Critical Hit!!

pop culture (and everything else) explored

Rediscovering Tears for Fears

Tears for Fears’s Songs from the Big Chair was one of the soundtracks of my childhood, but I never had a CD of it for my own, and once I left for college, the band mostly fell off my radar for a while. I’m glad to report I’ve started listening to them again after a long unnecessary absence.

I’ve recently realized how the band has had an impact on me in terms of aesthetic appreciation. The band is named after primal therapy, a form of psychotherapy concerned with the repressed traumas of childhood and how they manifest into adulthood. Their first album, The Hurting, is basically a concept album about childhood trauma, with many references to primal scream therapy and emotional pain. Such inspirations, with primal therapy’s insistence on screams as a method of healing/expression, shape their music to be proudly bombastic, and this in turn encouraged me as a child to appreciate the theatrical and emotional in music, as well as hone my appreciation for synth pop in general. I was delighted to find I could sing pretty much all the lyrics to Songs from the Big Chair quite easily. Tears for Fears belts their music loudly and proudly, and I’m happy to do the same.

Lupin the Third: What to Watch

As my partner and I have been plowing through the most recently instalment of Lupin the Third, I was looking at the various lists of “where to start/what to watch” in regards to the franchise. Of course, these kinds of lists are scattered a bit throughout the internet, so I thought I’d try to collect them and link to them here.

Vrai Kaiser: a wonderful writer and Lupin the Third enthusiast, with particularly great writing on The Woman Called Fujiko Mine. Lists include:

There’s a Lupin for Everyone (Just like Batman)

10 Unmissable Green Jacket Episodes

10 Lupin III Episodes for Beginners: Red Jacket

Reed Nelson, writing for ANN: An expert on Lupin, as he’s contributed to/produced various commercial releases of Lupin the Third. His preferences are completely different in terms of “unmissable episodes”, as his lack of enthusiasm for The Woman Called Fujiko Mine makes clear. Stick to Vrai for the wonderful analysis, and Reed for detailed knowledge of the series and its availability.

Lupin the Third: Where to Start and What’s Worth Watching

Lupin the Third: The Complete Guide to Films, TV Specials and OVAs

 

 

Film-Philosophy Conference: A Reflection

Before my thoughts are lost to me, I am going to write down a few thoughts about the recent conference I was able to attend: Coming to Terms with Film-Philosophy. I learned a lot, and was challenged a lot, as film-philosophy is not my specialty. While I was initially frustrated with my inability to keep track and fully comprehend dense presentations, I did realize that such density was beneficial, as film-philosophy experts could exchange ideas with other experts and mutual benefit the field and themselves.

In terms of programming, the switch up from Alain Badiou to Slavoj Žižek as the keynote speaker was an unfortunate downgrade. I had a class conflict during Žižek’s presentation, so I attended all the panels without feeling left out. I did feel left out in a different way, however, in the lack of gender balance within the conference. Philosophy itself is still dominated by men, and that was still represented here, with women making less than 30% of the presentations.

The more I was familiar with the subject material, the greater I appreciated the presentations. Likewise the more the presentation was written for a general film audience, the better it often was. Presenters who presented a presentation rather than merely reading their paper were deeply appreciated.  I was able to make a great new friend, and share enthusiasm around animation, my specialty. If anything, finding new friends was the best part of the conference, as well as getting to know my department’s PhD students better.

Funniest thing I noticed: The phrase “always already” is a favourite among philosophers.

 

CUPE Ontario Convention 2016: A Reflection

I recently attended the Canadian Union of Public Employee’s annual Ontario Convention as a delegate of CUPE 3903 from York University. As a delegate, my primary mission going not o the convention was to get a resolution passed support the campaign against the 15 Years of Imperialist War in Afghanistan. This goal need up completely overwhelming my comrade and I. We also helped in mobilizing for a resolution submitted by my union, CUPE 3903, to begin the conversation on sexual assault within the union. What follows is a reflection of my experience.

Analysis is necessary to understand the contexts of this convention. In order to make change, we need information and analysis of the situation to respond properly and push forward. This write-up is an attempt at assessing the situation and proposes changes for the future.

Cupeon16 papers

Some of the booklets, pamphlets, flyers, etc. given to delegates.

