Saturday, February 24, 2018

we’ve jumped the shark

I've mentioned before in this blog the sound effect I call Wilhelm's Car Horn. I'm watching This Is Us right now (the episode after the Super Bowl one--I got a little behind on tv with classes starting and then olympics stuff to watch) and they just had a Wilhelm's Car Horn. Randall is learning to drive, almost runs a STOP sign and a delivery truck swerves out of the way while honking. Try that some time. Swerve your car abruptly while honking. Even if you could manage to do both at the same time, you wouldn't. Not in the moment.

This sound effect was already on my mind because I was thinking about writing about the movie I saw this morning--Game Night--and their use of Wilhelm's Car Horn was just one of the little details that annoyed me. That movie isn't bad. The plot moves along nicely, and there are a few good laughs. But...

And, here is where an interesting thought struck me. I wrote last week about Black Panther, and I said the movie "is good. It isn't great." After saying lots of nice things about the movie and about the real world implications of it. I mean, I liked the movie. And, it's maybe the best Marvel film yet (Winter Soldier hits some cinematic buttons that I really like so that one holds a nice place for me, and Guardians of the Galaxy is just so fun, that Black Panther is in the top three at least for me). But, then I see a piece at The Root that includes a line about white critics who "thought the movie was good but not great, and ranked it somewhere in the middle of the 18 Marvel Cinematic Universe films that have been released since 2008."

Color me another white critic. Even though I do not claim to review films here in this blog, of course. I respond to them, react to them, pick them apart and put them back together.

I also try to acknowledge the difference between my opinion of a film, an objective sense of it, and (sometimes) the importance of it. Some movies, regardless of their quality, make an impact on the world. When an impactful film also happens to be really good, that's a bonus. Wonder Woman, Black Panther , Get Out, Call Me By Your Name, to name a few from the past year.

Now, how did this "interesting thought" that probably feels quite unrelated strike me? When I first heard about Game Night, I wasn't excited for a silly comedy that visually looked a bit too much like Horrible Bosses or Office Christmas Party--and that, maybe just because Jason Bateman is in all three. I was excited because the idea of a bunch of friends getting together for a game night and then everything goes crazy sounded awesome. My friends and I have game nights--haven't had one in a while, though, I must point out in case any of them are reading this entry--and get together for other nerdy things. I talked about this stuff two days ago when I should have been talking about Mr. Mom. But, I do that; I drift away from movies all the time in this blog, write about other things that are on my mind with the film of the day being more of an excuse to write than anything else.

Recently, I have also sped up this childhood deconstruction exercise that has taken over Phase Four of this blog. I hit 1983 and I'm trying to limit myself to just two viewings of each film instead of three (or more). It's hard to run with that limitation and allow for distractions, though.

Today is more of an interruption than a distraction.

I also saw Annihilation yesterday, and that is worth writing about, too. But, I won't get to it. For this blog's terms, I really would have had to get to it yesterday, or I'd have to go see it again. Short take: good film with some great science fiction bits and some amazing horror moments.

(Interruption: I've got Kevin Probably Saves the World on right now, and Nate just suddenly didn't have his keys when he had to sneak out of the house and just this week, I mentioned to someone in a thread on Twitter about a pet peeve of mine with movies and tv--namely, that characters always have their keys and wallets on them unless the plot specifically doesn't want them to. People leave in a hurry, and it is rare that you see them grabbing their keys or their wallets or putting on shoes, because everyone wears shoes all the time unless the plot includes a scene that is about the shoes.

Game Night, given the premise, didn't have this(these) problem(s) much. Except for the main couple. I mean, when I would host game nights at my place in grad school, I would not normally have my shoes on, or my keys or wallet in my pockets, because, you know, I was at home...

Although, oddly timed, slightly ironic timing: I happen to be sitting on the floor in the living room right now, with my shoes on. But, to be fair, it has been rather cold in LA this week, and when I got home from the movie, I left my shoes and socks on, left my extra layers on--I even have a scarf on. This moment is an exception, though, not the norm. I generally take the shoes off when I get home. Socks don't last long once shoes are off, because I don't like wearing them... Even if I do own a whole bunch of nerdy socks that I like wearing, along with my needy t-shirts, when I'm out.)

I'm speeding up because, I think I'm starting to feel like moving on again.

But, I was talking about Game Night and its flaws that I took personally, wasn't I?

