Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Casablanca as a Relic of World War II

There have been many films detailing World War II from a variety of different perspectives, but many of the best known films were made after the war ended. Movies like Saving Private Ryan and Das Boot were even made decades after the war ended. Many of these films therefore have a very retroactive perspective on the war. A film like Saving Private Ryan, made in the 1990's, depicts the war as it is perceived by filmmakers looking back on what happened. This is what makes a film like Michael Curtiz's Casablanca stand out from the others.

Unlike many other iconic war films, Casablanca was released in 1943 while the war was still happening. Many have noted how the film is a thinly-veiled allegory for America's reluctance to join the war effort, but it is also an incredible historical document on the grounds that it offers insight into the war from a contemporary standpoint. In other words, to understand Casablanca is to understand how World War II would have been perceived while it was still happening. In some ways, the film is rather progressive for the era, presenting not only a strong female lead but also also providing work for a black actor in Sam, a character who is treated with respect throughout.

Casablanca's obvious dislike for the Nazis also makes it a very agreeable film today, largely because most people today would agree that the Nazis were horrible people who needed to be stopped. However, on some level the film's depictions of the Nazis has not aged so well. This is most notable through the fact that the film continues to mention "concentration camps" despite seemingly not knowing what the term actually means. Victor Lazlo claims to have been held in a "concentration camp" and the characters speak of the danger of being thrown into "concentration camps" but judging by the dialogue it sounds more like they are speaking of Nazi political prisons than actual concentration camps.

A Nazi political prison would not have been much better, but it is still very different from a concentration camp. The former would have been a place for political prisoners, i.e. anyone who defied the Nazis. The latter was a term used to describe multiple horrific camps designed specifically for killing entire groups of people in massive numbers at a time. To provide a more cinematic analogy, imagine a contrast between Robert Bresson's A Man Escaped and Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List. The term "concentration camp" as used by the characters in Casablanca would today describe something one might expect to see in Schindler's List, a film about the Holocaust, but what is described sounds more like the type of prison depicted in A Man Escaped.

When seen today, the apparent misuse of the word "concentration camp" looks like a blatant oversight on the part of the filmmakers, but it does illustrate the mindset of a very different era. The actions of the Nazis are currently public knowledge. Thanks to the internet it is very easy to find photographs of concentration camps, and most people at some point in their lives get at the very least a general idea of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust, an event now remembered as one of history's darkest moments. However, this was not always the case, and much of what may be common knowledge today was not so obvious in 1943.

While the war was still going on, the actions of the Nazi party were in large part kept secret. For obvious reasons Hitler did not want the public to know about the ethically questionable activities that were going on behind closed doors, and this included the Holocaust. Any contemporary information on it outside of what was known only to the Nazi party would have been vague at best. All anyone really knew was that Hitler had a list of people to be "relocated" and that there were serious consequences for anyone who tried to hide a person who fit the list. Nobody would have known for sure precisely what happened to those people once they were taken. It was only at the end of the war in 1945, when Allied forces invaded Germany and discovered the concentration camps, that the public became aware of the mass genocide that was really going on.

The reason a phrase like "concentration camp" is so heavily used in the wrong context in Casablanca is literally because the filmmakers obviously did not know what it meant and misunderstood its intended definition. Very few people in Nazi-controlled territory had even the slightest idea of what a concentration camp was, America would have known even less. All they would have had to go on at most would have been vague rumours of the Nazis putting people into "concentration camps" without much more information on what they were or how they worked. Michael Curtiz could have easily misunderstood and took this term to mean a political prison.

Today, one might argue that this little detail seems like a strange oversight in an otherwise finely-crafted movie, and something to be dismissed simply as a product of the era. However, it is because this detail is a product of the era that it is important to bring it to the forefront. This slight error in the dialogue serves as a very clear window into the past and allows a glimpse into the mind of people who lived at the height of World War II and how they perceived the conflict around them. Casablanca is therefore very much a relic of World War II.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Women and Gaming

When people think of video game franchises, the two most popular names to come up are likely either Super Mario Bros. or The Legend of Zelda. Outside of being made by the same company (Nintendo) these are more or less very different games. Mario is generally based on getting through strange environments involving floating platforms while stomping on enemies and eating mushrooms to gain special abilities. Zelda is more of a fantasy puzzle-based adventure. However, underneath the differences in gameplay mechanics, there is a very similar story to be found with few differences between them.

They usually begin with a “princess” being abducted by a designated villain, forcing the (always male) hero to progress through various worlds in an attempt to rescue her only for the entire cycle to be repeated as soon as the next game comes out. That basic description actually provides a fairly accurate summary of both the aforementioned games. As different as they are in terms of gameplay, they are both structured entirely around the same old cliché of the helpless woman (Peach/Zelda) being kidnapped and the male hero (Mario/Link) having to go to great lengths to save her. This has been more or less consistent since the beginning of both franchises (the only major difference in early Mario games was the presence of a different love interest).

The fact that the two most popular gaming franchises are still video games centered entirely around the male hero having to rescue a damsel in distress is a clear indication that there is still inequality in modern video games. Even today male protagonists greatly outnumber female protagonists. One would think that the consistent success and popularity of video game heroines like Lara Croft and Samus Aran would be evidence that women do in fact sell and that players want to see better representations of women. Despite this, many gaming companies still seem reluctant to make strong women, or if they do they'd rather reduce them to supporting non-playable roles.

Some games get around this problem by allowing the player to choose their character’s sex, though even this is not a perfect solution. Mass Effect, for example, allows the player to choose the gender of the protagonist; also keeping it purely aesthetic (having little impact on the plot); and yet nearly everything in its marketing favors the male version. There is not a single cover for Mass Effect which displays the female version of the hero even though she is in every respect no different from her male counterpart.

This modern understanding of gender is especially evident when one looks at modern combat simulators. The lack of female soldiers is understandable in some cases, such as in early installments of Call of Duty that took place in World War II. Those games were set at a time when most countries still barred women from active combat duty. Russia did allow women to serve, but the original Call of Duty games were generally showing the American perspective. Historically, the American military had still barred women from service so this would have been realistic.

However, when the developers decided to move away from that time frame, they still continued this practice. One of the first games in the series to move away from World War II was explicitly titled Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. The “modern” part was very clear, and yet there still were no female soldiers to be seen throughout the game. The closest thing to a female soldier was a single unnamed cobra pilot who had a background role in one mission. Once again, the male player character also has to save her when her chopper goes down (though this proves to be pointless as both are presumably killed in the nuclear strike immediately after).This continues throughout the subsequent games, regardless of whether it actually makes sense for female soldiers to be present.

