Combat and Hollywood: Part One

One at a time please (the enigma of group combat)

True, there are rare occasions where carnage ensues in a grand melee. But there is an unspoken rule of film etiquette that all ‘barnies’ are settled with decorum and civility. In essence, this is an extension of Lazy Writing.

Picture the scene. No, don’t bother. Pictures misrepresent the emotional and tumultuous aspect of a brawler’s mind. As Atticus Finch said, you’ve got to wear someone’s shoes to get a feeling for who they are. So, step into the shoes of the antagonist, one of twelve. They’ve encircled the hero. Let’s call him (or her, or them) Jackson Hammerstrike, the meanest PI in Sewer City. Jackson’s a legend. All the crime bosses know of their antics. (Strangely, none had thought to assassinate them with a sniper rifle, or a car bomb, or poison). Anyway, Jackson’s the centre dot of a clockface and every hour mark is a leering psycho waiting to rip out some guts. You know the ensemble. There’s the big bald guy, built like a Bentley, IQ of an Oxo cube. There’s almost definitely a token oriental. There shouldn’t be. That guy from Kyoto should be a maniac on Nintendo, not knives. Give us a break Hollywood. There’s maybe a chick. One of two moulds. Horrifically stereotyped; manly and butch, or super-sexy and oozing duvet appeal. And you know at some point hers and Jackson’s eyes will meet in a pointless moment of ‘will they, won’t they?’ – NO! They won’t. He’s going to kill her; Jackson’s a problem drinker and unadulterated mass-murderer. But it’s fine, It’s Hollywood.

John Wick gets a free ride; don’t diss Keanu – They killed his dog, man! (John Wick, Summit Entertainment, 2014)

I’ll fast forward. It’s necessary to point out the absolute nonsense of the scene. In the next five minutes of (admittedly comical) fight choreography, someone will throw something at the hero. Hell, it might stick. A hefty pole will be wielded. Again, it will likely make a comedy ‘boing’ sound as it hits Jackson. But Jackson won’t stay down. Ding, ding, round two. Point is, none of these actions will happen until an obscene amount of fist-waving and foot-flailing has taken place. You know the sounds. Go get a steak from the freezer. Defrost it, half way. Start punching it. That’s a good noise right there. That’s knuckles humping face meat. Of course, you won’t hear Jackson scream as the metacarpals shatter under the relentless grind of baddie beating.

Ouchies (courtesy Handandwristinstitute.com)

Now, all these seasoned serial killers and professional hard-guys know the score. Jackson’s tough as a squirrel’s nuts. So, they’ve got their guy surrounded. All they need to do is advance, close the space, and BLAM! Jackson’s heroics end under a barrage of nastiness not seen since Westlife covered Manilow’s Mandy. So, they win, right? No, they don’t. Why? Because Hollywood dictates one simple mantra: Bad guys queue.        

Squirrel Nuts. Don’t be offended. Nature is beautiful, or not.

And so follows a scene of predictable, meat-slapping nonsense. Strangely, it will also mimic the abstract progression of a PC game. You know, the weakest fighter attacks first. Their mode of attack is universal: an overhand slice with a kitchen knife or a tyre iron. Jackson either catches the weapon and knocks opponent #1 out, or, sidesteps and sends them into a convenient pile of clattering objects. The scenario will dictate whether it’s an improbable display of canned beans, or a pile of scrap metal. Either way, it will be noisy.  And silly. You need some comedy to lighten up death.

We can give Hollywood plaudits for one thing. Whether Jackson is a man or a woman, their top will be ripped off. Cue rippling abs and either (A) well-defined pecs, usually clean shaven, or (B) a sports-bra Jackson bought at fifteen, now positively oozing flesh. Let’s face it, you wouldn’t date either of these narcissistic maniacs. You would? Weirdo.