For example, Max (Bateman) brings three games to his brother's place when his brother (Kyle Chandler) asks to host game night for a change, and he brings Scrabble, Clue, and The Game of Life. 1) Except for brief clips early in the film of previous game nights, these people only ever play charades or pictionary, which is already a sad game night. 2) There are seven players at this game night; you cannot play Scrabble with seven people, Clue would be awkward and even more annoyingly long than usual with seven people and would be lame with teams, and no one over the age of 10 should be playing The Game of Life (unless they happen to be playing with their kid who is not over the age of 10). The games they play are not even that important to the plot of the film. That they have a weekly-ish game night is just the setup. But, was there no one involved in this film who exists in the 21st century and plays games? I mean, under the main titles, we've got Monopoly pieces and dice (which is fine) but just one damn meeple? Not that the film needed to appropriate newer games or, hell, even aim for some product placement, but it's filmed in 2017, right? People with a regular game night should be playing Codenames or Spyfall, maybe something serious like Eldritch Horror or Betrayal at House on the Hill. Or Catan; tons of people have played Catan by now. Or Secret Hitler. Or Exploding Cats. They've got too many players for a good co-op like Pandemic, but how about just to catch the viewer's eyes and let us know these people are serious about tabletop gaming, you at least have some interesting dice somewhere at the edge of the table, like they just played some Zombie Dice or King of Tokyo. They specifically say that they don't play drinking games--they're more classy than that--or there would be a bunch of better party games they could be playing instead of pictionary or charades. At least--minor joke SPOILERS--their skill at charades actually comes into play at the final climax of act three. But, imagine a more intelligent (but, yes, geeky) script in which at least their knack for bar trivia matters to the story more than just being a flashback to how Max and Annie (Rachel McAdams) met. Imagine a script in which some in-joke about a time they all played Munchkin or they embrace the skill sets of their Mice and Mystics characters to work together in the end, or something with far more depth than the film actually manages. Instead, it's a poor man's The Game, if that David Fincher film got together with something like Identity Thief and gave birth to this one. And, you throw in an entirely unconnected subplot about a wife who--SPOILERS--thinks she had sex with Denzel Washington just before she and her husband got married. And, an extra twist that is almost clever, but then there's a joke extra twist that ruins it a little.

But anyway, this is my brain on movies.

Really, this is just my brain all the time. I might have built up a resistance to movies long ago, which is why I've had to up the dosage over the years.

So, probably, tomorrow, I will watch the next movie on my 1983 list--High Road to China, which it has been so long since I've seen it I'm not entirely sure what the plot even is; I know there's a pilot, and a woman who hires him, and they fall in love, and it's Tom Selleck as poor man's Indiana Jones, maybe. Or, maybe I'll take a week off from the childhood deconstruction because the Oscars are next week and I should try to produce something like a state of the industry, or just a measure of the award-worthy films... Like my multi-part diatribe about #OscarsSoWhite (and related Oscars stuff):

We'll see.

Friday, February 23, 2018

it means something to raise human beings

So, right away, a complaint: the introduction of the woobie is lazy. Kenny has presumably had the woobie for, like, his whole life. Alex knows not to mess with it, and probably messes with it all the time. But, Caroline warns him not to touch it, as if it's something new...

And, this is John Hughes writing, so I'm a little disappointed.

Of course, later moments, like the entire Rocky conversation, or the recipe sharing (though something about the scorching butter line feels off to me), or the poker game, make up for that. And, there are little bits all over this movie that are great examples of writing. The "disability" gag with Larry (Christopher Lloyd).

(Side note: I feel sorry for Tom Leopold, who plays Stan. He's in scenes with Michael Keaton, Christopher Lloyd, and Jeffrey Tambor, and I'm like, Who's this other guy?.)

Jack's growing interest in The Young and the Restless. The 220, 221 exchange. "I'm going to sleep on the fat couch, if I can fit through the door." And, coming back to the woobie, there's Jack trying to talk Kenny into giving it up:

I understand that you little guys start out with your woobies and you think they're great... And they are; they are terrific. But, pretty soon, a woobie isn't enough. You're on the street trying to score an electric blanket, or maybe a quilt. And the next thing you know, you're strung out on bedspreads, Ken. That's serious.

That is great.

