A very American Dream idea, right there.
Perhaps the Frank Dux in real life is an imposter, but his persona on the screen will remain as a legend for a generation of viewers.
Sounds about right for 80s action movies. Who cares if they make sense, or tell truths, as long as we can pretend they do and imagine that they mean something as to what we might be capable of ourselves.

But, hey, I'm in a cynical mood today, I guess.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

i love this story

...the legend of Arturo, who was a Portuguese fisherman.
He met this beautiful girl his first night in town--Catarina.
And eventually they fell in love.
But the problem was that Catarina's father was the territorial governor.
He didn't want his only little girl running around with a lowly fisherman.
So he told Arturo that he'd have to ship off.
Which he did, but not before he told Catarina he'd be back for her.
And when he came back, he'd signal with three long blasts,
So she could dive off the rocks and swim to the boat,
And they'd be on their way.
So, a year later, everything went as planned.
But when she was swimming out to the boat,
The fog got so thick that she couldn't find the boat.
Arturo panicked and he called out, "Catarina! Catarina!"
Catarina yelled back, "Arturo!"
With that, he just dove right off the boat into the icy waters,
And they never found each other,
And they both drowned.
The legend is,
They reunited at the bottom of the sea,
And every time you see the spray going up, it's them.
Making love.
Forever and ever.

There's the class tale in a nutshell. Star-crossed lovers, or whatever you want to call them, who find their way to each other no matter what gets in the way. And, as I said yesterday, the classist story here overpowers the sexist problems. Additionally, specific aspects the structure of the story make it work as well. For example, sex. We know from the beginning of the film that Joanna's reasons for not having children might not be her own. Her husband Grant wants has mentioned having a baby, Joanna tells her mother over the phone. "What should I do?"

Her mother replies in a infantalizing tone, "Darling, if you have a baby, you won't be the baby anymore."

Joanna is the kind of high-class character we expect needs to be forced down a peg. And, I wonder just why she doesn't want children with Grant, whether it is her leanings because childrearing is beneath her, her mother's doing as she treats Joanna like a child herself, or even Grant's; while he may have mentioned having a baby he might want one simply to cement the marriage, because as we learn at the end of the film, the money is hers. He may some from some sort of money, but financially, this marriage is better for him than Joanna. An heir tying them together would secure his position, perhaps.

The thing is, we cannot be sure that Joanna really doesn't want a kid, or that she doesn't enjoy sex. She may sense Grant's ulterior motives, or he might be the womanizer he is later in the film whenever he gets the chance, and she knows it.

So, jump forward a bit and the early problematic thing may be Dean kissing Joanna/Annie--

(And I only noticed yesterday, after years of watching this movie so long ago, how close her two names are to one another. An easier way for her to slip into the fake identity, I suppose.)
--supposedly, (but, of course, not really) jog her memory. Were Dean to take her home and insist on sex, the ruse would take on a much more problematic tone right away. Instead, while he talks about the miles they put on their bed, and he comes home deliberately smelling of liquor and acts like he wants sex, but we can assume (and he has said) he is just having some fun with her. They do not actually consummate their illusion of a marriage until Joanna has not only slipped finally into the role of Annie but has rewritten Annie in an image more comfortable than Dean has presented. She wears clothes that fit. She keeps the house clean. She keeps the kids in line. And she defends them against their principal. And finally, she celebrates her birthday as Annie. Joanna has, regardless of the initial setup, become Annie and the audience can see that it is good for both her and Dean, so we see something consensual.

And before we even get to the night they have sex, we see that Dean feels guilty about his ruse and wants to come clean--in fact it starts when he sees how much she has cleaned up the place and apologizes for their fight the night of the poison oak, and is solidified the night of her "birthday." Even if we are starting to have a problem with it, the film actively lets us off the hook. And then it lets us know that Grant is coming back and we know Grant is a cheating dick, and we've seen Annie happy, when Joanna seemed incapable. Plus, we inherently mistrust the rich, and don't want Joanna to be who she was before.

And, it helps that we have a tendency to trust the white male protagonist. The movie lets us hear Joanna's voice before Dean's but we follow him from his artworking to the yacht. He is our POV character.

In a way, so is Joanna as the story goes. Notably, after the poison oak night, and Joanna firmly becoming Annie, we follow her out when she finds out Dean has been working nights and letting her believe he's out having fun with the guys. We saw her unhappy on the yacht, and we see her uncomfortable and out of sorts at Dean's home, until she stands up for herself with the hose. But, even in that scene, she has already visually become Annie. It was that first day of chores that challenged her, but she has moved past that. And the film would have us believe--and we do--that she is better off because of it.

Hence Dean's guilty, really. In becoming Annie, the ruse has become something much bigger and harder to justify.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

what i’ve been explaining in some detail

I think I forgot that Dean (Kurt Russell) makes art with chainsaws. That's how we are introduced to his character before he heads off to work on the yacht Immaculata. Later, there's some artistic stuff going on with the miniature gold course, but the artwork there comes from Joanna (Goldie Hawn); he handles the technical aspect and the building. Which his work in Joanna's closet at the start of the film sets up his engineering ability fairly well. His "objects de art" kinda gets lost.