Over the course of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, the player controls a total of four characters; three of whom are explicitly identified as male. The game did seem to keep some ambiguity in the main character, whose face is never shown, never speaks, and is only referred to by the name of "Soap" MacTavish. In that sense, while the game does not specifically ask the player to identify the character's sex, one could theoretically play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare imagining Soap as a woman. However, later games seemed to take steps to avoid even this. Soap was eventually confirmed in the games to be a man, and by Call of Duty: Ghosts the games seemed to be very insistent on ensuring the player understood they were playing as a male character, making sure to give them a male first name and to be referred to as male by other characters. 

This is not to say that Call of Duty is sexist. In fact, if anything Call of Duty is one of the first games of its kind to actually make any effort to address this issue. Call of Duty: Ghosts included a multiplayer mode where players can customize their characters, including deciding whether to make them male or female. There is also no overt sexualisation, with the same basic gear being available to characters regardless of sex (though for some reason the game only allows the “special” outfits to be worn by men; trying to put them on a female character immediately changes her into a man). On the other hand, the campaign, much like the games before it, is still very male-dominated, with the majority of the plot centered around the interactions and camaraderie between male soldiers.

However, while the campaign mode of Ghosts still seemed very insistent on emphasizing that Logan (the player character for most of the game) is male, it did feature at least one notable woman in a supporting role, if briefly. There is an early portion of the game set in outer space, during which time the player takes control of an astronaut named Baker and works with a female astronaut named Kyra Mosley. For most of the level it is these two characters working together and she is often the one leading and instructing the player on what needs to be done. This is also the one section of the game which doesn't seem to make a point of clearly establishing the player's gender, so one could conceivably play this level imagining Baker as female.

The upcoming Call of Duty: Black Ops III is also taking the series further in the right direction by officially allowing the player to choose the sex of their character in the campaign mode. In fact, the shift towards a multiplayer campaign means it is technically possible to play as multiple female characters.  It can’t be argued that this should have happened sooner, but the fact that the developers are making an effort to rectify the obvious issues of gender representation in their games can be seen as a positive development. Call of Duty is hardly perfect yet, but they are on their way, which is more than can be said for other games like it.

Compare this to other gritty combat simulators such as Operation: Flashpoint or Medal of Honour. Both game series have installments that purport to be depicting modern combat (in the former’s case, the entire series claims to be this). Despite this, not a single female soldier is to be found in any of them. If the game developers really wanted to represent modern combat, would it really have hurt to put a few female soldiers into Operation FlashpointMedal of Honour: Warfighter also allows the player to serve as a Canadian soldier, but apparently fails to recognize that Canada’s military has been integrated for years.

Attempting to dig deeper into this also reveals a lot of stupidity. Trying to find combat simulators that actually depict female soldiers when it makes sense is next to impossible, and doing so usually leads to message boards in which people make blatantly sexist arguments about how women are weaker than men and therefore should not be allowed to serve. Many of them try to justify this claim by bringing up the U.S. Marines and Rangers as examples even though both have actually integrated women into their ranks. Even the Navy SEALs (the one branch of the U.S. military that is still restricted to women as of this writing) are sick of this nonsense and want to do something about it. Would it really have hurt the developers of these games to even show one or two female soldiers?

The fact remains that there are a large number of issues related to the representation of women in video games, ones that need to be rectified as soon as possible. There should be more video games with strong female heroes, or at least games which allow players to choose whether their character is male or female. There are likely other examples besides those written here that show just how insane this issue is right now, and how people should already know better.  This is not to say that there is anything wrong with playing as a man, it is simply that there should be more of a balance without one sex dominating the entire medium.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Thursday Movie Picks: Train Movies

This week, the theme for Wanderer's Thursday Movie Picks Meme is Train Movies. This is an area I'm reasonably familiar with. In fact, I wrote a whole essay on the role trains have played throughout film history. Trains have always been a popular environment for many different kinds of movies, whether they appear in the form of a fast-moving stage for an action scene, a big chase, a claustrophobic setting, or even as characters themselves; trains have managed to captivate our imaginations in a variety of ways.

In the Silent Era, it was not so unusual to see movies depicting characters faced with train-related peril (I suspect this is where the association of the silent era with women tied to railroad tracks originated), mainly due to the fact that trains were the primary means of transportation in those days (not unlike the popularity of car chases in modern action films). However, even today trains continue to inspire and captivate viewers. There is just something about them that seems so impressive, that's probably also why so many playgrounds like to use train-based structures.

For this list, I've decided to try and find a variety of different train-themed movies to show just how varied they can be. I'm also trying to avoid the obvious ones. I suspect that Snowpiercer will probably be on several other lists so I will not be covering that one. I believe these three are not so likely to show up on anyone else's lists.

L'arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat (1895)

What better way to look at the subject of train-based movies than to go right back to the beginning with a film that shows just how long cinema's fascination with trains extends? This was a short clip made by the Lumière brothers, who were among the earliest pioneers in filmmaking and among the first to exhibit their films in a theater. Their filmmaking style was fairly simple by today's standards; it consisted of pointing the camera and then letting it record as something happened. L'arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat is arguably the best known of their work. The "plot" is pretty much summed up by the title; a train arrives in a station, some people get on, and others get off. It's not exactly a riveting thrill ride, but it was extremely influential on later filmmakers.

The Londale Operator (1911)

This early film from D.W. Griffith (yes, the same D.W. Griffith who would later gain infamy for a certain 1915 feature film) is a very good example of the types of early train-chase films that were being made in the silent era. Instead of a specific train-related peril, the danger is in a train station that is being robbed by two crooks, and tension coming from the protagonist trying to alert another station of the danger while her heroic engineer lover races to her rescue. Part of the fun here is that despite that premise, the heroine is anything but a damsel in distress; in fact she might just be one of cinema's first major action heroines given she ends up rescuing herself and in the end all the men have to actually do is take the crooks away.

Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000)

Now for a movie that was responsible for mutilating and destroying my childhood. Thomas the Tank Engine was a show I loved as a kid, but this movie brought an end to the wonderful kids' show I had known and made way for the atrocious computer generated incarnation of the show that continues today. A lot of the problems with the movie have more to do with studio interference than any fault of the show's original creator Britt Allcroft (who also directed), which includes among other things being forced to remove all footage of what would have been the central villain (he was considered "too scary" for younger audiences) and some weird alterations such as making the Island of Sodor a separate universe instead of a fictional British island. It also features an evil diesel train with a claw for some reason, and Alec Baldwin playing a magical dimension hopping conductor (seriously).