Bet your bottom dollar, this shirt’s coming off. (The Transporter, Canal+, 2002)

Cue the final battle. It is Donkey Kong. This guy is the same, or a bigger version of Bentley-Oxo (let’s call them BO). Jackson throws a punch. BO grins. I imagine it’s because after so much punching, Jackson’s hand is a jelly mould of pain. Any bone they once had has turned to dust, floating in a puffy fist-sack of blood and apathy. BO grabs Jackson and throws them across the room. Choose your target: another pile of cans, or more scrap metal. Our hero recovers (do they have to?) and thus begins the five-minute boss-battle. That guy from Kyoto would kick ass here. This is console heaven, a Tekken-esque fight of supreme silliness. Toward the end, both combatants are weary. To bring in science, this is probably a lactic acid build up. After five minutes of fighting, a heart-pounding activity, the system can’t keep up with demand. Lactic builds up, limbs feel heavy. There’s no respite. Adrenaline won’t work, it’s already been spent. Only rest can solve this dilemma. Rest and carbs. But Jackson doesn’t need science. He’s a figment of some nerdy dream. He starts to slug faster and faster. Hitting BO enough times in the face to make pumpkin soup. But it’s not enough to knock him out. This is end of level bad guy. Hollywood requires stupidity. Searching for the options: a chain, a spike embedded in the ground (who risk assessed this room?), a hook on a wall—Jackson finds his mark. There’s an open electrical box that’s clearly failed its annual safety inspection. With a leaping, flying roundhouse, Jackson shows Atticus Finch what shoes are for. His size tens plough into BO’s braindead face, sending him into a lightshow that goes on long enough to imply the fuses are redundant and the place had no RCB’s installed.  

Jackson wins. Quips something cool. Hollywood rubs its hands. The main casualty (apart from your brain) is the owner of the place where the fight happened. Several dead bodies and enough health and safety breaches to bring down Jupiter. Yeah. Maybe I’ll write a real-life version of that fight. That’d be cool… and short. Chop chop, Jackson—times up.

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Bun-Buster 3000

You don’t know how it happens. But it does. Like tapping your foot to music you profess to hate. The number on the screen is rising; 55, 56, 57…. It’s bad. You’ve passed by drama, sport, even the news. If you were 16, you’d be looking for channels higher up. But behold, it arrives before your very eyes; television’s answer to psychological euthanasia. It’s QVC. Or any derivative of the theme.

Most people realise their error, flick away, or switch to Netflix, Amazon, etc. Some might seek counselling for venturing too far from 5 USA +1 (a channel so grainy you think you’ve developed cataracts).  But if you stay, you’ll see so many treats. Over decades I’ve seen too much. I really think I’ve seen the Bun-Buster 3000.

Like the Thighmaster, the Bullworker, the Spankhammer (okay, I made that one up); the Bun-Buster 3000 is an enigma. Not a toy, and in my view, inconsistent with the term ‘exercise’; nonetheless, it is paraded as a miracle worker.

On screen is a well-toned model. She, or he, is awesome. I mean, they have to look great, they use the Bun-Buster 3000, don’t they? I rarely see these things, usually I’m ambushed by them during adverts while I watch Columbo.

No sir, I never used the Bun-Buster 3000. But my wife did. (Columbo, Universal Television)

So, we watch Tina Tautbuns and Johnny Pecs* toying with the Bun-Buster 3000. What you see is the convergence of misdirection, hope, and sales. Tina and Johnny grin and grimace in ways no normal human can. They emit irritating sound-bites from their flapping mouths. Titanium white teeth reflect every studio light; it’s mesmerising. It’s pure fantasy. They’re selling you a lie.

But you know it. Don’t you? Tina’s surgically augmented and Johnny can name more steroids than you can mammals. And even if they’re natural, they don’t train with Bun-Buster 3000. They train for hours in air-conditioned gyms or expensive home-studios. Besides, the BB-3000 is nothing more than a squat assist device (a seatless office chair you stick your ass on). It can’t do abs, pecs, biceps. It’s no more effective at burning calories than standing up from any chair. In fact, it’s spring-loaded; it’s easier than using a chair. But the show flashes images of every angle of butt. You get 10 or 15 minutes of hypnotic gyrations, Tina and Johnny hi-fiving like morons. They make it look as though they’re having a good time. You could too. NOOOOOO! Wake up. I’ve worked in gyms for quarter of a century. I’ve lifted weights for over three decades. Exercise doesn’t make you smile. I wouldn’t even say it’s fun. Sport is fun. Being outdoors is fun. But these guys are in a studio, armour clad in Lycra while bouncing on a spring-loaded pillar to the tune of third-rate porn music.

