Tuesday, June 18, 2013
This post contains spoilers about This is the End, but not for a few paragraphs down. You'll get another warning.
I'll be 40 in four months.
I'm feeling it pretty acutely when it comes to the sports world. I'll soon be reaching an age that serves as one of those absolute cut-offs. Professional athletes over 40 -- in the four major sports, anyway -- are few and far between, and in not too many years, I'll be older than all of them. For now, each sport does have at least one athlete who's older than me.
I don't feel it in the entertainment world, though. Many of Hollywood's biggest stars are over 40, and some are over 50. Age alone does not make you irrelevant in Hollywood, as numerous over-the-hill stars have been given the chance to continue doing things they started doing in their prime, back in the 1980s (or even, in some cases, the 1970s). Forty does not feel like such a daunting milestone in Hollywood.
Except in situations like this past Sunday, when I watched This is the End.
But let's back up again.
One way in which Hollywood has kept me feeling comfortably in the correct demographic is that the writers have tended to be my age. Since they're my age, they write references that I get ... even when those references are incongruous with the characters they're writing. A good example of this was something I posted here a couple years ago, about a television show I only ever watched a couple times. On an episode of Cougar Town, a show set in the present day, a character who was supposed to about 20 was talking about having an Emilio Estevez movie marathon with his friends -- an Estevez Festivez. This despite the fact that someone born in 1990 couldn't give a squirt of piss about Emilio Estevez.
That was the big change that I felt at the end of This is the End, a movie written and directed by 31-year-olds Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. These guys are probably on the young end for Hollywood writers, even though they've already been writing for quite awhile now. They're nearly ten years younger than I am, and this past weekend, I felt that for the first time in one of their movies.
Okay, I'm finally getting to the spoiler part. Avert your eyes.
What's happening in This is the End, a very funny movie that loses steam at certain key junctures, is The Rapture. Near the start, blue beams of light come down from the heavens to save the righteous from the impending apocalypse. Eventually, the characters start to realize that the key to their salvation is to be better people, and so they make various attempts -- both genuine and not so genuine -- to accomplish that. It works for a couple of them, and they get in to heaven -- a white and puffy paradise in which everyone's having a great time lighting joints off the heat created by their halos. (This is Seth Rogen we're talking about here.)
In this version of heaven, you get to have anything you wish, and all you have to do is think of it. One character (I'll stay vague) wishes for a Segway, and bam, he's riding on it. Another wishes for a performance from one of his favorite bands, and suddenly, we're seeing them from behind, just the backs of their heads, as though an epic reveal is on the horizon.
Except the reveal wasn't so epic for me, because it revealed ... the Backstreet Boys. All decked out in heavenly garb. (Heavenly garb = hip clothing that's all silver and white.)
I was already in my late 20s when the Backstreet Boys hit the scene. Goldberg and Rogen, however, were in their late teens. In other words, that's right in their nostalgia wheelhouse.
That moment when the Backstreet Boys start singing "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" -- yep, I had to look up the title, which speaks to the point -- is supposed to be a rush of kitsch awesomeness for the audience. If you're digging on this movie's groove, it's supposed to be a cathartic "Yeah!!!" And you're supposed to be taken back to the moment in your life when you experienced the guilty-pleasure thrill of boy band goodness that this song is supposed to indicate in this moment. (It's also a callback to earlier in the movie, when the song plays during a montage of stoner activities between Seth and Jay Baruchel in Seth's house.)
Except, I never had a moment like that with the Backstreet Boys, because I was too old. There was no part of what they represent that spoke to my experiences, so it didn't give me a genuine thrill or even much of a kitschy thrill. The resulting scene is executed with enough evident joy that I appreciated it on that level, but it didn't speak to my own life.
If this movie had come out ten years ago, the band that appeared in heaven at the end would have been something like Duran Duran or maybe even Bon Jovi. But it wouldn't have been New Kids on the Block, which would have been my era's version of the Backstreet Boys. See, there's another generational shift. The generation ten years younger than me actually thinks it's cool to ironically reclaim the Backstreet Boys. Today's 40-year-olds would never reclaim New Kids.
So I guess this really is the end, or the beginning of it anyway, for me being the demographic that receives these cultural references in their intended manner. The writers are going to keep getting younger -- relative to me, anyway -- and I'm going to keep heading north of 40.
Still got four months more, though. I'll live 'em up, and listen to as much Duran Duran and Bon Jovi as I can.
Friday, June 14, 2013
Zack Snyder is a figure of some controversy among knowledgeable movie fans.
There seems to be near-universal acclaim for his debut feature, the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. But from that point onward, the opinions on him diverge sharply. Some see him as a masterful shepherd of big pictures with big ideas; others see him as a latter-day Joel Schumacher. However, even those who are in his corner seem to recognize that there's something not-quite-right, something impure about championing him as one of today's true visionaries.
So far, this has not mattered all that much, because the "big pictures" Snyder has directed have been big in scope and budget only. Movies like 300 and Watchmen are definitely "big," no question about it -- but it's largely because of how they were marketed to us. Most people were not readers of the graphic novels/comic books that inspired these movies, so our expectations of them were limited to being excited over the first trailers we saw. We had few preconceived notions of what he might ruin or might do correctly. And indeed, some of us were disappointed in 300 (me) and in Watchmen (certainly not me), but it was only because of how they were executed within themselves. It's not because Snyder "got them wrong" -- unless, of course, you were one of the limited groups of fanboys who did have a passionate love for the source material.
