Archive for January, 2012

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Thirty

Well, I guess it’s nice to know I can finish a project once in a while.

When I decided to expand the Facebook 30 Day Movie Challenge to what would essentially become thirty essays on film, I didn’t think it was going to be a very big deal. I saw it as a nice way to get this blog rolling along with original material. Not just an orphanage for short stories and poems that couldn’t find a home. I guessed it would take a month, maybe two, to finish, give me the chance to write movie reviews again, keep the blog awash in material and perhaps set off a spark or two for other ideas.

The other ideas are indeed playing ping-pong in the arena of potential, and no one’s going to argue I didn’t get to write movie reviews again. What I completely underestimated was how much of a self-inflicted (the worst kind) chore this would be at times, or how long it was going to take to expand on thirty movie reviews, most of which are only three or four hundred words on my Facebook page, and turn them into something I could be relatively pleased with.

That’s okay. I love a good learning experience sometimes. I’m pleased I saw this through to the end.

It seems as though people dug these. I hope so. Writing for pleasure comes first, but that only carries a person but so far. Eventually, you want to hopefully find an audience of some kind. I’m doing okay with that, I think, but I can always do better.

That will probably never change, the fact that I should be doing better, working harder, and that’s as disheartening as it is enthralling. To have both of those things at once is at least guaranteed to keep me awake.

No idea if it’s actually going to lead me down some kind of positive road.

Well, nothing else to do at this point but say thanks to those who hung in there through all thirty reviews, and to ask anyone reading this to hang around for whatever’s coming next. Look for more poetry, more short fiction, some experiments, some, yes, reviews and more.

I can’t promise anything. Except that I’ll do my best to make it worth your time.

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30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Thirty: The Last Movie You Saw

Sorcerer (1977)
Directed by: William Friedkin
Starring: Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal

A recent, rare interview with Gene Hackman left me wanting to watch The French Connection again. Hackman is one of my favorite actors in general, and William Friedkin, who directed the film, is one of my favorite directors. The French Connection might well be the best film either one of them has ever done. It’s a wonderful tour of vintage New York, and it’s a ferociously-paced, brilliantly shot and well-acted film (with my favorite car chase of all time). Watching it again was a pleasure, and it sent me over to Netflix to see which William Friedkin movies I still hadn’t gotten around to seeing. There’s a few. I’ve seen and loved The Exorcist, Blue Chips, To Live and Die in L.A. I thought Rules of Engagement was shockingly stupid for the talent involved. I still need to see Bug one of these days, and I’m eager to see Friedkin’s latest, Killer Joe whenever it makes its way over to a wider release.

I noticed Sorcerer as one of his films that I had never seen, and I was surprised. It looks like something I would have snatched up and seen ages ago. The cast looked great, it was Friedkin’s follow-up to monstrous back-to-back successes The French Connection and The Exorcist, and the story, a remake of the classic The Wages of Fear, all came together as something I just didn’t imagine was going to steer me wrong. The film was a notorious critical and commercial flop in its time (and that wouldn’t be the first time for Friedkin), grossing something like twelve-million against a then-substantial budget of twenty-million, but it’s in recent years come to be appreciated as a beautifully-suspenseful film, and something of a minor cult classic.


All the *really* good cult classics make sure to include fire.

It’s a mixed blessing that by now, Netflix is pretty good at predicting how I’m going to rate a movie. Their guess was that I would give Sorcerer a 4.1 out of five.

Between that, and people like Roger Ebert and Stephen King counting the film amongst their favorites (Ebert was one of the few major critics to give the film a good review during its original release), I imagined I was in pretty good shape for a pretty good movie.

I was right, too. Sort-of.