Baptism by Fire

Within my union, there was no coordination or planning before entering the convention. While I received a few emails on the basic logistics of when and where the convention was taking place, as well as the action plan that would be debated, my comrade and I, as first time delegates, were not adequately prepared for how the convention worked, nor the racism, sexism, ableism, transphobia, and other prejudices that would be actively expressed by other locals throughout the conference. Without such coordination, such vitriol was a shock to our system, and extremely psychologically traumatic. We found solace in other solid members among locals within the university sector.

Without solid coordination before hand, various comrades were separated from each other in the room. Key delegates from my union were seated by the doors across the room from the rest of the union, so as to protect sanity and step out when vitriolic language was expressed on the floor. But this also meant the union delegates were stratified, and such physical distances no doubt put a strain on the coordination at times.

Many delegates were not actively involved in the mobilizing to support resolutions submitted by their own local. Like many of the delegates attending, the primary reason for going to the convention is for the per diem given and the time away from the working with the excuse that they are hard at work representing the union. For many locals, the CUPE Ontario convention is a vacation, a way get away from work with minimal responsibility and explore Toronto in the evenings. Within my union, a good number of delegates were not involved with the hard work of getting Resolution 14, a resolution beginning the process of getting sexual assault policies in place, passed.

All delegate positions were acclaimed in the election, as my union gives a small amount compared to even other local unions. Elections for delegates should actually be significant in terms of representation, but because the convention never seemed to be a priority for the union, the election of delegate was largely an afterthought to other pressing matters in GMMs. For good political mobilization, it’s clear we need delegates knowledgable and experienced with political mobilization and public speaking. Perhaps raising the per diem from $25 a day (a paltry amount for the amount of psychological abuse one must suffer through at the convention if you are politically mobilizing in any way) and demanding certain obligations from delegates will improve the slate for next year as we plan and mobilize to push forward. Coordinating to take over an entire back table for solid delegates to stay together, while having the option to quickly leave the room, would also be key for physical presence within the convention.

Coordination with delegates from other locals was key in getting the sexual assault resolution passed, a resolution two years in the making. However, this planning was done ad hoc throughout the convention, and much of the legwork involved was done by solid members of Local 3902 at University of Toronto, including the design and dispersal of an information flyer about the resolution. These comrades were willing to flood the pro mics with speakers, asking the CUPE Ontario president to speak in favour of the resolution, and coordinating with speakers in line to counteract the regressive politics displayed by con speakers.

I felt alienated by certain members of my union, including fellow executive members. Aside from some being physically being separated from them, unable to join them where there were due to lack of chairs, I was saddened to realize I was also not privy to their activities. Certain members who were there to speak to the resolution did not come intending to coordinate with other solid delegates, who instead stepped up of their own accord to support the resolution passing. This is what I was able to ascertain. While members were open to coordinating with others, As we tried to organize to have a full debrief on the events after the convention, certain delegates often seemed to walk away, unknowing or unwilling to participate in debriefing with the delegates who helped their motion get passed. Uniting with fellow delegates did not seem to be a planed priority, and I found myself, as an executive of the union, acting as an in between to try and corral people together so we could have a successful debrief, all too critical for moving forward.

I was also incredibly alienated by a fellow executive member and delegate at the convention from my union voting against Resolution 14, astonishing myself and other union members. This act contradicts this member’s previous endorsement of the resolution in our union spaces, and will continue to be a contentious issue for the executive going forward. This contradictory action also highlights the split view of the role of delegates. This write-up endorses the position that delegates, particularly in the University centre (who tend to be the most radical), should politically mobilize to push and support progressive resolutions. There are many within the union who view the role of delegate as a easy paycheque, earning through partial to minimal attendance of the convention and passively voting for resolutions. This view coincides with the position for many delegates across CUPE Ontario that the convention is a union holiday. We mush push back against these regressive tendencies, and mobilize the election of delegates for true progressive, political action within our union.

This action also illustrates the importance of education in pushing resolutions forward, as well as the limitations of the union at large. Again, a union is united by employment, not politics, so pushing progressive resolutions will always receive resistance from conservative members of the union, of which there are many. Strategy is key in all areas, from how one occupies the space of the convention, to how one articulates pros or cons at the mic, etc etc.