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Thursday Movie Picks: Alien Invasion of Earth

This week, the theme for Wanderer's Thursday Movie Picks Meme is Alien Invasions. If you're not familiar with her activity, it's pretty straight forward. Each week, she picks a different theme, and participants are asked to list three movies that fit the established criteria. The results are surprisingly varied. I remember back when the theme was Police Movies I was expecting Dirty Harry to pop up on everyone's lists but the popular choice instead turned out to be The Departed. It's a lot of fun and I'd recommend getting in on it. It also can allow you to be somewhat selective, so if one week there is a theme one week you can't find much for that's no big deal.

Back on topic, alien invasions are a subject I am very familiar with, as you can imagine. I've only written three seperate posts and an academic paper on the subject. The general idea of beings from another world invading Earth arguably originated with H.G. Wells' novel The War of the Worlds, though that one is quite a bit different from later incarnations of science fiction. Wells' novel was a bleak vision of an alien invasion, in which the Martians (who are implied to be invading because their own world is dying) easily overpower humanity. The military throws everything they had at their disposal at the time at the Martians (from artillery to the Ironclad Thunder Child), and the best any of it can do is momentarily stall them by taking out one or two before being wiped out. In the end, the Martians actually manage to conquer Earth, and humanity is only spared by pure luck (it turns out the Martians' bodies are vulnerable to Earth's bacteria). It also ends on a dark note where even as society goes back to normal it is suggested that humanity might not have seen the last of these invaders.

Later incarnations of alien invasion narratives are often more optimistic. While Wells' film centered on an everyman recounting his experiences simply trying to survive, later films would feature the central characters making a stand against the invaders. The majority of the time, humanity triumphs in some form or another (though sometimes at great cost) and the alien menace is eliminated. There are exceptions, of course, but generally this is how alien invasion films are structured. However, as I've discussed before there are three major waves of invasion films, and this basic premise is more or less where the similarities end.

The first major wave began in the 1950's, when science fiction was starting to become recognized as a film genre. Alien invasion films of the era were being made in a time of Cold War paranoia, with the alien menace serving as an allegory for the fear of communism and nuclear war. Outside of a handful of exceptions, films of this era had a pro-government attitude. If the protagonists were not themselves soldiers, they were fully co-operating with the military. Generally this meant that the characters were united under one common authority (or at least a representation of authority) to defeat the alien menace.

The second wave began in the 1970's and continued into the 1980's. This time, the films were being made in an era when various political developments had left the American people distrustful of their government. Aside from a greater presence of films about friendly aliens, the focus shifted to an anti-authoritarian attitude. Instead, the heroes were generally civilians, ordinary people caught in extraordinary situations. At best, the heroes are cut off from any authority and at worst the government (or anything resembling authority) is an active threat. Instead of uniting under one common identity, these films instead spoke of the individual standing up to unreliable or dangerous authorities.

The third alien invasion cycle began in the late 1990's and continues today. This one is especially curious as it seems to offer a middle ground between the ideas of the 1950's and 1970's-80's cycles. In these films, authority is sometimes seen as flawed, but in most cases is still cast in a positive light. At the same time, there is an emphasis on the individual having to take a stand against the alien invaders. Instead of having everyone conform to the ruling of one authority, the basic narrative often consists of the government being initially unable to handle the invasion, until the individual (or a group of individuals, in many cases) does something that finally allows them to emerge victorious. In other words, these films don't take sides but instead show that there is value to both the government and individualism, and in the end both have to work together to succeed.

Naturally, I'd say it's fitting therefor that for this entry I choose one film from each wave to show my extensive knowledge of alien invasions.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

This early film by Don Siegel (who would later become better known for Dirty Harry) is a very good example of the idea that the alien "other" as seen in most 1950's science fiction films (outside of a few rare exceptions such as The Day the Earth Stood Still) served as an allegory for Cold War paranoia and the perceived danger posed by the rise of communism. In this case, the popular perceptions of communism are represented by the alien "pods" which are seen as infecting and brainwashing the people of a small American town. The problem is of course that they are very good at infiltrating, so much so that nobody notices until it is down to only a small group of characters that have not already been possessed (and from there down to just one). This ties into the fears of the presumed efforts of the Soviet Union to infiltrate American society and spread the ideas of communism from within, not being noticed until it is too late (hence the paranoia; i.e. stopping it before it starts).

Alien (1979)

Okay, technically, this isn't actually an invasion "of Earth" (though the danger of the alien reaching Earth and starting an invasion is very real) but it is a very good example of how alien invasion films changed in the 1970's. In this film, the "authority" is represented by a mostly-unseen corporation who ultimately proves to have intended the crew to be expendable, (complete with an infiltrator on board to make sure things go according to their plan). As a result, any chain of command has to be broken (especially seeing as the captain and first officer are among the earliest casualties), bringing the civilian protagonists onto equal ground and forcing them to stand up to the corporation. The individualism is even depicted in a literal sense, with Ripley being the only member of the cast to survive long enough to make a stand against the alien, by which point she is cut off from any form of authority (which has so far proven hostile anyway) and forced to rely purely on her own intuition to succeed.

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Edge of Tomorrow is hardly critical of the armed forces or their capability to deal with an extraterrestrial invasion, but it does show that they have difficulty when faced with a menace that challenges everything they know. This is where the middle ground comes in: it is two soldiers played by Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt who must take matters into their own hands. They have to rely on themselves and on their skills to defeat the aliens, but it is their actions which ultimately allow their superiors to achieve a victory against the invading aliens. This provides a perfect example of the middle ground exemplified by modern alien invasion narratives; it is the government who ultimately defeats the aliens, but the individual who makes it possible for them to do so (similar patterns can also be found in Independence Day and Battle: Los Angeles).

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Twenty Cop Movies that are Better than The Departed

When discussing the subject of police films, there are a few obvious films that always seem to come up. One of the most common of those films is The Departed, a film that seems to have a huge fanbase for some reason. It currently holds an 8.5 rating on IMDB, and ranks at #45 in their top 150 list. It also won Best Picture somehow. Nearly every other person I've talked to seems to believe this is some kind of masterpiece. Why do people like this movie? I don't know. All I saw was an overly convoluted mess in desperate need of greater gender diversity (seriously, five billion cops and five billion crooks and the only woman they could fit into the cast was the love interest?). 

