Friday, 31 July 2015

Born Under a Bald Sign: No Hair for the Wicked

I feel it coming, the slow yet inevitable encroach of evil that draws ever closer with the unyielding crawl of a receding hairline. Each follicle lost to the wind brings forth the darkness within, steadily consuming my very being. I am unable to resist it and can only succumb to its hold with each passing day, caught in its thrall.

I could try to hide it, to deny what I am becoming through means crude or sophisticated, methods cheap or operations expensive, but it is to no avail. Any attempt to do so would be found out with ease and destroyed with mockery, for laughter is the only reaction when the alternative is to cry in sheer horror.

For I am slowly but surely losing my hair and, as we all know, bald men are evil. It's not mere conventional wisdom or hearsay but scientifically proven to be true.

Science, bitch.

The scourge of the bald is known to all. Their chrome domes herald doom for any who are unluckily enough to gaze upon their scalped heads or see the sun glisten off their shiny craniums, the bright glow a bold faced subterfuge to mask the darkness in their shaved souls.

We are taught from a young age to associate baldness with evil in order safeguard the future of humanity from the evil of the shaved. Perhaps if they are able to identified evil in its most domineering form, they will be able to ward off, or at least avoid, such evil when confronted by the Ones With Shorn Scalps.

So as a means of warning the populace of their diabolic and despicable menace, bald men have been portrayed, realistically, as the antagonists in our mainstream culture for decades. While the following vile propaganda by a thoroughly detestable smooth head is hard to watch due to its attempt to gain sympathy for the hairless, it does highlight the common portrayal of bald men as villains in cinema.


However it is not enough for him to merely highlight the 'negative' portrayal of bald men in pop culture. No, he further subverts the language of the legitimately oppressed for his own gain. The language of those who suffer from the institutionalised discrimination inherent in the portrayal of their race, gender, and/or sexuality in film by having that portrayal limited to a handful of roles or stereotypes. Stereotypes which then reinforced negative connotations or prejudices.

To even insinuate that bald men, who have wrought so much destruction unto the world, suffer from similar discrimination is morally reprehensible. Simultaneously an unforgivably biased satire and gross untruth, it serves to delegitimize the very real issues with most portrayals of race, women, and people of different sexual persuasions in pop culture by mere association.

"I was too bald to see but he has a point."

Truly it is a heinous act worthy of condemnation but with such a distinct lack of hair, could anything else be expected of such visually immoral man? I mean, his evil is marked as clear as chrome for all the world to see. His existence a crime against nature for nothing could naturally be as smooth as the head he brandishes so domineeringly.

Luckily even his evil seemingly has its limits, or perhaps he couldn't keep up the charade with such bile in his heart. There is a part where he suggests that he is above hypocrisy or criticism for ridiculing those with hair since he is critiquing from a place of disenfranchisement while those who would critique him are speaking from a place of privilege. However, he can't keep up the pretense and starts laughing maniacally.

Sorta like this.

It seems that it wasn't possible for him to distort this from those who suffer legit discrimination. Reverse-racism or misandry doesn't really exist, or at least doesn't carry with it the same social power relations or harmful effects that actual racism and misogyny does.

This is because the stereotypes created and reinforced by institutions of racism and patriarchy actually serve to control minorities and women by exerting some form of power, cultural or otherwise, upon them. However, negative comments made against the dominant group (white straight males usually) by a minority don't have that some power, and while those comments might be prejudiced and wrong, they're not racist nor discriminatory in the same way.

It's clear that, no matter the fact that his soul is as void of morals as his head is of hair, he was unable to subvert this truism to his despicable propaganda. Still, let us hope none were fooled by his deception.

"I'm sure I could think of an ironic and gruesome murder for gullibility."

There seems to be no rational reason why a man shorn the hair on his head would be the very embodiment of all that is unholy and yet it is an inalienable truth of the natural world. Once a man becomes follically challenged due to ravages of time, the cruel trick of genetics, or the wicked razor, he loses all sense of decency or morals.

The very instant his head becomes shiny and smooth is the same instant his soul turns black as all warmth leaves his eyes until only a menacing scowl and a sour disposition remains. Maybe the lack of hair creates a desire too great to be contained. A hole which eats inside him due the very lack he feels on his head, something he can neither articulate in words nor express in anything other than acts of the purest evil.

"Oh, you think baldness is your ally. But you merely adopted the bald. I was born in it, moulded by it. I didn't see hair until I was already a man, by then it was nothing to me but thatching."

And I feel this deadly affliction weigh on my own brow. With the purposeful march of time, my fringe recedes ever further, growing the size of my forehead to the dominating onslaught it will soon become. The hair on top of my hair ever thinning despite my best efforts, leading me to my inevitable doom.

It's not like I wasn't forewarned. I knew this curse ran through my family and which way the wind was blowing. My father had succumb to this detestable ailment many years ago and my brother has already become one of them, a razor to his head and a blackness in his heart.

Every morning is a dreaded gaze into the mirror to reveal even more of my humanity is steadily falling away and my very identity is called into question. Those who don't suffer from this most disastrous of plagues, which weighs so heavy on my heart and increasingly lighter on my head, don't seem to grasp the gravity of the situation.