Looking back at Overboard with a modern lens, the plot is problematic, but the classist leanings outweigh the sexist leanings to create something more positive than the plot implies. Especially in the hands of director Garry Marshall. Still, even in '87, not everyone cared for the film. Michael Wilmington, Los Angeles Times, 18 December 1987:
Unfortunately, Joanna eventually turns goody-two-shoes herself. All those layers of snobbery peel off to expose a bouncy, bubbly Hollywood honey bunch ready to cook and mother up a storm.
The plot seems derived from Lina Wertmuller's "Swept Away"--itself an update of Barrie's "The Admirable Crichton."
Joanna is lost overboard near the Norman Rockewell-ish hamlet of Elk Cove, Ore. Stricken with amnesia and abandoned by her slimily hedonistic husband (Edward Herrmann), she tumbles into the clutches of the vengeful Dean, who convinces the doctors that she's his wife, Annie--a plot in which Dean's four preteen sons heartily concur. 
By this time, the comedy itself has gone overboard. 

The film tries to mix the two 1930s movie comedy strains: Screwball romance and populist fable. But there' something nerveless and thin about it. Hawn and Russell are good, but their scenes together have calculated spontaneity--overcute, obvious.
Having watched this movie many times, I disagree with that last line. I think Hawn and Russell have some great chemistry. Considering their longtime real-life relationship, that makes sense. But, I am intrigued in passing by the comparisons to Swept Away and The Admirable Crichton. The latter is a sort of Swiss Family Robinson, Lord of the Flies shipwreck drama operating on the reversal of class structures when the titular Crichton has the practical knowledge to survive on an island over his societal betters. (While Wilimington suggests that Swept Away is an update on The Admirable Crichton, the latter just might take its own story from the earlier Robinson's Eiland, a satire in which a capitalist, a professor, a journalist, and others, are shipwrecked with a secretary who is the only one who knows how to survive practically. Similarly, Crichton becomes leader over those who used to be above him socially in Act Three of The Admirable Crichton, except, being a satire, he lords his position over them and in Act Four there's a second reversal back to something like normal. And there's a romance between Crichton and Mary, the daughter of the Earl of Loam.

Swept Away--I'm vaguely familiar with the 2002 Guy Ritchie remake with Madonna, but the original 1974 film is simpler: A capitalist woman and a communist worker are stranded on a desert island and forge a relationship. Returning home, they return to their previous lives and roles.

Which, yeah, I guess, in broad terms, Overboard is... that. Joanna is taken out of her "rich bitch" life and finds something meaningful in her life as a small-town wife and mother, and then she eventually returns to her rich life (only to want what she found in Elk Cove). Wilmington calls the film "Nielsen-ratings Populism, a superficially warm-hearted formula comedy where the values seem pre cooked. The film makers keep telling us it's better to live in happy squalor than suffer in satin on a yacht, and it' shard to believe they mean a word of it."

On the one hand, maybe I grew up in something like Wilmington's "happy squalor", with six older sisters and living in house with adequate, but not necessarily any extra, space. So then, maybe I understand how Dean and his four boys could be a good thing for a person whose prior life seems rather vacuous. But, that's the point, right? The popular audience doesn't care for yacht-owning folk like Joanna or her husband. We are fine watching Joanna get her comeuppance because we don't like who she was before and might be again in the future. We want to believe that, given the opportunity, as Janet Maslin put it in her New York Times review, this "hard, brittle, thoroughly horrible exterior of an heiress... actually conceals a sweet, spunky, hardworking little homemaker and mom [and that] All Joanna needs is a bout of amnesia to bring the better person within her to the fore." You know, nevermind Maslin's condescending phrasing with the use of "little", we see a heartfelt romantic comedy and we want to believe that rich people are really genuinely normal somewhere inside. And, it doesn't matter what it takes to get that inside to come out, as long as it happens. Maslin says the film "sinks when it becomes this self-righteous" with Annie née Joanna taking on her motherly roles to the point of, among other things, berating their teacher for not noticing their poison oak rashes. By 1987 Maslin has been a critic for the New York Times for a decade and I wonder what her perspective is like, except then I notice that Roger Ebert seems to like the movie well enough. He admits, "There is hardly a major development in the story that we can't predict 30 minutes in advance," then adds, "what does it it matter when the performances are so much fun, and there are so many comic delights along the way?" And then he's got a line that surely would have bugged the film's detractors: "This is the kind of movie that not only could have been directed by Frank Capra or Preston Sturges, but may have been." The story may be familiar, with beats we've seen many times before and many times since, but, as Roger puts it, "The things that make 'Overboard' special... Are the genuine charm, wit and warm energy generated by the entire cast and director Garry Marshall. Hawn and Russell work well together, never overplaying scenes that easily could have self-destructed."

And, I'm good with that description. Familiar beats played well. Which is the point in revisiting these old movies that I watches so many times when I was younger, isn't it? Like listening to an old, familiar song, for those of you more inclined toward music than film. It isn't the parts that are the same time and time again that matter so much as the way they play this time, this place, this listen, this viewing.

Monday, June 22, 2020

we need a home address

An odd note up front: 33 years after I first saw Suspect, and maybe a couple decades since I last saw it, I only just noticed that the murder victim, Elizabeth Rose Quinn, is the woman in the opening scene talking to the Supreme Court Justice who kills himself thereafter. I don't think I ever realized that before--mostly because we barely see her face later but also because the film wants us focused on the guy who kills himself.