So to vent some of my frustrations I have taken the time to assemble a list of police movies I would argue are in every way superior to The Departed (or at least a lot more entertaining). Here are twenty films about cops that I would rather see than have to sit through The Departed again. Also, here's a surprise for everyone; for once I'm mainly judging these films on the overall quality and not just on whether they have strong female cops in them (though that does help). Several of these films actually do lack strong female characters (at least in the police force) or only have them in small supporting roles but are still worth mentioning.

Honorable mentions for this list include Eraser (my original #20 pick) and The Naked Gun (which only failed to make this list because I saw it in middle school and my memories of it are somewhat vague). I have also received recommendations to see L.A. Confidential, In the Heat of the Night, Heat, and The French Connection. Unfortunately I have not yet had the chance to see any of these movies so I am unable to confirm if they are are in fact better than The Departed

20. The Last Stand (2013)

Schwarzenegger's big comeback movie after might not be his greatest accomplishment, but it works for its purposes. There is definitely some influence from Rio Bravo (see below), and it works as a modern homage to old westerns. It's not exactly Oscar material but it's still a fun movie with some great (if at times over the top) action and Schwarzenegger being Schwarzenegger. It's an enjoyable movie and worth the time.

19. Sabotage (2014)

It's funny how Schwarzenegger seems to keep appearing on this list. His other big comeback film is a bit more serious and a lot more intense than The Last Stand, given there is a greater emphasis on the growing tensions between the main characters as they are forced to question which of their colleagues can be trusted. It's a lot more suspenseful and harder to predict, with even Schwarzenegger himself becoming more of an anti-hero. 

18. Speed (1994)

Finally, a film without Schwarzenegger in it. The "Die Hard on a bus" premise makes for a very intense movie, complete with Dennis Hopper (unsurprisingly) playing a deranged villain who seems to be determined to cause as much trouble for the police as humanly possible. It does still manage to work with a few creative ideas (a lot of the tension comes from finding ways to prevent the bus from stopping) and even Keanu Reeves doesn't do too bad (at least for this type of movie). It's not exactly Oscar worthy but it is an exciting adrenaline-packed thrill ride.

17. Ghosts of Mars (2001)

A more science fiction/horror take on police work but still an enjoyable movie nonetheless. John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars was widely criticized when it first game out (so much so it would be a decade before he made another feature) but it is a decent action thriller if one with some strange ideas. Carpenter has a long history of making films that start off being criticized but end up finding their own audiences years later. Ghosts of Mars is arguably the latest in that series. It already has a small fanbase so it may become better recognized in the near future much like his earlier films did before.

16. Dirty Harry (1971)

Okay, I'll freely admit this one isn't exactly one of my favorites, but it is worth putting on as it is the other film everybody remembers when discussing movies about cops. Personally, Dirty Harry is a film I'd say I more respect for its historical significance than admire for anything within the film itself. Still, it is a very well-crafted movie for its time, with Clint Eastwood playing the tough cop who constantly struggles to navigate the bureaucracy of the police force while also pursuing a deranged serial killer. The character of Harry Callahan is certainly an interesting one, and making the whole film a character study centered around him makes it much easier to follow than The Departed. Of course, this really only applies to the original film, the sequels are a waste of time.

15. The Usual Suspects (1995)

Okay, so technically this one is more of a film about crime and police corruption, but it is framed through a police investigation so it still counts. While it is true that this is another good example of a film that probably could have had some of its main characters played by women without changing the script much, it's still an intense adventure into the darkest realms of the criminal underworld; so much so that even the police are scared of it. There's a reason why Keyser Söze is a criminal legend. This is also a good one to watch multiple times, since after knowing the twist at the end it makes certain scenes a lot more disturbing.

14. Hot Pursuit (2015)

This strange buddy film with lesbian undertones makes for an entertaining if at times flawed experience. While admittedly the large number of jokes about Reese Witherspoon's height can be irritating at times the overall film is a captivating experience with two very strong characters in the lead. It's a lot of fun, even if it's not necessarily the greatest achievement as far as police movies go. Reese Witherspoon plays a tough cop who gets into trouble when she realizes she has been set up after trying to pick up a witness to testify at a mob trial, and inevitably gets into trouble as she works to clear her name while also protecting her somewhat troublesome witness.

13. The Silence of the Lambs (1990)

Yes, everyone always remembers Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of the notorious psycho therapist Hannibal Lector, but the film is really about Clarice Starling tracking down a different serial killer. I'm putting this one lower on the list mainly because it never scared me the same way it did so many people when it came out (personally, I'd say Mads Mikkelsen's Hannibal is a thousand times more terrifying) but it is still an expertly crafted piece of work. Clarice does make for a strong leading role and there is some heavy tension.

12. The Gauntlet (1977)

Clint Eastwood once again plays a tough cop. This time he is given the seemingly simple task of escorting a witness to the courtroom where she is supposed to testify... only to end up on the run when he discovers that he has been set up and most of the other cops are either in on it or tricked by the corrupt cops into thinking he is the real villain. Okay, so this is basically Hot Pursuit without the lesbian undertones; but it is still an exciting and enjoyable action film. 

11. Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

We can't forget about John Carpenter's second feature film, a low-budget thriller centered around a group of characters trapped in a police station. In addition to being action-packed and filled with tension, there is even a fairly diverse group of characters. The main character is a black man who also happens to be a very capable police officer, and the female lead (despite starting as a secretary) also has to prove her worth holding out against an army of gangsters.

10. Rio Bravo (1959)

For those of you interested in perhaps seeing police work of a different era, you can check out Howard Hawks' classic western. This one obviously influenced Assault on Precinct 13 and The Last Stand and features John Wayne as a old-fashioned sheriff who has to figure out how to keep things orderly in a town that is becoming increasingly populated by suspicious characters while also trying to hold a dangerous criminal. Filled with action, drama, and comedy, Rio Bravo makes for a very entertaining two and a half hours.

9. Die Hard (1988)

Of course we can't discuss police films without bringing up John McTiernan's classic 1988 action thriller. This one is slightly more critical of the police than some of the others on the list (seeing as McClane himself and Al are the only cops who can actually get anything done), but they are integral to the plot so it still counts. Die Hard has the interesting twist in that the villains were actually counting on the police showing up so that they could exploit their various procedures and turn it against them as part of their plan. Meanwhile, most of the police are too bureaucratic to get anything useful done leaving it up to McClane and Al to figure out what's really going on.