The problem isn’t in the story. It’s a good one, in which four men, (Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal and Amidou) from four different parts of the world find themselves, for different reasons, living as exiles in a remote Nicaraguan village. The village almost functions as a character unto itself. It’s a filthy, desperate place. One doesn’t go there by choice. One goes there because they have no choice. The horrors of the circumstances that brought the four men there quickly becomes small, in comparison to what caused them to flee their original lives in the first place. Friedkin’s best films capture the chaos, danger and earthly Hell of where they occur. Sorcerer is no different. These four men might be running away from something, but they don’t want to die in that village.  That proves to be their collective motivation for taking on the assignment of driving two trucks full of volatile nitroglycerin to an oil well that has caught fire, and can only be repaired with explosives. The money might be good, it might make their doomed dreams come true, but only the truly hopeless would take on such a job. Hopeless is a good word for not only the tone of the movie, but for the four protagonists themselves. We may or may not want them to succeed, but we’re in constant doubt from beginning to end, if they can make it through the job and find the redemption that drives them, like a very specific, intoxicating kind of madness.

That madness and drive is realized through great performances by all four leads. Scheider stands out in particular. It’s a shame his career slowed somewhat. He always brought a tired-and-yet-somewhat-manic humor to his characters. They were either good-naturedly enduring their circumstances, or they were doggedly pursuing an obsession that almost never resulted in a happy ending. Cremer, Rabal and Amidou all turn in wonderful performances that dually stand on their own and contribute countless miles of humanity to the story, but the star here is definitely Scheider. His transformation over the course of the film is nothing short of haunting. This isn’t a horror film, but the depths Scheider sinks to, in order to get what he wants, are truly frightening at times. All of them achieve this startling, tragic change, but Scheider is the one we barely recognize by the conclusion of their unforgiving journey.


All in all it’s a pretty rough weekend for the guy.

The last hour of the film reflects that frightening aspect in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. There’s no question that Friedkin knows how to pile on the severity of each moment in his best films. Sorcerer suffers greatly from a painfully slow first half. It’s not that a slow build to something as violent as the second half was a bad idea. It just doesn’t work as well as it should have, given the people involved, and it can make getting to that pitch-perfect second half a bit of a chore. The sin is not in taking time and care in establishing four back-stories, bringing their dire situations to a boiling point until the task of driving those trucks becomes a silver-lining. The problem is that it just didn’t need to take that long. Sometimes, moving this slow works, and sometimes, it doesn’t. Some may disagree, but Sorcerer probably could have benefited from a slightly shorter running time. It wouldn’t have hurt the white-hot intensity of the second-half or damaged the range and force of the acting. These things would have come through regardless. Of those four back-stories none of them made much of an impact on my ability to be invested in that second half.

It’s worth noting that the European cut of the film was along these lines. Twenty-eight minutes in all were removed. This includes everything that shows us what brought the four men to Nicaragua to begin with. It would be interesting to compare that version (which would knock the movie down to something like ninety minutes), cut and released without Friedkin’s consent, to the one I saw. I’m not sure eliminating all four background stories entirely would have been the way to go. I still wonder if even a few minutes left on the cutting room floor would have made the difference for me.

Some say you have to watch a movie twice to really get what the movie is trying to show you, and that might be the case here. For now I can only say that Sorcerer didn’t truly get my attention, until Scheider and company begin their trek. That’s when God, the universe, bad luck or whatever you want to call it holds up both fists and begins swinging with a vicious attention to the details of pain. It’s expected that everything that can go wrong will go wrong, but that doesn’t make it any less riveting. The weather turns ugly at one point and assaults the two trucks with a hurricane season’s worth of rain and wind. It gets worse from there very quickly, becoming an element of a possible suicide when one of the trucks attempts to cross what might be the most rickety, perilous bridge in film history. That the truck fell of the bridge several times during filming shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Being relatively certain of the truck barely making it across doesn’t mean a thing when the scene unfolds before us. The tension becomes something thick, almost tangible. Our attention on the disasters that appear legion, descending upon the truck as struggles along, is absolute.


It’s not as bad when you later learn that the local post office goes through this every single day.

I hate to keep dividing the film in terms of the first and second halves, but it’s difficult not to when one is so distinctly more enjoyable than the other. As a whole Sorcerer is pretty good, somewhere in the neighborhood of a 3 ½ out of 5, if we’re going to use Netflix’s rating system (may as well). Most of that rating comes from the second hour, but Scheider, Cremer, Rabal and Amidou are collectively what make the difference between the first hour being sluggish, and the kind of thing that’s so dismal, you have no interest in sticking around for the rest. If you feel like Sorcerer is taking a little while to really get out of the gate, stick around. The best of Sorcerer is able to stand alongside the best of William Friedkin’s career. That’s not too shabby, considering his filmography.

