Thursday, June 16, 2016

Bad Movies I Love: “U-571”

I’m resurrecting this series (if you can call two posts a “series”) because I’m pretty sure there’s nothing more fun to write about than bad movies. Previously: “The Skulls” and “Forces of Nature”

First up: “U-571” (2000). Okay, okay, it’s not THAT bad. It’s got a 68% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and it was successful at the box office. But it’s also cheesy as hell. I would argue that the cheese factor is part of its charm, but still……… skip this one if you have a dairy allergy. Or if you’re into subtlety.

In case you missed it:
It’s 1942, and the Allies are getting their asses kicked by German submarines partly because the Nazis have this insanely complicated unbreakable code called Enigma. (If you feel like watching “U-571” instead of that god-awful Benedict whatever-his-name-is thing, I won’t argue with you.) Anyway, the US gets word that a damaged German sub, U-571, is all alone in the North Atlantic. A US Navy sub is rigged to look like a U-boat so it can Trojan Horse the U-571 before its German re-supply sub gets there. They can snag the Enigma machine on board with the Nazis none the wiser.

(“Hey,” you might be asking yourself, “Why is the US Navy handling this? Even if I ignore the historical reality that the Brits captured an Enigma coding machine like six months before Pearl Harbor, isn’t the UK closer to where U-571 is marooned, and therefore they’d be able to get there faster? I mean, if beating the German re-supply sub to U-571 is as important as the movie is telling me it is?” Hahahahaha stop asking questions. #Murica)

We are helpfully introduced to our plucky American crew at the wedding of one of them, whose name I couldn’t tell you because he’s dead like five minutes later. The major players are: Lt. Tyler (Matthew McConaughey), Lt. Commander Gonnadiesoon (Bill Paxton), Chief (Harvey Keitel, who was 61 when this movie was released – one year away from mandatory retirement age, yay!), and a military intelligence guy, Mr. Hirsch (Jake Weber). Bon Jovi and David Keith are also there… but not for long. And then there are a cohort of 12-year-old sailors, who despite the fact that they all look alike come across as distinct characters, which is nice.

As you’ve probably gleaned, the operation doesn’t go as planned. Oh, they get the Enigma. But then the German resupply sub shows up, torpedoes the American sub, kills Bill Paxton and Bon Jovi and pretty much everyone else. Their only option is to hop back on U-571 and try to escape to the UK. (Because IT’S SO MUCH CLOSER THAN AMERICA.)

What follows is AWESOME. I love movies with confined settings and ticking clocks, and this is one of the best. There’s hardly a moment onscreen for the rest of the movie that isn’t suspenseful and tense. So, now you’re probably wondering…

Why it’s bad:
I could text my youngest sister right now with a particular line of dialogue from U-571, and we would probably spend the next hour spinning equally awful lines back and forth to each other. The dialogue in “U-571” is so, so bad. It’s like a parody of a comic book from the 40s. It’s so bad it circles back to being hilarious. And not just one or two lines, either. ALL of it.

Don’t believe me? Okay:
-          “Drop it, you Nazi sumbitch!”
-          “His body’s gonna save our lives!”
-          Harvey Keitel, while checking the gauges on the German submarine: “Everything’s in German!”
-          And, my personal favorite, quoted in my head at least once a day: “This is not a GODDAMN DEMOCRACY!”

(I feel like I’m not doing that line justice. I really need someone to develop a McConaughey font.)

Speaking of that clip, the character Mazzola (the one trying to get Rabbit to shoot down the plane) almost ruined this movie for me. He’s just so over-the-top awful. The only useful thing he does in the entire movie is dump valuable exposition to the other sailors (and the audience) about how deep-sea water pressure works, and he can’t even do that without wasting a fresh egg and mispronouncing “Norfolk.” He’s so awful that when he’s in a death match with U-571’s lone German survivor, I was actually pulling for the German. He made me root for a Nazi.

