Category Archives: Musings

Quick Comparison

Jurassic World Poster

Franchise: Jurassic Park
Years since previous installment: 14
My opinion of previous installment: Utter bullshit.
Reaction to new sequel: Mind-blowingly excited. Can! Not! Wait!

Terminator Genisys Poster

Franchise: Terminator
Years since previous installment: 6
My opinion of previous installment: Solidly entertaining.
Reaction to new sequel: Exhausted. Bored.

I  make zero sense.

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Whole lotta nope

So you may have seen television spots and other media trumpeting the following assessment of Gone Girl, which opens in theaters tomorrow.

Gone Girl is "the date-night movie of the decade."

Exactly what kind of dates do you go on?

So, yeah. They claim a professional film critic labeled this “the date-night movie of the decade.” Now I have not personally read Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel, but I’ve heard what my friends have to say about it. So my reaction was, “That can’t be right.”

So I investigate further. As it turns out the quote comes from this review by Peter Travers of Rolling Stone. And this is what he actually said:

I’m going to come out and call Gone Girl the date night movie of the decade for couples who’ve always dreamed of destroying each other.

Mystery solved! Some overzealous publicist CHOPPED OFF HALF OF THE SENTENCE and thus COMPLETELY ALTERED THE MEANING! And they are running off with it like Jamaal Charles!

Photo of Frau Farbissina

The frau knows.

Tidbits

In no coherent order…

I took a trip to Savannah, an incredibly cinematic location as evidenced by the number movies that have been filmed there. I had originally intended to write a rather ambitious piece about the various movies set in Savannah, but I don’t know if that will ever actually happen. I’m such a deadbeat blogger. However, I still managed to earn a handful of film buff points on my vacation. I visited a beautifully restored, 1920s-era movie house, the Lucas Theatre. In the midst of a Mel Brooks festival, I finally saw Blazing Saddles for the first time. Young Frankenstein is probably still my favorite, but I like Blazing Saddles a lot more than I thought I would. Madeline Kahn is the bomb and always will be.

I’ve been watching Penny Dreadful on Showtime. I really love premium cable television series because they frequently cater to my minimal attention span with super-short seasons. Even I can commit to eight episodes. Penny Dreadful is wonderfully atmospheric and features some top-shelf performances, particularly by Eva Green. I’m not obsessed with it or anything, but I do find it entertaining enough to keep watching. The finale airs tonight, and if they don’t completely drop the ball, I expect to tune in for its second season. But I do wonder if it can maintain its grip on its audience after the novelty wears off. In the meantime, I’ve also been quite enjoying the episode recaps on The Mary Sue.

The “found-footage” trope continues to pursue its doctrine of manifest destiny. Now the darkness is creeping even into kids’ movies. Good luck with that, parents. Hope you remember to take an air sickness bag.

I really looked forward to Edge of Tomorrow, but it wound up a mixed bag. Most of it I did enjoy. It delivered fairly on the trailer, but the ending wussed out harder than Tom Cruise does at the beginning. It reminded me heavily of the way Source Code (a movie I also mostly admired) went for the super-happy-joy-joy ending when going out on a bittersweet note might have served the material better.

Does anyone else remember a shitty early 90s comedy called My Boyfriend’s Back? As it turns out, it was simply ahead of its time. The trailer for Life After Beth proves that.

 

Dept. of Random

Last night (or possibly early this morning) I dreamt about Almost Human. I don’t have specifics to share. All I know is that I woke up thinking about it, and so I believe that something to do with the characters, or maybe the premise, or maybe just the title of the show figured into what I was dreaming about. Somehow. I know that sounds vague, but it’s pretty amazing by my standards because, as a rule, I never remember my dreams.

And this is particularly weird because I haven’t even watched Almost Human yet. And until now I wouldn’t have even characterized myself as anticipating watching it. Seriously. It was not on my list of new shows that I wanted to try out this television season. I have ambiguously positive feelings about Karl Urban, but I’m certainly not a true fan.* And nothing I’ve seen in the approximately 12 zillion commercials that have aired during football games wowed me. On top of which, I honestly don’t even really like watching television episodes as they air as much as I like to marathon old seasons.

But I spontaneously decided to set the DVR to record Almost Human only a couple hours before it premiered entirely because one television spot happened to mention its tenuous connection to Fringe.** And Fringe happens to be my current Netflix obsession (more on this later).

So maybe my dream is a sign that I should actually sit down and watch Almost Human sometime this weekend even though I hadn’t planned on getting around to it anytime soon. I don’t know.

Also, Simon Pegg talked movies with The Guardian, and it was pretty great. It reminded me that I do totally need to get around to reading his book. It’s been on the to-read list forever.

