A few nights ago, Kim and I settled on "Jaws" as the movie to watch on Netflix as one or both of us fell asleep. Can you believe that? Fucking "Jaws" to lull us to pleasant dreams of not swimming.
“Jaws” was one of those movies that as a kid I couldn’t shake due to a certain imagery, but it wasn’t the imagery of the shark. We barely got to see the shark thanks to the prop reportedly never working correctly during the production, and this has been argued to be the reason why the shark was so scary in the first place. It was because we couldn’t see it, couldn’t take any long stares at the thing, leaving what we remembered of it really just memories that we created using our own fears as fuel.
But glimpses of the shark are not the images I’m referring to here. It was instead that one scene, the one scene that I remember being so affected by as a child that it sent me off to draw pictures of it, to re-enact it using my Star Wars action figures and any number of rubber sharks bought for me during road trips to Florida. It was Quint, and it was the image of him sliding into the mouth of that shark, screaming and kicking at the teeth of the thing, trying desperately to sway its intentions by stabbing it on the nose over and over again. And then it was that close-up of Robert Shaw spitting blood out from between his teeth, and that agonizing scream, never having seen the teeth penetrate mind you, but hearing it. That was it. That’s what defined “Jaws” for me.
And I’ll be damned if when that scene happened during this past viewing, I felt that same sense of horror, that same visceral reaction that I’m guessing the less sophisticated audiences of 1975 had when they first saw it. It was what made “Jaws” one of the first blockbusters in cinema history, that reaction, and it was done so masterfully by then wunderkind Steven Spielberg that even now it’s up there with any of the more gruesome, leave-nothing-to-the-imagination computer effects of today. I thought about what it would be like to be inside of that animal, and it was because of that scene right there, that one that made my toes curl in a bad way.
I've gone on record before the release of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" as saying that I was worried, worried that the film and the entire Star Wars franchise was about to take a dangerous turn, quite possibly jeopardizing it past the point of recovery. And I was basing this entirely on gut instinct, that feeling of impending doom when I read stories about the choices that were being made, about the overwhelming effort that the filmmakers were making, that to me, seemed to reflect a certain insecurity with the project on a whole. Of course I had no real proof to back this up, nothing to point to and say, "See, that right there might be a problem."
Dare I say, I just had a "bad feeling about this."
But I know I wasn't alone. It was as if there was a secret that all of us knew, including Lucasfilm, a secret that we knew but were too afraid to admit, and that secret was that this movie might have been put into the wrong hands. First and foremost to me was the $10,000.00 question, the elephant in the room that I think most Star Wars fans were just too puzzled by the decision itself to even acknowledge: "Who was this Rian Johnson chap?" I joked with a friend of mine that this decision had to have come about by someone standing in the pre-production meeting and declaring, "Bring me the 'Looper' guy!"
Yes, this young exec said, they wanted the guy that directed the series finale of "Breaking Bad" to take the helm of this all-important middle installment of a trilogy with literally decades of anticipation riding on it. Be damned that George Lucas was nowhere in sight, and who cares that it would seem this Rian Johnson fellow was being left in a hotel room with a typewriter ala Barton Fink and then just told to go! It seemed to me a decision made by the maverick new guard at Disney, the ones given this new plaything called Star Wars to try on for size, and all they wanted to do to it was change-change-change.
Even the trailer gave me a bad taste to the point that I began referring to the movie as "Star Wars: The Red Album," which made it obvious to all that I had pretty much had dismissed the idea of having any new hope at all.
But that same friend I was confiding in told me to keep something rather important in mind, and it was a comforting thought that sort of began my push towards the other side, and it was that Disney was going to have to put their name on this thing. And not just their name but also their theme parks, their toy merchandising and brand recognition, and they were going to do this with every cog in their Disney machine whirling at full speed. Yes, someone you never heard of may be writing this dissertation, but in the end it would still have to pass the approval of the professors.
And so on the Thursday before opening night, I was treated to an advance screening of the movie, and damned if I didn't find it to be "a triumph" as they say in the biz. The movie hit all the right spots for me, and I posted on social media that same night that in a way it was "infuriating" to me because it had taken almost 30 years to get it right. Of course, I was referring not just to "The Force Awakens," but also to the mire of prequels that we were all forced to wallow through in order to get here.
Then the strangest thing happened … the film grew to be called a "divisive" one, and this in spite of all the glorious praise by both critics and fans alike. What the hell was going on? I mean, an actual petition was started to remove the movie from the official Star Wars cannon altogether, I shit you not.
But then I thought to myself, "Wait, I think I get it."
And now I must address you, the naysayers, the ones who actually had the nerve to walk out of this movie "disappointed." You are all entitled to your opinion, of course, but know that all of your opinions are wrong. This is not a perfect movie, but … wait, you know what? Yes, it is a perfect movie.