And while I appreciate how straightforward “U-571” is, there are way too many on-the-nose moments. You know, where a character says something that is set up for an immediate payoff. This happens constantly. Character: “Wow, I can’t believe this boat is holding up to all this pressure!” Boat: “Springs massive leaks.” Character: “Hey, I think we got under those depth charges!” Depth charge: “KABOOM!” Or, “I think I can get to that critical underwater thingy without drowning!” -> Drowns. You’d think at some point the characters would make this connection and start saying things like, “Hey, I think were about to sink and our last torpedo is definitely NEVER going to work!”

Why I love it:
I fricking LOVE “U-571,” I do. I feel kind of cheesy watching it, but there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a good rah-rah movie that makes you want to high-five at the end. (Note: British people do not appear to have this reaction. Because history.)

What I love the most is that, as I said, it’s straightforward. All of the stakes are clear. Not just the over-arching plot (capture the code machine so we can beat the Nazis), but at every step along the way. What makes a good adventure movie, at least for me, is having smaller challenges to focus on throughout the film, like a ladder the characters have to keep climbing. At every rung of the “U-571” ladder, a person could walk in off the street and understand not just the objective, but what has to happen for the characters to reach that objective. Get to the German U-boat. Get away from the other German U-boat. Get the torpedo tubes working. Find that leak and shut it off. Dive under the depth charges.

The scene where McConaughey’s Lt. Tyler lays out his big second-half-of-the-movie escape plan is one of my favorite movie scenes ever. For real. Basically: we will do this, then this, finally this – victory! He even draws a picture! I love it!

Speaking of Tyler, this really is his story in terms of the emotional arc. Again, his personal stakes are laid right out on the table. Early in the movie, Tyler is pissed because his superior, Bill Paxton, scuttled his promotion. Paxton tells him he’s not ready for a command, and he won’t be until he is capable of ordering one of his sailors to certain death. I already know you’re brave, he says, but you can’t be a leader until you can make that kind of decision without hesitating. Annnnnd, guess what Tyler finally finds himself able to do before the end of the movie.

McConaughey pulls all of this off ably. I hate action movie leads that are infallible and stoic. Instead, McConaughey walks a fine line. His character is learning to trust his judgment, but at the end you can tell he’s thinking to himself, “Holy shit, that actually worked.” “U-571” was McConaughey’s first big movie after the infamous 1999 conga drum arrest, so we can probably credit it with helping Hollywood remember why they loved him.

Verdict: don’t watch this in a history class (or with a British person), but grab a pizza and some buddies and you’ll have fun. And I promise you will be quoting it for days…..OMG that dialogue.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Back on the chain gang...

I think every writer alive has experienced this: having what seems like a great concept, but it just doesn’t come together. Sometimes things just need time to develop more before they click. I first had the idea for this post a year ago today.
Pictured: Proof
But it just would not click. Then events progressed and it wasn’t really relevant anymore (more on this later…), so I just added it to my mental list of ideas that would just never happen.

I’m glad I didn’t write this a year ago. Somewhere deep down I knew that something was wrong, but now I have the perspective to know exactly what that something wrong was.

As Facebook’s On This Day app helpfully reminded me, this time a year ago I was on the first out-of-town trip with the guy I was seeing at the time, Asshole. It’s not like I didn’t know it was coming. I can read a calendar. I expected that seeing those memories would be depressing, or make me angry at him all over again. Nope. It’s like he wasn’t even there. They’re not “us” memories. They’re my memories.

Quick recap: I had to go to western NC for work that weekend. Asshole and I weren’t exclusive yet, but we had been seeing each other for about four-ish months. I say “seeing each other” because we were still using Asshole’s deliberately ambiguous language. He didn’t consider it “dating” until you’d had The Talk and agreed to an exclusive relationship. Of course, this allowed him to go from “Let’s hold hands and have dinner at my Mom’s house” to “We’re just friends, why are you so clingy?” whenever he felt like it, but whatev.

Anyway, we had a great time that weekend. Everything was just, easy. (Me getting locked out of our hotel room while he was in the bathroom texting another “friend” was something I glossed over.)

Two things about me to note: I am a huge film nerd, and also a giant dork. You may or may not know that the train wreck scene from the movie “The Fugitive” was filmed in Dillsboro, NC. And for some reason, they just left the wreck there, between the river and the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad tracks. Has finding the Fugitive Train Wreck been on my must-do list for, oh, 20 years? Um, was Harrison Ford my first celebrity crush?

