Archive for December, 2010
(c) 2010 TAB
smoking in the blizzard bundled up
i felt like i was EVA in space
suspended in nothing, between doors
the building between me and cosmic wind
Is it enough, this existence,
this mosey through the ages,
this trudge past useless days and nights,
with no direction, no effect?
The mind so sadly sated
by empty conversations,
by meaningless exchanges
where no one bothers, no one hears?
The heart so cheaply purchased
by stiff and stifled passions,
by false and faithless feelings
that never answer, never please?
The soul so smoothly taken
by noisy, stale agendas,
by worthless propaganda
without belief, without the truth?
The life that lives without a thought,
the thoughts that churn and falter,
the purposes that won’t achieve
and selves that will not alter—
the ways that lead to high and low
the roads both smooth and rough,
the life that wanders through this age
will never be enough.
(c) B. Martin
Sometime, way back in the late `90s, I started a web-project that looked not just at the idea of romance through different cultures and perspectives, but also at the metaphor of “Courtyards” which leads to that oft-touted idea in ritual theory of “thresholds”. I was particularly interested by Courtly Love and the different ways in which humanity approached romantic festivals such as Valentine’s Day or Beltaine. Of course, this was all couched in popular culture terms, and it was a site that had curated exhibitions of art, literature and films, which accepted submissions. Yes, in many ways it was the “Alpha” version of Mythic Folk as it is today. For Valentine’s Day 2000, I wanted to make a list of movies that highlighted these different takes on love and romance and how it is related to the multiple-perspectives found within human relationships. I talked about this a bit with one of my good online friends, Janet Yanosko, a university librarian, web-goddess, lover of fine fiction, movies, history and all-around cool geek girl. Janet, or Jem as we knew her, is beloved not just by me but more than one of that early community of sf/f geeks who found each other in the `90s.
Janet left this world on Christmas Eve, 2008, which would be a festive date except for this loss. She wrote this guide of movies as both a parody and affirmation of another festive date.
I was thinking of this all this week, about the different principles that apply to these things we call “festive occasions” which are so very often filled with sadness, awkwardness but also something that is still life-affirming. As always, lately this makes me think of Janet, and of Christmas Eve. Then, I think of that Valentine’s Day when we both wrote these lists and had a good chortle about it.
So I offer you, Janet Yanosko Elkin’s Alternate List of Romance Movies. These are, in actual fact, Action Movies, but with a twist, in how Janet perceives them. This post is about Janet, her humour and wit – as well as how both our inner worlds and outer worlds (the media, culture, festivals) connect together. This, I would say, is connected to how I perceive “Weddings, Birthdays and Festivals in myth, folklore and (sub)cultures” – as a binary relationship, between happiness and sadness, between inclusion and exclusion. Between conventional ways of perceiving human relationships and the ways in which we come together, and the unconventional ways in which we do come together. Enjoy!
Janet Yanosko Elkin’s Alternate Guide to Romance in the Cinema
For those who prefer their romance in a more, shall we say, invigorating delivery medium, here is a list of films to tickle your fancy:
- Die Hard (1988)
Cast: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson (rated: R)
John McClane, A New York cop, gives terrorists more than they bargain for as they hold hostages in an LA highrise office building. This should win an award for best use of Beethoven in a film score in a film that is not about Beethoven. The great thing about Bruce Willis is that his heroes all have an “everyman” quality. He crashes through glass, gets cut, and has to pick glass out of his feet. This movie has violence with consequences. And who else could pull off a line like, “Yippee-ki-yay, mother______!”? Die Hard is actually a romance. McClane, separated from his wife, finds himself in a position of having to save her. There’s nothing like a hostage situation to make you see perspective in your relationships.
- The Terminator (1984)
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn (plus an early appearance by Bill Paxton as “Punk Leader”) (rated: r)
Love knows no boundaries; it can travel across the span of 30 years and battle the destructive power of a really scary, seemingly impossible to destroy cybernetic killer with an Austrian accent. Kyle Reese is a soldier sent back to our time to protect Sarah Connor, who is to be the mother of the man leading a successful rebellion against the machines that have declared war against humanity. This is my favorite Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. It combines great chases, explosions, time travel paradox, and that dream you have of trying to run away but your legs just don’t seem to be working right. With developments in artificial intelligence proceeding and computing power doubling every 9 months, the science fiction aspect of the story is still relevant, even though “Ah-nold” has taken to making kinder, gentler movies with less mayhem and destruction.”
