November 28, 2010

Silent Machismo: The Road Warrior

Why is Road Warrior a good movie? A post-apocalyptic tale about a besieged gasoline oasis turning to a wandering hero to fend off a hoard of leather-clad villains couldn't possibly be anything above classic B cinema. I mean, the movie is narrated by a character named "Feral Child." Seriously?

Yes. Seriously. This Ozploitation film is not only awe inspiring because of its minimalist storytelling, but its exemplification of pure, unadulterated, badass, machismo.

I've seen Road Warrior a handful of times, along with Mad Max and Beyond Thunderdome, but seeing it on the big screen in Cleveland, and then discussing it after with friends, brought on some new revelations that I find necessary to share (if only to get them the heck out of my brain). The conclusion is simple: Road Warrior is a man movie, perhaps moreso than films I like far more (Sudden Death, Die Hard, etc.).

What's striking about the film is that no one talks. The script probably has 10 pages of dialogue, max. Road Warrior (or RW) might as well be a silent film, a nuclear wasteland version of Modern Times. The film's lack of dialogue is a strength for a few reasons: film is supposed to be a visual medium and RW is that rare action flick that uses montage first and explanation only in dire circumstances; the story is simple enough that it doesn't require much backstory or exposition (any setup is taken care of with the movie's opening prelude montage); and the dialogue that's there isn't very good, so more pontification from Lord Humungus is only going to make viewers look around at each other like they're all cornered at a party by "that guy."

RW's story is deceptively simple, leaving viewers with plenty of unimportant questions: Why are they after the gas? Where did this gang of S&M stars come from? What's the deal with the gyro captain? It doesn't matter. Like Rio Bravo or Seven Samurai, RW follows the classic story structure of "the bad guys are coming and we have to stop them." Lord Humungus stupidly gives the oasis folks 24 hours to leave their oil rigs and high tail it to safety. The settlers need that gas to power their vehicles to make it to some sanctuary city miles away. They can't leave. They need Max to stand up to the gang and execute an elaborate escape plan. It's that sort of reluctant chivalry and heroism that action movies often turn to, but few are as efficient as RW.

The machismo in the film comes from its lack of dialogue, yes (because real guys like action over discussion), but also from Max himself. He has no love interest (spoiler: his wife was killed in the first film), and no companions outside of his dog. He doesn't really want to talk to anyone, he just wants the gas he was promised so he can get on his way. Not that there's women in the movie to really talk to; the only real heroic one gets filled with arrows eventually. Even macho-er, Max doesn't know how to talk to or hold a child; sure, it's a feral child, but holding him by the waist and carrying him like a stinky diaper isn't very endearing. It's manly. Not in a fatherly sense, but in a "I have no idea how to deal with children" sense. I can relate.

RW isn't the best guy movie ever, but it is iconic. And sometimes, being iconic and badass is the only way you can judge a movie.

November 18, 2010

Christmastime is Radiotime

Dodge-Xmas-2010-lg.jpgWhen James and I wrote our first Christmas episode of Dodge Intrepid and the Pages of Time our goal was just to have a nice holiday special to give to our families. Any show worth its salt (is the value of salt even considered these days?) has a good Christmas episode to hang its scarf on. Our first episode was... questionable, but fun. Like a lot of our early writing, we were still getting the hang of things. I think we recorded the thing in a living room or a basement, shivering. We weren't aiming very high--it had something to do with orphans having their books stolen by Allister Farious.

After a year or two of writing under our attractive belts, confidence in our Christmas tales grew. We started jamming in all sorts of parodies and references to classic tales, and eventually we began performing them live at Beaver Falls Coffee & Tea Company (the very cafe where we've performed several "Live Sound" shows).

Last year's show set a precedent: our Christmas adventure, the last installment James and I wrote before he moved to Cleveland, went over like gingerbread men at a church bake sale. Not only was the show really well received, but we also had some fantastic accompaniment from Marissa and Jason (only some of their great music shows up in the podcast version). Marissa's original song about the Krampus and Jason's trumpeting took the show to a new level.

So, clearly, we need to do that again. James and I are hard at work crafting a bigger, better Christmas episode while Marissa works on some new and classic Christmas songs. After a successful post-move radio show over the summer, James and I have worked out a solid new process (a mix of iChat AV, road trips, Google Docs, and carrier pigeons). I'm traveling to Cleveland this weekend to hopefully finish the preliminary script. It's going well, and you're going to like it. Probably a lot.