(Yes. And duh, Indiana Jones.)

So there was no way I was going to be in a hotel 10 minutes from Dillsboro and NOT track this thing down. Asshole was actually pretty into it; a nice surprise given how he ripped anything I cared about and he didn’t. The problem was that the precise location of the FTW is not *anywhere* that Google could find. Oh yeah, it’s in Dillsboro, it’s visible from the Railroad, yada yada. No, like, actual address or nearby landmark. 

Spoiler: I found it.

But since Dillsboro is about the size of my college’s campus, and the FTW is, after all, an actual train wreck, I figured it couldn’t be that hard to find. LOL. I would say we spent about two hours altogether, interspersed with more normal tourist stuff. We made one pass up and down all three roads in town (a couple of times each), then drove over to Cherokee, up to a waterfall on the way to Maggie Valley. Then we headed back to Dillsboro for dinner… and what’s the harm in looking again on the way? (By the way, the people at the front desk of the Best Western in Dillsboro – which, I should mention, is right next to the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad – have never heard of the FTW – which, I believe I mentioned, is on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.)

At the restaurant where we had dinner, our server, the cashier and a couple of guys someone pulled out of the kitchen didn’t know either. Though they at least were aware of FTW’s existence. One of them thought it might be near the town landfill. I’d seen this on one of our several passes down Haywood Road just west of town.

Excited about our new lead, Asshole and I hopped in the car and drove only three or four more times up and down Haywood Road in the area of the landfill. The road is on a bluff, with the river and railroad down a steep drop, not visible from the road. Just as we were starting to *maybe* think about giving up, a car coming from the other direction pulled over. I figured there was only one reason to stop a car on a busy road across from a landfill, so I pulled over, too.

Sure enough, it was a local person with a couple of out-of-town guests who wanted to see the FTW. (See? It’s not just me! Though they probably didn’t spend two hours looking for it… But that’s only because they already knew where it was. I’m not defensive.) So, for the record, pull off Haywood Road near the Jackson County Green Energy Park and try not to get hit by a car. It’s also across the river from a private lane called Fugitive Run, which in retrospect probably should’ve been a tip-off. 

Train is at bright red arrow, roughly. Please note for the record the approx. distance between the wreck site and the Best Western. I mean, you could probably get a whole football field in there.
On the way back home Sunday, Asshole and I got to talking about why our four-month casual whatever wasn’t a “relationship,” and did he see that happening… Which turned into a massive fight that lasted from Statesville until I kicked him out of my car in front of his house in Winston-Salem. I don’t think I even came to a complete stop.

And that’s where I thought I was going to leave it. A guy that I liked, and who would enthusiastically spend two hours looking for a 20+-year-old film set, but who was probably incompatible with me in more important ways. But I didn’t know what I was dealing with. I’d never dated a narcissist before. I thought the nice guy routine he broke out the next day meant he genuinely valued me and our relationship. I got sucked right back in.

So many times over the next few months, I thought back to that train wreck. (Geez, how is that for ironic symbolism…) I understand now that so much of why Asshole had a hold on me was down to times like the Great Fugitive Train Wreck Hunt. I’m a giant dork. My family and close friends love me, and handle my dorkiness to a point. But I can’t think of a single person in my life who would’ve spent two hours looking for the FTW. At some point, anyone else would’ve said, “I love you, but we are officially in let’s-not-and-say-we-did territory.” Asshole didn’t. I couldn’t shake this niggling thought in the back of my mind: I will never find someone else who will run with me on stuff like this, who will not make me feel like there’s something wrong with me because I refuse to leave Dillsboro without a picture of a decomposing film location. I will never have another relationship where I can be my dorky self.

I don’t know if Asshole really did appreciate my dorky self, or if he just appreciated my attention. I don’t really care. He’s out. Those pictures are my memories. But this interests me… When relationships end, we tend to focus on the loss of things we liked and wanted. We forget that we’ve also lost a bunch of stuff we didn’t like or want. At some point post-Asshole, I figured that out. There were so many more important “I will nevers.”

