Stay Gold Ponyboy

As an older brother myself I’m naturally pulled into tales about brotherhood. More than any other subject matter, brotherhood really hits at my heart and gets me emotionally invested in a film. Obviously when people think brothers they think blood relation, but just as impactful are movies about de facto brothers. Francis Ford Coppola doesn’t appear to favor one over the other, as The Outsiders is a film about both.

The film centers around the Greasers, a band of boys from broken homes who look at each other as brothers, even though only three of them are actually related by blood. With an ensemble cast of Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estivez, Tom Cruise, Ralph Macchio, and C. Thomas Howell, there’s not an unrecognizable face in the bunch. Throughout the film the boys stand by one another, fight for each other (literally), keep each others spirits up, and save each other’s lives in more ways than one.

The story comes from the perspective of Ponyboy Curtis (and that’s not a nickname; his brother’s name is Sodapop), the youngest member of the Greasers at 14, who’s writing about a personal experience to boost his grade. The viewer follows Ponyboy and shows his experience living with his two older brothers (who work to put him through school since their parents died), as well as his time palling around with the rest of the gang, especially the second youngest member: Johnny. The crux of the story comes when Johnny stabs and kills a member of the rival gang, The Socs, saving the life of Ponyboy. With the help of the gang’s biggest delinquent Dallas, the two boys hop a train, run away, and lay low for a week.

While the boys are hiding out the moral of the story becomes abundantly clear. Ponyboy, by far the most well read and studious of the gang, recites to Johnny Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay” while watching a golden sunrise:

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

There’s a reason the story revolves around Ponyboy; he is the youngest and least jaded of the boys. He has not had to drop out of school to support a family like his brothers; he has not been sent to jail like Dallas; he hasn’t even scarred from a fight like Johnny. In essence Ponyboy is still gold, still able to see the good in the world and fall in love with the sunrise. The goldenness of his characters is emphasized in this scene by the sky in the background, as well as the golden sky during the opening and closing of the film

In total contrast to the scene shown above is the rumble scene between the Greasers and the Socs. Right before the battle starts, Coppola pans the camera across the faces of the Greasers, all half drenched in black. Life has taken half the good out of these boys; they are no longer gold. A statement has been made: with age comes cynicism.  Ponyboy learns the hard way that life isn’t just golden sunrises, and opts to write his school report on the adventure he’s just been through. Ironically enough, when he doesn’t know what he’s going to write about he jokingly suggests “my first trip to the zoo,” not knowing that’s exactly what he’ll be writing about. But hopefully all hope is not lost for Pony after it all comes to an end, maybe he can, as Johnny tells him to, “stay gold.”

Is This A Game…Or Is It Real?

Now I understand why Ferris needed to take a day off.

Before he was stealing Ferraris and reservations in Chicago, Matthew Broderick came close to instigating World War Three as teen hacker David Lightman in WarGames (1983). Honestly, the characters start off pretty similar: high school slackers who butt heads with authority figures, and who hack into the school system to make themselves look better. David however does not stop there; he loves his computer (unlike Ferris), and uses it to try to hack into a game company’s system to get information on a revolutionary upcoming game. Instead though, he accidentally stumbles onto a military system and starts a strategy war game with the computer, who is self teaching and who won’t stop playing until the game is over.

Before we are even introduced to David though, a cold open supplies us with exposition that sets up a deeper meaning of the film. We first meet two government employees (one being Michael Madsen in his first film role) who are instructed to deploy missiles, but fail to do so when the commanding officer loses his nerve. Immediately after this incident the department decides to replace the staff with a computer system that would not hesitate to fire the missiles if need be. It is only after this fourteen and a half minute introduction that we meet our hero. After seeing this, and knowing that it was going to backfire, I expected the film to be a commentary about the issues that arise when we rely too heavily on computers.

However, by the film’s end I realized the real message was much greater than that. The computer (WOPR, pronounced Whopper) puts the US military in a frenzy, as they think the game is real and that the Soviets have launched a full scale attack, and then plan to retaliate. World War Three is imminent as David has to try and end the game; the problem being that WOPR doesn’t understand the concept of having a game with no possible winner. Finally (Spoiler Alert) David is able to overload the system, and it lays out every possible war scenario and spits out the same message: Winner – None.