(The above was a bit of satire meant to reflect the divisive aspect of … ah, never mind.)
I would like to invite everyone who went to this "Star Wars" movie to explain to me how this was not a "Star Wars" movie. Or at least, how is it that it was so much not what you expected that you walked out shaking your head? I wonder what it was you were expecting to see.
I know what I expected to see, and that was the grandeur of "Star Wars," the epic space battles and a good story where everyone was motivated to save the day. I wanted to see good versus evil, regardless of which one triumphed. I wanted to squirm with excitement and giggle when I saw something I'd never seen before, like, I don't know like a certain controversial scene involving a jump to hyperspace followed by 10 seconds of silence.
I wanted to see the intermingling of the old cast with the new, knowing that there was such a thing called time which tends to move forward as opposed to say, back to 1977.
I know, I know: the characters are just as important as the action, or at least, that's always been the supposed charm of these movies. Well, to that I would say yes, in the past R2-D2 and C-3PO were great comic relief, and Yoda and Chewbacca and the machine-half of Darth Vader was mesmerizing. But I dare you to tell me that the human characters had any less emotional resonance now than they ever did from 1977 to 2005.
I quote Harrison Ford's comment to George Lucas regarding his original scripts: "George, you can type this shit, but you can't say it!"
The result of such writing was what gave that sense of comfortable familiarity with Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia … and that was okay. These characters were speaking in a barrage of clichés, and they were applying it all to what George Lucas thought was at the heart of his movies. And it worked, of course, it really worked.
But weren't you really just waiting for them to get on with the space battles and the lightsabers?
I know that the five and the eight and the eleven-year-old versions of me were waiting for the fireworks, and who were these movies really for anyway? I saw that Star Destroyer like every other kid did, chasing that small rebel ship that was carrying the plans to the Death Star, and I saw it pass right over my head! From that moment on, I just wanted more of that, preferably two or even eight more movies about them wars up in the stars.
Take that away and you've got nothing, or at least, nothing to define Star Wars or anything of merit even close on which to build such a tremendous fan base. If you had a problem with the direction that the story of "The Last Jedi" took with these characters, and if that alone was enough to make you thumb your nose at this movie, then you might want to re-examine why you consider yourself a Star Wars fan in the first place. Take away the spectacle, and you have a bad cable-access play at best, and you always have.
I suggest that J.J. Abrams find a way to work a time machine into the plot of Episode IX, shooting everyone back to the time where Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher were all still young lads fighting the Empire, but without using too much of that realistic fancy talk. Maybe this could be a way for Disney to do a crossover with Star Wars and a reboot of the "Back to the Future" franchise. But please let's keep Doc Brown the old spastic guy, because I really don't care to go back any further than when he was standing on his toilet hanging that clock, and then falling to hit his head to have his subsequent visions of the Flux Capacitor.
I don’t want to write a negative review of “The Lego Movie” here, because as is always the case when I disagree with the hype, I have to consider the fact that I have no frame of reference for the material. I find that this is sometimes the case with most of the comic book movies that are released lately, where when I'm not entertained in the least as a movie-goer, I'm told that this-and-this was something I’d only know if I’d read the source material. I don’t know if that’s the case here, but “The Lego Movie” was still lost on me.
There were times during this admittedly-upbeat film that I felt depressed, as though perhaps maybe I was really the cold-hearted sociopath I sometimes suspect I am, not amused by such things and wondering what else in life has possibly passed me by. But I don’t know that this was the case here. I went in ready to be dazzled, wanting to get lost in the 3D world, but was instead underwhelmed and cringing quite a bit.
I know this had everything to do with my not having that connection to the “source material,” in this case, never having played with the toys as a kid and thus not getting any of the inside Lego jokes. While I absolutely appreciated the theme of celebrating the innocent, imaginative spirit that frames the movie, I just couldn’t push that rather-late revelation (about 75 minuted too late, in my opinion) to the forefront of what was otherwise a disappointing experience for me.
I did a little assumptive research before starting this post into why the universe now has a movie called "The Amazing Spider-Man" as part of its cinematic tapestry, and I have to admit, when you're good you're good. My hunch was that there was trouble in paradise in the Sam Raimi camp, maybe over some sort of contract dispute or creative differences that sent him packing. And with the arrival this weekend of the final chapter of a real reboot, "The Dark Knight Rises," my intent was to rip apart the new Spider-Man movie, offer my definition as to what a "reboot" was, and then, in the case of Spider-Man, ask why we needed one so soon.
But now I know.