8. The Heat (2013)

Of course in a list about police movies the whole "buddy cop" sub-genre would have to make an appearance. Buddy films have come in a variety of forms but The Heat is a very good example. This one offers a twist on the buddy formula by making the two buddy cops women, but it is also full of great humor and some strange twists and turns. The Heat is a lot of fun as far as police movies go, and it is definitely a more enjoyable film than The Departed.

7. Hot Fuzz (2007)

Edgar Wright's hilarious satire of 90's buddy cop movie clichés makes for one entertaining experience. They even exaggerate the homoerotic undertones for comedic effect, but the relationship between the two central characters is still very genuine. It is really about how Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's respective characters come to recognize each other as capable officers and friends (as well as eventually help the other cops learn to actually do their jobs).

6. S.W.A.T. (2002)

We've had a variety of different types of cops appear on this list, from detectives to patrol officers to FBI agents, so naturally it makes sense that we should hear about S.W.A.T. officers on this list, something that is usually more of a background role. This one places them front and center, giving us a small group of interesting characters who have to form a unit and learn to work as a team. Once again, this is a lot of fun, and it's definitely an exciting action movie.

5. Fargo (1996)

The Coen Brothers seemed to like telling stories about cops, don't they? They've done a few movies with police officers as major characters but perhaps the best known of those is Fargo. This one is a pretty straight forward crime thriller; but it is largely memorable thanks to Frances McDormand as the extremely pregnant cop who also happens to be very good at her job. Most of the film naturally consists of her investigation, and the perpetrators' desperate efforts to get out of the mess they've suddenly found themselves trapped in the middle of. It's a brutal movie for sure, but also a great one.

4. Blue Steel (1990)

This tense character study marked Kathryn Bigelow's third feature film, and it is brilliant. Jamie Lee Curtis is strong as the rookie cop who finds becomes determined to catch a deranged serial killer while also trying not to let him into her mind. There is definitely some influence from Dirty Harry in this one but that is hardly a problem. Blue Steel is a bit more of an art film than some of the others on this list, so it does take a certain mindset to watch, but it is an amazingly compelling experience worth whatever trouble one has to go through to find it.

3. No Country For Old Men (2009)

How could we forget a classic like this one? The Coen Brothers' strange film (which concerns a chase between three people who never meet) sees Tommy Lee Jones take on the role of an aging sheriff who struggles to keep up with the rising crime rate. In fact, the film is really about this guy and his struggle to keep up with the rising crime rates. Ultimately, Sheriff Bell just can't handle the pressures of being a cop and eventually has to retire (in his opening monologue, he even states "my grandfather was a lawman, father too" suggesting he only became a police officer because of a perceived family obligation). In that sense, this is the other side of being a police officer; namely the kinds of people who try to do the job but ultimately just are not cut out for it. It's like Mark Wahlberg said in The Departed; "Do you want to be a cop or do you want to appear to be a cop?" This was one of those people who wanted to appear to be a cop.

2. Blade Runner (1982)

Blade Runner is more often remembered for its bleak vision of Los Angeles four years from now and the choking urban atmosphere reminiscent of old fashioned film noir, but it is easy to forget that this is also a police procedural of sorts (though admittedly a futuristic one). Most of the film centers around a single cop (Rick Deckard) trying to finish that one last case only to get mixed up in something bigger and getting into trouble. In the end, questions are raised about what defines "being human" and true to its noir roots we are never totally sure if Rick is truly doing the right thing.

1. End of Watch (2012)

As far as films dealing with the day-to-day life of a police officer go, this is probably one of the best. This is a more unusual look at the life of a police officer seeing as it opts not to focus on the obvious action of stopping crime but more on the mundane lives of the officers in between cases. It turns out being a cop can be a very dull job at times. Of course when we do get to the action the film doesn't disappoint but those are very sparse moments when the bulk of the narrative either centers on the relationship between the two main cops in their car waiting for something to happen or their relationships with other police officers back at the station.

Friday, 24 July 2015

So Fetch Friday: Departing The Departed

It's been a rough week, this time. Last week I had a class that really didn't go the way it was supposed to, though at present I'm not allowed to say anything more than that much as I'd like to tell you everything. There hasn't been a lot of movie-watching, and I've been struggling to find material to write about (the post I made earlier this week was something that had been in my draft folder for a while). Still, I have been able to watch a few things so I guess I can tell you about those.

I saw Kathryn Bigelow's The Weight of Water. It's one I would probably rank alongside Strange Days as a beautifully crafted piece that I'm not sure I fully understood. It started to make more sense near the end but a lot of it was still very strange and puzzling. I also saw Corner Gas: The Movie, which was pretty hilarious. It's not exactly the most diverse range of movie options, I know, but it's something. I had been wondering about doing Kathryn Bigelow's The Loveless for my Origin of an Auteur Blogathon, but I'll have to see if I can find it before I make a final decision.

I did make an attempt to watch the remake of John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 after I found it on Netflix, but that didn't go over very well. From the small portion I saw it had almost no resemblance to the Carpenter film, and in most respects it just was not a very well executed film at all. It's not one I would recommend and it's a waste of time. Just watch the original, it's much simpler and far more interesting in most respects. That version from the 1970's even included a strong black protagonist and a secretary who practically has to become a cop by the end.

I also made another attempt to watch The Departed, only to get anxious and turn it off about 18 minutes in. I'm still not sure I understand what it is everyone sees in that movie, since that experience did very little to help improve my opinion on it. If anything, it gave me one more thing to criticize: everyone's horrible Boston accents. None of them were particularly convincing and obviously fake. To be honest, the bad accents were also really irritating, which is probably a bad sign considering we were expected to follow these characters throughout the rest of the movie. Though that small segment made slightly more sense this time, I still stand by everything I've said about this movie before.

The strange thing is that since then I've felt this overwhelming hostility towards The Departed, and I keep feeling this drive to find other better cop movies. I've actually made a few lists already as a way of venting frustrations though I've made a point of not advertising them to avoid offending people who actually liked it. In case you're actually curious to see what I've come up with, here is the list I posted on letterbox but for extreme fans of The Departed it might not be easy to stomach. I even made a top ten list of films. If anyone is curious, here is what I came up with for the top ten cop films that are better than The Departed:

10. Hot Pursuit
9. The Gauntlet
8. Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
7. Die Hard
6. The Heat
5. Hot Fuzz
4. S.W.A.T.
3. Fargo
2. Blue Steel
1. End of Watch

(you may now begin posting your angry rants in the comments)

This week's episode of Killjoys was certainly an interesting one. Our heroes encountered a derelict spaceship and attempted to salvage it. They boarded only to quickly realize something horrible has happened, something that became especially clear with all the bodies that were found and the one survivor that wasn't quite in his right mind. Turns out the ship was conducting medical research before it was destroyed by a solar flare that caused the computer to turn what would have been a great medicinal breakthrough into a torture weapon, forcing the crew into endless interrogations. The only thing that didn't seem to make much sense was when Dutch got abducted by the aforementioned survivor and locked in a torture chamber even though based on previous episodes she should have been able to easily overpower him. Still, she at least got herself out of that mess and ended up saving the day so I won't complain.