For the local listener, you can catch the show one night only, at Beaver Falls Coffee & Tea near Geneva College. The show starts at 7:30pm and is free. For people who don't own cars or hate seeing things in person, we'll be podcasting (most) of the show as well.

November 9, 2010

How to Change a Tire

When a man walks up to your car in traffic and knocks on your window, a couple things could happen: you could be getting car jacked; you might be getting punched in the face for cutting someone off; or, in my case, you could be informed of a flat tire. Despite the business-attired man delivering the news in a polite and friendly manner (thanks Pittsburgh!), I was still stunned. It had been a rough morning, I had a large cup of black coffee next to me. I was trying to get to work. This informative Samaritan had sent me into a panic.

I made my way across traffic and pulled off into Polish Hill. What was I going to do? I had never changed a tire before. I didn't have AAA. The amazing experiences I had enjoyed this week suddenly vanished and my survival instincts needed to kick in. I drank that black coffee. I called my parents. I was hoping that they'd be able to find a number online for some garage that could come change this tire for me. No luck.

The first lesson of how to change a tire: no one in the city of Pittsburgh offers roadside assistance anymore. No one.

After calling every garage from the strip to Carson Street, I was stuck. I was going to have to change this thing myself. It was time to be a man. A Man. Capital M.

I got out my VW owner's manual, which comes in a binder filled with individual books. They explode out of the thing every time you open it. For as efficient a car company as VW is, you'd think they'd switch to a better binder. All of the tools necessary to change a tire were in my trunk... well, all of the tools that VW could provide. There's one they were missing: brute strength.

The second lesson of how to change a tire: make sure you have a full size spare and all the tools you need... including brute strength.

I dragged the full size tire out of my trunk and set it on the ground. I got all of the tools out of their styrofoam molds. A jack. A giant wrench thing. A tiny metal hook. Some other stuff. I set everything on the seat of my car. I was really doing this.

The first thing I had to do was pry off the bolt cover. That's what the little metal hook was for. Easy as pie. Easier maybe. I was feeling confident--standing up with my leather jacket, looking around Polish Hill to see if any of the locals were admiring how easily I had taken off the wheel cover. "He must have done this before" they'd say, as they sipped their morning coffee.

The second step was removing the bolts. I put the wrench thing on the first bolt and tried to twist. Nothing. I was going in the right direction, I had the thing on correctly. Nothing. I was talking to my mom about garages while I was doing this. She recommended a trick her brothers had taught her: if you put the wrench on the bolt and then jump on it, you'll knock it loose enough to finish the job. Okay. I could to that. I hung up the phone, put the wrench on the first bolt, and stood on it with all my weight. It wasn't budging. I started bouncing on the wrench. Nothing. I started hopping a little, and then broke out into a full jump. This bolt was secured by Hephaestus himself!

After about ten minutes of trying to loosen this bolt--and losing much of the Manly Dignity I had gained from removing the wheel cover--the thing finally loosened up. I knew, however, that this was only the beginning. There were still like five more bolts. I'd also need to jack up the car after loosening them. And then I'd need to remove them entirely, and put on the new wheel... and I was on a hill. Polish Hill.

It was almost 11am. I needed to get to work.

The third lesson of how to change a tire: Know when to concede.

With my black coffee getting cold, and my hands getting colder, I finally admitted defeat. I wasn't ready to change this tire. I couldn't. I physically wasn't heavy enough to get the rest of these bolts off. I called AAA.

"Thank you for calling AAA."

"Hi… I have a flat tire."

"Not a problem, sir. Can I just have your membership number?"

"Well, that's the thing. I'm not a member."

"Would you like to become one?"

"Yes. Yes I would."

And just like that, I joined AAA. $50 a year for roadside assistance and discounts on a bunch of stuff… why hadn't I always been a member? I don't know. It didn't matter now. I stood there, a broken and defeated man (lowercase m), sipping my cold, black coffee. Cold and black like my once triumphant and noteworthy self-esteem. Within ten minutes of joining AAA, they showed up to change the tire. It was as if they had been watching me this whole time, seeing if I had what it took to do it myself. When I failed, they knew I'd give in to their demands.

I look at the whole experience as a positive one. As one that appropriately reminded me that I shouldn't be afraid to ask for help once in a while. I can't change a tire on my own. Someday I will. Maybe it won't even be my own--although for insurance purposes, it probably should be. And whenever I finally do change that tire, I'll call AAA and tell them that I did. They'll be proud of me. They'll probably ask for my membership number first, and then they'll be proud of me.


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