#Occupybergdorfs: “If that diamond ring is brass/Daddy’s gonna buy you a childhood of neglect and shame.”

Welcome to #occupybergdorfs, a weekly ruination of the absolute worst that the world of fashion has to offer. Each week, we’ll bring you a new eyesore, and break down exactly what makes this particular outfit “WTF”-worthy. A partnership between Change Machine (Jen Blair) and Super Roller Disco Monkey Hullabaloo (John Jarzemsky), #occupybergdorfs is dedicated to giving you that extra dose of schadenfreude you so desperately need to get you through the week.

Without further ado, may we present…

Moncler Enfant Fragon

Price: $775.00 @ Moncler

Who would wear this?

Jen: Jay-Z’s kids; other kids at Jay-Z’s kids’ elite TriBeCa preschool, whose parents feel compelled to keep up; Mini-Me, whilst hatching a cunning plan in the Swiss Alps.

Best time to wear this?

John: Any time that your toddler isn’t liable to piss, poop, vomit, or spill something all over the $700 jacket you bought them for some unfathomable reason, so never. Or maybe that’s kind of the point, like the guys who buy Air Jordans just to piss in them (note: actually a thing).

Worst time to wear this?

Jen: While your toddler is doing any of the things that toddlers do: playing, drooling, eating messy food, touching other germ-carrying children or handling animals, dirt, and filth on the street.

Who (if anybody) can pull this off?

John: I personally think it would look best whilst worn by an adult performance artist, but that’s just me.

Is it fashionable?

Jen: Opinions on Moncler coats are mixed; I have some friends who shun them as a staple of the douchebag trust fund set, but in places like New York and Chicago a puffer coat is an admitted wintertime necessity and I admit I would very much like to obtain a full-sized one for myself.  I cop to the fact that I had a big fat rabbit fur coat as a five-year-old in the 80’s, which I wore everywhere; if I were a five-year-old today, I would adore this.

Is it fairly priced?

John: It might seem like a drop in the bucket compared to the other stuff we’ve featured here, but spending $700 on somebody who can’t even spell seems like a waste of money. That’s why I never took my high school girlfriend out to dinner, HEY-O!

What do you wear with this?

Jen: Round out the look with a matching Moncler knit chin-strap skullcap, and the quiet confidence that comes with a lifetime of knowing your parents will buy your way into the Ivy League.

What would be a better use for the cash?

John: Given that we’re talking about shopping for goddamn babies, do what any reasonable person does and dress them in hand-me-downs and diapers (or whatever stuff you’ve been gifted at the showers you’ve probably been obnoxiously planning on Facebook ever since you missed your period). You can buy an economy pack of 162 on Amazon for around $50 with shipping, so that’s about 2,268 diapers, which I assume will keep your child’s butt clean for a month or so.

SHOOTING BLANKS: “BLADE”

Blade, we hardly knew ye (image: herogohome.com)

Blade (1998)

Directed by Stephen Norrington

Written by David S. Goyer

Starring: Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristofferson

Blade seems like a movie that should have more of a following. At the time of its release, the dark and pulpy flick enjoyed generally favorable reviews, as well as a respectable box office showing, closing out its lifetime worldwide grosses at $131 million. This was a period when all but the most recognizable comic book adaptations carried something of a stigma in the world of entertainment, and in that light, the marketing for Blade positioned the film more as a vampire action flick that happened to draw on a comic book as its source material. In this vein (pardon the pun) too, Blade was something of a tide-turner, belonging to the select group of pre-2000s vampire movies that weren’t completely mired in schlock (its compatriots being Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Interview With the Vampire). Still, these days Blade is largely forgotten, and I think there are several reasons why.

