Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Multiple Personalities and Closing Thoughts

I think Fight Club is one of those movies that you can appreciate more the second time around. It was so complex and full of underlying messages that it’s almost impossible to catch it all the first time you see it. That’s why I can’t wait to see it again when I actually have the free time to fully appreciate the story and the characters.

In a lot of ways it reminded me of Stephen King’s movie Secret Window based on his short story, “Secret Window, Secret Garden.” In the movie Johnny Depp portrays Mort Rainey, a writer who is more messed up than he or the viewers really think he is. He seems innocent enough, and you feel sorry for him once you realize the hell his wife put him through by cheating on him. But thorugh all of the unexpected twists and turns of the story you realize he’s anything but innocent. Mort likes to kill people and bury them in his garden. He may or may not actually have two different personalities in his head, but he certainly has two separate lives he leads. His mentally deranged character reminded me a lot of Tyler Durden. To everyone around him he seems calm and collected, maybe a little spacey, but overall he’s got life under control. He doesn’t let anything tie him down, and he’s always got some grand idea floating around in his head. But under the smooth exterior both men were full of secrets and ulterior motives.

This idea of multiple personalities and lives we see presented by Tyler Durden and Mort Rainey reminded me a lot of one of an old, incredibly long movie called Sybil. Sally Field played one of her best roles in this movie. She played a young woman who was completely unaware that she had at least 13 different personalities, each unaware of all the others. Much like the narrator in Fight Club, her mind had created these personalities to escape her harsh reality. She wasn’t trying to change the world though; she just wanted to escape a horrible childhood. Really Sybil doesn’t have a lot in common with Fight Club as far as style or even “cool” goes, but if the narrator’s alter ego interested you, then you should look into Sybil. It’s a 70s made-for-TV movie, but it’s based on a true story and it’s incredibly fascinating.

On a different note, class has now come to an end. We’ve seen many films and many types of cool over the few short months we’ve been together, and I’m sure everyone has their own favorite. For me, I think Fight Club was easily the coolest movie we watched. I love tricky plots and complex characters, and this movie was full of that sort of action and mystery. There were others I really enjoyed as—Jules et Jim, Casablanca, and even RoboCop once I got past the inhumanity of it. Each of these movies left us with a different perspective on what’s cool and what’s not, and in the end, I’m not sure there was ever a consensus reached about what really defines cool. I think more than anything I’ve learned that cool is simply subjective. It holds a unique meaning to each person, place, and time, so there’s no way you can quantify it. Thankfully we’ve got the movies to turn to if we ever need a refresher course on the history of cool.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Fight Club... Perhaps the Coolest Movie All Semester

Fight Club was a pleasant surprise for me. I had seen only clips of the movie prior to class, so I was under the false impression that the movie was about nothing but fighting. I was glad to be proven wrong in my assumption. There was a much deeper story to the movie, but I’m not sure I quite understood it.

The main character obviously had multiple personalities. When he became Tyler Durden, his life was turned upside down. Tyler burned his apartment and threw him into an entirely new lifestyle full of secrets and mystery by starting the underground “Fight Club.” There were motives behind all of his actions that could be debated for years and never be fully understood. He wanted freedom from all the physical belongings and societal norms that held him back, but in creating his own freedom he bound his soldiers to rules stricter than what you would find in a black ops military regiment. Tyler also wanted equality for everyone, or so it seemed when he said he wanted to destroy the credit companies so that everyone could start at zero again. But once again there was hypocrisy in that desire because he was making himself the supreme ruler of this new world by making everyone else his soldier. I’m sure there was a lot more to his thinking than that, but those were the two aspects of his operation that stood out to me the most and seemed the most contradictory.

The complexity and hypocrisy of the narrator/Tyler was all a part of the satire and humor of this movie though. We were thrown into a world where we saw all of the mundane and mediocre things we love blown away by the Fight Club phenomena. Men who had worked hard their entire lives to climb the corporate ladder were suddenly reverting back to their animalistic tendencies every night when they went to fight in a dirty basement of a club on the wrong side of town. In many ways this movie showed us how trivial all the things we value are and how easily we can live without them if we let nature take over. This movie also shed light and humor on sides of life that people are often afraid to laugh at. Self-help groups aren’t typically a laughing matter, but when a grown man becomes addicted to them because he likes to cry, it’s a whole new story. Suicide is also a serious subject, but when you see Marla using it as a pitiful way to sleep with someone, you are able to laugh and see how irrational people can become when they actually just want attention. We saw all of these issues that people usually don’t discuss blown out of proportion and turned comical by the nutcase characters we were forced to love.

Fight Club
was over-the-top, nasty, action-packed, incredibly sarcastic, and undeniably cool. What a great way to end a semester.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Reservoir Dogs Just Aren't That Cool

Reservoir Dogs was definitely a guy movie. It was full of blood, gore, violence, and nothing but testosterone-driven men wanting to commit the perfect crime. Personally, I have a strong distaste for movies such as that, so I rarely watch them. This was also my first encounter with Quentin Tarantino’s work. I was intrigued by the fractured timeline he used, and I enjoyed the pop culture references and 70s playlist, but his overall obsession with gore was too much for me to handle.

Much like RoboCop, this movie almost made me sick with its senseless massacres. When Mr. Blonde went crazy and cut the policeman’s ear off I almost had to leave the room. Violence with a visible reason doesn’t bother me, but harming someone or something for with no reason other than sick, twisted personal joy is repulsive. That scene with the cop made me think back to when Murphy was gunned down by the drug dealers in RoboCop. The killing was overly brutal and nasty, and neither Mr. Blonde nor those drug dealers had a valid motive for doing what they did. If a character has to die, just get it over with in one quick shot, don’t drag it out and make us watch someone writhe in pain while their ear is cut off. There is nothing cool about that. Characters like Mr. Blonde are just not cool in any sense of the word in my opinion.

What was cool about this movie (other than the awesome 70s music) was the competency shown by a few of the other characters. Mr. Orange was probably my favorite character, not because he was a cop, but because he was so good at his undercover work that no one figured him out until the very end of the movie. Even then Mr. White was still fooled by his act, and Mr. White was one of the most skilled men on the job it seemed. Mr. Orange’s level of proficiency was up to par with the other undercover workers such as Vesper Lynd (She had James Bond falling for her ruse all throughout Casino Royale.) or Al Pacino as “Rooster” in Righteous Kill (Pacino was a serial killer in this movie, but he kept it a successful secret from all of his buddies at the NYPD.) Much like those undercover agents, it is the element of competency that makes people like Mr. Orange cool even if you don’t always agree with their motives. That is also what made Joe so cool even though he was a crooked man running heist operations all over the city. He was smooth, calm, and collected even though his livelihood was based on robberies run by groups of total strangers. So while I thought what these men were doing was repulsive, I must admit that some of them at least were pretty cool when it came to getting the job done.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hip? Square? You be the judge...

