Tag: satire

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Airplane!

Logo courtesy Netflix. No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

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The year was 1980. It was a time when volcanos erupted, disco was dying, empires struck back and an actor became President of the United States. Comedy, satire and parody were nothing new to the people of this time, but when Airplane! premiered, it not only delivered the screwiest of screwball pictures to date, it also defined parody films for years to come, on the basis of being an absolute scream.

Courtesy Kentucky Fried Films

The airplane of the emphatic title is a jet liner traveling from San Francisco to New York, and tragedy lurks in the shadows of the plane. The meals available to the passengers are steak and fish, but the fish has gone bad and will poison several passengers and the entire flight crew. Unable to rely on the automatic pilot, Otto, for landing, stewardess Elaine must turn to a man she’s trying to leave behind, a man haunted by his time in battle, the only pilot left on the plane who can save all their lives: Ted Striker.

Stated so plainly, the plot might not sound like a premise for an absurd comedy. However, it does establish a solid basis for clear-eyed, lantern-jawed actors to deliver their lines with stony earnestness, while something absolutely hysterical is going on in the background. Following hot on the heels of Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, Airplane! adds celebrity cameos, direct spoofing of disaster movies (Zero Hour! in particular, which this film actually remade) and brick joke setups to the mix. The result is a movie that is smart, well-paced and very, very funny.

Courtesy Kentucky Fried Films
Mr. Bridges would disagree; it’s totally a serious movie. Totally.

The comedy team of Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker (remember them?) first burst into film with this title, and it changed a lot of things. While comedy was nothing new on the silver screen, it classically involved actors with comedic backgrounds almost exclusively. Airplane! broke that mold wide open with some brilliant casting. Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges, the aforementioned Leslie Neilsen and especially Robert Stack were known primarily for their dramatic or action-oriented roles. It shows in their delivery, the confidence they project and the way in which their presence inhabits the screen, even as we laugh hysterically at the antics unfolding around them.

Much like The Naked Gun and other films that would follow this one, Airplane! relies on audience attention, very rarely calling direct attention to a gag. Which isn’t to say they don’t; Johnny’s bit with the lights is a notable exception. The crux of the comedy lies in the ability of the actors to maintain straight faces, from Robert Hays’ Ted somberly referring to his ‘drinking problem’ to Captain Oveur’s rather odd questions to the young boy who comes up to the cockpit.

Courtesy Kentucky Fried Films
“Joey? Do you like movies about gladiators?”

To say more would surely spoil a great deal of the jokes. And they’re almost all winners, from the presence of NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the final screen performance of Ethel Merman, from June Cleaver speaking ‘jive’ to a gag Robert Stack pulls that could later be played backwards as a meme reference. It’s packed so full of humor that the disaster movie plot is nearly superfluous. That’s forgivable, however, when the humor is this funny and timeless. The movie might have come out in 1980, but the fact that we can, in 2011, still roll on the floor in reaction to the jokes is a testament to what good writing can do for a comedy. I know what you might be saying: “Surely, this is a glowing recommendation for this movie!”

[spoiler]Yes. It is.

And don’t call me Shirley.[/spoiler]

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! RoboCop

Logo courtesy Netflix. No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

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Capitalism is, in its current form, a very Darwinian way of life. Only the wealthy survive, and if you want to make it you need to cleave yourself to someone with pockets much deeper than yours in exchange for the means to keep on living. Lately the cleaving has been to large corporations instead of individuals. This is why you’ll see public sports arenas bearing the names of dispassionate banks and energy companies instead of the luminaries of the sport. This is called privatization, and it’s the basis for Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop.

Oh, and there’s a robot. Who’s a cop.

