Aug 30, 2012

Little Hand Says It's Time to Rock and Roll: How Point Break Can Help Us Navigate Today's Political Discourse

 Though it's true that political discourse in our country has achieved new levels of vitriolic mudslinging, name calling, flimflamming, and finger pointing, the fact remains that come November, Americans will have to make a choice as to who will lead the Free World.  But who will do the most for our country? Who will truly step up to the plate and get the U.S. of A. back on track? I for one have given up on looking for answers in the hollow words of politicians--words that have been purchased by billionaires gunning for a tax break.  In order to truly understand what is best for our future, one must look to the past--specifically to the year 1991.  It was in this year that Kathryn Bigelow's cinematic masterpiece Point Break was released.  Though Bigelow herself may not have known just how lost we would become as a country, I maintain that screenwriters Rick King and W. Peter Iliff were possessed of a preternatural understanding of American politics.  Through their deep comprehension of the political sciences, they were able to accurately predict two startling realities that we would face today.  First, the Republican and Democratic parties as we know them are nothing more than facades to conceal the interests of the obscenely wealthy.  Second, in order to distract the general public from this reality, both parties would work to strain bipartisan relationships among their constituencies to the breaking point--a point break, if you will.

Knowing that their discovery was too important to leave to the bureaucratic red tape of Washington D.C., they turned to Hollywood to get their message to the public.  Choosing to couch their scathing indictment of the American political climate in the 21st century within an action film that would be mass marketed to America's poor and working class, Point Break was released.  Not since Picasso's Guernica has a piece of art so elegantly condemned the greed and corruption that runs rampant among those with the most power.

The opening of this rabbit hole is revealed during the opening credits of the film.  Two scenes are juxtaposed together--one depicting the film's protagonist John "Johnny" Utah (Keanu Reeves) on the brink of completing his FBI training, the other depicting the film's antagonist known only as Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) on the brink of robbing yet another bank.  Through the interaction between these two characters, King and Iliff illustrate the relationship between the common man and the government.  In Point Break, today's government is represented by Bodhi and his three accomplices who operate under the nom de crime "The Ex-Presidents."   Though the exploration of this theme lacks the subtlety that King and Iliff demonstrated in 1990's Prayer of the Rollerboys, its relevance is in no way diminished.

Why Be A Servant to the Law When You Can Be Its Master?
An in-depth analysis of the presidents that King and Iliff decided to include is very telling: Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan (supposedly, the original script included a fifth bank robber to be disguised as Gerald Ford, but due to budget restraints elsewhere, he was not included in the film).  These presidents represent the period of time after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, which marked a gradual decline into the political situation that we now see before us.  When their true characters are revealed, the audience learns that the Ex-Presidents are actually thrill-seeking adrenaline junkies who rob banks in order to finance their addiction.  They are perfect archetypal representations of the wealthy who will never be truly satisfied, no matter how much money and power they amass.  The decision to name their leader Bodhi (short for Bodhisattva, one who has obtained enlightenment according to Buddhist theology) alludes to the extremely rich who claim that their vast wealth is merely a result of their own enlightenment.

I Was Taking Shrapnel in Khe Sanh When You Were Crapping In Your Hands and Rubbing It On Your Face
Enter Special Agent John Utah.  Obviously, the choice to name the protagonist after a state in the Union bears some significance.  Some theorists argue that the use of a traditionally conservative state like Utah hints at a conservative revivalist movement such as the Tea Party.  However, I tend to side with the school of thought that believes that King and Iliff wanted to use one of the fifty states as the name for their protagonist, and Johnny Utah was the most convincing for an action hero.

Utah's youth and enthusiasm have earned him a unique perspective on the bank robbery scene in Los Angeles.  He is assigned to an aging Vietnam veteran named Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey), and together they develop a plan to stop the Ex-Presidents--despite being ridiculed by everyone else in their department.  Utah and Pappas represent the symbiotic relationship that the younger generation needs to have with the older generation in order to effectively end the corruption of those who feel they are above the law.  Pappas, who has grown disillusioned with the state of his department, needs Utah to reignite his desire to confront and change the problems before him.  In exchange, Utah gains the wisdom and experience that Pappas, a remnant of the Kennedy era, will provide.

