COBRA, I Guess? by B. Roche

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I wouldn't say I'm "into" Sylvester Stallone. Not for his acting ability, though he does have a specific raw talent I can't think of in anyone else. Still, his choice of roles and rumored controlling attitude over his films are kind of a drag.

But. His 1986 cop movie Cobra kept driving by my field of vision.

Last year, the great bad movie-appreciation podcast How Did This Get Made? did a Cobra episode.(I always enjoy HDTGM, but sometimes they try too hard to look for awfulness in movies that isn't fully there.)  

A few months later, I was sick and caught about 20 fevered minutes of Cobra on STARZ. It was kind of . . . awesome?  The imagery was almost surreal in its slickness. The film hurtled forward, not slowing for breath or concerned for my comprehension.

And then recently I got into the Junkfood Cinema podcast. With a name like that, you know they did a Cobra episode. JFC gave the movie a fair but enthusiastic rundown.

Fate is not a road, but an intersection. I had to give Cobra a full watch.

Having done so, I find Cobra isn't really a "paragraphs of analysis" kind of movie. So here, for an action movie with relatively few guns, are my bullet points: 

  • STYLE: Sunsets. Aviator sunglasses. Neon. Heavy filters. Light through venetian blinds.  L.A.  Even on a shabby blu-ray, Cobra is gorgeous. No exactly Tony Scott-level gorgeousity, but pretty great. Definitely director George P. Cosmatos' best-looking movie. 
  • Cobra is refreshingly brief at 87 minutes. Probably too brief.  There's almost no room to breathe. The concision is a crutch, barbecue sauce on old meatloaf. But what sauce.
  • Stallone, as Cobra, is introduced as a hero supercop who plays by his own rules. Yet his specific hero cop skills are undefined.  He's on the “Zombie Squad”, but what does that mean?  All the cops in the movie do all the same stuff.  

 

  • Based on textual evidence, Cobra's actual skills setting him apart from the remaining police force are:
    • Being out of uniform
    • Driving his own car (a souped-up '57 Mercury that seems impractical from both a gas-consumption and maintenance point of view, and nowhere near as sleek as befits a renegade)
    • Chewing an unlit match (Cobra does not smoke)
    • Wearing sunglasses indoors
    • Eschewing backup, so he can go mano-a-mano with psychotic criminals, against which pretty much anyone would want, like, a buddy. I mean, strangers spot each other when they bench-press. Police officers don't want to roll into almost certain death without at least one partner? 
    • Cutting leftover pizza with a hunting knife instead of an easy to use, widely available, presumably inexpensive pizza cutter.(I'm pretty sure it's Rambo's knife, so game, set, match, star of Rambo)
    • Straight-up punching superior officers in the face when they try to compliment him. (Two notes on Cobra's nerdy Superior Officer. Every criticism he has of Cobra's police work is 100% correct. Yet he always lets Cobra have his way. Superior Officer could - literally - pull rank on Cobra at any time.  He never does.)
    • Having the real name of Marion Cobretti, and somehow none of his friends tease him about it. Brigitte Nielsen gives him the slightest hard time and after that it's dropped. If you had a male friend named Marion who called himself Cobra, every time he came up in conversation, you'd say, "You mean Marion?"
  • I swear I am trying to write a sincere appreciation of the 1986 film Cobra.
  • But see, Cobra's questionable skill-set includes the behaviors of a megalomaniac, a king who's held the throne for so long he's forgotten how to think like a citizen. Stallone may not have had that in mind when he made Cobra (and he wrote it too, officially, as the credited screenwriter) but that's how it works, outside of the genius tight editing and eye-popping visuals, because of its un-ironic depiction of a real-world superhero. Marion Cobretti is Superman without a cape and the morals, but the same hair.   
  • The music is extra poppy. It compares unfavorably to Michael Mann’s movies, which have music that is just as '80s yet individualized, artistic. The music in Cobra was tailored to run as videos on MTV (a channel Cobra wouldn't know exists).  
  • The comic relief between Cobra and his partner is dreadful. The too-frequent non-comedy is at odds with the grim plot device of the serial killer cult.
  • Buried the lede there. The villains in Cobra are a serial killer cult. They gather for secret rituals in abandoned warehouses, clanging axes together. They're sort of the Manson Family minus the charisma. They terrorize the city with random murders, until one night Brigitte Nielsen witnesses them in action. Then she becomes their only target, and (movie trailer voice) Cobra is the only solution to an equation without a protractor. 
  • The one special thing Cobra does in the movie, which ain't nothing, is to figure out that all the random violence in the city is being committed by this one killer cult. I knew he had it in him.
  • I loved the villain gang. At least in concept. I think the intent is to boil all crime down to a concept, and Cobra is similarly reduced to an all-purpose avenger. In Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Cameron Frye is so uptight that, "if you put a lump of coal up his ass, in two weeks you'd have a diamond." Cobra is that diamond.

All that to say, if you're sweating through your sheets and haven't eaten in two days but just feel like watching something, Cobra I guess?

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Dave Chappelle, I remember when you were really funny. by Brenna Proczko

Pondering how far to go in on Cosby and gender pronouns. Answers: the right amount, and too far back into the '90s. 

Pondering how far to go in on Cosby and gender pronouns. Answers: the right amount, and too far back into the '90s. 

Full disclosure: I did not watch all of The Chappelle Show, neither on Comedy Central nor on DVD (which apparently over two million people own, making it one of the top five best-selling DVD TV series of all time). But I still quote it ("I'm strong, Joe Rogan!"), and recognize the references. Even his production company, Pilot Boy Productions, utilizes his ubiquitous catch-phrase, "I'm rich, bitch!" and is the last sound you hear at the end of the two stand-up specials now on Netflix.  It's the most fitting part of The Chappelle Show legacy, really. 

So far, I've only watched the first one, The Age of Spin: Dave Chappelle Live at the Hollywood Palladium. He starts with a kinetic visual montage of gif-like animations on the topics about to be covered in the comedy hour, followed by a black and white preponderance of self narrated by (whom else?) Morgan Freeman. These are interesting and aesthetically cool, but not funny.

The show starts with a story about getting pulled over with a friend, but in this scenario the driver is not Wayne Brady, it's just a black guy who may not pass a breathalyzer. Chappelle's punchline is that he gets to drive away because weed doesn't register on that sobriety tester, but the his nonchalance about his friend's arrest - as well as his awareness that he probably wouldn't get arrested, seeing as he's Dave Chappelle - makes him come off as a dick, and not a particularly funny one. Good thing you're rich now, ha ha. In the same vein, I didn't think it was funny that he ditched a Flint, MI, benefit (co-hosted by Ava Duvernay and Ryan Coogler!) to go to the Oscars with Chris Rock. I don't really blame him, but again, it makes him just look more like a now-privileged dick.  

Overall, the show is amusing, but as a fresh take from someone who's delivered really genius-level comedy, it's disappointing. It felt somehow dated, even with the references to some current events. Don't get me wrong - I laughed. I really loved the bit about taking his son to see Kevin Hart. He shows both his aptitude as a parent and humility at his relative celebrity to Hart. 

He also has a recurring series of stories about the four times he met O.J. Simpson, but that worked solely to transition him out of the other segments. He also fell flat when he complained about having to learn new pronouns for transgendered or other persons, in a way that was oddly xenophobic; this is what felt most anachronistic, really, about the set.

He still manages to land the delivery of his jokes, though, so even when I didn't love a particular bit I still chuckled at the way he said it. And he still does make incisive observations about race and racism. However, I think the line that hit me hardest was at the end of his drive about Bill Cosby. It was painfully funny, in that it hurt to laugh. 

“I’m a 42-year-old black comedian. Obviously Bill Cosby was a hero to me. To think that your hero might have done something so heinous – it would be as if you’d heard that chocolate ice cream itself had raped 54 people. You’d say to yourself, ‘Oh man, but I like chocolate ice cream. I don’t want it to rape.’”

I'm not a black comedian, but I also loved Bill Cosby. I watched The Cosby Show but also listened to his records and watched the VHS of Himself with my father, and have so many of the bits memorized. One in particular is about Cosby as a child getting his tonsils out, and the naïveté of young Bill and the other patients thinking they've got it made, because when you get your tonsils taken out, "YOU CAN HAVE ALL THE ICE CREAM IN THE WORLD YOU CAN EAT." He goes on to say that for his first order of ice cream, he's not even going to eat it. "I'm going to smear it all over my body, and put a green cherry in my navel. I'll be the most BEAUTIFUL chocolate sundae you've ever seen in your life!" The hospitalized kids all sing a song about ice cream; "Ice cream! We're gonna eat ice cream! We're gonna eat it every day!"  I, with my sister and my cousins and father, have sang that song probably hundreds of times in my life. I still think of it nearly every time I even talk about ice cream. And yet now, the ice cream is tainted. It's gone off. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. So I felt that Chappelle's analogy was particularly apt. I love chocolate ice cream. I don't want it to rape. But it did.  

So back to Chappelle. I wanted to be impressed, I wanted to be entertained. I didn't want his special to suck, and it doesn't. I didn't want it to be lame, either, but it was. But hey, Dave Chappelle is still rich, bitch.  

AFTER HOURS - just one damned thing after another by Brenna Proczko

Don't ask her about The Wizard of Oz. Just don't. 

Don't ask her about The Wizard of Oz. Just don't. 

Following months of shelf-sitting, I finally watched one of Roche's top five films: After Hours. Directed by Martin Scorsese and released in 1985, this is a great glimpse back at a master of the craft perfecting his art. For example, there's a shot mid-way through of Paul sitting down to have a cigarette, then realizing he doesn't have any matches. When he gets up, the camera follows his hand near his hip as he goes to the cigarette dispenser (that was a thing bars had back in the '80s!) and swipes a matchbook out of the tray, then returns to his seat. Nobody new is sitting at the table; nothing is truly important about the matches or the smoking of the cigarette. But it's a perfect illustration of the odd importance, or oddly perceived importance, of small things in this film. The tension itself is a sort of unreliable narrator, full of blackly amused absurdity on a night of misadventure. 

Paul Hackett is played by Griffin Dunne, better known to me from Who's That Girl (#madonnaforever) and My Girl (#MrBixler).  He is a perfect Everyman, who is polite enough and nice enough, but also normal enough to want to sleep with Marcy (Rosanna Arquette). Marcy's the first in a parade of great actresses whose characters tease, taunt, aid, and terrorize Paul. We see Linda Fiorentino as Kiki, who apparently makes awesome paperweights as well as unsettling papier-mâché sculptures which are definitely not inspired by that one Munch painting. 

Not The Scream

Kiki is Marcy's roommate; we later meet Marcy's boyfriend (John Heard) and his co-worker, a waitress having an existential crisis (Teri Garr). We go to a punk club where Paul nearly gets a mohawk and then later gets Papier-mâchéd [yes, this review is basically all spoilers, deal with it] [while we're on the subject, trigger warning: there's a suicide as well], we see what might be a robbery and what might be an art sale and then we see Cheech and Chong; we see Catherine O'Hara driving an ice cream truck with a mob comprised of guys who look like huge Queen fans. Absurdity, we say! But still somehow entirely plausible within this world. 

There's a clear sense of the place of this neighborhood (pretty sure it's in Greenwich Village, as they reference Houston St. and another street near a bar I once went to in New York - but it all looked rather different in 2003).  The vibe, and the title, point to the existence of a world unknown to the stiffs in offices, but no less populous for being outside the 9-5 grind. It has a Through the Looking Glass feel to it, especially as how Paul takes his fears seriously, but the film can't quite bring itself to, despite revolving exclusively around his perspective. It's an amazing balancing act, which is how it can remain comic but not ridiculous; tense but not scary. 

That thing with the close-ups is better described by Roger Ebert in his review: "Because we believe a close-up underlines something of importance to a character, Scorsese exploited that knowledge with unmotivated closeups; Paul thought something critical had happened, but much of the time it had not. In an unconscious way, an audience raised on classic film grammar would share his expectation and disappointment. Pure filmmaking."

It's not my new favorite movie, but it's certainly worth watching, especially for lovers of Bronson Pinchot. (He's in the first scene, but since the movie ends where it begins, you can't help but hope he'll appear again!) #balkiforever