Let me first say that the term reboot is being thrown around far too liberally for my taste these days. It seems that there are a few Hollywood executives that need to flip back through their producer's glossaries and look up that word. Good reboots involve a good amount of reimagining, and really, this latter term should be used in place of the former. "It's getting a reimagining." It may clarify some things around the production table when ideas and scripts are given the green light. Christopher Nolan, for instance, reimagined Batman. He took it from the weird ice-capade that Joel Schumacher turned it into and brought it back to where I think Tim Burton really wanted to go in the first place. Of course, this Burton thing is just my opinion, and I'm saying this because I believe that the original franchise helmed my Burton had a marketing and promotional team that was teasing us with the reality of such a film without actually delivering. We were all salivating over the vision of a sinister Gotham that was closer to the comics than the Adam West camp. But the truth is, as soon as the opening credits started in 1989's "Batman," in came the camp. The follow-up, 1992's "Batman Returns," was showing signs of derailing even then and really doesn't stand up to multiple viewings. They were good movies, but not great movies. Then came Joel Schumacher and his two films that I won't even mention by name, delegating them to that same place where the knowledge that Joel Schumacher even directed two Batman movies resides. Who cares about the "nipples on the Batsuit" thing when there were questions like: did Jim Carrey's Riddler have a light and sound guy in his hideout? I mean, designing all of those spinning, green-neon question marks would have been the least of my worries as a villain.
But I digress.
I think what we have here in the case of "The Amazing Spider-Man" is a Joel Schumacher-type thing. The Marc Webb (I know, "Webb", right?) vision is less of a reimagining than it is a regurgitation brought about by some Hollywood one-upmanship. I can appreciate the idea of taking Peter Parker back to his roots, and in some strange way, bypassing the origin story of his spidey powers was merciful. But this was only because I didn't want to see it again! The only problem is that this is a reboot, and unfortunately, it goes with the territory. In all actuality, when I saw this movie two weeks ago, my first thought was that it was nothing we haven't seen before, and in fact, it was a lot less. I smelled a rat. And now I know why.
And it seems that it was just a matter of making a deadline. Sam Raimi just couldn't do it creatively and put his name on it, and thus, neither could any of his cast or crew. But from what I've read, it was an amicable split, complete with the standard-issue statements about how incredible the opportunity was and all of that. If only I had known this going in, not only would it have forgiven this reboot that happened just five years after the last Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie, but I probably wouldn't have had such high expectations.
Now, I'm not going to go into why Christopher Nolan's reboot is the real deal. Just look at "The Amazing Spider-Man," and like Gene Wilder said in the first Willy Wonka movie, "Strike that, reverse it."
See what I did there? Because not only was there a new Willy Wonka movie that wasn't as good as the original, but it was directed by the original Batman director, and ...
Perhaps I need a reboot.
Writers have a certain universality of concern, and I know this not just because I'm a writer, but because there are books and films and music and all kids of art that reflect this commonality, stories that touch to the heart of what all writers tend to think are unique only to themselves, whether they truly are or not.
And Woody Allen knows this. Which is why "Midnight in Paris" has quickly become one of my all-time favorite "writer movies."
I first discovered "Midnight in Paris" last summer during a solo trip to the movies, satisfying both my need for a flick and my enduring fascination with the Woody Allen cinematic canvas. The trailer didn't show much, and as the surprise of the plot unfolded, I understood why. I hadn't felt that treated by a movie in quite some time, and it had everything to do with the fact that I am a writer and that there are others out there like me.
And Woody Allen knows this.
I revisited the film recently after having the DVD handed to me on Christmas Day, and it held up completely on second viewing, and even a third viewing as I had it running in a little window on my Mac while I worked on my own writing. What is it in particular that I found so alluring about this movie? I love the idea that the Woody Allen-type protagonist, played this time by Owen Wilson, is a shameless Romantic who finds himself in Paris with the freedom to explore the city streets at night. What he finds would be a spoiler here, but let's just say that he is left to his own devises to take these walks at midnight and explore the fantasies (and let's be clear here, his fantasies are more literary than anything, and there is nothing darker going on here), fantasies that, dare I say, are important only to a writer. He rubs elbows with the literary elite who show interest in him and in his writing, who want to read his novel manuscript, and he returns to his hotel during the day to obsessively sort out not only the details of his nightly wanderings, but to also "re-write, and then re-write the re-writes," and he does it all with the wide-eyed enthusiasm that only a writer experiences when they know that they're in the right place at the right time. The movie is in fact heavy on this theme, of one's position in life with relevance to some imagined ideal.
And Woody Allen knows this, too.
If it seems like I'm latching onto the idea that only writers can appreciate this movie, I'm only saying that because the temperament certainly does allow one to experience the movie differently. Otherwise, "Midnight in Paris" is not to be missed if one is a fan of the prolific Woody Allen, as this one easily goes down as one of his best if not the best of his annual offerings in recent years.
I'll be totally honest and not pose a bit when I say that I have absolutely no frame of reference when it comes to The Green Hornet television show aside from the iconic images and the knowledge that Bruce Lee, whom I've been a fan of since I was a kid, played Kato. And the television show probably was not the only incarnation of these characters, but again, without doing any research for the sake of objectivity, I'm admitting ignorance on the universe of The Green Hornet.