Just as your senses are returning, the host pulls out the killer-weapon. The graphic. Don’t look! Before I can throw my beer at the screen, the host talks to a sponsored physician. Now they’re pointing at a 3-D animation of the gluteus maximus (what Gladiator called his twins of steel).

“See how the Bun-Buster 3000 works the gluteals?” Doc says.

“Wow,” replies the host, clearly tripping on acid. “The red zones, is that where the magic happens?”

“Sure is,” Doc says. “We can see the awesome impact the Bun-Buster is having on Tina’s Glutes.”

It’s clearly not Tina’s ass. Or Johnny’s. But they sell it as if it’s real. Rather than what it is: a cartoon sales pitch to make you think there’s science involved. But there isn’t any science, not as they explain it. The Bun-Buster 3000 is going to sit in your cupboard. If it survives that long. Truth out; I had a Bullworker. It worked, insofar as it was a metal tube with a spring inside. But it wasn’t fun, ergonomic, or helpful. The first real thing that worked was a set of dumbbells my father brought home. Then, I got a weights bench. Then, I got strong. But it didn’t happen with the Bun-Buster 3000.

The Bullworker. You can sense his fear; an accident is imminent.

I don’t want to leave you deflated. You want something to aid your fitness journey. I can help. For free. A ‘product’ you don’t even need to pack away after use. It takes up no space. And, it’s everywhere. Is it magic? No, it’s gravity. All you need is the ground. Squats, press-ups, sit-ups, planks, the list is long. You don’t need gimmicks; you need you, a planet, and a little motivation. Go get ’em tiger, I’ve got to get back to Columbo.

* For the purpose of clarity, Tina Tautbuns and Johnny Pecs are fabrications. No similarity to any persons is intended. But if they were your names, you ought to change them.

Lazy Writing

Picture the scene; a square-jawed detective, invulnerable to deception, ambush, and classy looks from killer-dames. Let’s call him ‘Anvil’. Anvil Hardweather. His criminal informant (a sterling hooker with a heart of gold and a child living with her grandmother) has given him a tip. The psycho that killed his previous partner (an old-timer 3-days from his pension) is loose. And she knows where he is. Anvil arrives at the apartment block. He’s definitely not called for back-up, and he’s probably told his new partner (a fresh-faced rookie) he’s checking his laundry. But he’s not. He exits his American muscle-car, and the camera pans in on his mobile. Damn, he left it on the passenger seat under a box of cookies he bought from a charity shop. Oh noes!

Anvil peels off some boards, making no noise, and steps inside the block. Room by room he scopes the scene, the barrel of his non-regulation revolver scanning the place as though it’s an extension of his sixth sense. Corridors, stairwells, dark-spaces; all are swept aside with impunity. The camera is back at the car. The gentle glow of the half-concealed phone is lighting up the cookie box. It’s his rookie partner, calling to warn him it’s a trap. Then we see the room. It’s empty through the doorway view. There’s probably a chair with a tape-recorder, or a fishing rod (did I say Anvil’s dead partner was going to retire to Maui and sport fish?). Anvil approaches the door and steps into the room. The door is open at an angle that would comfortably conceal a saboteur, or a psycho-killer. But we know Anvil; he’ll make sure he’s safe… oh wait, no. Detective Hardweather becomes another statistic of formulaic detective guff. He strolls past the door, doesn’t check behind it, and bam…lights out.

This is lazy-writing. And you should never forgive it. But if you cast a critical eye on what you watch or read; you’ll notice it’s everywhere. Superhero films are, without a doubt, the worst culprits. Marvel has amassed an obscene amount of cash from its Avenger’s campaign but it’s riddled with plot-holes bigger than Galactus’s ass.

Galactus, super-villain with big ass (Marvel Comics)

The horror genre depends on your gullibility to make ends meet. I mean, by now, why has nobody invented the flash-knife—a handy tool for exploring sounds that come from a basement the soon-to-be-victim has never cleaned (so many cobwebs). Maybe it’s just spiders? Best leave them alone. Sci-fi requires us to go with the flow and I think we all know that in Star Trek, if they need to use the transporter in an emergency, there’s definitely going to be weird radiation interference (frankly, such technology would not get past Starfleet’s equivalent of the FAA).

