MY FAVORITE 2017 MOVIES

I thought I would start the new year with a review of the previous. It's always a good idea to know where you have been before you set forward into new territory.

To that end I have chosen what I thought were the top dozen movies of 2017. Do keep in mind this is not an exhaustive list and there are some movies I suspect would have made the list had I had the opportunity to see them. Among those I happily expect to be wonderful but I have not yet seen include: Darkest Hour and Loving Vincent. They will just have to be evaluated in subsequent blogs.

NUMBER ONE BEST MOVIE OF THE YEAR BAR NONE:

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS

Kenneth Branagh's absolutely brilliant and stunningly beautiful rendition of Agatha Christie's most famous and popular book – about a group of strangers stranded on a snowbound train with an unsolved murder. Not only is this the best example of its genre, I think it is the perfect movie.

NUMBER TWO:

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN

Musical based on the spirit if not the specific details of the life of PT Barnum – hailed as the father of the modern circus. Con man, philanthropist, businessman, devoted family man, flawed human – the movie uses this amazing historical figure to explore the question of what is it that makes life worthwhile.

NUMBER THREE:

WONDER WOMAN

DC FINALLY hits a major home run with the most unlikely of B list comic book supers. Gal Gadot  IS Wonder Woman. Exciting, moving, funny, inspiring, spectacular special effects – set during World War I this movie exemplifies the virtues of courage, self-sacrifice, and altruism all tied up like a Christmas present with the beautiful wrappings of a superhero adventure. This is what a superhero movie should look like.

NUMBER FOUR:

MARSHALL

 Chadwick Boseman plays a young Thurgood Marshall. While this significant historical figure will grow up to be the first black Supreme Court Justice, we meet Marshall early in his career – defending a black man against charges of raping his white female employer. Marshall is saddled with an unlikely partner – a Jewish attorney, Josh Gad, who wants nothing to do with the notoriety this case will bring. Both discover that nothing and no one is as simple as it seems. Boseman and Gad have such good chemistry I'd look forward to watching them together again in anything. And the case plays out like the best of anything Perry Mason ever tried.

NUMBER FIVE:

WONDER

  You can't tell a book by its cover. Wonder is a story inspired by the troubling encounter the author had between her child and a severely facially disfigured child. Wonder explores the world from the point of view of a similarly genetically challenged child – Auggie – played by Jacob Trembley, his sister Via, his best friend Will and Via's best friend Miranda. The brilliance of this movie is that we discover that everyone is guilty of misjudgement – including the title character and ourselves, the audience. Featuring the performances of Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson and Mandy Patinkin as warm and caring parents and school principal, Wonder is a delightful movie for all ages.

The rest of the movies I can not faithfully place in any one order. It would depend on what mood you are in and in which genre it fits.

GLASS CASTLE

Jeannette Walls (Brie Larson) reminisces about growing up in her dysfunctional family headed by her brilliant, creative, and devoted but tragically alcoholic father (Woody Harrelson). Glass Castle is a coming to understanding that even a parent with egregious flaws can bequeath the irreplaceable parental blessings that come with unconditional love and support.

THOR: RAGNAROK

Chris Hemworth and Tom Hiddleston return as the conflicted brothers Thor and Loki in this installment of the Thor franchise. Cate Blanchett appears as Hela, the goddess of death who has escaped exile to take over Asgard. The title reveals the conflict as Ragnarok is the name of the Viking Armaggedon – the end of the world. Sounds like heavy going, but the writers chose to include a comic element which lifted the mood considerably. While admittedly a point of debate, personally I loved the new injection of a lighter tone and Guardians of the Galaxy-style humor in the previously Shakespearean melodrama that used to define the Thor stories.

PIXAR CARS 3

  Hands down the best of the trilogy. Cars 3 retains its child-like animated heart but stepped up its game considerably to give Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) a character arc and plot worthy of a live action movie with humans. Well done Pixar!

DUNKIRK

An intense, moving and inspirational account of the "little ships" captained by everyday sailors, ordinary fishermen and weekend boaters, who, facing great peril, came across the English Channel to rescue British and French soldiers surrounded by Germans, straffed by the Luftwaffe and stranded on Dunkirk beach. Starring an ensemble including Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, and Cillian Murphy this is as important, and at times as difficult, to watch as Saving Private Ryan.

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE

 Oddball sequel to the original Lego movie, this is at once a homage and parody to every Batman movie and TV show ever made. Not without, frankly, dumb moments and slightly incomprehensible plot holes and cameos, you must remember this is all really just supposed to be in the mind of a child playing with his toys. Featuring vocal talents including: Ralph Fiennes, Channing Tatum and Hector Elizondo, it's a hoot. Just turn your brain off and enjoy The Lego Batman Movie with popcorn, Raisonettes and a sense of humor.