While Blade may have helped lead the charge towards the future of respectable comic book movies, as a pioneer, the film was bound to be left behind. In 1998, studios were still trying to wrap their heads around the notion of turning comic books, then viewed as kid’s stuff, into films that were marketable enough to all four quadrants to justify their massive budgets. Development executives seemed to struggle especially with the idea of “adult” comics, insisting on layering adaptations with loads of camp that often resulted in strange, tonally confused Frankensteins, such as Joel Schumacher’s Batman adaptations, and Alex Proyas’ reworking of The Crow. While David S. Goyer may have “only” been a writer on Blade, it’s arguably been his baby from the beginning, and helped firmly establish him as a go-to comics guy in Hollywood. Blade still clings to some of the vestigial camp of its predecessors, but the dark and gritty atmosphere identity that would become synonymous with Goyer’s name is present and accounted for. As Tinseltown began to realize the untapped potential of comic book franchises, new marching orders came down and “dark and gritty” became de rigeur. Goyer would lead the charge, contributing writing to Christopher Nolan’s rebooting of the long-dormant and presumed dead Batman franchise, as well as the Nolan-produced Man of Steel. Oddly, Goyer is at least partly responsible for a tonal shift in comic book films that left Blade looking more than a little quaint.

Goyer also penned two sequels, Blade II and Blade Trinity, both of which tried to fall in line with emerging trends but wound up playing as overcorrected, grim-faced nonsense romps (and the addition of the always-annoying Ryan Reynolds didn’t help). A few bad movies won’t always sink a franchise (Batman), but an emerging property with a lot of x-factors couldn’t really afford the consequences of two back-to-back stumbles. The sequels didn’t do terribly at the box office, but by the time Trinity rolled around in 2004, the comic book races were off and running, and the incredibly violent, R-rated franchise based on a lesser known and less than marketable character was soon put out to pasture. In my opinion, the fun and quirky brutality of Blade has been eclipsed by the eye-rolling tedium of its sequels. As such, it’s been relegated to less-than-prestigious cult status, doomed to live on only in the hearts of fedora-wearing neckbeards and guys who regularly attend anime conventions.

Last but not least, the falling star of Wesley Snipes may have sunk the half-vampire vampire-killer altogether. While the actor’s tax troubles weren’t common knowledge until around 2006, chances are that talk of Snipes’ financial philandering had begun to circulate around Hollywood much earlier: a look at the one-time star’s filmography reveals that he sank into the direct-to-video abyss immediately following Blade Trinity, and did not return to theaters until 2009, with Brooklyn’s Finest. It seems more than likely that Snipes was considered too “complicated” to work with by 2005, and became persona non grata in the world of big budget filmmaking as a result.

If we’re going to speak in massively hyperbolic metaphors, it’s important to remember that those who lead the charge are seldom immortalized as heroes. Rather, they’re the first to die facedown in the mud, their backs trampled by the waves of others coming behind them. Blade may not be a masterpiece, and the story of Blade slipping back into the shadows of the public consciousness may not be a tragedy, but as we wrap up a month that saw the box office dominated by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s important to remember that thing weren’t always like this.

Whether or not that’s a good thing, well…that’s for another article.

SHOOTING BLANKS: “Training Day”

Image: blu-ray.com

SHOOTING BLANKS: Training Day (2001)

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Written by David Ayer

Starring Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke

 

Before we begin, a bit of an introduction. If any of you happened to read my piece “A Strange History of Souses”, liked it, and are also fans of film, this may be just what you’re looking for. If not, it might still be what you’re looking for, because I’m extraordinarily bad at judging what will and won’t appeal to people. Anyway, the idea of this new feature on SRDMH is to examine some films, hopefully ones that haven’t been dissected to death, and really look at them in the context of their place in history, culture, and the film canon at large. It’s not exactly a review and it’s not exactly a collection of “favorites”, as some (or hell, maybe many) will be very flawed. Shooting Blanks will be more of an examination of movies for people looking to get a little more out of film writing than a star writing and a plot summary. The goal is to encourage people to revisit some of these films or discover them for the first time. All comments and feedback are welcome and encouraged.

When I first conceived of this concept, I was bereft of Internet in my tidy new home office setup, and so I sketched out a rough working draft of the main points I wanted to hit, but then sort of put it in a drawer and forgot about it while I got more of the apartment together. I’m glad I waited, because in the past few weeks, the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown at the hands of the Ferguson Police Department and the clashes between outraged citizens and a highly militarized police force have brought a very heated and contentious conversation concerning the relationship between ethnic minorities and police officers back to the forefront of the American consciousness.