Politics

In a fellow comrade’s analysis of CUPE 3903’s 2008 strike, he pointed out how a union in not united politically, but rather through the workplace. This leads to a plethora of political positions held by union members that clash within and between locals. The fact that a resolution against “unjust war” failed at CUPE Ontario illustrate the discrepancy between locals in terms of political lines. As CUPE Ontario is made up of union from across the province, many come from different occupations that influence their political lines as well. Paramedics in smaller towns will be much more supportive of the police that unions in the university sector, for instance.

This is seen when in a resolution against “unjust war” was pout forward on the floor, it took only one delegate at the con mic to deflate the entire resolution by saying “…and I’m a Canadian veteran” in her introduction. Before saying anything else, she received a standing ovation, solely based on the rhetoric of identifying as a veteran. What she said next didn’t matter, the overall intention was to block anything that could be remotely anti-military. The resolution itself, extremely watered down in terms of language, failed on the floor twice, to great surprise by many of the delegates. This individual responsible for mobilizing reactionaries in rhetoric of “support our troops” stood again against a resolution proposing CUPE Ontario pressure Canada to pull out of NATO, stating that NATO was founded as a peacekeeping organization. While I spoke in criticism of NATO being seen as a peacekeeping operation, this resolution failed as well.

This leads to the resolution I was primarily mobilizing around, that of endorsing the 15 Years of War campaign. Submitted as an emergency resolution, as the campaign had launched officially after the resolution submission deadline, the resolution was submitted by the International Solidarity committee. What followed through the convention was no information or communication from the convention committee or staff, leaving my comrade and I in a state of distress for days. The specifics of all the various inquiries we made aren’t worth detailing, but suffice it to say we only got a concrete answer of what actually happened to the resolution and what we could do next after the convention had finally ended. It is worth noting however that when in conversation with one of the executive board members, when mentioned that the chair of the international solidarity committee had been sick the previous day (due to exhaustion and dehydration from working so hard at the conference), the executive took this as an opportunity to blame the chair as the weak link in the lack of information. We were also told by this executive that because the war has been going on for 15 years in Afghanistan, the resolution couldn’t truly be considered an emergency. In short, likely due to the immediate deflation of the most milquetoast resolutions against war, CUPE Ontario executive took our anti-war resolution and buried it, preventing it from getting onto the floor, to save face in case another anti-war resolution getting vote down.

As convention delegates are majority white and male, certain propositions are much more difficult to pass, particularly as many delegates need basic training on issues such as sexual assault, imperialism, etc. This is why delegates supporting a particularly contentious issue, even as basic as “we need policies on sexual assault in our union”, need to be prepared to not only put forward why to support such a resolution, but also defend it from criticisms. This also means proper mobilization on the floor itself is necessary to equip speakers in line with good talking points refuting reactionary arguments. As a speaker at the con mic argued against Resolution 14 because “we are not adequately equipped to deal with the issue,” when the whole point of the resolution is to make the union better equipped to deal with sexual assault. Often it means pointing out the most basic contradictions, while playing to the audience’s basic points of political unity, such as solidarity with workers.

Convention

I did not know going in what actually took place at the convention, aside from knowing people would speak at the mic to help push resolutions forward. What occurred was carefully controlled chaos. few resolutions got passed, with the majority of them being sent to be approved by the executive committee. Instead, precious time was wasted on speakers, including a surprise speaker from the NDP party, that was not scheduled on the agenda. CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn denied that CUPE Ontario was a slave to the NDP, but its clear he and other executive members are in favour of kissing the NDP’s ass whenever possible.

Promotional Materials for Fred Hahn's Reelection #cupeon16

Note the paper glasses given to delegates that buttress the cult of personality around Fred Hahn.

Speaking of Fred, I was disturbed by the cult of personality that surrounds him at the convention. Of course, this power can be channeled for good, as it was for Resolution 14, as a delegate asked him personally to speak for the resolution. But his presence also allows CUPE Ontario to pat itself on the back for how progressive it is in having  first opening gay president in CUPE’s history, while progressive measures are voted down or prevented from reaching the floor. Of course, cognitive dissonance pervades the space as well, as delegates often do not hold a clear, consistent political line, but rather have opinions tethered to specific issues.

