Reviewing the Old School: Collateral (2004)

We all knew that Tom Cruise was crazy back in 2004, yeah? Well y’know, celebrity crazy. Which is still pretty crazy, but it’s entertaining and eccentric instead of the heartbreaking sight of some poor bastard with no family and no real idea when or where they are asking for spare change from the edge of a needle-strewn alleyway… But yeah, we’d started making jokes about Tom Cruise jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch and arguing about his Thetan levels all the way back in 2004, right?

Why am I bringing this up? Mostly because I remember that being the reason I didn’t watch Collateral straight away. I mean aside from me being a broke-arse teenage high school student (as opposed to all those high school students in their late twenties – hey look at film and television, it’s a serious problem). Tom Cruise had made a bunch of bad films, he’d broken up with Nicole and married whats-her-face (sorry, just googled that and he married whats-her-face in 2006), and he’d gone crazy. That matters to a kid who reckons they’re a film snob while secretly thinking that Shrek was the greatest masterpiece in cinematic history. I blame my dad. I’ve got less of a problem with that now, and apparently Tom Cruise is just super-lovely. One of the nicest guys in Hollywood. Top bloke. But separating Tom from the characters he was playing, it weren’t easy at the time. It wasn’t until this film came highly recommended by a mate that I sat down and watched it.

And it’s good. Really good. The tale of a relationship that develops between an LA cabbie and his charge as they drive from stop to stop. It just so happens that the customer is a contract killer working for a drug cartel, murdering witnesses before a major indictment. Jamie Foxx plays Max, the cabbie in question, the terrified ordinary citizen who desperately wants to get through the night alive but at the same time is smart enough to know how unlikely that is, and does a great job of it. He’s a character that has to constantly push through shock, panic and sheer terror while having a man who’s probably going to murder him also try and befriend him. Tom Cruise plays Vincent, the private sector murderer without a conscience. His hair is greyed to make him look older but it’s bloody Tom Cruise, you can put him in a clown suit made of daffodils and he’ll still bring a powerful presence to the screen when required.

The other actors all do a fantastic job as well. Jada Pinkett Smith plays Annie, a lawyer for the prosecution, appears briefly at the beginning but leaves such a great impression and has such good chemistry with Jamie Foxx that you aren’t at all surprised (and can’t possibly be displeased) when she appears at the end. Mark Ruffalo looks surprisingly different with facial hair as Detective Fanning. Barry Shabaka Henley talks jazz as Daniel with Vincent and Javier Bardem talks about Black Pedro as Felix with Max. Director Michael Mann knows how to get the best out of his cast, and it is a stella cast (Tom Cruise included). The music, the angles, the closeups which reveal intimacy and the wide shots that show isolation.

But this is a film all about conversation, and writer Stuart Beattie writes some really excellent stuff. It’s not the fast-paced banter you’d expect in a Tarantino or Ritchie film, rather it’s a slow boil deconstruction of a decent man’s soul as that man is on the verge of panic while another man puts a gun to his head and tells him to calm down.

The movie is all about the relationship between Vincent and Max, and it’s funny how well Foxx and Cruise pull it off. There’s not much chemistry between them, and that seems largely intentional. There’s always a distance, at first caused by their relationship as client and cabbie and then by Vincent’s pistol. The weird part is how likeable Vincent is. He actually seems like a pretty good guy aside from being very willing to shoot anybody and everybody he runs into. He helps Max deal with an overbearing boss, buys his mother flowers and encourages him to “call the girl.” It’s weird how he tries (tries so hard) to be a good friend. And that’s the thing. It’s the reason why he doesn’t just shoot Max as soon as the luckless cabbie finds out about Vincent’s career goals. Because he’s so starved for human contact that he’ll spend hours trying to connect with a bloke he’s probably gonna top at dawn.

Good stuff. Great film.

Anyway, point is that you shouldn’t always judge a film by the actor playing in it. Now Tom’s come back and he’s done some great stuff in the past couple of years, so I’m not too worried about people prejudging his stuff. Some real shit as well (Oblivion), but a lot of absolutely fantastic (Live Die Repeat) and fun (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, his cameo in Tropic Thunder) roles in the main. He’s a good actor and a good guy.