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Twenty-Nine

Being miserable but still wanting to work is frustrating sometimes. I’m not at a loss for things I’d like to write and rant about. Fifteen minutes on any reputable news site or blog yields just as many ideas. SOPA is a good example, but in general there’s more than enough horror in the world to fill this blog with social and political commentary.

It’s about time I took a serious swing at that stuff, and not just allude to it in everything else I write, so you may see a process of experimentation with that type of writing in the near future.

Hopefully, there will be a long vacation from movie reviews for a while. I’m pretty burnt out on them, but I’m halfway tempted to try a short-ish column of some kind.

Then there’s just banging out some free-wheeling observation pieces that I hope will have a decent humorous slant going for them. I still dream of writing for Cracked.com, and this blog is as good a place as any to work out the best voice for trying to do that.

My mind is more erratic with conflicting, warring thoughts than I can ever remember it being. Writing is still a beautiful way of sorting them out. With a little luck this blog should become an awfully interesting scene over the next few months.

So, stick around, put up with the tail-end of this challenge and wish me luck.

Being unhappy for no reason is no excuse for a lack of productivity, or for not trying at all times to find the next thing that keeps you at the table you worked so hard to get to in the first place.

I’ll be twenty-seven the next time I blink for more than a few seconds. I complain constantly to myself of not being where I thought I would be when I was seventeen, eighteen. Moments of the universe’s giddy idea of bad fortune aside I have no one to blame for that but myself.

And, really, weird ladies, disgruntled gentlemen, wouldn’t you like to see me talk about something else besides movies and self-loathing?

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30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Twenty-Nine: First Movie You Remember Seeing

Ghostbusters II (1989)
Directed by: Ivan Reitman
Starring: Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Sigourney Weaver

One of the recurring themes of these reviews is that many of the movies mentioned here are ones that have been favorites for a long time. A lot of things act as markers over the course of my life so far. People, places, certain books, certain albums, TV shows to a very minor extent, and, of course, movies. Some of the long-time personal classics mentioned in past reviews, I can remember the exact time, place, surroundings and even feelings that happened to be around at the same moment. Others are vaguer, and seem as though they have been part of my landscape for as long as I’ve been alive. I’m not going to remember the first time I saw them. That’s fine. It’s usually not important. I would call it a mildly engrossing, self-absorbed trivia of a kind.

Sometimes, I just like to look at the first time I saw a movie, and see how it’s held up over the years in the face of everything else in my life evolving, changing, disappearing or moving past me. I’m interested in seeing how the consistent (my love of movies) moves, alters or endures within the inconsistent (damn near everything else).

I’m going to cheat slightly. I’ve already listed the first movie I ever remember seeing (Ghostbusters). So, instead I’m going with the first movie I ever saw in a theater. Going to the theater can still be a wonderful experience. I don’t go as often as I would like, but some of my favorite memories are that of going to a theater, sitting in the dark, blinking and then being at a complete loss to explain how a couple of hours could have gone by so quickly.

Bad movies can have the opposite effect. You’ll check the time a dozen times, stagger out of the theater as quickly as possible when it’s over and wonder if it’s possible to get the time and money back.

That’s happened to me, but not so often as to sour me on going forever. I’m twenty-six, have been going to movie theaters for twenty-two years, and I still get a nerd rush from going to see a movie at night, completely loving it and then coming out of the theater to the strange blur of the real world. The blur goes away, the evening goes on, but the movie, if it was any kind of impact on you at all, stays with you for a while.

It was a much larger experience for me as a child, but then again, most things were. I’m just happy that I still like going at all.

