Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Rock

On Friday, I caught the second half of a Midnites for Maniacs double bill at the Castro Theater.  The theme of the evening was "Macho Maestros."  The double bill consisted of Rocky IV and The Rock.  Earlier that evening, I had dinner & cocktails at Capp's Corner which is closing on April 19.  That caused me to miss Rocky IV which I wasn't very keen on anyway.  I only saw The Rock.

The Rock starring Sean Connery, Nicholas Cage & Ed Harris, directed by Michael Bay; (1996)

Jesse Hawthorne Ficks introduced The Rock but first shared some of his thoughts on Rocky IV.  I'm not sure if I agree with everything he said because I haven't seen the film for so long.  One thing is clear from my memory and the preview clips Jesse showed before The Rock.  In the mid-1980s (Rocky IV came out in 1985), fears about the Soviet Union were at their height.  In hindsight that seems strange because by 1989, the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet satellite states were gaining their independence.  However in the  mid-80s, Red Dawn was a cult hit and Tom Clancy was churning them out.  Rocky IV placed these fears in a boxing context.  The Maniac mentioned that in Rocky IV, Rocky had to abandon the consumerist culture of the US to train in the Spartan conditions of the USSR in order to defeat Drago.  As he said that, I wondered why didn't the Italian Stallion learn his lesson from the beat-down Clubber Lang gave him?  Ficks also mentioned the montage scenes which he compared to some of the great directors in cinema's history.  I have to admit that I can remember some of the montages from various Rocky film.  It almost makes me wish I had seen Rocky IV.

I've seen The Rock many times.  A surprisingly large percentage of the audience had not seen the film before.  Prior to the film, Hicks advised the audience to pay attention to the three lead actors - Sean Connery, Nicholas Cage & Ed Harris.

I recall Dr. Goodspeed (Cage) had a girlfriend in the film but forgot that Mason (Connery) had a daughter.  By my count, only three actresses had speaking parts - Vanessa Marcil as Goodspeed's better half, Claire Forlani is in one scene as Mason's daughter and Celeste Weaver has one line as Forlani's "friend."  I didn't recall this but the film suggests that Mason's daughter is a lesbian.

Suffice to say, there is a lot of testosterone in The Rock.  Interestingly, the youngest member of the Big Three has the least.  Cage's Goodspeed doesn't lack for courage when he's in the lab but he is out of his element when he is "in the field" and completely lost when he has to clandestinely sneak onto Alcatraz and disarm the missiles with the nerve gas.

Ficks must have prepped the audience before Rocky IV. because he asked the audience about Cage's self-titled acting style and many knew the answer was Nouveau Shamanic, a term I was not familiar with previously.  On of the reasons, I am a fan of The Rock is Cage's performance.  His Goodspeed is an earnest chemist who is befuddled by the new situation he finds himself in.  Namely, he is teamed up with the sardonic Mason.  Connery also merits attention.  He plays Mason like James Bond if Bond had been imprisoned for 30 years.  Connery outsmarts and outquips everyone in the room.  Goodspeed is always a step behind Mason which creates this entertaining alpha-beta male relationship between the two.

Added to this mix is General Hummel (Harris), an alpha male in charge of a contingent of US Marines.  I couldn't remember why Hummel and his men took the tourists on Alcatraz hostage and stole some nerve gas.  Hummel did it because the US Government had refused to acknowledge the spotters in Baghdad during the first Gulf War.  As Hummel described his grievances, I couldn't help but think it reminded me a lot of the grievances issued by modern day Islamofascist states.  Specifically, the US has long interfered with the internal affairs of other nations including assassinations and acts of sabotage which the US characterizes as terrorism when they happen on US soil.

I was also surprised by the ransom Hummel demands to save the hostages and not fire the missiles.  He wants $100 million.  I believe it was $1 million to each of the families of 84 dead Marines who were denied death benefits by the government and $1 million to the 16 Marines who are with him on Alcatraz.  Maybe it's inflation but $1 million  doesn't seem enough incentive to commit treason and live the rest of your life in hiding or in some country without an extradition treaty with the US.  In 2015, those Marines couldn't even afford to buy a house in SF with their payoff.

The best scenes in the film have the relatively milquetoast Goodspeed having to deal with hyper-masculinized Marines, commandos, FBI Agents, etc.  Sometimes it's funny, sometimes it's frightening and sometimes I empathized with Goodspeed's situation.  Sometimes it's all three which is why I like the film and indirectly a compliment of Cage's performance.

In a supporting role, John Spencer as the duplicitous FBI director Womack does a lot with a small role.  Not as large a role but impressive for his screen presence is William Forsythe as the no-nonsense FBI SAIC Paxton.  Forsythe and Connery have a memorable scene together where they square off during an interrogation.  Indeed, the film is full of scenes where alpha males keep confronting each other looking to assert their dominance.

"Assert their dominance..." that reminds me of the theme of the evening.  I read many years ago that the popularity of boxing, wrestling, MMA, etc. is not the violence or the blood sport.  Rather it is the primal need (particularly in men) to assert their dominance.  In that vein, boxing is about one man asserting his will over another.  The Rocky films understand this and at its essence, that is what The Rock is about.  In The Rock, there is a constant shuffling of who is trying to dominate whom and the position of the top dog keeps changing.

Do I appreciate The Rock more after Ficks' introduction?  I don't think so.  I already had an appreciation of the film before last Friday.  There are a lot of plot holes in the script and the presence of a female in a more prominent role may have served as a more interesting counterpoint to all the chest thumping but the film is what it is.

The next Midnites for Maniacs will be May 8 at the Castro.  It is a Penelope Spheeris triple shot which I'm quite excited about.  I have never seen The Decline of Western Civilization or The Decline of Western Civilization II which are sandwiched around Wayne's World.

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