Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Only now does it occur to me... SPEED

Only now does it occur to me... that the SPEED franchise shares peculiar connections with the David Lynch universe. Now: to merely cite that it contains Dennis Hopper doing a poor man's Frank Booth from BLUE VELVET
 
is obviously not enough, because most post-1986 Hopper villains are some variation on "poor man's Frank Booth."


We could go the philosophical route and examine how Hopper's retired cop character is a corrupted, insane, dark-side-of-the-mirror version of Keanu Reeves' young, clean-cut, and aggressively Boy Scout-ish cop––in a similar way to how Hopper's and Kyle MacLachlan's characters mirror each other in BLUE VELVET... or we could point out Hopper's penchant in both instances for calling himself "Daddy":

...or the gruesome particulars of how each of these Hopper villains makes their exit:

"He lost his head."  –Keanu Reeves

Or we could consider the fact that SPEED 1 takes its villain from BLUE VELVET and that SPEED 2: CRUISE CONTROL casts Willem Dafoe as its baddie (who was the villain of Lynch's WILD AT HEART). Does this mean that if there ever were a third film, let's say, SPEED 3: FAST AND LOOSE, that the villain would have to be Robert Blake, portraying his character from LOST HIGHWAY?

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Sean Gill's "Shore Leave" in Columbia Journal

My latest short fiction "Shore Leave," a nontraditional ghost story set in modern-day Vietnam, has been published online in Columbia Journal, the literary journal of the Columbia University School of the Arts Graduate Writing program. Columbia Journal has previously featured work by Raymond Carver, Noam Chomsky, and Lydia Davis.

Friday, March 31, 2017

"Past Lives, Now Available on Videocassette" in Scrutiny



My magical realist short story "Past Lives, Now Available on Videocassette," is available to read online at the literary journal Scrutiny. Longtime devotees of this site will likely not be surprised by the subject matter.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Only now does it occur to me... SEA OF LOVE

Only now does it occur to me... that not only does SEA OF LOVE offer the trappings of a kinda-mediocre-but-fun sex thriller in the FATAL ATTRACTION/BASIC INSTINCT/SLIVER/BODY OF EVIDENCE vein, not only does it feature Al Pacino and John Goodman as hot-doggin' detectives,
who prefer to work outside the system––much to chagrin of their straight-laced boss, John Spencer (of course),
not only does it feature an extremely young and quippy Samuel L. Jackson,
Credited in the role of––no joke, unfortunately––"Black Guy"

not only does it contain an absurd GODFATHER reference alluding to the restaurant cop-killing of Sterling Hayden,
 
Pacino: "What is she gonna do, confess? Shoot me? We're in a restaurant!!"

not only do Pacino and Ellen Barkin offer the most hilarious, post-9 1/2 WEEKS, food-related seduction scene this side of TROLL 2:
 
He was lookin' for Chips Ahoy 

 
She was lookin' for fresh produce, but then she found...

No, not love––she found...

Yellow bell peppers

Oh yes she did

No, we shouldn't, look at all this fresh romaine

Just waiting to go on a salad, perhaps a Caesar

not only does SEA OF LOVE offer all of these sublime and occasionally laughable joys, but it also, and perhaps most importantly, it depicts the best shower curtain of all time––
this beautifully whimsical portrait of rumba musicians who happen to be alligators. Said shower curtain belongs to hardboiled cop Pacino,
whose street cred has never been more crystal clear.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Only now does it occur to me... STORM WARNING

Only now does it occur to me... I never thought I would see Hollywood dancing legend Ginger Rogers being brutalized by members of the Ku Klux Klan...
...and that said tableau would not be "kitschy," but instead would function as a small part of a wider, more profound, and all-too-relevant whole. 

Stuart Heisler's STORM WARNING (1951) is a noir-ish message picture and a late entry into the "B-movies depicting the dangers of hate groups in America" genre, which includes films like BLACK LEGION (1937), NATION AFLAME (1937), and LEGION OF TERROR (1936).

Ginger Rogers plays a dress model who's passing through the small town of Rockpoint, USA to visit her newlywed sister (Doris Day). That the studio chose Ginger and Doris to portray key figures in a serious assessment of American hate groups (which is, for the record, not a musical in any way, shape, or form) feels like kind of an artistic coup. [If you'd asked me two weeks ago if there existed a movie where Ginger Rogers was bullwhipped by Klansmen, I would have been incredulous. Even now, I can barely conceive of the idea.] In any event, Ginger is in town for approximately three minutes when she witnesses the Klan murdering a journalist.
 