It makes sense that the first film I would see in a theater would be Ghostbusters II. At that point in my life I was pretty damn obsessed with the whole thing. My parents saw no alternative but to take me. I still remember not being able to sleep the night before. My optimism in those days was pretty solid. There was no way this could end badly. The thought that the movie might be intensely terrifying on the largest screen I had ever watched a movie on, or the possibility of the movie not being very good didn’t even occur to me. I had countless toys, an already-worn-out copy of the first movie on VHS, a proton pack, a trap, the firehouse and watched the cartoon every time it came on.

There was no way this could end badly.

No way at all.

In retrospect I blame my parents. My four-year-old perspective was not ready for Vigo or the part where Ray, Winston and Egon go into the sewer to find the river of slime. I had seen horror films up to that point, but this was different. This was at a movie theater with a screen the size of a small island. Speakers roared and shook the darkness with music and sound effects from every corner of the room.

I wasn’t especially crazy about the dark back then.

My parents realized they had made a mistake pretty early on, but I’ll always remember that sewer scene. I wasn’t handling it very well, and my parents used the moment when the gang decides to go back and get their proton packs as a last-ditch effort to calm me the hell down. I would imagine the other patrons in the theater were pretty sick of me at this point. I’ve dealt with freaked out kids at movie theaters, and I’ve wanted to hit whoever brought them with a sock full of quarters.

My parents managed to calm me down, and then Ray had to go and finally track down the river of slime.

That didn’t please me a whole lot. I turned to my mother and echoed one of Ray’s lines from the film. “Why aren’t they going back?! Why aren’t they getting their proton packs?! They NEED their proton packs!”

And so forth.

It was a long time before my parents took me to see a movie.

Not even Bill Murray’s pscyhic powers could save me.

I loved the movie though. I thought it was just as good as the original. Over the course of my childhood I watched it just as many times. Things like Vigo became a good deal less frightening as I got older.

Almost twenty-two years later, and I still watch it every once in a while. It hasn’t aged perfectly, but it’s holding steady. I’ve come to realize through the years that it’s not nearly as good as the original. There’s a lot of great things in it (like Peter MacNicol stealing every scene he’s in as Vigo’s lackey, and the whole completely left-field romantic subplot between Rick Moranis and Annie Potts), but it just doesn’t have that lightning-in-a-bottle sense of fun that the first one had. The writing and cast can barely hide the fact that they’re pretty much just trying to repeat the magic. There isn’t a lot of originality to be found.

Does that really matter though? I don’t think so. It’s a good formula, and it would have been foolish to mess around with it too much. Ghostbusters II is still an incredibly entertaining movie. Murray asking Akroyd if he’s been sleeping with the slime, followed by Akroyd looking entirely too uncomfortable, is still one of my favorite bits from either movie. The same goes for Murray, and his horrible TV show, Ernie Hudson’s encounter with the ghost train and Ramis’ great deadpan line, “We had part of a slinky, but I straightened it.”

Another endearing quality of Ghostbusters II are the small, distinctive roles filled out by actors like Kurt Fuller (whose interactions with Murray are fun), Kevin Dunn as a psychic, Ben Stein, Philip Baker Hall, Cheech Marin and Brian Doyle-Murray as the psychiatrist who wearily listens to the Ghostbusters’ pleas to be let out of the madhouse before Vigo ushers in his “season of evil.” (I would argue that’s every Christmas, but I’m not the ghost of a 17th century warlord).

I also didn’t know until recently that Max Von Sydow did the dubbing for Vigo. That’s worth a couple of brownie points for the movie right there. I’ve often wished my own life was narrated by a man whose voice probably makes God nervous.

This movie has plenty to enjoy. It just doesn’t stand on quite the same level as the first one. I can live with that, and I can therefore enjoy the movie on its own terms.

There’s a good story, too. I dig the idea of a long-dead European tyrant haunting a painting, drawing energy from a river of slime beneath the streets of New York City, and how this pulls the Ghostbusters out of litigation and obscurity, and back to work (the courtroom scene, with Moranis as their sublimely incompetent lawyer, is great). I’ve seen worse examples of a follow-up to a classic going through the paces. Could it have been better? Maybe. Should it have been made at all? That’s up to individual opinion. Probably not, but I’m glad they made it anyway. Ghostbusters is one of those things I unapologetically can’t get enough of. As long as the entire gang is on board they’ll have my complete attention.

