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Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Twenty-Three

30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Twenty-Three: Film That Inspires You:

Slacker (1991)
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Starring: Richard Linklater, Stella James, Marc Weir

Slacker was another one of those glorious accidental discoveries. I couldn’t sleep, I switched on what I believe was IFC, and there it was. The movie had just started. Had just opened on that wonderful, completely random scene of a man (writer-director Richard Linklater, who has almost always managed to blow me away) getting in a cab, rambling through some story about how he should have stayed at the bus station. There’s more to it than that, but I won’t go into it, if you haven’t had the distinct pleasure of seeing it for yourself. Describing and much of the movie is difficult. Impossible in the sense that it’s immensely tricky for me to relate with words what you should see for yourself.

For example, wouldn’t you like to know which one of these guys has probably been drinking a bit too much coffee?

Obviously, I’m going to try and relate my love of this independent (back when that meant something, or at least back when it meant more than it does now), but I’m just saying that it’s going to be difficult. It might help if you take my word for it now, see the movie and then get back to me.

Maybe.  It couldn’t hurt. This is one of those times when I feel as though I can only write for the people who have already seen it. I’ll try to keep the rest of you in mind.

Anyone who has ever successfully managed to listen to me for more than five minutes without running me over knows that the eventual goal of all this writing I do is to eventually get a chance to make a film. Hopefully, you’ve been paying attention to these rambling thoughts on films, but if you haven’t it might be worth noting that my greatest creative passion through the years has been filmmaking. I’ve never been to college (and there’s a good chance I probably never will get to go), so I’ve tried to give myself the best education possible with the vocation I’d like to spend the rest of my life in. Acting is fun, but I want to put the whole thing together. I watch movies for pure entertainment, but I also try to pay attention to the ones that really blow my hair (what little of it there usually is) back. Should I ever get an opportunity I want to at least have a rough idea of what I need to do. It’s an overwhelming, intimidating vocation. I barely know where to begin. Just writing the scripts I’ve written has had a difficult learning curve going for it.

Film inspires me for all kinds of different reasons. Some encourage me in the whole ridiculous thing of making a movie. Slacker has been a fixture on that last since seeing it in on TV that night. It was around 1999, and it’s unreal how much time has just flown past me since. The film is certainly a product of its time in certain ways (the way Austin was at that time, the whole Generation-X vibe), but in its most important ways, it doesn’t seem like something that belongs in a time capsule. This is largely due to the fact that I know people like this still exist. Slacker captures a long-gone time and place, but people like the character’s of the film’s world haven’t gone anywhere. Take out the inspirational aspect of the film, and it’s the characters that I love the most about Slacker. I know people along those lines. I’ve known a couple of guys like the Kennedy fanatic. I’ve seen friends compel a buddy to hurl something that belonged to his ex-girlfriend over a bridge (it was a moving car in my experience). I’ve run into people trying to sell things eerily similar to a piece of Madonna pap smear.

I’ve encountered dozens of real-life counterparts for the wide array of wonderful, believable and engaging personalities that make up Slacker. They’re one of my favorite things about traveling so much. Linklater uses non-actors and unknowns to bring them to life. That helps considerably with the realism and strength of their portrayals. Almost every performance here gets me in some way. A few are more interesting than others, but all are memorable.

Slacker is one the films I’ve paid the most attention to as an on-again, off-again unofficial film student. It’s also served as a long-standing influence on not only the few screenplays I’ve written but also on a great deal of the other things I write. It’s living proof of function winning out over form. At first glance it looks like a two-hour vacation film. Everything about the movie suggests a concept that just barely managed to be realized. Linklater is still going strong as a filmmaker. He would use this loose, multi-character story structure again in Dazed and Confused. He then moved from that to make a startling range of films. His resume includes the surreal adaptation of A Scanner Darkly to the straight-forward, commercial remake of The Bad News Bears. Slacker is still the reigning champion for my favorite of his filmography. It was not the first film to use this kind of wandering structure, giving us one character’s life for a moment, and then switching to another when they pass someone on the street. Not the first, but it’s one of the best. I think that’s because Slacker represents a mindset and culture unique to not only its era but to the city in which it was filmed. There aren’t twenty or thirty films exactly like Slacker (although I know there are numerous films and documentaries that certainly seek to evoke a similar spirit).

As far as I know, this is the only one.

That doesn’t automatically grant it greatness, and there will always be some who just can’t get into a movie like this. Slacker feels like the sort of thing in which a camera just happened to be around by coincidence. That kind of thing can annoy tastes that prefer stories to be a bit more linear and focused. Slackers is pretty easy to follow, and it has a linear form of sorts, but it’s not the kind of linear everyone tends to expect from their movies. To some Slacker may just seem like a whole lot nothing. Nothing in the way of the point and nothing in the way of a real story or meaningful, deep characters.