 

* In my opinion, Karl Urban is a reasonably good actor, possessing of a certain level of charisma. I find myself disappointed that he doesn’t enjoy a higher profile, and yet I also understand it because when he’s not playing a supporting role in some major franchise’s ensemble, he tends to select shitty projects more often than not.

** J. H. Wyman, creator of Almost Human, served as a writer, director and executive producer on Fringe.

Seriously?

Calum Marsh over at Esquire recommends that you watch Lockout. I vehemently disagree.

While I sympathize with a wistful admiration for Guy Pearce’s rare lead performance (I really do wish he didn’t always play weaselly villains) and a fervent wish for the movie-that-might-have-been, the movie-that-was sucked. A lot. It was probably the worst thing I saw at the theater in 2012.* It was so incredibly silly and nonsensical from start to finish, and it didn’t even really manage to be bad in an entertaining way. I found myself bored for most of the last half of the movie. The only “modest revelation” I encountered was my realization that Maggie Grace was obviously cloned in a lab to fill Bridgette Wilson’s vacated spot in Hollywood.

Photos of Wilson and Grace looking identical

Can you even tell which is which?

But I can’t really criticize Marsh too harshly. After all, I have loved — enthusiastically embraced — some genuinely shitty movies in my time. And I find myself intrigued by Marsh’s assertion that Lockout is a “contemporary film noir.” I own no claim to expertise in that genre or style or mode or label or however we’re defining that this week, and maybe Marsh does. Even so, I wouldn’t have ever made that connection, and I’m not really buying it. But it could be a perfect example of something I’ve believed for a long time:   It’s not what you see on the screen that counts; it’s what you think about it.

Some people just relax in front of video and absorb. I don’t get that at all. My partner doesn’t grasp how I can be “too tired to watch television,” but if I can’t focus and actively engage at all times with the material, then it’s a pointless activity for me. And even with bad movies I find myself filling in the blanks they’ve left empty on my own. The end result can be that my experience of the story winds up entirely different than another viewer’s experience. And so from a particular perspective, you could argue that I simply failed where Marsh succeeded. I allowed Lockout to leave me hanging, but Marsh was able to latch onto something interesting. And, in turn, he inspired me me to read a bunch of articles about film noir that I probably wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. Cool.

 

* Probably. But that was also the year of Snow White and the Huntsman and Dark Knight Rises. So that’s a tough call.

True Story

The office where I work has lunch catered for employees on Fridays. At the most recent Friday lunch, a boss was relating to me how much he enjoyed his experience of revisiting The Blues Brothers after many years. This led to following exchange:

Boss: And it had that actress in it. Oh, what is her name? The one with the Curl Up and Dye salon.
Holly: Carrie Fisher.
Boss: She was so good in that. That was probably her greatest role.
Holly: Nope. Incorrect.
Boss: What?
Holly: No.
Boss: Well, then what is her greatest role?
Holly: Oh, my God. Princess Leia!
Boss: Bah!
Holly: Seriously. You wait. Some day Carrie Fisher will die, and you watch. What is the lede of her obituary? Actress best known as Princess Leia dies.

That actually happened. Given that it was the Chief Operating Officer of the entire company, it probably would’ve behooved me to show some more diplomacy. But c’mon! How can you be diplomatic in the face of such egregious error?

I’ll admit that I am a Star Wars fan. But I don’t think you have to be one for this scenario. You just have to look at Carrie Fisher’s IMDb page and ask yourself out of all of her roles, which one is a pop culture icon? I don’t care what country you’re in or what language you speak, when you hold two cinnamon buns against the sides of your head, everyone in the room will catch the reference.

End of debate.

Things I used to love: Disney Channel

I do not have children, and therefore I (gratefully) have very little conception of what airs on the Disney Channel these days. However, every so often I’m confronted with what passes for modern kids-oriented programming. Usually when I’m somehow a captive audience. For instance, I’ve been subjected to such things on the television in front of my treadmill at the gym on a Saturday morning. Or sometimes when I’m in the waiting room at Jiffy Lube. And frankly I’m horrified.

This makes...

This makes…

...THIS seem epic.

…THIS seem epic.

I’m not even making that up. I know someone with a middle-school-age daughter who became obsessed with Full House on DVD because it was so much more “genuine” and “realistic.” Oh my God, Becky.

Anyway, to my mind the real travesty is not that these sitcoms are so shitty. It’s that sitcoms are even on the Disney Channel in the first place. But you might ask, how would Disney rake in money hand-over-fist without celebritzing crop after crop of living kewpie dolls? I don’t really care. Bring back cartoons.

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Missing women

A couple days ago NPR’s pop culture blog, Monkey See, published a sort of half-developed think piece/rant about the options available this weekend for someone who wants to see a movie prominently featuring female character(s). Spoiler alert! There aren’t many.