CUPE Ontario holds a position to prevent any and all criticism of the union, even when it is accurate and comes from members themselves. As CUPE members helped Unite Here Local 75 flyer about their ongoing issue with self-determination, executive members took swift action against Unite Here, ignoring the issues Unite Here presented. Fred Hahn asserted a baseless accusation that Unite Here pulled the fire alarm in the Sheraton hotel where the convention took place, when the fire alarm had gone off the day before in response to a restaurant mishap. Has Unite Here Local 75 been blamed for that as well?

The space was also very inhospitable for people with disabilities. It was a tight squeeze in between tables and chairs, making it very difficult for anyone to get in and out. The loud yelling by certain delegates when trying to motivate a resolution that would have already passed unanimously genuinely frightened my comrade and I, as a man literally argued for the criminalization of mental patients in trying to argue for protections for nurses injured on the job. Sitting in that space means being bombarded with noise, from applause to the slamming to tables by fists or open palms. While there is a ‘quiet room’ within the convention hall, removing yourself from the main room also means you are unable to vote or speak on a resolution.

Conclusion

If I had known what would happen, would I have gone to the convention? The answer would have been yes, not because it was a fun or enjoyable experience, but because there is so much work to be done. In this case, it was coordinating with other solid delegates to begin the process on addressing sexual assault within the union. This means being prepared in the organizing and mobilizing around resolutions worth fighting for. It means knowing whom to trust, both within nearby locals, and on the executive board. It also means knowing the schedule and understanding when and where to strike, as well as when to rest. (There was some discussion of sharing a hotel room among delegates for both rest and political planning, a delicious idea.)

While fighting for resolutions that directly impact one’s local, it’s questionable to what extend CUPE Ontario is worth working with outside of the union for such things as endorsements. I came from the convention exhausted,  glad that a resolution of sexual assault two years in the making passed, but frustrated that our resolution to stand against imperialist war was essentially buried by the executive committee, though there is still hope that it may be passed in June.

For the sake of progress within the union, as well as good mental and physical health, proper planning and mobilization is essential. But to what extent these efforts are worth one’s time is debatable.

 


This is a working document, and will likely be edited in the future to add more criticisms and details. I will note changes accordingly.

Edit: June 1st, 2016, information about union member voting against Resolution 14 added.

Soundtrack Effects in To Live and Die in L.A.

I mentioned in my previous write up of To Live and Die in L.A. that this movie keeps me thinking. While listening to the soundtrack today (it can make for great study music), I was struck with the eerie, descending, synthetic voices on tracks such as “Every Big City” and what they signify. They not only reflect the moral fall of Chance and his partner, but their ethereal sound also alludes to L.A., the city of angels, and its corruption as well.

To Live and Die in L.A.

The title screen from To Live and Die in L.A.

The blood splatter that looks like a palm tree in the film’s title always reminded me of the famous blood stain from Watchmen.

When I first drafted this blog post, I was sitting in the Toronto Pearson airport as I waited for my breakfast before I fly out to Seattle. Clearly that was the time to reflect upon my recent re-watch of William Friedkin’s To Live and Die in L.A. (1985). It was around seven years since I had seen it, and the film is never as great as I remember. Still, it’s a well made movie, certainly, though some of the film’s seediness and nihilism can be repellant.

I am particularly intrigued, however, by the two informant characters, and how they contrast each other. Our antihero Richard Chance, the Secret Service agent who decides to break the law in order to protect it, exploits Ruth Lanier, a woman who specializes in information to scrape by. The counterfeiter, Rick Master (the most 80s name to ever 80s), also have an informant, Bianca Torres, who is, essentially, his partner, in more ways than one. Whereas Chance exploits Ruth with little regard to her well-being, Masters treats his partner with respect. Both of these informants work at dance clubs, Bianca at an avant-garde dance club, Ruth at a strip club.