The structure, story (such as it is) and characters work just fine for me, and it seems to work pretty well for a lot of others. Slacker opts for a far-less traditional breed of storytelling and filmmaking at almost every turn. Less-than-traditional, but it works as both a compelling, funny and strange story, and as a lesson to anyone who wants to make movies on their own time. It proves that a good story, a great cast and an endless amount of creative enthusiasm can potentially override anything else that might be working against you. There isn’t a suggestion of a guaranteed artistic victory, but at least it conveys the fact that it can be done.

Slacker comes out of a different filmmaking era. This is very true. It’s also true that a whole lot more has to happen than what I listed above for a movie to go from idea to finished cut. I keep this mind, and I still choose to consider Slacker an inspiration.

I’ll watch Slacker because it’s just a great movie. My favorite scene remains the one in which a young man (Michael Laird) has his life changed by breaking into the home of an old anarchist (the great writer and Philosophy teacher, Louis H. Mackey). It’s the most appealing scene in the film, and one that had a tremendous impact on me. That kind of thing can indeed happen in the real world, and it perfectly illustrates a fundamental about Slacker that nothing in its celluloid world is artificial. Coincidence can change someone’s life, and we are sometimes most altered by the random. I’d love to know what happened to that burglar the next day.

I love this movie, but I continue to pay the most attention to its biology. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance someday to see if I can create something worthwhile out of what’s available to me. Filmmakers are out there doing that right now. That gives me a steady line of hope. It reminds me that it’s not easy, but it’s not impossible either.

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Twenty-Two

Think we’ll get to thirty before the end of this year?

That’s the plan, so be kind enough to forgive a little repetition. I’ll try to break things up with a poem.

2012 is breathing down my neck, and I’m not going for a mixed bag kind of year (like this one). I hope that will be most strongly be reflected in what I do creatively.

We’ll see. I’m vicious and optimistic these days, or at least I’m more of those two things than I have been for a long time.

30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Twenty-Two: Film You Wish You Could Live In:

Blade Runner (1982)
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Starring: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young

Blade Runner is a great movie. I want to say I first saw it on TV as a kid, but the truth is that I just can’t remember the time or place. I don’t know the time or place matter to me. I guess I just like to trace the chronology of when I first saw a movie to what I think of it now. That’s the only explanation I can think of. People love to define things, create timelines, and I like doing with even the most casual or mundane things.

I don’t remember the where and when of Blade Runner (as is the case with a good portion of the movies I’ve chosen for this list), but I remember being sucked into the world of this film about a minute in. I think the biggest reason why I’ve seen it so many times over the past twenty years is because of that strange, beautiful, terrifying and contradictory city. It’s a weird, chaotic mash-up of film noir, futurism, New York, Gotham City, Hong Kong, Hell and probably a wide array of other influences that are lost on me. I’m not shocked that the famous “Nighthawks” painting was part of that visual influence on the film. I’ve spent most of my writing career trying to recreate. I don’t think I’ve ever come close. I don’t have the budget, but it also doesn’t help very much that I also don’t have the imagination. That’s not meant to be a self-deprecating comment. It’s just a question of limitations. I can only watch a movie like Blade Runner, be completely spellbound by its universe and then carry that over into my own creativity as best I can. I don’t mind failing. Being engaged that strongly by sometimes is enough for me.

Don’t  worry. There’s still Build-a-Bear Workshops.

Blade Runner is quickly approaching its thirty-year anniversary.  It will have passed the mark by this time next year. I don’t see those thirty years as much as I possibly should. It could be a bias on my part that I’m rarely aware of what age may or may not have done to my favorite films. Is that a bad thing? Does it hurt my opinion to see a movie the same way I saw it ten, fifteen or even twenty years ago? I really can’t say. That’s likely a question I should try to answer through the essays and reviews I write about film, but I’m not sure how to go about that. All I can do is watch something again, and see what parts of my standing opinion have held up, it and what might have changed.

This one is no exception to that, and very little about it has changed for me. I don’t think it’s shown very much age at all, if any. That could be due to the noir plot, one of the more enduring story arches out there. It’s been said that Robert Mitchum was originally the guy in mind when the script was being written by co-author Hampton Fancher. I don’t have a lot of trouble believing that. Mitchum was a legend of the noir films. The fact that the script was written for that kind of actor and persona reflects not only the casting of Harrison Ford (who is phenomenal) but of the film’s grim, rainy atmosphere as well. It’s also reflected in the other characters represented throughout. The movie is, of course, tied pretty strongly to science fiction roots as well, and those two genres exist in almost every character. Science fiction has leant itself well to noir on many occasions. Strong supporting performances from Sean Young (as the noir dame in distress), Rutger Hauer (who doesn’t need to work very hard at making me believe that he is at all times moments away from a killing spree), Daryl Hannah (the hard-luck gal for this story), M. Emmett Walsh (as the sleazy cop), William Sanderson and Joe Turkel round things out. Style aside, it just wouldn’t be a great movie without their performances with the support of a great screenplay. I’d probably still watch it though. Having these other things just enables me to love it on more than one level.