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Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Alienation of Female Sexuality

Female sexuality has always been a controversial topic to depict on film. Some feminists, such as Bonnie Sherr Klein and Catherine A. MacKinnon, have accused pornography of “objectifying” women, and argue that any form of sex depicted involving women is produced exclusively for a “male gaze”. Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin provides a strong rebuttal to this notion in an unusual way—offering an outsider’s perspective. By casting the sexually curious female as an alien from another planet—literally alienating both her and, by extension, the viewer—Glazer allows us to step out of our own social constraints and look at the picture as a whole.

Under the Skin centers around an extra-terrestrial played by Scarlett Johansson; unnamed in the film but given the name of Isserly in the original book. She arrives in Scotland, her true form concealed inside the body of an attractive young woman. Under the employment of a mysterious man on a motorcycle (played by Grand Prix champion Jeremy McWilliams), Isserly is tasked with seducing men who are then lured into an old house where they are drowned in a black fluid that breaks down their bodies. As Isserley spends time living among humans on Earth, she begins to question her own purpose and, growing comfortable in her new skin, tries to become human. However, despite her efforts, the film constantly reminds us that she is not of this world, and questions just what it means to be “human”.

Throughout the film, Isserley is constantly, and literally, alienated from the world around her. To the average viewer, Scarlett Johansson stands out as she is the only recognizable name to appear (though motorcycle enthusiasts may be more familiar with Jeremy McWilliams). The rest of the cast consists of a mix of unknown actors and random people on the street with whom she interacts in character, unaware that they are in a film or talking to a world-renowned actress. A recurring motif throughout the film is her walking against the crowd, always facing the opposite direction of the movie’s extras and thus displaying a lack of conformity, making her constantly stand out.

By both literally and figuratively alienating the central character, the film also alienates the viewer and places them in a position to experience an alien perspective on the world around her, and in particular the idea of sex. The protagonist experiments in various ways of seducing men, but does it less out of pleasure and more in a machine-like routine way. She lures men to their doom not because of any actively malicious intent, but simply because that is her job (presumably overseen by the motorcyclist).

The first time the heroine finds herself experiencing any real pleasure is when she encounters a deformed man suffering from Neurofibromatosis (Adam Pearson). Upon encountering this man, she finds herself drawn to him and, upon finding out that he has no friends, invites him to touch her body. During this scene, Isserley challenges the claims of MacKinnon and Klein that sex on film is purely intended for a male gaze by seducing a man with a visible deformity, an act which causes the audience feel uncomfortable, making it clear that this is not for anyone's exclusive pleasure.

The idea of pleasure in sex is something Isserley sees as completely alien and struggles to comprehend, as is notable when she finally experiences real sex after being taken in by a friendly young man. During this scene, the protagonist appears to act indifferent while her friend experiences pleasure, though she herself does appear to eventually start to feel something during their intimate moment. When the man removes Isserley’s pants, while she tries to help him, displaying a sense of confusion as though the entire process is new to her. The man then climbs on top of her, seemingly in control. Isserly’s expression seems to suggest that she is feeling something, but is unsure what. In another close-up on the man’s hand, he begins to remove more of her clothes.

As the two embrace, the protagonist's expression starts to suggest that she is experiencing pleasure, but finds herself confused. She pushes aside the man, moves toward the edge of the bed, and shines a lamp into her vagina, apparently checking to see if something has happened. The man stares at her in confusion and says “you don’t like it?” She simply throws aside the lamp, apparently having seen no change in her genitals. Both she and the man are confused about what has just happened. Isserly is confused about having found pleasure in sex, while the man is puzzled by her being unsure about liking it.

In her documentary film, Not a Love Story: A Film About Pornography, director Bonnie Sherr Klein takes the stance that pornography in general is anti-feminist, allegedly because it “objectifies” women for a purely male gaze. Other feminists such as Gayle Rubin argue that the “anti-porn” movements are in fact detrimental to feminism. In reality, pornography is being used as a scapegoat for contemporary social problems, and the real solution is to provide better recognition for female sex workers and encourage more women in the porn industry to move behind the camera and produce films for female audiences.

Rubin's suggestion is not even considered in Not a Love Story: A Film About Pornography, in which Klein only offers information that furthers her own argument. She cites one specific type of pornography, in which torture is staged, and uses it to argue that all pornographic films are therefore movies are equivalent to snuff films depicting actual abuse of women. No reference is made, for instance, to the work of Barbara Hammer, a lesbian filmmaker who produced pornographic films intended for lesbian audiences as early as 1973, or feminist porn stars like Annie Sprinkle. Though the arguments of both sides are aimed at pornography, their ideas extend beyond a single genre and are relevant to film in general.

The mysterious protagonist of Under the Skin has a child-like attitude toward sex and finds herself curious about it, which draws some parallels to the similar character of Lena (Lena Nyman) in Vilgot Sjöman’s 1967 art film I Am Curious (Yellow). Similar to the tragic heroine of Under the Skin, Lena is a young woman curious about and trying to understand sex. She experiments with it through her encounters with various men, and in many of them she is the one responsible for initiating the experience. Lena is a sexually active young woman who challenges the ideas of MacKinnon and Klein by engaging in what they might consider “pornography” and displaying pride in doing so. Under the Skin uses a different approach, by treating sex as something literally alien. By making the protagonist herself an alien struggling to understand it, Jonathan Glazer is able to criticize common attitudes about how sex is often depicted.

I Am Curious (Yellow) provides an early example of a film challenging the ideas of anti-porn activists by presenting a sexually active female lead who “experiments”, fully embracing her sexual encounters and displaying pleasure within them. What distinguishes Under the Skin from I Am Curious (Yellow) is in how it challenges the ideas of Klein and MacKinnon. Instead of simply presenting an attractive woman gaining pleasure from sex, it uses the alien approach to criticize the lack of understanding towards female sexuality.

