Fast and Furious

Have y’all heard about this plan? I heard it from Rachel Maddow and I heard it from Jon Stewart and I heard it from Bill Maher. If you haven’t heard, the deal is this. The ATF was selling guns to people they knew to be taking those guns to Mexican drug cartels. They were doing this in order to follow the chain of those guns to the higher-ups in the Mexican drug world. Then, in no surprise to anyone, they failed to do that thing. At least one US agent is dead, many Mexicans are dead, and they’re dead with our guns.

Donkeys are braying about how this was really a Bush plan, and the elephants are being really hypocritical and also crazy, and wouldn’t they be dead even without our guns (which, hello, is a sort of anti-gun-control statement to make). Elephants are bellowing either about how dare Obama want to keep a lid on this, or clearly this is some twisted conspiracy on the part of Obama to make gun policy that results in a disaster so epic people start calling for gun control, and then he can push through the gun control legislation he wants. Which is obviously nuts. Because a) it really did start in the Bush administration, which is not me crying, “Hey, this is all Bush’s fault,” because Obama let it go on for three years of his administration so, you know, both are to blame, but still invalidates the conspiracy theory, and b) do the Democrats really seem this capable of organization, forethought, and the control of public discourse to you? Come on now.

I am really annoyed that this has become so partisan so quickly. I’d rather focus on how stupid this plan was in the first place. Because when I first heard about this, I couldn’t believe this was an actual thing that happened and not the plot of a Bruce Willis movie.

Here’s how I see it:

Opening credits over a series of scenes of the violence and decadence of Mexican drug gangs and the news they are making there and in the States and maybe some footage of kerfuffles at the border and whatnot. Some of the footage is shot for the film and includes our actors; some is taken from actual news footage.

Then we swoop to the ATF field office in Phoenix, AZ. Chris Cooper is a muckety-muck at the ATF. He presents this plan to his field agents. His field agents are mostly too scared of him to argue, so they pursue this plan with varying levels of enthusiasm. We’ve got one guy (Scott Caan?) who is very “I follow orders because that is my job and my job is not to think.” One guy (Channing Tatum – obviously) is all, “Whatevs, I’ll finish my shift and then hit the bar where all the honeys flock to me.” Then there’s the guy who’s super-smart and really dedicated to his job and believes in Chris Cooper because he believes in The System. He’s played by Ryan Gosling, if we can get him.

But then something goes horribly wrong – like, I don’t know, a US patrolman (Bryan Greenberg) is shot with one of our guns. His mother (Ellen Burstyn) and his wife (Hayden Panettierre – she’s old enough to play a wife now, right? A young wife? She could be pregnant!) start screaming into any microphone they can find, demanding justice. So they send in Bruce Willis, who looks around with his smirk and his boulder of a face and sneers about how could you be so f-ing stupid as to think this was a good plan in the first place? And Chris Cooper snarls at him and he snarls back and then Bruce takes his team into Mexico.

Bruce Willis’s team contains a young, sassy black woman, played by Rosario Dawson, for whom he has paternal feelings. And Rosario Dawson is married to ultra-supportive, manning-the-home-front James Marsden, because I don’t think you’re actually allowed to turn on a camera if James Marsden is not standing in front of it. And he’s also got Jorge Garcia, who is kind of afraid and is in charge of the tech/translations/comic relief. But then, somewhere at the forty-five minute mark, they go to this village where an America gun was used in the murder of an old woman, whose son the drug lords were tracking down because he owed them money. Only it turns out that old woman was Jorge Garcia’s abuela! The son is Jorge’s daddy! Jorge’s mom took him to the U.S. when he was a young teen to get him away from the pernicious influence of his drug-dealing dad! So now, after much pursuing and fighting and detecting across Mexico, when they confront that particular murderer, Jorge Garcia doesn’t hold back; he shoots the guy. Which sets them back for a minute because they needed to question him but then Jorge does some computer magic (Thugs who work for Mexican druglords all have MacBooks, right?) and gets them the evidence they needed anyway.