It’s not a detriment that the great screenplay comes from an even greater story, by the iconic Phillip K. Dick, whose stories continue to find relevance long after his death (and Dick reportedly approved of the script before passing) constructed the blueprint for everything this film is. The heart and humanity within his story survived to make its way into the movie adaptation, and that has helped Blade Runner be more than just a dated science fiction movie.

The cast (especially Ford) and writing have large roles in Blade Runner’s endurance. I’m grateful they exist to give the movie depth and soul, but I suppose I always come back to the city. The tone and visual impact of the movie is the biggest reason why I can be pulled into this turbulent weirdness as though it’s the first time. I occasionally feel like we’re beginning to see little bits of pieces of Blade Runner in the world today. I know, I know. We still don’t have those cars, but I do feel like we’re getting closer to this kind of cold, garbled and confused reality. We’re not too far off from having cities that match Blade Runner in terms of size, scope and dangerous eccentricity. I’ve kicked around the country enough to have the suspicion fueled and inflated. Travel is one of my great passions. It’s on that small list of things I’m relatively good at. Getting lost in the shuffle of the film’s neon dementia would be a hell of a fun way to spend a few years. I might want to leave after that, but I kind of doubt it.

The fact that this is such an amazing film in every regard helps watching it for the twentieth or thirtieth time considerably, but the infinite potential for imagination that can be found in its backdrops would keep me watching even if the rest of the movie failed to compare. There isn’t another movie I can think of that has so beautifully captured the contradiction of a city that is both a technological marvel and a hopeless throwback all at the same time. Those familiar with my writing know it’s my kind of town.

Reportedly, director Ridley Scott is at work on a sequel. That’s fine. I’m sure today’s technology could take what Blade Runner showed us and multiply that dazzle by a thousand. It might be a worthy successor, or it might not be. I’m sure I’ll go see it, and I’m sure I’ll hope that it’s a successful continuation of not only Blade Runner’s great writing, directing and acting, but of this universe that is critical to my own creative leanings as ever before. I can still be amazed.

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Twenty-One

I can definitely promise that my next non-movie review will not be poetry or short fiction.

Or it definitely will be.

I haven’t decided yet. We’ll see how that tricky mood thing is treating me in a few days.

30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Twenty-One: Movie with Your Favorite Actor:

Lost in Translation (2003)
Directed by: Sophia Coppola
Starring: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi

Really, I could have gone with just about any Bill Murray performance. Certainly he’s lent his talent to some awful movies, but I would argue that he has never once failed to deliver a memorable performance. In some cases he’s been the sole saving grace of an otherwise disastrous couple of hours. The consensus amongst a lot of people I know seems to be that Murray made his big comeback with Wes Anderson’s brilliant Rushmore (a movie I don’t think I will ever get tired of). Certainly, Rushmore was the first movie in years to showcase Murray’s comedic genius under the best circumstances possible (and the whole movie itself is wonderful, too). I would venture to say that you can find brilliant gems from Murray in lesser vehicles like Larger than Life and The Man Who Knew Too Little. You can even find great moments from the man in questionable choices like Space Jam or Wild Things (okay, well, besides the other reason why some people still remember that movie).

The later-career classics though have come in the years since Rushmore. His association with Wes Anderson has proven to be very good to him, but arguably his biggest success since Rushmore is Lost in Translation. I don’t mind that. It’s probably not my favorite Murray film, but it’s pretty high along the list. Lost in Translation will always be one of those rare films in which my expectations were met and even succeeded. I wouldn’t be unhappy if that happened more often.

It was also difficult to choose just one actor. I have quite a few favorites that seem to be perennially tied for first. Bill Murray gets the nod. Simply because he was the first actor I ever remember really, really liking, and this was roughly twenty-two years ago, after seeing Ghostbusters for the first time (it’s insane what I remember sometimes–I can’t tell you what I did for Christmas five years ago, but I can vividly recall the first time I saw Ghostbusters).

I’m going with Lost in Translation because to me it’s the definitive Bill Murray movie. In the sense that it’s the one I would likely to show to someone who had never seen one of his movies before. My favorite Bill Murray movies are not necessarily the ones I would try out on someone straight away. It cemented that late-90’s comeback, and it gave him one of the most compelling roles of his career (so far, because he’s still surprising me even now).

I’ll never understand the opinion that this is simply a typical Murray performance. It’s true that a lot of what people like about the guy as an actor can be found throughout, but I’ve always believed his performance went a little deeper to display a subtle but profound range, within the general sort of character Murray most often plays. Murray’s character, Bob Harris, is very much in the vein of those personalities he played throughout the 80’s and early 90’s. A lot of that is very much in place, but I would suggest to anyone who either hasn’t seen the movie or hasn’t seen it in a while that they maybe pay a little more attention.

Those who do pay attention will receive a Japanese plush toy from Murray himself.