And my inability to notice--or the film not making a point of drawing my attention to--her face might connect in a way with what I wanted to write about the film today. The film paints an interesting picture of Washington DC. In the early establishing shots of the city, we see traffic, we see homeless, and after we are introduced to Kathleen Riley (Cher) in her car, three young men smash her windshield, yank open her doors, steal her necklace, and make a run for it. The film wants us to see DC as an urban environment with too many people and rampant crime. In this setting, we can easily believe that a deaf, homeless man would murder a woman for $9 (what Prosecutor Charlie Stella (Joe Mantegna) calls "the most horrible, the most senseless, the most indefensible"). And, we don't know up front why a judge commits suicide. We might assume some existential crisis instead of... or in addition to some sort of judicial corruption.

Insert into this overcrowded, crime- and homeless-infested city Kathleen Riley, Public Defender; Eddie Sanger, Congressional Advisor (Lobbyist); and Carl Wayne Anderson, indigent. Roger describes this trio this way:
One of the movie's themes is that all of the characters are homeless - most just the bum, but also the lobbyist, the public defender, and everyone else we meet. They have places where they live, that they use to sleep at night, but they do not have a "home," and they do not have loved ones around them. Their loneliness is underlined in one of the movie's most quietly effective scenes, where Quaid sleeps with a congresswoman, and it's a toss-up whether he's doing it out of ambition, politics or need.
Roger is being a little sarcastic, of course, but really, what little we see of Riley's home does not feel lived in, whereas her office seems to occupy most of her time (and offers more comfort and clutter). I don't think we see Eddie's home at all, and he not only spends a night with a congresswoman early in the film, at one point later where he drops by Riley's place late at night, he tells her he had nowhere else to go. What is interesting is that, contrary to Roger's point, we do see the very lived-in places that homeless people stay in this film. From cardboard boxes to dark corners of abandoned buildings, even the space between two grounded boats--these are perhaps more well-defined as "homes" than any of the actual houses or apartments we see in the film. Even the opening scene, which there is a Christmas Tree in the room, is at best a home office, at worst Justice Lowell's actual office (I forget the view out the window). Aside from the homeless, the characters populating this film spend more time at work than at home, and even in living at home, many of them are effectively just temporarily living there because that is the nature of DC; congresspeople come and go, lobbyists come and go, judges, lawyers, visitors, tourists. It is a city among states, a place of transience and transition.
(Additionally, toward the end of the film, the jury is sequestered, meaning even they are moved from any permanent homes they might have and housed in a hotel.)
SPOILERS follow, you know, in case my passing hints yesterday didn't convey the resolution of the film.
Judge Helms (John Mahoney) is on the verge of being appointed to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. A transition. (The secret corruption that led to Justice Lowell killing himself will also get in the way of Helms' appointment.) Riley is in need of a vacation, if not a life, but gets stuck with Carl's case. She wants a transition but cannot get one. Eddie makes a living getting people what they want. His own transitions don't matter. He is who he needs to be in the moment. And, transitions are irrelevant to Carl. He's deaf and cannot sign and lives on the streets of the nation's capital. He does not matter to anyone but, depending on his guilt or innocence, Riley and Stella and the family of Elizabeth Rose Quinn.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

last time i went to the movies was like a year ago

I remember only a few specifics about Suspect even though I have seen it many times. One of the things I remember is who actually committed the crime, and who plays him, so I am going in with SPOILERS (which I will not share here, now).

This was the first time I knew who Liam Neeson was, even though I had seen him previously in Krull and Excalibur, of course (and that's directed by Peter Yates, who also directed Suspect. Also of note, Cher would star in Moonstruck just two months later, but I will be skipping that film in this movie life list because I have already written about it. Still, it's interesting that aside from some passing knowledge of Sonny & Cher, there was a one-two punch here of Cher as defense attorney and then romantic lead [Which given the co-star I forgot--mentioned below--I guess she kinda is here, as well].
By the way, I forgot Dennis Quaid was even in this film. And, since I ended up having very little to say about InnerSpace, I should mention that by this time Quaid was fairly familiar. I'd seen him in Caveman, Stripes, Jaws 3-D, Dreamscape, Enemy Mine, and The Big Easy. Liked him well enough, have seen him in many movies since.

The central setup of the film is interesting in context of my current angle in this blog. Trying to lay the blame for my liberal bent on my experience with films and all that. Raised on jingoistic violence, sex comedies, irreverence, and fantasy. Kathleen Riley (Cher) has to immediately try to connect with her new client, Carl Wayne Anderson (Neeson) on a personal level, see him as a person rather than just the titular suspect, a deaf homeless man who comes in silent, ragged and prone to violence.

As I'm trying to find the exact wording of the longer quote around today's title, I'm surprised that Joe Mantegna is also in this. I mean, I probably had no idea who he was in 1987, but it's interesting. (And, I have not mentioned John Mahoney, who's also in Moonstruck, but his initial role in Suspect is small.)