In that light, it seems appropriate to kick off this feature with a film about police officers that has become more and more problematic as time goes on. When it was first released, Training Day seemed explosive in some ways, as a cop movie that seemed to target the institution of American law enforcement as a whole. It wasn’t the first time that mainstream movie-going audiences were presented with the issue of cops as bad guys, but Training Day differed from the “few bad apples” technique and insisted that the problem was systemic. Still, upon a recent viewing, it was apparent that the film hasn’t exactly aged well. Especially in light of events like the Michael Brown shooting (and a cavalcade of events like it), David Ayer’s story of a greenhorn narc’s unwitting stumble into a cesspool of corruption seems almost quaint, and possibly insulting.

Ethan Hawke does a fine job as Jake Hoyt, the trainee of the titular “training day”, who grow steadily horrified at the unfolding picture that his superior, Detective Alonzo Harris, paints for him. However, it’s Denzel Washington’s turn as Harris that really carries the movie, a role that garnered the actor a well-deserved Oscar win (beating out Russell Crowe for the criminally overrated but thankfully, largely forgotten A Beautiful Mind). Washington plays Harris with a magnetic and sinister charisma that practically emanates from the screen, and lends Ayer’s pull-no-punches tirades an air of credibility, even as the character transitions from admirable anti-hero to broken criminal. Perhaps the most memorable scene in the entire film comes near the conclusion of Harris’ arc; as Hawke walks away with his boss’s blood money, Washington flings one final lecture at his retreating back, and then turns his ire on the assembled crowd of onlookers, all of whom are black or Latino, and all of whom have grown tired of his iron-fisted rule over their neighborhood.

The most relevant question to consider when watching Training Day leads down a rabbit hole from which, seemingly, no answer can emerge: how different would the film be if Harris, the film’s chief antagonist, were played by a white actor? The most immediate and obvious answer is that without the dynamite performance, Training Day would collapse under the weight of its assembled weaker points (though released in 2001, the film suffers from the same pulpy slickness afflicting many 90’s era thrillers, sometimes skirting the line between drama parody). However, it’s hard to deny that the film’s thematic takeaways become somewhat muddled when examined closely. As is, Training Day can, at times, feel like a movie about a lone, crusading (white) cop standing up against the insidious evil of Los Angeles, most of whom happen to have dark faces. There is one scene in which a bunch of rich old white guys from the LAPD top brass discuss the fate of Harris with varying levels of condescension, but it comes off as a bit of an afterthought.

I’m giving writer David Ayer the benefit of the doubt and assuming that he and Fuqua (and whatever studio executives were also involved in casting) decided that Washington was the best person for the role, and had no real interest in cracking open the complexities of a justice system that ends up pursuing and prosecuting a disproportionate number of black men. It should be noted that Ayer has since become somewhat known as the go-to guy for movies about cop culture (see Harsh Times and the markedly better End of Watch), and though he is admirably candid about portraying his fictional officers in a less than flattering light, one has to wonder if Ayer was hesitant about how marketable Training Day might have seemed if it were a more sharp indictment of police corruption and the very real abusive power dynamic that has existed between law enforcement and ethnic minorities in the United States since the country’s inception. A draft of the script dated April, 2001, contains enough context clues to firmly establish Alonzo Harris’ identity as a black man, but Ayer wrote the first draft in 1995, so there’s no real way of knowing how the character transformed between the script’s inception and the eventual involvement of Washington.

The point is, despite a dynamite performance from Washington and adequate direction from Fuqua, Training Day, a movie I unabashedly loved when I was 16, and one I still nostalgically cling to, missed a grand opportunity. Hindsight, of course, is always 20/20, and it’s hard to fault Ayer or anybody else involved with the film’s development for jumping at the change to have Denzel Washington in the lead. If anything, while Training Day may have aged poorly, as all films of a certain time and place do, it has taken on a somewhat more compelling quality as a sort of time capsule, a glimpse at how artists approached issues like police corruption and the racial tensions of urban America in a world that hadn’t yet been completely cracked open by the Internet. Hopefully, as time progresses, and these sorts of abuses of power and the consequences of institutionalized racism are more doggedly pursued by the media and the public, more incisive critiques of these sorts of issues will grace the screens of megaplexes. Until then, Training Day serves as a throwback to the 1990s in many ways, not the least of which is how neat and wrapped-up tales of cops and bad guys seemed to be, even when they were trying not to be.