But, y’know, don’t judge whatever new Nicolas Cage film comes out before you see it? I guess? No, no. You can prejudge Nicolas Cage all you want.

Reviewing the Old School: The Siege (1998)

I wonder what this film would look like if it was made now. Would the villains be the same? Would the morals be the same? Would the heroes be as black and white? This is a pre-9/11 movie about terrorism after all (set in New York no less), and we live in a post-9/11 world.

Shit, we live in a post-a-lot-of-things world.

Released all the way back in 1998 The Siege stars Denzel Washington as FBI Assistant Special Agent Anthony ‘Hub’ Hubbard, essentially the bloke in charge of counter-terrorism operations in New York, as he and his team (most notably Tony Shalhoub as Lebanese-American FBI agent Frank Haddad) deal with with a series of escalating attacks in throughout New York, reprisals for the kidnapping of a major religious leader by US forces at the beginning of the film. They’re helped and hindered by CIA agent Elise Kraft/Sharon Bridger (starts with the former name, ends with the latter), played by Annette Benning, but as the situation grows worse, the FBI suffers casualties and they are unable to find the other terrorist cells martial law is declared and the army is sent in under the command of Major General William Devereaux.

This is not a perfect movie at all. The acting is solid and most of the characters are sympathetic if not likeable (I fucking love Tony Shalhoub, why doesn’t that guy get more roles?), with the sole exception of Annette Bening as the intruding CIA agent. She’s not bad in the role, and has some great moments, but the character comes off as whiny and annoying for most of the film, sounding for most of the movie like she’s on the verge of tears. Not great for the only female lead, even if it does play to a theme. There are some very action movie moments that are jarring against the realism that the rest of the film is trying to carry. When a bus is blown up at the beginning of the movie it is visceral and realistic. People well outside the blast range are thrown back and windows are shattered. Hub, who is halfway across the no-man’s land to the bus is far enough away that in most movies he’d usually just have to shield his eyes, is tossed around, deafened, blood vessels are ruptured (such as in his eye) and afterwards his nose begins to bleed in the middle of a briefing. It’s a good scene, and it seems weird when compared to moments later in the movie, such as when the army fucking blows up a building where Hub is trying to make an arrest. We’re talking grenades, machine guns and helicopter gunships launching hellfire missiles, and Hub making it out practically unscathed. It’s not a good scene.

Thing is though, The Siege still stands as one of the best examples I can think of when it comes to exploring terrorism and those who try to counter it. As I said, not perfect. I don’t think those of us over here in the relatively safe and peaceful west can possibly make a perfect film, but a decent one. The Islamic terrorists in the film have every right to be a bit miffed at the Americans. They were trained by the CIA to fight Saddam Hussein, then abandoned to be slaughtered. Many of them are from refugee camps and we are given the idea that the only hope many of them see for themselves and their families is through martyrdom. The attacks are triggered by the extrajudicial kidnapping of an important Islamic cleric by US forces. The film admits that the root causes of a great deal of modern terrorism can be traced back to American foreign policy (successes and failures), admits that these guys have the right to be pissed, though it never condones any of their actions. Blowing up innocent people is wrong regardless of the reasons.

It also shows the level of miscommunication and mistrust between the various branches of the American intelligence, counterintelligence and law enforcement services. Part of what makes Elise Kraft so annoying is her refusal to provide information to Hub and his team over the nature of the threat they faced or her sources. Devereaux makes a point of checking in on Hub and his team in the first half of the film, but otherwise is unwilling to share information with the FBI and, when martial law is declared, actively spies on the surviving members of the FBI. Getting information from other agencies is like pulling teeth, as they’re bounced from one organisation to another. Hub and his team still get the job done, but you get the distinct feeling that it could have been so much easier than it was.

The thing that got me about this film, however, is what it got wrong about us. Hub is a good guy. He cares about the law and judicial process. He privately berates a colleague for hitting a suspect. He waits for search warrants before assaulting a probable terrorist safe house. He believes that if you need to follow their rules to win, then you’ve already lost. Devereaux and Kraft disagree with him. They want to go in guns blazing, are willing to torture and fuck their way to the information they need. The film tells us this is bad. The film tells us, quite correctly, that this only makes things worse. The film tells us that polite society would not allow its morals to be eroded in the name of ‘safety and security.’

