e premte, 21 shtator 2007

Stand Up and Face the Enemy

Shifting gears a bit before the weekend...

I'm writing on a fast-approaching deadline and playing music to quicken the pace. Pat Benatar's "Shadows of the Night" has come on. I have to admit, I have a certain fondness for the music of Pat Benatar. Always have. Her songs have one quality in particular that I used aggravate me, but in which I have since come to revel: their total, utter vaguness.

Since this is a movie-related blog, consider the lyrics from "Invincible," her anthem from The Legend of Billie Jean. Or this, from her hit single "Love is a Battlefield:"

We are young, heartache to heartache we stand;
No promises, no demands;
Love is a battlefield.

In college, I belonged to a society (translation: co-ed fraternity) that held a "Pretentious Poetry Night" once a semester. I always recited Pat Benatar lyrics. Not because they're pretentious; if anything, they're the opposite. They operate on such a basic, gut-level, they don't even make plain who the object of all our rockin' out angst is supposed to be. "Who is it we're actually mad at?," I have often wanted to ask her, "Parents? Teachers? Significant Others? Who?" It was during one such Pretentious Poetry Night that I hatched the title for my as-yet unwritten treatise on Pat Benatar:

Vague Rage.

Don't go thinking this is a put-down. Despite--or indeed, perhaps because of--the vagueness that attends said rage, Pat Benatar's music remains very awesome, and, I think, very American. Because in the quintessential Pat Benatar song, it doesn't matter who our enemy is; it matters only that we have one. That's how we define ourselves: against that which we are not, or better yet, against that which we are not and which really pisses us off.

Further evidence for Pat Benatar's coolness: not long ago, she played a Walk for Breast Cancer fundraiser in which my wife participated. Pat Benatar played "Invincible." My wife, reporting on the hardness with which Pat Benatar rocked so hard, told me that when Benatar sang,

We can't afford to be innocent;
Stand up and face the enemy;
It's a do or die situation;
We will be invincible

the crowd, made up of survivors, loved ones of survivors, loved ones of those battling or lost to cancer, and people passionate about finding a cure, was galvanized. It was as if the song was written for the cause.

So maybe not so vague after all.

e diel, 16 shtator 2007

Due Vigilance Part II

...or, for the Walking Tall fans among us, Part II: Due Vigilance.

First, welcome to those who found Reaction Shot by way of my recent Slate article. Happy to have you here.

Second, I'd like to expand on a few ideas I wasn't able to fully address in the piece due to my nemesis, the Word Count. In all honesty, I won't be able to fully address them here, either, but I will expound just a little, to give you a sense of how complicated the relationships among vengeance, vigilantism and American movies can become.

Notion 1: Vengeance and "True" Vigilantism are the Same but Different.

In many vigilante movies, the hero seeks revenge on the criminals who done him (or her) wrong. But in the movies I think of as "true vigilante" movies, the hero goes after crime in general. Death Wish, in which the punks who annihilate Charles Bronson's family are never seen nor heard from again, is an example of the latter. Death Wish II, in which Bronson hunts down the gang members who rape his daughter, is an example of the former. They're closely related, of course--it's not like Death Wish and Death Wish II belong to different genres.

Still, the difference in Bronson's obsessions is an important one. Vengeance is a closed system; when the last punk is killed, Bronson can hang it all up. But vigilantism in the stricter sense of the word is open-ended. Bronson has to sustain a nearly-mortal wound to bring the business of Death Wish to a close. This is why "true" (or perhaps better, "truer") vigilante movies such as and Death Wish and Ms. 45 have a more pronounced undercurrent of the hero's self-destructiveness, and with it, more of an implicit critique of vigilantism than do their more narrowly constructed counterparts. Vengeance against a specific enemy is a forward thrusting drive toward the resolution of something; vigilantism is the drive to resolve something that cannot be resolved.