"I'm losing my hair and soon nothing will steam the unspeakable horror which lies inside!"

Truly they are unaware of the terrible fate that awaits me. Most seem oblivious to the obvious hair loss which has begun, the subtle thinning on top which marks the ever growing menace growing inside of me. Perhaps they were not told or do not know. Somehow kept ignorant of the diabolical deeds done by those with domes of chrome in the dark.

I know not how that is possible, nor care. All I know is that I don't have much time left. A few years at best, if I could be so lucky. For some reason, I doubt that I will be. It will come. There is no stopping it. I cannot deny or ignore it, hoping that it will go away or that things will be the same.

My once thick, luscious hair will soon be nothing but a memory. A memory of a time when I had a soul. A time when I could still see the beauty in the world. A time when my every waking moment wasn't filled with unspeakable evil. A time before I was bald.


References:

Bald of Evil - TV Tropes

Guys with shaved heads seem tougher, study says - NBC News


Post Script Plug:

Hey, do you like sounds put into some form of melody with words sung over them? Because I make music too. No, it's true

Check out my music page here or listen to song I wrote about the internet or something called 'Avatars on Computer Screens' here. (By the way, those are hypertext links, that's why they're gold. Click on them to see to which magic land they lead.)

Friday, 24 July 2015

The Incredible Shrinking Ant-Man: Shrink Another Day

Ant-Man. The man who would be ant. Not really the poster boy for the exciting powers a superhero could have, right? I mean, we've all played that thought experiment/game where we have to pick one power, and only one, from the vast array of imaginary powers available.

You know the one, where you debate about which power you would really want to have, not just which would be cool but also practical or fun. Most people I think tend to choose flight, followed by the other more common choices, invisibility, super strength, super speed, and so on. Who in the history of ever has chosen 'the ability to shrink to the size of an ant'?

"I did."

Ant-Man was always going to be a hard sell since his very existence always begged the simple question: how does shrinking make him in any way useful in a fight? No, really I want to know. This guy was on the Avengers with the Hulk and Thor, a raging unstoppable monster and a literal god. How could he be of any use?

The short answer? Not much, I guess? Even if you're going by his formidable ability to control a swarm of ants, it doesn't add much, aside from flame wars about whether Aquaman's ability to talk to fish is more useless or not, that is.

This is an actual thing that happened in an actual comic book.
And that fact is one of the reasons I love comics so much.

The shrinking thing was actually a quite popular sci-fi trope at the time. Well, to be fair it wasn't a trope just yet although the idea was floating around in the ether. Primarily from the 1957 film, The Incredible Shrinking Man, a movie which I doubt Stan Lee was unaware of. In the film, the main character is exposed to a mysterious radioactive gas which causes him to slowly but consistently shrink over the course of the film.

And how did Ant-Man originally control his shrinking again? Oh, yeah, that's right. With radioactive gas. I mean, I know radioactivity was all the rage back then due to the fear of the nuclear bomb and was the primary cause for the vast majority of Marvel superheroes at the time, but that seems like a little bit too close to 'heavily influenced by' (read 'kinda copied') territory.

Although somehow I don't think Paul Rudd's Ant-Man film will end with a climatic fight against a spider before resigning to his ever-shrinking fate.

Now the thing is, I like Ant-Man as a character but I have to be specific which Ant-Man I like since there have been a couple of them (and no, Eric O'Grady doesn't really count). The first man to done the antennae was Hank Pym. Pym invented the size changing chemicals, Pym Particles, which allowed him to change size, go figure. He also developed the helmet that allowed him to communicate and control ants.

And Pym's early adventures in the 1960s are a great read since they really try so hard to make it seem like becoming real small and controlling ants is an useful superpower. It gets so contrived sometimes that the scenarios become utterly ridiculous, which, to be honest, is most of the charm of those early Ant-Man stories in old Tales to Astonish.

Wait... The bad guy dropped the gun and then Ant-Man told his ants to plug it up with honey so it couldn't be used again?
Do ants even carry honey? Is that a thing ants do?  Where did the honey come from?!

However, the problem is that there are a number of issues with Hank Pym's character and history, most of which came after the Stan Lee's run with the character. One of the unique things about early Hank Pym Ant-Man is that for the majority of his career as a superhero, he is joined by his girlfriend Janet van Dyne who becomes his crime-fighting partner, the Wasp.

As Game of Thrones scribe, George R.R. Martin describes:
At a time when every other comic was playing the endless "romantic tension" card, or the older and hoarier "I must hide my secret from my girlfriend" trope, here was a man and a woman who adventured together, who loved each other without question, who even helped found the Avengers together... that was revolutionary in the early 1960s, like much of what Stan Lee did... (and sad to say, it would even be sort of revolutionary today).
Oh, so that's what shrinking powers are good for.

Aren't they a lovely little couple? So tiny and cute walking under doors to fight crime and foil schemes together. They're even holding hand. Their very, very small hands. Adorable.

Of course, there is a bit of casual sexism in the depiction of Jane because of course there is. Often she was written in an overly romantic foolish girl way with her constant googly eyes for Hank, often for no reason other than the fact that she's a silly girl who's smitten and silly because she's a girl. Also, she would sometimes be incapable merely so he could save her or naive purely so he could dismiss her simply because she was a woman and boy, aren't women just the darnedest things? Am I right, fellas?