The ending circumstances reflect these different dynamics as well.  Bianca is self-assured woman. When Dean Stockwell’s character asks why she stayed, what she got out of it. She turns the question on him, and he replies that they were “partners”. She leaves in silence, with her female partner/lover waiting in Master’s sweet car. They drive away scot-free. By contrast, Ruth tries to escape the cycle of her dependency, but the film ends with Chance’s partner, John Vukovich, taking Chance’s place as a corrupt cop mining information from the precarious. The moral is that men are terrible, and women suffer from the classic “victim of circumstances”, but that ending is unsatisfying as it is the cheap form of characterizations film. Instead of giving women agency and the potential to change their circumstances, we are asked to pity the women as they are brutalized by the system. Through the parallelism, we see that the counterfeiter and his crew had a better relationship with Bianca that the cops out for blood have with Ruth, and indeed Bianca is a completely self-assured, smart woman who coolly and confidently walks away. But even her character is somewhat hampered by the final acts of Rick Masters.

Masters, of course, isn’t perfect, and the film trips itself up a bit around his relationships. Before the climax, Rick presents Bianca her friend/partner/lover from the dance club to here as a present. This act indicates that he cares for her, but also frames her queerness through his control. This encases her queer agency within his framework, somewhat tainting the women’s victorious drive away at the end of the film. Rick, however, is not completely presented as a straight man either, as the film alludes to a gay potency throughout the film. We first meet Bianca as Rick kisses her while she is dressed completely androgynously, making the audience question his sexuality quite early in the film.  Rick also makes coded references to his potentially build sexuality, as he asks the then undercover cops “Is this package for me?” while in a gym locker room. while the film is ambiguous to what extent its characters are queer, its possible to see Masters final act as another example of his control (after all, he also videotapes his sexual encounters with Bianca), or an act of acknowledgment from one queer individual to another.

Richard Chance in To Live and Die in L.A.

A great shot of Richard Chance that helps illustrate both his bad boy nature (notice the leather jacket) and the great cinematography of the film.

The main character Chance helps illustrate the obvious themes, and whose symbolism is worth briefly exploring. Chance’s name reflects his risk taking life style, something established early in the film and helps illustrate why he’d be willing to break the law to supposedly save it. it is also meant to contrast to the consummate criminal Rick Masters. While Chance is quite literally a loose cop, whose leash is only the law, Masters is a controlled criminal whose diligence is only ruined by the messy law breaking by Chance and his coerced partner. But at what cost is this a victory? This is the main theme of the film, and it is fleshed out quite well. The film’s famous, wonderful car chase scene is also perfectly emblematic of the film’s themes, as Chance chooses to ignore the “WRONG WAY. DO NOT ENTER” sign partway through the chase, and drive on the wrong side of the road on a busy highway. It’s a simple metaphor, but an effective one, and one example of the blindingly obvious symbolism the film holds, that is so obvious is circles back around to being subtle in some strange way. (Case in point: it took me days to realize the significance of Chance’s name.)

While Chance is the lynchpin of the film’s themes on needing the law to prevent cops from being as corrupt as the criminals, he is also where some of the problems of the film erupt. In the end of the film, as Ruth finds herself stuck trapped in a cycle of exploitation, the ending of the film overemphasizes the spectre of Chance, and how his normally by-the-book partner has been corrupted and took his place within the system. The film’s ending with his partner saying “you work for me now” is powerful enough, but is marred by the film’s insistence on inserting a shot of Chance’s face in the scene *and* a shot of him pulling up in his truck, *and* ending the film at the last instance after the credits to show Chance’s face again. The first instance cuts from what was a beautiful shot of Ruth’s face against the L.A. backdrop, a shot powerful enough to end the film. Instead, the ending scene is compromised by the unnecessary edits, something the film suffers from near the beginning as well. The film’s editing and pacing feels choppy at the beginning, but really picks up once Chance commits to breaking the law in order to “preserve it”. The great soundtrack certainly helps with the pace, as Wang Chung’s propulsive beats add tension and a groove to many of the film’s scenes, often used for establishing shots.

The final shot of Ruth in To Live and Die in L.A.

A gorgeous shot, with the potential of escape highlighted by the bridge in the distance, marred by eager editing trying to beat the audience over the head with the film’s moral.

This is a well made movie that keep me thinking, one that certainly revels in crime film clichés and well as possibly establishing new ones. (A cop killed two days before retirement, and he literally says “I’m getting too old for this shit” in the first scene.) It is perhaps the moral cliché that is the most dated, not for its message, but for the consequences for Ruth’s character, and the film, ethically, suffers as a result. I have a fondness for the soundtrack, something I devoured on high school bus rides for a brief yet intense time. But I cannot quite say the same for the movie, despite its strong qualities (baby-faced Willem Dafoe as Rick Masters is quite a delight). I haven’t seen Friedkin’s other films, many of which are supposedly masterpieces. Knowing from this film that Friedkin, at the very least, is a master of form, makes me look forward to them.