Suddenly the message is much more clear: there are no winners in global thermonuclear war. The message appears time and time again; it is beaten into the audience’s brain. And if that weren’t enough, the computer displays this message saying that “THE ONLY WINNING MOVE IS NOT TO PLAY.” Released at a time when the Cold War was still very prevalent, this anti-war statement turned out to be a huge success.

Still, I had to wonder if the film has a lasting effect. The Cold War has been over over two decades; would it still prove as powerful to today’s generation? Personally, I enjoyed the film, but I don’t know if I would hail it as a great movie. Though, war is still a very real problem in today’s world, so I’d think it could work. With a possible reboot being kicked around Hollywood, we should be able to see first hand how successful WarGames would be in today’s world. It’d surely be an interesting film considering how much technology has grown since 1983, and how the conflicts in the Middle East have become like the modern day Cold War.

Untouchables 2.0

Since we’re watching The Untouchables this week it made sense to share a couple of trailers for the upcoming Gangster Squad, which seems to be selling itself as Untouchables 2.0. We’re given a similar premise: east coast gangster heads west and takes over in a city filled of crooked cops, so a handful of honest cops need to band together and stop him, while teetering on the line of good and bad. In the trailer Ryan Gosling even directly rips a line away from Sean Connery (“You gotta die of something”).

I love gangster movies, so there’s no way I’m not seeing this movie. But let’s just see if it’s able to see the same success that Brian DePalma’s film saw, or if it gets tossed aside as a rip off.

“The Most Fun You’ll Ever Have Being Scared!”

I absolutely love horror movies. And with Halloween next week there’s no better time to indulge in them. So as I was scrolling through my Netflix I figured I would try to find a movie that kills two birds with one stone: watch a classic horror film, and watch an 80’s movie I’ve never seen before. That’s when I came across Creepshow (1982).

Godfather of Zombies George A. Romero (Night of the Living DeadDawn of the Dead) and Stephen King (It, The Shining, Carrie, Cujo) combine their efforts on this anthology film consisting of five separate stories, four of them coming from King’s own imagination. Truthfully, the stories are not very scary, but it also doesn’t really seem like the film is trying to scare its audience. Bookended by the story of a father throwing out his son’s comic book, the tales are meant to be ripped out of the book; the transitions/narration are literally panels from a comic book, so it’s as if the viewer is watching a live action comic.

The Creep is seen only briefly, and does not speak, but he is our guide into the world of Creepshow.

The comic vibe may not be for everyone, but as a recovering comic book addict I loved it. It made the film more fun and distanced it from traditional horror films. For instance people’s screams were backed up by a colorful background of lightning, far from what was being seen in other 80’s horror films like Friday the 13th and the Halloween franchise.

The cartoonish background comes out almost every time a character screams, just like a comic.

I would say that it also took away from the fear factor, but as I’ve already said the stories aren’t all that scary to begin with. Don’t get me wrong, some were good (Ted Danson and Leslie Nielsen rocked their story, and Hal Holbrook’s story was probably the best of the five), and others were just damn dumb (Stephen King showed us why he writes instead of acts), but scary is not a word I would use for any of them. But neither is goofy. It’s as if a perfect median was found between the two ideas.

Seriously, I felt like I was a kid reading a comic book again.

A few big names of the 80’s stood out among the B-List movie.

So, while it may not have been anything like the scary movies I fell in love with growing up, or even anything like the other Stephen King flicks I’ve seen, I would still definitely recommend Creepshow. It was fun without taking away from the horror aspect of it, unlike the Scary Movie franchise that took the idea of horror and completely replaced it with comedy. No, Creepshow proved that horror and humor can coexist without totally butchering each other.

Return of the Nerds

Advertisements have been all over TBS lately for their new show King of the Nerds. I figured I’d share a commercial for it since it’s going to be hosted by some of the stars of Revenge of the Nerds (1984).