It hasn't actually been a year since I saw a movie, of course. I saw 2-3 movies a week for the last couple years, and last saw a movie in the theater 8 March 2020. That movie was Onward. And, of course, I've watched on average more than one movie a day since lockdown began. But, what a bit of dialogue from Riley:
I don't know what I'm doing any more. I don't have a life. Last time I went to the movies was like a year ago. The only time I listen to music is in my car. I don't date. I'd like to have a child, but I don't even have a boyfriend, so how can I have a child? I spend all my time with murderers and rapists. And what's really crazy is I actually like them.
The lobbyist stuff--Quaid's juror Eddie is a lobbyist--and even Judge Helms' shot at an appointment to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals (ostensibly his reason for requesting the Anderson case; it will be shorter than his next assigned case... But anyone who knows the film knows that he has other reasons as well) are interesting because I doubt I noticed, and if I did notice, I doubt I cared about the details of the political stuff in this film. Hell, even this time I seem to have missed just what the vote was on that Eddie slept with Senator (?) Comisky (E. Katherine Kerr). I remember the judge's subplot being rather central as the story goes. I don't remember if Eddie's subplot separate from his (reverse-)witness tampering matters.
And interesting problem arises.

Pauline Kael's New Yorker review of the film, offers this:
The screenwriter, Eric Roth, puts a woman lawyer at the center of the movie, as if this were going to be a switch on older courtroom thrillers, and then he provides a man to do all the thinking and to rescue her when she gets into trouble. You cant' call this feminist backlash, because there's no hostility in it; it doesn't have the nastiness or the kick that hostility would give it.
And, our old friend Roger has this to say about the final courtroom climax:
Cher stand sup and rattles off a long, complicated speech in which the real murderer is revealed - and I began to develop a real case of resentment, because the murderer is a complete dark horse. That's not fair. It's as if an Agatha Christie novel evaluated six suspects in a British country house, and then in the last chapter we discover the killer was a guy from next door.
Interestingly, watching the film again after all these years, knowing who the real killer is, his scenes and his dialogue are much more foreboding. He is a still a dark horse, but if there were a cold open of some sort in which we saw him kill Elizabeth Rose Quinn and all of his interactions later would play very differently, indeed. But, this movie is more concerned with Riley and Eddie and Carl than the actual murder they want solved.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

when i was your age

I don't know how soon it was after The Princess Bride came out that I saw it, but I did see it in the theater. My sister Bobbie had already seen it. More than once, I believe. And, years later, I was surprised to learn (and somewhat wrongly) that the film wasn't a big hit when it came out. It opened on only 9 screens, and went wide (but nowhere near today's standards, at only 622 screens) 2 weeks later. At that point, it was #3 at the box office. It stayed there for a couple weeks and then slipped down from week to week. It made $30 million which definitely made it profitable. And many people I knew saw it, or saw it on video at least. And, in high school, we even showed it as a fundraiser movie night (and some fool tried to fast forward through Inigo's "son of a bitch" line, and poorly).

I don't imagine that I have much to say about The Princess Bride in passing like this. I love the film, could watch it most anytime, but I feel like most of what could be said has probably been said--
(For example, I wondered about the fencing terms once and learned they were apparently real, and I just found this site the describes in depth what they mean--Fencing Language in "The Princess Bride"--so I don't really need to get into that.)
--so barring obsessing about the film for days on end, I don't imagine me coming up with something particularly insightful and novel.

Still, it made the list, and there's always a chance.
The thing is, The Princess Bride contains so much of what I love in films. As a kid, especially, the action and adventure, medieval swordplay, even magic (or miracles, anyway), was wonderful. But, you've also got clever humor, interesting characters, a fairy tale romance at the story's heart. Plus,
Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles...
Plus the lovely framing story with the grandpa and grandson, of course. Wrapping up a great fantasy story that stands out in 1987. In he 80s, really. Willow will come in 1988. Labyrinth was out in '86. Legend and Ladyhawke in '85. The Neverending Story and Conan the Destroyer in '84. Krull and Return of the Jedi in '83. The Beastmaster in '82. And others. I loved all those 80s action movies, of course, but I also loved me some fantasy. And, science fiction. And horror. Hell, I loved most anything. Put a movie in front of me at 11 years old and I will watch it, I will likely enjoy it, and I will want for more. Fortunately, between early versions of cable television and home video, so many movies were readily available. And, I wanted them all. And, if no new one was immediately available, I would watch an old one, or several. One day that I was home sick from school, for example, I just hung out and watched all three Star Wars films because, why the fuck not?
(Speaking of Star Wars, I just noticed that grandson has Burger King's Empire Strikes Back glass on the shelf behind him. Specifically the Luke and Yoda one. I had that glass. I had all those glasses. Twice. We had them back when they were new and I bought them again at the PCC Flea Market when I was in my 20s. Alas, I do not have them today. 
I do have a Hogwarts cup, but that was actually purchased just last year at Universal City Walk.
I also have a large wooden (and metal) D&D cup, gifted to me by one of my players on DM's day a couple years ago.)
I did notice something new (aside from what I just mentioned parenthetically, that is) just now. When Fezzik and Inigo are reunited, Fezzik rhymes two more times like they were doing before--
Inigo: I am waiting for Vizzini. 
Fezzik: You surely are a meanie. 
Inigo: It's you. 
Fezzik: True.
--and that's a lovely thing.