- Romancing the Stone (1984)
Cast: Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, Danny DeVito (rated: PG)
Romancing the Stone pokes fun at the romance novel, while perfectly executing all of the elements of the genre. Best-selling romance writer Joan Wilder has to travel to Colombia to exchange a treasure map for her sister’s life. The plot is complicated by the appearance of a mysterious villain in black who is after the same map, and by the appearance of the male lead–who is so totally unlike her romantic ideal that she can’t stand him. It must be love. This movie is great fun, but avoid the sequel at all costs.
- Dark City (1998)
Cast: Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt (rated: R)
This review at imdb.com by M.A. Rogers says it all: “[Dark City] is a film noir-a film noir that we could call “moody” as if other examples of that genre weren’t. There’s a marvelous sheen of grit, murder, detectives, mystery and intrigue. The surreal science fiction elements are what make Dark City so unusual, though. Throughout the film there is an odd combination of a 1940′s atmosphere, props and sets combined with futuristic elements. This delightful disorienting blend is heightened by the fact that many of the futuristic elements also suggest Victorian objects (the syringes), art deco objects (the clock), or medieval objects (much of the underground environment).” One of the main character’s motivations, aside from trying to remember if he is actually a killer, is love for his wife–whom he may not have ever met before the event that starts the film. Both The Matrix and Total Recall deal with whether what you remember makes you who you are, but this movie does it better.
- The Matrix (1999)
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving (rated :R)
Lest anyone think I’m slamming The Matrix (see the above review), I include it in my list of highly recommended V-Day films. The Matrix is mind-bending, visually stunning, and has awfully attractive people wearing excellent leather coats and cool shades. The special effects-driven action sequences (my personal favorite is Trinity kicking the you-know-what out of the authorities attempting to apprehend her at the very beginning of the movie) are revolutionary, and has spawned copycat effects in other films. The Matrix could be cold, technical, and impersonal. Yet the moral of the story is that warm flesh and blood humans have something that machines lack. It might be love.
- Gladiator (2000)
Cast: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed (rated: R)
Gladiator hearkens back to the great Roman epic films of old Hollywood, yet is unique in that Christianity is not the driving force of the story. What I find interesting is that Maximus is, nonetheless, a very spiritual man, and completely devoted to his family. His only wish is to return to his farm to be with his wife and son. Alas, history intervenes. I think all of the characters in the film become unhinged somewhat by the events sweeping them up, and the excitement comes in finding out how they deal with what happens to them. This is a great film. Morituri te salutamus.
- X-Men (2000)
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen (Rated PG-13)
X-Men is perhaps the first movie based on a comic book to do it right (with the possible exception of the original Batman movie starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson). The movie has a “storyboard” look to it, and even amid battle scenes, the action will pause to highlight Wolverine’s perfect stance, or closeup on Hugh Jackman’s extraordinary eyebrows. Yet this film is not just eye candy; there are interesting personal relationships which add depth to the story: Magneto/Dr. Xavier, Wolverine/Jean Grey, Rogue/Wolverine. Wolverine’s attraction to Jean Grey is the most overt manifestation of romance in this movie, but I was more interested in the fact that Rogue is doomed to spend her life completely cut off from physical human contact. She has a crush on Wolverine and a budding relationship with Billy, but her powers have implications that will forever affect how she can respond to love.
- The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher (rated: PG)
Sometimes called the best of the three original Star Wars films, The Empire Strikes Back is certainly the darkest. The Rebellion is on the brink again. Luke, having already lost his mentor, suffers the loss not only of his hand but of everything he has believed about his origins. Han Solo is sold to bounty hunters. Threepio gets blown to smithereens. Leia finds and loses what she holds most dear. There are so many things going on in the story I can’t possibly describe them all…but it makes my list because there is a romance involved. And it’s not between Artoo and Threepio.
