Fast Times with Valley Girls: 30 Years Later, What Do Two SoCal Classics Tell Us About America?

fasttimes

[Editor's Note: This piece originally appeared on the KCET Departures website under its Intersections column on February 15, 2013.  It is a pop culture supplemental addition to our Retail California series. Part one can be read here. Part two can be read here, and part three here.] "I hate working the theater," Mark "Rat" Ratner (Brian Backer) laments to friend Mike Damone (Robert Romanus) in the classic comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High. "All the action's on the other side of the mall." Indeed, Rat's wide-eyed stare focuses on the food court, populated by establishments like Bronco Burger, Mexican Dan, and, where his new crush Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh) works, Perry's Pizza. … [Read more...]

600: Rise of My Blood Pressure

300 rise of an empire

Okay, last I checked the Spartans didn’t have an empire. They were some bad ass warriors, no doubt, but they didn’t have an empire. Anyway, 300 Part 2 (or 600), was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen in my life. Historical accuracy is one thing movies are always short on, but this one was quite honestly pulling shit out of its ass like no one’s business. Honestly, the movie is so insulting on so many levels that I really can’t understand how or why it was made. First, the constant droning on about how the Greeks were all free men was just sickening. It kept making me think of George Dubya and all the news shows post-9/11 about how every terrorist (read “brown person”… whether from the … [Read more...]

What Robocop Tells Us about the Neoliberal City, Then and Now

Robocop 1987 vs 2014

The recent release of Jose Padilha’s reboot of the RoboCop franchise offers ToM another opportunity to indulge in extreme historian geekiness. As an unabashed lover of the original 1987 RoboCop, I jumped at the opportunity to write a dual review of both films, reflecting on their contrasting messages and cultural commentaries. Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 version was a masterpiece. No, seriously. Taking place in an unspecified, but not too distant future, the film is set in a dystopic, post-industrial Detroit. The film’s Motor City is riddled with crime and drugs, where police are killed with shocking regularity. The thinly veiled illusion to urban blight during the Reagan years is hard to miss. … [Read more...]

People Like Us: Hollywood Looks at Middle America in Nebraska, August: Osage County, and Dallas Buyers Club

NEBRASKA

Hollywood has always had trouble with “flyover country.”  The movie industry had its roots in New York, particularly Manhattan and Queens, early in the twentieth century, before aspiring auteurs and entrepeneurs set their sights on the lower costs, 365-day sunshine, and lack of organized labor in Southern California.  While states like North Carolina and Georgia have since made significant inroads into the film business through a cunning use of tax incentives, the TV/film/entertainment complex remains rooted in the coastal capitals of New York and Los Angeles. More important than any business strategies or tax incentives, though, has been the cultural domination of Eastern elites and … [Read more...]

The Lego Movie and the Gospel of the Creative Class

the_lego_movie

Any parent who has ever stepped on one of the wonderful Danish bricks known as Legos might find their faith in karma reaffirmed by The Lego Movie. Indeed, a reasonable observer could not be blamed for doubting that a film adaptation of a toy could be hailed by critics as “the first fantastic movie of 2014,” or as “wickedly smart” with “a joyous wit.”  Yet this is what the Lego company—and directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller—have given us as payback for all those hurt feet: a fresh, dizzying, and audacious animated film about interlocking blocks and anonymous minifigurines. Of course, Michael Bay’s Transformers movies gave us plenty of reason to doubt the premise of toy-as-movie, … [Read more...]

13 of Our Favorite Posts from 2013

ToM Best of 2013 image 2

2013 was Tropics of Meta's biggest year yet, as we welcomed numerous new contributors (hello LG, Brian, Mark, Jimmy et al) and continued our collaboration with South El Monte Arts Posse, most notably with the East of East community mapping project.  Some of our pieces traveled far and wide online, such as Clement Lime's spirited defense of Howard Zinn.  Ryan's Minutemen piece got tweeted by Mike Watt, who is now our bestie (not really).  In any case, let's take a look back at some of the most interesting writing from the fourth installment of a five-year plan that just can't fail.  (When have five-year plans ever gone wrong?) The Spanish Roots of the 99% Jeffrey Lawrence explores the … [Read more...]

Letting Go Never Seemed So Hard: Frances Ha, Blue Jasmine, and Colliding with the Realities of Life

Frances Ha and Blue Jasmine

ToM Best of 2013 Watching people unravel, whether in film or life, can be a shocking experience. In America, we like to see people hit rock bottom, repent, dust themselves off, and climb back to respectability. Such stories offer a clear narrative arc that at this point seems scorched into our serpentine subconscious. In real life, the fall, the brushing of dirt off one's shoulders, and rising again hardly seems so clear. Sometimes you don't even realize you’re falling, or that what you are holding onto—a moment, a person, or relationship—no longer exists.  This past year witnessed two films that documented the fall of two very different, yet very similar women in Frances Ha and Blue … [Read more...]

The Discreet Charm of the Gizmosie

female-gremlin

For some reason, our piece on Gremlins and the myth of the model minority has caught on in a big way in the last few months.  We first put together the piece nearly two years ago, as ToM sought a suitable candidate for our yearly treatment of some artifact of holiday pop culture.  Gremlins, the much-loved 1984 comedy-horror film, hardly seemed like a Christmas classic on a par with A Christmas Story or Community's delectable stop-motion send-up of Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer, both of which we'd covered in the past.  Indeed, Gremlins seemed more of a piece with the postmodern popcorn hits of the early-to-mid 1980s -- films like The Goonies (1985), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), and Back to … [Read more...]

Film Turducken: Movies to Help You Survive the Trauma of Thanksgiving

Hopefully your Thanksgiving dinner is less weird than this

Get your turkey on! Few holidays embrace gluttony and laziness like America’s premier competitive eating contest that is Thanksgiving. Most of us end up watching old movies, playing board games, or simply tying one on while we witness yet another set of NFL games meant to hypnotize us with promises of Black Friday sales and family bonding. ToM wants you to enjoy your turkey, cranberry sauce, and Uncle Dan’s homemade brew while considering the plight of Detroit families of the 1980s like Mr. Mom’s Jack and Caroline Butler; or maybe Thanksgiving with the family just reminds you of being trapped in the middle of the Spanish Civil War with a cowed mother and a sadistic stepfather. In that … [Read more...]

Is White the Only Color in Upstream Color?

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Maybe the title of Upstream Color primed me to be thinking about race from the film’s start, or maybe, given the non-white characters in the first scene, it was the fact that people of color are under-represented in films and are, when present, often accompanied by a race-related message. The movie opens with three non-white teens and a non-white guy who is later revealed to be some sort of confidence man. The non-white teens are involved in the production side of a sci-fi drug business, and they’re getting high on the product on the side. The confidence man uses the drug to infiltrate the life of a middle-class white woman and steal her money. Pretty much the rest of the movie is about … [Read more...]

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