Wednesday, March 31, 2021

It Was the 80s: How to Fix Revenge of the Nerds

So it took me a while to figure out how to write about this film, one I've loved for most of my life. A way which would allow me to celebrate the good parts but also discuss what I consider to be two highly problematic scenes and one missed opportunity. Here's what I came up with:

Revenge of the Nerds, 1984 d. Jeff Kanew 

Written by: Tim Metcalfe, Miguel Tejada-Flores, Steve Zacharias, Jeff Buhai (story)

and Steve Zacharias and Jeff Buhai (screenplay)

Summary: At Adams College, a group of bullied outcasts and misfits resolve to fight back for their peace and self-respect (IMDB). 

The Good Things: 

Gilbert (Anthony Edwards), Booger's crass comedy when not aimed toward Lamar or the Omega Mus, Ogre (Donald Gibb) as an effective 45-year-old man-bully, all names of characters in general, the montage sequence of fixing up the yellow house, the loophole into Lambda's provisional chartership, the awkwardness of the party (pre-wonderjoints), the music, the revenge involving liquid heat upon the Alpha Betas, the Greek games, and the winning skit performance

Photo Credit: The New Yorker
Photo Credit: The New Yorker

The Two Seriously Problematic Things

1. The violation of the women in the Pi House: recording their nudity, sharing it among the group and then stamping Betty Childs' (Julie Montgomery) naked likeness onto the pie plate for the charity fundraiser

2. The manipulation of Betty Childs in the moon room that resulted in her engaging in sexual relations with Lewis to which she did not consent because of the Darth Vader mask hiding his identity. 

Now. These two things were definitely what earned the film's R rating and were probably the parts most teenagers wanted to see, but I think it could have been done with more respect and less violating. For instance, have the panty-raid go off as performed, allow Lewis/Gilbert/Poindexter to surprise the respective women in their underwear or topless, then, done. Haha, naked girls funny, now we go home. No taping. No Betty Childs boob stamp. True, it's still a violation of sorts, no one wants to be seen naked by random creeps who have invaded their living quarters, but in the end, it's more of a "we're horny and curious" kind of violation (as in Porky's) and not a precursor to revenge porn one.

The moon room could still work, but somehow have Betty get the mask off forcing Lewis to plead his case to Betty which would allow her to consent. "If I'm not the best lay in all of Adams College . . . " or something like that. She gets to decide. If she says no, whatever, Lewis tried. He still could go on with the rest of the Tri-Lambs to win the festival and take over the Greek council, maybe even hook up with that brunette with the long side pony and pink prom dress from the party again. If she says yes, keep things the same as they were: Lewis is a sexual legend (presumably at items other than fraternity jack-rabbiting ala Stan Gable), Betty falls in love, and everyone lives happily ever after. 

Allowing Lewis, one of the film's heroes, to successfully rape Betty by deception makes him worse than any of the Alpha Betas. As far as we know (and this is a big assumption, I get it) none of them raped anyone by coercion. Although the existence of that sheep for initiation purposes concerns me . . . 

And I know this wasn't on anyone's radar back in 1984, because consent and women's safety were not even afterthoughts and wouldn't be until DECADES later, but they should have been. Even if the entire theme of the film was about bullying and revenge, the idea that nerds deserve to be treated kindly pretty much loses its power if it only applies to men. Take the differences between Betty Childs and Judy (Michelle Meyrink), Gilbert's love interest. 

Betty is aesthetically pleasing, desirable, and leader of her sorority. She is skilled at: 

1. Bad shoulder dancing at the fated Alpha Beta "fireball" party

2. Recording the minutes at the Greek Council meeting as secretary

3. Singing off-key "Old Mac Donald"

4. Snapping fingers and rocking back and forth while cheering "ooh, ahh, Alpha Beta!" at Greek Games

5. Having high sex drive (Stan claims she's "like a goat" at charity fundrasier)

So to summarize, not smart, not talented, but interesting because she's pretty and sexual. It doesn't take a ton of thought to realize that she's the prize to be won, here. 

Judy, on the other hand is not aesthetically pleasing and is good at nothing. She's kind and empathetic, but that gets her very little, value-wise. Her shortcomings:

1. Having no computer skills despite being clearly in the nerd camp

2. Awkward 

3. Not especially memorable or clever in any way

4. (And this is the one that gets me): BAD AT ACCORDION

Make no mistake, I'm not faulting a beginning musician for being bad at their chosen instrument, I'm upset that Judy, as a character, couldn't have ONE thing she was good at. It was a missed opportunity not letting that happen. She matched the physical aesthetic of all the other nerds, so that wasn't a huge deal, and Gilbert seemed to really be into her, allowing her to become desirable, at least to him. In contrasting Judy with Poindexter (also a terrible instrumentalist), we see his intelligence but never hers. She doesn't even get to be clever ala saving the group by a deep dive into the Lambda's by-laws (Poindexter's win) or helping in any way that involves wit unless you count her idea to bring over the Omega Mus, which really paved the way for hella mean comments and provided the focus of the Alpha Beta/Sisters of Pi Old MacDonald mockery with the pigs. Annoying.