However, that was part of the time in which the comic was written, although it really feels as though she was written by a man who had never spoken to a woman before. But despite those criticisms, the Wasp was a hero in her own right who had quite a bit of agency and spunk for a female character at the time.

This panel was selected completely at random and totally wasn't intended to completely undermine my defense of the character depiction in the 1960s.

I don't want to get too bogged down in Hank Pym since I've got some thinks to say about his successor, Scott Lang, who is the main Ant-Man in Marvel's latest cinematic offering, but you can't bring up Hank Pym online without bringing up his mental instability and wife-beating.

So, in an attempt to make Pym interesting or something, some writers decided that Pym would suffer from chronic insecurity which was exacerbated by his size changing powers where his shrinking was a metaphor for his feelings of inadequacy and his giant form was a front to cover up that insecurity. That's a pretty neat idea and most Marvel superheroes work as metaphors, the Hulk being the most obvious example, so it could have worked.

The problem is that it wasn't handled properly and made Pym rather unlikable as a result which culminated in his abusive relationship with Janet. That lead him to backhand her while trying to prove how much of a hero he is to the others by unleashing a bad robot on the Avengers that he would then save them from, which is not really what a hero should do, so minus marks for you, Hank.

Incidentally, he was calling himself Yellowjacket at the time since he changed his name about as often as he changed size.

Far more capable people than me have discussed the sexism inherent in Hank Pym's character in length and you can find numerous articles about it online with a quick Google search, so let's move along to Scott Lang.

Quick backstory, Scott Lang is a reformed thief and electronics expert who stole Hank Pym's Ant-Man suit in order to rescue his daughter, Cassie, who had been kidnapped. After Hank learnt why Scott stole his suit, he let him keep it to fight crime since I guess he wasn't being an asshole at that stage of his crime-fighting career.

Okay, [spoiler] Cassie later becomes a superhero herself and is killed by Dr. Doom because reasons and Scott is grief-stricken and pissed off at Doom, wanting revenge. Cool, we're caught up to where I want us to be (even later [spoilers again] Cassie is brought back to life because comic books but that's not where I want to go with this).

THIS is where I want to go with this.

In case you're unable to identify what exactly the awesomeballs you are looking at, that is Ant-Man fighting eyebrow lice. I could just end it there with no context and it would still be the greatest thing I've ever written. Ant-Man fighting eyebrow lice. What do you even say about that?

Well, firstly I could say how it's been my phone's lock screen for the past six months or so but more importantly is just how it highlights the sheer imagination and freedom in comics. Comics are one of those few mediums where their interior logic is such that ridiculous things like muscular men wearing tights with capes fly around or women wearing skimpy attire fight crime in impractical heels are considered normal.

But that is just the inventiveness and imagination to be found in Matt Fraction and Mike Allred's run on Fantastic Four and FF. I already spoke in some detail about Matt Fraction's excellent work with David Aja on Hawkeye so I think my love of Matt Fraction comics is abundantly clear.

Just to reiterate, he is infiltrating an art show on a celebrity's eyebrow.

Fraction took a Scott Lang suffering from the lose of his daughter at the hands of Dr. Doom and put a group of children under his care to become his surrogate family. When the Fantastic Four go away on a time travelling journey to another dimension, Reed Richards puts Scott in charge of the Future Foundation.

The Future Foundation is Richards' great hope for the future of mankind containing the smartest and most gifted children in the world, from the princess of Wakanda to the clone of the evil mastermind Wizard, Bentley.

Now, to be fair, due to some wibbly wobbly timey wimey, the Fantastic Four were only supposed to be away for four minutes for their journey and Scott is only supposed to be in charge for those four minutes. I'll give you one guess how that turns out.

What?! Reed Richards was wrong? When has that ever happened before?

I won't go into too much detail since I really think Fraction and Allred created a marvelous comic with a compelling story, which is admittedly light plot-wise but has so many great characters with real chemistry exchanging witty banter, and it really deserves to be discovered.

Allred's art is fantastic, beautifully coloured with interesting character designs and a deft touch that adds a real sense of warmth and precision. His art perfectly compliments Fraction's imaginative and snappy writing, coming together to form a wondrous expression of sequential art.

That's all I wanted to say about that really. Ant-Man is a hero with a complicated backstory and I can see why they opted for Scott Lang over Hank Pym in order to avoid the awkward legacy of wife-beating. That said, I really wish that means Paul Rudd's Ant-Man fights eyebrow lice in the movie.


References:

Ant-Man Wikipedia page

Ant-Man (Scott Lang) Wikipedia page

The Incredible Shrinking Man Wikipedia page

Me and Ant-Man - Not A Blog

Fantastic Four, Volume 1: New Departure, New Arrivals Review - WhatCulture

Fraction, Bagley and Allred Rein In ‘Fantastic Four’ and ‘FF’ [Double-Review] - Comics Alliance

FF, Volume 1: Fantastic Faux Review (Matt Fraction, Mike Allred) - ComicAlly

Post Script Plug:

Hey, do you like sounds put into some form of melody with words sung over them? Because I make music too. No, it's true

Check out my music page here or listen to song I wrote about the internet or something called 'Avatars on Computer Screens' here. (By the way, those are hypertext links, that's why they're gold. Click on them to see to which magic land they lead.)