Also, since I've not said it yet, William Goldman's script holds up to repeated viewings. So well.
Inigo's righteous quest for revenge. Inigo's beautiful friendship with Fezzik. Vizzini's arrogance and silly confidence. Westley's love for Buttercup. Buttercup's love for Westley. Grandpa's love for grandson. Grandson's love for grandpa. Grandson's horror at hearing that Westley is dead. Humperdinck's ridiculousness. None of it gets old.
But, I really don't think I have anything to say about The Princess Bride.

Friday, June 19, 2020

the burden of someone else’s life

The HBO description for Running On Empty bothers me.
The '60s are past, and the Vietnam War they struggled against is long over, but the Popes have been on the run from the FBI for fifteen years, choosing to live as [sic] family of fugitives rather than be separated. Now 17-year-old musical prodigy Danny Pope must decide whether to accept a scholarship to Julliard or deny his talent to remain with his family, as his mother did for him.
Which, nevermind the missing article, this thing SPOILS so different parts of Act Three of the film.

But, I didn't want to talk about HBO. I just happened to notice that description as I went to play the film tonight and it bugged me. What I wanted to talk about was the larger sort of message the film suggests to me. The problems of one generation put upon the next. In the case of the film, it's the criminal act of Arthur and Annie put upon their sons Danny and Harry. In the case of, you know, reality, it's systemic racism, climate change, the minimum wage not keeping up with inflation, conservatism, Donald Trump, and probably so many other things that I don't even notice because I'm in my 40s now and annoyingly comfortable despite a raging pandemic and protests and riots and police having far too much when it comes to lethal and sublethal weaponry and far too much leeway when it comes to what we let them get away with. But, we can hope a new generation can fix our problems, but did we fix the problems of the generation(s) before us? Not really. I mean, we made some improvements, but it's like they blew up some shit, and we've just been living in that shadow all our lives. I know I have. My parents were born just barely before the boomers, and I was late Gen X. With six sisters before me to split the difference. We were a Cold War family, as I've mentioned in this blog many times before. Grew up in a church that was essentially an end-of-the-world cult to boot. Throw some Ronald Reagan conservative bullshit into the mix, and coming now into 1988
(Though, as I continue with this movie life excursion, I will backtrack into 1987 because I accidentally got Running On Empty out of order on my list.)
I'm 12-years-old and I need some rebellion in my life. The whole Danny Pope thing, interestingly, is rebellion against the rebellious. In order to be a little conservative maybe. I can't remember what my parents thought of this movie when we first saw it in the theater. Was it okay that we were following criminals and liars because the son kinda turns mainstream in the end? Does the second rebellion reverse the first? Or does it just get worse, the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and the children's children, to the third and fourth generation? Do the problems compound? My parents and their parents not backing up the civil rights movement, women's liberation, the Chicano movement, the anti-war movement--what did that mean for their kids, from my oldest sister, 14 years my senior, to me? How do we navigate the world they leave for us? How did they navigate the world left for them?

Walking in the woods with Danny, Lorna says of her parents, "They see what they want to see." The point being, in my reference, that one generation might see promise in the next, or might see a rebellious set of children with music that is no good, idols that are ruining culture, and an all around worsening of things. But, it doesn't really matter what you see so much as what actually is.

As I write that bit, Danny tells Lorna who he really is, and I notice an interesting detail. Early in the film, when Danny spots the FBI combing the neighborhood for his parents, he hides in the grass near their house, removes his shoe, and sends the dog inside with it to get Harry to come out. The shoe is a sign of trouble, a sign of transition, a sign of being able to, and being forced to go somewhere. And, now when he gets Lorna to come outside to talk, she has no shoes, so he immediately sits down, removes his shoes and puts them on her feet. He's been, metaphorically speaking, walking in his parents footsteps all his life, but he is a teenager now, ready to remove those shoes when it makes sense for him to do so. On a personal level. He stops being--I'm not sure his name at the beginning of the film, actually--one kid and becomes Michael Manfield. And now, with the shoes as a sort of echo, he stops being Danny Manfield, except he doesn't move forward into some new fictional identity; he instead shifts backward by revealing to Lorna his real name. He chooses to walk barefoot into this conversation. He chooses his future. And, as parents, we can only hope that our children do the same.
(There was probably some mixed metaphors in there, but oh well. I think you get it.)
And that's what Running on Empty is about, really. Living not with your own choices but the choices of those who came before you. And, vice versa, making the decision to force others to live with your choices or giving them the room to move on. Or, if there's hope, room for them to fix your mistakes, make up for the choices you made that were, at least in retrospect, not the right ones. Given the title of this blog, generally, it's worth noting, "You make choices and you live with them." Or maybe you run from them. You drag others along with you. And, the change you imagined you might create never happens because you get stuck in the past, and now you're dragging the past along with you rather than ever be in the present, and you certainly never get to the future.

And that doesn't work for anyone.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

he wasn’t supposed to be there

If you've been reading this blog lately--
and you're still reading?
--you know I'm maybe a few steps past your average bleeding heart liberal. I side with extremists. I appreciate a violent rebellion. It occurs to me as today's film in my "movie life" list--
having skipped both Summer School and Can't Buy Me Love because I have previously included them in this blog in different contexts. Also, I realized partway into writing what follows that somehow I put today's film a year early on my list, but oh well, it's already on
--gets started, this might have been my first brush with the kind of 60s radicals that I would become much more enameled with in college (the second time). The movie, by the way, is Running on Empty.