SPIDERMAN: HOMECOMING

Toby McGuire was too angst-y. Andrew Garfield, while a terrific actor in his own right, was simply miscast as the webswinger – much like Eric Stoltz, a fine performer, just wasn't right as Back to the Future's Marty McFly and had to be replaced. Tom Holland, however embodies Spiderman more, I think, than the original comic book creation – bringing a refreshing wide-eyed child-like naivete to the character expressing an adorably delightful hero worship for his fellow Avengers. And Holland, the actor, still manages to hold his own against the absolutely brilliant veteran Michael Keaton who portrays the mysterious multi faceted villain.

THE STAR

Last but most assuredly not least is the wonderful animated version of the Biblical retelling of the Annunciation and Nativity – only told from the animals' points of view. Primary is miniature mill donkey Bo who longs to be part of the Royal procession but is "stuck" with the family of this poor carpenter…..an irony everyone over 8 will understand. This delightful story is told with Biblical accuracy, appropriate deference towards the gentle heart who is the Blessed Virgin Mary, and a lighthearted but respectful appreciation for the beleaguered Joseph who fears he is in over his head but who stalwartly steps up to the plate to protect his wife and the Son of God she carries.  Alone, the tale of a donkey who aspires to a position for which he is obviously unfit  would be cute. Woven about around the Biblically accurate betrothal, marriage and journey to Bethlehem of Mary, Joseph and the unborn Christ child it becomes an unusual and welcome new look at the story of the Holy Family from a fresh point of view. Religious meditation often advises we contemplate a Biblical event from a new perspective. I would venture to say that, although a child's animated movie, The Star rises, because of the material and the respect with which it is treated, to a kind of meditation on this most important event in the history of mankind. The Star, itself, shines as a beautiful example of what childrens' stories can be – appealing to children but substance for the adults who bring them as well.

MAY YOU HAVE A BLESSED 2018! SEE YOU AT THE MOVIES!

LISTEN TO THE REVIEWS OF COLOSSAL AND STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI WITH THE GUYS FROM KBYS.FM (88.3) LAKE CHARLES’ BEST SPORTS SHOW

On Mcneese's KBYS.FM Lake Charles' Best Sports Show every Sunday morning from 9-11 AM the guys are gracious enough to take my call within the first hour to talk movies and theater. December 17, 2017 Matt, Corey, Casey and I talked about Colossal and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. THE REVIEWS ON THIS EXCERPT START AT TIME 14:00

 

Audio Recording of movie reviews from the December 17, 2017

KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE – DELIGHTFUL COMIC BOOK STYLE BOND

Kingsman-golden-circleSHORT TAKE:

Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the sequel to Kingsman: The Secret Service, successfully returns to the tongue-in-cheek spy world of Eggsey – the street tough turned posh spy.

LONG TAKE:

Take one part Avengers superheroes, one part tongue in cheek graphic novel adaptation, throw in characters you’ve come to love from the first Kingsman,  add a touch of monomaniacal villain complete with homicidal robot dogs and a henchman with a cybernetic killer arm,  gizmos that would have made Q salivate, Zombieland-style comic book graphic violence, and blend with a Bond background – shaken not stirred – and you have Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

kingsman 1 posterI loved Kingsman: The Secret Service. 007 which skates right up to the edge of parody, complete with outrageous fight scenes, action which would have killed an ordinary human a dozen times over leave our heroes unscathed and not even sweaty. If you haven’t seen the first one, The Golden Circle can stand on its own. Background is provided when needed – sparse enough not to be a sledgehammer but enough to all make sense.

Kingsman does it right. They do NOT take themselves too seriously but still respect their characters and the world they inhabit. They always stay within the confines of the universe they create. They never cheat out a deus ex machine. Their problems are convoluted but their resolutions are based upon established clues.

characters kingsman 1The first Kingsman movie introduced the Kingsmen, a secret society of spies and specialists who defend the world from bad guys. Based in England their code names are taken from the Arthurian legends.harry & eggsey We also meet our hero – Eggsey – a diamond in the rough, son of a deceased  Kingsman who Harry (Colin Firth), veteran Kingsman (code named Galahad) sponsors as a candidate to become a Kingsman. We get to see the trials and are introduced to that film’s super-villain played by a lisping Samuel L Jackson.

eggseyThis time out we pick up the story in a very Bond-like dramatic fashion, with a bang – and an outlandish car chase, a cybernetic bad guy, bombs, and underwateran underwater hideout – as the now experienced Kingsman, Eggsey, thwarts a battalion of unknown henchman who try to assassinate him.