So the team follow the trail of these guns and it leads them to one particular drug kingpin (Edward James Olmos) and they find out, oh my God, that Edward James Olmos and Chris Cooper were working together the whole time! It was all a conspiracy to get the guys working for Edward James Olmos more guns! Oh, and then Ryan Gosling is so distraught because the whole time he was helping Chris Cooper at the expense of Bruce Willis but it turns out Chris Cooper was evil. So Ryan Gosling is the one who compiles the necessary documents to prove that Chris Cooper is evil and sends them to the higher-ups. And then he gets Chris Cooper’s job.

And then critics would pan the movie because, well, OF COURSE Chris Cooper was in bed with the Mexican drug kingpin, because otherwise, WHY WOULD YOU EVER THINK IT WAS A GOOD IDEA TO SELL GUNS TO VIOLENT CRIMINALS? It would do a respectable if not spectacular job at the box office and later be considered a good movie to Netflix if you’re looking to turn your mind off and look at some gun fights, some beautiful Mexican scenery, and some Rosario Dawson in skimpy shorts for a couple of hours.

(Hey, any Hollywood types reading this right now? This shit is copyrighted. Well, it’s copyrighted by virtue of me having written it. And then the registered copyright is pending. Will be pending. So if you think this is in fact a good idea for a movie? Show me the money.)

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Trapped – An Homage to Alfred Hitchcock

SCENE ONE

INT KITCHEN SHOT – MORNING

A young woman stands at a stove. She is blonde, patrician, with cheeks like sherbet. She is making breakfast.

Her husband, played by RYAN GOSLING sits at the table reading the paper. Their child TOMMY is in a high chair next to him, banging his spoon.

CLOSE SHOT OF PAPER – It is the Prairie Grove Dispatch. The headline says, “SHOVEL-READY AND RARING TO GO.”

RYAN GOSLING: You should take Tommy out today, darling. The two of you have been cooped up for nearly a week.

WIFE: We’re finally feeling better now. I’m going to run some errands and take him to the park!

RYAN GOSLING: Sounds swell, dear.

SCENE TWO

INT SHOT – CAR

WIFE is in driver’s seat; we can see baby in car seat in back.

EXT SHOT – STREET

Through the front windshield we watch the movement down a pleasant residential suburban street, then out onto the main road.

INT SHOT – CAR

WIFE: Isn’t this exciting, Tommy? We’re getting out of the house.

EXT SHOT – STREET

Brake lights are lit in front of them for an indeterminate length. There is a large flashing traffic arrow indicating a lane closure.

INT SHOT – CAR

WIFE: (her good mood faltering) Oh, dear. This is going to take longer than I thought.

EXT SHOT – STREET

We watch for a few minutes as the cars inch slowly forward.

INT SHOT – CAR

WIFE sighs and rests her creamy cheek on her well-manicured hand, looking beautifully distressed.

SCENE THREE

INT SHOT – KITCHEN  – THAT EVENING

WIFE is by the stove, making dinner. RYAN GOSLING is at the table and TOMMY is in his high chair. RYAN GOSLING is feeding TOMMY.

RYAN GOSLING: How was the park today, dear?

WIFE: We never made it to the park. There was construction on Cherry Blossom Drive today.

RYAN GOSLING: You could have gone around on Downers’ Circle.

WIFE: Oh. I didn’t think of that.

SCENE FOUR

INT SHOT – CAR – NEXT DAY

WIFE slides into the front seat and look back at TOMMY in the car seat through the rearview mirror.

WIFE: Today, it’s the park, Tommy!

EXT SHOT – STREET

We are looking out the front windshield at the same row of brake lights as before.

INT SHOT – CAR

WIFE: It’s okay! Father suggested we could take Downers’ Circle!

EXT SHOT – STREET

We watch the street as she turns the car around.

INT SHOT – CAR

WIFE smiles jauntily at TOMMY as they drive.

CLOSE SHOT – STREET SIGN.

A green street sign that says Downers’ Circle.

EXT SHOT – STREET

There are traffic cones and a cop redirecting traffic.

INT SHOT – CAR

WIFE looks defeated.

SCENE FIVE

INT SHOT – KITCHEN A decidedly more morose-looking wife is at the stove.