A couple of 60s radicals, responsible for a bombing in '71 that blinded a guy, live their lives on the run, moving and changing names every few months when the Feds get close. Thing is, they've got two kids. The oldest of which takes center stage for a lot of the film Is played by River Phoenix, who I would've already been familiar with by this point, having seen him in Explorers, Surviving, Stand By Me, The Mosquito Coast, A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon, and Little Nikita. And, IMDb trivia just made an extra set of connections I didn't know previously:
1. Naomi Foner, who wrote the film is the mother of Jake Gylenhaal, and apparently, though he was just 6 at the time, Jake spent time on the set watching Sydney Limet directing and River Phoenix pulling some weight on the way his role was played, though Phoenix was only 16 at the time the film was made. 
2. Additionally, in regards to Phoenix, he was born just a day before the bombing that inspired the premise of the film. He was born 23 August 1970. On 24 August 1970, a bomb exploded at Sterling Hall, University of Wisconsin, and Robert Fassnacht, a physics post-doctoral researcher was killed. In the film, of course, the Popes were not responsible for a death.
The Popes remind me specifically of a couple of the more famous 60s radicals that went underground--Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. They not only had their own children while living on the run, but also raised the child of two of their fellow Weather Underground members, Chesa Boudin, who was elected District Attorney of San Francisco just last year. In the real history, the FBI had a tendency to break the law in their efforts to catch people like Ayers and Dohrn, so, while Ayers has openly admitted to participating in bombings, and written about his radical life in multiple books, charges were dropped. Ayers worked with Mayor Daley in Chicago, he was awarded Citizen of the Year in 1997, and has served on several boards of directors. Far from his criminal past, and also far from this fictional story. The charges against Ayers were dropped in 1973.
(State charges against Dohrn remained until she turned herself in in 1980.)
Arthur and Annie Pope are still on the run 17 years after their crime.

Of some of their underground methods, Ayers writes in Fugitive Days:
We invented all kinds of ways to obtain false identity papers, and got busy building multiple sets of ID for each of us and for every contingency. We stole wallets and purses at first without much concern for our victims--
And, just as I'm copying this bit from his book, Gus shows up and offscreen steals from a patient's purse, which will eventually lead to his arrest and Annie and Arthur having to run once again at the end of the film.
--but it was a risky business that could reel out of control without warning. We were trying to learn artfulness and stealth, and stealing purses was definitely from the old school. More important, these papers were unreliable and had a short shelf life. As soon as they were reported missing, everything stopped working, and it could prove disastrous to buy a car, for example, or rent an apartment on a sour ID. Instant tracking... 
We soon figured out that the deepest and most foolproof ID had a government-issued Social Security card at its heart, and the best source of those were dead-baby birth certificates. I spent impious days over the next several months tramping through rural cemeteries in Iowa and Wisconsin, Illinois and North Dakota, searching for those sad little markers of people born between 1940 and 1950 who had died between 1945 and 1955.
Gus is old school. He still wants to fight. And, he wants Arthur to rob a bank with him. As he points out, aside from the running their are forced to do, Annie and Arthur are effectively living like a regular couple, doing regular things.

At the beginning of the film, before they are forced to run, they even have a dog, Jomo, that they leave behind. Ayers writes of getting a dog,
We got a snow-white Samoyed puppy named Lolita (for Lolita Lebron [one of a group of Puerto Rican nationalist who opened fire in the United States Capitol, 1 March 1954, went to prison for the attack, and was granted clemency by Jimmy Carter in 1979]) that first year who disappeared one night, and soon we inherited an Afghan hound named Maddie, short for madrone, a tree we loved. Jeff later gotta. Spirited Irish setter who accompanied him everywhere, named Red Dog, or sometimes Under Dog, short for Wonder Dog. Now our safe houses all had to be dog-friendly places as well. 
Owning a dog for most people was commonplace--completely unremarkable. For us, having a dog marked a dramatic new direction. Months earlier it would have been unthinkable, an irresponsible indulgence, derided and ridiculed. The time it takes you to walk that damn dog is time stolen from organizing, a comrade might have said, and another would have added, The food that thing eats could feed five Vietnamese for a week. But now, whenever Jeffrey showed up with Red Dog, someone, or several people together, would romp around with him in dizzy excitement. It was strange, but the dogs, too, changed our lives.
And, in their latest set of lives, Danny Pope (Phoenix) is getting old enough that he forms a bond with a local girl (Martha Plimpton) and his potential collegiate future--though his ability to practice has been limited by his family's lifestyle, he has some talent as a musician--is looming on the horizon. His parents' past lingers and his future beckons. It's a simple enough premise, and an interesting one considering this is the tail end of Reagan's America.

For over a decade I was on the run, an American fugitive fleeing what the government win kingly calls justice. My purpose then, following years as a community organizer and movement activist, was utter defiance--to blaze away at the masters of war, the purveyors of death, the perpetrators of hatred. I wanted to penetrate what they posited as impenetrable, to pierce that smug veil of immutability, to open spaces for unimagined choices. Propaganda of the deed. My weapons were explosive words at first, slowly replaced by actual bombs. That is, of course, a troubling aspect of the story. Among my sins--pride and loftiness--a favorite twinkling line to comrades and acquaintances alike, guilty as hell, free as a bird--it's a great country. There were a few virtues: confidence, passion, optimism and hope, some humor. I was not alone.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

role models can be very important to a boy

Alternatively, I can imagine today that when I was 11 and watching RoboCop for the first time what really mattered was watching Murphy overcome his RoboCop programming and be his own person.