Mr. Mom builds itself on a foundation of sexist stereotypes but, as I said yesterday, it does so to deliberately tear them back down. The film celebrates mothers by running with the stereotypical father who cannot handle household chores or taking care of the kids... Until he figures all of that out. It plays with silly moments like Caroline cleaning up the table at her first board meeting or cutting Ron's steak for him without thinking about it; these moments are silly but do serve a purpose as well. Housewife Caroline (who has worked before, mind you) is programmed to clean up after people. It's ingrained after eight years at home, raising kids.

Same societal programming that has Jack feeling emasculated by losing his job, and comparing his manhood to Ron's (Martin Mull) even though he hasn't seen how Ron has been lusting after Caroline. Another man in his wife's life is a problem, because society says so.

It also allows us to laugh at some rather offensive bits, or appreciate the triumphant music when Jack gets his shit together. We shouldn't laugh at the affair jokes, or some of the role reversal jokes. But, we get to because we, too, have been programmed.






The movie works, still. Take it as in its time and place and it's reliance on sexist tropes aren't that bad.

Even though the economic and patriotic notes, especially in the end, paint the film into a corner the reifies the ideal American family by twisting it...

And, I think I said some version of that same sentence yesterday. But remember that in the end, Jack is getting his job back and Caroline has quit hers.

Still, what matters today is what did this film offer me when I was seven? The roles of father and mother are interchangeable. Men don't have to be men. Women don't have to be women.

But, I guess kids still need a mother and a father and marriage is one man and one woman and all that programmed crap that I would get over sometime later. Mr. Mom movie tries to be subversive, but it's too busy trying to make jokes to really manage the subversion.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

pretty soon, a woobie isn’t enough

Mr. Mom is a progressive film for 1983. Give us the typical American family with husband, wife, two and a half kids. Nice conservative vision to open up--the husband works, the wife stays home. But, then Jack (Michael Keaton) loses his job at the automotive factory and everything falls apart.

Now, in addition to this being one of the films we watched a lot when I was a kid, this film has other connections, too. For example, the story went back when this movie came out, that my mother actually heard about an open casting call for the two boys. And she considered taking me to audition. I'm seven months younger than Alex (Frederick Koehler) and a year older than Kenny (Taliesin Jaffe). Now, I'm not saying I was a cute kid but from time to time I might imagine since then that she took me and I was cast and my life went in a completely different direction.

Maybe I'd be playing on Critical Role tonight instead of sitting here watching it.

Let me explain that fantasy for those of you who are not Critters. Critical Role is a show every Thursday on Twitch where a "bunch of nerdy-add voice actors play Dungeons & Dragons." I generally watch it live every Thursday night. And one of those voice actors is Taliesin Jaffe, Kenny from Mr. Mom. For "season one" (115 episodes ranging from about three hours to five), Taliesin played Percival Fredrickstein Von Musel Klossowski de Rolo III, Percy for short, a human gunslinger with a dark past. In "season two" (tonight is episode 7), he plays Mollymauk Tealeaf, a tiefling blood hunter. In case I haven't mentioned it, my new D&D character debuting this Sunday, is Cecil Moody, a tortle bard. My last character (outside a one-shot) was a doppelgänger cleric named Cali pretending to be a water genasi sorcerer named Dolphine de Pointe du Lac. Before that, I was a tabaxi rogue warlock called Shade Beneath the Cliff, and before that...

You probably don't want to know all that. Unless you happened upon this particular blog entry because you're also a Critter. To you, fellow Critter, I might mention how my D&D friends and I went to the Renaissance Faire last year and just happened to be the same day that the cast of Critical Role was there. Taliesin, who has also spent time as a performer at the Renaissance Faire, was just a couple rows behind us while we watched one of the performances. Laura Bailey, another voice actor who is on Critical Role was right in front of me in line at lunch, and her husband Travis Willingham (who is also on Critical Role)--

(Quick sidenote interruption: it occurs to me that maybe it's strange that this movie uses the music from Chariots of Fire and at seven-years-old I get the reference, because I also saw that movie in the theater.)

(Sidenote to the sidenote: that thought had me wondering when Vacation used that music, and then I realized that I had not yet put my 1983 films in specific release date order, and the coincidence of getting to Mr. Mom on a Thursday, i.e. Critical Role day, is just happenstance of the order I typed up the list and not the "proper" viewing order...