If Judy was allowed to be the nerd version of Betty Childs, she should have been smart and capable. If not an equal in the computer lab, she should have been a WIZARD on that fucking accordion. Having Judy be unimpressive and blah might be closer to reality (there are unimpressive, blah people everywhere), but it just seems skewed, giving female viewers little choice between that blah-ness and Betty Childs' existence as an accessory for men to pass around. Looking at the poster for the film, you wouldn't even know Judy exists because she was not given a placement in it. 

Cameron (Obnoxious and Anonymous) and I chatted about the film about a month ago where these and many other concerns were addressed. We both really enjoy the film overall and I think were pretty surprised at how many different directions our discussion ended up going (I only ranted hard once, about right-wing creativity in light of the Alpha Betas "Mr. Touchdown" homecoming skit). Check the video out, below:

And if you're still yearning for more, check out Ian Crouch's piece for The New Yorker on how Revenge of the Nerds culture played into the Brett Kavanaugh situation, which I absolutely love (that this article exists, not that the topic it examines happened). 

Sunday, March 28, 2021

LOST: It Wasn't Purgatory, Season 2, episode 13, The Long Con

On-Island Events: Locke and Jack stock the armory with handguns, where Locke has also hidden the seven remaining Virgin Mary statues. Locke suggests Jack lock up the medications in the armory as well. As Sawyer taunts Charlie for being banished by the group, Jack ransacks Sawyer's tent to take back stolen painkillers. When Kate brings Sawyer a magazine, he requests she read to him. While discussing group happenings, Sawyer lets slip that Jack and Ana Lucia are forming an army.

Hugo attempts to engage Sayid by showing him Bernard's short wave walkie but Sayid insists he's not interested. Jack and Ana Lucia discuss safety among the group members and Sun works at creating a garden. As a rainstorm breaks out, an unseen assailant puts a dark cloth over Sun's head and injures her. Locke and Jack disagree about how to protect the group; Jack wants to employ weaponry but Locke thinks guns are too dangerous. Out in the jungle, Sawyer suggest to Kate that their own people may have attacked Sun. 

Kate confronts Jack about bestowing too much trust upon Ana Lucia. When Sun wakes up and explains how she was attacked, Jin demands a gun from Jack as Sawyer and Kate watch. Kate assumes that Ana Lucia is making a play for the guns in the armory and sends Sawyer to the hatch to warn Locke. Locke agrees that the guns should be moved and asks Sawyer to assist him.

When Jin and Jack arrive at the hatch, Sawyer is present but feigns innocence when the armory's guns are discovered to be missing. Jack confronts Locke on the beach, demanding two guns. As they argue, shots ring out and Sawyer emerges from the shadows. He lectures the group about allowing Locke and Jack to make all the rules and for stealing his stash. Going on to state that guns are the only things that matter now, Sawyer walks off with a rifle, announcing himself the "new sheriff in town."

Kate is angry about being played but suggests Sawyer did what he did because he wants to be hated. When asked why he behaves the way he does, Sawyer responds, "You run, I con. A tiger don't change its stripes." Later that evening, Sayid comes to Hugo with the short wave radio he's modified, and the two listen to orchestral music together on the beach.

Sawyer meets with his partner in crime, who happens to be Charlie. He offers him the heroin statues back, but Charlie doesn't want them. When he asks Sawyer how he came up with the idea to con everyone, Sawyer replies, "I'm not a good person, Charlie. Never did a good thing in my life." 

Flashbacks: Sawyer's attempt to con a romantic interest fails but she asks him to teach her his trade.
Using junk necklaces, Sawyer teaches the woman, who he calls "Dimples," how to run a jewelry scam. Later, Dimples voices unhappiness at doing small jobs and asks Sawyer to show her a "long con." Sawyer says they don't have money for a long con but Dimples, whose real name is Cassidy, offers the six hundred thousand dollars she's been hiding from her divorce settlement.

Sawyer meets with a man in a diner (where Diane Austin is working) and admits he has the money but is hesitant about going through with whatever deal they'd previously worked out. Sawyer eventually returns to Cassidy, very agitated, and admits that he had always known about her divorce money. "You were the long con," he tells her, but no longer. Sawyer insists he won't take her money, tells Cassidy he loves her, and sends her off to a safe place to wait for him. Sawyer ensures she's gone and then makes off with her money anyway. 