At least inasmuch as he does. He can barely access his memories, and in the end he still has to go be a supercop because the regularly police are on strike.

It would be another few years before I openly turned against my religious upbringing but already I'm sure I was having issues with it. I'm entering the 7th grade in the fall. This is the year that I write my infamous essay about how I only believe in God because I've been told to do so my whole life and my Bible Class teacher is not a fan. Or was that 9th grade? I'm losing track. Getting old. But, I've got James Murphy to look up to. Or I did once upon a time a few decades ago. Shiny. Cybernetic. Wants to do what's right.
And, I want to say something about chewing gum, because it feels weird to me that both Lewis (in at least one notable scene) and Boddiker (in several scenes) chew gum. Like there's some symbolism there. And, I want to say more about RoboCop as some rebel hero. But, you know, I think I'm done with RoboCop.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

who cares if it worked or not?

What the hell else was America going to become other than a corporate-run, dehumanizing state that promotes violence against its citizens, incarcerates its citizens to an inordinate degree, and disenfranchises those citizens after so that their voices matter even less than before? The problem with RoboCop version of the "future" is that is assumes we need robotic muscle to put down unrest, to put down violent criminals, to put down regular citizens who dare to have darker skin. We never needed robots to police this country because we've got plenty of fodder willing and able to be police officers, to commit to thuggery and domination in the name of law and order.

Body armor. Tanks. Big guns and bigger guns. And, reactionary policies that only get worse over time.

After the news reports that begin the film, it's important to note that the first thing that happens is lawyers (or maybe a lawyer and a very hands-on bail bondsman) are forcibly pushed out of the police station. The messaging in the film is being obvious in its satire--this is a world in which police are violent, lawyers are scum, and criminals deserve to die. The film leans a little too much in support of its own supposedly-satirical message as it goes, though. And, like Verhoeven's later Starship Troopers would be very misunderstood, this film is misunderstood, and maybe moreso because it can't help but side against itself in the long run because this is the tail end of Reagan's America and might makes right is such a simple cinematic trope. From John Rambo to John Matrix to John McClane to Martin (gotta be his middle name) Riggs. James Braddock. Paul Kersey. Marion Cobretti. Roger Murtaugh. Henry Jones. Joe Armstrong. Doug McMasters. Nico Toscani. Matt Hunter. Alex Murphy.

It's still shoot first, ask questions later. Police are overfunded, crime is unfairly prosecuted, prisons are for profit, and we've still got so many men (and women) eager to be police. Eager to come down on criminals. Eager to point their weapons. Eager to shoot. To hit. To choke. To hold down. To treat as subhuman. And, for what? Does crime magically go away because the police use more force? No. Do their taser guns and does their tear gas mean criminals just don't exist? That no one stands up? No. But, who cares about men of color gunned down? Who cares about police beating protestors, shooting bean bags and rubber bullets at reporters? As long as we can pretend the cops are the good guys, their methods just don't fucking matter because this country was raised on putting some people above others, on building its economy on the backs of slaves and workers alike, and westerns produced American myth perpetuated by action films, and lately by superhero films (which dress it up better, and even comment on the problems, but are still all about the violent climax and beating down the bad guy more often than they are not), and all that matters to far too many of us is that we can separate ourselves from the victim so that we can pretend that nothing is wrong, nothing to see here, America is still America and if they got beaten, if they got shot, they clearly deserved it.

I mean, it's easy. Black men populate our prisons more than white men, so they must be bad people. Cops shoot black men, oh well, probably deserved it. What's on television tonight? What did Trump just tweet? What celebrity just voiced an opinion I don't even have to listen to because they are paid to dance, monkey, dance?

And, once it's easy, it's worth expanding. If it's worth expanding, it's worth throwing money at. So, insert corporations into correctional facilities. Contract out incarcerated citizens as slave labor, profit off the backs of criminals, and who cares as long as I can do what I want when I want to? But, then this is all rhetoric, anger writ flippant, sarcastic, smart-assed, and if it bothers you, you're probably not even reading anymore, and why don't I talk about how cool RoboCop is? I mean, he's got his gun inside his leg for God's sake! He can target multiple people and then start shooting and hit his targets. He can take a punch and a whole lot of gunfire and come out of it dented by alive and eager to uphold the law a little more, one violent death at a time.

And, yeah, RoboCop was cool and is supposed to be cool, but it' supposed to be aimed at the idea that cool is not what we need. The problem is the script goes off its own rails by just turning its aim against corporations in the end and not against policing. There is absolutely no sense in the film that the war between the police and the criminals in Old Detroit was not already a thing before OCP took over the police and will not remain a thing after Dick Jones is fired and killed. In fact, the very inclusion of the Delta City improvements imply an unfair--economically, socially, and presumably racially (though the film makes no comment on this)--system becoming more unfair. The rich get richer, get bigger buildings, higher buildings, and look down on the lowly poor from even farther away, and they'll be nothing but ants living down there, going about their business, fighting amongst themselves, and if they dare get anywhere near their betters, we've got robots to squash them down... Except, the robots, again, are the problem. Corporations need imprisonment, not execution. Follow the money and it does not lead to criminals being put do death in the streets. We need cheap labor. We need the illusion of larger systemic forces protecting us from the unwashed, criminal masses. We want symbols like RoboCop, sure, but we don't want actual RoboCops. We want men we know out there on the streets protecting us so we can hashtag blue lives and act like we've done our part, too.