The film is wrong about that. At the end of the movie the combined multi-denominational might of Jewish, Christian, Muslim and whatever else protesters march upon the army lines chanting “No fear” in opposition to the Army’s detainment of thousands of young Muslim men for the crime of being young Muslim men. Hub is proved right, the law wins.

What happened in the real world? Well, Americans sacrificed many of those freedoms and protections the movie holds so dear to the Patriot Act after the Twin Towers fell. Guantanamo Bay is still open (the failure to close the prison down still stands as one of President Obama’s greatest failures). The Arab Spring seemed great at the time, but the failure of the USA and the rest of the West to follow it up with support and help has left the Middle East even messier than it already was, and ripe for an organisation like IS to become a legitimate power and threat. At home we’ve seen the rise of far-right arseholes and jingoistic nationalists, coming to power by spreading fear and anger. Extrajudicial killings and kidnappings are commonplace (just look at the Drone program or the assassination of Osama Bin Laden). And remember when those American nationals were illegally arrested and sent to countries like Egypt to be tortured? Yeah, that happened.

Pop-culture since then has reflected this. Zero Dark Thirty doesn’t even blink at ‘enhanced interrogation’ or assassination, and doesn’t expect the audience to either. James Bond and Jack Bauer are tasked with getting the job done outside the law. A bullet to the head fixes the problems better than due process ever did. Guys like Hub are the weak-willed scrawny pencil pushers who haven’t been through what the heroes have been through and their adherence to the rules just gets in the way.

So would a movie like The Siege be made now? Yeah. Yeah it would. But I can’t say with any certainty that it would end the same way. Be as positive or hopeful. The good guys might not win. The law might not win.

That’s a shame. I wish a few more movies were like this.

Reviewing the old school: Thank You for Smoking (2005)

Do you remember this film? I didn’t remember this film until quite recently, and I can’t for the life of me think of why. Thinking back to when Thank You for Smoking was released all the way back in 2005, it was a pretty big deal. Not like in a blockbuster, Transformers or The Dark Knight kind of way, but, I mean, I was in fucking high school and I was hearing about what a brilliant film it was. That’s not normal, is it? I don’t think that’s normal. This film though, this film was special. This smart little indie film all about arguments and talking, without any explosions and only a little sex, had us teenage Aussie millennials talking or at least my circle of friends, and for good reason. Because my friends are weird. And it’s a great film. So why’s it so forgettable?

The film, fantastically written and directed by Jason Reitman, stars Aaron Eckhart as Nick Naylor, the chief spokesman for what is essentially big tobacco. Nick is suave, charming, good at what he does and loves his job. Since his job is convincing as many people as possible to smoke cigarettes, in most other films he’d probably be the bad guy. And he sort of is. But he’s so rationally proud of it that you can’t help but cheer for him and his cohorts to win over that bastard senator from Vermont who’s only thinking of the children. The film follows Nick at his highest (getting the film industry involved in making cigarettes cool – cooler – again) and lowest (an article is released revealing all the secrets he’d told to the writer, who he’d been sleeping with… also kidnapping and attempted murder) points while clearly explaining how political argument and debate work, the art of lobbying and the importance of making informed decisions.

The acting is fantastic. Aaron Eckhart owns the role of Nick Naylor, and you never for a moment doubt his sincerity or self-awareness. Katie Holmes as the above mentioned reporter who really shouldn’t be trusted with sensitive information plays her role with a casual, professional glee. JK Simmons and William H Macy carry their roles with skill, as always, as Nick’s boss and sorta nemesis respectively and deliver some of the best lines in the movie, as do Maria Bello and David Koechner as Nick’s best friends Polly Bailey and Bobby Jay Bliss (alcohol and gun lobbies respectively). Smaller roles are perfectly cast, like Robert Duvall as The Captain and Rob Lowe as Hollywood fixer Jeff Megall. Even Cameron Bright, the (at the time) child actor playing Nick’s son Joey does a great job (though there was one or two moments that felt a little flat). Jason Reitman did a fantastic job with this. The dialogue is well written and the editing switches from long, drawn out moments to rabid flashes expertly. The music is excellent, and I loved the song playing over the opening credits.