Friday, 17 July 2015

Rocky: A Story of Romance, Race, and Patriotism (with some Boxing)

Ah, the Rocky movies. From the gritty yet heartwarming 1970s soaked first installment to the schmaltzy 1980s cheese of the fourth movie, Rocky IV: Rocky Ends the Cold War, the Rocky franchise definitely left its mark on popular culture.

So many iconic images have come from these films and have been parodied or referenced by other things that they have become interwoven into the fabric of pop culture. Not to mention these movies are the only reason everyone knows Eye of the Tiger or what the Philadelphia Museum of Art's steps look like.

The steps he just run up by the way, in case you weren't sure.

However, the movies are often critiqued as being predictable or sappy, with overly saccharine elements and sport movie cliches. Now, while I can't argue that the movies are sentimental (and definitely did get sappier as the series progressed), I think there is a lot more going on in these films than their reputation as dumb Sylvester Stallone boxing movies often warrants them.

Some people criticise the movies as trite sentimentality, and while that seems more the case for the later movies, for the the first two their endings feel satisfying because they are earned. Rocky starts at the bottom and has nothing going for him and has to face insurmountable odds as a real underdog, so it's great to finally see him succeed at the end.

He did it!

There is a long sequence in the second movie where he's unemployed and starts losing all the things he had, getting a job in the meat factory, then losing that job, and so on.  This sets up how low he is at that point for the climb to the finale and when he wins, it is triumphant because it is earned.

You see the hard work he had to put in, the obstacles he had to face, and the determination he had to see it through which warrants the happy ending and prevents it from being sappy... at least until the later movies which ramp up the triumphant factor to 11.

Now full disclosure, I only finished watching the Rocky movies for the first time this week after binge watching them on Netflix. Also, I only watched Rockies I to IV since to be honest, I just didn't want to watch the last two which seemed like appendices to a series which seemed complete at the end of fourth movie.

There's nowhere to go but down after you've punch the Cold War in the face.

So like I said, I had never seen the movies before although I was obvious very familiar with the character of Rocky and the movies through pop cultural osmosis because of the countless references and parodies of iconic scenes from the films like the training montages or running up the Rocky Steps or Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger".

Therefore, it was really interesting to watch these films with fresh eyes since I had an awareness of the character and what the movies were about (boxing, training montages, and patriotism) but I was struck by how little the first two movies seemed like the character of Rocky I knew from pop culture.

"Yo, what do ya mean about that?"

Since Rocky in the original two movies is slow. He's not just unintelligent but slow. Stupid is as stupid does, as Forrest Gump would say. It's actually a fantastic performance from Sylvester Stallone who embodies Rocky with this sincere simplicity, that although he's borderline mentally challenged, he's so sweet and simple that he's endearing. Actually 'simple' is probably the best word to describe the character of Rocky, which is probably why I said it twice.

Now, this isn't to say that in the later two movies that Rocky suddenly becomes this intelligent or smart character but he's no longer slow. It's immediately noticeable from the first scene in Rocky III where Rocky no longer seems simple. Maybe still not entirely articulate or clever, it is definitely a different portrayal of the character since he is far more articulate that he ever was in the first two movies.

In the first two Rocky movies, Rocky seems barely capable of stringing a coherent sentence together, taking a while to collect his thoughts and get out what he wants to say. This is not to say that he doesn't talk, in fact, he is constantly talking, often telling non-stories and bad jokes trying to connect with people (remember that thing about connection, it comes back later).

"I dunno I like what ya saying about me."

Most of the first movie in fact is Rocky talking and talking to people who may or may not want to talk to him. Going on in his monosyllabic way, drolling out the words in his thick Italian American accent and slow manner of talking.

And the movie is fully aware of how slow Rocky is. The character himself understands and repeatedly tells people that it is just the way he speaks and that he isn't too good with words. In the first movie, he knows that the TV interviewer is kinda making him out to seem dumb and that's how people will see him.

This isn't a blissfully dumb character like Forrest Gump but someone who isn't that smart with a limited education (he left school in 6th Grade and has trouble reading) yet is fully aware of his mental limitations and how people perceive him. And he constantly wants to change that perception, to not be seen as a bum.

Although it might help if he didn't spend all his time just wandering aimlessly around the docks.

But what I didn't expect from the Rocky movies is that there is a real tender and heartwarming love story at the core of series between Rocky and Adrian. And the first movie is actually all about the blossoming of their relationship as he manages to get her to get out of her painfully shy shell and begin to feel confident in her own skin.

Remember how I mentioned how Rocky seems to be trying so hard to connect with someone? (I told you it would come back) Well, the person he really wants to connect with is Adrian but because she is so closed off from the world and introverted he has to continually try to get her to open up little by little essentially just by constantly talking to her.

And for most of the first movie, Rock is a lone figure, walking the streets and docks of Philadelphia by himself bouncing his bouncy ball, bumping into people and saying hi but always on his own. Really the two major themes of the movie are Rocky proving to himself and everyone else that he isn't a bum and can go the distance, and the love story between Rocky and Adrian.