The ending credits over the bridge in To Live and Die in L.A.

I just noticed that we, the audience, seem to escape over the bridge in the credits. This film keeps me thinking.

Some Credit Advice

Relax.

This is my number one financial tip for young students, or just young people in general, who want to jumpstart their credit report and build their credit history. Good credit takes time, and you can’t expedite as fast as you think.

For me, I was overzealous, applying for credit cards despite my low income, not to pay off any immediate debts (in fact, I had no plan to use them whatsoever), but to expand my credit portfolio. It backfired. Not only did I not get more lines or credit, my credit scores took a small hit for each hard inquiry on  my credit report. The resulting damage wasn’t that bad, but my impatience for these hard credit inquiries gnaws at me now and then as I wait for them to discharge from my credit report.

Take your time applying for things that will affect your credit score, such as credit cards. Because every credit card you apply for (among other credit-related items) means you will have a hard inquiry on your report, you want to do good research, consider whether you need the product, and apply accordingly with the knowledge you have a good shot at getting the product.

Recommendation: Mamoru Oshii Interview

I recently watched this interview with Mamoru Oshii from TIFF in 2014. I learned a lot, and it really connected the dots for me in regards to Oshii’s filmmaking. A few observations:

This interview pulls together all the pieces my partner and I have noticed in the films of Mamoru Oshii, and in particular his fascination with technology in his films. Oshii notes that he grew up during rapid modernization of Japan post-WWII. In particular, he also comments how he feels alienated from Tokyo, his birth city, because it is such a rapidly modernizing city, always changing.  Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade reflects this sentiment, as a character questions what used to exist where a pile of rubble now stands, commenting on the lapses in geographical memory among a rapidly developing city.

Jin-Roh takes an alternate view of modern Japan. Part of his Kerberos Saga, which envisions an alternate Japan where Germany won WWII, the film imagines such rapid technological development coming from a different Western power. In short, post-war Japan and its development facilitated by America weighs heavily on Oshii’s mind and manifests within his work.

Oshii notes that, in contrast to the advice James Cameron gave him, he creates the world of his films first, then the story, and then the characters. This comment makes sense in terms of his filmography, as Oshii’s films are particularly well-known for their world building, be it an alternative universe, or a technologized future. (This world building is something the Wachowski sisters took to quite well, as their Matrix trilogy is deeply indebted to Ghost in the Shell.)

Oshii’s comments near the end of the interview reflect his work as well, noting that phones function like an extension of our being, a reflection of the combination of humans and technology that takes place in his films. Curiously, Oshii asserts that we need to adapt to technology, which is a technologically determinist mode of thinking, as it is humans that make technology, not the other way around. But his comment that technology doesn’t change perhaps gets at an essentialism in how we connect to technology as human beings, though I could see who the comment could be twisted towards a more transhumanist bent.

Regardless, this interview was particularly invigorating in its middle section, and is worth a look.

Stealing Beauty

Part of a series on the films of Jeremy Irons

Stealing Beauty (1996) is another mediocre film in Irons’ catalogue, but is distinctively different. It could be called a prestige picture, as it’s written and directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, acclaimed filmmaker of Last Tango in Paris and The Last Emperor, among other films. However, it is also a Fox Searchlight Picture, and fits more in line with the rise of independent cinema in the 90s.

In fact, Stealing Beauty is distinctively from the 90s. While Irons has starred in plenty of films over the decades, his penchant for literary or historical adaptations has led him to work in period pieces, stories temporally removed from when they were filmed. The reification of his star persona as an European elite has also removed him from contemporary stories. Either way, his character are often removed from the everyday working class life, and particularly stories taking place in the here and now.