Notion 2: Hey, Cops are Vigilantes, Too

At least one Slate reader--and screenwriter Steven E. de Souza--have pointed out that "Dirty" Harry Callahan and is brethren are not vigilantes because they are the police. That is, they are part of the system. This does differentiate them from the Charles Bronson-mode of movie vigilante, but again, they are close cousins. See, vigilantism isn't just about the hero. It's also about the system. Vigilantes take extralegal action when the legal system lacks either the will or the resources to arrest the problem itself. It doesn't matter then, that Harry has a gun and a badge. What matters is how he uses them--especially relative to how he is sanctioned to use them by the state.

Notion 3: We Are All In a Box

It's easy to reduce the resurgence of the vigilante to September 11 or Iraq. But as I said on Air America this past Friday, it's bigger than Iraq, if something could indeed be bigger than the cluster-screw that is Iraq. 9/11 and Iraq are certainly part of the frustration that vigilante movies are responding to, as my article indicates. But the bigger issue is how all of our political and social maladies have metastasized into a sense of our own powerlessness.

I received an unwanted lesson in this while writing the article. My wife, who was in a bizarre and fairly terrible elevator accident at work some months back, had been receiving physical therapy. After a certain number of sessions, the insurer seemed to be cutting her off, and when I pursued the matter with a workman's comp attorney, I learned this sobering fact: apparently, Governor Schwarzenegger has seen to it that in situations such as these, a patient can no longer press his or her claim to a higher, independent authority. That is, the insurer (not a doctor or judge) now has the final say on whether your workman's comp insurance will pay to complete your treatment for injuries sustained on the job.

I remember holding the phone to my ear, staring out the window at the Westwood skyline, and blinking. "How can this be?" I asked. It truly made no sense. My wife and I were without recourse, without means of redress. And then I understood--more than I had before--the appeal of vigilantism. The appeal isn't fundamentally rooted in crime, or in bad things happening; it's rooted in how powerless we are rendered in trying to respond.

This feeling that we cannot chart our own course or steer our own ship
can be enough to make us feel--in bite-sized, two-hour chunks of lost time, at least--like getting off the damn boat. It's enough to make us think that there must be a better way of reaching the New World.

e enjte, 13 shtator 2007

Due Vigilance

Real quick-like: I have a new article on Slate today. It's on vigilante movies. (They're back, you know.)

I wonder what ol' Chuck Norris is going to have to say about this one. Check it out here and sound off if you care to.

e martë, 11 shtator 2007

They're on Crystal *Something*

...or are they?

Just a quick thought on the newly announced title, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Sure doesn't sound as big as a temple of doom or a last crusade, but the more I think about the title, the more brilliant it becomes. Not on its own merits (though if it seems smaller in scope, at least there's some nice alliteration going on). I mean strategically.

It's about managing expectations. When the movie is released, it may or may not be good enough to justify having waited 19 years for it, but I'm almost sure it will be good enough to vault over the low bar set by its goofy, small-ish title.

Somehow, I don't see next summer's John Rambo having the same problem to solve.

e diel, 9 shtator 2007

Next Summer's Worst Nightmare...

I have to put this Chuck Norris thing on pause to let the man get his affairs in order, and also to point out what the fine (if not always refined) fellows at JoBlo have p0sted.

They're treating us to new footage from next summer's John Rambo. It is extremely violent, but something of a hoot. Personally, I am gratified to see this piece open with Stallone hammering blazing hot steel, as I have written a lot about how Stallone's movies often liken him to something manufactured. For a critic, it's nice when your analysis of a star, a movie, a genre, what have you, becomes predictive.

OK. 'll be getting back to Chuck Norris, who, yeah that's right, wishes he could write as well as me, soon. For now, the training (montage) continues...

e premte, 7 shtator 2007

Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Pissed-Off Action Star.

My medical situation may be taking a critical turn for the worse.

I have recovered from a Very Serious Illness (as pneumonia is now known around my home) only to discover that I may have offended Chuck Norris.