Untested and murderously random Tranporter technology. (Star Trek, TNG, Viacom-CBS)

But the winner for pure contrivance is the thriller genre, into which Anvil Hardweather falls. Thrillers sell themselves on the premise of clever plots and twists. They want to be treated as the Einstein of fictional media. We can forgive comics and horrors their sins but thrillers? No. Ask more of the writers; don’t let them sell you down the river with tired formulaic nonsense. Keep an eye out for Anvil. And if you see him, switch off, or close the book.

Conan’s Wheel of Pain

Untitled

(Conan the Barbarian, 20th Century Fox, 1982)

A good place to start. Arnold Schwarzenegger is an enigma. A focussed mind and an exceptional physique provided the eighties and nineties with the iconic build of Europe’s greatest export. Moving from the shadows of competitive body-building and, in time, into the spotlight of Hollywood, Arnold was (and arguably still is) the only body-builder to conquer the silver-screen. While Lou Ferrigno was on par with Arnold, he didn’t quite have the same impact.

The Wheel of Pain (from Conan the Barbarian) was a torturous device of constant manual labour. Pushed and pulled for hours upon hours, this is about the only thing I have ever seen in movies to explain a physiological response as gratuitous as Conan’s sublimely-honed build. But is it accurate?

No, of course it’s not. Conan was a slave child and the calorific effort of moving a mini-forest worth of lumber would be phenomenal. I can’t recall the movie that well but I’m pretty sure there was scant reference to adequate nutrition, let alone the vast quantities of carbs and protein (and other
things) that would be required to facilitate the build of Arnold’s Conan. But that’s Hollywood. It exists to present the audience with heroes and heroines of unobtainable perfection; be it the impossible musculature of Conan, or the sleek lines of every female superhero. And for the record, there is no logical reason for the dimorphism displayed between genders. 

And that’s a problem right there. Muscle size. No matter what the load is, whether it’s tossing a car or punching chunks out of a concrete pillar, the strength required would be equal. So, in those films where women lift the same as men, technically, the female would require the same physical attributes as the man. In other words, why are super-strength heroines always dainty little slips? It’s all about image and marketing, which in itself is about gender discrimination and inequality. Which is a shame because it would be cool to see more male heroes that look ‘normal’ (and to be fair, in the post Arnold era, strong heroes don’t need to be massive – unless your name is Dwayne). But when it does come to muscle-men, logic dictates that the same requirement should fall on the shoulders of super-strong females. But that doesn’t fit the Hollywood narrative of what a ‘woman’ should look like. If Marvel ever gets real about making a female Hulk movie (I know she’s called She-Hulk, which is woefully derivative), I hope they CGI the crap out of it and make her as big as a house with really hairy legs. But hey, that’s not going to sell…

If we want to travel further down the rabbit-hole of unnatural selection, there is another problem with obscenely athletic physiques. Food. All too often, our heroes are out and about for 25 Hollywood hours of every day. They rarely sleep, they never poop, and for certain, they don’t eat a balanced diet. Muscles don’t grow out of thin air and hope. They are real physical components derived from adequate training stimuli and created from excess calorie consumption. Carbs and protein are fundamental to fuel our body and repair cellular damage. After that, with enough hormonal stimulus, a body will slowly lay down more muscle-fibre in response to exercise-specific stress. And man, is that process slow. There is a shortcut, namely steroids and growth hormone, but for the sake of litigation, I’m not going to discuss that in this post. Yet the point stands – our heroes appear to be the fitness equivalent of cold-fusion; unlimited power with little input. But there’s the rub; would you watch a film where the awesomely handsome hero stops whatever he’s doing to crack out his 400g tub of pasta and chow down on a tin of dry tuna every two hours? And have you ever had the displeasure of smelling the buttcheek-breeze of someone on a high-protein diet? It’s just not pleasant.

So, if we consider that your average, over-sized chemically enhanced body-builder trains for 2-3 hours and can consume 5000-8000 calories (or more) each day, you can see how Hollywood has it so wrong. But why? Well, movies aren’t meant to be real. At least, not the ones with heroes whose muscles take up more space than the end credits. With mutants and comic-fantasy, Hollywood doesn’t need to obey any laws of natural physiology. And in fairness, many of us love the sheer escapism of watching something so absurd as a man-mountain warrior emerge from a hard-labour camp with one piece of prehistoric fitness kit. As I say, it’s fitness Jim, but not as we know it.