What’s great about this film is the moral ambiguity of its theme: mainly, to make your own informed choices and come to your own conclusions. Nick Naylor may be working for the ostensible bad guys, a big corporation that cares more about profits than human lives, but he does so with surprising moral conviction and (I think mostly because of his frank narration) far more honesty than what we’d normally expect. He definitely seems more honest than the manipulative Senator Finistirre. But what I love about this film, what I really love about this excellent piece of satire, is that it is incredibly self-aware. The information it is providing is nothing new, and it knows that it’s nothing new. Admits to it cheerfully and wittily. At the end, at the climax of the movie when Nick sits in at a hearing about putting a skull and crossbones on all cigarette packs he acknowledges that he knows cigarettes are bad for you. In fact everybody knows cigarettes are bad for you. Similarly, the audience already knows about what the film is apparently revealing. We know that big corporate powers use films and celebrities to sell their products. We know that they use misleading scientific studies to continue lying to the consumer. We know that they have huge teams of lawyers to tie down opponents in legal red tape. We know that they lie, cheat and bribe. And the film knows we know. Thank You for Smoking is not about revealing the dangers of the world. It treats us more intelligently than that. The film is about the power of argument and persuasion, and whether you’re right or wrong depends on how convincing you are. Nick Naylor is the hero of this film because he is the best at arguing. That’s all. Mind you I’m a fan of arguing (love a good fight), so maybe I’m just reaching my own conclusions (see what I did there?)

So, you remembering this film now? Maybe saying I’d forgotten this film is going a bit too far. I don’t know what made me think of it the other day, but I remembered it immediately, and enough where I was able to start thinking about what I was gonna write down before the rewatch. But it still feels like it should be far better remembered than what it is, up there with other political satires like Wag the Dog or… shit… I can’t think of any similar enough examples at this exact moment. Point is, if you haven’t you should watch this film. If you have, watch it again. It’s an easy film to over-analyse and under-analyse, and it’s a great piece of smart cinema regardless. Funny too.

Dying to discuss: Or why I loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Did you know there’s a new Star Wars film in the cinemas right now? Of course you do. Aside from the massive multi-platform advertising campaign that can only be pulled of by a media super-power like Disney, it’s bloody Star Wars, arguably the biggest franchise ever with the kind of pop-culture influence that even a lot of actual wars could never compete with. I went and saw it last Monday. Highly recommend you go see it, even if for no other reason than so I can talk about it without spoiling something. Or everything. ‘Cause I really, really wanna. Talk about it that is, not spoil it. I’m not a bastard. Or am I? Maybe, sometimes.

It’s at this point that I’m gonna mention that I might be talking about events and characters in the film that probably count as spoilers. Nothing major but if you haven’t seen it yet and want to avoid all mention of the film before you do, well, you’ve been warned.

Yeah, so anyway, I get the feeling that this is gonna be one of those films we talk about for a while in a really good way. Y’see everyone who’s seen it agrees that this is a good film, but no one seems to agree on how good it is. A few people were disappointed, a few people were raving. I loved it, but Mad Max: Fury Road still stands as my favourite film of 2015. Thing is, there was a lot to talk about Mad Max as well.

What I mean is that there’s a lot to unpack with this film, a lot more going on than a shallow conversation would at first reveal. An example: one of the complaints I’ve heard is that The Force Awakens is essentially just A New Hope. Like it literally has all the same story beats. I’d argue though that this is a good thing. It keeps the film feeling familiar while the new characters and relationships (I’ve come to realise are actually the most important thing in a Star Wars story) means that it still feels fresh and new. It’s also a demonstration by the directors, writers and producers that they understand what made the original trilogy so great while setting the scene for their own (’cause I expect there will be parallels between Episode VIII and Empire Strikes Back, but I don’t think they’ll be as blatant as this one). Someone else had issue with villain Kylo Ren, that he was less ‘all powerful badarse’ and more ‘tantrum throwing bitch.’ Guy wasn’t a menacing character, especially following in the footsteps of Darth Vader. Meanwhile I think that’s the point. This guy wants to be Darth Vader so badly, but he isn’t and probably never will be. It seems to me that the film-makers themselves are pointing this out. After all, that’s a big fucking helmet to fill. But it’s also them saying that he’s a different villain. Yeah, he’s powerful, merciless, brutal and very, very dangerous, but he’s also morally conflicted and emotionally torn.