Unlike Lena, who is precisely the opposite of MacKinnon or Klein’s views on female sexuality, the protagonist of Under the Skin is at first an embodiment of their ideas. She interacts exclusively with men and, at least at first, it is only the men who experience true pleasure during her encounters. Her emotions seem almost forced. When she smiles there is a sense that she is only doing it because she understands she is supposed to, a feeling which constantly reminds the viewer they are not seeing her real face. Every time Isserly lures a man into her house, she puts herself on display for his pleasure, carefully stripping her clothes in a machine-like way. This is precisely in line with how MacKinnon and Klein have interpreted pornography. It starts off resembling the anti-porn claims regarding sex, but gradually shifts to be more in line with opinions expressed by Gayle Rubin.

By having the protagonist represent the ideas of pornography as “objectifying” women for the pleasure of men, Jonathan Glazer is able to demonstrate how confusing this same notion is when she finds herself experiencing sexual pleasure. However, these ideas emerge in a distorted and twisted form, with the female in control and using it to manipulate men. As her quest to become human progresses, she begins to question who she really is—and by extension whether she is capable of enjoying sex. This leads to something of a “sexual awakening” that forces her to question what she sees as “normal”, or—more accurately—MacKinnon and Klein’s distorted ideas of sex in contrast to the reality proposed by Gayle Rubin.

MacKinnon and Klein are convinced that any depiction of sex on film is detrimental to feminism, and that filmmakers are incapable of anything more than displaying women’s bodies for the pleasures of men. Rubin has argued precisely the opposite, suggesting that while there are cases of women being abused in the porn industry, the correct solution to the problem is to promote better treatment of women and produce pornographic films for female audiences, which has happened with filmmakers like Barbara Hammer. By showing both sides through the eyes of an alien, Jonathan Glazer is able to examine their respective views and criticize them through a new perspective.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Rookie Blue

It should come as no surprise that I'm a fan of Kathryn Bigelow, and I'm always interested in seeing her films when I get a chance. Ever since I first saw The Hurt Locker I have tried to collect her movies. When I heard about her film Blue Steel through my action cinema class I quickly became interested in it. One of my favorite female directors made a movie about a tough female cop? How could I resist? Before long, interest turned into a desire to see this film, and desire became an obsession. Next thing I knew I had to find this movie. I combed every potential channel I could find. I checked countless video stores (some more than once) as well as Netflix and HBO on Demand to know avail. It seemed like this film was impossible to find.

Over the last few months my desire grew increasingly to the point where it was starting to drive me insane. Every time I wandered into a video store all I could think about was finding a copy of Blue Steel. I was not even sure if it was going to be worth it but something kept compelling me to search for this particular film no matter how futile it proved. Then finally this morning I had a new idea; check out the media commons library on campus (which happens to have a huge selection of films). Turns out they did in fact have it all this time (on both DVD and video cassette) and I was able to check it out. Of course I'll have to return it, but I finally managed to fulfill my desire to see this early film from the director of The Hurt Locker. So after spending half a year relentlessly combing every shelf of any store that had DVDs for this one film that seemed impossible, was it worth it? Oh yes, it was.

Megan Turner (Jamie Lee Curtis) is a tough woman who has just graduated to becoming a recognized officer of the New York Police Department. She is a woman who has proven that she can hold her own in a male-dominated profession (this being a major theme throughout). Unfortunately, things are cut short on her first night as a cop when she finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time: witnessing a convenience store robbery in progress. Naturally she tries to interfere and has to shoot the perpetrator. However, one of the hostages, a strange fellow by the name of Eugene Hunt (Ron Silver) steels the perpetrator's gun and escapes the crime scene, leaving Turner to be accused of police brutality and suspended.

Hunt turns out to be a deranged lunatic who also becomes obsessed with Turner, going as far as to carve her name into bullets and fire on random pedestrians using the gun from the crime scene. Turner then finds herself in a brief romantic relationship with Hunt, only to end up in a violent cat and mouse chase as he attempts to manipulate her, framing her as a Dirty Harry-esque rogue cop who doesn't play by the rules. Now it is up to Turner to figure out how to expose Hunt for the monster he is and bring an end to his reign of terror.

I should probably point out that Blue Steel isn't exactly a typical action movie, though it certainly draws inspiration from some. There is definitely some inspiration from Dirty Harry (especially evident in the relationship between Turner and Hunt) and Blade Runner (mainly in terms of atmosphere), but in many ways this is more of an art film. While the story itself is not too hard to follow the movie as a whole is very subjective, at times even surreal, and one that tries to make the viewer think about and question what they are seeing.

This approach allows it to be a very psychologically-driven experience rather than something driven by a simple adrenaline rush (I suspect this is probably the reason why many consider it one of Bigelow's weaker films; a lot of them probably went in expecting a more straight forward action thriller). As a result, the film is more slow-paced than one would normally expect. It takes its time to allow the viewer access to the minds of its two central characters and to explore how both are simultaneously brought together and pulled apart over the course of the film.

The theme of challenging established gender conventions is a prominent one throughout, most notably in Megan's characterization. This is even reflected in her wardrobe, which constantly places her in attire more often seen on men, most notably the full blue police uniform (complete with peaked cap) and the presence of shoulder holsters. She is also a very strong character, with attention constantly being paid to her tough attitude and her wit (especially towards the end of the film, when she is locked in a metaphorical Chess game with Eugene).

Hunt also works as a disturbing antagonist. His weird deranged nature serves as an early precursor to the "adrenaline junkie danger seekers" that would become common in many of Bigelow's later films (Bodhi in Point Break and Sgt. First Class William James in The Hurt Locker arguably being the two best-known examples). However, unlike those later figures or Dirty Harry's Scorpio (from whom he obviously draws inspiration) Hunt is actually able to pass for an ordinary man. This adds a few extra layers of unease on the few occasions when he refrains from showing his true colours, since he is very clever in setting up Turner in such ways so that most of the other officers don't believe her.

Watching it today is especially horrifying since there are actually films still being made in which this kind of character would be the hero. He did display a vibe reminiscent of so-called love stories such as The Age of Adaline and Fifty Shades of Gray. His deterioration of character is also conveyed visually through a combination of body language, atmosphere, and costuming (he goes from wearing a fancy business suit to looking like a homeless man). By emphasizing these aspects of his character right from the beginning, instead of leaving it as a twist for the end, we are able to get into the twisted mind of a psychopath, an interesting if unsettling experience. At the same time, however, there is also an enigmatic quality to the whole thing, as the film never spells anything out but leaves the viewer to imagine what kind of thought process go through his head.