I never knew this, since it isn't apparent from the image of the triumphant Rocky from pop culture, but [Spoiler] he loses the fight at the end of the first movie against Apollo Creed. However, Rocky doesn't care since all he does after the fight is scream for Adrian as she makes her way to him and they declare their love to each other in a rather touching finale, which like I said above, feels earned.

"ADRIAN!"

Adrian is a rather interesting character too since she is so ridonculously shy at the start of the film. She is constantly looking down and unable to speak, reacting to every attempt at a conversation from Rocky with a nervous smile and awkward attempts to leave. And the transformation into the more assertive yet still quiet person she develops into is slow and well paced.

It isn't a mid-movie transformation like those Sandra Bullock movies from the 1990s where once she removes her glasses and lets her hair down, she is a completely confident sexpot. Rather she slowly becomes more comfortable and confident as the film and her relationship with Rocky progresses.

And the final scene of the movie highlights that progression by how she starts tucked away in the locker by herself then eventually moves to the back of the stands, to closer to the ring, until she is pushing her way to Rocky at the end of the fight to declare that she loves him, completely opening herself to him. Fully out of her shell as it were.

Can we just stop for a moment and appreciate how cute Talia Shire was?

On a side note, the movie does seem to have something to say about machismo culture which not something I think anyone expected me to say about Rocky nor I think anything that has been mentioned about the film, seeing as it's dismissed as a predictable and sappy loser-to-hero boxing film.

Now, how of much of this was just a product of its time and how much of it was actually meant as a bit of social commentary is a little tricky but I'd like to Stallone the benefit of the doubt here since he gets a bad rep usually. Where it seems apparent the film is trying to make some comment or other on machismo culture is with the character, Paulie, Adrian's alcoholic and abusive brother, Rocky's best (only?) friend.

Paulie is the anti-Rocky: lazy, angry, bitter, and just unpleasant to be around. He's aggressive with Adrian, shouting at her and constantly putting her down where Rocky is calm and accepting, constantly giving her compliments. Essentially it seems like Paulie is who Rocky could have become if he wasn't such a sweetheart and dedicated. A bitter hanger on who takes out his anger on women while feeling entitled to things without the hard work. A douchebag to put it in another way.

"Eh, what ya gonna do?"

He's completely unsatisfied with his job and his life but doesn't take any action to improve it, blaming everyone else for his predicament because he's a misogynistic racist who can't really take responsibility for the way his life has turned out so he blames others, mostly women.

Before getting into race, since that is coming, probably worth a mention that another thing that is interesting is that the movies get progressively shorter with each new installment and began focusing more on the boxing. There is actually not that much boxing in the first movie, and even less in the second since he spends the majority of that movie not wanting to fight no more.

A large chunk of the movie is just Rocky and Adrian doing stuff which I have no problem with since
 look what an adorable couple they make.

In the first two movies, the inciting factor that starts Rocky down the path to fight takes much longer to get started while in the second two movies, since Rocky is on top at the beginning of those films, the inciting factor (losing the fight to James "Clubber" Lang in III and the death of Apollo Creed in IV) happening pretty earlier on.

In the later two movies, it is about his climb back to the top and how he trains to get there which are the main hooks. In comparison, the first two movies almost seem like character studies in how dedicated the pacing is, taking their sweet time to build to the climatic final fight, letting the characters develop rather naturally.

Oh yeah, race. Now this will take some background since the 1980s had a different way of handling race in pop culture than today or other decades. It did this basically by acting like racism was over and everything was cool now, right guys?

"Yeah... we're cool..."

As they discuss in the first third of this podcast while talking about Teen Wolf, the way race was handled in movies from the 1980s was by simultaneously celebrating the parts of black culture which white society liked but still ending with the message that whiteness is the way to go at the end of the day.

Essentially, werewolf = black culture in Teen Wolf (better and flashier at basketball, breakdances, and gives complicated high fives) but the morale of the movie is that Michael J. Fox has to learn to accept his human side and not wolf out. And you can see the change in the depiction of race as the Rocky series continues.

In the first two Rocky movies from the 1970s, Apollo Creed is set up as the antagonist who creates the opportunity/challenge for Rocky to face. However, in the second 2 movies, he and Apollo become best friends, and in fact in the third film, Apollo trains Rocky to fight the black boxer, Clubber Lang played by Mr. T who seems almost like a caricature of the militant Black Panther character.

Here it is explained in video form:


However, where again the Rocky movies are kinda dismissed, this time as a product of their time and subtly, although unintentionally, racist, I think there is more there and they deserve a bit more credit. Because there are moments that suggest the movies are more self-aware about race than they initially let on.

In the first Rocky movie, a new reported makes a comment about Apollo fighting a white man on the bi-centennial anniversary of the country and Apollo retorts "what about him fighting a black man?" while Rocky II, Apollo's trainer tells him that if he pushes for the fight with Rocky, the publicity will make him out to be the bad guy which he acknowledges. Both of these exchanges suggest a passing (if naive) awareness of race relations.