Bob Harris is older, far less manic and far more aware of how quickly everything has passed him by. His jokes in Lost in Translation come with a great sense of weariness, of realizing that very little of what he’s done in his life up to this point has come to mean much of anything. Humor can save your life on many occasions. It can lend something very essential to getting through the day in one piece. Unfortunately, that particular type of salvation can become more and more difficult to revisit as one gets older. That has always struck me as the heart of Harris when we first meet him in the film’s opening moments. It’s still funny, but in a quiet, minimal sort of way. There’s also a lot going on beneath the surface of that humor. That’s true of Murray’s performance, and it’s true of the film in general.

Sophia Coppola proved without question here that she’s a much better director than she is actress. She doesn’t strike as being as aggressive a director as her father. For the most part she simply hangs back, and lets the gorgeous Tokyo backdrop (I love movies that effortlessly romanticize the possibilities of a seemingly endless city of lights, buildings, people and thousands of sounds crashing together at once) and a terrific cast do what they do best. That’s not to say she doesn’t deserve credit. Someone still had to direct the kind of movie where the scenery is breathtaking, the pacing perfect and performances fantastic.

Nobody move, or they will become alert, and they will most likely flee into the woods.

Lost in Translation may star Bill Murray, but it’s not just his movie. This is still far and away my favorite Scarlett Johansson performance. She strikes a perfect balance with Murray, and the result of that is one of my favorite love stories. You can also just look at it as a depiction of a great, multi-layered friendship. Coppolla’s direction and Murray and Johansson’s performances leave plenty of room for ambiguity and interpretation for what exactly Murray and Johansson’s characters are thinking, and what they take away from their time together. Murray is an actor in Tokyo to shoot a whiskey ad. Johansson is a newlywed desperate for purpose. Everything else is a leisurely, wandering bit of storyteller that comes together at the end as something that only answers its questions if you look at the movie that way. You might not. You may just feel that things wandered around, characters interacted, nothing really changed and the movie came to an end. If that’s how you look at it, that’s fine, because you may still love it. The story doesn’t pound out plot point. It’s a style perfectly to actors like Murray and Johansson. Anna Farris (who I actually do like sometimes) and Giovanni Ribisi (as Johansson’s stunningly oblivious husband) round things out quite nicely.

Lost in Translation is likely to be the only time Murray ever scores an Oscar nomination. That’s too bad, but it’s certainly not the end of the world. It’s not going to stop him from lending something brilliant to anything he happens to appear in. I have a feeling that when it’s all said and done, people will be more apt to remember actors like Bill Murray, and not necessarily the guys who got the accolades he should have received. I could be wrong, but it already seems like more people remember Murray in Lost in Translation than Sean Penn in Mystic River. That’s just how it looks though. I guess history will have to pick up the slack. Something tells me history will be kind to Murray, and they will be especially kind to a role and movie as phenomenal as Lost in Translation.

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Twenty

The upshot of a slow weekend?

I get more work done than usual.

It’s still just a lot of running in place for a few hours (while simultaneously dicking around on Facebook), but I’d like to think I used the fact that I didn’t go anywhere or see anybody to pretty good ends. I probably could have gotten through the day just watching Batman cartoons and bothering people at random, but I probably wouldn’t have been as satisfied with the end-result.

I feel like I used to be a lot better about time management, but I don’t know if that’s really true. I wrote a journal entry, edited five pages of that second novel and wrote the below review. That strikes me as a pretty good output for work. I may even try to knock off a poem, and read some more of a book I’m planning to review for Unlikely Stories. I guess we’ll just see how the evening goes. I’d sure as hell rather be irresponsible, but then I remember that this is how I’m trying to make a living (it’d be awfully nice to sell that book, when the son-of-a-bitch is finally finished), so that keeps the motivation to actually do something my time running pretty high.

Being creatively pleased with what I do is iffy. There are fantastic days, and then there are many, many, many days when I wish I taken up that offer from Satan to sell my soul in exchange for a degree with some kind of theoretically useful potential behind it.

Yeah, I know, the economy is a fiendish orgy of despair, but I still wish sometimes I could go to college.

I’m fortunate. I get to concentrate on artistic gigs, but I don’t always derive any personal pleasure from them, and I rarely feel like I’m doing something useful with my life. When I do it’s magic, and I guess that’s one of the big things that keeps me alive.

Reckless misadventures keep me alive, too, but we already knew that.

You know, I don’t set out to write mournful, depressing introductions. I really don’t.

I’m just saving my knock-knock jokes for the next time I go out.

People love those.