Then his next two films, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole and Sucker Punch, were genuine flops, disliked by many if not most of the people who saw them. Sucker Punch in particular, with its problematic gender politics, contributes as much as anything to the negative opinions people have of Snyder. However, again, these were not "big movies" in the sense that they had to either live up to, or fail to live up to, our expectations. Sucker Punch, in fact, was a completely original concept -- a first for Snyder.
So this all changes today, when the latest Superman reboot comes out. Now Snyder can genuinely ruin something we all care deeply about ... or make it transcendent.
You never know which way Snyder's going to go.
The funny thing is, I'd say that I generally like (Dawn of the Dead, Watchmen) fewer of Snyder's movies than I generally dislike (300, Guardians, Sucker Punch), yet I feel like I'm one of the aforementioned Snyder apologists. I think it's that I liked what he did in those two movies so much, I tend to forget that I didn't like some of his decisions in the other movies. The good decisions outweigh the bad ones, especially in the case of Watchmen.
One thing I like about Snyder is that he makes errors of commission, not errors of omission. Anything he does that doesn't work is not for lack of trying. He puts bold ideas out there. Sometimes they don't work. In fact, sometimes they fail miserably.
Then again, you could say that Michael Bay also makes errors of commission.
But I choose to be plenty excited for Man of Steel. The only other pure superhero movie Snyder made, Watchmen, is my favorite of his movies. I do think he has the ability to take this material and make it transcendent, and the original trailers I saw for it (I've tried to avoid them more recently) only confirmed that notion for me. Plus, Michael Shannon as Zod? I'm there.
Just not this weekend. Sunday is Father's Day, but my sister is in town, and Sunday is also her birthday. I do actually think we'll see a movie that night, but I think it'll be This is the End.
Then again, perhaps I should reconsider promoting that movie more than the others that are out there ... since she arrived on Tuesday, I've shown her both Tucker & Dale vs. Evil and Galaxy Quest, and neither of them were the hits with her I was hoping they'd be.
Perhaps comedy is not the right choice for her ... though I doubt that superheroes would be either.
So I may need to seek a compromise. That's the price I pay when I share "my day" with somebody else.
Monday, June 10, 2013
This post contains some spoilers about 28 Weeks Later and Warm Bodies.
One of the reasons I ultimately didn't like 28 Weeks Later -- and more to the point, the main reason I regularly tell people I didn't like it -- is because (spoiler alert) Zombie Robert Carlyle stalks his own children.
That's right, he's been bitten by another zombie and so he becomes one himself, divorcing himself from all remnants of his former life. (I know, I know, they're not "zombies" -- they are infected with "the rage"). Yet when he crosses paths with his children, which I believe happens more than once, he breaks away from the horde to follow them.
I allow this complaint to stand in for a number of other problems I have with the movie, because sometimes it's easier just to focus on one thing. But I did really find it to be a serious problem. The movie sets up a world where zombies are unthinking killing machines who harbor no ability to make distinctions between their prey, or to have the capacity to prefer one prey over another even if they could make distinctions. In fact, pretty much every zombie movie you've ever seen sets up that same world.
The reason I didn't dig 28 Weeks Later ends up being the same reason I did dig Warm Bodies, which I saw on Friday night. Some people may find it problematic. I found it endearing, and ultimately, incredibly emotionally rich.
It may be clear from this movie's setup -- a zombie boy falls in love with a living girl -- that the zombies you're getting in Warm Bodies are not your typical shuffling, shambling brain-eaters. Oh, they eat brains alright, but it's for a specific purpose: Eating the brains of their victims allows them to experience the memories of those victims, just for a minute or so. It's like the zombie version of a powerful drug, a drug that temporarily reminds them what it felt like to be alive.
This alone I liked, but Warm Bodies is a unique take on a zombie movie in a number of other ways as well.
The desire to experience another's memories underscores the ways these zombies are still human. And that's kind of what Warm Bodies made me realize: Zombies don't have to be unthinking killing machines. Why couldn't they be just human beings struggling with their new mode of existence? Human beings who feel a newfound compulsion toward cannibalism that they loathe, but that they must yield to in order to survive?
Warm Bodies smartly establishes these former humans as beings in a state of limbo. They certainly aren't alive, but there's another brand of undead that's far more gone than they are. In the parlance of the movie, the zombies we're talking about are referred to as "corpses." However, there are also "skeletons," who look like this:
Essentially, skeletons are corpses who picked all their skin away, like you or I would pick at a scab. Although the movie doesn't specifically state this, you might surmise that the inability to stop tearing away loose flaps of skin escalates at the same rate that they degenerate irrevocably into madness. Corpses aren't really sure what they're doing; skeletons are fully committed to being the eating, killing ids that they are.
Put a bit more directly: Corpses might still be saved.
This idea that the zombies of Warm Bodies might not be lost causes allows for suspensions of disbelief that would otherwise be quite problematic. Like, the fact that our main zombie, dubbed R because he can only remember the first letter of his first name, can speak, a little bit. Like the fact that he makes moral choices. Like the fact that he returns each night to a makeshift home in an airplane, where he plays old vinyl albums that he collected when he was still alive. Like the fact that he falls in love.
If any of these things had happened in 28 Weeks Later, I would have laughed them out of the building. And in fact, because something sort of like this does happen -- a violation of the rules the movie has established -- I consider 28 Weeks to be lesser.
