Pacific Rim: Across The Pond

There's something fascinating -- intriguing -- about a Mexican director making a film that is subtextually all about the spiritual/cultural nexus between the USA and Japan, our blood sister 'across the pond' as the British say, but in this case the pond is the Pacific Ocean, not the Atlantic. Being from the East Coast, I always thought Japan was as far away as possible: Europe, Russia, China, then finally Nihon. Looking at Googlemaps, I see that from a West Coast POV, Nihon is just across the sea. From the shore of Malibu, Sarah Palin could claim to see the coast of Sendai. The Pacific is our nexus. Indeed, from an Atlantic POV, you can't understand the Asian front of WWII. That war was about the Pacific Ocean.

I don't think there is any other country besides the UK with as large a presence in American popular culture as Japan.  I don't think that's a coincidence.  Pacific Rim references martial arts*, anime, Transformers, but most of all Godzilla. And like Gojira, Rim is a monster movie that aspires to philosophical depth. (That Del Toro harmonizes the original Gojira masterpiece with the superficially silly Toho rubber suit spin-off franchise is the topic of a film studies master's thesis; those movies about Godzilla being kidnapped by martians aren't as infantile as you might remember them.) Of course, Rim must bow to its great and massive progenitor: Gojira is Hiroshima and Nagasaki filtered through Japanese dragon mythology. That is some deep shit. I know of no scene in cinema more intellectually profound than Serizawa's epiphany. What topic, other than God, is more significant than self-inflicted human extinction?

Rim is also about global apocalypse, though not self-inflicted. To credit Del Toro's skill, he evokes the end of the world more distressingly than any other blockbuster -- more than Deep Impact. This ain't the Death Star, motherfucker, this is The End. What does it mean that in Rim, nuclear weapons are humanity's only hope? What does it mean when an African-American tech warrior emerges from a cloud of apocalyptic dust to rescue and then adopt a Japanese girl?

And, my heavens, what does it mean that a Japanese woman and American man can mind-meld instantly in 'the Drift?' All the other Drift partners are blood relatives -- Chinese triplets, Russian twins, Australian father & son. Idris Elba can drift with non-blood only because he is long-experienced in the neurally/psychologically overwhelming drift technology to co-pilot the giant robots. Mako Mori is a Drift novice, but seconds into a psychological kendo test, prototypical Yank Raleigh Beckett knows she's the one. Remember Matrix II: you never really know someone until you fight them.

You never know someone until you fight them. America and Japan fought. And not just on land. We fought in our national souls: we fought in the Drift. We didn't fight Hitler in the Drift. The Third Reich was not the German soul; Germany had gone temporarily insane. Looking back to Bismarck, you wouldn't foresee Nazism emerging from the heart of Aleman. But Japanese militarism was not an episode. It was an embedded national trait, rooted in the prior century, just like American militarism and expansionism. We were two hyper-aggressive military superpowers on perhaps an inevitable warpath over our shared ocean. Japan is the only nation to suffer nuclear attack, we're the only nation to ever use nuclear weapons. You never know someone until you fight them. In the Drift, America is Nihon, Nihon is America. And the Kaiju are fucking dead.

Man, Pacific Rim is some deep-ass shit. I'm not even going to touch on what this film might be saying about 21st century geopolitics. No, I am not going there.


I Was Born To Raise Hell ...

... to another level.

And that he did. Some people do their thing, and they just own it. Of course, I'm talking about the great Dennis Hopper, who died today. Easy Rider and Apocaplyse Now: Hopper owns the '60s. The whole decade is his. I'm hard pressed to think of a film that owns it's subject -- a major American cultural phenomenon -- the way Rider owns the hippie counterculture. Maybe The Godfather and organized crime (except Godfather was largely bullshit about the honorable mafioso who was too moral to deal drugs -- hah! -- and it has competition from Sopranos and Goodfellas). Rider's cinematic claim on the '60s is absolute. Not even Woodstock itself disputes. And you won't find any bullshit in a Dennis Hopper film about honorable crimelords and warm-hearted multiple-murderers.

Personally, I think Hopper's most brilliant film is Colors, one of my 10 Favorite Films. Just as in Rider, Hopper zoomed in on a critical, unfolding social phenomenon in America: the L.A. Gangs, the crack revolution in urban crime, open warfare between street gangs and the police, and hip-hop. And he did what filmmakers should do: he showed the rest of us. I remember coming out of the theater after seeing Colors; on the street right outside the theatre, cops were arresting a half-dozen kids (down on their knees, hands interlocked) exactly like I'd just seen on screen. Hopper showed us.

He was a ruthless film-maker, he'd kill off anybody. He was also ruthless in depicting sex on film, in Colors and The Hot Spot. I think Hopper liked the sound of women screaming during intense sex.

Most of all, as director of Easy Rider and Colors, Hopper was a master at matching music with cinematic image into a massively empowered symbiot. Born To Be Wild/Easy Rider: show me a more perfect match of image to sound anywhere! (Well, again I suppose The Godfather.) In the opening sequence to Colors, Hopper uses a police siren to morph from good ol' American rockabilly into a mortifying hip-hop track as the Crips execute a drive-by murder. Check out the scene where Crips ganglord 'Rocket' (played minimally/brilliantly by a young Don Cheadle) gets arrested in a round-up and swaggers like death itself into a holding cell to join his Crip underlings. Gated off from the Bloods in an adjoining cell, the Crips shout at their murderous rivals over the chilling title track by IceT. It's one the most terrifying, most vivid scenes I've ever seen on screen.


Concert Review: John Fogerty, Beacon Theatre

And God Said Let There Be Music. And Fun. Then he sent John Fogerty down to earth ...

John Fogerty's sons Tyler and Shane and their band 'Steamtrain Mary' opened for their dad at the Beacon Theatre in NYC. They are formidable young musicians. In an ironic twist, Fogerty's younglings covered 'Dazed and Confused' with sufficient power and accuracy to make me wonder, more than a little wistfully, 'what was it like to hear Led Zeppelin live?' Never seeing Zeppelin--it's like a wound that can never heal. The same with Hendrix. Even The Stones' twin guitar titans are still 600-foot tall monsters, but you can never see a 20-year old Mick Jagger. If you didn't see the phenomenon then, it's lost to you forever.

Which brings me to Big Daddy: John Fogerty, the King Kong of Roots Rock. The one Classic Rock A-lister still in his prime 40 years later. Seeing him tonight at the Beacon makes up, at least somewhat, for never seeing Hendrix or Zeppelin. Have no doubt about this: Fogerty is one of the world's greatest musicians -- the air is so thin up at his level. He's Mark Twain on a Silvertone -- an iconic voice, song myths that strike deep into your soul, and that black magic in his guitar playing is a little scary. The guy is a monster!

Some of these Creedence songs are so good that when I hear them live, I can hardly believe its happening. These aren't just catchy pop tunes. Each one is rooted in some moment, some place, some deep longing, or just some really great party. 'My Backdoor?' Come on. Fogerty's vision of life in heaven is sweet musical perfection: as God said, Let There Be Fun! On the voodoo-inflected 'Old Man Down The Road'', the guitar licks get so hot, it's as if the man electrocutes himself right up off the stage. 'Green River' gets into your blood faster than a straight shot of Jack Daniels and just teleports you. And suddenly there you are, down on the bayou.

If the Blue Ridge Rangers played basketball, they'd be The Dream Team. Every one is a world class musician, worthy to stand on stage next to John Fogerty.