My 1983 order should have been:

  • High Road to China
  • Return of the Jedi
  • Octopussy and Trading Places came out the same day
  • Staying Alive
  • Mr. Mom
  • Krull and Vacation came out the same day

So, I will adjust accordingly after I finish with Mr. Mom.)

And, I interrupted myself mid sentence. The Travis Willingham thing was actually kinda funny. See, on season one of Critical Role he played a goliath barbarian called Grog Strongjaw, and I see a guy (I don't immediately recognize him for who he is) in the food court area at Ren Faire that I'm thinking has a great Grog-vibe going on. I only realize a few minutes later that it was Travis Willingham himself that I just saw when I am behind his wife in line. When we passed the rest of the cast walking around, my friend Shari stepped up and said something to Matt Mercer (the DM for Critical Role); I think she said, "I love what you do," or something like that. Had we more time, and weren't just passing them in opposite directions right then, we might've explained how we were also a D&D group. Hell, Critical Role is what drew me to playing regularly...

And, I have said very little about Mr. Mom, I realize. I'm not sure that there is necessarily a lot to be said. Great comedic moments, relying on sexist stereotypes a bit but doing so deliberately. The film plays with gender roles, upends them, embraces them while also rejecting them. And, in the end, like many another comedy, it reinforces the status quo, just with that single, gendered twist.

The film also skirts the underlying setting--Detroit as car manufacturing is starting to die in this country. Jack loses his job because of economic realities that the film only barely wants to comment on. (It's interesting, for example, that after Jack kicks the TV and the tube has a hole in the front of it, he's getting it repaired rather than just buying a new one.) Caroline's (Teri Garr) eventual ad that gets her noticed at work ties directly to the economy, and the whole gender switch is very post-second-wave-feminism a la 9 to 5. The time and place is important to the setup, but not as much to the execution.

And there will always be more to say tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

from a certain point of view

And, of course, as I've said with the previous Star Wars films, Return of the Jedi put me on the side of rebellion. The powers that be get a little too authoritarian, you band together and revolt.

For the record, I jumped over to watching Return of the Jedi tonight after watching a CNN Town Hall about gun violence and school shootings. [And, throughout much of the film, there was a conversation going on in the next room about a lot of this stuff, too.] Future readers--on Valentine's Day, just one week ago, a 19-year-old expelled high school student returned to his school with a gun and killed 17 students and teachers and wounded 14 others. Surviving students have been rather outspoken, and if you don't know what side of this issue I come down on, you probably have not been following this blog; I do tend to get into political rants from time to time even under the guise of talking about movies because movies are inherently political, even if only to reinforce (or reject) cinematic standards and societal norms of the time in which they were made.

Return of the Jedi, because of George Lucas, is an echo of an earlier time, a nostalgic recreation of old serials like Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon laid over mythic plot points taken from Joseph Campbell. Also, much of the plot of the original Star Wars (and the ending of Return of the Jedi somewhat) was inspired by Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress. Writing for the Criterion Collection, Armond White explains: The Hidden Fortress was

a story both elaborate and simple. During feudal wartime, two farmers, Mataschichi and Tahei, have escaped prison camp and are scavenging the wilderness for gold...

Yada yada yada. There's a general. There's a princess. There's a scarred villain who has a change of heart. And...

The Hidden Fortress proves most distinctive when not merely reduced to genre type but rather appreciated for Kurosawa's unique, excited exhibition of nature and different human characters... The emotional satisfaction of this type of epic morality play in which behavior reveals personality proves how effective Kurosawa could be at combining action and purpose, morality and thrills.

With the original Star Wars trilogy, George Lucas seems more interested in the human element (not to be speciesest), that is, interested in the characters as people with inner lives, with their own individual motivations and histories. By the time of the prequel trilogy, Lucas' approach was, to my eye, more clinical. I forget which of the prequels had the behind-the-scenes bit--or maybe it was from an outside interview--in which Hayden Christensen talks about how Lucas actively told him not to emote too much in Attack of the Clones so the emotional climax of Revenge of the Sith would be more resonant. Which effectively turns Anakin, while we are still supposed to care about him as our protagonist, into a cold killer. A mass murderer even. Well before he becomes Darth Vader.

