bad movie making

This week I saw what is one of the worst films I've ever seen: Striking Distance with Bruce Willis. I hadn't heard of it, and had to check to see whether it was meant to be a comedy - because it had some of the funniest scenes I've seen in a thriller, stuff that I thought surely had to be intentionally played for laughs...but no, it doesn't seem that's the case.


Bruce Willis' character Tom is assigned to River Duty (basically coast guard) after ratting out his partner and alienating all the other homicide detectives. He drinks too much and doesn't get along with his partners (surprise) until a woman (Sarah Jessica Parker) is assigned to work with him. After she's introduced, he stands on his boat, looking back at her - and picks up her wet suit. It has molded cups. He looks at the molded cups, then at his new partner, then back at the cups again. Now, forget the campiness of the scene...I've never seen a wetsuit with molded cups. I have female friends who dive and surf, and just to be sure, I Googled women's wetsuits. Nope, they don't come with prominent boob holders. The intent of the scene seemed to have been to emphasize the potential awkwardness in working with a woman...

Then there's the fact that their first time out on the water together she saves his ass. There's about five minutes of "tense" (or not really) emphasis of their differences before they jump into the bonding crisis.

And I knew they'd end up sleeping together. Because all female cops are sluts who sleep with their partners. But then, there was no set up for it. I think the (one) scene where she's wearing a dress to the policeman's banquet (despite the fact that most of the others are in their uniforms) and he tells her she looks "different" was supposed to let us know they were falling for each other, but I was surprised when suddenly with no precursor there was a scene of them waking up in bed together. [HINT: You need more than one comment before characters risk ridicule and their career to have sex for it to be believable. And failing to set something up is not the same thing as making it surprising]

Of course, some of the best bad stuff comes early on. The partner Tom ratted out for beating a suspect doesn't show up to the sentencing hearing, most likely because he's making a scene on a bridge over the river. The partner's dad, who is Tom's uncle (cop families) and the partner's brother are trying to talk him down, as he gives a maudlin speech about how mom drove in the river and they never found her body.

Tom, against the advice of everyone else, tries his hand at talking the partner down, and it involves a weird kind of baby talk. The partner says, "Who's the best cop? Who's the best cop?" and Bruce Willis answers, "You the best cop". He reaches out his hand, the partner reaches back and then suddenly whips around and throws himself in the water. I was completely baffled as to why these men were speaking baby talk to each other, but it's revealed near the end that these guys grew up together and used to try to out-do one another to see who was the best cop. I guess it was supposed to be touching, or maybe even creepy - but instead it was weird as hell and funny, especially since we didn't know any of that when the scene occurred.

But the best scene in the movie, the one that helped set the comic tone for me, happens near the beginning - at the inciting incident.

Brucie (Tom) is driving a car with his dad riding shotgun (since he's ratted out his partner,) and they're chasing a bad guy, with several other cops behind them. The bad guy goes off the road and flips. Bruce follows and flips too.

Next scene, three cops are pulling Bruce Willis out from under the car as he re-gains consciousness, helping him try to stand. Because that's what you want to do when someone's been crushed in a car accident and knocked out - move them, pull on them and get them upright. There was no imminent danger of the car exploding, the paramedics were already there - we know, because that's the next shot, a body in a bag being flopped onto a gurney. Because it's more important to load up the dead guy than attend the wounded and heavily bleeding one.

Bruce asks about dad, realizes that's his dad, and kind of stumbles/falls to his knees (on the legs that weren't working at all a second ago) and (get this) strokes his dad's hair as he sobs over the body. Which, y'know, had me groaning - but I didn't get a full belly laugh until I saw that in the background, they popped open the trunk of the bad guy's car, and there, out of focus, as Bruce makes out with his dad's corpse, the body of a woman in a red dress pops out and flops over with a bounce.

I'm all for making a single shot convey as much info as possible, but this is better done in more subtle ways than bouncing bodies - even if they are out of focus.

There's more, there's more - but you get the idea.

Almodovar's Women

I finally watched Volver last week. As with all of Almodovar's films that I've seen so far, I spent the first 20 minutes or so not sure I'd like it, and by the end was totally engrossed in the fates of the characters. One of the reasons I get so involved in an Almodovar movie is the fact that the women are all crazy, contradictory other words, something like me.

Admittedly, the women in the earlier films (in particular Women on the Verge) are more like drag queens, but the stories themselves were more like soap operas - over the top in content, color, and style as well as character. But by All About My Mother, there's a definite shift. As his storytelling becomes a little less strident, so too his characters become less exclamatory...and many of his characters are women. This may not seem remarkable, but just try to think of films where the leads are women. Where the female characters have a relationship or interaction with each other, especially one that's not simply about men.

But simply featuring women isn't enough. The women are presented with difficult circumstances, hard choices, uncertain alliances - and they find their way through.

Volver, in particular, features some of the most mature portrayals of women I've ever seen in a movie. There is insanity and a kind of willful superstitiousness, a desire to believe the stories and myths because they work for the narratives each person creates about their own lives - and when these narratives these women create intersect with parts of other people's narratives in ways that don't fit, the characters are forced to examine themselves.

The women find ways to make reality work in their own personal stories. A lot of it is like the fake bottom Penelope Cruz wears to make her look more womanly (can you imagine an American actress doing this, and not for fat jokes but because she's too skinny to be a believable mom?) - it's a fiction that gives an illusion of reality as part of a myth, but those myths are ultimately what allows everyone to function.


Raimunda's mother is dead. We start the movie at her grave. But when they visit the auntie, there's evidence that the mother is there in that house. Her smell in the air, her special cookies baked for them. They dismiss it at first, then they subscribe to the idea that Irene (Raimunda's mother) is a ghost, taking care of the old auntie. The sister even takes her in, and continues to half act as if Irene were a willful spirit - but no, she is alive. Everyone continues to pretend she is dead, however, because it hides another truth that's buried in a myth - the fact that Raimunda's father was with another woman when he died. It's only by managing a difficult balance of truth and myth that the characters are able to confront what really happened, and only as a ghost that Irene is able to make amends with the daughter of the other woman.

Of course, it's all much more complicated than that. This is Almodovar, after all. But it is this complexity that makes the women real. That makes us go from one outrageous circumstance or belief to another, without ever being thrown out of the story. Raimunda, for instance, is very good at pretending and ignoring the truth. She's had to be since she was a teenager, when she hid the fact that her father impregnated her. Pretended that the loser she ended up marrying to cover her shame and provide her daughter a father was more than a convenience.

I also love Almodovar's women because when faced with situations that would crush so many others, they simply go on, as we all must. They make terrible messes and then they find a way to live with them. They find the strength, sometimes in their friendships with each other, sometimes in themselves, and they are often surprised by it.

Isn't that how we all muddle through? With some myths about ourselves, a few hard truths, leaning on our friends a little and managing to find surprising strength in ourselves to not only muddle through impossible situations but even managing to shine once in a while.

It's refreshing to see such beautiful messes in a movie.