For a film about the KKK, the aspect of racial prejudice exists mostly as an implication; we only explicitly see the KKK harming white people who threaten to expose or destroy them. It is an obvious blind spot for the film, but as far as old Hollywood goes, the fact that they are willing to spend 93 minutes attacking a hate group instead of 165 minutes glorifying it (see: 1915's A BIRTH OF A NATION, among others) shows definite progress.

When she goes to tell her sister about it, she recognizes her new brother-in-law as one of the Klan murderers. Using a melodramatic framework that recalls the Blanche DuBois/Stella/Stanley Kowalski dynamic in a STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE,
Doris Day as the suffering, dutiful wife, darkened by the shadow of her abuser (Steve Cochran)...

a man who uses power dynamics and outright intimidation...

...to extend his sphere of abusive influence,  illustrated through Elia Kazan-esque theatrical blocking.

Ginger struggles between the ideas of spilling what she knows to the relevant authorities and lying to protect her sister's domestic purgatory. And did I mention that the relevant authority in this instance––the district attorney who's trying to destroy the Klan once and for all––is portrayed by none other than an eyebrow-indicating Ronald Reagan?

Facing external threat and familial guilt, Ginger stays quiet for a while, and the film takes advantage of her uncertainty to twist the knife; laying out an excellent case for why hate groups must rely on secrecy, the threat of violence, the silence of the good, and the indifference of the rational.

Here's a Klan member condescendingly explaining all the "good" they do:


And here's two Klansmen fearing what will happen if Ginger testifies:


And here's national press coverage illustrating the depth of the mistrust of outsiders and intellectuals, a sentiment that boils down to––"don't tell me what to do in my backyard, especially if they're lynching people in my backyard."

When Ginger refuses to testify and it looks like the case is all but lost, the locals cheer Reagan's defeat from outside the courthouse. Then we're privy to a stirring, Capra-style plea on behalf of rationality and tolerance:

All of this builds to a vivid conclusion, rife with madness and Klan imagery.
Films like this ought to be in the dust-bin of history, to be extracted for purposes of derision, at how uncivilized we used to be. They used to burn books? They used to collect in mobs and wear bedsheets and follow tyrants? They needed to be told that was wrong? What a quaint, dumb, superstitious and intolerant people! And yet STORM WARNING has outlived this movie-of-the-week shelf life. It says, in vanilla terms, and with the most vanilla stars imaginable––Doris Day, Ronald Reagan, and Ginger Rogers, for godssake!––the vanilla message that kindness and moral responsibility are American qualities, and that narrow-mindedness, harassment, lying, and intimidation are anti-American. But these days, that feels like a "contentious" message. The hoods have come off, and the Klansmen are emboldened to ply their poison trade by daylight, and under more innocuous flags. The image in the film that sticks with me is this; a fleeting shot of a child whose parent has dressed them up in Kiddie Klan gear:
This image, and the film that contains it, is a 66-year-old plea. To quote Ronald Regan's D.A.: if the good do nothing, "They're gonna rip up the old laws and make new ones. They're gonna do every rotten thing they can think of doing..."

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Only now does it occur to me.... DANGEROUSLY CLOSE

Only now does it occur to me... that Cannon Films––the studio of DEATH WISH 3 and INVASION U.S.A.––was capable of turning out a socially progressive message picture! While BREAKIN' 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO may sort of tackle corrupt real estate developers and BLOODSPORT might address shady Kumite ethics, DANGEROUSLY CLOSE––helmed by Albert Pyun, director of CYBORG, VICIOUS LIPS, and KICKBOXER 2: THE ROAD BACK ––takes a bleak and (mostly) sober look at yuppie vigilantism and institutionalized hate, updated for the '80s.

It's an oddly effective mashup of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, WALL STREET, and THE STEPFORD WIVES with a sort of STREETS OF FIRE/music video aesthetic (the smoke machines are working overtime).

It depicts a gang of preppy neo-fascists (called "The Sentinels") who are hell-bent on ridding their Academy of "undesirables,"

whether that means subculturally speaking, or otherwise.

In other words, the lone punk in a sea of preppies should be worried.

It prefigures HEATHERS (with none of the humor) as a cynical high school movie willing to "go there," particularly in depicting its suspicion of authority figures, the horror of school shootings,

 toxic jock culture,

and the American System's segregationalist tendencies.

The best part is that this is all dressed up in a video box that gives top billing to "Featuring Robert Palmer's Grammy Award-Winning Song 'Addicted to Love'!"

[Indeed, the soundtrack is pretty good––featuring music by Depeche Mode, Black Uhuru, Fine Young Cannibals, The Smithereens, and T.S.O.L., among others.] 

I wouldn't call it a masterpiece, but it's more sensible than you'd expect from Pyun, and almost plays like a grim riposte to the optimistic sex comedies, Savage Steve Holland romps, and John Hughes flicks that dominated the '80s teen landscape.