1. Hip Hop
2. Cosmopolitan
3. Going Green
4. Canvas bags
5. Short shorts
6. Flip flops
7. Fitness
8. iPods
9. Natural tan
10. Hookah
11. Working hard
12. MTV
13. Liberal
14. Pot
15. Parties
16. Twilight
17. Spending
18. Excitement
19. Questioning
20. Change
21. Success
22. Stylish hair
23. Texting
24. X-Box 360
25. Facebook
26. Honesty
27. Spirituality
28. Youth
29. Independence
30. Nonconformity

1. Country
2. Science Daily
3. Polluting
4. Plastic bags
5. Pants above the waist
6. Socks with sandals
7. Out of shape
8. CD players
9. Skin cancer
10. Cigarettes
11. Hardly working
13. Conservative
14. Meth
15. Going to class
16. Lord of the Rings
17. Saving
18. Boredom
19. Complaining
20. Predictability
21. Failure
22. Mullets
23. Actually talking
24. Dreamcast (For those of us who still play them…)
25. Email
26. Hypocrisy
27. Religion
28. Aging
29. Dependence
30. Conformity*

*One thing I notice when reading or creating lists such as this one is that in qualifying something such as “Hip” you are contradicting one of the main aspects of what it is to be hip or cool. Coolness comes with uniqueness and nonconformity, but that idea is full of hypocrisy because to be cool or hip you have to conform to the rules of it. It’s often hard to tell the difference among members of the in-crowd because in trying to be hip they’ve merely created clones of the trend-starter. So if nonconformity is a part of being cool, then is it the hip, in-crowd that’s really cool for following one another’s’ leads, or is it the “square” who gets labeled as “lame” for daring to be different?

I would definitely call myself “square,” at least according to popular opinion. I cross into both lists in different ways, but by most social standards I not “hip.” Take video games for example. I listed the X-Box 360 as hip and the Sega Dreamcast as square. Why? Because people are paying hundreds to get their hands on the newest X-Box, and most people under the age of 15 have never even heard of a Dreamcast. It wasn’t even successful enough in it’s day to be remembered as a legend like the old-school Nintendos are. I still love the Dreamcast though because it was a staple of my childhood, and I still enjoy playing games such as “Worms: Armageddon” on it today. Technology is a major factor in being hip, and I don’t have it on my side usually. I don’t own a touch-screen phone or have a GPS system in my car to talk to; in fact, I barely operate outside the limits of my meager 8 gigabyte iPod.

As a rule though, I, like most people am not absolutely hip or square. In fact, with the diversity and constant changing of the world around us, it is hard to definitively call anything cool. Making a list like this one is fruitless because by the time it’s done it will be outdated. Hip and square are best judged by the beholder, not set in stone for all to follow.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Obsession Is Never Cool

The drag queens in the documentary Paris Is Burning were nothing short of obsessed with the balls they so intricately planned. Obsession isn’t always a good thing though. While the balls gave these men hope and something to strive for, the balls also took over their lives and left them with nothing in return— much as other obsessions tend to do. Drugs, sex, alcohol, etc all consume people’s lives and leave them with nothing in the end.

A prime example of this is Charlie Sheen’s character in the CBS comedy Two and a Half Men. Charlie is a middle-aged, fairly successful jingle-writer for commercials, but other than his house he has little to show for his life, no kids, no wife, not even much in the way of happiness. Why? Because he spends his time and effort on having sex with as many women as possible and drinks in his spare time. Charlie is the closest thing to a sex-addict you’ll find on primetime TV. Just like the drag queens though, his obsessive hobby brings him little more than a fun evening. Once the fun is gone though, he wants little to do with the women, and so is left with nothing. He doesn’t get the fulfillment of a serious relationship or anything else of the sort to show for his obsessive efforts. So once again obsession proves to be self-destructive and unfulfilling.

While those two examples make obsession seem like a bad thing, is that always the case? I would argue “yes.” Right now I’m reading the Twilight saga because I wanted to see what all the hoopla was about. (Once again, the obsessive nature of most Twilight fans is a bad thing, if not for it consuming their time and money, then for the rest of the world that has to see thousands of pre-teen girls running around with Richard Pattinson’s face on their shirts.) The plot of Twilight is a great example of obsession as well. Bella Swan is 200%, over-the-top, infatuated with Edward Cullen. Sure, he brings her happiness and love and all of those wonderful things, but he is also self-destructive for her. Bella becomes obsessed with the idea of becoming a vampire so she can spend eternity with Edward, and in most people’s opinions that is not a healthy desire. Her life becomes centered on Edward and her desire, so when he leaves town she becomes a zombie, almost lifeless without him around. That’s the point where I’d say the mania has gone a bit too far.

I tired my best to think of a single example of a healthy obsession, and I think I failed. Anything when taken to an extreme becomes unhealthy because it consumes you and leaves you with nothing when it’s gone. Dedication to something is good, it’s “cool,” but over-the-top obsession is not.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

What a Sad, Sad Life

I’ve never been one to watch documentaries for fun unless they pertain to something I’m quite obsessed with such as Metallica (Some Kind of Monster) or large flightless birds (March of the Penguins). Going in to this movie I didn’t know what to expect. From the reading we did before class, “The Slap of Love” by Michael Cunningham, I knew what Paris is Burning was going to be about, but I wasn’t quite prepared for what I watched.

Like most documentaries, this one was gritty and to the point but with a subject like transsexual life in the midst of the AIDS crisis, that grittiness is heightened a lot. While a lot of the ball scenes were lighthearted and entertaining, the underlying message was almost depressing. All of these men and women were working night and day to become the best models, dancers, trend setters, etc, in hopes of one day escaping the poverty most of them were born into. That might not seem like an outrageous dream in today’s society, but in the 80s and 90s it was near impossible for a drag queen or transsexual, especially and African American or Mexican one, to be recognized by the white majority. That’s what made this documentary so depressing for me to watch. I heard all of these people talking about their hopes and dreams of being wealthy and famous, but I already knew from the reading and just from their situation that it wouldn’t happen. Many of them in fact ended up sick and dying only a few years after the film was made.

Just because it made me sad didn’t mean I didn’t like it though. This was actually quite an inspiring movie in many ways. I loved the determination these guys/girls showed for what they did. I think many of them knew their dreams would never be fruitful, but they tried their best anyway and never settled for less than perfect performances. The amazing thing was that most of them didn’t even have homes or real families, but they rose above that strife to become the people they dreamed of being at the balls. So in a way, many of them achieved their dreams without even realizing it I think. They all dreamed about being the people they saw walking the streets of Manhattan, and while they may never reach that goal, they could at least experience for short whiles by mimicking it on the runway. So there was hope for them in a way I guess, but it was still sad knowing what coming for so many of the young guys we watched— AIDS, beatings on the streets for being “faggots,” and the misery of never making it out of the poverty they hated so much.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Oh, the Satire

This week we saw how political and social satire can be cool when we watched Paul Verhoeven’s action/sci-fi movie RoboCop. To most viewers (like myself most likey) the beauty of such satire would be lost without prior warning that it’s there. Most people watch movies just for the fun of it, not expecting to get a deeper message from the film, especially when it’s something as outrageous as RoboCop. However, once you know to expect a satire, the point the director’s shooting for is obvious. After watching it I found myself looking back trying to see if I had missed the satirical commentary of any other movies.