You may recall that just when Live Free or Die Hard opened, I published an article on Slate about what makes "Yippe-ki-yay, motherfucker" the greatest one-liner in action movie history. (OK, pending deathbed confession: it was planned that way.) Apparently, Chuck Norris found the article and "respectfully disagreed" with what I wrote. I found this blog entry that contains a link to Norris's reaction and the blogger's own commentary, theorizing that Norris actually threw a hissy-fit over me and containing this choice quote:

"Chuck Norris wishes he could write as well as Eric Lichtenfeld."

I don't know if you'd have the experience of offending Chuck Norris, so allow me to lead you through my thought process.


My friends Jeremy and Tonia suggested that I print that quote I like so much and paste it to my wall. (If you missed the quote above, as it was centered, bold-face, and in red, it reads "Chuck Norris wishes he could write as well as Eric Lichtenfeld.") Instead, I start imagining it chiseled on my tombstone.

And the worst part is, I actually think "that'll show him."


There is me, who hasn't taken a boxing class in over a year, and who hasn't been to the gym in a month. Instead I was recovering from (have I mentioned this?) a serious upper resperitory infection. I'm not saying that back on the playground I couldn't handle myself, but it was more with my words.

Then there is the aforementioned Norris.

As my blogger-ally indicates, I am the better film historian, but that may only help me in theory. Responding to my article, Norris wrote about his favorite one-liners and had a separate section for one-liners from his movies.

Well-played, Norris, but I still believe I can hold this ground.


Yes, Chuck Norris is an action star, but a 67 year old who gets more play on the Hallmark Channel than on American Movie Classics. Soon, Texas Ranger won't be the only walker in his life. So the way I see it:

If I was facing Missing in Action Chuck Norris, I would not leave my house.

If I was facing Top Dog Chuck Norris, I would stand outside my house, but would not venture out any further.

But I'm facing Bells of Innocence and Mountain Dew ads Chuck Norris: Hell, I could stand outside his house.

See, as an action movie scholar, I have an advantage: in my book, Action Speaks Louder, published pre-posthumously this year, I chart how, in Norris's '80s movies, he comes to rely on firepower much more than his martial arts skills. I remember the weapons he used in Invasion USA, but I'll bet he had to give them back. In fact, I'm really sure that he did.

Yes, I could emerge from this confrontation unscathed.

I know my wife thinks it's still too soon for me to push myself too hard, but wait, where are those bad '80s synth pads coming from? Is that a training montage I feel comin' on?

e hënë, 3 shtator 2007

Back Among the Living

Hello, gang. My apologies for being incommunicado for so long. Was down with--of all things--pneumonia. I thought it was just watching all three Bourne movies in one shot, but it turned out to be slightly more serious. In any event, I was down, but now I am up and getting my legs back under me.

And just in time for a nice, end-of-summer vigilante film spree. With the release of "Death Sentence" and the upcoming "The Brave One," I'm working on a new article for Slate (the good people who published my piece on what makes "Yippee-ki-yay motherfucker" the best action movie one-liner in action film history). This one is about the vigilante film, then and now. I'm especially interested in the then. Charles Bronson, you, with your face as cragged (and emotive) as Mt. Rushmore, were done too soon.

More as the piece develops and as the summer movie season draws to its unfortunate close.

Lastly, a quick welcome and tip of the hat to anyone who found their way here from Ain't It Cool News. My sincere thanks to Vern for his positive review of Action Speaks Louder. I appreciate what he says about the book, but even more, I appreciate what he says about Cobra. It's one of the funniest lines I've read in a long time.

Cheers, and thanks for hanging in during my recuperation. It was long and slow, but on the upside, my couch is good and my cable package kept me in movies from the 1980s. There should be a monument erected to that decade.

Think about it: at long last we would have something that actually should be named for Ronald Reagan.

Until next time.