I really don’t want to give anything away because this a movie that is tremendous fun and full of surprises and delightful cameos. It deserves to be enjoyed unspoiled. But I will say that Golden Circle introduces us to an entire other group of Kingsmen – cousins you might say – to help combat a new world threatening megalomaniac.

merlin and eggseyTaron Egerton is, again, delightful as, Eggsey, the street-wise polished Eliza Doolittle of the Bond world. I was really happy to see Mark Strong reappear in one of the few good guys roles he’s ever done as Merlin, this Universe’s Q. princess tildeHanna Alstrom reprises her role as Princess Tilde, former damsel in distress, now Eggsey’s girlfriend. And then there’s……well, as Dr. Who’s River Song might caution —- Spoilers, which I am loathe to do here.statesmen

I highly recommend this movie to any ADULT who wants to see a fun, funny, action adventure, good old fashioned archly delivered Bond yarn. casino royaleFor anyone old enough to remember the David Niven 1967 outright parody of James Bond, Casino Royale, there is a small flavoring of that too, like a teensy bit of sugar in a spaghetti sauce, just to be sure we don’t take ourselves too seriously.

But ADULT is the key noun here. There are an exorbitant number of profanities. (I love the British and British movies, but I sometimes genuinely wonder if they know any  emotion filled adjective other than the F word). And there are an unfortunate number of blasphemies used as expletives. In addition there is at least one graphic, oddly and ultimately animated rather intimate physical scene.

robot dogs

There is a LOT of comic book violence including everything from explosions to dismemberment and an unnaturally clean Fargo homage.

But if you are in the mood and of  the disposition, if you enjoyed the first Kingsman then you will love this one too. There are plenty of familiar references but lots of new characters, innovations, bad guys and preposterous plot contrivances to keep even the most jaded adventure/spy thriller fan happy.

Kingsman, like Eggsey, may be the new kid on the block in terms of spy adventures, but this budding franchise, like our intrepid hero, has proven itself again. k-gcLike the first Kingsman outing, Golden Circle is both a really good time on the outlandish spy adventure train as well as often laugh out loud funny and just plain old, sometimes even silly, fun. But this ride is for big people only.

THE MUMMY – LIVE ACTION COMIC BOOK FUN

SHORT TAKE: The Mummy is a live action comic book – the trial run for Universal’s new Dark World franchise. It ain’t Shakespeare – or Wonder Woman – but it’s a lot of ridiculous fun.
MY TAKE:
When I was a 5 year old there was no such thing as iPods, DVDs, Nintendo, Gameboys or even cell phones. So when our family traveled in my dad’s Oldsmobile from New Orleans, LA to Disneyland in 1964, in order to keep his youngest child (me) occupied, whenever he stopped for gas he’d go into the station and buy a copy of every age appropriate comic book he could find. I must have read a hundred Superman, Superboy, Supergirl, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Spiderman, Fantastic Four, and Wendy the Good Little Witch magazines. So I’ve always had a  soft spot for comic books.
Jump forward 53 years. My husband and I went to go see The Mummy – a movie 118 years in the making. No kidding. 1899 was the birth year of possibly the very first movie about a mummy – a silent short called Cleopatra’s Tomb directed by George Melies – the same auteur who directed 526 silent shorts, including the famous A Trip to the Moon
So how does our trip to see The Mouse in 1964 connect with 2017’s  The Mummy? Well…I was puzzled by my own reaction to The Mummy. While I love a well done scare fest, I usually spend a good deal of time watching it through my fingers and feeling creeped out and looking underneath my car before I get in it in the parking lot. But despite The Mummy being full of staggering mummies, zombified victims, living sandstorms, and other monsters (I will not now name for the sake of spoiler prevention), I came out of the movie feeling like a bouncy kid. I suddenly realized The Mummy is not actually a horror movie – it is really an extremely well done, well plotted, well performed live action comic book!
Wisecracking, never to be taken completely seriously leading man with flawed motives, vivid images, wildly outrageous developments:  massive flock of birds taking down a military plane, a mysterious cavern found by chance by two mercenaries, the dead being brought back to life as the mummy’s slave, a pit hiding a terrible secret under a pool of mercury, an underground secret science lab full of enough sparking and exploding electric tubes to swell the heart of Kenneth (1931 Frankenstein prop master) Strickfaden, evil incarnate in the form of a beautiful scantily clad tatooed woman. The Mummy throws in homages or outright supporting spots to a number of other monster stories.
I can picture the comic book panels to almost every scene in the movie.
It has all the tongue in “shriek” of Hugh Jackman’s Van Helsing, John Landis’ American Werewolf in London, the troll in the bathroom scene from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and  Goosebumps – the movie about RL Stine’s fictions coming to life. No matter how much they amp up the scare factor you just can’t take it seriously enough to be disturbed.
SPOILERS FOR NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS – ESPECIALLY EGREGIOUS AS THESE SPOILERS REVEAL “PUNCH LINES”
And how CAN you take a movie seriously when the lead, Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) has a quippy argument in a woman’s bathroom with his recently deceased best friend Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) on whether Nick was justified in shooting Chris just because Chris was trying to stab everyone around him after he had been zombified by the Mummy Princess Ahmanet???
And somehow the terror value is (intentionally) lost when Ahmanet has Nick held down by her zombie minions and is preparing to stab him with a ritual knife. See –  as she pulls his shirt up and rakes her fingers down his torso …. Nick starts laughing because he’s ticklish!!
OK – SPOILER FREE REST OF REVIEW!!!
The above mentioned scenes come within an inch of opera buffa or even outtake qualities but fit nicely with the tone of the rest of the movie.
And it makes sense because apparently Universal is starting its own franchise of “Dark Universe” films of which this is the golden nail in the railroad track. I can foresee it entirely possible to put all these worlds: DC, Marvel, Dark Universe within each others’ reach. And OH what mash ups are possible.
And why not! Within the last 118 years there have been mummy link ups with everything from Laurel and Hardy to Sherlock Holmes. AND, while we’re at it – why not the Hulk with Frankenstein or Dracula with Batman or Creature from the Black Lagoon with Aquaman? There really is no reason not to – if you can write a good enough plot and theme to go with it. If the scriptwriters can create the masterpiece that is Wonder Woman, then I suspect not even the sky’s the limit.
From Cleopatra’s Tomb to this year’s The Mummy, there have been over 402 films with a mummy theme – entries ranging from Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chan, Scooby Do and the Three Stoogesto the iconic Boris Karloff 1932 classic entry The Mummy, to the Brandon Fraser semi-parody Mummy franchise. There have been mummy movies with Sherlock Holmes, Abbot and Costello, and even Tom Baker’s Dr. Who! There have been mummy movies which have been frightening, suspenseful, and comic – sometimes a combination and sometimes unintentionally one or the other. And there is one my husband and I have determined we MUST see sometime soon called Bubba HoTep about an Elvis impersonator in a nursing home who thinks he’s the original and a black man convinced he is JFK dyed black by LBJ as part of a failed assassination attempt.The two team up to save their fellow residents from a shambling resurrected mummy – which makes some kind of sense because a mummy has a fighting chance against elderly which it would not have against more fleet of foot younger potential victims……I am SO not kidding. This is a real movie. Though I suspect NOT for the kiddies or the easily offended – so be advised.
Obviously, this is not a topic to be taken very seriously. But I digress.
BOTTOM LINE: There are a HUGE variety of mummy movie options. Many even with the name The Mummy. THIS The Mummy with Tom Cruise is fun and entertaining, though not for younger kids who might not be as amused as the more jaded of us by cliched over-the-top monster scenarios. Those who are panning this Mummy I think just don’t get it. The Mummy is not intended for introspective thoughful watching. It’s simply a comic book hoot. And that’s a wrap. Mums the word. Go home now – your mummy’s calling you.