Warm Bodies establishes its own rules, and I quickly decided that I dug them. Zombies movies, on the whole, have always been part of a satirical tradition. They got their start as a means of commenting on us and who we are, and the comments were never positive. That's the big difference with Warm Bodies. It does have that satirical edge, most notably in a flashback scene in which we're all seen interacting with our phones more than each other. But it also has room for the optimism that human beings are characterized by their desire to improve. Zombies aren't content being what they are; they want to fight their basest impulses to become something more enlightened. They want to rise above.
The fact that the movie is narrated by R, as though he were a fully conscious and capable narrator trapped inside the body of the undead, is just one more indication of the kind of zombie movie this wants to be. It wants to explore our capacity for change, and the everyday heroism of overcoming our limitations. That makes us human as much as all our regrettable pettiness.
So I'm okay with a zombie who still sort of remembers what it was like to be human, and wishes he could get there again. It lends extra poignancy to his primitive attempts at rescuing the girl he loves from danger. If it's going to deliver me the kind of emotional catharsis this movie did, I'm okay with a zombie who thinks, who chooses, who decides.
Besides, R has a really great record collection.
Friday, June 7, 2013
There have been a couple things I've noticed about the advertising for The Internship (opening today) that have bothered me, at least enough to write a post. (Subject matter has to meet a pretty low threshold in order for me to write about it.)
For one, it's pretty obvious that they're trying to make us think of the most recent and perhaps most successful -- and only? -- collaboration between Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, which was Wedding Crashers.
Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course -- except that I didn't really like Wedding Crashers, and I want to like The Internship.
Anyway, yeah -- the tagline is "Crashing the System," which is one of those felicitous phrases that has both a literal meaning (a malfunctioning computer, appropriate in a movie about Google) and a subliminal meaning (the allusion to Wedding Crashers).
The other thing that "bothers" me about The Internship is the blank looks on the faces of Vaughn and Wilson in all the posters. They owe more than a little bit of a debt to this:
and to this:
Now you might say "Vance, Steve Carell and Matt Damon are smiling, and Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn are not." You'd be right, of course. But I still think there is an intentional borrowing of the same ad campaign.
However, if you're going to go with that campaign, at least do it in a way that makes sense. In other words, Vaughn and Wilson have their mouths open and those vacant looks on their faces because it's ironic to think of them as "fresh-faced interns." Wilson is 44 and Vaughn is 43.
But I've seen this poster on a lot of bus stops around LA:
If you're going to stamp INTERN on a character's forehead, it should represent a disconnect, as it does with Wilson and Vaughn. Right? The other two are age-appropriate interns, so it makes no sense. There's no disconnect.
Now, you could get away with the design above if the bottom two appeared on the top, indicating that these on the top row are your normal interns and these on the bottom row are not. Reading the poster from top to bottom would indeed convey that. However, you can't do that because then you are effectively giving these two unknowns top billing.
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
If you are asking yourself how someone can spoil a movie that grabbed attention by spoiling itself through its very own title, read on. However, if you don't want to know anything about John Dies at the End, you should stop reading now.
What's the biggest problem you can have if you are a movie called John Dies at the End?
I'd say that it's if John does NOT die at the end.
Actually, I should probably be more specific. John can not die at the end, and that's okay, as long as whether or not John is going to die at the end is a key part of the ending. Otherwise, why even call the movie that?
That's one of a dozen questions I might ask about Don Coscarelli's long-awaited follow-up to Bubba Ho-Tep.
Well, it may not have been long-awaited, but at least it was a long time coming. Bubba Ho-Tep came out over a decade ago in 2002. Coscarelli shouldn't have been stuck in directorial limbo for ten years after that charming little slice of weirdness. After this less-charming and less-weird movie -- which mistakenly thinks it's weirder than Bubba -- I'm not so sure if I'll cry for Don Coscarelli if he can't make his next movie until 2024.
So if John does not die at the end, as I think I've established, why is the movie called that? The easy answer is: Because the book is called that. Why is the book called that? I don't know, I guess I'd have to read it.
The John we are spending so much time fretting about is a secondary character here, kind of the sidekick to the main character, the narrator, a guy who is not Chinese despite being named David Wong. John is David's partner in some kind of supernatural detective agency, but he gets David involved in something far more sinister -- a drug known as Soy Sauce, which allows the takers to see things before they happen ... and time travel ... and possibly survive their own deaths. A bunch of this is more than a little bit unclear, and the rules -- such as they are -- seem to be made up as the movie goes along.
This is what I mean about the story dying at the beginning. Because you can't possibly know it's going to go everywhere and nowhere, for about 20 minutes you're lulled into thinking you're watching a specific thing with a specific set of rules/ideas that may lead to something interesting. What you think you're seeing gets killed off pretty quickly, though, and you soon realize it wasn't going to lead to anything remotely coherent anyway.
But let's get back to John dying or not dying.
John does "die," of sorts, in John Dies at the End. However, it happens at something like the 27-minute mark. In other words, nowhere near the end. And of course, John's death is not fatal to him -- not hardly. This alone would be a problem, even if we're setting aside the whole betrayal of the movie's structure as promised by its title. If you're going to cheekily "ruin" the ending of your own movie in a ploy to get people interested (it definitely worked on me), you should also have the death of this character actually be important in some way. It shouldn't be a moment that barely registers because it a) occurs off-screen, and b) doesn't mean anything like what a death would mean in most movies, because another version of the supposedly dead character begins immediately telepathically talking to the protagonist from another timeline. (He uses a cell phone as his medium at first, so as not to scramble David's brain, but then shifts to speaking to him through a bratwurst, just to prove the whole thing is telepathic.) Pretty soon John shows up again in fully body form and is pretty much around for the rest of the movie.