You're Saying the FBI Is Going to Pay Me to Learn to Surf?
In order to find and eliminate the Ex-Presidents, Special Agent Utah must infiltrate their tightly-knit social group and bring them down from within.  His journey into the world of surfing and extreme sports is a modern visualization of Frank Capra's 1939 classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  In his efforts to expose the Ex-Presidents, Utah becomes so entrenched in their world that he can't escape unscathed.  When Bodhi discovers Utah's actual plans, he forces him to accompany his gang on a bank robbery, thus effectively turning Utah into that which he is trying to destroy.  Only by sacrificing everything is Utah able to finally catch Bodhi, which brings us to the final scene.  Utah has Bodhi cornered on a beach in Australia.  Bodhi just wants to ride the ultimate wave to his inevitable death, whereas Utah wants to bring Bodhi in to face justice.  Utah's decision to let Bodhi catch his final wave indicates that though Utah has endured many scars on his quest to bring about a change, he has not sacrificed his soul.

Vaya Con Dios
In presenting this message for analysis, King and Iliff have reached out to our generation from the past.  They witnessed the beginning of the end, and created Point Break in an effort to guide us through our current political crisis.  It is important that we not forget that politicians are merely adrenaline junkies operating under the guise of enlightened leaders, and if just one state can pull itself together by encouraging the younger generation to cooperate with the older generation, there might be a chance to make some kind of difference.  It's not going to come cheaply or easily.  We may lose face along the way.  But if you want the ultimate, you have to be willing to pay the ultimate price. 


May 24, 2012

Summer Reading Times!

I've got about two more weeks of teaching until summer vacation.  In my struggle to stay motivated to provide my students with meaningful end-of-year instruction, my mind has wandered to all of the free time I'll have to do some hardcore reading.  So, for the enjoyment of the blogosphere, here are ten books that I'd like to read over the summer.

1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: I read this in high school, and I've seen both the Keira Knightley and Colin Firth film adaptations.  I'd like to re-read it for work, because I've picked up an AP Lit class, and this is going to be their summer reading assignment.  I figured it would be a good idea to brush up on my Austen.

2. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: This is another one I read back in high school, and since it was my go-to text for both of my AP tests, I feel like it's a useful book for students to break into.  If I finish my list early, I'd like to check out Paranoid Park because it's supposedly a contemporary re-telling of Dostoyevsky's study in Slavic angst.

3. I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak: I loved The Book Thief to a ridiculous degree, so I decided to expand my Markus Zusak repertoire.  The premise sounds interesting--a New York cab driver is led around the city by face cards bearing mysterious riddles, though he doesn't know who or what is behind these strange missions. 

4. Dune by Frank Herbert: I started Dune awhile ago and just couldn't dig deep enough to keep going.  But this summer, I'm giving the old boy a serious chance.  And them I'm going to watch the extended director's cut of David Lynch's film adaptation, which for some reason is on very late every Saturday night on BBC America.

5. Sabriel by Garth Nix: I keep hearing good things about this book.  All I really know is that it fits into the fantasy genre, and I like the cover--it hints at some mystery that I'd like to solve.  I'm hoping to use this book to help expand my knowledge of fantasy books, because I'm a nerd.

6. The Revisionists by Thomas Mullen: Occasionally, I think to myself, "You know what, Alex? Most of the books that you read are pretty easy to figure out.  Maybe you should read a book that ties your brain up into knots just for the hell of it." I decided to take my own advice and read this book, which is about a time traveler who bounces throughout history making sure terrible things don't happen in order to protect a Utopian future.  Sounds like a mindfudge.

7. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell: A few months ago, I read an interesting article on NPR about books that were snubbed for this year's Pulitzer Prize, and this book was on their list.  It sounds awesome.  Alligator wrestlers, dark forces, and swamp folk--all things that I find fascinating.

8. Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov: I minored in Russian literature, so it's safe to say that I have a special place in my heart for it.  I read about this book (also on NPR, I think) and it sounded both fascinating and Russian.  Oh, and the main character owns a penguin.  Which would be cool.

9. Jennifer Government by Max Barry: I've started this book twice now, but the timing just hasn't been right.  It's an awesome premise--in a dystopian, corporatized world, people's last names are dictated by who they work for, and mega-corporations engineer mass murders in order to promote new sneakers.  Like Dune I'm going to punch this one in the face by reading it.  Hard.

10. The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism From Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin by Corey Robin: I thought it would be a good idea to include some nonfiction on my list, so here's the one I went for.  I figure with a presidential election coming up, it wouldn't hurt to brush up on my political thinking.

There it is.  Now let's see if I can pull it off without getting distracted by sitting and doing nothing.

Feb 11, 2012

Saturday, Feb. 12; Midnight-ish.