Ree/eal Life – THREE THROUGH FIVE OF FOUR REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH MOVIES — WAIT?! WHAT?

REASON NUMBER THREE OF FOUR

Another reason movies are fascinating and why you should watch them is that they compress experience into condensed versions of that REAL life to which my husband alluded in the previous posts. In a well made movie nothing happens except that which forwards the vision/theme/goal of the film. One of the basics of screenwriting is: if it does not forward the motion of the plot then, even if it is a really good scene, cut it. It's called "killing your darlings". A painful but necessary process. If you have a story about a baseball pitcher, then having a long interlude on how his wife reconfigured the family recipe for orange muffins may not be in the best interest of the story, no matter how cute or well written. You want to stick to the thread of your idea and not wander too far off the trail that will get you from Point A to Point B. Films are not the lengths of real lives (though I have sat through some that were so dull they SEEMED to be closing in on that long). They are, by and large, a maximum of 120 minutes. So getting to and staying ON topic is pretty essential to good story telling. As a result, often what you see is fairly intense – intensely felt love affairs, exciting car chases, pivotal incidents in an otherwise mundane person's life, watershed moments, historic turning points. The rest is left on the cutting room floor. What you see in REEL life is a purer, or at least concentrated, experience than what you would normally have in REAL life.

REASON NUMBER FOUR OF FOUR

Another reason I find movies worth the time is that watching a protagonist or antagonist face a decision gives you an opportunity to test your own mettle – what would you do in that situation? Of course, you do not personally have the vested interest of stepping into a boxing ring, or racing from an exploding volcano. But if the film maker has any skill at all and you are the least bit cooperative in the effort, he will help you become emotionally invested in the scenario: Will the guy admit to the girl he loves that he is the biological father to over 500 children? Will the Olympic champion have the moral courage to refuse to run on Sunday? Will the man step into an apparent abyss to save his father's life based solely on the instructions written in his father's diary? What would you do in each of those cases? Would you: Admit? Refuse? Step forward? (Quick quiz: name each of the movies those scenarios come from, answers below.)

Now while it is unlikely one would face ANY of those specific situations, we likely WILL be asked to choose between: admitting a hard truth or adopting an easy falsehood, deciding on something we want versus God's Will, going forward with something that frightens us for a loved one or turning your back in fear. Were they clever? How did they work that courage up?