This isn’t even getting into theories about who and what are which. I’m of the belief that main character Rey, played fantastically by Daisy Ridley, is a descendant of Obi Wan Kenobi (the only other main character in either trilogy with an English accent, and with Ewan Mcgregor doing a quick bit of voiceover work telling her she’s taken the first few steps towards the Force).

Listen, she's new to the whole "Force" thing. It's a lot to take in all at once.
Listen, she’s new to the whole “Force” thing. It’s a lot to take in all at once.

Shit, there’s stuff to talk about with all the characters. John Boyega as Finn, the Stormtrooper turned hero who may or may not be force sensitive (I don’t reckon he is, but we’ll see in the next few movies) but clearly forges a unique bond with Rey and Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron. Following that up, what do we think Poe’s role is going to be in the future? He didn’t have a huge amount to do in The Force Awakens, though he was established as a key character moving forward (guessing surrogate son for General Leia). To be clear, the whole thing is well acted (Adam Driver goes from calm to enraged excellently as Kylo Ren and even Harrison Ford seems to be enjoying himself) and I loved all the characters in different ways.

You get what I’m saying though, right? There’s a lot to talk about with this film. Love it or merely like it, I think we’ll be discussing the characters, the intricacies and the story mechanics for a while. And we’ll probably start doing so in about a week’s time.

Y’know, 2015 was actually a pretty good year for films worth talking about long after they’d finished their theatrical run. The above-mentioned Mad Max, for instance. Wonder what 2016’s gonna be like.

So, yeah, go see Star Wars. Be part of the conversation.

Reviewing the old school: Die Hard (1988)

So I wanted to do a Christmas movie this week since, y’know, Christmas. Took me a little while to decide which one, since there are quite a few of them (many of them actually pretty shit). Then I remembered I hadn’t watched the original Die Hard in a while, and the choice was made. I procured a copy, ordered a curry and sat back to watch what remains one of my favourite action movies ever.

Released in 1988, the film stars Bruce Willis as John MccLane, an NYPD cop visiting his estranged wife at her work Christmas party (in an incomplete skyscraper in Los Angeles). Then a bunch of mostly European thieves masquerading as terrorists take all the party guests hostage. Hijinks ensue.

But you should already know all this, because you should have already seen this movie by now. In all honesty this should be on that 1001 Movies to See Before You Die list if it isn’t already. It’s a classic action film that holds together incredibly well nearly three decades later (holy shit Die Hard turned 27 this year). The fight scenes are appropriately brutal, the set pieces are spectacular and the coincidences never feel as contrived as they do in a lot of other films (including, if I’m being honest, Die Hard 2). The music, as well, is fantastic. It’s something I hadn’t really paid much attention to until I rewatched it this week, but it manages to add tension in the necessary scenes and avoids the unnecessary synth-rock that’s left the soundtracks to so many other movies from the 80s so dated. Best of all it manages to keeps a Christmas theme going throughout the film.

It’s little stuff like that which makes this movie so much fun and the it never treats the audience like an idiot. It talks through particular scenes without feeling like it’s spoon-feeding us through Bruce Willis’ conversations with the Hans Gruber (the villain), Al Powell (his lifeline on the outside) and himself (you’re only crazy if there’s someone around to hear you). It also has a surprisingly high opinion of intelligent characters. John MccLane is not an idiot. He’s good at improvising and working through problems. Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber is witty and charming, very capable of getting his hands dirty, able to think clearly, rationally and keep an eye on the prize throughout. Idiotic behaviour, however, usually results in the death of that idiot, as we see with Ellis and the FBI agents Johnson and Johnson (no relation). Going in guns blazing doesn’t work, and I wish more action movies would take this lesson to heart.

There are flaws, of course. Holly Gennaro, played by Bonnie Bedelia, has little to do aside from being someone for John MccLane to save. Reginald VelJohnson’s character Sergeant Al Powell tells a story about shooting an unarmed 13 year old boy, meant to garner sympathy for the cops, comes off a little sour given recent events (and probably should have given contemporary events as well). Some guns never seem to run out of bullets until it suddenly ‘matters’. The territorial police commissioner trope, furious about property damage and glass, is a little overdone. As is the henchman who just will not fucking die.