And in Rocky III, the worst offender coming out in 1982, at one point Paulie says that he does like 'those people' at the mostly black boxing gym Apollo has taken them, to which Rocky replies, "well maybe they don't like you". This takes Paulie back since he never thought of it that way and exclaims, "what I do to them?"

Now, none of this excuses the somewhat problematic issue with race these films have but it does give them a little more credit than simply being dumb unintentionally racist films with no thought or awareness.

And honestly, nothing should take away from the homoerotic man-love apparent in this scene.

The last thing I want to touch on is patriotism, since that is what Rocky IV is all about. Like Daniel says in reply to Soren's claim that it is the "greatest American movie ever made" in the video linked above, "It's certainly the most American [movie ever made]". And it's true. The movie is bursting with over-the-top and obnoxious patriotism which is somehow kinda endearing if absorbed in a ironic way.

But where that becomes interesting is just how utterly in-your-face and blatant the patriotism is, especially since that was exactly the type of showy patriotism which was made fun of in the first Rocky movie.

For the final fight Apollo Creed comes out dressed as George Washington riding in 'boat' as he makes his way down to the ring. He then takes off the Washington get up to reveal a red, white, and blue coat before he puts on a big Uncle Sam top hat.

"He looks like a big flag" - Rocky's actual response in the movie

In the first Rocky, that type of over-the-top patriotism is seen as unnecessary showy and a bit ridiculous but by the time the fourth film comes round, the series completely embraces that overt patriotism as Rocky literally fights a Russian to end the Cold War. The real world took a few more years to catch up but basically Rocky ended the Cold War back in 1985 when he knocked out Ivan Drago and won over the Russian government.

Alright, I know I said patriotism was the last thing I wanted to talk about but there's just one more thing, the Rocky movies are all anti-technology or professionalism. Every single training montage in the film where Rocky successfully gets better and get ready is one where his crappy DIY meat-punching, beach-running, mountain-climbing training is highlighted against more technologically advanced or sophisticated training methods used by his opponent.

This is apparent in the first two movies in contrast to the expensive and top of the line facilities and training used by Apollo Creed compared to Rocky's far more modest training techniques (including chicken catching). However, it is most stark in the fourth film, where Drago is shown training in the most high-tech facility imaginable surrounded by trainers and scientists while Rocky trains in the Russian wilderness, even growing a hobo beard as is fitting for the snowy Russian landscape.


The exception to this is Clubber Lang in Rocky III. In that movie, it is Rocky who is the one who is training in the high tech facility amidst a media circus while Clubber is training in a run-down gym without the best equipment, closer to Rocky's training in the first film. And that's why he wins the first fight in the movie, since his training was non-technological and homemade.

In another movie, Clubber would be the protagonist as the scrappy underdog who is hungry for his chance to make it and Rocky III does do a good job of showing his determination and hunger which is another reason I kinda want to give it some slack despite the other issues with race.

It depicts the hard work and dedication Clubber puts in which is something rare for black characters in the 1980s. Too bad he talks like a caricature and they have a 'good' black guy teach the white guy moves to beat the 'bad' black guy but whatever.

"Yeah man, it's cool. And shut up, I'm totally pulling off this shirt. You just can't handle my midriff." 

I guess I'm saying that after watching the Rocky movies for the first time, they are definitely more than their reputation or the pop cultural image of Rocky suggests and that I totally enjoyed them. Like a lot.

There's a lot to digest and look into the films despite their status as dumb sports films starring a monosyllabic action hero. Also, they probably contain the two of the greatest love stories of the 1970s and 1980s within one franchise, Rocky and Adrian throughout the series, and Rocky and Apollo in the second two. And that's no mean feat.


References:

Rocky Wikipedia page

Rocky (film series) Wikipedia page

Rocky - Adrian! (1976)

Dumb Movies That Will Be Studied by History - The Cracked Podcast

The 3 Worst Lessons Taught by 80s Sports Movies - After Hours

Friday, 10 July 2015

The Road Warrior on Fury Road - Maddening Max

You've seen Mad Max: Fury Road, right? If you haven't, stop whatever it is you're doing, hope a cinema near you is still playing it and go watch it. No, it's okay, I'll wait...

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
------------------------- [2 mind-blowing hours later]

Absolutely amazing,right? Like just... so much... all the... it's just brilliant. Oh, it's no longer playing in cinemas? I am so sorry. No, sincerely sorry. Since Mad Max: Fury Road is simply one of the greatest action movies to have come out in the past decade, if not more. Easy. No real debate about it.

I said back in my article on how Wicked and Frozen are quite similar that I would gush about Fury Road at some point and the film gets so much right, that it's kinda hard to know where to begin.

Maybe with the old school style posters? Since awesome.
But then the modern style posters are great too.

I guess first and foremost, Mad Max: Fury Road is a visual spectacle of the highest order showcasing utterly superb visual storytelling. The dialogue is so limited and there is even less plot but that really doesn't matter when the film is saying so much with the visuals that you can tell everything about a character just by what's happening on screen.

The film is beautiful. Every shot is perfectly composed and the colours just pop with vibrancy and contrast with bright oranges and deep blues. Every frame is gorgeous to look at and feels alive with this kinetic energy due to the rich tones on display. Just look at the image below.