The first one I came up with was a movie I really wish I had never watched: Team America: World Police. While watching this movie I clearly saw the point the South Park creators were going for, I just never thought to classify it as satire. I must say I wasn’t a huge fan of Team America, but not because it didn’t have a decent message. The movie overdramatized and poked fun at the way America tries to control the world’s terrorist problems by having a group of American global cops and a Broadway actor take of the evil dictator of North Korea. While the movie is funny, ridiculous, and over-the-top, it does make a lot serious comments about American politics and our style of international relations. And while it may not be what we would normally consider cool, I will always find puppet animation cool just because of the effort it takes to make such a movie. I don’t think I got nearly as much from Team America as I did RoboCop, but both movies certainly qualify as political satires in their own special ways.

The other example of satire that immediately came to mind was a website/newspaper that my brother and I are very fond of reading. The Onion never fails to make me laugh with its absolutely ridiculous headlines and stories that poke fun at absolutely everything. At first glance the stories have no literary merit of any kind, but occasionally you can find some very useful social or political commentary. The best example I can think of would be a semi-recent news video they released on the website entitled “Survivors of Gas Station Explosion Mourn Tragic Loss of Gas.” I was laughing ridiculously when I first watched this clip, but afterwards I actually found myself thinking of how true it is because gas prices had gotten so high that people were keeping track of where every drop went. The video really showed how ridiculously frugal some people could be when it came to gasoline. Hopefully the worst of that problem is behind us now, but the video is still really funny (and somewhat disturbing) if you like The Onion’s style of satirical comedy.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Funny Movie, Bad Reality

RoboCop was a movie unlike many others I've ever seen. I had no prior knowledge about it at all and have never seen anything else from this director, Paul Verhoeven. Until the company name Orion appeared on the screen I had no idea what to expect. Based on other Orion films though, such as Maximum Overdrive, I instantly knew I was in for quite a ride. I usually love low-budget science fiction movies for some odd reason, maybe because I get some small amount of joy when I can the strings that are making the spaceships "fly" or because the acting is just so classy.

On top of all those joys though, RoboCop had other things to offer soceity. It was anything but the action-packed, futuistic film it appears to be on the surface- it was a satire commenting on the evils of privatization. The company OPC was trying to take over Detroit from its hospitals to its drug rings to its police force... All so that it would be top dog when Detroit was flattened and rebuilt as the all new Delta City. What it came down to was a situation very akin to Big Brother in 1984. OPC had its ahnd in everything to the point where people had no choices at all and humanity wasn't a part of the equation anymore.

The inhumanity of the story is what really got to me. I could look at all the farce throughout the rest of the movie an laugh. The commercials, news breaks, and even the prospect of privatizing this "unprofitable businesses" such as hospitals and prisons were all easy to find humor in, but the idea of a "RoboCop" creeped me out. When Murphy died one of the most grotesque deaths I've seen in a while, I thought it couldn't get any worse. I was wrong. When he woke up to find himself part of a science experiment I got chills imagining myself in his shoes. I think that would honsetly be the worst possible situation to live with- having human feelings and knowledge of your past life, but knowing that you are incapable of being human at all. It'd be hard to go back to your wife and kids when only your face is still made of flesh and blood. None of the blood, guts, and murder got to me as much as thinking about the reality Murphy now had to face everyday.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Escapism in the '80s

The cool escapism we saw in Saturday Night Fever with John Travolta is something that shows up a lot in movies and books about young men that feel down on their luck. I had never seen the movie before, but I felt like I had seen Travolta’s character many times before. Many of these other characters showed up in movies not long after Travolta hit it big as Tony Manero in 1977.

The first of these characters I’m referring to is Ponyboy Curtis from S.E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders. The book came out in ’67, and it was adapted to film in 1983. The film was an early work for many famous actors: C. Thomas Howell, Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez, and even Tom Cruise. Ponyboy (Howell) was the youngest of three brothers who were central members of a gang called “the Greasers.” Ponyboy seemed to live with his head in the clouds, not really fitting in, until he and his best friend Johnny accidentally kill a rival gang member and have to spend a week in hiding. After a long string of events that takes the lives of Johnny and another friend, Ponyboy’s world is shattered. That’s the point when he realizes he has to get out and find a better life. Like Travolta’s character, he knows he has to escape or else he’ll waste his life away on the poor side of town with the rest of his gang. He has no idea what he wants out of life, but he knows there has to be something other than the crime and the poverty. Much like Travolta’s escape into dancing, Ponyboy used books and writing as an escape from the world, hoping it would take him away from the misery his family lived with every day.

Much more similar to Travolta’s world, two other 80s movies had characters that were oddly analogous to Tony Manero. In 1984 Kevin Bacon introduced the world to Ren McCormack’s crazy dancing skills in Footloose. Ren’s family moves from the urban landscape of Chicago to a one-horse town out west where dancing is forbidden. The teen feels oppressed and controlled by the town’s crazy ordinances against his music and dance, and has to rebel. Much like Tony, he doesn’t fit in with the people around him unless he’s showing his stuff on the dance floor, so that’s what he does. For Ren dancing was an escape from the world, and it was the one thing that got him attention and respect.

The other 80s classic I’m thinking of, I’m sure you’ve already realized by now… Dirty Dancing. I don’t see how anyone could watch Travolta in Saturday Night Fever and not think of Johnny’s and Penny’s roles 10 years later. The two were dance instructors at a lodge in the Catskills, and for both of them it seemed to be their only option to escape their horrible pasts. They grew up on the streets more or less, and saw dancing as a way to get out and hopefully find a better life. They perfected their dance skills not just because they enjoyed it, but also because they knew they would never get out if they didn’t. Neither saw potential for themselves otherwise, so they used the one thing they knew they were good at to get off the streets and into a new crowd where they could be seen and respected for their talents. Their stories are all to similar to the problems Tony faced when he left the club every weekend— by the rest of the world’s standards they were all good for nothing, but when they started dancing the rest of the world stood by to watch.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

In Defense of Country

Over the decades there have countless movements in the music industry that are later degraded by the follow-up generation—disco, funk, 80s glam rock, the 90s pop, etc. One music genre that really stands out in my mind, though, is one that has been around longer than most and is still criticized for its existence to this day: country. Country is considered to be perhaps the least cool of all musical categories, and let’s face it, most of today’s younger generation would hardly admit to listening to it.

I’ve listened to country music all my life; it was an integral part of my childhood from the moment I first saw artists Steve Warner and Diamond Rio at the White County fair at the age of 3 or 4. All through school I was ridiculed for my like of such “redneck” and “talentless” music, even by my own brother. Many people will admit the value of country classics such as Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, and Loretta Lynn, but they don’t see that same value in today’s country artists. Others stereotype the whole genre based on “outcasts” of country like Waylon Jennings and Hank Williams, and even their recent honky tonk counterparts like Brooks and Dunn. No matter how you look at it and no matter how little you like it, you have to realize that country music defines a large part of America. From its southern folk roots to its attempts to cross over into modern pop, country music has a dedicated following in this country and it’s probably not going away anytime soon.

Country music has gone through lot of changes over time, but at its heart it is really about storytelling and love. When it first arose in the 20s with names like The Carters and Gene Autry, and on into the days of Johnny Cash, country was all simple tunes with powerful words. Songs like “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and “I Walk the Line” told stories about people that listeners could identify with because that’s what most country is about. Country music has never been high-tech; it’s just down-to-earth, simple music that tries to make people feel good and let them identify with the lyrics.