But it’s easy to overlook these flaws. Especially ’cause this movie gave us Alan Rickman. I mean, yeah, Bruce Willis was also a fairly fresh face known for his TV and commercial work propelled to Hollywood fame by this film, but he didn’t play Severus fucking Snape in the Harry Potter films. Without Die Hard Rickman may have remained a relative or complete unknown. And that would have been tragic.

So, yeah, watch this film if you haven’t already. But I expect just about everyone likely to read this already has, so, watch it again I guess? Yeah, watch it again.

Have a Happy Christmas (or Chanukah or Winter Solstice or just a grand public holiday for the many people who don’t celebrate it). Let’s see if I can think of a good New Year movie for next time.

Reviewing the old school: Young Einstein (1988)

I like the odd bit of alternate-history fiction. Usually the more serious stuff, where you take a particular historical conflict and basically go “then the aliens attacked” or “but actually there were magicians there too” or “suddenly, time travel!” Serious stuff. Young Einstein (written, directed by and starring Yahoo Serious – probably not the name he was born with) takes a more comedic route by asking its own grand question: what if, instead of Germany, Albert Einstein was born in Tasmania to Aussie apple farmers?

Well, for one, he still develops the Theory of Relativity in this version of reality, but its first application is to split a beer atom in order to carbonate his dad’s pint. Having succeeded in creating bubbly beer (something apparently impossible to do without causing a small atomic blast) Albert packs his bags and heads to Sydney via Uluru (dammit Jim he’s a physicist not a map-reader!) in order to patent his idea. He runs into (and falls in love with) the lovely Marie Curie (played with some fantastic expression by Odile Le Clezio) who has gone to study physics at the University of Sydney (USYD represent!) for some reason, has his idea stolen by foppish villain Preston Preston of the Perth Prestons (played by John Howard – the actor not the Prime Minister – who is wonderfully pompous, cowardly and greedy), invents rock’n’roll music, then uses rock’n’roll music to diffuse an atomic bomb (saving the lives of thousands, including an apparently still kicking Charles Darwin).

Yeah, you shouldn’t think about it too hard. Or at all. Very little of it makes a whole lot of sense. The plot doesn’t. A fair bit of the physics related dialogue doesn’t. But I like it. And if you don’t think about it too much you might like it as well.

As bonkers as it is, Young Einstein does have a colloquial charm. John Howard hams it up fantastically as Preston Preston in what I’d be willing to call one of his best and funniest roles. The idea that everyone would give so much of a fuck about putting bubbles into beer that the scientific community would give out a Nobel Prize for the effort is so bloody Australian it was probably born in New Zealand. Once he gets out of Tasmania, Yahoo’s young Einstein manages to mix the traditional Aussie stereotype of the self-reliant bushman out of his depth in the big city with the broader stereotype of socially-oblivious genius more easily than you’d expect. The plot might not make any fucking sense, but the fact that everyone seems to rather like the kid does.

Thing is, I can’t bring myself to recommend this film to anyone. It took me a little bit to decide why, mind you, but I can’t. Not to an Aussie audience, not to a foreign audience. The problem is it hasn’t aged well.

So much of the humour is, essentially, a piss-take of what people from outside Australia thought the country was like. Weird puppet Tasmanian devils that can take bites out of metal shovels, wallabies hopping around the Sydney Uni campus and (as mentioned above) indicating that a trip from Tassie to Sydney would require hopping on a train in the red centre. Thing is this may have been how people viewed us nearly thirty years ago but other people have done a better job of having a go at these stereotypes since then, and (if nothing else) the number of Australians traveling around the world (yours truly included) and people who have travelled to Oz has dispelled a lot of the more ridiculous of the myths made fun of in Young Einstein. A fair few of the jokes are winks and nudges at the Australian audience going “how funny is it that dumb-arse foreigners think this is what we were like!” Now we’d just point out that the rest of the world just thinks we’re a bunch of drunken, sports-mad brawlers with a talent for killing spiders and sharks in between smashing back tinnies.

As a result a lot of the humour falls flat. This isn’t helped by the fact that some of the more noticeable cultural references aren’t all that recognisable (I might know that a shot of Einstein riding a horse down a steep slope is a reference to The Man from Snowy River but I doubt that any of my siblings would).