Look how clear and blue the sky is and how it contrasts with the yellow of the exhaust flames and the orange of the sand. 

And that's not even one of the more gorgeous images from the film, and there are some absolutely gorgeous images from the film, but just a standard tracking shot. However, that was the point I'm trying to make, even the standard shots or stills from this movie are great to look at due to the fantastic use of colour.

Now other movies are aware about the whole "use blue v. orange contrast thing" as this handy video about how every trailer last year looked the same, but where Mad Max: Fury Road gets this so right is that it doesn't neglect other colours for this weird blue saturated world with the occasional bright flash of orange that so many other movies do nowadays.

Look at the above image again, the other colours aren't sacrificed at the alter of blue and orange. The silver on the car and white on the drums (did you notice that truck in front has drummers on it?) are still shiny and clear. There are greys but they aren't that desaturated in an attempt to be gritty but bounce off the strong orange and blue. Oh, just for comparison, here's the front of that drum truck:

Oh snap. 

Twist reveal! I mean, it's only a twist reveal if you already didn't know about it but I guess you probably already do know since it is one of the more iconic images from the film and was kinda everywhere... But assuming you didn't know, it isn't a drum vehicle, it's a guitar dude vehicle! And second, holy shit, can you even comprehend the awesome insanity that is that image? Like really, just try to take it all in.

There is a guy in a gimp mask and red overalls dangling with suspenders attached to a wall of amplifiers on a truck playing a double headed guitar which is spitting out fire. I don't even know whether it's spitting out fire due to some neat pyrotechnics or because he just hit a really sweet chord and the guitar spontaneously shot fire due to the unbridled level of sheer awesome.

Again, the other colours are just as clear as the orange and blue even if they don't pop quite as much. The black of the amplifiers and white leg of the guitar guy (who, like the other War Boys, is ridiculously pale despite living in the frikkin' desert) aren't any less vibrant. Now some people have complained that the film is too colourful, lacking the grainy and more murky feel of the original trilogy.

So murky.

And I can see where there coming from but the original Mad Max movies were made in the 1980s when colour technology wasn't where it is today and digital cameras weren't a thing. Also, the films had a rather limited budget, so even for the time, they looked cheap and gritty since they were cheap and gritty.

But for Fury Road, George Miller, the visionary director behind the Mad Max franchise, updated the cinematography and look of the film to match the feel of modern day cinema. With a rich colour palatte, a bare bones but utterly engaging story, superb cinematography, and unbelievable choreography/stunt work which wouldn't have been possible back when he made the original trilogy, Miller is actually making a massive comment on current action cinema.

Since that's what this film is. A visual spectacle that points the way for action movies to follow in the future, taking the best things available due to modern technology and blockbuster budgets while highlighting the things wrong with current action films by doing everything so right.

"Do not, my friend, become addicted to grandious statements, or they will take hold of you and you will resent their
unsubstantiated claims."

Seriously though. This movie has so much to say about the current state of action films and blockbuster cinema as a whole. And what is fantastic about it is that it never ever outright states anything in an overwrought speech or dialogue by the characters. Rather the film is refreshing and has so much to say by doing things which really shouldn't be worthy of comment but they are simply because those things just aren't done in other movies, or are done wrong.

Mad Max: Fury Road has a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Let that sink in. Only 5 reviews out of 277 gave the film a negative review. That's from people who are paid and make a living off of watching and reviewing films. I'm not saying that's the definite word of whether a film is great or not since critics can sometimes get a movie wrong but that is an accomplishment nevertheless.

Most of the enthusiastic reaction to the movie can be boiled down to a simple enjoyment in an action movie done right since it's seemed so long since we've had one that's got everything so right like Fury Road does. It's excited critics so much simply because it is a great action movie, and it's hard to find a great action movie nowadays which is without flaws.

How can any movie with a scene containing this much amazing insanity and otherworldly epic choreography be considered anything less than flawless? 

Fun fact:  Those are real Cirque du Soleil performers on the poles doing those stunts and apparently that is actually Tom Hardy on the pole and he is terrified of heights so his fear on screen is kinda real.

A lot of action movies are dumb and there's nothing wrong with that. You can make a dumb movie in terms of the plot or corny one-liners but which has some real intelligence and effort put behind it. Where you can sense that the director has sense of action and how to craft a scene. Therefore, even if the scenario itself is a little dumb, that dumbness becomes part of the fun when done right.

But Fury Road is a movie that bursts with intelligence. Every frame in every shot in every scene has a point and comes together to tell the story, whether that be through the visuals or in the interaction between characters. So much of this film is understated (which is ironic considering how bombastic it is) that it could be easily not be noticed just how well-crafted it is.

Pictured: Understatement.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that the film doesn't draw attention to the things it's doing right but by not drawing attention to those things they paradoxically stick out since the film takes them for granted. Does that make sense? No?

Okay, here's an example: The film has been lauded as a feminist work with great female characters and strong sexual politics. However, none of the female characters ever make a speech about how empowered they are or that they can do anything just as well as anyone else.

Rather it is just taken for granted that the female characters are capable and able to do things because they are characters who live in the world of the film and therefore have skills which helped them survive. It's like, "Oh, you can do the thing? Then do the thing" with no real consideration of the gender of the person doing the thing. If they can do it, then they do it.