Not so with this film. While he plays a literary elite in the film, literally spending his last days in the beautiful Italian countryside, the films’ direction temporally locates the film distinctly in the 90s. At least, the opening scene does, filmed on video with distinctive 90s alt rock playing as out protagonist Lucy (Liv Tyler) rides the train to Italy. Lucy arrives at a beautiful estate in the Italian countryside, housing artists and guests from all over the world, with the excuse of modelling for the sculptor family friend. From there the main story is split into two sides: Lucy maturing into a sexually active adult, and Lucy unraveling the mystery of her true biological father. Neither story strand is well motivated or clear, leading to a lot of beautiful Italian countryside compensating for the film’s lack of plot.

For Lucy’s maturation as a sexually active adult, this desire isn’t clearly motivated, as imposed upon her by Alex (Jeremy Irons), a dying AIDS victim and writer living out his last days at the artist’s paradise. He arrives into her bedroom unaccounted, allured by the smell of her pot, and begins telling her how she should be sexually active in Italy, the country of love. “You’re in need of a ravishing”, he says, and this first long scene is quite alarming, as Alex, an elderly man, tells a young woman to become sexually active and seize the moment. While throughout the film Alex says more alarmingly obsessive lines like “She’s irresistible” or “I’m mad about her”, his scummy nature dissolves to reveal that he just wants here to enjoy life as much as possible as a result of reflecting on his own mortality.

Still, Lucy does seek out her own sexual experiences, and the film itself is obsessed with how free the Italians are in terms of sex and sexuality. Nude swimming abounds, and carefree hookups (and their drawbacks) are fully on display. The film is somewhat aware of who the male gaze sexualizes and objectifies our female protagonist, with one scene using canted angles to emphasize how Lucy’s art modelling is easily exploited and places here in a precarious, vulnerable position. Another scene of sexual violation, with Lucy escaping shaken, make it clear such lust for life, sex, and frivolity can be dangerous, particularly when exploitative men step in.

After Lucy’s assault, she tearfully explains to Alex why she really came to the estate:to find out the who here true father is. Scrawled in a book of her mother’s poetry is a handwritten poem, also by her mother, implying Lucy’s inception happened on the estate with another man. This makes for the mystery position of the film, another aspect to the story that isn’t quite as compelling as it should be. As a mystery, it isn’t really compelling, as we only have three possible men. Alex is dying of AIDS, making him a quite unlikely suspect. The other two men are possibilities, but by the time we learn of Lucy’s mystery, she has already investigated them, without us understanding the scenes at the time. This makes much of the film confusing on a plot level, with the charisma of the actors, the setting (and idealistic artistic estate in Italy), and the cinematography of the countryside papering over the lack of compelling plot. The questions that are supposed to compel us (Who wrote the letter to Lucy as a kid? Whom will she have her ‘first time’ with? Who is here real father?) are executed clearly, and aren’t investigated clearly either. As a result, much of the film just seems to wander.

While much of the film fits into Jeremy Irons normal oeuvre, its distinctive 90s indie style pops up here and there. Aside from the jarring opening sequence (using a different aspect ration and video quality), Lucy stares at the audience as she writes her own poetry, literally telling the audience what she’s feeling as the text of her poems appears on the screen. Such fourth wall breaks pepper the film, one of the many components that distinctively mark this film as a 90s film. After all, this is a film that stars distinctively privileged characters (Reality Bites, anyone?) on an estate (travel porn, with the trailer calling it a “sensual journey”), with 90s indie aesthetics (fourth wall breaks, etc.) slapped in here and there to make one dysfunctional package. There’s even a scene where Lucy rock out to her girl power alt rock music while listening to her Walkman.

As a Jeremy Irons film, he ultimately doesn’t get to do much except 1) tell us how attractive Lucy is, 2) be her emotional support, and 3) wither away and die. His characters spans from creepy to sympathetic by the end of the film, largely because his intrusive yearnings for her sexual maturity end as he becomes her surrogate father for her trip. Like in Damage, he plays creepy older men quite well. I don’t think Bertolucci actually intended Irons’ character to be creepy; instead, I think Alex is meant to be another extension of Italy’s sex-positive culture. You could also read into the full implications of Alex’s AIDS, but for now, it shows how Irons can (and will) make roles creepy, even when unintended by the filmmaker.

This film isn’t very good, and by this point in his filmography, the assumed allure of Irons no longer holds the magnetism it did when I started this series. In fact, such an ‘allure’ is rather the result of a carefully typecast image of European elitism, an image becoming more and more distasteful as Irons’ filmography goes on. Too often is Irons typecast, rather than being able to explore a range of characters and emotions. (Un)fortunately, Irons’ career went downwards after the 90s, and soon we’ll be able to enjoy the other kind of bad films in his oeuvre, the so-bad-its-good kind.