Something I really liked in The Last Jedi was how Luke had changed. I've seen many comments online about how he didn't feel like Luke anymore. Luke was basically a naive, brash, young man with a little bit of a hero complex in the original trilogy. That kind of guy can grow old in one of two ways, I think; he can become an arrogant ass who no one will want to spend time with, or he can learn humility and realize the being a hero is not something you need to, or should, aim for. Hamill's take, and the script's, in The Last Jedi puts Luke somewhere in the middle of the two. In Roger Ebert's review of the Special Edition of Star Wars, he wonders

if Lucas could have come up with a more challenging philosophy behind the Force. As Kenobi explains it, it's basically just going with the flow. What if Lucas had pushed it a little further, to include elements of nonviolence or ideas about intergalactic conservation?

Lucas was born in 1944, which made him just about the right age to join in with more radical student groups when he was in college. Find himself caught up in the Civil Rights Movement, the Free Speech Movement, the Antiwar Movement, the Feminist Movement. John C. McDowell (2016) suggests in Identity Politics in George Lucas' Star Wars a counterculture "context for [Star Wars] to address issues of racial discrimination, prejudice and violence in subtle ways using non-human characters to depict otherness." However, the racist overtones in the Empire remains subtext and even in that, is spelled out in some of the expanded universe novels far better than Lucas puts into his films. Others could read into the use of aliens, but the simpler explanation--that aliens make for a more... fantastic set of visuals--fits without reading subtext where there really doesn't seem to be any. Basically, Lucas' subtlety is really just an inference with little evidence. Charlie Jane Anders, writing for io9, says

Lucas started out as a member of the counter-culture, part of a group of young film-makers who were challenging the status quo in Hollywood, alongside Francis Ford Coppola. He was very much a product of the 1960s counter-culture: His earliest work was Look at Life, an "abstract montage" of still black-and-white images that explore the political tensions of the 1960s. He was one of the cameramen in Gimme Shelter, which was viewed as a West-Coast alternative to Woodstock.

Unfortunately, at some point in the past couple decades (probably when one of my boxes of large books fell (I assume) off the truck when I briefly ventured out of California to try living elsewhere back in 2000), I lost my book about Lucas. This one:

So, I can't confirm the details there. And, Anders' lack of detail (which isn't necessarily problematic in a piece like that io9 one) suggests assumptions that don't necessarily mean as much as Anders is suggesting. That is, Lucas making an abstract film with black-and-white images about political tension could just be the simplest thing to make for him at the time, and there was political tension prevalent on college campuses when he was there, so regardless of the side he was on, it seems reasonable that such themes would find their way into his work. THX 1138, for example, involves a dystopian future. American Graffiti's setting puts it ahead of the counterculture, and it spends its time in a specific time and place, not necessarily drawing on political ideas... Although to to be fair, it has been awhile since I've watched the film, so maybe it was more political than I recall. And Star Wars comes along after Vietnam, after the protest-filled 60s, after violence broke out in numerous American cities (and cities abroad) because of political upheaval and marginalized groups demanding attention. So yeah, it focuses in on a rebellion. But, the Empire, as exemplified by Darth Vader, is a clear evil. The opening sequence has Stormtroopers gunning down soldiers we haven't even met yet, endangering our viewpoint droids and the young princess. Real political subtext is lacking. It's not absent. But it takes a backseat to an adventure in space.

Except, it is there, and I had all three movies in my head by the time I was seven. Empire: Bad. Rebellion: Good. Meanwhile, I'm attending weekly church service and going to private school, and in addition to all their strict rules, I am being told the world is going to end soon. So, there was a nice little thematic soup of rebellion just asking for me to be a troublemaker. And, in that private school, we had corporal punishment, and that kind of thing just made me want to not get caught, it didn't make me want to stop being a troublemaker.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

it’s a trap!

I like the ewoks. I always liked the ewoks. Let us just get that out right away. I was seven when Return of the Jedi came out, and barring false memories, I even remember going to see it at the theater at the mall in Eagle Rock. I had already seen the prior two films more than a few times. I had behind-the-scenes books, comics, storybooks, activity books... These (among others):

And, action figures. Lots of action figures. More from Return of the Jedi than from the previous two films combined, probably. Because, I bought a lot of action figures later at yard sales and flea markets, I am not entirely clear on just how many action figures I had at any given time. I know that I never owned an X-Wing (until just a handful of years ago when I invested in the tabletop game Star Wars: X-Wing, which is awesome, by the way), I didn't have an AT-AT until the mid- to late-80s, and it was missing the side door and the electronic bits. I had Jabba and his throne, and I think I might even still have the Salicious Crumb that came with it in a box somewhere. But, I never had the slave Leia figure--and instead had to hook the collar onto Bespin Leia--until the Power of the Force figure in the 90s. At that point, new figures stayed in the package and hung on my wall. In 1983, though, I played with all my action figures all the time.

Including the members of the Max Rebo Band--which, by the way, Sy Snootles is a much better performer than whoever was singing in the Special Edition. There was a time that I obsessed about Star Wars stuff, those Special Editions sort of started the end of that, so I actually don't know the names of the new members of the big-band swing-style Max Rebo Band. They were in 1983 (or, rather, a long time before that, in a galaxy far far away) Max Rebo, Droppy McCool and Sy Snootles.

And, weird thought in passing: it might actually be perfectly legal by local Tatooine law for Jabba to take Leia as his slave, and Chewbacca and Han as his prisoners, and even to drop Luke into the Rancor's pit--and the Rancor is still awesome (I'm watching a VHS from before the Special Edition same as the prior two, by the way, in case you have not been keeping up with this blog). I mean, Luke and his entourage are the interlopers. And really, since Luke grew up there, he should know better. Or he knows full well how awful Jabba is as a local mob boss/warlord...

And now I'm imagining the revolution that takes place on Tatooine in the power vacuum created by Jabba's death, and I kinda want to see that movie.

And, now the Emperor is on screen and I am tempted to complain that we don't know enough about his backstory like some clever nerds did back in December after some less-clever nerds complained about Snoke not having a backstory in the latest Star Wars...

And, mid-sentence there, I got distracted watching the movie






and talking with my son about stuff like how Frank Oz deserves a lifetime achievement award, because Yoda's death scene is great.

And then, the film kept playing, and I kept forgetting to say things.

Which is how it goes with these films. Either I start digging to find what is wrong with them, like how did this movie warp my young mind all those years ago. Or, I get involved all rose-colored lens style and forget why I'm sitting on the floor with my iPad in front of me.

Regardless of which of these old movies I'm watching, by the way. Not just Return of the Jedi. Though I know damn well how Return of the Jedi damaged me when I was young. It fueled my obsession with movies and with fantasy, because compared to so many other movies grounded in everyday reality, this one (and the previous two) was telling me that the sky was a limit (or maybe there was no limit). I've cited Roger Ebert's review of the Star Wars Special Edition before, but not this bit:

The film philosophies that will live forever are the simplest-seeming ones. They may have profound depths, but their surfaces are as clear to an audience as a beloved old story. The way I know this is because the stories that seem immortal--"The Odyssey," "Don Quixote," "David Copperfield," "Huckleberry Finn"--are all the same: A brave but flawed hero, a quest, colorful people and places, sidekicks, the discovery of life's underlying truths.

It's a nice line except, I'm not sure anyone in Star Wars "discovers" life's underlying truths. The film may play on some themes universal like underlying truths, but it's not about the discovery thereof. Also, in a prior part of his review, Roger calls the film science fiction. So, as much as I like the guy, he cannot be completely trusted.

Still, the Star Wars trilogy offers up a fantasy for anyone, especially a kid like I was. You could play at being Han, play at being Luke, play at being Leia, play at being Lando, or even play at being Vader, because someone has to be the antagonist. You can fly spaceships, duel with lightsabers, meet fascinating creatures and maybe have to kill them, overthrow local and galactic governments. Or you can make good friends that will probably last you a lifetime. Or, all of the above.

The big screen in a darkened theater, the bigger screen in the dark of your mind. The sky was the limit.

Monday, February 19, 2018

mr. bond is indeed of a very rare breed... soon to be made extinct

Shall we talk about Never Say Never Again?

Or shall I ignore Octopussy, playing now, to talk about the four other movies I watched today to finish off this year's Oscar nominated films, with a couple weeks to spare? Because, I totally did that. An extra day off, and this week is speech week in my classes, so I've got nothing to prep, so I ignored the olympics for today, ignored any Dungeons & Dragons planning I might need to make soon, and turned on three documentaries (Last Men in Aleppo, Icarus, Strong Island) and one foreign language film (On Body and Soul) (all conveniently on Netflix, hence putting them off to the end).