It’s probably true that I will never find someone who will be dorky enough to be right there with me driving around for two hours to find a couple of rusted-out train cars that Tommy Lee Jones once stood near. But there’s also this:

-          I will never be in a relationship with someone who thinks it’s reasonable to yell at me because I startled him… while I was asleep.
-          I will never date someone who can’t be bothered to show up on time to my birthday brunch with my friends, or who forgets to plan anything for my birthday or get me a present.
-          I will never find someone who cuts off all physical affection with no explanation while at the same time sexting every “adult model” on Twitter. And sending them birthday presents.
-          I will never date someone who never once in seven months tells me I’m pretty.
-          I will never be with someone who lies to me about who he’s texting and the nature of his “friendships” with other women, or who plans secret trips with these “friends.”
-          I will never have something special with someone who promises to go to church with my family, then – oops! – makes plans to go to Carowinds instead.
-          I will never meet someone whose idea of couple-time is watching a DVR full of week-old hockey games and sitcom reruns.
-          I will never date someone who shows no interest in my accomplishments, my friends or my family.
-          I will never be in a relationship with someone who won’t take the ONE CLASS he needs to finish his bachelor’s degree.
-          I will never be with someone who doesn’t seem to care one way or the other if I’m in his life.
-          Best off all, I will never be in relationship with someone who dismisses my concerns by telling me I’m insecure, cynical and have “trust issues” (no shit, Asshole).

Actually, I feel pretty good about what I lost. And I don’t really need anyone to tell me it’s okay to be a giant dork. I like being a giant dork. When you’re awesome and you know it, what else do you need?

Okay, fine. You need Indiana Jones.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Getting over it vs. Getting out from under it

So, last night, my doorknob almost brought me to tears.

I was opening my front door to go outside, and something about the way I looked down at my keys in the deadbolt triggered a memory: my ex-boyfriend yelling at me for taking his keys out of the lock on his front door. The outside of the door. Apparently he had some system of leaving his keys in the lock on the outside while he disarmed his alarm system…? Not that he’d ever explained this to me. I was just supposed to have observed it, I guess.

The worst part was remembering how I didn’t react to it at the time. If I ever heard a friend’s boyfriend speak to her that way, I’d take his head off. But when it was me, not so much.

I was in an emotionally abusive* relationship that ended last summer. But it dragged on longer, as I found out what felt like every day some new way that he’d lied and cheated; or when contacted me about something trivial (like where he’d put pictures from a trip) – which I now know is a classic narcissist tactic. I finally completely cut off contact with him and his family around the start of the year. And still, my world is full of these little memory landmines like my doorknob.

*It took me a long time to admit to myself that, yes, the way he treated me was abusive. That is a strong word, and I don’t use it lightly. And, if you’re still friends with him and have a hard time believing that, you’re just going to have to trust that I saw a very different side of him than he showed you. And if you’re sitting there thinking that yelling, belittling, dishonesty and gaslighting don’t “qualify” as abuse, you are wrong and you need to learn more about this.

I keep being told by well-meaning friends to “get over it.” I told myself that, too, for a long time. I felt guilty because he was still taking up so much space in my head. Then I realized something. When people tell you to “get over it,” they never quite explain what “it” is. In my case, there’s the actual break-up. And then there’s the healing that needs to take place when you’ve been abused and betrayed. When you tell me to “get over it,” I think you think I’m still on the first one. I’m not. Getting past the breakup – by which I mean, getting used to this person you talked to every day for months not being in your life – took a month or so.

But it’s going to take me a lot longer to accept the fact that I was abused,  and to understand why I glossed over so many red flags and ignored so many of my own standards. I’m not going to apologize for not meeting your timetable.

Part of why this experience still makes me so angry is that I was supposed to be the person who never got taken advantage of ever again. A lot of you know that I was raped in 2007. In the first few months afterward, I went to counseling and I was really good about telling my friends when I needed help (which does NOT come naturally to me). But my priority was getting over it. It makes sense; I wanted to be normal again, not this person who was afraid to leave her house some days. At my first meeting with my counselor, I actually asked how long it would take. Like, is there a 3-6 month window? A year? What should I expect? And, of course, he told me everyone is different and I should give myself as much time as I needed.