In the 80s and 90s county music moved more towards the way we see it today. The music picked up pace and became more mainstream. Artists such as the recently deceased Dan Seals as well as others such as Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Shania Twain, and Alabama defined this time and made country more popular. It still might not have been cool, but it certainly became more widely acceptable outside of the southern, NASCAR clientele that it is so often associated with. Even today country is still impacting the country. It has began to cross over and become more in sync with modern pop, and it thus reaching further out into the world because of groups like Rascal Flatts and female artists such as Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood. Through these efforts country has become more acceptable in many people’s eyes, but there is still the group who hears a country song and immediately turns off the radio because they claim it all sounds a like or it requires no thought. It may not require synthesizers or have the political, literary lyrics of groups like Tool, but country has its own place in the world, and when you just want a pick-me-up or a simple break from the day, you should give it a try.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Obama, Li, and the quest for the Dark Tower

Shaft himself was definitely a cool minority character. Not only was he unique because of his work in a typically “white” job, but he also had all of the quintessential elements of cool. Shaft was disconnected from the world, incredibly tough, in style with his clothes and women, and of course he was 150% devoted to his cause. The role of minority characters is not always cool of course, as we see in many movies where the minorities are the ones sought after for their crimes or work with gangs. In Shaft it was the other way around though, and we saw the old school white mobsters being hunted by the suave African American private detective. Minorities don’t seem to be considered for the main, cool roles very often, perhaps because the writers and directors want the majority to be able to identify. I think this will change in the future, and perhaps has already begun with the election of Barack Obama, but for now Shaft still seems to be a minority in the entertainment industry.

A similar person who comes to my mind is Jet Li. Li started his martial arts career as a child and devoted his entire life to his work and training. Now, of course, he is also a well-known actor and performs his incredible martial arts skills for everyone to see on film. While kung fu movies might not be “cool” in many people’s opinions, Jet Li and his characters should certainly be considered that way. Li’s skills are mind-boggling, especially for people like me who have no such talent to claim. The best example that comes to my mind is one of his most recent films from last year, The Forbidden Kingdom, in which he played the legendary Monkey King or Silent Monk. So not only is Li a definite minority in America, he is also a martial arts icon across the globe. His undying devotion to his career makes him a definite member of the transcendent cool class.

On a completely different note, I must mention how one of my favorite writers, Stephen King, provides a good example of a cool minority in his epic Dark Tower series. The main character is gunslinger named Roland Deschain; he is the last of his kind, and thus is a definite minority. Roland belongs nowhere in the world and is feared by most that he encounters. Similarly, his quest to find the “man in black” and the “Dark Tower” that holds the crumbling universe together alienates him from the rest of humanity. Roland is a prime example of transcendent cool because his entire life revolves around and is his quest. Nothing else and no one else matters in his world. Not to mention the fact that he also has many of the typical cool qualities we look for in a character— detachment, amazing skills, moral ambiguity, etc. While Roland’s ethnicity makes him a part of the majority for our society, his profession and heritage make him the last of a long line of gunslingers from the land of Gilead.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Coolness of Suffering

I’m still not sure how I felt about the movie we watched this week, Shaft. I’ve never been a fan of action/cop movies, and this was definitely was definitely one of those movies. There were a lot of good qualities to the movie though, so I haven’t completely marked it off my list of good movies.

One thing I really liked about the movie was its depiction of the 70s. The “jive” lingo the main characters used was perfect. It helped viewers feel in the moment with the characters, as did the on-scene shots that were present all throughout the movie. Other than those shooting techniques, the aspects of the movie that I really liked were the controversies that Shaft faced in his daily life— I thought his personal struggle was intriguing and very cool indeed.

On a daily basis Shaft faces the tensions of race, work, and his private life in the Harlem black culture. Shaft has a job that is very typical for white, rather than black, men. As a private detective he works closely with numerous white men every day, and this often makes his personal life in Harlem rather difficult. His own people tend to view him as a traitor for the work he does, but really he isn’t at all because most of the work he does is for the betterment of his neighborhood and people. Shaft had the hard-core, tough-guy image working for him, but at the heart he was really well-intentioned and caring. Most of the other aspects of his life were filled with tension and conflict as well though. Shaft’s work inherently brings him into conflict with the white mafia as well as the local gangs and the police that he has to work with every day. Shaft’s entire life was in constant turmoil it seemed, but he still find time to do simple things to support his community, such as giving money to a poor little boy or taking time out to chat with blind newspaper salesmen. While his world was full of action, crime, drugs, and cultural warfare, Shaft maintained his independence from it all and kept his values in tact. In my opinion he was one of the most grounded characters I ever seen in a movie such as this because he kept his individuality and personal ideals in the forefront of his busy, conflicting life.

Without the tremendous amount of tension and struggle between his multiple realms of existence, I don’t think I Shaft would have been nearly as cool as he was. He just would have seemed like another stoic detective if he had not handled his crazy life with so much composure. Struggle and pain are two vital components to the kind of cool Shaft was; without those obstacles in the way Shaft would have seemed like nothing more than a really strong guy running around solving crimes and shooting people. Once you realize what he puts up with everyday though, you start to respect who he is and what he does.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Classic Rebellion

The type of cool portrayed in Easy Rider last week was a very stereotypical idea that most people can probably relate to. Wyatt and Billy were rebellious, wore leather, rode motorcycles, and just had the laid-back, tough guy attitudes that are often associated with the word “cool” in America. So while watching this movie, of course it was the stereotypical characters that came to my mind.

I’m sure most people know who I’m talking about when I mention “The Fonz.” This iconic television character from the 70s could have been the poster-child for cool. The show Happy Days was set in the 50s and 60s, and Henry Winkler played the cool, rebellious kid in town. Just like Billy and Wyatt, he rode into town on a motorcycle, and that alone established his reputation for cool. His overall attitude on the show furthered this idea of cool. He walked with confidence with his leather jacket slung over his shoulder and his hair slicked back, he could get girls to come running at his beckoning call, and every guy in town wanted to be just like him. The scene in Easy Rider when the guys walked into the small town restaurant to try to eat reminded me a lot of Happy Days. On the show the parents and adults were much like the police were in the diner— they wanted their children to stay away from Fonzie and his motorcycle because he was a bad influence. Similarly, the teenage girls in the movie thought Wyatt and Billy were amazing, much like all the kids on the show idolized The Fonz and wanted to be just like him. Fonzie had that stereotypical cool that seemed to become predominant in the 50s and 60s, but much like the characters in Easy Rider, his cool appealed mainly to the younger generations and was feared by the adults.

This weekend I got bored and decided to watch one of my favorite 80s teen movies, Dirty Dancing. As I was watching it, I realized that Patrick Swayze’s character was a lot like Peter Fonda’s role as Wyatt. Swayze played a male dancer named Johnny Castle in this movie, and Johnny was as cool as could be. Once again, he played the stereotypical cool-guy role of the 60s. He drove a tough car, had amazing dancing skills, had a detached attitude towards most of the world, and everyone idolized him. By everyone, I once again mean that the younger generation all looked up to him and most of the parents were afraid he’d run off with their daughters. Swayze portrayed a lot of rebellious cool guys like Johnny in his career, for example his roles in Road House as Dalton and The Outsiders as Darrel Curtis. Swayze was just one of those actors that had a strong persona and was easily capable of pulling off the tough rebellious role very well. I could easily see him as one of the guys in Easy Rider.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Being Free is Cool

Easy Rider was perhaps the best summary of the sixties that I’ve ever seen or heard. It showed little slices of everything that was going on in America at the time, the urban and farm lives of everyday Americans, the prejudices of the South, and of course the communes going up all over the west. Most of the movie was laid-back and even comical, but if you look past the surface you see that it really spoke wonders about the state America was in at the time. A lot of the older generation today complain about the state of the nation’s youth today, but really I think they should all just watch this movie to reflect on the times they came from as well. It wasn’t much better then, and in some ways it might have been worse— the drugs, the racism, and the whole counterculture movement had everything in turmoil.