We are all interested in how others face challenges. Family stories of Grandpa's fishing expedition or how a cousin approached a job interview or how your best friend proposed to his girl can be the inspirations to how you will face your own challenges. Movies help expand our pallet of experience. And getting an opportunity to preview that issue, to get a good example or observe a horrible warning are helpful REEL life exercises running up to the REAL life lessons we will face.

REASON NUMBER FIVE OF FOUR ……WAIT??!!…WHAT?

That's four reasons there. But are there any others? Well – yeah! Of course!!! Because they are darned FUN! They make us laugh, cry, jump in fear and shiver in admiration. The best of them can make us proud to be American, thoughtful about the weaknesses of being a human, awe struck by the power of God or the capacity of people to be selfless. They can also take us out of ourselves for a while to offer us perspective or simply a vacation from our daily stresses. Or they can reinforce the importance of the simplest most mundane actions of decent people.

These are some of the reasons movies are important to me and why I think you should watch movies. But the impact – long and short – they can have on our attitudes, our psyche or even our children's dreams are why it is important  – as one of the characters in the quick quiz warns – to "choose wisely". See you at the movies!!!!!

Answers: Starbuck (story stolen by Delivery Man), Chariots of Fire, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

And — FYI, the caution to "choose wisely" comes from the knight of antiquity in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. But you'll have to watch it to find out why.

 

Ree/eal Life – TWO OF FOUR REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH MOVIES

In the previous posts I explained my love of movies. Today, I'll begin to explain the why and source of that affiliation.

REASON NUMBER ONE OF FOUR

To me there are at least four reasons to watch a movie. For one thing, it is the only proven use of telepathy that I know of. What you see on the screen is the public visualization of someone else's dream. OK. To be more accurate the vision is more of a group effort – costume designer, cinematographer, location scout, casting director, and dozens or hundreds of other "chefs" add their ingredient to the stew. But USUALLY the final party plan is the director's; his or hers the vision that you get to see. For the most part, the "final cut" is the director's, he the one who makes what you see on screen most like what he has envisioned. Now granted that can be a good or bad thing, depending on whether the director is Ed Wood or Frank Capra. Then the choice is yours as to whether or not you want a peek into that person's mind. But it is a kind of telepathy – a (literally) "feeling from afar" as the term "telepathy" was originally coined by English psychologist Frederick Myers in 1882, even though that feeling is "limited" to visual, auditory and emotional.

REASON NUMBER TWO OF FOUR

Another reason why you should watch movies is that they are cathartic. You can, via sympathy, experience situations and events, that you may never personally get to do first hand. For example, I will not likely ever get to float in zero gravity watching the earth spin from miles above, but there are any number of movies which, with a little imagination, can help you vicariously get that experience, including Gravity and The Right Stuff.

………..Next – Reasons three, four and five out of four —— wait??!! what???…………..

 

 

Ree/eal Life – I DO NOT LOVE ALL MOVIES

I DO NOT LOVE ALL MOVIES

Continuing with the previous post…..

In the first part of this post, I described my love affair with movies. Let me clarify that point a bit.

I do NOT love or even like ALL movies. The kids say I would watch the washing machine go around, but that is not actually true. It would HAVE to at least have a good soundtrack.

But there are movies and genres I just do not much care for: soap operas and slasher movies would top that list – though there are some movies that would break even that rule, making the grade despite their parentage. I confess to the guilty pleasure of Titanic in the first case and the novelty of the concept behind Freddie Krueger in the case of the original Nightmare on Elm Street in the latter case. (One of the Elm Streets was definitely enough, however.)

And when I watch movies I try to remember something a friend of mine – a little known writer/producer named Phil Kirksey – told me about 30 years ago: "NO one sets out to make a bad movie."

Even the poorly made ones I have to, on some level, admire. At the very LEAST those people had a vision which they carried out.

I have been on a number of sets. I have written and tried to write a bunch of screenplays. I have participated in a few amateur film shoots and a couple of professional ones. It's NOT a cake walk. Even the simplest, dumbest pieces of dreck have to be planned, scripted, costumed, lighted, filmed, edited…not to mention convincing a bunch of other people to: act, give permission to film on their property, lend you props, bring or lend expensive often delicate equipment. The actors have to be: transported, fed, kept safe and comfortable, provided with potties. Need I go on?? It's not easy and it takes commitment. And anyone who can get ANYTHING up on a screen, whether professional or for the local film fest, I have to give them some respect.

WHY WATCH MOVIES??

But WHY do I watch movies? My husband often teases me: wouldn't you rather (fill in blank) than watch someone else do it? The answer is — well, that depends. Yes, I would rather eat a piece of chocolate cake than watch someone else eat it. Yes, I would rather rock my own baby than watch someone else rock theirs. Yes, I would rather take a nap than watch someone else sleep. But the topic of a film does not usually revolve around the kind of mundane activities most of us mortals engage in on a day to day basis.