To call this movie confusing, however, is to give it too much credit. Things that are confusing often have the benefit of being deep or profound, but John Dies at the End is neither. It's a mess of half-formed ideas masquerading as some kind of coherent narrative, but the half-formed ideas themselves are not even all that interesting. If you took the worst impulses of Joss Whedon, David Cronenberg and Sam Raimi and jammed them into a blender, you'd get John Dies at the End. (In fact, Coscarelli makes several rather blunt homages to each of these talented individuals.)
So what does happen at the end?
To be honest, I have already forgotten. I watched this movie on Thursday night, and by Tuesday, I already have blocked out significant portions of it. I do remember that the very end -- when the credits are rolling -- has something to do with John and David traveling forward in time to the year 5189. We find out that it's 5189 because one of them picks up a newspaper on the ground. (Newspapers won't exist by 2189, let alone 5189.) Then some beings show up in some kind of rocket capsules to greet them. Then I think there's an explosion.
What annoys me so much about this movie, other than the way the title pointlessly messes with us, is that it's likely being given a pass by altogether too many people who want to credit it merely for being "weird." As I mentioned earlier, it's not "weird" in the way it clearly wants to be -- it's a very mainstream type of "weird" that is better described as "disorganized," "cheeky" or "lame."
Bubba Ho-Tep was the good kind of "weird." Bubba Ho-Tep features a retirement home being attacked by mummies, defended by a guy who looks a bit like Elvis Presley, who says/believes he's Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell), and a guy who looks nothing like JFK but says/believes he's JFK (Ossie Davis). Beyond that, it's pretty simple, and that's what makes it so damn enjoyable.
John Dies at the End is about drugs and supernatural detectives and time travel and telepathy and imaginary spiders and disembodied arms (there's that Sam Raimi reference) and spirits given a corporeal presence as a bunch of cuts of meat all woven together. There's nothing simple about it, yet there's also nothing good about its exhausting and sloppy "complexity."
Plus, the title lies.
Saturday, June 1, 2013
On Thursday I announced I was making The Hottie and the Nottie the next film I'll watch in my monthly series Famous Flops.
God help me.
So I jumped on Netflix to add it to my queue, and couldn't help noticing the second movie that came up when I searched for it.
That's right, it's the terrific monster movie from 1954 about giant radioactive ants, called Them!
That's a much different kind of scary than the scary I'm going to get in The Hottie and the Nottie.
I can't for the life of me figure out why this fun 1950's movie comes up when I search for Paris Hilton's dreadful 2008 vehicle.
Some of the ones that come up later in the search make a little more sense. The next one after Them! is 1945's And Then There Were None -- also a very curious choice until you parse what the Netflix search engine must be doing. It's seeing the consecutive letters T-H-E-N in "the Nottie" and finding you titles with Then in them. That theory also easily explains the next search result (And Then There Was One) and the one after that (Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer, which also has the consecutive letters T-H-E-N across two words -- a pattern you'd think it would share with literally hundreds of movies, though).
The next three results -- Rosemary & Thyme, The Thief and the Cobbler and Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement -- bring us right back to square one. None of those titles have consecutive lettering in common with the title I searched, though oddly enough, the middle title shares a structural convention with it. But so do a dozen other movies that don't appear here.
Maybe Netflix is just trying to give me some reason, any reason, to find something other than The Hottie and the Nottie to watch.
Friday, May 31, 2013
Will Smith has spent the better part of the past decade more interested in whether his son has a career than whether he has one.
And because he is such a Hollywood heavyweight with so much muscle -- both financial, and the more abstract power of his reputation -- it's hard to say whether Jaden Smith is "happening" organically, or merely through the force of Will Smith's ... well, Will Smith's will.
Put more simply: Is Jaden Smith really a star, or is Will Smith just succeeding in telling us he's a star?
What got me thinking about this was a billboard I saw recently for After Earth, which opens today, in which neither the senior Smith's name nor his face appears. It's kind of like the one you're seeing in this picture here, except it was horizontal rather than vertical, and there was no companion billboard feature only Will's name and face. (You'd be wise to ask, however, which is the elder and which is the younger. Starting with the Seven Pounds billboard a few years back, I swear they are doing some kind of reverse aging thing on Will Smith.)
Jaden Smith's solo billboard is designed to make us think that Jaden himself can open a picture, even without his daddy. But is that real, or is it just hype?
It'd help to take a little look at his career thus far. He's only 14 (for about another month), so this should be pretty quick.
Jaden of course debuted alongside his dad in the 2006 film The Pursuit of Happyness, which I actually thought was great. I don't have a strong memory of Jaden's performance in the film, but I suspect he seemed pretty natural -- a chip off the old block, as they say. It goes without saying that Jaden would not have appeared in this film without Will ... yet I just said it anyway.
His next feature was two years later in 2008, the awful remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still. And already, at not yet 10 years old, Jaden blows my theory out of the water. IMDB does not show Will Smith's name anywhere on this movie. Surely he worked his magic behind the scenes, but he wasn't so involved with the movie that he got a producer credit or anything.