That being said, the new "The Green Hornet" movie worked for me on levels that I didn't expect, nor do I think most audiences would have anticipated after seeing the less than impressive trailers that hit theatres not too long ago. Turns out, it's a damn good blend of action and comedy, a really fun ride rooted almost entirely in the chemistry between Seth Rogen as Britt Reid A.K.A. The Green Hornet, and musician/actor Jay Chou as Kato. Throw in some pretty impressive ... and violent ... action sequences, and I was reminded of what Rogen contributed to "Pineapple Express," which was a surprising balance of his trademark ironic humor within a kinetic action movie that gave him more than enough opportunity to play into his everyman vulnerability. The character of the Green Hornet is making it up as he goes along, hoping he doesn't get too badly hurt in the process, and we're right there with him. I don't want to say that liking this movie totally depends on whether or not one is a fan of Seth Rogen, but it sure does help. Rounding out the cast is the always charismatic Christoph Waltz, who more than adequately fills-in the blank of "villain," and Cameron Diaz, who to be honest again, I kept forgetting was even in this movie until I finally saw her on screen.
It's just a good time at the movies. And let me report that the 3-D is quite good, an instance where, for lack of a better word, they seemed aware that they were making a 3-D movie. Hang around for the end credits. You'll see what I'm talking about.
The world of "Tron" (1982) was one that as a ten-year-old, I was completely and totally immersed in. I played the video games, I had the toys and action figures, and I even engaged in Frisbee fights with my fellow "Tron" nerds on our front lawns that doubled as the Game Grid. I was in love with the colors, and perhaps unique to me, I loved the sterile coldness of the world, a word of corners and canyons that existed entirely inside of a computer. It was the dream of running around inside of a Lite-Brite!
But I didn't stop there. I actually went further into the psychology of the movie, programming my Commodore 64 computer with a series of "programs" that would respond to me and go into my imaginative little system of 64 bits and do things. What I saw going on in my computer's mind was exactly what the filmmakers of the original "Tron" had fully intended me to see, and it was this charm that kept me engaged as I watched the new "Tron: Legacy," an updated version of the vision, but the charm wore off quick.
I'm not quite sure what I expected, but I was disappointed, and I contribute this entirely to the elephant in the room, which is that technology has advanced so much since the early nineteen-eighties that the mere concept of "Tron" crumbles under its own weight. In a world where the Internet is commonplace, and where smart phones and GPS navigation systems and everything else that technology has given us is fully integrated into our everyday lives, "Tron: Legacy" feels like it's strangely behind the times. Even attempts to update the role of programmer Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) as sort of a Buddhist philosopher trapped inside of his own creation, seem far too expanded to work inside the parameters of such a simple, initial concept. Back in 1982, it was somewhat easy to surrender to the idea of this universe due to our own collective naivete about computers. Today, it just seems ridiculous.
With the exception of the somewhat impressive digital manipulation of Jeff Bridges to play both the Kevin Flynn of the eighties and his program counterpart, Clu, the technology of "Tron: Legacy" is not at all groundbreaking. And I'm sad to report that once again, the 3-D is not used to it's full potential, an asset that would have more than likely kept me intrigued strictly for the sake of the visuals. Remember, I did love the colors!
If you were a fan of the original, all the reminders that you loved "Tron" are there, from the glowing disc duels to the iconic light cycles races. But in the end, what you're left with is an attempt to update a universe that not only didn't require updating, but also defied it.
I'd first heard about Tom Six's "The Human Centipede (First Sequence)" via Internet buzz, with post after post about how this was the movie that dared the viewer to watch it. With a premise that's simple enough -- a retired Siamese twin surgeon decides to stitch three young people together mouth to anus joined by a common digestive tract -- I think that this movie would have made a much better first-person narrative novel. Perhaps it was the watered-down Wal-Mart version that we were able to get our hands on (it's not the easiest thing to find a video store where I now live in the country), but I still hold the same opinion of the movie that I held before I'd even watched it. I'm sure there's an unrated version out there, but I doubt it would've changed my mind.
If I were to walk up to you and pitch this gruesome idea, wouldn't the image that I've stained onto your mind already be enough? What more would there be to show on screen? And after watching the movie, I kept my resolve on this conclusion. I'm thinking that what would have made this story much more frightening in a psychological horror kind of way would have been to maybe get it from the perspective of "B" -- as she was referred to in the movie -- the middle section of the centipede and according to the demented surgeon (played with unsettling method skill by German actor Dieter Laser), the absolute worse part of the gig. But I don't think we needed him to tell us that.
However, it's still a good-looking piece of work, especially the almost performance-art way in which we see the centipede crawling around the grounds of the post-modern house, joined together like a living sculpture.