RYAN GOSLING: You didn’t make it to the park again?

WIFE: No. Downers’ Circle was also closed. I think I’ll try the library tomorrow.

SCENE SIX

INT SHOT – CAR

WIFE adults her rearview mirror, looking apprehensive. TOMMY coos in his car seat.

EXT SHOT – LIBRARY

The camera zooms in on a sign that says, “Closed for Renovations.”

SCENE SEVEN

INT SHOT – KITCHEN – EVENING

All characters look vaguely defeated.

SCENE EIGHT

INT SHOT – KITCHEN – MORNING

Everyone’s in the same places they always are in the kitchen – WIFE at stove, RYAN GOSLING at table, TOMMY in high chair.

RYAN GOSLING: Try to go somewhere today, darling. It’s not good for you and Tommy to just stay home all day.

WIFE: (nods bravely)

TRACKING SHOT – RYAN GOSLING

RYAN GOSLING ties his shoes, gets his coat, and walks out the front door.

CLOSE SHOT – WIFE’S FACE

We see her register his departure. We hear his car start and drive away.

WIFE: Okay, Tommy, Mommy is just going to put the dishes away and then we’ll get going, okay?

CLOSE SHOT – TOMMY

We watch Tommy playing to the sounds of dishes being put away. Then WIFE’S arms come into the shot and lift TOMMY out of the high chair.

TRACKING SHOT – WIFE’S BACK

We see WIFE from the back, holding TOMMY, walking towards the front hall

EXT SHOT – FRONT LAWN THROUGH THE WINDOW

There is now police tape up and down the street; WIFE’s driveway is blocked.

CLOSE SHOT – WIFE’S FACE

A single tear trickles down her cheek.

SCENE NINE

INT SHOT – KITCHEN – EVENING

Stone faces all around.

SCENE TEN

INT SHOT – BEDROOM – MORNING

WIFE is on the bed, crying softly. A crisp linen handkerchief is clutched in her hand.

WIFE: I can’t get out! I can’t get out!

THE CAMERA PULLS BACK to reveal police tape and orange cones surrounding the door to her bedroom. It pulls back further and we see RYAN GOSLING holding TOMMY, looking into the bedroom at his WIFE. We can’t see his face

THE END

– – – – – – – – – – – –

Sorry, folks. The amount of construction going on around my house – in every possible direction – is making me a tiny bit nuts.

Crazy. Stupid. Stalking.

SPOILERS ABOUND. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Jason and I went to see Crazy Stupid Love last week as our anniversary date, because seeing a movie about a couple on the edge of a divorce is a GREAT idea for an anniversary date. (It was my choice; I’m not blaming him.) But actually it was good because the movie turned me into a laughing, sobbing, gooey, slightly turned-on (I’m sorry to be so predictable but Ryan Gosling doing the Dirty Dancing lift is hot, okay?) mess and I was clinging to his arm the whole time. Plus we saw it here, and yeah, we shelled out for the Premium PLUS tickets. This was sort of like being a small child, or a very wealthy recluse. We reclined on cushy chairs with cozy blankies, and sodas, popcorn, and fried foods magically appeared at our table. It was pretty awesome.

Initially, I loved this movie. Like I said, I was either laughing or crying practically the whole time, and usually I don’t like crying at movies, because it feels imposed on me, but a) they cut it with lots of laughing so that’s okay, and b) the actors earned the tears the got. So I really liked it. And look, the actors are great. Julianne Moore is obviously a goddess, and if you haven’t been convinced of that fact by her myriad* film roles, go watch her spar with Alec Baldwin in the guest arc she did on 30 Rock. Go. Now. I’ll wait.

*That trailer is irritating me. Oscar Wilde’s England wasn’t Jane Austen’s England. Jane Austen’s novels were published from 1811 – 1818 (and two of those were published posthumously). Oscar Wilde was born in 1854. I know they both lived “in the past” but “in the past” continues not to be a monolith, and the 19th century was a century of major upheavals for England that were probably only second to the upheavals of the 20th. And, um, the 11th. And the 5th.