Not the case for Jaden's next movie, which came out at another (parentally responsible) two-year interval: The Karate Kid in 2010. This movie probably makes the best case for Jaden being a true breakout star able to exist on his own merits, but I'll have to take other people's word for it because I still haven't seen it. And daddy definitely helped here: Both Will and Jada Pinkett Smith are credited as producers.
That brings us to After Earth, which reteams the buddy comedy duo from The Pursuit of Happyness. (That's a joke.)
Jaden got such an early start that it only feels like he's been around forever. At not even 15, Jaden probably isn't feeling desperate to get out of his father's shadow just yet. Though if I were him, I'd probably think twice about co-starring with his father again, at least not until he's in his 20s and the elder Smith is trying to make his first comeback. Time for this baby bird to spread his wings and fly.
Then and only then will we decide if this baby bird can carry his own billboard, let alone his own movie.
Of course, the elephant in the room about After Earth has nothing to do with either of the Smiths. The elephant is that After Earth is M. Night Shyamalan's latest attempt to reclaim the creative glory that has eluded him for something like six movies now. I'd say it was his last chance, but that's what I said when he made The Last Airbender, which ended up being one of his biggest flops. Yet here he is again, even though studios have long since stopped using his name to help market his movies.
So maybe Jaden catches a break here. If his movie stinks, maybe it won't be any kind of commentary on his star power after all.
Thursday, May 30, 2013
Welcome to the latest edition of Famous Flops, in which I watch one movie per month that was considered a massive failure either critically or commercially.
Sites like Rotten Tomatoes are interesting because their metric to examine the quality of movies is open-ended. By that I mean, the freshness rating of an old movie is never closed. A critic -- one who has met the site's eligibility requirements -- can declare a movie rotten or fresh whenever they want, even if the movie came out 50 years ago. Filmspotting host Josh Larsen created a stir recently when he sullied the previously unblemished record of 12 Angry Men by submitting the one negative review of it. We'll leave the discussion of whether this makes Larsen admirably brave or utterly foolish for another time.
What we can discuss now is whether this is a bit of a cheat. I think it is. On some level, it seems only fair that the published critical consensus about a film is what critics thought about it at the time it was released. Now, there are certainly occasions where a film has grown in esteem over the years, so if you were to judge only the initial reaction critics had (wasn't it Roger Ebert who didn't like Alien?), you would not be getting the full picture. However, in a case like the one above, the opposite may be true. Larsen seems to be judging 12 Angry Men by 2013 standards (in fact, I think he saw it and made his fateful judgment in 2012). Does Larsen really believe that he would have judged this (apparently not indisputably) great film so negatively in 1957?
Enter (finally) Xanadu, the Olivia Newton John bomb from 1980. The film that was meant to confirm and build upon the star's Grease popularity, but instead likely short-circuited her acting career.
However, I'm looking at it through 2013 eyes, and as a result, I'm a lot more forgiving. (Which I guess makes the Ebert/Alien example more germane in this situation.)
I know, watching Xanadu today, that it's a failure on many levels. But I'm also a person who has grown up in an era of movie fans who fully appreciate camp, and how can I not see Xanadu as glorious camp? If I'm judging a movie on the standard of how disagreeable it was to watch, I have to say that I liked Xanadu.
The story concerns a young artist named Sonny (Michael Beck) who has a fairly unique job, as movie jobs go -- he paints larger versions of album covers so that they can be displayed promotionally. In a fit of frustration over one particular painting, Sonny tears it into pieces and scatters those pieces into the wind. The pieces float until they find a mural outside an old disco club? roller rink? who knows. (Wikipedia describes it as an "art deco auditorium.") The mural contains a half-dozen beautiful women in all their late 1970s disco/sci-fi/album cover glory, and the shreds of painting bring them to life. One in particular, named Kira (Olivia Newton-John), is bequeathed a pair of roller skates, and "bumps into" Sonny along a Santa Monica bike path. When the artist sees his muse appear on an album cover he's supposed to paint later that day -- even though she wasn't a paid actress on the shoot -- he starts to wonder what the meaning of it all is. The long and the short of it is, she's there to assist in the meeting between Sonny and Danny McGuire (Gene Kelly), a former orchestra leader who lost his own muse years before. The two are destined to open the "art deco auditorium" as a new club called Xanadu. Oh, and did we mention that Kira is a literal Olympian muse, from Mount Olympus?
If you are a bit lost/confused, don't worry about it. The movie is incredibly simple to follow, and actually requires a handful of song-and-dance numbers to make it to feature length.
It's probably obvious that this is the stuff of a great cult hit, which is how I suspect we would describe Xanadu nowadays. It's certainly oddball enough, most notably with the appearance of Hollywood legend Gene Kelly. At the tail end of his career, Kelly is a bit fragile here -- but he's also a lot lighter on his feet than you would expect, and has a ton of contagious gusto for the material. His first dance number starts out modestly, as though keenly aware of his limitations, before picking up steam and demonstrating that Kelly has still "got it." It may just be that Kelly's million dollar smile added at least a half point of a star rating for me on its own.
Newton-John is pretty sweet here, too. She has a couple fabbo musical numbers, in additional to ethereally roller skating in and out of Sonny's world. It's plenty charming. Beck as Sonny is pretty bland, but two out of three ain't bad.
Of course, this must have all seemed like a train wreck in 1980. When none of the aesthetic stylings of a movie are the source of nostalgia or the epitome of kitsch, your only choice is to face them on their own terms, and that must have been tricky for audiences at the time. It was especially tricky for critics -- that we know for sure.