Despite all of those negative things the movie portrayed about America, though, Easy Rider was the most quintessentially “cool” movie we have watched in class thus far. From the motorcycles and long hair to the freedom the main characters seemed to have, this movie embodied the stereotypical ideas of cool. Freedom was probably the biggest cool factor for me though, because while the people around them seemed to think Billy and Wyatt were free and therefore the ultimate in cool, I’m not sure they were at all. Both men were tied down in ways that they didn’t seem to realize. Wyatt was removed from the world around him, but he was still a prisoner to the drugs and the money and the prejudices around him as well as falling prey to his own ideas of freedom. We saw this in the end when he told Billy that they had failed— he had done everything he thought he was supposed to do once he got rich, but he still wasn’t satisfied or happy. Billy was the true free-spirited hippie of the pair, but even he wasn’t as free as he seemed to be. He was always the victim of his own worry mind, constantly afraid he was going to miss something or not get to where he needed to be. So while the girls in the small southern diner thought this dynamic duo was so cool and free, really they just hadn’t looked deep enough to see all the ties holding these men in place.

The character that I thought was really, truly cool was Jack Nicholson as George Hanson. George had his problems— alcohol more than anything— but he actually seemed to be more free, happy, unaffected by the world’s problems that the others. If nothing else, at least he realized the state that they and the country were in. He summarized it all while he was sitting around the fire with Billy one night. He said, “I mean, it's real hard to be free when you are bought and sold in the marketplace” and then went on to explain how true freedom scares people and makes them crazy and violent. In the end he was killed by people just like those he was referring to, proving how right he really was. Above all the others, I think George was the coolest because he realized what was wrong with America’s idea of freedom, and therefore he came closer to finding that freedom than any of the others ever had the chance to do.

Monday, March 9, 2009


While watching Blow Up, you can’t get used to any of your surroundings because as soon as you do, they’re all going to change. The movie, much like its main character, Thomas, was in constant motion, making the watcher wonder what’s real and what’s just a figment of Thomas’ imagination. Sometimes it all seems real, much like the dead body in the park, and other times you think it can’t possibly be real, like the sounds of the mimes playing tennis. In the end you have no idea; it’s all just a matter of opinion.

The overall feel of this movie reminded me of the 2007 movie I’m Not There about Bob Dylan. That movie was filmed in a similar matter, leaving your mind reeling and thoughts wandering in every direction. Between the six different actors, you get six different perspectives on Dylan and the world around him. If you’re anything like me by the end of the movie you can’t imagine living a life with so many personas and varied ideas of your surroundings. Dylan was a lot like Thomas in that he was always on the go and almost always wondering what was real. The tagline for I’m Not There showed this concept perfectly: “All I Can Do Is Be Me, Whoever That Is.” Dylan wasn’t the only person who’s ever struggled with that conflict; whether Thomas realized it or not, he was too. His life was nothing but conflict: his role as a fashion model conflicted with his desires to show real pain and suffering, his busy lifestyle conflicted with his desire to freeze the world around him, and his ideas of reality certainly morphed once he participated in the mimes’ game of tennis. These searches for truth and self were main focuses of the 60s, and perhaps that why two movies made decades apart seem so similar— they were both set in a time of self-discovery and utter confusion for cultures all over the western hemisphere.

The works of M.C. Escher also play into the ideas of Blow Up. Thomas was trying to capture the real world in his photographs, and what he got was a lot of mixed signals. In the end he had no idea what was going on; his world was turned upside down because he had been searching for something that kept eluding him and finally got so caught up in it that he lost all sense of reality. This is what happens when you look at any of M.C. Escher’s works. The optical illusions trick your senses and make you constantly question your sight and rationality. That’s what happened not only to Thomas, but to everyone watching his plight as well. We were left with more questions than answers at the end, much as someone looking at Escher’s drawings is wondering what’s the top, bottom, beginning, end, etc.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Oh, the wonders of the '90s...

As a product of the late 1980s, this generation grew up in a time of prosperity for the United States of America. For most of our young lives the country actually had a surplus budget, the education system had not yet been marred by “No Child Left Behind,” gas prices were low, and the cartoons we were fed on television were actually well animated and somewhat educational.

Some of the staples for child entertainment for our generation included “Winnie the Pooh,” “Sesame Street,” “Mr. Rogers,” the original “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” and other wonderful cartoons such as “Doug,” “Rugrats,” and “The Angry Beavers.” Sure, some of these shows still exist today, but as a general rule, if you ask anyone from this generation, children’s shows have gone steadily down hill. Because seriously, who actually learned anything from Teletubies or shows like Nickelodeon’s latest “The Mighty B?”

This generation was also molded by the up rise of pop icons such as ‘N Sync, the Backstreet Boys, Brittany Spears, Hanson, etc. This group of “boy bands” and ditzy divas molded the young minds and lives of millions of young girls in our generation, but behind the scenes other trends were on the rise in the music scene. In our younger years 80s icons such as Metallica were still going strong; in fact it wasn’t until 1991 that Metallica released their biggest album of their career, the self titled “black album” whose key anthem “Enter Sandman” dominated radio and music TV for years to come. Other music and style trends of this generation included the punk rock and “Goth” movements as well as the rise in the Hip Hop style of music, dance, and fashion that is still going strong today. The pop culture of this generation also brought with it a new phase of television called the “reality show.” From MTV’s “The Real World” to “Survivor” and even the revival of “American Idol,” reality TV took over most networks during the late 90s and early 2000s.

Pop culture wasn’t the only thing that shaped this generation though. We grew up in a time when science and technology were making leaps and bounds almost annually. When our lives began computers were a rarity in homes and cell phones came in the form of a large bag you sat in your seat and plugged into your cigarette lighter. Music and video was predominantly published on cassette tapes, and everyday people would certainly not have considered cloning a fathomable possibility. Yet, during the prime of our generation’s adolescence, technology and science took American culture in a new direction. The entire human genome was mapped, advancing our knowledge of our own bodies tenfold over what it was before, and Dolly the sheep shook the world when she was cloned in 1996. The new reality of cloning took people by storm and sparked more political and moral debates than probably any other single event ever has. We were also the first truly computerized generation. With the arrival and growth of the internet in the early 90s, our generation quickly became more globally connected, and soon we even found ourselves able to access the internet at our fingertips anywhere we went with the huge advances in cell phone technology. We were a generation of growth and advancement in so many areas compared to our parents, and all of those changes set us up to be leaders in a more diverse and globalized society.

