Psychedelic Film Criticism for the Already Deranged

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Great Dads of the 1970s #10: Josh Brolin as Dr. Block in PLANET TERROR

I'll grant you that Brolin's character in this beautifully constructed gonzo gem from Robert Rodriguez (can I go out on a limb and say it's his best film, even if it's so gross I have to avert my eyes 1/10 of the time?) is in fact rather evil. Yes, he tries to kill his unfaithful wife even before he gets turned into a zombie, but damned if he ain't a good dad to his kid, Tony (played by Robert's son Rebel and named--presumably-- after Danny Torrance's finger in THE SHINING).

First off, there's the fact that daddy and mommy are doctors, who wake up at night to go to work! Pardon me, but I think that's just about the coolest thing in the world. Maybe it's just that I'm so sick to death of those tiresome scenes of domestic tranquility around the breakfast table, dad with briefcase and mom in her apron, etc. that are supposed to spell out family dynamics in so many bad films. Here that breakfast family dynamic is inversed and made as sinister and exciting as getting ready for trick or treating. Also adding to the inverse, the dad sits down to cereal with Danny and notices instantly Danny's lost a tooth, "hey what happened to your tooth?" he says, like one cool cat to another, while mom is pattering around, double dealing on a cell phone AND a Blackberry... and what's worse, doing it with Carmen Electra!!

Third, there's his line to his kid: "No dead bodies for daddy tonight," how cool is that? It lets the kid into dad's world, similar to the "give us a kiss" line in JAWS it delineates just exactly how the kid serves to help the father deal with his big adult issues, i.e. by acting as an conduit back to (relative) innocence. The son becomes the touchstone of decency which enables dad to wade into the blood, vice and depravity of 1970s monster hunting, eating, and becoming. But ALSO Block's not afraid to mention dead bodies to his son, he doesn't exclude him in that babying way overprotective parents of today might and that puts him squarely in the great dad of the 70s pantheon.

The cool daddyhood is also apparent in his relation with Tony even before the dead bodies line; it's just there in the way they relate to each other. Block treats Danny like an equal, like a young man deserving of respect and confidence but at the same time Block doesn't pass responsibility or betray any emotional dissonance or anxiety that might effect Danny, unlike Dakota, the near-hysterical anesthesiologist mom (Marley Shelton) who is terrified her husband will discover she's about to run off with her hot lesbian lover (Carmen Electra).

"Do we believe her?" he calmly asks Tony when mom lies about the text message she receives while preparing their nightly breakfast. ("Nope," Tony flatly answers).

Dakota shows all her anxiety and fear to Tony, while dad Brolin never would; he's even respectful of Tony's action figures and their desire to "eat brains."

How can a man dilenate such a great and complex dad in such a short scene? One word: BROLIN! He even starts the night off right --in prime doctor mode--until discovering Carmen Electra dead under a sheet, wheeled in by paramedic Joe Bob Briggs. From then on he's a dickhead monster, but hey -- his wife proves her infidelity and lying ways, and then even blames Danny's death from self-inflicted gunshot wound on him later on in the night. That ain't right!

Have you heard Brolin is going to play George W. Bush in Oliver Stone's new biopic? The mind boggles, the stomach contracts, and the gall rises. I may have to avert my eyes, as I always do in Joe's VD slide examination scene.

Read a great interview with Brolin here.

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