I get that the intent of the article was to point out the issue and raise a question that may not be answerable right now or possibly at all. But even so, it was dissatisfying for me. Mainly because I feel like Linda Holmes does have a valid concern. She’s on to something important, but by tossing it out there rather superficially, it provides an opportunity for dismissive types to jump in and slam the door shut on the conversation. As evidenced by some of the comments NPR readers left.

I think an easy criticism to which the piece leaves itself open is the lack of acknowledgement that it’s summer. The movie-going year is segmented into distinct seasons. Mid-June finds us solidly entrenched in the blockbuster season, and that’s when the boys come out to play. When it’s time to trot out the autumnal Oscar bait, I doubt the situation will be as grim as the one Holmes paints for this weekend. *

But really it isn’t just a summer-only problem. As the New York Times reported earlier this month:

A recently published study by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism showed that the percentage of female characters with a speaking part in the nation’s top movies each year reached its lowest point in the past five years in 2012, at 28 percent.

There are probably a lot of different forces at play in creating this phenomenon, but that article and several others bemoaning the end of the “movie star” concept as we know it might hold the key for unlocking at least one facet of the explanation. In a world where (for various complicated market reasons) bankable stars no longer fill theaters by their names alone, studios rely more heavily on franchise concepts to sell tickets. As the Atlantic Wire article linked above notes:

Small movies soldier on and enormous ones flourish, but everything in the middle begins to evaporate.

And my theory is that the middle is where chick flicks have historically thrived.

However, it must be said, that the single most unavoidably ubiquitous ad campaign for any movie right now is for The Heat, a gal-pal cop comedy with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. Somebody somewhere is obviously expecting to make scads of money on this movie with a pair of female leads. Which should fill me hope, right? Except The Heat looks painfully awful.

Which brings up another topic that requires discussing, even if it makes me feel dirty to bring it up. And that’s the matter of quality. Why are women’s movies getting stupider? Why are they getting progressively more unpleasant all the freaking time? In her article, Holmes trumpets the success of Bridesmaids. I haven’t seen it (and I actually do try really hard not to have opinions about movies I haven’t seen, but it’s difficult because my natural inclination is to have an opinion about everything). So let’s just charitably say that nothing I’ve seen or heard about it has given me any reason to think it would be up my alley at all. I passed on it mainly because the appeal of Kristen Wiig has always been largely lost on me, but should I feel guilty about that? If the movies Hollywood condescends to make about women fail, then when will they ever spend money to make the movies I want to see? Sigh. I’m still not plunking hard-earned dollars down for The Heat, but it’s food for thought.

There’s a lot going on when we discuss where all the ladies have gone. Market forces, cultural drivers, and so on. I guess I don’t want to slam the NPR blog, so much as I just want to take a time out to acknowledge the soupy complexity of the issue and get the ball rolling towards a more comprehensive discussion. So what do you all think?

 

 

* I admit this also leads to an equally easy counterargument. Why are the summer tent poles always male-centric? Beyond the occasional Angelina Jolie title, where are the female actioners? Personally I’m not exactly chomping at the bit to see a Wonder Woman movie (for whatever reason, I’ve never latched onto her as a character), but I find the length of time the project has languished in development hell equal parts fascinating and appalling.

Worth pondering

Cristian Mihai, whose blog about writing I follow, recently listed his favorite movies about writers. Many of his choices seem to be films not only with a character who happens to be a writer, but movies where the writing process itself is discussed or somehow involved in the story. I found the list surprising and thought-provoking. Not because I disagreed with his selections, but mainly just because I’d never seen any of them before. Not one. And when I tried to come up with a list of my own, I realized I couldn’t. I don’t think I’ve seen enough films on the subject to even do justice to the question. Which is amazing because:

  1. I watch movies all the time, and
  2. I’m very interested in writing. Hence, reading a blog about it. Or, for that matter, writing a blog about anything.

Now it feels like a gaping hole in my “education.”

I suppose I would start with Stand By Me. I would enthusiastically recommend it for a lot of reasons, but it also prominently features the act of writing (it provides a framing device for the main plot), and it tangentially explores how a young writer grows into the role of storyteller and where writers draw inspiration.

So what else should I watch? Any other opinions about writers or writing in the movies?

My taste, according to Netflix

Genres Netflix Instant Recommends for Me Based on My Viewing History/Rankings

British Dramas Featuring a Strong Female Lead
Critically-acclaimed Witty Romantic Movies
Violent Revenge Movies
Goofy TV Animated Comedies
Exciting Supernatural TV Shows
Visually-striking Imaginative Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Emotional Fight-the-System Documentaries
Gritty Suspenseful Action Thrillers
Classic Cerebral Mysteries
Quirky Independent High School Movies
Deadpan TV Comedies