Monday, March 2, 2009

For the Love of Men

The theme for this week was cool love, but I'm not really sure that is what we saw in Jules and Jim at all. Catherine was such a flirt and tease that she was unfaithful to both men on multiple occasions. I couldn't believe they kept going back to her despite her behavior. So for her part, there was no cool love present at all. Jules was the man who showed what cool love really was- he was loyal without falter, and his love for Catherine really had no boundaries at all. He would have done anything (or let her do anything as the case usually was) as long as he could be with her in some small way. So while we spent most of class discussing whether or not women could be cool, as it pertains the theme of cool love, we did not see a heroine in this movie who fit into the idea of cool love at all.

A leading woman who does fit that definition in my opinion is Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth was a truly cool female character- she was independent, intelligent, defiant, and refused to marry someone she didn't ardently love, no matter what her mother had to say. Through Elizabeth's relationship with Mr. Darcy, Jane Austen showed her readers what cool love was all about. For starters, it doesn't have to be a perfect fairytale love story. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy suffered immensely before they ended up together, and she even rejected his first proposal. In the end though, we saw that they loved each other enough to do anything to be together. He had to right the many wrongs their false judgments had caused her family, and she had to defy the opinions of her mother and father to be with a man they deemed as a pompous ass. But in the end their true love and loyalty prevailed and they were betrothed.

Two other incredibly cool female characters came to mind when I was thinking about the concept of cool love, both from Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy: Arwen and Eowyn. The elf Arwen was madly in love with the human, Aragorn, and because of his mortality, her father refused to let her marry him. Even though it meant giving up her own immortality and not accompanying her people to their new homeland, she waited through the war against the dark lord Sauron to be with the man she loved. The devotion and patience she showed throughout the trilogy are both characteristics of a cool kind of love in my opinion. The other character I mentioned, Eowyn, was much more heroic in showing her love. When her people went to war to fight against Sauron her father ordered her to stay behind with the other women and children; instead, Eowyn disguised herself in men's amour and rushed into battle alongside her father and brother. She loved her people and her family so much that she was willing to risk her life to defend them in the most dangerous of battles. Once again, she showed what cool love really is. It's not about sex or money, it's about devotion and unconditional sacrifice to be with someone who mean's everything to you.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Tragedy of Jules and Jim

Jules and Jim was an entirely new film experience for me in a lot of ways. The style Truffaut used in making it was one that’s not seen very often in American film to my knowledge. It was a lot like what I’d imagine real-life to be if you tried to go back and relive your life through memories—
some parts seem ideal and unrealistic, others are marred by images seen on film or TV, some pass slowly and blissfully, while much of life is a hurried blur. But the core of all these memories is the people that were most important to you and the complex relationships you formed along the way.

Jules and Jim were the best of friends, and even when their lives were entirely interrupted by the crazy, whimsical, free spirit Catherine, their ties remained close and loving. Characters like Catherine are seen a lot in movies, but I’ve never seen one draw two people in so close and then destroy them both the way she did. Catherine seemed so free and independent all throughout the movie, but her unwillingness to let Jim marry another woman and move on proved that she had grown as dependent on the two men as they had on her. Once I realized that when she pulled a gun on Jim, I wasn’t surprised at all that she killed them both in the end just to prove she was still in control. What shocked me was that she didn’t kill Jules too, because although they weren’t still lovers in the end, they still had rather close ties that couldn’t be shaken off. I guess she was at least a good enough mother to spare his life for the sake of their daughter, even if she was radical and uncaring towards everything else in life.

What really got be about this movie was the way poor Jim kept going back to Catherine even though he knew it would never work and that she was completely unstable. I’m not sure that it was really her that made him do it each time, but rather it was the hope he had for those ideal moments they all shared to be relieved just once more. I guess no one ever told him that things are rarely as good as you remember them to be. It’s like when you love a TV show as a kid, but then watch reruns later and it just seems dumb to you then. All your fun memories of it are tarnished by the new realization that it just wasn’t that funny. What broke my heart most about the sad ending of this movie was thinking about Jules having to live without either of his close friends. Not only will he miss them being around, but after seeing Catherine drive them off a bridge, how will even be able to think of them the same way again? All of those wonderful memories the three of them shared will be ruined by the thought that Catherine was really crazy enough to kill them all along. At least for me that would be the case; an image that horrifying would undoubtedly be burned in my memory forever.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Maybe Darkness Isn't So Cool

In our tour of film noir last week, the movie Double Indemnity showed us a new side to cool— darkness. Darkness of course is the overriding theme of all noir movies, but I’m not sure how “cool” it actually is. Darkness seems to imply a lot of typically “uncool” ideas such as crime, lies, and shadowy pasts. And that’s exactly how all of the characters in Double Indemnity were too. There were a couple of movies that came to mind while we were watching it last week, and the characters in those movies followed those same ideas of darkness.

The first movie that Double Indemnity reminded me of was a remake of a Hitchcock’s film Dial M for Murder which I’ve never seen all the way through, but seems to have a very noir tone. The remake came out about ten years ago, and it’s called A Perfect Murder. In this movie everyone is always backstabbing someone else, much as the Neff and Phyllis were. In A Perfect Murder, Gwyneth Paltrow’s character is having an affair with an artist played by Viggo Mortensen. Of course the two secret lovers want to be able to live together in peace though, so rather than a divorce they plan to kill her husband. The plot can’t be that simple though because the husband is greedy fellow worth millions who suspects his wife’s plan and wants to kill her and her lover in return. As you can see, in this movie no one is innocent, no one is trying to do what’s right, and in my opinion, no one is cool. What’s cool about movies such as this are the intricate plots people actually construct to meet their needs— the plots are evil and wrong, but they require so much work and attention to detail that you can’t help but admire them. Much like Keyes in Double Indemnity, the only cool part to either movie was the competency showed by certain characters when it came to getting a job done.

A pretty recent gangster movie called A History of Violence was the other movie Double Indemnity reminded me of. In my opinion, A History of Violence is a pretty good example of film noir in a lot of ways. Although the film is in color, it is still very dark because there is nothing bright, shiny, or happy about the way the colors were shot. It always seems cloudy and gloomy in this small Indiana town it’s set in. Another aspect of noir this film depicts is the idea that no one is ever who they seem to be. The main character, Tom Stall, also played by Viggo Mortensen, is anything but the easy-going restaurant owner his family thinks he is. He actually fled a life of crime and violence in Philadelphia to assume a new identity, but he didn’t even share his past with his wife and kids. So when he kills the men who try to rob his cafĂ© and becomes a national hero, he also says goodbye to his new life when the mob comes to find the man he used to be. This movie is full of the darkness we saw with characters in Double Indemnity because once the truth comes out, Tom’s family falls apart, and murder becomes the center of his life. So much like his dark counterparts in Double Indemnity, Tom Stall’s life is ruined and many around him died because of the supposed coolness surrounding his dark lifestyle.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Noir: Not All It's Cracked Up To Be

Prior to watching Double Indemnity, I had no idea what film noir even was. After watching the movie, I’m not sure I see the full appeal of the noir movement. I enjoyed the movie and liked certain aspects of it, but for me it lacked the creativity and depth to keep me on the edge of my seat. It’s definitely not something I’ll rush to see again although I completely understand why it was such a revolutionary film type when it first emerged.