Ghostbusters II at least deserves credit for one thing, even if you hated the entire thing. It got Bill Murray back after a four-year exile from acting, with the exception of 1986’s Little Shop of Horrors, after the failure of the underrated Razor’s Edge. I’m certainly not going to complain about that. I don’t even blame him for wanting nothing to do with Ghostbusters III (the last time I checked). Two movies just might be pushing it. This sequel will always have a place in my library and geekdom memories. I’m not going to weep if all we have to enjoy is a great movie, a good movie, a fantastic video game, a memorable animated series and an assortment of books and comics. Why do we need anything else?

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Twenty-Eight

I often wish I had the means to do videos or even podcasts, if only so I could steal that haunting, soft opening Ellen Barkin rocked in every episode of Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour.

Go find it. I’m not going to run an example of that intro. It just wouldn’t be the same as actually saying it.

Two more reviews for the series?

Oh boy. I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’m going to be finally finished with this by the end of this month. It’s best to just shoot straight through the last two days, so I’m not going to be running anything else until thirty reviews are committed to this blog. We’re on day twenty-eight, and the last two may as well be already written.

God knows what’s next for this blog. I have ideas, but none of them are setting the world on fire for me at this exact moment. That could be my mood, or it could be a hint from upstairs that I should wait for some inspiration. Being finished with this will probably clear away a lot of excess cobwebs, and make room for new ones. I hope so. I’m writing more than usual right now, but I’m still waiting for an idea that sets off that mild but wonderful obsessive steak. I want to fall in love with an idea the way I fall in love with an unbelievable woman. That wish has been lingering in every other project for a while now. It’s time I became deathly serious about finding a project that sets off that kind of love. I’m already thinking (an occasional hobby of mine), but I’m looking to finishing and then cutting these loose ends around my neck.

It’s time to move on, and trust for the best to meet somewhere along the way.

On an unrelated note, it was around this time that I was running lines for my role in Frost/Nixon, so subsequently acting has been on my mind even more than usual. I have no idea when the next gig will come along, and that’s pathetically distressing.

Nothing to do but hope and pay attention for anything that looks promising.

That’s often the case, it would seem. I’m not complaining. Simply observing.

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30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Twenty-Eight: Movie With Your Favorite Villain

Richard III (1995)
Directed by: Richard Loncraine
Starring: Ian McKellen, Annette Benning, Jim Broadbent

Choosing the movie with my favorite all-time hero was relatively easy. Yes, there were contenders for the spot, but it didn’t take long to sort through them and decide on a favorite. I didn’t doubt my pick for a moment. Close seconds aside, Indiana Jones did not get much of a real challenge from other possibilities, or any of those close seconds.

Those who know me know that while I can appreciate a great hero, I’m much more likely to enjoy the company of a truly memorable villain. A classic villain needs a hero of equal stature to achieve immortality, realized through their conflict, but I’ve always felt that the hero needs the villain more than the other way around. A villain without a good guy who measures up can still be supremely entertaining. A hero without a worthy opponent usually just bores me to the point of a mild, half-awake coma.

The only time I ever give a damn about Superman tends to be when he’s facing Lex Luthor. I’m a fantastic for anything-Batman, but my interest in the character is never any higher than when he’s up against The Joker. Peter Cushing needed Christopher Lee. Optimus Prime is even better with Megatron. Sherlock Holmes to Moriarty, and Liam Gallagher to Noel Gallagher (although I’m not quite sure who the good guy/bad guy is in that one).

This list can go on, but it shouldn’t. The point is that choosing my favorite film villain was a much more difficult task than picking the hero. I didn’t lose sleep over it (it’s not like I sleep very well to begin with), but I there was considerably more thought involved in this category than with most of the other days. Lots of second-guessing, lots of moments when I thought I had made a choice, only to then think of someone else.