1. Fact Checking in Movies Based on Real Life Sucks: While preparing to give a talk in church, I was investigating the story that Paul Brand tells Billy Beane in Moneyball involving Jeremy Brown and his inadvertent home run. Though I'm still not sure if that was a true story or a fabrication of the screenwriters, I had to wade through several reviews that criticized the film for its lack of realism and its departure from the real story. Why in the hell to people do this? Regardless of source material, movies are WORKS OF FICTION. The phrase "based on a true story" does not mean "everything you are about to see actually happened." I'm pretty sure The Texas Chainsaw Massacre had the subheading of "based on true events." I'm not gonna go double check to make sure there was a real Leatherface out there turning teenagers into head cheese. The film industry produces these non-fiction films called documentaries. Maybe you've heard of them? Anyway, these documentaries contain research and facts and all kinds of things that you can nitpick. Leave the movie movies alone and enjoy them with the rest of us.

2. I'm Excited For Season 2.5 of The Walking Dead: AMC was holding a "Walking Dead" marathon today, and I just watched the last episode of the first season. I can't properly express how much I love this show. It's not just because of the zombies and the gore either. It's the dignity with which a zombie apocalypse is treated. In my opinion, The Walking Dead is one of those rare creative forces that takes an idea that's been done several times already (like survivors of a zombie holocaust) and strips it down to its core so we remember why it's cool in the first place.

3. I Had Some Other Crap to Write, But It's Late and I Forgot It: Yeah. Christine came on after The Walking Dead, but it's a movie about a demonic Plymouth. I might play Bioshock until I fall asleep at the controls.

Jan 14, 2012

Stupid Games

I found these two games that you can play online, and thought they were pretty hilarious. Unfortunately, they're also extremely aggravating. How I played so much NES is beyond me.


Mar 30, 2011

Rough All Over

"I am a greaser," Sodapop chanted, "I am a JD and a hood. I blacken the name of our fair city. I beat up people. I rob gas stations. I am a menace to society. Man, do I have fun!"

1. The Suburbs by Arcade Fire

2. Feel Good Hit of the Summer by Queens of the Stone Age

3. Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now) by Cracker

4. Friends by Band of Skulls

5. The Fallen by Franz Ferdinand

6. Let's Rave On by The Raveonettes

7. Fit But You Know It by The Streets

8. Honky's Ladder by The Afghan Whigs

9. Sinister Kid by The Black Keys

10. Pursuit of Happiness by Kid Cudi (w/ MGMT & Ratatat)

11. Ain't No Friend of Mine by Mason Jennings

12. Millstone by Brand New

13. Lone Wolf by Eels

14. Ocean of Noise by Arcade Fire

15. Rock'N Roll by The Sounds

16. Right in the Head by M. Ward

17. No One Loves Me & Neither Do I by Them Crooked Vultures

18. Walk on the Wild Side by Lou Reed

19. You Know I'm No Good by Amy Winehouse

20. Street Spirit (Fade Out) by Radiohead

21. White Trash Heroes by Archers of Loaf

Jan 12, 2011

Count Blogula vs. 2010: Music

I thought about putting together a list of my favorite albums of 2010, but I soon realized that my list would be the same as everybody else's list. The Black Keys, Mumford & Sons, Cee Lo Green, and a bunch of other artists put out some awesome stuff last year. I do want to make mention of Arcade Fire's epic album The Suburbs, because it was so good that I invented a rock opera in my head to go along with it. Anywho, here's a list of some great artists and their great songs that I felt needed some recognition for being cool in 2010. Have a listen, and tell me what you think.

"I Wanna Be Adored" by The Raveonettes

"The Ghost Who Walks" by Karen Elson

"Catch a Fire" by The Bug

"Holidays" by Miami Horror

"Ambling Alp" by Yeasayer

"Threshold" by Sex Bob-Omb

"Black Sheep" by Metric

"Skin Tight" by Scissor Sisters

"When I'm Small" by Phantogram

Jan 5, 2011

A Nice Day For a Resurrection

It's been so long that I don't even know what to write about. Do I start with my adventures in television watching with The Big Bang Theory, Dexter, and The Walking Dead? Should I explicate my journeys through the digitally rendered world of Fallout: New Vegas? Perhaps I should bring notable news from the world of comic books (I've been particularly enjoying The Stand, American Vampire, iZombie, and The Heroic Age: Avengers). Hmmm....I could also rant about my favorite albums of 2010 (Chief among them would be The Suburbs by Arcade Fire. Best. Album. Ever). And lets not forget books! I've read some good stuff, such as Two Gentlemen of Lebowski, which was a brilliant retelling of The Big Lebowski as if it was written by William Shakespeare (thanks, Sheree). I might also tell you of the fine foods that I have ingested recently. The Machine Gun sandwich from Bruges Waffles and Fries? Dynamite! And I would be greatly remiss if I neglected the fine films that I have seen (I'm having a difficult time deciding whether I liked The Social Network or Inception best....Quandary!).
I suppose I'll just dedicate one blog post apiece to each of my favorite samplings of awesome that I experienced in the last year.

Until we meet again!