Posted on May 21, 2020
Having wrapped up Picard, we continue on our Star Trek kick by immediately jumping into the controversial (because these days what piece of popular culture isn’t upsetting to someone?) Discovery.
Spoiler alert: We like it.
This being allergy season is complicating things in lockdown. Every sneeze, cough, and headache sparks a moment of wondering, “Is this it? Did I touch the wrong thing? Did that cyclist with no mask infect me?”
Besides wondering if we’re infected, we’re also becoming amateur microbiologists with a primary focus on SARS viruses. The sheer amount of information I’ve picked up on how viruses work, how vaccines work & what factors decide how effective they are, to what it will take to produce 300 million doses is mind boggling.
And it’s nothing I ever wanted to know. But, in the same way the President used to be someone you didn’t have to think about every damn day, the virus has commanded center stage. And his politicizing of this tragedy has only increased the amount of time and energy we have to spend on political theater.
The day begins with a rash of headlines mixing the news of the depressing lack of leadership the President and Senate have shown in dealing with this slowly unfolding national tragedy. There’s a pervasive sense among rational people that stupid, ill-informed idiots being manipulated by Fox News and Russia have made themselves into the lever that destroys this country.
Lots of smart people, relying on science and historical evidence, have put forward plan after plan to end the lockdown in a coordinated, planned way that will minimize the second wave of infections. And each plan is met with crowds of unmasked, belligerent idiots demanding the 90% return to their underpaid service jobs so the 10% can get their hair done or be served in a restaurant.
And, of course, data now shows that when they leave their protests to return to the suburbs or rural areas they came from, they take the infection with them.
Prolonging the lockdown that has so inconvenienced them.
I had this idea once to take all my favorite fight scenes and edit them together into one sizzle reel I could watch when I wasn’t in the mood for a whole story, but still wanted to enjoy some quality violence. I never did it, because, why would I? But I was thinking about it today and decided to come up with the list of scenes that would go on it.
Picking the scenes, I realized that what really makes a fight scene great is adding something new to the conversation. The Matrix introduced gravity defying wire work to Western audiences, but afterward every fight scene looked like it had been copied from that film.
So what I was really looking for was game changers. I’ve listed the ones important to me here in quasi-chronological order, oldest to most recent.
The Wild Bunch (1969)
Growing up in the 60s, I caught the tail end of the very long run of the Western. But the movies I grew up with were bloodless affairs where the good guys only got winged in the shoulder, if they were hit at all. Needless to say, The Wild Bunch blew my tiny little mind all the way up.
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Diamonds Are Forever is not a well regarded Bond Film, but the saying is true that your favorite Bond film is the first one you saw. This was mine and it was also the first hand-to-hand fight in close quarters I saw that exposed the true brutality of physical violence (and just how hard it is to kill a man).
Enter The Dragon (1973)
Before wire fights there was Bruce Lee, a man who had to slow himself down so the camera could see what he was doing. He was a one man ad campaign for the martial arts and after seeing him in Fists of Fury I promptly when out and signed up at my local dojo.
I wanted to have a movie from the 1980s on this list, but that was a time of cartoon violence in live action films. Think about the ridiculous fights in Total Recall and Lethal Weapon, if you doubt that. But Raging Bull, even more than Rocky before it, made you feel like you knew what it was like to be in the ring.
The Matrix (1999)
I know now that wire fights like the ones choreographed by Wo Ping for The Matrix were already quite common outside of America by the time I saw The Matrix on its maiden run.
But for me, personally, the moment when a fight scene became a critical selling point for an action movie (the way a car chase had been) was when Trinity leapt into the air and just… stopped.
More than any other American movie, The Matrix upgraded the fight scene to art.
The Bourne Identity (2002)
The real tragedy of the Bourne movies for me is that control passed from Doug Liman in the first one to the vastly inferior (to me) Paul Greengrass in the sequels. Liman’s innovation was to get in very close with the camera during the fight scenes which gave them a chaotic feel but also made everything seem to happen faster.
Greengrass’s innovation was to go back to the 1990s and use jigglevision so badly I literally couldn’t watch his movies.
But the original not only has several of the best fistfights ever shot, it also has some incredible gunfights. Liman’s loss ruined the franchise for me and then, to compound the tragedy, he was saddled with one of the worst actors in Hollywood for what should have been a great movie, Jumper.
I was going to put this as an honorable mention because the movie isn’t very good no matter how much I love it, but then I remembered this is my list and I can do what I want.
What most people remember from this movie, if they’ve seen it at all, is the Gun Kata which is striking and new, but Equilibrium also has some of the best hand-to-hand fights.
Oldboy is a seminal film for a lot of reasons, most of which I won’t go into here, but its fight scenes are grueling to the point of exhaustion. A beautiful and violent mystery with a truly disturbing secret, this movie opened me up to Korean cinema.
Casino Royale (2006)
They had to say a lot with the cold open of the first Bond Movie since Brosnan wore the tux. There had been a lot of pushback from the fan base about casting Daniel Craig and, more importantly, the Brosnan years felt like a lost decade of movies that had never figured out how Bond should exist in a rapidly changing world.
Parkour had been around for a long time, but incorporating into a long fight scene was new. This fight showed us that Bond was going to be Connery tough again and that he would break the rules with fascist fervor the way he does in the books.
Kick-Ass was a revelation. There were so many excellent fight scenes that broke new ground in this one movie it was hard to pick one. Bid Daddy cleaning out the warehouse, Hit Girl cleaning out the party (and saving Dave’s life), Hit Girl making her way to Damico’s office, Hit Girl vs Damico, Kick-Ass vs Red Mist. Pick one. This entire movie is a gift to action lovers.