After several months, I started feeling frustrated that my anxiety and depression hadn’t gotten any better. I started feeling guilty talking about it with my loved ones and worried that they were getting burned out on dealing with my needs. I basically forced myself back into regular life – the social activities I’d had before, dating - so I could pretend I was healed. It was a disaster. I was most definitely not ready to handle those stresses or interpersonal interactions. All I got out of it were bad relationships and a “recovery” that ended up taking years, which it probably didn’t need to.

So that’s why I knew that sweeping this relationship under a mental carpet and pretending I was fine would only keep me from healing, not help. I needed not to be ashamed to ask for support. I started going to a counselor, who told me not to feel guilty for taking the time I needed. I started talking a little more openly IRL and on social media about my experience, and learned that a lot of my friends had also dealt with this. I wrote in my journal a LOT.

And I started hearing “you need to get over it.”

If you’re someone who’s said that to me – or to anyone who’s not moving past a breakup, losing a loved one, or some other trauma – I get it. I really do. You worry that I’m obsessing and concerned that I’m not allowing myself to move on. Here’s the thing: telling someone that his emotions are inappropriate, or that she is wrong for feeling the way she does – those are things that emotional abusers do. Now, you are not coming from a place of manipulation or control like the abuser was. You genuinely want your friend to feel better.

Unfortunately, minimizing is minimizing, no matter your intentions. Remember that the person you’re saying this to has freed themselves from a situation where he or she was constantly made to question and feel guilty for every thought and action. Your friend is trying to rebuild his or her sense of self after having all boundaries demolished. The last thing they need is a trusted part of their support system – you – triggering those same feelings of powerlessness and guilt they felt in the relationship. Sorry to ruin your day, but that IS what you are doing when you order a friend to stop feeling the way they feel.

Also, I have a PhD in obsessive anxiety, okay? I know what it looks and feels like. I specifically did NOT want to go that route. That’s why I go to counseling twice a month, journal and practice mindfulness exercises. But I also have to accept the fact that those memory landmines *will* sometimes still go off. I have far better strategies for coping with those triggers than I used to, and I can keep those reactions from taking over my day. But I am going to have a reaction. It’s okay for me to get angry when something makes me remember being abused and doing nothing about it. It’s okay for me to feel unsettled when he ignores my boundaries and follows me on Twitter (now blocked btw). And I’m not going to feel bad about taking a few minutes to process those feelings. If that means I need to hit up Facebook for support and encouragement, so be it.

There is one circumstance I can think of where you may need to break out the tough love. If your friend *isn’t* taking steps to heal, intervene. Help them understand how they can benefit from counseling. Help them find someone to talk to (because, let me tell you, a recent trauma survivor is NOT good at jumping through hoops). And, if you find yourself genuinely not understanding why your friend isn't getting better, or you have run out of things to say… that’s okay. You don’t have to have the answer. You can just listen, even if on the inside you’re banging your head against a wall. “I’m sorry,” “I don’t understand, either,” and “hug?” will never get old. And if you’re frustrated because you think your friend is wallowing in self-pity… Maybe you should step back from this one. I don’t say that to be mean; it’s just that you have to take care of yourself, too. If the situation is stressing you out, consider some distance.
I need my loved ones to trust that I am doing everything I can to heal. The fact that I even acknowledged I needed help was a huge step for me. Admitting that was like coming out from under a giant black cloud. Please trust me when I say that I already have gotten a lot better, but it’s going to take more time to get there all the way. I haven’t gotten here by myself. My friends help me remember what normal feels like, and I’m grateful for everyone in my life.

After what happened to me back in ’07, a friend who worked near my house would drive down my street most days on his way to work. If he saw my car in the driveway, he’d call me – why aren’t you at work? Are you okay? You’ll feel better if you leave the house, I promise. Every. Time. I’m sure there were days when he thought to himself, OMG girl just throw some clothes on and go to the office FFS. But there were also days when that phone call was all that got me out of bed. And that’s the part that I remember.