30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Twenty: Movie With Your Favorite Actress:

Bandits (2001)
Directed by: Barry Levinson
Starring: Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Cate Blanchett

There’s nothing really remarkable about the 2001 movie Bandits. It’s immensely enjoyable (Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton together can sustain even the weakest plot), but it’s not a classic by any means. Director Barry Levinson does have a few films under his career that many would consider classics. Diner might be one (I’m inclined to think so). A lot of people hold The Natural in pretty regard (I’ve honestly never seen it). His career is one that’s included films like Tin Men, Good Morning, Vietnam, Rain Man, Toys (I still think that movie is an underappreciated gem), Sleepers (the one movie I used to win every single Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon challenge, ever), Wag the Dog and several others. His last movie, the HBO original You Don’t Know Jack has one of Al Pacino’s best performances in a decade. All in all it’s an interesting, diverse filmography. You have some great films, some dreadful ones and a few that are solid, forgettable ways to deal with a couple of empty hours the easy way.

Bandits is a decent, little movie, and it’s not much more than that.

This isn’t about Barry though. He’s a talented filmmaker, but he wasn’t the reason why I watched this, and he certainly wasn’t the best thing I took away from it.

I don’t even think this is my favorite Cate Blanchett performance. I could probably make a case for any number of brilliant performances she’s given over the years. After all, she’s got a few Oscar nominations going for her, has already picked up one Oscar, and will probably win another, is enough of a star to carry a movie on her own, and never seems to settle into just one type of character.

Even so, I thought about it, and still chose Bandits over anything else.

Hear me out. I think there are two reasons behind this. At least, two reasons that I’m aware of.

This was the first movie I had ever seen her in, and I was struck by her performance more than anything else. It stood out. An actress of lesser talent wouldn’t have done anything significant with the role of kidnap victim-turned-accomplice. On paper it’s not the most exciting part in the world. Blanchett is the kind of actress who can take on any role and make some memorable of it. I figured this out after Bandits, and she’s reminded of this in roles since. She’s done this with difficult characters, weakly written ones and roughly everything else from one end of the character spectrum to the other. There’s little for her to do in Bandits beyond playing off Willis and Thornton. She does that, and it’s quite wonderful just how far she goes and how frequently she upstages them.

That’s not easy. Willis and Thornton are good actors, and they tend to dominate the scene when around. They’re also pretty good at taking some bland material, and making it several times more enjoyable and interesting. Both are fine in this. Willis is a badass, and Thornton is the eccentric with hypochondria and a host of other low-grade mental illnesses. They’ve made a good team before, and this is the most fun of their appearances. They break out of prison together, go on a series of clever (within the context of the movie) bank robberies, pick up Blanchett along the way, fall for her, fight over her and spiral on down towards one last, desperate job. It’s good, and they’re good, but none of it amounts to anything you absolutely must see.

I think Cate Blanchett is the exception to that, and that’s a huge reason why Bandits wins out.

And the other reason?

It’s purely cosmetic, and it’s as simple as that entire sequence where she’s lip-syncing to Bonnie Tyler, dancing and cooking dinner all at the same time. It’s not some great moment of intense, powerful acting (she’s got a lot of those). It’s a few moments in the movie, and it doesn’t mean much to the overall film. It was just a gorgeous woman in a nicely-shot sequence.

I also blame that red hair. After seeing Bandits, it finally made sense to me, why so many think she could double for Tori Amos. If you believe that, then this movie will probably help your argument.

Seriously, I actually rewound the movie, the first time I saw it. I might have been even lonelier than usual at the time, but it still made that kind of impression on me. Sexiness in movies is hard for me to find, so I tend to be mildly, briefly obsessive about the scenes, actresses and even characters, who send my jaw to the floor, and then pour cement in my mouth to keep it there for a while.

Other people are in this movie, apparently.

But gorgeous actresses are pretty common-place. Porn has a ton of them. The overall package for unbelievably sexy actresses isn’t complete, until you throw in the fact that they’re unbelievable at their craft. Cate Blanchett is that entire package. She makes even a relatively minor movie like Bandits better. Very few people can single-handedly enhance a movie like that for me.

Bandits is worth mentioning again, as a movie that is not going to be some kind of life-changing experience. But it’s good enough. A good cast can always go a long way with an average story, and Levinson knows how to wrangle a few surprises and nice touches (Dylan’s “Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum” over the opening credits being one of those nice touches) out of things. You’re probably going to feel like you had a pretty good time, but it’s also unlikely, you’ll be demanding Criterion give it a corner spot in their hall of fame. Everything in the movie is just fine, and nothing more involved than that. Except of course, Cate Blanchett. You could do a lot worse than watch this on a rainy afternoon. It probably should have been better with this much talent involved, but we won’t dwell on that.

And that red hair.

My goodness.

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Nineteen

Is it completely unfair that I’d like to get some more comments?

I’m not begging. It’s just a thought that’s occurring to me. Part of me is deathly afraid of feedback. That’s natural. No one wants to work forever at something, and then find out everyone hates it. All the acting, writing, performing stuff I do firstly for myself, but I also like to know sometimes that other people are enjoying it.

That’s natural, too.

Has this been the theme of another blog opening already? I don’t remember. I write these in about ten minutes, because I guess I feel like some kind of introduction is always in order, and I’m usually at a loss for anything interesting to say.