On the other hand, I would rather watch someone else run away from a 60 foot Tyrannosaurus Rex than actually do it myself. I would rather observe someone else's technique for surviving the sinking of the Titanic than put that to the test personally. And as for comedy – well, think of the Three Stooges. Yeah, more of a spectator sport if you ask me.

Do I choose to watch a lot of movies? Yes. Do I choose to watch ANYTHING? No. Of course not. But, the $64,000 question remains —— WHY?

…………..To be continued………..

 

Ree/eal Life – I Love Movies

I LOVE MOVIES

I love movies. I love everything about them. I love hearing about the possibility of one coming out. I love finding out it's coming to a theater near me!  I love buying the popcorn, watching the trailers (though I admit that sometimes I end up enjoying the previews more than the movie I came to see. LOL). Then when the theater lights go down and the screen lights up, there is something magical about the descent into darkness and allowing the vehicle of your imagination to be chauffeured by someone else for a while – see where THEY want to take you and to go along for the ride.

Before the advent of TIVO, online streaming, DVDs or even VHS tapes, I remember, as a kid, biking down to the local grocery store once a week to pick up the latest copy of TV GUIDE! I'd thumb through it – sometimes not even waiting to get home but check it out on the sidewalk outside, in the shade of the awning, straddling my bike keeping it balanced while I scanned the movie titles for that week. I'd scour the list to find out if any movies that I wanted to see, or had missed at the movie theater, were going to be coming on and PRAYED it would not be on an early bedtime school night.

Movies I was not allowed to see at the movie theater I might be allowed to watch on TV because, back then, the sensibilities were less jaded, editing was pretty strict and an R rating would be knocked down to a tolerable PG when shown in the American home between Oreo cookie and Mr. Clean commercials.

The movie would also have to be on a channel we could get with my Dad's pivoting satellite antenna. He had a tower attached to the house and you could control its direction from inside the house, often getting – especially late at night – channels normally FAR outside of the regular viewing geography. Living in New Orleans, why, sometimes we could even get a channel that originated in Baton Rouge!

OK. This REALLY dates me. Boy what I wouldn't have given at that time for just the ability to copy onto a scratchy VHS the badly hacked movies shown on TV, even crudely truncated to make time for the interminable and poorly placed commercials. Because your choices back then were: catch it at the movie theater, see it on TV at a random time assigned by the station and hope it isn't too chopped up to make time for the advertisements, or …………….. Well, there were no other choices. You could read the "Book based on the movie," listen to the sound track on an 8-track cartridge and hope it included snippets of the dialogue, ask a friend with a good memory and gift for story telling to describe it to you….but really….there were no reasonable options. If you loved movies you could get pretty frustrated.

And I love watching movies – and rewatching them. My Dad used to carry around old beloved paperbacks in his back pocket. He said rereading his favorites was like visiting old friends. I feel the same way about movies.

I'm often told I talk too much. I suppose that bleeds into my writing too. I also understand that one shouldn't write into a single post more than one could read while sitting on the — well, while one is otherwise occupied. So, I have broken this rather loquacious blog into a series and see if that is more user friendly. Please let me know if you like this idea better or would rather get it all over with in one swell foop.  🙂 So, as in the old days………….

…..To be continued

 

3 Movies I Liked But You Should Not See

Some movies just should not be made —- or should have been made differently. Every now and again I plan to clue you in to movies which I actually liked and were very popular but I think have inherent flaws which make them unwatchable.

BE WARNED – FULL DISCLOSURE: I plan to spoil the living snot out of them for two reasons: given the nature of the evaluation it will usually be necessary to tell the ending – the outcome of the characters often strongly informs the value of the movie. If the bad guys do not get a comeuppance then the movies’ ethical and educational quality should be closely scrutinized. Second, frankly I want to tell you enough about the movie that it kills your curiosity and makes you not want to see it.

Three this time: Grease, Pretty Woman and Risky Business. I have seen and liked all three; all three are classics in a way, were extremely popular in their time,  and, in retrospect I realized they were just not very nice movies.

Risky Business: All that being said, there IS ONE scene that is pretty terrific which is fine to show anyone. If you have grown up seeing Tom Cruise in Minority Report, Live-Die-Repeat, or one of the Mission Impossible movies it is hard to resist watching one of the early scenes in Risky Business. He is just a puppy at this time and plays a high school senior who is tasked with watching the family home while his parents are on vacation. Being left completely alone for the first time he sliiiiiiiides into view with a faux microphone wearing nothing but socks, underwear and a long shirt lipsyncing to Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll”. It is SO darned cute…….. But then, during the course of the rest of the movie, he: hires a hooker, allows her to manipulate him into so much debt she convinces him to put his rich Ivy league friends together with her friends, effectively turns his family’s home into a bordello, bribes a college evaluator with a questionably aged prostitute, lies to his parents and…..GETS AWAY WITH IT! He is accepted to his dream college and keeps the hooker as a girlfriend. Charming example of how to get ahead.