But, how about that Never Say Never Again? Actually, I don't intend to talk about the film itself. I think I only ever saw it all the way through the one time, in the theater. I was seven, mind you, and I knew about the copyright issues that led to there being two different James Bond films in the same year. Never Say Never Again and Octopussy. I wrote before about how Roger Moore was reluctant to play Bond a fifth time in For Your Eyes Only, and how Timothy Dalton had been (sort of) offered the part more than once before he would eventually get it. After For Your Eyes Only, Moore was again going to opt out. But, then Kevin McClory had retained the film rights for the novel Thunderball (already made into a. Bond film previously), and so a new adaptation (of a sort) of Thunderball went into production, and they had Sean Connery back even though he hadn't been in a Bond film for over a decade. So, the new Bond film being produced by Eon Productions couldn't afford to deal with introducing a brand new Bond and compete with an older one, so they got Moore back again (and I haven't even checked what got him roped in one more time with A View to a Kill).

All I knew, at the time, was that for some reason someone had separate film rights for Thunderball. What I didn't know were some of the specifics. Basically, McClory was hired in 1958 to write the feature film debut Bond film called Longitude 78 West. A few drafts and then financial problems got in the way. Cubby Broccoli got the film rights to the Bond novels and Eon Productions' first Bond film was Dr. No in 1962. Thing is, Bond's creator Ian Fleming used the Longitude 78 West script as the basis for a new Bond novel--Thunderball. McClory sued, because he had created elements of that story himself. McClory would get a producer credit on the eventual Thunderball film and retain the right to use his ideas from it in his own film after ten years had passed. McClory started announcing his competing Bond film in the 70s, "with titles like James Bond of the Secret Service and Warhead". Financial problems kept these from happening.Keith Abt, writing for Reel Rundown suggests that since "Connery's relationship with Broocoli and [Harry] Saltzman had been rocky throughout his years as Bond... One had to wonder if his agreeing [finally] to take part in a competing production was his subtle way of thumbing his nose at his old bosses." Connery coming on meant McClory's film would finally happen, and the world would get two different Bond films in 1983--one that acknowledged Bond as an aging hero, one that absolutely should have because there is no way Roger Moore should be hooking up with women as fast as he does anymore... To be fair, Magda (Kristina Wayborn) only goes to bed with him to steal the egg, but what is Octavia's excuse? (And, for the record, though I didn't say it yesterday, I know Kamal was deliberately acting against his Octavia's interests, it's just to fucking obvious, it's rather lazy filmmaking.) Anyway, "Connery was given input into the film's script and casting to sweeten the deal, and once he came into the picture the project finally found sufficient financing through a consortium of independent European production companies."

That last bit sounds like it's supposed to be strange, and maybe it was back in '83. But, look at any opening credits today and you'll likely see, especially on films out of Europe, half a dozen production companies at least, and I swear one I saw recently had close to 20. More partners, less risk, I assume.

In the 90s, McClory would try to make Thunderball again, calling it Warhead 2000 A.D. and intending for Timothy Dalton, who had just finished his Bond films for Eon, to star. He would try again in 1998, with Connery returning for Doomsday 2000, which would have competed with the Pierce Brosnan starring The World Is Not Enough. Christian Long, writing for Uproxx, says of this, "One thing you could say about [McClory], he was certainly persistent." In 2006, after McClory died, his family sold his rights back, and all the Bond films were together finally.

Meanwhile, Octopussy is about a rogue Russian general who wants to start World War III by setting off a nuclear bomb in West Germany without Russia getting the blame for it, which paints him as both devious and cowardly. Never Say Never Again has SPECTRE stealing nuclear weapons. Because it's 1983, nuclear weapons were all the rage.

(Side note: the coy framing to leave Octavia's face off screen when Kamal meets with her is weird. I mean, I know Maud Adams was in a previous Bond film--The Man with the Golden Gun--but putting off the reveal of her face only matters if 1) Hollywood doesn't regularly announce the stars of its film (and her face is on the poster, and was on the 45 we had of "All Time High") or if 2) she was playing the same character and it's a huge shock, but she's not, and it isn't. When you finally see her face, the big shock is those damn cheekbones, because those things look dangerous. But, anyway...)

And then, flash forward a good 35 years or so, and two of the documentaries I watched today (Last Men in Aleppo and Icarus) are about how awful Russia can be, in two very different ways--respectively, bombing civilians in Syria and cheating in the olympics for decades. But hey, at least we aren't afraid of them blowing us up with nuclear weapons anymore. We've got North Korea for that now. Although, Russian hackers could totally be a subplot of a new Bond film today, if we wanted to bring back big bad Russia.

