Don’t Get Mad, Get Even

I was watching Rollerball this afternoon. Great movie. A dystopian classic from the 70s starring James Caan. Violent but thoughtful. A social commentary but also an ode to the individual human spirit and its irrepressible nature.

But there was a really interesting and dark moment which made me go back and watch it again after the film was concluded. It involved the death of a friend, reaction and revenge.

James Caan plays Jonathan E. He is the most famous player in Rollerball and also the longest survivor. Rollerball is ultra-violent. People get killed often enough that it is considered part of the game. It is done to keep the people entertained while also teaching them that the individual can never rise above the collective. It is a team sport, and yet Jonathan E. has become a superstar.

Alongside him is Moonpie, played by John Beck. Moonpie is a young star for the Houston team, idolising Jonathan while also being a good friend. He enjoys life and talks big. He seems to be the team hatchetman, as we Brits would call it. A player who goes out there to hurt the opposition. He is big and strong and brash and brutal. We see him smash down other humans and cheer about it, and yet he seems a likeable person. It is all part of the game.

That’s why we feel bad when he gets taken out in a match later on in the movie. While playing Tokyo, in a even more violent than usual game, Moonpie is targeted by three players and punched in the back of the head. He is in a coma for the rest of the movie.

Lets be honest, he deserved it. They all do. They play a barbaric sport and live by the code – you dish it out, you take it, just try to dish it out worse than you take it. But you feel bad for this young man who could have lived a rich life.

Jonathan sees Moonpie attacked, and we see him take this the same way we do. His young, brazen friend is hurt bad. This could be it. He has paid the price for playing Rollerball.

And yet Jonathan doesn’t let out a mighty Noooooooo!!! He doesn’t drop to his knees and weep. He doesn’t run out there and pull Moonpie to safety, where he is sat in the ring’s centre.

He watches as Moonpie is pulled in. He ties his bootlaces. He glances over occasionally. He gets ready to go back out there. He seems unconcerned. It is almost as if he has just accepted it and moved on. Perhaps playing this game for so long has left him cold inside. As he gets up and leaves, his foot hits one of Moonpie’s limp legs. He is almost stepping over his fallen comrade.

But then he goes out there, picks out one of the attackers (I made sure of this, it’s definitely one of the three) and plans with a team-mate. They corner this man. He knows what is happening but can’t escape. Jonathan attacks him, swipes his helmet off and smashes him over the back of the head. Even though it isn’t clear, I think we can safely assume the Tokyo player is dead.

Jonathan pauses. The team-mate looks at him with a measure of shock.

You see, this was different. That wasn’t brutality as part of the game. That was murder. Jonathan picked the man out, trapped him and coldly executed him. He knows it too. He wanted revenge.

The whole thing is an insight into Jonathan and into the story as a whole. He is a quiet and controlled man, but inside he is a striver for more and an independent spirit. When he sees a friend taken out in a game where this happens a lot, he chooses to get his revenge. He seems matter-of-fact. He is likely hardened by the violence and losses inside, just as he carries numerous scars on the outside. He appears to shut down any emotion. But he hasn’t, and so when it comes out, it is an act of murder. We see this again at the end when he breaks a man in front of the executives trying to force him to retire.

This is where I have to pay tribute to James Caan. I’m a big fan of his anyway but he is great in this role. He has that kind of handsome but rugged look to suit a superstar in the bloodsport of the future. He looks tough enough to be Jonathan E. But he is also able to carry quiet power and inner strength. He’s as mean as they come. He loves the game. He lives for it. He carries resentment inside due to things in his past. Caan is able to convey all of this. He is a brooding menace.

When first told of the decision for him to retire, he asks why. That’s all. No tantrums. No threats. He just wants to know why. This might not seem much, but people aren’t meant to ask why. The society of this film is about acceptance. Jonathan is used to taking orders, having choices made for him. He is used to fighting and to winning. But he questions in his quiet manner. Throughout the film he keeps questioning. He starts to resist. More and more, he sees control around him. He refuses to do as he is told. When his lost love tries to get him to comply, it is the final straw. He won’t quit but he has nothing to fight for any more.

He goes out and fights anyway. That’s what he is. He is a champion the corporations made and now he is out of their control. The people love him too much.

So earlier, when he sees Moonpie go down, taken out by the opposition, it is fascinating to watch him. He is too used to complying. He goes through the motions. But inside he is already out for blood. He can’t be stopped. He won’t be. He goes out and does what he does.