Almost 30 years after the film came out portraying nerds as losers who get picked on mercilessly, nerds have become “popular,” with nerdy dress being trendy and shows like The Big Bang Theory featured all over television. Interesting turn around.

I Feel The Need!

I realized a few things watching Top Gun:

  • I was right: aviators are indeed badass.
  • If I embrace my terrible singing voice it will land me a good looking woman.

I also noted that, outside of Goose, Maverick, and the rest of the armed forces singing “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” music is heavily relied upon in this movie. Tony Scott even reuses a couple of songs over and over again, which I don’t see very often in movies. Usually it seems a filmmaker will use a song maybe twice, but in this film there are two songs that dominate. “Highway to the Danger Zone” pumps us up during the opening sequence, then returns a few more times to enhance other awesome flight scenes. Plus it backs up Barney in his Top Gun tribute from How I Met Your Mother.

Maverick must be awesome if Barney wants to be him for Halloween. But even more noticeable is “Take My Breath Away,” and that’s probably because it’s played like three times in the span of five minutes. It seems like any time Maverick looked at Charlie his inner monologue plays the song. It becomes almost comical because it stops for a few moments when the action steps away from Maverick and Charlie, but it comes back immediately. But, finally. they consumate in the dark and (I don’t believe) we have to hear the song again. It just seemed odd that a filmmaker would reuse one song so much, let alone two separate songs, but if anyone feels differently (or has any examples of other films that do this) please sound off in the comments.

As far as the costuming goes, it’s 2012 and I was tempted to get a bomber jacket, so I can only imagine what fashion trends popped up after the movie premiered in the 80’s. I usually think of Tom Cruise as a wacky guy, but I’ll admit that the man had some “swag” (thanks to his costume designers).

Overall, I loved this movie. It was exciting, engaging, patriotic, and made me want to go out and get a pilot’s license. Don’t be surprised if I actually do show up to class sporting that bomber’s jacket. Cause I definitely feel the need for speed.

This just made me laugh haha

Why’d It Have To Be Snakes?

How it took me 20 years to see Raiders of the Lost Ark, I will never know. Honestly, I tried a few years back and it couldn’t keep my attention and stopped maybe half-way into it. After watching it in full now, I think I understand why I didn’t enjoy it my first time through. The film has a pretty old school feel to it; the travel sequence is straight out of Casablanca, not to mention the use of shadows to show people’s entrances and their deaths. When I was younger I got no enjoyment out of old movies, so it makes sense I wouldn’t enjoy Raiders. But as I’ve come to like and appreciate the classics, I can finally appreciate the classic, if not a little cheesy, feel to this film.

What really cracked me up is the whole Clark Kent thing Indiana Jones seems to have going on. In class we began to discuss how the lighting in the opening sequence shows Jones as having two sides to his character; his costumes say the same thing. As a professor, Jones dresses in a nice suit, wears a bow tie, styles his hair all slick, and (my personal favorite) wears large glasses. With the exception of his stubble, there’s not much adventurous about this guy.

Somehow, when he’s out treasure hunting, jumping over large ditches and spotting booby traps, he suddenly has no need for his glasses. There is a clear dichotomy to his character, though we only see Clark Kent for a couple of scenes. Superman is the one selling the tickets after all.

The movie turned out to be exactly what I figured it would: a big budget popcorn flick, full of action and lacking in depth. And, while I’ve never been a huge fan of Spielberg or Lucas, I did enjoy Raiders, and I’ll definitely have to check out the other films in the series.

…Well, maybe not Crystal Skull…

Bad Guys in Beverly Hills Have the Worst Aim

Beverly Hills Cop is essentially a tale of two cities. Director Martin Brest throws Detroit Detective Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) into cushy Beverly Hills, and in turn pits the culture of the two cities against each other. Right away the film opens on Detroit, a city featured in many cop films, including the one I did my previous post on: Robocop. Like Robocop, this film portrays Detroit as a dirty city covered with graffiti, with poor/blue collar citizens hanging out in the streets. But Brest makes this Detroit seem a lot friendlier than the one Paul Verhoeven shows in Robocop. The citizens, both children and adults, are socializing with their friends and appear to be having fun. This set up during the credit sequence is necessary, as Beverly Hills Cop is a comedy first and an action film second; Brest wanted to create a fun and lighthearted atmosphere.