But watching it 33 years later, I can't help but be charmed by one of the climactic numbers, which involves an army of clubgoers on roller skates (led by Kelly) clapping in sync and chanting the movie's name.
So, I guess I'm glad I saw it now instead of then.
Okay, on to next month. After hating each of the first three movies I've seen in this series less than I thought I would (and actually liking at least one), I've stacked the deck for epic hatred in June. I'm watching -- yes, I'm really going to do it -- the Paris Hilton vehicle The Hottie and the Nottie. It's supposed to be just awful, and I'm really, really hoping it is.
Monday, May 27, 2013
I have seen 400 movies whose titles begin with the letter S.
This is the kind of absurd milestone you can mark when you keep the kind of fastidious movie records I keep.
I hit 400 S movies on Saturday when I watched Fisher Stevens' Stand Up Guys, which also happened to be the first movie from this year I've watched on video. (That's a milestone I also notice, if you remember this post last year.) I guess I should place a small clarification on that last claim, because I did watch Upstream Color as an itunes rental two weekends ago. That, however, was available as a rental at the same time it was in the theater, so I think of that differently than the movies that had a theatrical run and then a subsequent DVD/streaming release.
ANYway, yes, it was #400. Here are the other 399:
Safety Not Guaranteed
Saint John of Las Vegas
Salem's Lot: The Movie
Salton Sea, The
Samson and Delilah
Santa Claus: The Movie
Santa Clause, The
Santa Clause 2, The
Santa Clause 3, The: The Escape Clause
Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic
Safety Not Guaranteed
Saint John of Las Vegas
Salem's Lot: The Movie
Salton Sea, The
Samson and Delilah
Santa Claus: The Movie
Santa Clause, The
Santa Clause 2, The
Santa Clause 3, The: The Escape Clause
Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic
Admit it -- you really thought I was going to list all 399, didn't you?
In case you were wondering, S movies are far and away in the lead. The next closest is, strangely, the letter B, which will hit its own milestone (300) the next time I see a B movie. (So I better throw in an old Roger Corman movie tonight, har dee har har.)
Here are some other milestones/observations about my viewing habits:
May 26th, a great day to watch movies
I have seen a movie each May 26th, dating back to the year 2006.
I know this because I keep a list of movies in which the viewing date is the primary filter (as discussed in another old post, here). Note: This list is of new viewings, not repeat viewings.
When I added Charade to that list this morning, I noticed that I have an unbroken streak dating back to 2006. That's unusual, because that stretch includes a ton of weekdays. (Well, exactly four.) In a typical week, I'm lucky to get in one movie from Monday to Thursday nights. But I got in each of those weeknights (the leap years didn't skip any of them) for the recent May 26ths.
I will list these, because it's a lot shorter:
Friday, May 26, 2006: Who is Cletus Tout?, The Omen (1976)
I was reviewing Cletus Tout (which I actually sort of liked), and watching The Omen later that night with my wife (I believe she'd seen it, but I hadn't). The Omen really held up.
Saturday, May 26, 2007: Away From Her
Went to the theater to see this with another couple. Loved it. However, that's the only movie date we've done with that couple.
Monday, May 26, 2008: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
My wife and I like to save "epic" movies for holidays, so we watched this one at home on video on Memorial Day. This is one of those Potter movies whose details utterly escape me.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009: Surfer, Dude; Water
Ha, funny theme. I was reviewing S,D and watched Water with my wife (sounds like 2006). If you're wondering how I got in two movies on a Tuesday, I seem to remember starting S,D on Monday night and finishing it early Tuesday morning, which made Tuesday the official "viewing day." Then Water would have been an ordinary evening viewing.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010: Easier With Practice
Another movie I ended up reviewing, which my wife received as a screener copy. Didn't really like this one.
Thursday, May 26, 2011: House of 1000 Corpses
Yep, it was more gruesome than Rob Zombie's second film, the sequel (though I didn't know it at the time) The Devil's Rejects. Watched this one late at night, appropriately.
Saturday, May 26, 2012: The Omega Man
My wife and I watched this one for a laugh -- actually, we tried to watch it seriously, and eventually realized that the only way to watch it was for a laugh. I remember trying to see how long it would take her to realize it was the film that inspired I Am Legend.
Sunday, May 26, 2013: Charade
I decided I wanted to make last night's viewing something that came out before 1960. I missed. Charade came out in 1963.
The question now becomes whether I can keep the streak going -- and whether it's legitimate if I do. If May 26, 2014 rolls around and I specifically note the day, then the whole process becomes tainted. If I realize only after the fact that I was keeping a streak going, then we're good. It'll be a Monday, which doesn't naturally land itself to movies ... but then again, it'll also be Memorial Day, which does lend itself to a flick or two.
It'll probably be Tuesday, May 26, 2015 that's the real challenge.
An important blog milestone
My milestones/streaks/bits of trivia don't only relate to watching movies. In an uncharacteristic failure on my part, I neglected to acknowledge my 1,000th post on The Audient.
It was this post, which went up on Thursday the 16th. I must have subliminally known this was the one, because it was a whole nother week before I got the chance to replace it as the top post.
Nothing too special, all told. A post about tearing pages off a movie trivia calendar.
But that's what I've been doing on The Audient for 1,000 posts now -- or, 1,004 posts, including this one. I've been celebrating the Movie Mundane.