I’m finally circling the wagons on some more variety for this thing, but I think it’s gonna wait, until this movie review series is finished. We’re getting there. Just eleven more to go.

What’s in a Friday night? I wish I had plans. I wish that “Tonight, I’m gonna burn this town down” as Springsteen puts it. That’s not in the cards. It’s going to be one of those many lonely nights I seem to be entertaining these days. I’m going to work for a while longer, eat dinner and run movies from now to three or four in the morning. Having no choice but to spin your wheels in the middle of nowhere doesn’t leave you with a lot of options sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done alright for misadventure over the years. The problem is that I’m selfish for that kind of thing. And a quiet Friday night in a quiet room is a quiet, miserable prospect every single time.

I’m not particularly depressed though. No more than usual. I’m just restless, and that continues to become a stronger and stronger feeling.

I’m ready to go, and I’d give anything to be out in the larger world right now. There’s all kinds of trouble I could be getting into.

30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Nineteen: Movie That Made You Cry The Hardest:

Rocky (1976)
Directed by: John G. Avildsen
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Carl Weathers

I didn’t actually see the first Rocky until I was about fourteen. In my childhood I had managed to see II, III and IV, but for whatever reason I didn’t get around to seeing the first (and easily the best of them) until I was well into high school. Who knows why. I’m not going out of my way to be stubborn about seeing one movie or another. I’m sure I had plenty of opportunities to watch the first Rocky. I might have even caught it on TV as a little kid. I don’t remember actually watching it until I bought it at a yard sale. The sequels had things like giant, Russian steroid monsters, Hulk Hogan and Mr. T. I guess those were just more memorable things to me.

I still dig the sequels, but I’m more apt to watch the first, if I’m in the mood for one of these movies .

I can’t say this movie has ever left me sobbing at the end, but I’ve gotten pretty close sometimes. Getting a strong emotional reaction from me isn’t impossible for a movie to do, but crying tends to be a different matter. I don’t think I’m above it. I just don’t express sadness with tears very often. The ones that do manage to draw that response from me are pretty strange when grouped together. I can’t say there’s a pattern. Sometimes a movie just has the power to kick me in the stomach (in a good way) over and over again. That kick can be pretty severe. So much that crying is just a matter of time. The reason for why a movie can accomplish this seems to vary wildly from film to film.

With Rocky I suppose my reasons for responding to it the way I do are the same as a lot of people’s. There’s a good love story (keeping in mind we’ve established the fact that my idea of love is hopelessly weird, and should not be held as a reasonable example for all humankind). You know it’s there from the moment Stallone meets Talia Shire’s mousy, painfully shy Adrian at the pet store we know he visits every day (under the guise of buying food for his turtles). The love story of Rocky is not some kind of wild ride. It’s not going to have a lot of surprises. Those are not requirements to be unforgettable though. Some of my favorite love stories succeed through simplicity in story and likable, memorable characters. Rocky gives me that story and those characters. Stallone is never going to be in my top-ten actors list (but I do think he’s a lot better than he gets credit for), but his chemistry with Shire is perfect. It sells the romance, and makes it absolutely impossible for me to think of its execution as anything less than perfect.

There are memorable, classic performances from everyone involved. I couldn’t pick a favorite secondary actor in a million years. Carl Weathers is obviously channeling some Ali here (and there was even a mock showdown between Stallone and Ali at the Oscars, when Rocky took home the Best Picture prize), and he’s fantastic at it. Rocky is largely about strong performances and chemistry, going back to the love story between Rocky and Adrian, and I’m glad Weathers was worked into most of the sequels. He plays off Stallone as a definitive rival and later friend. Burt Young and Burgess Meredith are two of my all-time favorite character actors. They played well off just about anyone (and Burt Young still does). In Rocky they’re as memorable to me as Rocky, Adrian or Apollo Creed. Meredith should have won something just for the sheer power of the scene, in which he all but begs Rocky to take him on as a manager.

I have to wonder how many people broke their hands trying this.

The build-up to that big championship fight between Creed and Rocky would never be done so well again. Is it ridiculously corny that Rocky knows his chances of winning are nil, and that all he wants to do is go against Creed from opening bell to last? Yeah, but I’ve never had a problem with it. Maybe, that’s because the fight is loosely based on a Chuck Wepner/Muhammad Ali bout, which saw an unknown Wepner survive an entire fight against Ali. That might be part of it. I also like how much of Rocky’s desire to succeed with such modest, almost pathetic dreams mirrored Stallone’s own life. He was a bit player before Rocky. Everything he hoped to accomplish in his career rode on his determination to play the character, and be an integral part of the movie’s creation (the studio that finally accepted the script, saw it as a possible vehicle for someone like James Caan or Robert Redford). It worked, but the success of Rocky remains one of the most unlikely success stories in film history.

I’m sure the guy who hands out those Golden Raspberry awards is still bemoaning that fact. I think this aspect adds a nice layer to the movie.