 

Die Hard with a Vengeance

Part of a series on the films of Jeremy Irons

It’ the mid-90s, and Jeremy Irons is at the height of his career. He recently won an oscar for best actor, and in 1994-1995 he starred in two of his biggest films of his career, one as Scar in The Lion King, the other as Simon Gruber in Die Hard with a Vengeance. 

Die Hard with a Vengeance (nearby referred to as Die Hard 3) is the ultimate amalgam of 90s action film clichés. The plot is quite convoluted, as suspended officer John McClane (Bruce Willis) is forced to run around New York City completely tasking to avoid a mad bomber on the loose. Of course, this hysteria merely hides the grand robbery Simon Gruber (Jeremy Irons) performs under the NYPD’s noses.

When I say this film has it all in terms of 90s action clichés, I am not exaggerating. McClane gets a sidekick named Zeus (Samuel L. Jackson) to cash in on the Lethal Weapon formula of white guy+black guy buddy cop vibe. Zeus himself resembles Furious Styles, the character Lawrence Fishburne plays in Boyz in the Hood (1991), with his emphasis on respectability politics and aversion to white intrusion in to the Harlem community. (In fact, Fishburne was originally offered the role of Zeus, but declined.) This enables the film to have banter about racial politics, clearly informed by the 90s multiculturalism, but also hostility. The pair, when not bogged down by the mind-boggling plot, bicker about race vaporously, as the film tries to add urban colour to the film. (McClane even pulls the reverse racism card in one pointless conversation.) The film’s insistence on these conversations prove fruitless, and are soon dropped for Zeus’ encouragement for McClane to rekindle his bond with his estranged wife.

The film is a retread of the first, so this sequel finds it must yet again tear apart McClane and his wife. In fact, McClane has regressed so far in this film to be a bumbling, loathsome, alcoholic, abrasive man. McClane no longer has the wit or charm of the first film. Instead, he is just brute aggressiveness, in stark contrast to our intellectual villain. Our villain too is a retread, the brother of the first villain also pulling off a heist caper. But Die Hard 3 suffers from sequel inflation, where the heist plot becomes bigger and more complicated to avoid seeming like a repeat of the first film.

Die Hard 3 still hits a lot of the same beats as Die Hard, inducing the vault break in scene to a particular music motif. Whereas the first film masterfully uses Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” quietly to foreshadow the vault break in, then blasts the piece as the villain celebrate their success later in the film, Die Hard 3 has one extended sequence of the vault break in to the tune of “The Ants Go Marching In”. This use of musical motif loses its potency, particularly when it’s played after the film’s slapdash ending, and the bank vault scene isn’t as fun because of its lengthy pace and lack of buildup. Die Hard 3 is a cleverly disguised retread of the first film, with enough differences (bomb threats, NYC locations, sidekicks) to mask its repetitiveness at first glance.

Now it’s time to discuss our villains, a cadre of the worst of the worst in 1990s parlance, another manifestation of sequel inflation. Commies! Iranians! Psychopaths! Germans who might be Nazis! We don’t see much of these people and their villainy, but we are told by the film that they are indeed quite evil. Instead, we see Simon Gruber in all his cheeky wonderfulness. Like his brother, offed in the first film, Simon is a sophisticated criminal concerned with high finance. Unfortunately, Irons’ presence is relegated to the phone for the first half of the film, spouting ridiculous riddles that are at first hilarious. But when he does finally appear, oh what joy he brings. Right around the 50 minute mark is the high point of the film, a hilarious scene where Irons, a British man, plays a German pretending to be American, conning the NYPD into his scheme.

While Simon is coded gay through most of the movie, wearing purple and receives gay insults, the film ends with him almost bedding his psychopathic female underling. Yet again, Irons plays European perversity, making this film not quite so different from his filmography after all.

It’s quite apparent that 90s nostalgia is at its peak right now, and perhaps for good reason. With both Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton jokes, Die Hard 3 shows that everything old is new again. Perhaps now is the time for the film’s revival.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 380 other followers

%d bloggers like this: