I’ve been thinking about aliens lately and how a story about aliens is at the same time kind of narcissistic but also about how small and insignificant we are and I think that’s kind of cool? Anyway, I’m back this week with Kyle Amato, a nice stranger that I met on the internet. He also runs Hawke Cast, the podcast about Ethan Hawke!
Blue Collar (1978)
SPECIAL GUEST WRITER: KYLE AMATO
Here’s how I came to rent Blue Collar (1978 dir. Paul Schrader) from the library.
ME: I need to watch more old movies. Everything I watch is from the past five years and Netflix doesn’t know movies from before 2002 exist.
MY FRIEND MICHAEL: Yeah.
ME: But I’m also excited for First Reformed, it’s from the guy who wrote Taxi Driver.
MY FRIEND MICHAEL: Oh, Paul Schrader? Have you seen his movie Blue Collar?
MY FRIEND MICHAEL: 1978. Richard Pryor. Yaphet Kotto. Harvey Keitel. Labor union drama.
My film consumption prayers had been answered. And so, I watched Blue Collar, and I really enjoyed it! Richard Pryor is truly excellent, and the story of corruption and economic despair remains relevant today.
Once we get past some very 70s freeze frames during the opening credits, we meet our leads. Zeke (Richard Pryor), Smokey (Yaphet Kotto, of Alien), and Jerry (Harvey Keitel, who I think looks like present day Christian Slater but I am willing to hear why I’m wrong) are auto workers in Detroit, all barely paying their bills, loan sharks, and the IRS. Their union is bureaucratic and ineffective, talking a big game but failing to make improvements for the workers. Even when their leaders call them “good union boys”, you can tell everyone is fed up.
After hours, and after some hearty lines of cocaine, the three friends hatch a plan to rob a safe at the union headquarters. This goes pretty well, even while wearing disguises like Marx brother glasses and an arrow through the head. Once the trio counts their earnings (not as much as they had hoped), they realize they’ve stumbled onto something far more important. Turns out the union bosses have some illegal loans and even ties to the mob! This is kind of what happens in the pilot episode of Good Girls, a show too stressful for me to watch week to week!
Zeke and his pals decide to blackmail the union, but that doesn’t go great. I don’t want to spoil things, but if you’ve seen Taxi Driver, you know how Schrader sees the world. It’s bleak. Schrader’s world cannot change as long as there are bosses pitting the working class against each other. Union bosses, factory bosses, the government: they’re the same kinds of corrupt in different packages.
Pryor, Kotto, and Keitel are all phenomenal in this. Pryor never goes too big, and Kotto’s work here makes me want to finally watch Homicide: Life on the Street. Keitel is probably the least interesting here, but he still holds his own against Pryor. The best scenes, besides the intense confrontations, are just the ones where the three men are hanging out with their booze and drugs. Even in a movie this dark, there’s some levity. At least until the men are turned against each other.
I’m happy I watched this. The script is great, Detroit is rendered in all its glorious 1970s detail, the politics are radical and uncompromising, and it just felt good to watch something from before the Bush administration. It’s like a sibling film to Silkwood, which also features union disputes and governmental treachery. Blue Collar doesn’t have Cher, though.
Check out Blue Collar from your local library! They should have the DVD, although corporate scum are blocking the blu-ray release. And get Klute too, it’s really good.
Kyle Amato lives in Somerville and watches more movies than TV shows, finally. He writes for Boston Hassle’s Film Flam section, and is the creator of Hawke Cast, the podcast focusing on the works of Ethan Hawke.
Blade: Trinity (2004)
Are you fucking kidding me with this? John Michael Higgins is in this movie? Eric Bogosian is in this movie? Natasha Lyonne is in this movie? PARKER POSEY IS THE FUCKING BAD GUY IN THIS MOVIE?? Wow. What if… Christopher Guest had directed this movie? What if… we didn’t live in hell?
This movie was baaaaaad but I was certainly entertained! There’s so much very good, very stupid stuff in this movie. Like that vampire pomeranian, or that they keep calling Dracula (THE Dracula) “Drake”, or the part where Dracula walks into a store that apparently only sells Dracula-themed merchandise, or that weird bit where Parker Posey is kind of talking about how Ryan Reynolds probably hasn’t eaten pussy in a while? Hey sidenote: not to be a nitpicky nerd what was up with the typically sleeveless Blade’s red under armour thing? Blade should either be in a black leather duster or sleeveless, there should be no in between here.
I mean, it’s all a huge mess and you have to put up with Ryan Reynolds’ “jokes” for pretty much all of it, but what a wild ride! I know this is a cop-out but to try to explain what watching this movie felt like is… it’s just not happening. I felt like I had a fever and I was hallucinating. I’m glad it’s over and that I had a good time and that I never have to see Blade: Trinity ever again.
Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018)
I cannot for the life of me explain why anything was happening in the first two thirds of this movie. There are some interesting ideas about living in the aftermath of an interdimensional war between giant monsters and giant robots but the movie’s too fixated on giving us its spin on Top Gun (1986) or whatever to let any of that sink in. There’s something about privatizing the Jaeger program and turning them all into drones or something, Scott Eastwood is rightfully cast as some humorless fuck who’s getting relentlessly dunked on by more charismatic actors, we keep cutting to these plucky teenage recruits doing scenes from every new recruits scene in every army movie, whatever whatever etc etc this is all just some stuff that has to be there to explain why the big robot action figures fight the big monster action figures and why we should care about the tiny people who fit inside the robots.
I’m not sure that I ended up caring whether any one of these characters lived or died, but I did like when the big robots hit the other big robots and then the monsters, which honestly was really all I needed out of this movie. The last third of this movie is great because it’s pretty much all over the top action. Plus, there are these drone Jaegers that get taken over by Kaiju brains and they all scream horrifically while attacking the Jaeger pilots’ base, and man you know what I always say: there’s nothing better than a screaming robot.
That Steven Soderbergh sure does love a gimmick! Soderbergh makes his return to movies by shooting this one on an iphone, and boy does it look like it was shot on an iphone. It makes it look like, I don’t know, a really competent web series that ties into an actual movie that probably looks better? Like there was a better looking movie that had like two scenes with Claire Foy and Unsane was actually the short side movie that that they released online that uses Claire Foy as the main character? Sean Baker made Tangerine (2015) on an iphone because that was what he could afford. Soderbergh shooting Unsane on an iphone just kind of feels extraneous. He doesn’t need it, but that’s fine! The man has made a whole bunch of movies, he’s a seasoned professional, an accomplished filmmaker, and he’s challenging himself by placing those restrictions on himself, but I guess it never really won me over.
The movie is fine, I had fun watching it, but I felt a little underwhelmed by it all. The first half of it is genuinely pretty unnerving, the idea of being committed against your will and then beginning to doubt your own mental state, but the back half scraps the ambiguity and the tension of questioning what we can believe about Sawyer’s perspective in favor of something more simplistic. I guess it’s weird to call the back half “simplistic” seeing as how that’s when everything goes nuts, but it all goes nuts in a way where there are no longer any doubts, and we can figure out the beats because we’ve seen this type of movie before. Once it’s clear that the movie is no longer about whether or not Sawyer is delusional the only place it can really go from there is turning into a thriller about being trapped with your stalker, which I think ended up being a less interesting, if somewhat inevitable, approach. Look, you can only run on doubt and ambiguity for so long before you have to give up some kind of answer, I get that. I just think the answer made the movie less compelling. I’m complaining, but I do love that part of Soderbergh’s later career experiments have included dabbling in schlock. He’s good at it, he’s good at movies. Even this thing, it’s not really my favorite, but I was at least entertained and I respect it. I just unfairly wish I could have been riding the feeling that the first half of the movie was giving me.