Courtesy Orion Pictures

In a near-future vision born of the 80s and bearing a sharp, cynical edge, the police of Detroit have become owned and operated by Omni Consumer Products, a military subcontractor looking to bulldoze a crime-ridden part of the city to build an ultra-modern business district. When the old guard’s robotic answer goes awry during a demonstration, a young turk puts forth his own idea, involving the use of ‘some poor schmuck’. That schmuck is Murphy, a hard-working well-meaning cop transfered into the most violent precinct in the city just in time to killed in the line of duty. OCP scrapes him off of the operating room table, drops him into a robotic body and wires him with primary directives: Serve the public trust, protect the innocent, uphold the law. This is RoboCop, their hottest product ever, but inside the titanium and kevlar, does Murphy still exist?

RoboCop’s one of those movies I grew up with. When I first saw it, I was too young to understand a lot of the underlying themes of the work, but I understood the basics of the plot in and of themselves, and hey, badass robots! Seeing it again, I can appreciate it more on levels beyond mere spectacle and distraction. In fact, watching RoboCop as an adult, it’s hard to shake the notion that Verhoeven might as well be saying “This is what happens when people with money run everything” in big, bright letters.

Courtesy Orion Pictures
Your move, creep.

That said, this is a Verhoeven entry much more in line with Starship Troopers than Black Book. Even more so than the theme of military pseudo-fascism, privatization is something that has remained a pertinent and very real possibility in our modern day and age. There are some of the classic Verhoeven tounge-in-cheek touches, like the stock tickers above the urinals in the OCP executive longue and the 8.2 MPG automobile called the 6000 SUX being hailed as “an American tradition”. These moments of levity not only serve as bridges between the visceral violence but also drive home the point our director is making.

Which isn’t to say that RoboCop is all cerebral anti-privatization rhetoric. There’s plenty of action to be had. From the gunfight in the coke factory to the showdown with ED-209, you’re certainly not going to be bored. It’s hard to shake the notion that the film’s age is starting to show in places, and some of the deeply-seated nuclear fears of the age seem a touch laughable, but the film has the good sense to laugh right along with us. However, it’s also hard to shake the feeling that some of the trends we see in the film – the beleagured, underfunded civil servants, the thriving corporations with rhetoric and iconography disturbingly close to a certain regime from the 1940s, the apathy of the public, the sensationalist news media – came to life all too vividly.

Courtesy Orion Pictures
Say hello to Dick’s little friend.

On top of everything else, Peter Weller does a fine job in the lead role. As Murphy, he’s a nice guy in a bad town, wanting to do the right thing and impress his son while not being a very good shot and making a couple mistakes that lead to his demise. As RoboCop, it’s clear OCP has done all it can to strip him of his humanity, giving him an improved form and more accurate function while watering down all that made him who he was. The struggle he undertakes to regain what he lost, even in some small sense, inhabits this movie with some real heart that, while a touch melodramatic at times, nonetheless makes for a perfect final element to round out a great film.

I was afraid that the years had been unkind to RoboCop. While I did laugh at some of the stop-motion that chilled my blood as a child, I noticed a lot more now that I’ve grown. And everything I noticed just makes the movie better. If you’ve never seen RoboCop, be it because you were too young or you wished to avoid Verhoeven’s signature ultra-violence, do yourself a favor and queue it up on Netflix. Be it blazing action, darkly comedic satire or an intereting twist on a Frankensteinian character, there’s appeal for most within its runtime. It’s well worth your time.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

Jotting in the Margins: On Toilet Paper & Pigeons

Writing

Storytellers are creative folk. They create something out of nothing. The entire world of Middle-Earth, for example, sprang from the notes jotted down by J.R.R. Tolkien in the trenches of the first World War. The magical world parallel to our own that seems to have a school called Hogwart’s at its center would not exist save for the imagination of J.K. Rowling. People who tell stories, from the most successful and lucrative of novelists to the humble Dungeon Master creating obstacles for a party of adventurers, make the attempt to be creative and innovative in some small way. Even if a dungeon or story is based in part on something the storyteller’s seen or read recently, it’s still their prerogative to take that notion in a new direction. After all, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. These creative people can be very attractive to an employer.

For business people looking to leverage the profitability of creative people, here is some advice.

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