The audience is introduced to Axel as soon as the opening credit sequence is over, though he is not revealed to be a cop until after he botches an (unauthorized) undercover job and is subsequently chewed out by his boss. This introduction shows the type of character Axel is, and his cunning, not-by-the-book way of policing holds up after he takes his “vacation” to Beverly Hills to investigate the murder of his best friend.

Axel’s arrival in Beverly Hills mirrors the opening credits, and shows that Axel is a fish out of water. Driving into the city he is followed by a classic car, with palm trees lining the road. The buildings are gorgeous and gated, the stores are as ritzy as can be, and all of the cars put his “crappy blue Chevy Nova” to shame. The more obvious comparison comes when he meets the Beverly Hills police. Although he is a detective, Axel dresses very blue collar; the entire film he is wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. Conversely all of the upper level Beverly Hills cops are stuffy guys in suits.

We’re taught never to judge a book by its cover, but the differences in how Axel and Taggart dress tells us all about their differences in character.

In the end though it’s Axel’s way of policing that saves the day. Detectives Taggart and Rosewood follow Axel’s lead into an enemy’s house without a search warrant, and even their Lieutenant lies to the Chief about what happened. This all comes after an hour and a half of the Beverly Hills cops telling Axel that they do things by the book, and do not lie about what transpires on cases. Their proper way of policing truthfully makes them look like fools; while being shot at Rosewood actually stands up with his badge in the air and proclaims, “POLICE! YOU’RE ALL UNDER ARREST!” The result though is deeper than telling the audience that the backdoor way of doing things trumps doing things the right way. Axel shows the Beverly Hills cops friendship. He shows them that being cops makes them brothers, and that they are allowed to bend the rules because it’s how they look out for one another.

The film also provides us with a legendary theme song, that 20+ years laters kids will recognize as the song from Family Guy that Peter dances to when he goes back in time…

You’re Gonna Be a Bad MotherF*cker

With the remake coming out next year, I figured it was about time to see the original RoboCop (1987). It did not disappoint, and it was actually more than I anticipated it to be. I went into it preparing for a sci-fi action movie, full of gun fire and explosions, and I did get that. In fact there was enough guts and gore to make one think it was a Freddy Krueger film. The action isn’t what made the film stand out though. That part was predictable; it used the same formula cop movies have been using for years: partners are chasing down the bad guys, coincidentally there is no back up available, one partner dies, there’s a huge shootout in a warehouse, then in the end one of the assumed “good guys” has been working with the bad guys. The only added aspect is that the dead partner comes back as a robotic super cop. What made this cop film stand out is how much the director had to say about culture in Detroit, and America in general.

Throughout the film there are random clips from a news station reporting on current events. Every clip seems to involve real life problems in 1980s Detroit, such as unemployment and uncontrollable crime. What makes it even worse is that the bad news is so common that the news anchors don’t even care; they don’t even blink an eye when they report on an accident where 113 people are killed, including two former Presidents of our own country. But along with every news clip comes a commercial concerning new technology. The movie even opens with a news story followed by a commercial for a mechanical heart made by Yamaha. The fact that the director would include all of these commercials shows that he is trying to inform his audience about the dangers of technology and consumerism, which is made even more clear in the car commercial for the “6000 SUX,” parodying the real life Pontiac 6000. That RoboCop defeats the film’s antagonists without his mask, embracing his human side, continues to confirm this reading of the film.

The themes of consumerism and industry really made this movie more than just another cop flick. But it makes me wonder about the upcoming remake: how are they going to modernize the news segments? As a culture we are still very materialistic, and technology has grown immensely since 1987, so what are we going to see now? Will people be waiting in line for days for the release of the iSux 5?

The only other note I have about RoboCop is that, as a fan of That 70’s Show, it was so weird to see Kurtwood Smith in a role where he doesn’t call somebody a dumbass. It does explain why Red was so bitter throughout the show though…

The whole movie I was hoping for, “Get back RoboCop…you dumbass!”