Ian McKellen in Richard III has a couple of things going for it against other contenders. McKellen himself is one of the finest actors of our time. He is as captivating and convincing in heroic roles (a couple of people might have seen him in Lord of the Rings), as he is when it a film demands he play the exact opposite (the X-Men films, or even the underrated Apt Pupil). I like him either way, but he entertains me just a bit more as a bad guy, and he’s never entertained more than he did as Richard III.


Go ahead, call him a queer.

That’s one reason. The other is that it seems as though the character itself is something of a prototype for a lot of other villains I like. I look through a list of favorites, notice similarities between them and Shakespeare’s version of the real-life king and keep in mind that Richard has a couple of centuries on the rest of my list. He’s one of the earliest maniacal villain s I’m aware of, and after a lot of thought I decided he was my favorite.

I don’t think you get to truly consider yourself a badass, until you’ve screamed “My Horse! My horse! My kingdom for a horse!” from behind of the wheel of a scout car that’s being attacked from all sides by the sights and sounds of your army getting the living crap kicked out of it.

That scene pops into my head quite often. McKellen’s Richard is a monster, but he’s a charming monster, and no one can say he’s not ready to go to bat. We know he’s headed for a fall, but we also know he’s not going to make that easy for anyone who’s coming after him.

My choice in such a strong field of contenders gets considerable help from Richard III being one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. I’ve watched a number of films based on Shakespeare’s works in the last ten years or so. Richard III is my favorite.

Tromeo and Juliet is pretty damn good, too though.

Like a lot of people, I had to get the hell away from high school in order to finally start appreciating Shakespeare. I’ve been slow to make my way through his work, but I’ve come to truly enjoy plays like The Merchant of Venice and King Lear. For the most part the tragedies are infinitely more interesting to me (someone told me once that The Merchant of Venice was originally intended as a comedy, but I really don’t know if that’s true).

Richard III is also my favorite of his plays, period, and Richard Loncraine’s 1995 film adaptation is a brilliant reinterpretation. There are distinct differences between the film and the original material, but the center of the story, Richard himself, is unchanged. The character leaves a lot of room for an actor skilled at playing bad guys. Vincent Price, Basil Rathbone and Al Pacino have all good turns as Richard in other film versions (I’ve never seen the Olivier version, and that’s something I need to change one of these days). All those guys were good, but they can’t even come close to the lofty heights reached by the vicious, deranged menace McKellen punches into every single line and gesture. McKellen uses both his talents as an actor and fan of the play to deliver a performance that is as sinister as it is enthralling. It makes sense that he had a hand in adapting Richard III for the screen alongside Loncraine. His belief in the story and character is prevalent. Every line is delivered with intensity and passion to spare.


“Let me just finish this smoke, and then I’ll go back to murdering everyone.”

Other great actors are in the movie, but sometimes, it’s hard to pay attention to them. Robert Downey Jr (who looks pretty sedate throughout), Annette Benning, Jim Broadbent and Maggie Smith make the most of their time. Nigel Hawthorne is wonderful, fatally tragic from the onset as Richard’s brother. Everyone is great, but the name on the marquee is still the one that we’re hopefully going to pay the most attention to. This is the kind of role that could lend itself to drowning in camp under an actor with no concept of balance. McKellen has balance to the point of making it look easy. He’s proven that in just about everything he appears in. He plays Richard full-tilt and straight down the highway to hell, but he never reaches comical heights. It’s entertaining, but it’s also dark, intense stuff. What’s chilling is in how he plays Richard so smoothly that we sometimes forget the horrors of his political ambitions. If someone wanted to, regardless of their particular politics, they could probably draw parallels between Sir Ian’s performance, and the notion of people in real life being so taken by a public figure that they are able to practice intentional amnesia in response to what they’re really up to. That is one of the most gripping facets of Richard III.  We are able to at times lose ourself in the performance itself. More than once, McKellen makes anyone decent look pretty dull by comparison.