Isn’t she awesome? And Emma Stone? I love Emma Stone! I love her adorable charm. I love her whole schtick. A lot. Ryan Gosling? First of all, drool. (He takes off his shirt at some point in the movie. My husband got into the car after and was like, “I’m going to start working out.”) Second of all, he’s hilarious. I don’t think I knew he was hilarious before this. He gets the line of the night with, “The war of the sexes is over and men won. We won when pole-dancing became an exercise class.” And Steve Carell? He can make me cry with the lift of an eyebrow. He can make me laugh with the quirk of a lip. I think he is so completely invested an actor and I love him. I just love him.

And there were some really, really solid scenes. At one point, Steve Carell is in the backyard of the house he used to share with his family, tending to the lawn under cover of night, when his wife calls him. She pretends she needs his help with the furnace (I think it’s the furnace. The furnace is where you’d find a pilot light, right? She asks about a pilot light.) but he can see her through the window; he knows she’s not actually trying to fix the furnace; she’s just standing there wanting to hear his voice. But he plays along like he’s actually helping her with the furnace, with his heart in his throat the whole time. You guys, I lost it. I mean, I really lost it. That stuff gets me.

And the series of scenes in which Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling fall in love are so funny and so sexy and so sweet and, in my opinion, so well-written.

But all of these great scenes can’t save it from itself, in the end. Because (in case you didn’t get this from the he’s-watching-his-ex-wife-through-her-window thing) it’s yet another movie that promotes the idea that stalking = true love and if she tells you to bug off, it just means you haven’t made a Grand enough Romantic Gesture yet.

See, Julianne Moore and Steve Carell have a thirteen-year-old son* who is in love with his eighteen-year-old babysitter, who is herself the daughter of family friends. He – more than once – tells her he thinks about her when he masturbates, he texts and calls even when she tells him that he’s making her uncomfortable, and he (more than once) very publicly declares his love for her even though she asks him to stop embarrassing her. She tells him she loves someone else, and he doesn’t care. Until he finds out that that someone else is his dad. Then he flips a shit.

*They also have a maybe ten-year-old daughter but she barely has lines, never mind any emotions about, say, her parents’ impending divorce which may be inconvenient to her parents or the plot.

He finds this out because her parents discover the naked pictures she took of herself with the intention to give them to Steve Carell, so her father drives to the family’s house (and oddly, not Steve Carell’s new divorced-dad digs, even though it’s just a coincidence that Steve Carell is at his family’s house at that moment) to punch him out. It would have taken a two-sentence conversation with his daughter to determine that Steve Carell had done nothing to encourage this behavior from her, but, you know. Then no whacky hijinx could ensue. So the son decides that she’s a worthless whore and his dad’s an evil bastard. Ignoring the facts that a) his dad didn’t even know that the babysitter had a crush on him until that moment, and isn’t responsible for her feelings in the first place, and b) she’s not his girlfriend and can take ill-advised pictures of herself for anyone she wants. And look, I understand that the kid is thirteen. But the writers of the movie are not. And they kind of imply – or don’t do anything to avoid implying – that they think the kid is in the right here.

Then the kid makes his grand Love Stinks speech at his graduation (because why not, really?) and Steve Carell interrupts him, I guess because making inappropriate speeches in public settings has become, post-The Office, Steve Carell’s thing, and the conclusion reached by all is that a) you do have a soulmate, b) you probably met her in grade school (the ‘you’ is of course male; we’ll get to that later), and c) you should probably declare – publicly – your intention to “fight for her” forever and ever no matter what she does or says to dissuade you. Because stalking is romantic. We know that the ladies find the stalking ultimately romantic because the babysitter responds to his second public declaration of love for her, and his prediction that when he’s older, he’ll look like his dad (ew!), and she’ll love him then, by giving her former charge (ew!) the nude pictures she’d taken of herself that had been originally intended for his father (ew!). It must be twoo wuv.

And at the end of the movie Julianne Moore and Steve Carell seem on the mend, too. Because when your estranged husband takes the opportunity presented to him by his son’s salutatorian address going severely off the rails to announce to the entire town that he has no intention of ever moving on or respecting your wishes to do so, that’s love, you guys.