I don't know why this film is so hard to find, but it shouldn't be. I don't care if it's Criterion, Kino, Alliance, Mongrel, or some obscure indie distribution firm nobody has heard of. Somebody please get this film released on DVD again! It is a brilliant piece of work from Kathryn Bigelow and one I find myself tempted to rank as being among her best (right up there with The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty). Blue Steel is arguably one of her most interesting projects, with its strange and subjective approach to what in the hands of any other director might have been a conventional action thriller. If you are a fan of her work, or even if you are just looking for some unusual police films, this is a must-see.

Friday, 10 July 2015

So Fetch Friday: Bell of Arabia

So there hasn't been much happening just at the moment, at least not a  whole lot movie-wise worth covering. I got a recommendation to watch True Detective but that show really didn't work out for me. I could see some Twin Peaks influence but ultimately this one was just boring. I couldn't even get through the first episode. There was absolutely nothing about it that made me invested in anyone or anything that was happening. That, and it also failed to meet my quota for strong female characters. There were like two women in the show, one of whom was the wife of one of the main characters who only appeared in one scene and the other was a murder victim. There were a lot of cops in this show so would it really have killed the writers to have even one female officer?

I started watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine and it has proven to be hilarious. There's lots of craziness and various police characters. I love how Santiago and Diaz are the ultimate logical extremes of "good cop, bad cop." It's also a great example of a show that's working with diversity, considering it not only has two strong female characters plus a mixed-race cast but it also has a strong black gay man as the chief inspector. It's like a more modern version of Barney Miller if that show had female cops in its central cast.

So far Killjoys seems to be getting a little better, though I'm still not sure I totally understand how the world of the show is supposed to work. This time they went for a Depression-era vibe with our heroes travelling to what could basically be described as a futuristic version of the farm from Of Mice and Men. This place was brutal; they even put exploding chips in the employees' ears to keep them from leaving before their contract is finished (the only people who manage to escape are the ones who have the nerve to cut off their own ear). Apparently, they don't have unions in the future. That's a bit of an odd development.

David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia has often been hailed as a masterpiece by many critics, myself included. It is also a film that is very famous for its lack of female characters. Surprisingly while I have certainly not failed to notice it that never bothered me too much. After all, there were probably some very good reasons why a female character could not be included in that movie. For one thing, the historical events depicted would have happened in a patriarchal society and no women were known to be involved with them. If no women were involved in the real historical events, it would make sense that a filmmaker wanting to stay true to the spirit of what happened would refrain from trying to force a female lead into the script.

Well, it turns out he lied! There was in fact a place in Lawrence of Arabia for a strong female lead. Meet Gertrude Bell, an early 20th century explorer and archaeologist who also was almost, if not in fact as important as or even more important than T.E. Lawrence himself in those same events. You might not have heard of this woman, and that's because in Lawrence of Arabia she isn't so much as offhandedly mentioned. David Lean actually covered up the role of a historical woman, and gave credit for all her accomplishments to men. Suddenly a Best Picture-winning film widely considered one of the greatest ever made seems a little bit sexist, doesn't it?

Fortunately, it seems that Werner Herzog finally decided to do something about this because now, 53 years after the release of Lawrence of Arabia we are finally going to see Gertrude Bell's contributions on film. So far the trailer is looking alright. When Robert Pattinson said he wanted to get as far away from Twilight  as possible he wasn't kidding. Of course, now he's got to live up to the legacy of Peter O'Toole as T.E. Lawrence. It's an ambitious project but I think it's got some potential.

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Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Thursday Movie Picks Meme: Road trip Movies

This week, the theme for Wanderer's Thursday Movie Picks Meme is Road Trip Movies. The criteria for those kinds of films should be pretty self-explanatory. As the title implies the subject is films that center around a road trip, commonly known simply as "road movies". It is a pretty simple structure: you have a character or group of characters who start at Point A, then something happens that requires them to get to Point B. The plot is centered around the journey between Point A and Point B, and everything that happens along the way. Plenty of films follow this basic formula. In fact stretching the definition enough one could argue that The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit could both be considered road movies.

Of course, the category here was not "road movies" but "road trip movies", which means that in this case there should be an actual road trip of some form. Generally most people think of a "road trip" as getting in some kind of vehicle (usually a car, though any vehicle or a combination of different vehicles could be used) and driving on the road to a pre-determined destination. Strong Bad once said that every good road trip needs a good inside joke, that only people who went on the road trip will get. You'll also need keys and a functioning car. Oh, and if you end up passing by a diner called "beneath the passenger seat" it's probably best that you don't stop there. Just remember to stay jumbo/large.

Now my job is to find three unusual choices for Road Trip films (that hopefully nobody else has thought of) and put them together in a list for you to see:

John Carpenter's Starman (1984)

Did you ever feel like E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial really was not that great a movie? Well, then this is the movie for you, Starman being a more adult version of the same idea. This is also an unusual film to see from a man like John Carpenter (yes, the same guy who made Dark Star and The Thing) in just how uplifting and optimistic it is. In fact some accounts even claim that Carpenter made it as an apology for the then-critically panned The Thing, but it is still a surprisingly emotional film (Jeff "The Dude" Bridges even received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the Starman). It has the right balance of different emotions: there is some great fish-out of water comedy on the part of the Starman but at the same time it is not afraid to get serious when it has to. It is movies like this that show how Carpenter is much more than the so-called "Master of Horror" and he has a much greater range of talents.

The Straight Story (1999)

A lot of people remember David Lynch as the guy who makes all the really weird mind-boggling movies. While he has produced his share of such films, it is easy to forget about that he actually does have a few that are not so surreal and subjective. One of the best examples would be his 1999 adventure The Straight Story. Even the title demonstrates how unusual this is for Lynch ("straight" being both in reference to the name of the protagonist and the fact that Lynch is making a film that actually makes sense for once). Okay, the concept of an old man riding a lawnmower between states is a bit unusual, but really it is a simple story about an old man trying to make amends with his estranged brother. It was also the final acting role of Richard Farnsworth, who proved to be a perfect fit for the role as he had a lot of the same health problems as the man he was playing.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

It's a bit funny that for a franchise that is centered entirely around people fighting for control of the road and killing each other for fuel, it took four films before George Miller thought to make one about a road trip. This is also one intense road trip; in fact the entire narrative is basically a feature-length car chase with a few breaks. There is action, chaos, and tension, but at the same time there is bonding among the various characters and a strong emphasis on overthrowing patriarchal society. It is a very exciting movie and of course there is a road trip of sorts.