The 1930’s London backdrop does a lot for this movie, too. It’s a perfectly-realized atmosphere of chaos, fear, greed and insanity. It’s a natural fit for the drama that unfolds. This is the perfect stage for a madman to swoop in, tear the house down and go out via the same sword he used for his bloody rise to power. All the way to the end Richard III is a perfect example of what film can do to enhance something like a Shakespearean play. It adds something worthwhile to an often-told tale. While never forgetting that beneath all of that is a story and central character as rich and compelling as when they were first created. Shakespeare’s plays live on because of people like Ian McKellen.

Looking again at the more recent films, books, TV shows, comics and the like it’s hard to imagine some of those other villains matching Richard for ambition and ferocity. Most of them wouldn’t stand a chance in a confrontation. Barring my opinion of Laurence Olivier’s film, whenever I finally see it, I see Ian McKellen as the greatest actor to ever take on the best villain I’ve ever seen in a film. Richard III is unblemished filmmaking from top to bottom, but McKellen is what puts the movie on my list of classics.

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Twenty-Seven

So much for that great dream of being finished with this series by the end of 2011.

I blame Republicans, a hard-drinking stripper from Memphis, the lure of making an easy thousand dollars in Tijuana, a gunfight at a rundown Laundromat and old reruns of The Larry Sanders Show.

None of those things actually qualify, but they at least sound better than “My glasses were obliterated and haven’t been replaced yet, I missed a get-together with some of my favorite people, my wallet went missing, my girlfriend left me, my back decided to take a vacation from being useful and my depression is more potent now than it’s been in quite some time.”

All in 2012, kids.

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for 2013.

Let’s see if we can kill this whole challenge by the end of January. We’re nearly done. I’m also pretty damn close to being finished with that third, hopefully final draft of that second go-round at writing a novel worth selling.

My hope is that my mood will improve with these things behind me.

Some travel would also likely cheer me up. I’m just astonished that such a thing happens to cost money. I had no idea until recently.

Where do I want to go?

What have you got?

I’m eager for something big in 2012. My ability to look and fight for that is not where it should be, but I try to keep optimism close to the ability to get out of bed every morning.

Some snow would be nice. It doesn’t have to be a winter apocalypse. I would be perfectly content with an inch or two sticking to the ground, and disappearing from the otherwise-dull scene by the next morning.

I’m not fussy. I’m often willing to settle for less. That’s one of my many problems.

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30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Twenty-Seven: Movie With Your Favorite Hero

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman

In theory, this should be one of the shortest entries in the bunch. Because there is literally nothing I can say about this movie or Harrison Ford that hasn’t been said by several million other fans/nerds/etc over the past thirty years. This is one of those movies where my only real option for achieving originality would be to start making up outlandish theories. I could argue that Denholm Elliot was the true hero of the film, or that Marion was just a figment of Indy’s imagination.


Which would have been a shame, really.

This is the internet though. I’m sure someone somewhere has already put forth those theories.

However, there are actually people who have never seen this movie. I try not to be the kind of person who responds to that kind of thing with huge eyes, a backwards stagger of disbelief and a cry of “What do you mean you’ve never seen that?!” Sometimes, it’s hard. Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of those films I just inherently assume everyone has seen before. That’s silly, but it’s built into my mind all the same. I have a friend who counts the three Mummy films amongst her favorites, but she’s never seen any of the Indy films. I don’t think less of her for it (I’m a nerd, but I’m not a complete asshole). I can’t help but be surprised by that. Because the thing with Raiders is that even if you’ve never seen it, chances are good that you’ve probably seen a reference to it. You don’t have to see the legendary boulder scene at the beginning to know that someone else is alluding to or parodying it when they do their own bit of someone trying to outrun a giant, rolling rock.

I can personally only see so many references to something, before I feel compelled to go and figure out what in the hell people are going on about.

So, if you’ve never seen the movie, I guess I can only hope this review encourages you to do so, or reminds you of a resolve you made a while ago.

What I love is that Raiders of the Lost Ark is yet another movie that doesn’t seem like it came out when it did. For a movie that was designed as a throwback to the old serials of the 1930’s/40’s, that’s an interesting feat. It might be a throwback to those movies, I certainly think so, but it’s not stubbornly rooted in a style of film that’s no longer common knowledge. It’s a 1980 feature-length film with 1930, 40 movie serial leanings, and yet it plays the same for me now as it did when I first saw it.