All of Rocky culminates in one of the most emotionally satisfying endings I can think of. It gets me every single time, and I love how that never gets old. Again, it’s a pretty simple story, but as Stallone would prove later on it wasn’t so simple that it could easily be duplicated. None of Rocky‘s many sequels would even come close to resonating with me as strongly as that first one did. The last one came close though.

It’s not just the movie itself. Too many scenes stand out, and kick around my head even when I haven’t seen it for ages. These scenes inevitably bring me into my own thoughts and memories, because the kind of movies that draw this kind of emotional response me usually do so by means beyond just the story and characters. All of that in Rocky can still work its charm on me, but it’s always more than just the specifics of the movie itself. There’s always some kind of memory to contend with, or some weird, seemingly random thought that occurs to me every time I watch that particular movie. I won’t go into the memories and thoughts unique to my viewings of Rocky, but I will say they’re potent. Enough that I can be drawn to the film by merits other than the fact that I think Rocky is beautifully done in every way.

What makes Rocky the clear-cut winner in this category? Other movies have that one scene that completely destroys me, breaks down any and defenses and gets those stupid eyes misting up. Some might even have two or three of those scenes. Rocky has several. I don’t want to be such a sucker for easy sentiment, because Rocky is not necessarily the absolute saddest film I’ve ever seen, but it’s pointless to pretend I’m invulnerable. Rocky is my emotional kryptonite, and I’m okay with that. I guess there are worse things to be than an easy target for a certain kind of movie.







Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Eighteen

Two days, and another review?


My heart is all aflutter, too.

I’m just eager to barrel through these, so all of us can just move on to what will hopefully be bigger and better things. Movie reviews will always be a part of the proceedings, but I’ve got some other ideas that I want to run through, and I don’t want to try my luck at them until this current movie challenge nonsense is finished.

Nonsense entirely of my own design but nonsense all the same.

This blog will not be the place in which I do something truly dramatic (to me) as an artist and (supposed—don’t ask anyone I ever dated) person, but I think one of the ways in which I can cure my steady blues is by doing something different.

And what’s the old saying? Something about having to start somewhere?

I can’t remember. We’ll just say that’s the one.

The cold weather has set in, and it’s glorious. I’m sure this has been muttered about before, but it makes me dream of travel. I don’t know why. I want to be somewhere else, and I want to have nothing but hours of wandering the weird streets in front of me. I hope that comes along soon. I’m a good deal better-adjusted on the road.

Cold weather does a lot of strange things to my mind and memories. I have all kinds of associations with fall, and even winter, and most of them are quite good. I don’t know if the weather really does have much to do with those associations, but they’re still locked together.

The negative associations are fine, too, because they’re almost always good for a couple of bucks.

I love the cold, but I loathe Christmas.


30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Eighteen: Film That Is Your Guilty Pleasure:

Jackass: The Movie (2002)
Directed by: Jeff Tremaine
Starring: Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera, Chris Pontius

I don’t really believe in the concept of a guilty pleasure movie. The implication of having to feel guilty for liking something is ludicrous to me. I don’t care if the entire world comes together at long last, in a universal spirit of overwhelming brotherhood and declares that Jackass: The Movie is the dumbest thing to have ever come out of the ambitions of mankind. It may well be (I can personally think of worse). I’m still going to like it. I’m still going to like the sequels, too.

The poop jokes don’t do it for me. I just can’t find that stuff funny no matter how hard I try. That’s one of the all-time “great” comedy staples that I haven’t found funny since roughly the first grade. Nothing against those who do. Everyone laughs at something with no particular value or deeper meaning. All of us laugh at something that is not only unlikely to advance the human race anytime soon, but is also probably setting us back a few paces on the whole emotional and spiritual evolution jag. That’s okay. Don’t pay any attention to me if I don’t get it. I expect the same courtesy, and the only thing that bothers me about “stupid humor” is when someone acts like they’re better than that kind of thing.

They’re not. We’re all doomed. At least in that regard.

The poop jokes in Jackass have never made me laugh, and they never will. Some of them will even make me flinch a little.

Steve-O stapling his genitals to something? Nah. That’s not really my bag either.

The physical comedy? The stuff that promises nothing but the potential for a few broken bones?

That’s when I start laughing, and find it difficult to stop, and I’ll argue with anyone that the physical comedy in Jackass is some of the best you’ll find anywhere. There’s a good reason why most of those imitation videos sent in by idiots the world over are by and large desperate and terminally unfunny. There’s an honest-to-God art form to falling down and making that funny. It’s been a staple of comedy that goes back even further the birth of film itself. It’s the old Mel Brooks (at least that’s who the quote has been frequently attributed to over the years) saying that comedy is when somebody falls into a sewer and dies (but the tragedy is that Mel just cut his finger). Anyone can fall off the roof of a house. Johnny Knoxville and his cronies built careers out of inexplicably making it a little more entertaining than the cast of thousands, who inhabit the internet, and shows like Tosh.0.

