Friday, November 26, 2010

Lance Henriksen can make it better...

My premise is simple. The inclusion of Lance Henriksen can make even the most unpalatable of projects better. 

It is a corollary to my theory that Kate Beckinsale is the Anointed Bhodisattva of Suck. I posit that Kate is a karmic test for directors. If they can resist the siren call of her sweet looking self, and the hordes of fans that will show up to see her dressed in something skimpy, torn, wet, or otherwise revealing, or the possibility of such an occurrence, then they have an even chance of making a decent film. I have only the Underworld films, Pearl Harbor, The Aviator, or even Van Helsing as my proof.  Directors who had some track record, some success, and blew it by the addition of The Flavor of the Month.  Well, I take that back, Underworld was directed by her boyfriend who had no directing chops under his belt, but damn those were poor films, and I stand by her being a karmic test.  Kate Beckinsale can take even gifted directors down the road for a poor film.  The notable exception being Kenneth Branagh who cast  her in an ingenue role.  He was spared in Much Ado About Nothing, for she had not yet assumed her great role in the Universe's balancing. 

The Universe is perhaps not kind--the Long Dark between solid bodies will kill us all without a shed tear, and with little fanfare with a cast of radiation from a wandering body bursting with light and energy or smash us all and leave the world to the insects and squid to rise as the next species batting for intelligence--but it is fair. In that cosmic fairness, for Kate Beckinsale, we have been gifted with an actor of the likes of Lance Henrikson.

Lance grew to fame in geek circles with his role as Bishop in Aliens. Though, to be fair, he was in The Terminator long before that. And let us not forget Pirhana Two: The Spawning. And Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Right Stuff--you know, little art house stuff. But after Aliens, Lance's career took an odd turn. Not as odd as, say, Tim Thomerson, who gifted New Moon Cinema with scintillating performances like Doll Man, but Lance has made an impressive number of B-Pictures. His IMDB credits are longer than many actors have had lines. Mind you, he hit B-Films in what was a new Golden Age for B-Movies. Near Dark. Pumpkinhead. Excessive Force. Knights. Here was a man who could seamlessly go from calling up a hillbilly vengeance demon, to cop, to secret agent, vampire, to corrupt sheriff, to a blood sucking cyborg, to voicing cartoons, and back to serious roles, and then mainstream television, even voice parts for video games. It didn't matter, since they all paid with coin of the realm, and Lance gots kids to take care of. And a couple of ex-wives too. There are few actors who have had as varied a career as Lance has had. And, I posit, that he is the reverse of Kate Beckinsale.

Now then, let's not get it screwed up that Lance has not been involved in some films and series that did, shall we say, less than well? But, his films have something that a great many of the straight to video crowd didn't have: Lance Henriksen. As a presence on film, he is the sort of actor that demands a certain amount of respect. Much like Keith David. He has a gravitas on screen, that means he can be spitting up what looks like a mix of corn starch and heavy cream, and still, folks are riveted by that gravelly voice, and it gives weight to a film. Even a bad film. Even Pirhana Two: The Spawning.

Or Knights. Here is a film that should have been gawd awful. Kathy Long was a female kick boxing champ. She was known for being a damn determined fighter, if not just a little on the mean side. She was also moderately pretty. Which in the 90s was more than enough. Cyborg had made a ton of cash on video with the Van Dammage. There were a ton of new martial arts movies all over the place, and not a lot of women in leading roles, so I can see the pitch for this film being made, and let's face it, Albert Pyun, directed Cyborg. Nemesis. The above mentioned Dollman. Heck, Kickboxer 2 and 4. He was THE guy to go to make a cheap movie with asskickery. So, Kathy Long is cast as our heroine, a naive girl taught to fight by Kris Kristofferson to battle blood drinking cyborgs. That's right Kris Kristofferson. AND Lance Henrikson. In a cyborg vampire movie.

And it was pure gold. Didn't make a ton of cash, but the movie should have had everything against it, and yet, it is funny, the action isn't bad, Long is a terrible actress, but you didn't watch the movie for her emoting, but to see her touchis in skimpy clothes, and her beat the hell out of guys. And then, out of the blue, you have Kris Kristofferson AND Lance Henrikson having a great time. For those who watched the movie, or plan to, you can see where Kristofferson stole a lot of his character for the Blade movies from this one.

It's a movie that should have been terrible. Just cringe worthy, but somehow, it pulls it out. And I leave that up to Lance, who tore up the screen with equal parts camp, and gravitas. His voice rolls out and you have to smile.

And that's how it is with much of his work. Horrible films are made palatable by the inclusion of Lance Henriksen. Even in cameos, like in Aliens3. Or Hellraiser: Hellworld. Or The Mangler 2--yes, Virginia, they made a sequel. Lance makes even terrible films watchable by his presence. He may not be able to turn them into gold, but he can mitigate even a terrible script to palatable. Put him in a video game, and you have legions of geeks smiling when they hear him. He, like Keith David, is a mark of quality, and part of that is his strong presence, and part, the fact that folks know he's put in his dues. He's no shrinking violet or tantrum throwing star, he's a guy who will throw up Karo and be chucked into a set to appear as a torn up android on command. He doesn't have a huge amount of pride to keep him locked in his trailer, she's a trouper, and folks know it. And that shows on screen. God Love him for it too, because his presence has made a ton of films that could have been absolutely horrible, into gems that maybe didn't bring in bank, but they certainly made folks smile.