So I find myself, yet again, having to rail against all of the evil ideas about relationships and women Hollywood delivers.

And look, not to go off on a tangent (ha!), but, yes, this matters! We are humans; we are culture-making animals. Spiders make webs and live in them; we tell stories to each other and live in the culture those stories create. You think you can distinguish between reality and stories, but you can’t, and it’s not because you’re stupid, it’s because they’re not different things. Stories make order of reality; in turn, they create the terms by which we understand reality. Stories are seriously important and that’s why I will always, always take a poke at the stories that are creating a culture in which I do not want to live.

I don’t want to live in a culture in which stalking = romance. In the first place, it’s a dangerous method to keep perpetrating. Boys grow up on stories like this (I know, I know, this movie doesn’t have any explosions in it, so obviously boys don’t watch it. But we all know that’s a lie.) and then think the best way to show their love for a girl is to pester her all the damn time until he finally “wins” his “fight” for her. And after the fifth or sixth girl responds to this kind of attention with bitchy putdowns or restraining orders, he becomes enraged and bitter and misogynist. Girls grow up on stories like this, and don’t feel fully loved until someone is standing under their window with a boom box. Even though they don’t know what a boom box is. Furthermore, when they feel threatened by a boy’s attention, they feel guilty about having that feeling, so instead of listening to that voice going, “This behavior is inappropriate and scary,” they make allowances. Because they’ve seen the movies; this is how “nice” guys behave.

Furthermore, the idea of Grand Romantic Gestures and “fighting” for the one you love really allows a movie like this to glide over what it actually takes to keep a relationship together. Because relationships are hard. Building a life together is hard work and requires more in terms of personal strength and skill than you’d ever think it would. And you can fuck it up. You can fuck it up so that it’s beyond repair. You can fuck it up so that it’s not beyond repair, but you still have to repair it. Declaring your love for her and your memory of sharing mint chocolate chip ice cream with her on your first date in front of the entire town is not the same thing as repairing the relationship. At best, it’s an indication that you want to do the actual work. At worst, it’s just a gesture you hope will mean you won’t have to. And when the stories we tell ourselves tell us just the opposite of that, it makes the work so much harder, because both partners feel, in the backs of their minds, that this kind of work has no place in the world of True Love.

I also don’t want to live in a culture in which women are mere conduits to men’s self-actualization. Because despite hiring women like Julianne Moore and Emma Stone, and despite this being a movie about love and relationships, which are usually considered “chick flicks,” this movie is entirely about who men are and what men want. I will admit that, while in thrall to this movie, I was solidly on Steve Carell’s side in the divorce. Partially this was because she cheated, and I have low sympathy for that. I have even lower sympathy in this case because, like my husband and I, Steve Carell and Julianne Moore have only ever been with each other. I know that all cheating is bad, but I feel that, when you’re each other’s firsts and onlys and intend to be onlys forever, there’s a bubble created in which all sex is sex with each other and so the very definition of sexual experience is each other. And she busted that. So to hell with her. When, later in the movie, we’re supposed to kind of be on her side for ten seconds (just long enough so that Steve Carell can grow) because a) Steve Carell slept with nine other people, and b) one of them was his son’s English teacher, I was going, “Hey, you broke the bubble first.”

(The English teacher is played by Marisa Tomei, who did crazy/horny/crazy pretty well, as usual, but it was more misogyny, because of course the girl you wronged is batshit crazy! That’s why it was okay to wrong her!)