Monday, June 15, 2020

without cops, this city would tear itself apart

Why does RoboCop need hands? The key difference between him and ED-209 is that he has a human brain (albeit hindered by programming) in place to allow him a little judgement. Maybe. His programming--and especially the vagueness in his directives--suggests that his human brain isn't necessarily offering him any particular advantage.

And, yes, he can also successfully navigate stairs, but that feels like an ED-209 flaw that would be fairly easy to fix, like maybe it just hasn't come up yet.

RoboCop also uses his ammunition more efficiently.

But, seriously, if RoboCop's technique is to barely offer one warning and then start aiming to main or kill, why does he need fingers, when he could just have guns for arms? Why does he need legs and a police cruiser when he could just have tank treads and could just mow over bad guys just as easily as gun them down?

If anyone can be trained to deescalate a situation rather than turn it violent, it's a fucking cyborg. Except, RoboCop is not about being the ideal cop. His prime directives, for example, are bullshit.
1 - Serve the public trust
This is, of course, a public used to a near-future, hyper-violent city where, unbeknownst to them (but I'm sure they wouldn't be surprised), their civic leaders are working together with criminals. A city where police and criminals are at war with one another. And, ED-209 gunning down an innocent man is written off as a "glitch".

But, RoboCop was doomed anyway because he was stuck in the role of a police officer and even by 1987 that was, other than to the white majority, a problematic role. And, ti's only gotten worse. Serve the public trust? How? By opening fire on a van full of thieves on a public road? Field testing a black man after finding him asleep in his car, then arresting him instead of letting him walk a short distance home and then shoot him when he runs away? Pull guns on unarmed suspects complying with commands? See, it's easy for us to cheer RoboCop because all the criminals in this twisted future Detroit are armed, and they tend to shoot first. It's the same cheap bullshit I was talking about with Dragnet where if you paint the bad guy just slightly bad, the good guy can use whatever force he wants. Not whatever force is necessary. Whatever force he wants.

And, again, RoboCop is programmed, not trained. he can very much be made to deescalate, to arrest rather than shoot. And, it would be something different if when he drifts into being Murphy instead of just RoboCop he was meaningfully better at his job (or left his job to, say, protect the city from the corrupt, necromantic OCP). But, his memories of his wife and kid don't really change the plot going forward. It's just window dressing. An extra science fiction distraction that ultimately has no payoff.
2 - Protect the innocent
Clearly this does not include their property as, for example, on his very first outing, RoboCop damages a cooler that surely cost more than the robber would have gotten from the register.

Second crime, he shoots through the woman's skirt into her mugger's genitals. Nevermind that we have no reason to think (at least at this point) that RoboCop can see through this woman or even her skirt. He risks injuring her and then is impersonal when she runs to him for comfort after. (Plus, destroying genitals feels like a particularly barbaric punishment from a supposedly advanced police officer.)

Third crime, since he apparently can see through things (which might earn a little forgiveness on the previous incident), he knows right where Miller is standing, holding a gun to the Mayor's head, but instead of being consistent and just shooting Miller through the wall, he breaks through the wall, causing Miller to fire his gun wildly--endangering everyone else in the room--and then throws Miller out the window, 1) operating as executioner when there has been no charges, no trial, and 2) putting graphic death in front of not just the people outside but anyone who watches the news that night.

But, then the movie offers us a news report and an ad for Nukem, because in this future, families are entertained by killing each other in horrible, overwrought violence... Which makes sense, actually. We enjoy RoboCop in 1987, we want violence in our homes, we want criminals put down for the smallest of crimes. (Not to imply that armed robbery, mugging, and hostage-taking are small crimes.) But, just check Twitter in 2020 and you'll see what I mean. Protestors don't immediately comply with every fucking thing a cop says, shoot 'em. Someone breaks a window of a store, or God forbid loots something, shoot 'em. We are a sad, pathetic people calling for violence at the tiniest of things, justifying mayhem and death as long as it falls under the umbrella of whatever group we happen to support.

And, our police have tanks, have tear gas, have tasers, and no fucking patience.
3 - Uphold the law
Like deciding a crime is taking place from a distance because Emil is holding a gun while pumping gas. That is not a crime. It's dangerous, maybe. But, the movie does not show us that RoboCop can hear conversation from that distance. But, he arrives, and immediately draws his gun because movie.

Visiting the house where he used to live, he damages property. Out of grief and rage, of course, but does he report it later? Does he make any effort to get the damage fixed? No, he operates above the law, not a cop but an OCP operative. No complicated rules. No coddling criminals. Just, shoot 'em, drag them around by their hair, and nevermind the collateral damage.

Really the problem in the world of RoboCop is that there are no regular people. Just criminals and victims. And every crime is punishable with death.