Greater Meaning: Sawyer's attraction to Kate seems legitimate, but it doesn't seem to be enough to keep him from betraying her. Through his flashbacks with Cassidy we see that he successfully acted the part of a boy in love while doing crimes with his romantic partner, but as viewers, we also were betrayed (as was Cassidy, as were the group on the beach) by believing Sawyer's sweet talk. Sawyer has shown true emotion in the past over his search for Sawyer (senior, to whom his childhood letter was addressed), Walt's being taken from the raft, Kate, whispering that he loved her to Jack during his hallucinations after being shot, and even Jack's feelings regarding Christian after describing their meet at the bar in Sydney, but overall he seems to be more strongly motivated by revenge than love or even lust. Sawyer (senior) romanced his mother and caused her death; the man on the boat stole Walt from Michael and caused the raft to come apart, thwarting Sawyer's exodus; the group violated his privacy and stole his belongings. Perhaps he senses himself becoming attached to Kate, perhaps he felt himself becoming attached to Cassidy, and he continues to manipulate and scheme in order to push the feelings or the possibility of any intimacy aside. His reply to Charlie came with a small amount of regret; his ever-present smirk and surface level self-pride seem to vanish when he admits he's not a good person. Could he become one?

Further Questions

1. Does Sawyer want to be hated? 

2. Will Sun find out Charlie is the one who attacked her?

3. What will happen to the guns and the heroin?

4. Is Sawyer in charge now?

5. Will anything happen with the radio?

Saturday, March 20, 2021

So This Exists

I don't give very many bad reviews. Back when I was actually paid to review films I remember doing only two that could be considered negative, but I was respectful and made sure to give equal attention to the good things that happened. Then my Tuesday group watched this:

Victims for Victims: The Theresa Saldana Story, 1984. d. Karen Arthur, written by Arthur Heinemann

"The true story of the brutal attack on actress Theresa Saldana by an unbalanced fan. As a result of her ordeal and its aftermath, Saldana becomes involved in the victims' rights movement." (IMDB)

Here's where things get difficult for me. As a humanist-centered film writer, I try to look for the lesson, the theme, the link to humanity at large that might offset a film's other shortcomings. With this, the only real lessons are, don't get stabbed, and don't trust your insurance, I guess. That's not all that appealing for someone who loves film or humanity. I'd rather write when I'm inspired, not bored to tears or at odds with the content.

For instance, I tried like hell to put something together for Revenge of the Nerds a few weeks ago, a film I really like, but because of two violating situations (videotaping the Sisters of Pi, naked, and Lewis tricking Betty Childs into having relations with him in the moon room thinking he's Stan, her boyfriend), I just couldn't talk about it the way I would have done maybe 10 years ago so I skipped it and waited for something else to come along I could get excited about. 

I can't say I'm excited about this film, but I have been thinking about it, so here we are, and here are the shortcomings: 

1. The victim, Theresa Saldana, plays herself. I'm not a practicing mental health professional (yet) but this seems . . . problematic. We learn at some point in the film that she needs cash since her insurance is, surprise, taking forever and placing a lot of limits on what care Theresa can receive, but yeah, NO. If I had to list five of the worst things that ever happened to me and then act them out in front of a camera for money, I'd take a hard pass. And honestly, this film could not have resulted in a huge number of dollars for anyone involved. Exploitation. 

2. Sometimes crimes are just sudden, jarring, and disruptive but not exactly cinematic or even interesting as a film-length story. The stabbing of Theresa Saldana was such a crime. The creep that stabbed her hung around her place for a while, stalking, eventually stabbed her in broad daylight, and got arrested. Theresa's recovery was lengthy and (sorry) boring. Theresa's interactions with her husband and family were lengthy and (sorry) boring. This was the longest 100 minute film I've ever sat through.

3. Questions: why were all the draperies open and doors unlocked? Why so many stuffed animals for a grown woman? Why was Theresa portrayed so child-like?

It might actually be BOTH Louise and Cindy, 

Those are the main shortcomings. I can't really fault the director, as the film was structurally pretty sound (think of a Dallas episode from around the same early 80s era). The writing can't really be faulted either if they were going for an exact replication of what happened, although someone might have stood up and admitted that it all wasn't all that interesting and I don't know, started making shit up instead, but they obviously played it straight. Bad idea. I read once that Anne Lamott got a memoire she'd written back with the note: "You make the mistake of thinking everything that's ever happened to you is interesting." Given the choice, I would read Anne Lamott's grocery list over sitting through this again, but the sentiment from this editor, whoever it was, is worth keeping in mind. 

After realizing I couldn't just turn this off (it was suggested but we decided to hold fast) I went through all my phone games, stalked the crazy Qs on FB I keep tabs on, and then spent some time wondering what other films I've either left or turned off, unfinished. I remember three: Pearl Harbor (in theater), The Last Samurai (in theater), and WW84 just a few months ago at home. I eventually came around and watched Pearl Harbor again on a dare, I think, and wrote about it with a little more empathy (as much empathy as one can rightly muster for a Michael Bay film) but the latter two were so aggressively bad I will not be coming around. 

I can't in good faith say this was aggressively bad, as it was someone's lived experience, but it is aggressively BLAH. The highlight of the experience for me was insisting to my two Zoom watch mates that certain characters were either Louise Fletcher or Cindy Williams (SHIRLEY, from Laverne &). Like, repeatedly insisting to the point where they would both yell at me every time I brought it up.

Anyway, the film is available in its entirety on YouTube, if you want to give it a try. I do not recommend you do this. Watch Wandavision or Dark instead.