It doesn't even matter that she's more machine than woman now.

In a standard action film (even great ones) the female characters are either goals or obstacles for the protagonist, often having little agency of their own or never actively doing anything that impacts on the plot. But the female characters in Fury Road all have angency and actively impact the plot since it really is their story of survival.

Of the many understated scenes in the film, one moment has stood out for most people. That's the scene where Charlize Theron's character Furiosa takes the gun from Max to make a shot he can't make (using his shoulder as a rifle stand) without a word and Max gives her the gun without a word because he knows that she can make the shot.

Again, the reason this is such a big deal is precisely because they don't make a big deal about it. Max knows she is capable and just lets her get on with it. In nearly any other action film, Furiosa would make a quip about her being a better a shot and that Max should let her do it. Really that's a line for the audience saying, "hey, we know this character is a woman but she actually can shoot better than the male lead, no seriously".

Fury Road doesn't bother with that line, partly because there is so little dialogue in the film but also because Miller recognises that sort of exchange isn't necessary and only would serve to try make a female character look badass but actually make it seem forced instead of natural.

You would never have a feminist meme about this type of scene from another action movie.

Now, I won't say more about the gender politics of Fury Road since it's been discussed at length elsewhere online, probably with greater analysis and research than some cursory Google searches, but it worth mentioning because of the fact it doesn't draw attention to it in the film. Characters are treated as fully fleshed out and capable characters regardless of gender.

In fact, characters are fleshed out regardless of the size of their role. Let's bring back guitar guy from above for a moment, whose actual name is Coma-Doof Warrior because of course it is. This is a character who could have easily been an one second sight gag in the beginning of the chase then forgotten for the rest of the movie.

Although how you could ever forget this, I don't know.

But no, he has a character arc of sorts, we see him appear repeatedly until the end, and somehow we feel an empathetic connection to him as though we know this character even though we only see him for brief moments sprinkled through out the film. And that's because he feels fleshed out as a character. While we may not know his backstory, you get a sense they put a lot of effort into creating this character and giving him an identifiable personality we can latch on to.

This extends to the rest of the War Boys as well, the film spends time getting you to understand and empathise with their situation, basically being raised in a cult, drugged up and not knowing any better. The whole point of Nicholas Hoult's character Nux is to show the effects of cultish programming and to give a human face to the disposable cannon fodder which the War Boys would be in another action film.

The Marvel movies are particularly bad at this. As much as I love the Marvel cinematic universe, and I love me some Marvel, most of their movies have millions of faceless evil drones be killed with no regard for the loss of life. In The Avengers, they defeat wave after wave of Chitauri alien invaders, in Age of Ultron, it's millions of Ultron robots, in Captain America: The First Avenger it's hordes of Hydra agents, and in Iron Man 2 it's literally a bunch of mechanic drones.

"That seems a little on the nose, Iron Man 2."

Yet again, this isn't something that necessarily should stand out or that the film makes a point of but because other films lack it or don't do it well without drawing attention to it, it becomes one more thing the film does expertly.

I really could keep talking about Mad Max: Fury Road for ages. I haven't even mentioned the pulsating, gutsy, and beautiful score which is simply stunning and perfectly suited to the high-octane action on screen. I actually think it is one of the best film scores I've heard in a long time, and that's saying something considering the talented film-scorers working today. Just listen to "Spikey Cars".



It's just so encapsulating and thrilling, a cacophony of swirling strings, heavy drums, and sound effects, all culminating in a heart-racing jolt of musical adrenaline. And the soundtrack also has quieter moments too which are just beautiful, knowing how to pull on the heart-strings with a slower more elegant piece.

Talking about slower pace, I didn't discuss how the film knows just when to give the slower scenes after the climax of the more intense action sequences that give a real weight to the pulsating action which was on display earlier by highlighting the toll of those action on the characters in the quieter moments.

There is a particularly memorable moment after the first chase into the sandstorm (which is just gorgeous) where Max ever so slowly lifts himself out of the sand and we can hear the grains of sand fall off of him as he painstakingly starts to rise before suddenly snapping up in a jump.

Not to mention the poignant and moving scene where Furiosa screams in the desert while the music swirls, essentially drowning out her scream so it seems silent and we are hit with the striking visual of her devastation.

No caption needed.

I also never got round to talking about how well the actors perform their roles. Tom Hardy is fantastic as Max, playing a quieter yet more panicked survivalist version of the character to Mel Gibson's more calculated and in controll original take. Furthermore, Theron is perfect as Furiosa, while Hoult brings a real vulnerability and empathy to Nux.

Essentially, I'm trying to say that I think Mad Max: Fury Road is a great movie and I loved it and everyone should see it because it really shows what actions movies could and should be.


References:

Mad Max (franchise) Wikipedia page

Mad Max series legacy and influence in popular culture




About Me

My photo

This introduction is supposed to let you know that you have found the correct Caleb. 

I am here to tell that your search is over. I am indeed the correct Caleb for any given situation. Parties, hunter-gatherings, long walks on the beach, shindigs, guest appearances, and so much more. I am an multi-purpose Caleb guaranteed to impress friends and influence your uncle.

I also write stuff online.