But still have Octavia and her all-female fighting force, because that would fit into the present zeitgeist pretty well.

Also, bring back Grace Jones. Or just crossover a new Bond film with Black Panther because that South Korea sequence and all of Shuri's gadgets would fit the Bond universe pretty well.

Or just stop making James Bond films, stop pretending that one hypermasculine, superintelligent, multi-skilled secret agent can save the world time and time again, because if it were that easy, the world would not have so many problems.

Unless Bond is literally the only agent this capable...

But, I write that as he rather stupidly scares the guys who think he's a corpse in a body bag when he should know damn well that they drove about 5 seconds outside the property and there are no doubt people watching. I mean, surely, James Bond can survive getting thrown down a hill onto some bones and left for dead. And, you know, not immediately getting everybody nearby to hunt him. But, at least he gets to tell a tiger to sit, which is silly, and yell like Tarzan, which is dumb. So, he's got that going for him.

All these 80s films with supermen at the center--they're just so painfully obvious about what they're saying, with all their racist under- and overtones, their sexist bullshit, and their constant need to reify and reinforce the patriarchy.

For an audience of seven-years-olds like me.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

sounds like a load of bull

So, Octopussy begins with Bond (Roger Moore, again, and always my baseline for evaluating any Bond) trying to blow up some satellite thingy, failing, and getting away in a plane hidden in a horse trailer (in a sequence that is not nearly as exciting as I remember it being when I was a kid).

And, thinking on what's coming in this film--it has been a while since I've watched it--it's occurred to me, because sometimes I can't quite put my finger on what these old movies put into my head all those years ago, that--and maybe this is odd since I was just seven when this film came out--that this is where I first heard of Faberge eggs, and when I was an undergrad history major, I took a few Russia-specific history classes and even did some research into Faberge eggs and how much they cost to own, what makes each one unique, stuff like that.

(Now, two things occur to me: 1) that was a really long and convoluted sentence. I apologize. 2) Writing that just now, it occurred to me that it might have been Arthur that got me interested in owning a Duesenberg if I was ever rich... But then I doublechecked to see if Arthur even had one of those, and he didn't. And I got to wondering where some odd specific interests of mine come from, if maybe they all come from movies. But then I had to wonder what strange interests I have that don't come from somewhere else obvious.






I decided that I am not actually that eccentric in my interests, as it turns out.

Then I get to looking at the trivia section on IMDb (as one does), and I realize just how many sequences in this Bond film were intended for other ones, how interchangeable the puzzle pieces of these things are. And, I learn as well that there were numerous British productions that filmed in India in the early 80s (Gandhi, Heat and Dust, The Far Pavilions, A Passage to India, The Jewel in the Crown) and then I get distracted thinking about Richard Nowel's Blood Money and the way slasher films followed specific trends, and as old familiar scenes played out on the screen before me, I'm thinking about trends I might never have noticed as a kid. Buddy cop movies, specifically with one white guy and one black, for example--that would be obvious even to a kid. Movies aping Star Wars or The Road Warrior. Or Conan. Or E.T..

I did see E.T. and other obvious movies in the theater by the way. Also saw a lot of movies on VHS through the 80s. But, they don't all fit the current phase of this blog, because, even if we owned a copy of a film (we owned a copy of E.T., for example) that didn't mean that we watched it regularly.

For the record, backtracking to 1982 for a moment, out of the top ten movies at the box office, I saw at least 6 of them on the big screen, saw a couple more on video, the rest on cable or regular tv within a few years. Looking down at the next ten, I only saw one of those (The Toy) on the big screen, and I remember specifically not getting to see Firefox, pretty sure because I was sick, when my family went to a double feature of that and The Thing.

Looking at 1981, I saw 8 of the top ten films on the big screen. 1980, 3.)

And, I'm going backward rather than write about Octopussy.

Like for example, as with any Bond, there are sequences that don't make sense. Here, Octavia (Maud Adams as the titular Octopussy) has specifically ordered Kamal (Louis Jourdan) to bring Bond to her. Instead, he takes Bond as prisoner (sort of), then hunts him when he escapes. She wants to meet Bond but he has to sneak into her place.

She invites him to stay at her place while she goes to Europe for a week, there's some disagreement about something or other, then Bond forces himself on her and--because he's James Bond--that's okay.