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 condescending pat on the head; mom in her apron chastising the kids for forgetting their mittens, etc.--that pass as 'character development' in so many bad, censor-approved films. Here that breakfast family dynamic is inverted and made as cozily 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, conspiratorially, cooly, interested but not 'worried', just one cool cat to another. Meanwhile, mom is pattering around like a nervous wreck, oblivious to them both, too busy double dealing on a cell phone AND a Blackberry.

Third, there's his line to his kid, his request Tony join him in the prayer/wish: "No dead bodies for daddy tonight." How cool is that? This one phrase lets the kid into dad's world as an ER doctor at the local hospital. 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, albeit an innocence still able to face and be immersed to a degree in the macabre. 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. It's a quid-pro-quo as the son's innocence centers the father in his bloody quest, but the father in a sense centers the innocent son in the experience of death, destruction, and blood. Block treats him like an equal, like a young man deserving of respect and confidence but at the same time Block doesn't pass responsibility onto him or betray any emotional dissonance or anxiety that might traumatize or adversely affect him.

By contrast, Dakota, the near-hysterical anesthesiologist mom (Marley Shelton) is so terrified her husband will discover she's about to run off with her hot lesbian lover (Carmen Electra) she barely notices Tony at all. Naturally she wants to take Tony too but one can see the wretched life he'll have fleeing from locked motel to motel while Elektra and his mom get it on in the next room- - he'll be as neglected as Freddie Bartholomew in THREE ON A MATCH (1933).

Irregardless of Dakota, it's that Block's not afraid to mention dead bodies to his son, that he doesn't exclude him in that babying way overprotective parents of today might, that puts him squarely in the great dads pantheon. He even shares his suspicion over Dakota's lies with Tony: "Do we believe her?" Block calmly asks 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 convey such a great and complex dad in such a short single scene? One word: BROLIN! He even starts the nigh at the hospital 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 Tony's death from self-inflicted gunshot wound on him later on in the night --and he was nowhere near them. 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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