Lance Henriksen. The Savior of B-Film. I salute thee, sir. I salute thee.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Patchwork Nation

One thing that has been driving me insane over the last few years is the driving home of this Red State/Blue state "wisdom."  The idea of Real America vs a Faux-America, and the resultant polarization of our politics in the idea that you're "with us" or "against us."

And in that feeling, we have this idea that we are divided nation, who either loves or hates the country depending on what button you push at the polls, or which circle you fill on the ballot.

Dante Chinni and James Gimpel have proposed a new model for looking at the nation, beyond the simple Red State/Blue state idea. After two years, journalist Dante Chinni, and professor of government a the University of Maryland, James Gimpel, PH.D, have worked on The Patchwork Nation project. It has proposed a new way to look at the nation, beyond just the regional work of Joel Garreau's Nine Nations of North America.  Based more on the work of urban theorist Richard Florida, and journalist Bill Bishop--whose The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded Americans is Tearing Us Apart is a fascinating read when you have the time--they examine the socio-economic and cultural divides that have sprung up in our society, and how communities across the web of counties across the nation more resemble one another than just the rubric of Red State/Blue state polarization would suggest.

For Chinni and Gimpel, they examined all 3,141 counties across this nation. With some statistical analysis of median age, income, ethnic make up, growth, housing, and cultural influence, they created a model that breaks counties down into twelve types.

Boom Towns--384 counties, with 59.3 million people. Wealthy and growing, like Eagle, Colorado. Lavish before the economic downturn, and rapidly growing communities invested heavily in construction and growth.

Campus and Careers--71 counties, with 13.1 million people. Clustered around college campuses and heavily invested in the industries that their universities are sponsoring, and emerging technologies.

Emptying Nests--250 counties, with 12.1 million people. Where Boomers and retirees are settling for their sunset years, sometimes with fixed incomes.

Evangelical Epicenters--468 counties, with 14.1 million people. Full of young families, often poorer than the national average, but with great faith, often in clashes with the other religious tribes in their midst.

Immigration Nation--204 counties, with 20.7 million people. Mostly in the Southwest, with high Hispanic populations, lower than average incomes, and a higher than average poverty.

Industrial Metropolis--41 counties, with 53.9 million people. Bastions of industry, densely packed, younger, more diverse than average, and packed with neighborhoods that are often as different as night and day.

Military Bastions--55 counties, with 8.4 million people. Packed around our nation's military bases, with middle income families of soldiers, and those who service our bases, and deeply tied to the deployments and families of those who are left behind.

Minority Central--364 counties, with 13.5 million people. African American and Native American populations mark these communities, and often lower income and high poverty rates, with often very divided communities where race is concerned.

Monied Burbs--286 counties, 69.1 million people. Higher than average education, higher than average income, and often evenly split between parties, and opportunities for dropping relative wealth here and abroad.

Mormon Outposts--44 counties, 1.7 million people. Mostly in the Mountain West, heavily Mormon, and often rural and sparsely populated.

Service Worker Centers--663 counties, 31 million people. Centers of tourism or mid-sized towns, where employee benefits are often sparse, and folks are often only seasonal.

Tractor Country--311 counties, 2.3 million people. Farming and agribusiness rule these counties' economic base, and often white, rural, and remote.

The one problem that I've always had with Garreau's Nine Nations, was that Northampton, Massachusetts shares more in common with Durango, Colorado, than it has in common with Boston or even the Cape. Yet, there is a tendency to throw NoHo in the same category as Boston because of the locale. While Mainers share many traits, Portland is a far different place than Skowhegan. And their voting history are far different as well, and the economies and culture are far removed.  The communities of the Finger Lakes are a far different lot than the folks living in New York city, and the breakdown that Chinni and Gimpel have worked out, while some may argue is arbitrary, gives us a wider picture of the forces that work on disparate communities that often share demographics, employment and income figures, and mores. Economics, politics and culture play a role as well. While Presidential elections hinge on the electoral fall of the chips, the Chinni and Gimpel model is a tool that may become increasingly useful to help folks strategize their approaches to elections, and gives us a more complete picture than the simplicity of Real America vs the Fake America that divides and dumbs down the national debate.

Chinni and Gimpel traveled to each county across the country to gather not just data, but to talk to folks in each of these communities. Those anecdotal stories are without irony, and build up a picture of each representation, the people within, and the challenges that they face. While the simplicity of thinking of the country as just Red or Blue makes for easy graphics in the news, it does us a grave disservice, even for those of us who are still invested in Party.  Republicans from Boston are a bit different than Republicans in Nixa, Missouri. While Palin's political base can draw from Evangelicals, it often alienates her from those in the Industrial East. And understanding these differences, and how disparate communities across the nation can share values and mores, as well as similar economic challenges can bring us, as a nation, closer together.

If you haven't looked at the Patchwork Nation project, I urge you to at least peruse it, as a better tool, or at least as a springboard for thinking about the nation less as polar opposites. It is a project that helps bring into focus better the disparate nature of the nation and her communities, as much as Strauss and Howe brought lifecycle influence better into focus with Generations and their cyclical model of generations in this country.

Crossposted to the Motley Moose.