PS: Funnily enough, just seen that James Caan gave the movie 6 out of 10, saying he couldn’t do much with the character. Hmmm, maybe I read too much into his performance. Maybe I just see more in it than he does. I still think he plays it really well and trying too hard would have been a lost worse.

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The Baddest Bunny of All

I loved the film Watership Down as a kid. For many reasons, but I think because it was likely one of the first animated, aimed-at-children stories that had some serious life and death aspects to it. Characters got killed off. The scene where rabbits are trapped underground, struggling to breathe, remains fixed in my mind as a haunting scene. It was a big step up from Transformers and Thundercats and whatnot.

But I really loved the characters. Bigwig especially. He was this no-nonsense fighter, following the rest while standing between them and danger whenever needed. When he chokes to death I was distraught and it still gets me, although not as much as the elation when he is revealed to still be breathing. His first thought: payback.

However, if we’re going to talk about who stood out the most, it has to be the General. Woundwort. I never imagined a rabbit could be so intimidating. His ruthless belligerence was exciting to a kid who was used to cartoon villains set to be more of a joke than a threat. He ran a warren with terror and strength. I loved his declaration of revenge against Bigwig. “I’ll blind him!” Not to kill him, not to end him, but blind him. A vicious vengeance.

I loved other cartoon villains. Megatron and Stascream were fantastic. Often over the top, I admit, but they were still entertaining schemers. The problem with a lot of the cartoons back then, though, was that villains were set up to fail. Despite being a powerful warrior, Megatron would often retreat when the Autobots turned up. Mumm-Ra would flee back to his crypt. Venom in the Mask shows, Cobra in Action Force (GI Joe in the US), Tex Hex in Brave Star and Skeletor and his gang in He-Man. I always found the bad guys more interesting, entertaining and appealing. But they were designed to lose. Whatever they did, whatever they tried, it went wrong and they ran away.

So Woundwort was a revelation. “Dogs aren’t dangerous!” In the tv shows I watched, this would be played for comedy. Woundwort would shout this, turn and see the dog, then flee like the scared little bunny he really was.

But no. Not Woundwort. Not the General. He sees the dog, blood foaming at its mouth, the limp body of one of Woundwort’s followers held between its teeth. He sees it. He stands and glares. The dog drops the rabbit and goes for him. Woundwort lunges for it. Both leap at each other, ready to kill, and then the movie cuts away.

I loved that. I had never seen a cartoon villain stand and fight against the stronger foe. I also loved how we can’t say for sure if he died then. His body was never found. His life became a legend, a tale to tell young rabbits.

I have the book as well as the film on dvd. The book is just as good. Perhaps better. I liked delving into the warren of Woundwort more. Learning about Campion, the loyal captain who followed his beast of a general. It is a fine work. But a movie like that, seen when young, has an impact that can’t be matched. I admire the book as well as enjoy it. But that film is something I love.

General Woundwort is a great villain. A tyrant but driven to be one. Rabbits are preyed upon so he has forged a strong group, led by his own brute strength. His fighters revere him while his people fear him. He is a complicated individual yet still a baddie, with his ferociously unforgiving attitude and willingness to rend those who anger him. But most of all, he doesn’t back down. His fight with Bigwig is one of will as well as muscle. Two individuals fighting tooth and claw, refusing to concede, giving no quarter. Woundwort would have won. He forces Bigwig to back, although he would never have surrendered to the General. Bigwig was ready to lay down his life for the rest, at some cost if he could, and that’s why I love him. But the General was ready to take care of business himself, even when faced by Bigwig. Even when faced by the dog. That’s why he’s a badass bunny rabbit.

Daily Mail readers’ vile, racist attacks on Malala for winning the Nobel Peace Prize

This kind of bile needs to be shown more. Disgusting views shared openly in the comments section of a disgusting paper.

Pride's Purge

(not satire – it’s the Daily Mail!)

Sometimes Daily Mail readers show their true faces – and they’re as ugly and vile as you would expect them to be.

Here are just a few of the nasty and downright racist comments in the Daily Mail today after it was announced that Malala had won the Nobel Peace Prize:

“Send her back home.”

“How come she’s still here?”

“The UK taxpayer has been stumping up the bill for her to fly around the world.”

“Sick of hearing about her.”

“A joke. She has been awarded a Noble Prize for stopping a bullet?”

“I just find her annoying.”

“Why is she still here?”

“Living off the taxpayer.”

“Praise some British kids for a change.”

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Remember, these comments are about a little girl who was shot at point blank range by the Taliban for wanting to go to school and – despite still being a target for…

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