Oh, I've tried to get at the big issues from time to time. But throughout the entire four years, four months and 24 days I've been writing this blog, I've been writing it quickly, in brief free moments, mostly without the luxury of heavy research or obsessive restructuring of my writing. It's always been expedient for me to write something fast, something that can flow out of me quickly without a lot of fact checking and other kinds of journalistic thoroughness. You might say it's been a perfect fit, in that sense -- my disdain for journalistic thoroughness was one of the reasons I quit actual journalism.
So yeah, nearly four and a half years of the Movie Mundane. More than 1,000 posts worth of Cinematic Slightness.
But you're still reading, so I must be doing something right.
Sunday, May 26, 2013
This is the story of how my son's interest in watching Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit always ends in a viewing of Toy Story.
My son is allowed to watch as much as two hours worth of TV when he wakes up on weekend mornings. Scoff all you want, fellow parents. Deep down, you know you treasure those two hours as an invaluable time to do things around the house. (Even if the things you're doing are not very meritorious, such as updating your blog.)
So each morning after I get him up, we go through an often-circuitous rigmarole about what he wants to watch. This process is complicated by the fact that he sometimes doesn't know the name of the thing he wants to watch. Often I use our Recently Watched section of Netflix streaming as a major crutch, and many mornings, we fill these two hours by stringing together a number of half-hour shows.
However, a feature also does the trick of getting us most of the way there. This is where it gets a little tricky. When he's requesting Cars, does he want to watch so-called "Fin Cars" ("Different Cars"), a series of tall tales told by Mater, which runs 36 minutes? Or is he talking about the two-hour feature, which we just bought about a month ago?
Another area of ambiguity relates to Wallace & Gromit. The short films (A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave) used to be available for streaming in a package. I don't think they are anymore, so when W&G get requested nowadays -- as they did this morning -- I put in our DVD of The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.
And then usually take it right out again.
See, something about seeing the Dreamworks logo come up makes my son want to watch Toy Story instead.
I had no idea what it was until this morning, when the phenomenon happened again.
"Ina watch Toy Story," he said in that tone of voice that's almost a whine, but not quite, as those balloons float up into the clouds, and the boy starts fishing on that crescent moon.
This morning I tried to take note of what is causing this association in my son, and it occurred to me pretty quickly once the Toy Story BluRay had gone in.
See, the opening screen of the BluRay, where they ask you your preferred language for the disc options, is Andy's wallpaper -- which happens to be a big screen of blue broken up by regular intervals of clouds.
You know, Dreamworks' is probably screwed no matter what it does. I'm kind of surprised the Dreamworks logo doesn't make my son want to watch a different Pixar movie, Up, which we also own. After all, the logo prominently features balloons as well.
Then again, it's very unlikely that my son knows the title Up. It's a bit abstract for a child. When he does request it -- which is rare -- I believe he refers to it as "Balloons." Or "buyoons," which is how he pronounces it. (My son is learning Spanish at daycare, and may have heard that word spoken with the Spanish convention of turning double L's into a Y sound.)
Of course, if we're talking patterns, here's another predictable one that also relates to my son changing his viewing preferences based on a visual trigger:
Once he's set up with his viewing option, I like to set myself up with my laptop at our kitchen table, which looks in on the living room where he's watching his shows. If I can see him, he can see me, and my laptop immediately reminds him of his absolute favorite viewing option:
"Daddy, ina watch diggers," he says/whines.
See, before we showed him any TV, we allowed him to watch construction equipment ("diggers") on youtube on my computer. In time, "diggers" came to refer to anything watched on the internet on daddy's computer -- trains, helicopters, even shows on potty training. Although TV is now an option for him and has been for almost a year, "diggers" has never been fully supplanted.
And more often than not, when I've got my computer out, my son will slink over and try to start climbing up on my knee, and begin full-on whining if he is even remotely denied.
So here's another skill parents have gotten down: adaptation. Now, I bring my work computer home every weekend, so he can watch diggers on my work computer, while I use this one to write this post, the one I'm finishing right about ...
Friday, May 24, 2013
THIS POST CONTAINS NO SPOILERS.
(That disclaimer is primarily for Nick's benefit.)
One of the benefits of being really busy at work and barely posting on your blog and not keeping up with movie news and basically having your head in the sand in general is that you can roll up to your computer on a Thursday to scan the options for a matinee movie on a potential early-release Friday before Memorial Day weekend, and learn that all of the sudden, Before Midnight is in theaters.
(Run-on sentence intentional, which Nick will also appreciate.)
I mean, I knew that the third (and final?) movie in Richard Linklater's Before series was hitting theaters in the month of May, and I knew we had only one week remaining in the month of May. However, being really busy and barely posting and having your head in the sand means that you forget what you knew. Allowing nice little surprises like this one.
Even better, it's playing at a perfect time (2:05) for my potential early release (1:30), while still giving me plenty of time to pick up my son at daycare (5:00).
What I'm most curious about with regards to this third meeting of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) is the emotional impact it will have on me.
I watched the brilliant Before Sunrise on March 25th, 2002, when I was about three weeks into a relationship with a woman who I thought would become my wife. Even at that point I saw everything lining up perfectly. We shared a geographical background (both from New England), we shared a mindset (less than I thought it turns out -- she's more conservative than she admits) and most importantly, we shared an attraction. It was one of those situations where you just know it. Of course, those feelings are not always correct, since we did not get married.