I’m really at a loss to try and provide any insight that might be in any way considered original. The best I can do is to provide yet another testimonial for why this movie hasn’t gone on to pale in comparison to bigger movies with bigger budgets and better special effects. Charm and personality go a long way in a movie. Harrison Ford has been one of my favorite actors since I saw Raiders about twenty-three years ago. I watched every movie of his I could find and enjoyed just about all of them. He’s a great actor, or he’s at least great at playing the characters that he plays, but it’s that presence he casts in every scene of every movie. You can find that same presence in the Star Wars: Episode IVV. Ford defined his own particular style of hero here, but the general concept of a hero like Indiana Jones can be found across nearly the entire history of film. George Lucas and Phillip Kaufman set out to create their own imprint on that concept. What they came up with came together with Ford’s weary, stubborn portrayal, and it created what is easily my favorite cinematic hero of all time. It’s a hero character that stands to last long after he’s gone. Because like all the great movie heroes, it’s a unique presence that only he can bring to that character. It’s not just as Indiana Jones either. Ford is one of my favorite actors for the simple reason that I can see rarely someone else as the character he’s playing exactly as he’s playing it. Very few actors/actresses have that quality, and maintain it in even the least of their films. There are Harrison Ford movies I don’t care for in a general sense, but I don’t think I’ve ever thought Ford himself has given a particularly bad performance.


Weird Al had the right idea of how to go about this, even if the result was the same.

I love all the Indiana Jones movies (the fourth one was wonderful, so, keep quiet, because we’re not getting into it), but the first one is the one I’ve seen the most. The story is simply an archeologist trying to get to the legendary Ark of the Covenant, before those wacky Nazis do. It’s a simple plot, but it’s extremely well-told. Most of us should know by now that it’s possible to screw up telling even the most basic stories. Basic also doesn’t mean stupid, and enjoying something as to the point as Raiders doesn’t necessarily mean you’re simple. Movies can win points for style, but they still have to be captivating in some way. There is not a mood in my emotional playbook that can refuse Raiders of the Lost Ark. It works under any circumstances, and it’s that now-legendary hero of Ford’s that’s most responsible for making this possible.

Karen Allen remains my favorite of the girls Indy finds himself tied to, the villains, Ronald Lacey and Paul Freeman, were never better, that John Williams score is absolutely crucial and the action sequences are the best of all four movies (I love the story of how the fight between Jones and the swordsman came down to the fact that Ford had dysentery that day). It’s impossible to choose one favorite scene over another (the bar scene comes close). All of them make me smile like a complete idiot. One who has never seen a flawlessly entertaining movie before. That’s not the case, and Raiders isn’t even my favorite movie of all time, but I’ll never get tired of it.

Other cast notables include John Rhys-Davies in a role I like almost as much as Gimli in The Lord of the Rings, and Alfred Molina (you know, Dr. Octopus) in his film debut. It was a shame Sean Connery and the late, endlessly wonderful Denholm Elliot couldn’t come back for Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but I kind of wish they had figured out a way to fit Rhys-Davies in the story.

I know, I know. It doesn’t even take place in the same part of the world as Raiders (or The Last Crusade for that matter). I’m just saying.

Raiders might be my favorite of the franchise, but I can still get similar pleasure from the three subsequent films. All of them make me glad that it’s possible to create a movie that’s pure entertainment, without making me feel like I just suffered a concussion from being dumbed down to death when the end credits roll.

A remake is just impossible to me. No one could play this character as well as Ford did, and still does. No one but Spielberg at that point in his career could have crafted this exact kind of adventure. This movie brought out the best in everyone involved. With other projects many of them would find other moments of brilliance, but it’s a particular kind of extraordinary fun when everyone comes together for an Indiana Jones movie. This one set a tone that’s been almost impossible (but just as much fun) to follow in the other three movies. I like each movie for different reasons, but the one steady fact in all four is Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, and Indiana Jones was never as good as he was the first time we met him.