My favorite part of the film was the way it was actually shot. The darkness and shadows gave it a gritty, creepy feeling that I liked. I also really enjoy the flashback sequences we saw the plot through. Although it gives away most of the ending first, it is a unique technique that isn’t seen often enough. Other than the filming style though, I didn’t such much about noir that appeals to me. I like movies with deep plots that slowly unravel and keep you guessing—this was not one of those films. From the start it was apparent that all of the characters were crooked and it was soon apparent who was going to try to kill who. There honestly wasn’t a single point in the film when I was wondering what would happen next. The fem fatal was another critical part of noir that I did not find appealing. Phyllis was just annoying to me. She was transparent with her intent towards all the men around her, and although she was an independent figure, she seemed incapable of reaching her desires without dragging someone else down.

The one part of the movie I really did like, in fact that the only part of it that kept me interested, was Keyes. His character was the only one that showed true competence and personality; he wasn’t just another bad guy. Keyes was an expert detective even though insurance was his true business, and he was the only character with wit enough to realize the schemes of those around him. Keyes was the only “cool” in this film in my opinion. He redeemed the overly simple plot line and kept the story interesting. I’m not saying that Keyes was innocent or an entirely upstanding man, but he was the one man who stood out amongst his fellow characters. He wasn’t acting out of desire for money or power; he was seeking truth because he didn’t like people trying to outsmart the system he had spent his life working with. That’s what makes Keyes worth while for me; I admire anyone who is willing to fight for something the way he fought to solve the mystery surrounding murder of Phyllis’ husband.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Childlike Imitation

In last week’s movie, Play It Again, Sam, Woody Allen aspired to be as cool, classy, and suave as Humphrey Bogart was in Casablanca, but it just wasn’t working for him. In the end he was still the same nerdy little man he was to start with, however, he did learn that it wasn’t necessary to imitate someone else’s cool because somewhere in all of us is our own potential for cool. What he really reminded me of was a little kid who lacked to the maturity to realize such a thing without torturing himself in the process of self-discovery. As I was watching the movie a couple of examples of this came to my mind, one from a great Disney/Pixar movie, and the other from a popular country song.

In the 2004 movie The Incredibles, there’s a little boy named Buddy who is absolutely obsessed with Mr. Incredible. He follows him around the city as he saves people trying to a faithful sidekick in hopes of becoming just as cool and heroic as the superhero is. Buddy efforts at imitation fail miserably though and he turns to other methods to gain power and get revenge as the all-mighty Syndrome. Aside from his evil plots to kill the superheroes, the way Buddy mimics Mr. Incredible’s every move is a lot like what we saw with Woody Allen. Buddy was desperate to be cool and thought he could achieve it by acting like someone he was not. In fact, both Buddy and Woody Allen were pretty much the polar opposites of what most people would consider cool, but maybe they should get some props for trying so incredibly hard.
The other example of “cool imitation” that came to mind for me was a country song called “Watching You” by Rodney Atkins. I know some may consider me un-cool for listening to country, but it’s actually a pretty cute song if you listen to the words. It’s a song about a little boy who wants to be just like his dad. Just as most young boys do, he wants to be just as strong as his dad, dress like him, and copy everything he says and does. That sounds a lot like Woody Allen’s idolization of Humphrey Bogart to me. Woody used all of Bogart’s lines and moves hoping they’d work as well for him. Similarly, the boy in the song idolized his dad and thought he was the coolest man alive so he imitated everything he saw his dad do hoping he could grow up to be just like him. Something tells me the boy’s endeavor to imitate his dad’s cool would work a little better than Woody Allen’s methods.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

James Hetfield: A Cool Icon

Over the years, I’ve idolized many people and thought that they were the ultimate definitions of cool. When I was really young that person was my older brother, when I was around nine or ten it was any given Backstreet Boy, and then a couple of years later my idol became James Hetfield of Metallica. Granted, I’ve never thought any of these guys were quite as cool as Woody Allen apparently thought Bogart was— I never have hallucinations involving them or carried on complete conversations with them like they were right next to me when in fact they weren’t.

I suppose James Hetfield would still be the ultimate cool for me. I first discovered him when my brother brought home Metallica’s seventh cd, ReLoad, in 1997. It was instant love for me; all Backstreet Boys cds went out the window and were soon replaced by a complete collection of Metallica albums which I’ve cherished ever since. I loved the powerful lyrics Hetfield wrote, the amazing guitar, and I loved the passion he put into his live performances. When my family drove out to Denver, CO for my brother and I to attend our first Metallica concert I was in 8th grade and I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I was in awe the entire night because James Hetfield was the single coolest person alive and I was standing less than 200 feet from him.

Outside the schoolgirl obsession with this rather rough and tumble looking metal star, I realized that Hetfield had a lot of merit as a “real” person too, not just as a star. He had a hard life growing up in a strict religious environment that isolated him from the world, he lost his mom at a young age to cancer because she refused treatment, and after leaving home to pursue music his father refused to acknowledge his existence for a time. For me the fact that he overcame such a childhood was incredible because my family is a huge part of my life. He was also a cool idol for me because of what he did after gaining such fame. At first alcohol ruined his life and almost killed him, but after getting married and starting a family he changed completely. He made the band switch from “Alcoholica” to a truly respectable group of men. Whereas most rock bands never mature past the sex, drugs, and rock and roll of their younger years, Hetfield lead his band of family men on to even greater heights. That spoke wonders to me and made me respect this man for more than just his brilliant lyrics and music.

So while Metallica’s frontman isn’t actually a voice in my head that I confide in often, he has had an impact on my life that I can never forget. And in fact his lyrics do pop into my head at random times to provide insight about situations or information I’m mulling over. He doesn’t walk down the street talking to me as Bogart did for Woody Allen, but he is a childhood idol that still has great significance for me. His music and his life story have always inspired me, and Metallica will always hold a special place in my heart, mind, and iTunes library.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Cool Sacrifice

This weekend I watched the movie John Q for the first time. I’ve always heard that it’s a really great movie, but it’s one of those I just never thought to rent. Thankfully it was on TV this weekend, and I put off my homework long enough to watch it. And I must say, it was well worth my time. Denzel Washington is an amazing actor, and that movie really showcased his abilities. The reason I’m bringing it up now, though, is that Denzel’s role as John Q Archibald is a definite example of the “cool sacrifice” we discussed in class last week. In Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart’s character showed people not only how cool he could be as a tough guy, but also how cool he could be when making the toughest sacrifice of his entire life. He gave up the woman he loved and watched her walk away, knowing he’d never see her again. In John Q, Denzel Washington’s character is faced with the death of his only son because he can’t afford to pay for the heart transplant the boy needs. In order to save his son he holds the patients and doctors at the hospital hostage. So not only is he cool for being 100% devoted to his son and willing to face prison for him, but he was also willing to die. John put a loaded gun to his head and was more than willing to take his own life to give his son the heart he needed. That’s a truly cool dad in my opinion. He put his life and freedom on the line because he loved his little boy and wanted to give him a chance at a full life, and at the same time he was taking a stand for those everywhere who can’t afford healthcare when they really need it most.