However, in that dizzy spell of early-relationship romanticism, I encountered Before Sunrise at just the perfect time. What some people might interpret as a melancholy story was, for me, a warm embrace of the possibilities of life and love. I ate it up.
It was a different story when I saw Before Sunset on July 23rd, 2004. The aforementioned girlfriend and I had been broken up for eight months, though it was only within the past couple months that I had started to think there was no possibility of us getting back together. It was one of those situations where I did the breaking up, then regretted it, and expended countless hours and numerous increasingly desperate ploys on trying to get us back together. By July 23rd, 2004, I was pretty sure it wouldn't happen. So as I walked into the theater to see Before Sunset, my heart was heavy. As I left what many people consider an equally brilliant film to its predecessor, if not better, I felt a bittersweetness that was more bitter than sweet.
It'll be interesting to see how Before Midnight strikes me today.
Today, I have been married for five years and been in a relationship with my wife for more than eight. In fact, I met her only about five months (almost exactly) after seeing Before Sunset. Our marriage is a happy one, though of course it has its share of the kind of difficulties that are part and parcel to the institution. We don't always agree and it's not always easy, but overall, it's an "easy" marriage by marriage standards. One I'm thankful for and lucky to have.
So I don't expect to emerge from Before Midnight feeling especially melancholy, at least not for reasons external to the movie. Though I do wonder how this movie will, like its predecessors, speak to the place I currently find myself. I haven't learned a lot about the plot of Before Midnight, but I understand that perhaps Celine and Jesse have been together since Before Sunset, meaning that domesticity is the dominant mode of their relationship nowadays. Of course, that may be wrong, but if it's right, it could very well have a lot to say about how a person's core "relationship" is affected by marriage or a close facsimile thereof.
Now, I just need to get that early release.
Thursday, May 23, 2013
I love it when things work out perfectly.
Last Saturday night, my wife, my sister-in-law, my son and I stayed in a hotel in Encinitas, in order to hit Legoland in Carlsbad (about seven miles up the road) the next morning. All three of them had been going to bed pretty early, so I knew Saturday night would be a good opportunity to catch a movie -- a "vacation movie" at that, which is all the better.
Earlier in the day, I'd done some research and discovered that Encinitas boasts a single-screen theater, which was playing The Croods earlier in the day and then The Place Beyond the Pines a single time at 8:15. The Place Beyond the Pines had been one movie I was certain I was going to see in the theater, except it was starting to look like that wasn't going to happen. Then, bam! Along comes this opportunity. And it even started during my preferred window for an evening movie: 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. The 7-8 time slot is often too early, the 9-10 time slot often too late.
However, I still wanted events to play out naturally over the course of the day, rather than broaching the idea of me seeing this movie at 10:30 in the morning. Odds were that my son would be asleep by then and my wife and sister-in-law would be content to part ways with me for the evening, but I didn't want to take that for granted. So imagine how nice it was when we drove by the theater naturally, and they both pointed it out to me before I had the chance to point it out myself. Score.
We wrapped up our Mexican dinner at about 7:45, and I was on my way. I couldn't buy my tickets right away, though. In a perfect sign of small-town quaintness, the box office was empty, with one of those little signs in the window with a clock and adjustable hands, indicating the time the box office would again be occupied by a person. The hands of the clock were set to 8:05.
I returned at about 8:10 and found about five people ahead of me in line -- which is this town's idea of a crowd. I knew I obviously wasn't going to miss anything, but I was excited enough by the opportunity to see this movie under these circumstances that I felt a bit antsy nonetheless.
So it was with some about of impatience and, in fact, incredulity that I listened to the guy ahead of me ask the following question to the woman sitting in the box office:
"Have you seen The Place Beyond the Pines? Is it good?"
You're at the theater, you're in line, you've got your money pulled out ... and now you're not sure you're going to go?
He may have just been making conversation, but come on. You're already here, and now you're going to let someone else's opinion dictate whether you're actually going to plunk down your nine bucks?
First off, this woman is trying to sell you a ticket to see the movie. It's a small-town single-screen theater, so chances are, it loses a ton of money. They need that nine dollars, and they need it bad. So it's not even in her interest to tell the truth.
However, this woman did indeed tell what seemed to be the truth -- that she hadn't seen it, but that her brother had seen it and it was supposed to be great.
The guy bought the ticket.
What I found annoying was that he wasn't only spoiling his own viewing of the movie, but possibly spoiling mine. What happened if this woman had said she didn't really care for it? I'd already decided to buy my ticket, even if he hadn't. I didn't want my own excitement to be tainted by a negative appraisal.
And what if the woman had said she didn't care for it, and he went in anyway? Then he would have proven that this whole exercise was just a waste of everybody's time.
In truth, I did already have some tempered appraisals of the movie under my belt, because I'd already heard the movie discussed on Filmspotting -- meaning I already knew about the movie's unconventional structure. (If you don't know about it, I'll just leave it at that.) However, everyone agrees that at least one part of the movie is incredibly great -- myself included.
One other funny/charming thing about this small theater? The movie started ten minutes late, but then didn't include a single commercial or trailer. Just straight in to the action.
And what action it is: The movie starts with a two- to three-minute unbroken take that ends with what appears to be Ryan Gosling riding a motorcycle inside an enclosed sphere with two other motorcycles, defying death in front of our very eyes.
This shot is reason alone to see The Place Beyond the Pines.