But the truth is, the movie made it so that I can only be on Steve Carell’s side, because I don’t know what Julianne Moore’s side is. She never has a scene where we can see why she wanted a divorce. The movie opens with couples’ feet under tables in a restaurant; they’re all playing footsie. Then we see Steve Carell’s feet, in New Balance sneakers (who must have been paid for all the negative endorsement this movie gives them, unless the idea that no publicity is bad publicity holds) not playing footsie with Julianne’ Moore’s well-shod feet. And I don’t know what that’s about, really. It might symbolize that Julianne Moore is still working on the relationship and Steve Carell is not, or that she’s grown and he hasn’t, or that women’s sartorial standards are always higher than males. Or it’s not a symbol, but a symptom of that last one. I don’t know. In any event, that non-footsie playing is the only glimpse we get of their relationship before Julianne Moore announces she wants a divorce. And Steve Carell is gobsmacked. And then they’re in the car, and she’s continuing to talk about how she wants a divorce and how she slept with this guy at work but it’s really about their problems and Steve Carell continues to be gobsmacked. And of course, Steve Carell is the King of Gobsmacked. He was great in this scene. But the scene was all about him. Julianne Moore was just the Girl-Person making noise in his ear so he could react to it. Even when she tells him she had sex with someone else, but that it was a symptom of their marital problems, we never get into what her perspective on those marital problems is. (We never even find out much about the man she had an affair with. He’s around, but he’s never a real character or even a real threat to the relationship, since it’s pretty clear that Julianne Moore has no intention of pursuing a relationship with him. And he’s played by Kevin Bacon. Why did they pay Kevin Bacon prices for such a non-entity? Why did Kevin Bacon say yes? Do we not pay him royalties every time we play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon?) Ryan Gosling suggests that it’s that Steve Carell lost perspective on who he was as a man and that’s the plot line the movie follows for a while, the line of Ryan Gosling showing Steve Carell how to be a “man” (read: PUA asshole), but Ryan Gosling has never met Julianne Moore and it later becomes clear that he’s projecting his daddy issues onto Steve Carell. Steve Carell suggests to Julianne Moore that he was taking the relationship for granted, but that’s kind of meaningless and generic. So the way the movie plays out, Julianne Moore announcing that she wants to divorce Steve Carell is nothing more than Julianne Moore pushing Steve Carell off on his journey of self-discovery, and then serving as his North Star so he can keep track of where he wants to go. What she wanted, what she was missing, none of this is ever the point, none of it is ever really discussed. And this is the height of romance, for a woman. Being some schlub’s North Star.

Even the adorable Emma Stone loses all personality and perspective once she teaches Ryan Gosling to be a “man” (read: not a PUA asshole). Before that she’s sparkly and witty and has a career path; after that we never see those traits again. We barely see her again, and when we do, it’s mainly her standing by Ryan Gosling’s side, not doing much. And the babysitter can, of course, transfer her feelings of affection (and nude pics) from the father to the son, not because we’re ever shown her developing an appreciation for the son’s character but because the son has self-actualized, man! And has asked her to spend her college years and a large chunk of her twenties waiting for him. Romance!

Even worse is the way I’m supposed to believe that men who see women as conduits to their self-actualization are the “nice” guys, juxtaposed to their “asshole” brethren who see women as conduits to their sexual pleasure. That’s the Ryan Gosling self-actualization story – from PUA asshole to sensitive, partnered dude. That’s the belly of the whale Steve Carell has to crawl through – from New Balance sneakers to playah to sensitive, partnered dude. I am not any more sold on this theory than when they were trying to sell it to me on Dawson’s Creek. Not in the least because hey, if you’re only a conduit to sexual pleasure, you can spend the rest of your time doing other things. If you’ve got to be a conduit to their self-actualization, that’s pretty much a full-time, lifelong job. (Oh, excuse me, I forgot. All women really want is the full-time, lifelong job of taking care of a man’s fragile ego.) But no, seriously, this is the thing we should build a culture around instead: You are nice if you see others as whole, separate people, with existences, motivations, desires and rights that are equal to your own. You are not nice if you see other people mostly as conduits for your own desires, no matter what those desires are. You’re using someone just as surely if you use them for cuddling as if you use them for sex. Nah mean?

I didn’t come out of this movie wanting to hate it. I came out of this movie loving it. Because I live in this culture, too, and I’m just as capable as anyone else of ignoring the messages I don’t like in favor of a story I enjoyed being told. Some individual scenes were wonderfully written, poignant and funny and awesome. And I love each of these actors. A lot. Emma Stone, I don’t mean to creep you out after the whole Jim Carrey thing, but I think you and I could be friends. Call me.

But I can’t ignore these things forever. Stories are important; stories matter. I want better ones.