Another example of this cool sacrifice comes from Bruce Willis. He, like Humphrey Bogart, has that rough exterior that makes him come off as the classic cool tough guy. That was the role he played in his action packed movie Armageddon. At first he wanted to act cool and distant towards his daughter’s boyfriend— the same emotional detachment Humphrey Bogart tried to show in Casablanca. In the end though, when the world was about to be destroyed by a asteroid, he makes the ultimate sacrifice to save Earth and ensure his daughter’s happiness. Rather than letting Ben Affleck’s character die to save the planet by staying behind to blow up the asteroid, Bruce Willis trades places with him. He gave his own life not just to complete the mission and save Earth, but to save the life of the man his daughter loved. All he wanted was to see his girl happy, and he knew that she would never be truly happy if the love of her life was dead. So much as Humphrey Bogart let his love walk away and John Q was willing to sacrifice himself, Bruce Willis did the ultimate in cool by giving his own life for the betterment of others.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Here's looking at you, Rick

I’ve always heard what a legendary and wonderful movie Casablanca was, so when I saw it for the first time, my expectations of it were rather high. And I must say that I was not disappointed. The storyline was intriguing, but the characters struck me more than anything. They all had so many layers to their pasts and personalities that it kept me always wondering what they would do next. Of course the most fascinating of these characters is the lead man, Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine.

At first glance Rick seems like a rock— he’s hardened towards almost everyone and everything. The only functional relationships in his life are with his employees such as Sam. So in the first portion of the movie I was thinking that he was just that kind of man by nature, the typical stoic male character who won’t even act human enough to have a drink with his customers. In this part of the movie the audience begins to see the parallels the writers were making between Rick and America. During the beginning of WWII the US was practicing isolationism. The US was there for support is someone really needed us, but as a general rule we weren’t getting involved with anyone or anything. It was perhaps because we were able to stand on our own so well that the rest of the world saw the US as a symbol of hope. People were flocking to us for a new home, safe from the German’s reach, and Rick was the exact same way. He was isolating himself from the world outside of his saloon, but at the same time his saloon brought hope and happiness to those trying to escape the war and the bleakness of Casablanca. It doesn’t take long for Rick’s whole world to be shaken though, and that’s when his character became the most interesting to me.

When Ilsa Lund arrives in Casablanca, Rick’s whole world changes. It was exciting to watch the transformations he underwent as his whole shadowy past came rolling back in to catch him off guard. Suddenly this tough guy had emotions, and we knew he really did care about the world. He began acting more human and actually having contact with the world around him because Ilso stirred up the emotions he had been hiding inside for so long. I think Rick would have ended up a lot like Victor Laszlo if Isla hadn’t broken his heart and made him untrusting of the world. In his earlier life he apparently was quite the risk-taker, sticking his neck out for everyone he thought needed his help. And had things worked out differently with Ilsa in Paris, Rick might have become the world renowned hero that Victor was when he came to Casablanca. Instead, Ilsa returned to her husband and left Rick to wallow in his own misery. He took Sam and left for Africa, never to return to the outside world or even care about it again. It seemed like such a waste for someone with such potential and passion to end up running a saloon and letting officers cheat at roulette every night. And it wasn’t until Ilsa returned that the audience saw any glimmer of that other person Rick had been. She brought back his haunting past and made him face the world again. And while Ilsa still loved him dearly and was leaving to her husband to be with him forever, Rick had returned to old self somehow and knew he couldn’t let her do that.

There a million and one possible explanations for why Rick made the love of his life walk away at the end of the movie, but I prefer to think that it was because he had gotten his spark back. He knew they both had other callings and so they would have to be content with their memories of Paris. Glimpses of that attitude had been peaking out throughout the latter part of the movie— letting the young couple win at roulette to buy their way to America, raising Sam’s wages when he was planning to leave, paying his staff even when the saloon was closed down, etc. All of those small deeds lead me to believe that Rick’s passion for helping the underdogs in need had returned, and that belief was confirmed at the end of the movie when Rick told Captain Renault that “this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Rick was back in action and ready to take on the world again.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The "Bad Guys" of Cool

In last week’s movie, The Public Enemy, we attempted to dissect what made James Cagney’s character, Tom Powers, cool despite his crimes and eminent self-destruction. Almost everyone accept Tom’s overly affectionate mother knew that he was a delinquent from the time he was a young boy, yet most people couldn’t help but like him and admire his charm and style. Tom was a lot like James Dean in the respect that he was so casual and walked with such ease and swagger all the time that people’s heads automatically turned when he walked by. As a child, his situation at home made Tom become the smooth, collected man we saw in the movie. His father was a law officer who was emotionally detached from the family and his mother lived in a fantasy world where everything was joyous and her children never made mistakes. From that background came the dissident figure of Tom Powers, and while it made him unique among the other characters in the movie, he is not entirely unique as a “cool” icon.

I’ve never watched many gangster movies, although I’ve been told I’m missing out on a huge chunk of American culture by not watching The Godfather. But despite my failures in that respect, from the few I have seen such as Eastern Promises, Tom was pretty much your typical gangster. He was rebellious and heartless when it came to getting the job done, but both the audience and the characters around him were drawn to him. Another, rather obscure, example of that type of cool is a character named Frank Roberts from Sean Penn’s movie The Indian Runner, which is loosely based on Bruce Springsteen’s song “Highway Patrolman.” Frank was much like Tom in that he was always in trouble, but his brother (a law officer much like Tom’s father in The Public Enemy) and those around him couldn’t help but love him just because of his magnetic personality. These men somehow manage to make people look past their crimes against society and see only their compelling smiles and charm.

On a different note though, another character that reminds me of Tom Powers’ cool is the Joker from The Dark Knight. While the Joker is slightly more insane than Tom, the two have a lot in common. Their scared backgrounds have lead them into lives of crime and misery that should have driven everyone away from them, but it hasn’t. Heath Ledger’s version of the Joker has been an icon in pop culture since that movie came out last summer even though he is one of the most horrific “bad guys” ever created. Why? Because he’s so cool that he can murder countless people and never even flinch— he’s about as detached and dissident as cool can possibly be. The Joker doesn’t have the winning personality of Tom Powers going for him, but he is a magnet for attention. Both characters seem to initiate chaos and destruction to get the recognition they would be lacking otherwise.

There are also a few television characters who strikingly reminded me of Tom Powers and his detached, laid back form of cool criminality. One would be the infamous Dr. Gregory House from the USA Network’s show House. While Dr. House is not a hardened criminal like Tom Powers, he does not like to follow proper protocol in his practice, and he does commit numerous social crimes every time he opens his mouth. Dr. House is quite possibly more nonchalant than Tom ever thought of being, because while Tom tries to make people like him, House just doesn’t care who he offends. So the two men display different but extreme versions of the dissident cool we talked about in class. Another example that came to mind from TV was the infamous Roman Grant from the HBO drama Big Love. Roman certainly doesn’t have the good looks that Tom had going for him, but he’s just as much of a burden on those around him. Roman is the “prophet” for a Mormon compound that practices polygamy. While his family loves him and those around him practically worship him, Roman is a dirty businessman who will do anything to get his way. He has a coarse personality and would do almost anything to ruin the life of the show’s main character Bill Henrickson, even though Bill is married to Roman’s own daughter. So much like Tom Powers, Roman doesn’t care for many of those around him, but those people love and admire him anyway. So in his own way Roman is just as cool as Tom. He’s a horrible person, but most of those around him think he hung the moon, and that makes him the ultimate “cool” to those people.