Pretty Woman: Edward (Richard Gere) hires a hooker (a lot of that going on) named Vivian, played by Julia Roberts, as eye candy for an important negotiation. To make her a convincingly appropriate escort he styles her up. The scenes that follow deliberately echo My Fair Lady, including a posh scene at a racetrack. But the analogy becomes offensive to me for a number of reasons. For one thing, in My Fair Lady, Eliza is virtuous. Instead of the easy cash she could make as a comely lady of the night she scrapes out an honest living selling flowers, then seeks to better herself with elocution and social lessons. Henry’s interest in Eliza ranges from that of a scientist analyzing an interesting form of fungus to paternalistic/fraternalistic protector. In Pretty Woman Edward takes full advantage to use Vivian for that which he has paid her. As for the supporting cast, instead of a Freddie who becomes infatuated with Eliza, there is Philip, a loathsome colleague of Edward’s, who beats and tries to rape Vivian. Now, just before credits, Edward does propose marriage, but it’s a band aid on a gun shot wound. Sadly, I could have accepted pretty (if you’ll excuse the pun) much almost all the rest of the movie if Edward had simply not had sex with her. Duh. If he had rebuffed her attempts to “fulfill” her part of the bargain, if he had done the Higgins’ thing and held her at arm’s length, if Edward had simply been a VIRTUOUS EXAMPLE, there could have even been some rather funny moments from this scenario. Instead Edward is a cad. It is unfortunate, because there ARE some nice moments in this movie, and it had potential. There’s even a very cute scene (which IS watchable but in the middle of the movie) where Edward takes Vivian  to a VERY elegant clothing shop. Edward pulls the manager aside and tells him, referring to Vivian, that Edward wants the manager to do some “serious sucking up,” intending to bolster Vivian’s self-ego. The manager misunderstands and immediately goes into this oozing complimentary patter to Edward. Edward stops him in mid sentence: “Not ME! Her!” It is quite funny. Also Hector Elizondo’s portrayal of Barney, the hotel manager/Pickering-type character is stand-out charming because HE treats Vivian as a LADY. Barney would have been a far better Higgins to Vivian’s Eliza. Had that latter pairing been made it might have been a really good story. As it is, it is a preposterously unrealistic portrait of a (definitely NOT) lady.

Grease: Wow, the archetype story of corruption. Olivia Newton-John plays Sandy, a clean cut virgin girl from Australia who had met Danny, (John Travolta), the high school BMOC, the previous summer in an exchange program for high school students. Thrown back together in an American high school, Danny at first doesn’t want to admit he likes her and in true ’50’s fashion they sing and dance their way through boy loses girl, boy eventually gets girl humor trials and tribulations. For those who have grown up first seeing Travolta play tough guys and psychos in movies like Broken Arrow, Face Off, and Pulp Fiction it must be a bit of an amusing shock to see him in a goofy good guy roll and discover the boy can both sing and dance! However, during the course of the movie, some obviously over-aged supposed teenaged girls smoke, sleep and drink their way around Sandy, eventually convincing her that the way to win Danny back is to act like them. (“Good-bye Sandra Dee”) So, to make a long story short, at the end of the movie, Danny admits he loves Sandy and even agrees to go to college, which is fine. But Sandy, as her part of the bargain, becomes a stiletto wearing, Cat Woman leather-outfitted, drinking, smoking party girl. WHAT!? Where’s the cute girl who should have been the good example for the rest of the movie’s layabouts, slackers, and promiscuously behaved degenerates? Danny falls in love with Maria from Sound of Music but takes home Fergie to meet his mom??!! Somehow I think they got that one backwards. Also keep in mind that Danny does not marry the girl but drives off with her. Had they saved the “Better Shape Up” song – costume and everything – for a post-wedding – on the way to the honeymoon scene – where they maybe show Sandy as now ready to let her hair down for her husband, I could have accepted the routine. But as it is – it was hollow and depraved. I remember seeing a Mad Magazine spoof on this movie which pointed out this exact perversity: So to win your guy, you should become a slut?? Even Mad Magazine saw the ludicrous fallacy in that argument. It’s certainly not a good example to set for your children.

Of the three I found  Grease the most offensive. Risky Business pushed a questionably ethiced young man over the brink. Pretty Woman lionized prostitution, making it appear a path to success and happiness with your dream man. But Grease encouraged the deliberate corruption of a nice young woman.

Similarly to the point I made about being careful to screen what you encourage others to watch and not rely on the reputation or past history of the filmmakers, just because a movie is considered a “classic” does not make it wholesome.