Honestly mate I watched this film for nostalgia purposes. I remember watching this film as a kid. There’s this point at the end where everything’s about to explode and everyone’s losing their shit. Einstein, calm as you like, takes a bite out of an apple and says “Just a moment Marie, I’m having an idea.” I love that calm thoughtfulness. The problem with the rest of the film might be that it’s too goofy. Everything from the high-pitched inflection of the narration to the costuming to the sound effects is played for the easiest kinds of laughs. But this one line, played perfectly straight, eating an apple, it embodies my own sense of humour and how I try and handle a stressful situation. Funny what sticks with you.

So yeah, I like this movie. Is it great? Not really. Should you watch it? Probably not. Hell, I wouldn’t even recommend a rewatch if you’ve seen it before. But if you do, remember to take it for what it is. It’s a relic of what we all thought you thought about us back in the day, true or not. And it’s a bit of clean, stupid fun.

Try harder, or why I’m loving Bitch Planet

There’s a really excellent comic series running right now by the name of Bitch Planet. Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and drawn by Valentine De Landro it takes place in a future in which ‘non-compliant’ women are sent to the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost, nicknamed (you guessed it) Bitch Planet. It’s a clever feminist satire of 70s exploitation films. The art style and colours (done by the excellent Cris Peter) are deeply reminiscent of grainy film and a tacky science fiction aesthetic, cleverly placing the female cast in positions where they are sexualised in the context of the world without sexualising them for the readers. The characters are likeable and real, representing not just a cross-section of race, body-types and sexualities, but also personalities and motivations, coming together for an opportunity to strike back at the patriarchy that governs their world. And man, fuck the patriarchy that governs their world. With a brick. Sideways.

What really exemplifies this series for me, however, is how fucking disgusted with myself I feel after I read them. Just really goddamn gross. And yeah, that is a good thing.

The scary part of this particular dystopian future (like many great dystopian futures) is just how familiar it feels. Body-shaming, slut-shaming, sexuality-shaming, racism, stereotypes, pseudo-scientific explanations for why man is superior to woman, a belief that the sole purpose of females is to serve men perpetuated by the media and popular culture instilling little doubt in the younger generations about this ‘truth’. This is the world we live in now. The world of Bitch Planet simply codifies it into law and makes non-compliance (being fat, gay or promiscuous) punishable with prison sentences and even death (shit, it’s not even hard to think of countries where this is actually a reality). The villains of the piece, Father and the other old men who rule, are unpleasant caricatures scarily reminiscent of the good old boys who fill governments and governing boards the world over. And good god how I wish for the protagonists, the bitches of Bitch Planet, to punch their smug, misogynist faces in. The part that gets to me, however, is that they might not.

Right from Issue #1 it was made clear that any victory would be bitter-sweet and failure was the more likely outcome. That undercurrent of failure being more than possible has continued through the series all the way to this weeks Issue #5 and doesn’t look like it’ll be ending soon. You feel like no matter what they do, no matter how hard they try, those above will simply change the rules to keep themselves there and there is nothing that these heroic women will be able to do to stop it.

Just like it often feels in the real world. The real world where women are blamed for being the victims of sexual assault, harassment and violence, then punished with more of the same. The real world where a woman has to work twice as hard to be in the same position as a man and still earn less pay. The real world where a woman’s reproductive rights (and their universal rights to bodily integrity) are constantly under attack by backwards moralists and their pocket legislators. The real world that I am a part of. And part of the problem.

I’m a big believer in the old saw that art mirrors life and society, and when I read Bitch Planet I see a pretty ugly reflection. I can’t read this and not feel like I’m not doing enough to change this reality. Change this reflection. I’m not doing enough to make this world we live in a better place for my sisters, my cousins, my daughters if I ever have them, my friends. Shit I’m not even sure what I should be doing, just that I’m not currently or not doing well enough. Not trying hard enough.

That’s what’s great about Bitch Planet. It’s a simple reminder to try harder. And that’s what I’ll do. It’s what we should all do. Because the world of Bitch Planet is not a great place to be.

So I’d definitely give it a recommend giving it a read. It’s fun, exciting, horrifying and tragic all at the same time. Most importantly it’s a reminder to keep trying harder.