- The Fugitive (1993)
Cast: Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones (Rated PG-13)
There is an undeniable electricity whenever Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones share the screen in this, one of the finest pairings of hunter and hunted since Les Miserables’ Valjean and Javert or the classic Roadrunner/Coyote cartoons. There is nothing cartoonish or stilted about this movie, however. Every character who appears on the screen rings true. You get the feeling when you are watching that each person, from the main character down to the smallest bit player, has a complete story and motivation. Action films with truly great acting are rare indeed. Tommy Lee Jones deservedly won the Oscar for best supporting actor in this role, and Harrison ford is unparalleled. There isn’t actually a romance in this film–aside from Dr. Kimble’s love for his wife–but the chemistry between the two leads is such that maybe there should be.
- True Lies (1994)
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold, Bill Paxton, Tia Carrere (rated: R)
Arnold Schwarzenegger is Harry Tasker, a top-secret agent of an intelligence agency so covert, nobody has ever heard of it. His bored wife, Helen (played with comic aplomb by Jamie Lee Curtis), thinks Harry is a salesman and craves adventure. Helen accidentally gets caught between a smarmy used-car salesman’s “secret agent” scam for bagging chicks and her husband’s investigation of a terrorist plot when Harry suspects her of having an affair. It is due to Curtis’ absolute chutzpa that Mrs. Tasker does not become an object of scorn in what are some very embarrassing circumstances. Tom Arnold makes an unexpectedly funny turn as Arnold’s trusty sidekick.
- Strictly Ballroom (1992)
Cast: Paul Mercurio, Tara Morice, Bill Hunter (rated G)
The action in this small Australian movie isn’t car chases or exploding bombs…rather it’s the rumba and pasadoble. Strictly Ballroom is set up as a mock documentary about Scott Hastings, whose chance to win the latin dance competition at the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Amateur Championships is in jeopardy due to his tendancy to spontaneously (gasp!) improvise. “Our son was a champion,” weeps Scott’s mother. “That’s the tragedy of it!” The only person who believes in Scott is the ugly duckling, Fran, who wants to dance his steps his way. All of the wacky characters take the insular world of Australian ballroom dance deadly seriously and have lost perspective on reality. The dance costumes are not exaggerated, however. If you have ever seen ballroom dance competitions on tv, you will know that the costumes and hair sported by the dancers in this movie are utterly realistic. Amid the garish makeup, fruit-adorned costumes, and hair glitter, the message is that it’s not about winning, but about being true to yourself.
- Dead Again (1991)
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Andy Garcia, Emma Thompson, Derek Jacobi, Robin Williams, Wayne Knight (rated: R)
Dead Again combines a dual romance, a 40′s murder mystery, and psychological thriller all wrapped in one exceedlingly suspenseful and elegant package. “Grace” shows up at a nunnery mysteriously one night with no memory and no ability to speak. She screams in her sleep, but is literally unable to say why. Mike Church, a private investigator, is called in to investigate who this enigmatic woman could be and help her loved ones–if she has any–find her. What he finds is that he and Grace may have know each other before in previous lives, and history may be doomed to repeat itself. The story unfolds in the same way the characters experience it, and the plot twists are maintained until the end. The final scene could perhaps have been less, um, pointed in its violence, but it does not detract from the rest of this superb film.
- Speed (1994)
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper, Sandra Bullock, Joe Morton, Jeff Daniels (rated: R)
This is the film that admits sometimes relationships should be just based on sex. The rest of the movie has very little to do with that revelation, however. It’s a really great hostage story on a bus which has to stay above 50 miles per hour. If the vehicle’s speed drops any lower, it will explode, killing all of the passengers on board. The really interesting thing about this movie is the interaction of the passengers, the action hero (Reeves) out of his depth and up against a villain both smarter and more cunning than he, and the ability of the story to make you believe a bus can fly fifty feet over a gap in a freeway ramp without plummeting to the ground.
- Face/Off (1997)
Cast: John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Joan Allen, Alessandro Nivola, Gina Gershon (rated: R)
The plot of Face/Off actually has really great symmetry, worthy of Jane Austen…but with guns and a body count. This film has the most beautiful action sequences I’ve ever seen, complete with fluttering doves and balletic moves in slow motion. The science in Face/Off is dubious; its premise requires much suspension of disbelief. However, it has truly excellent layered performances. Nicolas Cage is particularly fine as a family man masquerading as his son’s killer to get information about the location of a bomb from the killer’s brother. What would it do to a person to see the face you hate above all others staring at you from the mirror? This movie is, at its action-filled heart, about the completion of family, the resolving of wounds, and the healing and transformative power of love.