6-13-15

Cataclysm as Marital Therapy

I love disaster movies. Armaggedon, Independence Day, Poseidon Adventure – both 1972 and 2005 versions, the Terminator series, World War Z, Earthquake, San Francisco, Knowing, Deep Impact, Outbreak, Towering Inferno (released in 1974), The Tower (very similar story made in Korea in 2012), I Am Legend, Day of the Triffids (1962 and 2009 – though I haven’t seen the 2009 version it’s on my list of things to see), War of the Worlds (2005 and 1953), even that awful environmental wacko film Day After Tomorrow, and the poorly done TV series The Stand (though the book was well written). These movies span generations (San Francisco was released in 1936), cultures, and geography. The reasons for the disasters range from extraterrestrial aliens to homegrown superbugs, from man made robots to natural disasters. From world wide to the confined space of a single building these films are visual and emotional roller coaster rides that scare the daylights out of us, give us the good example of the protagonists who follow a moral code even in the face of great danger, and the horrible warnings of the characters who do not.

They also provide perspective. Being late for work because of a traffic jam or facing yet another April 15th tax season certainly isn’t as bad as being on the menu of a 50 foot ant or knowing your job is irrelevant because the city is about to: blow up, freeze over, or be incinerated. When you wake up to a city that is not overrun with zombies it’s not hard to face even Monday with a smile.

Disaster movies generally follow a certain formula – meet an ensemble cast of characters you learn to like, then watch as they face obstacles created by: monster, disease, natural event, etc. and wait breathlessly wondering who will make it to the credit roll. The challenges bring out the best and worst in people – some you expect, some you don’t. There are elements of humor and romance, LOTS of suspense and usually plenty of special effects. And there is not usually a lot of surprise in them once you have twigged to the familiar scenarios. But for me that is OK – it’s like the path of a favorite thrill ride.

However, there is one fairly recent theme phenomenon I have noticed cropping up of late with a handful of movies and I thoroughly approve of the addition.

SPOILERS – THOUGH I WILL TRY TO REFRAIN FROM GIVING AWAY WHO DOES AND DOES NOT SURVIVE.

Over the weekend, on our 33rd wedding anniversary trip Bryan and I went to go see San Andreas, the new earth shaker flick. The main protagonist, Ray (Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson) is a divorced emergency responder. Ray is on good terms with his ex – Emma (Carla Gugino) but is freshly coping with her having a new – and rich – boyfriend.

(Quick quiz – Gugino has a habit of playing stressed out moms in weird situations. She was the mater in a trilogy of rather spoofy espionage films about a husband and wife facing outrageous life threatening situations with their kids. Answer below).

Disaster happens and in the course of Ray’s endeavors to rescue his wife and teenaged daughter, he pretty much shows up his rival to re-win the respect of his child and the affections of his wife……. and I suddenly thought –  hold on —– this scenario sounds AWFULLY familiar. Didn’t John Cusack do the same thing as a limo driver in 2012? In 2012 Cusack’s character gets advance notice of the coming Mayan-predicted end of the world so grabs wife, children and wife’s boyfriend to adventure out into a struggle against the obstacles between them and survival. Cusack ends up re-winning the affections of his ex-wife ……..and —– wait a minute – in Independence Day Jeff Goldblum realizes the visiting aliens aren’t ET so grabs his wife and her boss – who just happens to be the President of the United States (who is NOT a boyfriend, but her boss, though Goldblum’s character at one time THOUGHT they were involved so it counts) and together manage to rescue the world, and in the process re-wins the affections of his wife and ……….wait just a second!!! In Jurassic Park III William Macy and Tia Leoni are estranged. She has a boyfriend who is conveniently dispatched early (not much of a spoiler because we barely meet him in the beginning of the movie before he gets eaten). Together they go to outrace and out smart dinosaurs to rescue their son who is stuck on one of these dinosaur islands and before the movie is done they —- reconcile. Is there a pattern to be detected here?

This dovetails nicely with a two part post I’m working on which is  coming up soon, near Father’s Day. But suffice to say that Hollywood, for all its inherent contempt for traditional families, seems to understand the life affirming fundamentally satisfying solidity of the traditional family structure.

There is an analogy here for all of us. Many families work, struggle, love and thrive with single parents, children of broken homes, and of homes headed by widows and widowers. There is great nobility in these homes because they are operating at a huge disadvantage. These four blockbuster movies reflect in concentrated microcosm the difficulties of daily living. I may not be leaping in front of an ultrasaurus or racing ahead of a 1000 foot tidal wave or blowing up a 6 mile wide meteor but as families we all face obstacles that seem potentially world shattering. These movies touch on our core instinct that understands the strongest template for protection, for success and for survival is the mom plus dad plus kids. There is something basic in our nature that recognizes almost anything can be accomplished, any obstacle overcome, any challenges can be broken by a mom and dad fighting for their children. While not all of us have the blessings of that armor, it is a structure we can teach our children to strive towards for their own protection and the protection of their own families against the tidal waves, the dinosaurs, and the natural disasters to come.

Answer – Spy Kids, Island of Lost Dreams, and Game Over

6-10-15