Kingsmen: The Secret Service (2014)
As he did with Kick-Ass, Matthew Vaughn innovated the hell out of this movie, but my favorite game changer was: manners. Who says you have to yell the F-word and spit on people during a proper dust-up? Also, would it hurt you to put on a fine tailored suit before you start handing out Glasgow kisses?
Remember, “Manners. Maketh. The Man.”
John Wick (2014)
Other movies had used jujitsu in their fight scenes, most prominently Mission Impossible III, but John Wick combined it with real, very serious close quarter combat skills right down to keeping your gun close to your body so no one can take it from you.
The movie is one long fight scene broken up by great car chases. It has the frenetic, exhausting energy of Oldboy, the CQC of Kick-Ass, and the gunplay of Equilibrium. Action movies haven’t been the same since.
ADDENDUM: John Wick III
Adding this because I’m literally just seeing John Wick III right now and what’s more brilliant than a very long knife fight in a knife store? This is a brutal mixture of hand-to-hand and edged weapon combat that went on so long I was out of breath when it ended.
Extra points for the coup-de-gras axe toss.
This week’s episode is the first part of a two part finale entitled Et In Arcadia Ego, which as we all know is Spanish for The In Arcadia Ego. Join us for more incredibly wrong “facts” like this as Mike and I stumble toward the conclusion of Picard’s first season.
One of the things I loved about the late Roger Ebert was that, unlike most critics, he seemed to understand movies are a kind of Swiss Army Knife of media. They serve many purposes. Art, Education, Business and also simple Diversion.
For instance, after listening to Gene Siskel excoriate the admittedly bad Chuck Norris film “Invasion USA,” Ebert’s review was, “If you like this sort of thing, you will like this one.”
Not requiring “Invasion USA” to perform up to the standards of “The Magnificent Ambersons” should be a given for any good critic, but that’s very often what they do.
And Rotten Tomatoes’ quiptastic format only intensifies this tendency. The world is besotted with online critics right now and they’re all aware they’re only going to get a single sentence on RT so they very often lose any nuance and just come up with something snappy.
Then, when they’ve trashed an average, mid-budget film from the Hollywood factories, they’ll spend a column opining about how Hollywood doesn’t turn out the mid-budget pictures anymore.
This (and no small amount of gamification by both sides) has given rise to the split score. The critics pan it and the audience loves it, or the other way around.
I still use Rotten Tomatoes as a guide, along with IMDB, but whenever the critics’ score diverges too far from the audience score, I throw them both out and employ my time tested heuristics:
- Is this a movie I want to see? If yes, watch the damn movie. If no, watch Marvel stuff for four hours.
- Is this a fancy, art film? If yes, just watch Marvel stuff for six hours
- Is this a comedy? If yes, do I think the people in/behind it are funny? If yes, watch the damn movie. If not, watch Groundhog Day three times.
- Is this an action film? Eh, don’t watch an action movie with a split score in either direction. Action films are basically drek waiting to happen. They’re the wet fart that will only take an iota of force to turn into a splattering shart. You’re better than that. Watch Marvel stuff for nine hours.
- Is this a sequel? Does it have “Jurassic” in the title? If yes, watch Marvel stuff for eight hours. If no, does it have “Wick” in the title? If no, watch Marvel stuff for ten hours, otherwise watch the damn movie.
- Is this a Marvel movie? Does it have “Avengers” in the title but not “Captain”? If yes, watch Star Wars stuff for twelve hours. If no, why are you reading this when you could be watching Marvel stuff?
As always, you are welcome.
When I started this diary, I intended to make a short note every day to keep track of what it was like during America’s first pandemic in a hundred years. I didn’t take into account the drab blur of days that lock down would be become.
There’s not much to write about when not much changes from day to day.
No one we know has been touched by the virus yet, but there is this feeling of existential dread that it’s out there on the wire, probing our defenses, looking for the straggler.
One could argue we are in a better position to ride out a pandemic lock down than any previous generation because of our overpowered houses with internet supplied entertainment, zoom conferences, and delivery services running seven days a week.
But we also have the worst government in the history of this country and fully 40% of the population has decided to bathe themselves in willful ignorance and unsubstantiated superstition rather than accept anything a scientist says.
Whether it’s the pandemic or climate change or if drinking bleach cures what ails you, they seem overeager to believe anything that will trump a scientist’s finding if that finding in any way inconveniences them.
And while the virus rages on, now having killed way more Americans Vietnam — we’re basically having a 9/11 every week now and the GOP is refusing ground the planes — for-profit hospitals are laying off healthcare workers because profits are down.
The idea of going to the hospital right now is so frightening people are dying at home as uncounted victims of the virus. And this just adds to the spike of fear when something that may be a symptom pops up.
My wife had a splitting headache one day and we just sat around and hoped for the best, both of us secretly terrified she had picked up a case of C19 on one of her forays to the grocery store.
Turned out to just be a headache, but for a moment we felt the full weight of our vulnerability. Not just to the virus, but to a poorly managed system geared for profit rather than to support the people it claims to serve.
Whether it’s the GOP holding the government hostage or meatpacking plants not protecting workers or Amazon forcing employees into dangerous situations, the entire system is shaking at the joints. There will be gaps in the supply chain worse than toilet paper and if you think it’s ugly now, it will be worse then.
Posted on May 9, 2020
Oh, no, we’ve done something terrible. That’s right, we’ve settled a long running argument among the nerdosphere by ranking the top ten science fiction TV shows from the 20th century.
Sounds implausible, don’t it? Join us to find out just how implausible.