For a lot of us, there’s just something inherently funny, about a guy slapping a pair of fireworks on some roller skates and trying to make it down a steep hill without crashing.

There’s also something pure and wonderful about anything involving explosions and a giant shopping-cart.

Then there are the pranks. Some of them work (like Knoxville renting a car, and taking it to a demolition derby, or Bam Margera trying to make his mom swear), and some of them don’t. I’ve always had to admire them for trying. A brilliant prank on their part can make me laugh just as hard, as anything in which someone is certain to be shaving a year or two off their lifespan in the name of cheap laughs.

My own life seems to be dictated in a similar fashion, although it’s nowhere near the scale the Jackass boys reach.

It’s easy to understand why a lot of people don’t care for Jackass. I was never a big fan of the show, and I’ve avoided its spin-offs like the plague (Steve-O and Bam strike me as ridiculously obnoxious, and I could never stand to sit through something that focuses on them). The movies however have been a joy. The first one is still my favorite. It’s stupid, banal and completely without a point, but the best moments are as fine examples of physical comedy, as anything you’re going to find these days. It’s a rare thing to see it done well in modern times. I guess the appeal for me is the concept of the stunts themselves. The simplest jokes are a set-up, and a punch-line, in as few words as possible. The best stunts and pranks in anything Jackass have elaborate, clever set-ups that yield terrific punc lines. It’s base comedy, but the great bits carry with them the underlying fact that it’s a lot harder to pull off than it looks.

Although this was probably pretty easy to pull off.

I’ll never be a fanatic for the series, or these people. I like it, but I have to admit that I didn’t feel a great sense of celebrity loss when Ryan Dunn died in a drunk-driving accident this past year. I will say that his passing was unfortunate, and that it will probably be the only time I ever feel sorry for Bam Margera. Bam lost his best friend. I’ve lost friends over the years, but I’ve been lucky enough to never lose someone who is so integral to that small list of the things and people that keep me going. Margera strikes me as a career asshole. Watching him cry in any of the Jackass movies yields a sort-of perverse joy on my part. I did watch the interview with him in the wake of Dunn’s death, and I didn’t get any pleasure out of his visible, deep sadness. He lost that one great friend. They were a great pair in the first movie (and the others) because of that friendship.

The camaraderie between these guys definitely comes through in the films. I only know what I see on the screen, but part of why Jackass: The Movie succeeds is because of the natural chemistry that allows these guys to do whatever they might be doing from one flash of stupidity to the next.

I’ve never been surprised that Spike Jonze is such a fan and willing participant in their insanity. He gets the joke. I don’t think I’m special for getting the joke, too, but I do like that I have something I can enjoy that is completely free of pretension of subtext. It’s simply a bunch of guys making each other’s lives a living hell. That can be pretty damn hysterical when it works. I’m glad I find it so funny. Too much cynicism can become problematic. It’s a relief to know I’m not a complete lost cause, and that relief is often expressed by guiltless, deranged laughter. Jackass: The Movie has helped out achieve that fix on at least a couple of occasions. I’m grateful.

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Seventeen

I’m growing increasingly dissatisfied with how these reviews are turning out, but I’m probably not the best judge of their quality. My mood for the longest has been one determined to take the angst-ridden teenager route, and just assume that everything I come up with is severely lacking in some way.

I guess I only believe that up to a certain point, since I’m obviously still publishing and trying to sell work, but the feeling is there, and nothing I try to do seems to change it.


Life is hard.

People keep telling me I should start delving into more social/political pieces, or to try for something that’s more directly comedic than what I usually do. Those things are tempting. I just keep stalling under the excuse of not knowing where to begin. That might be true, but it’s lousy reasoning nonetheless. I shouldn’t let that kind of thing stop me.

I’d also love to throw on an interview on this thing. My interviews generally wind up at Unlikely Stories, but I’m sure there’s something I could do that wouldn’t necessarily work there.

Anything is possible. Unfortunately, everything also feels like it’s about a million miles away from my grip. All I can do is keep moving along regardless. There isn’t a whole lot else I can do. The creative things I try to do can also be looked at as how I lead the rest of my life. Like everything else, I can only try to continue moving forward, continue doing all that I can. Imagine that somewhere along the line, other things will fall into place, and I’ll finally cheer up a little.

What does any of this have to do with movies?

Search me.

I don’t ramble very much about myself (at least, not in print), and this seems like as a good a place as any to do it.

30 Day Movie Challenge:

Day Seventeen: Least Favorite Book Adaptation

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)
Directed by Andrew Adamson
Starring: William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes

Religion just wasn’t a big deal where I grew up in British Columbia, Canada. That’s at least how I remember it. There were churches, people went to them if they wanted, and that largely seemed to be the end of it. I didn’t encounter people screaming about me about their faith (or lack thereof) until I moved to the States in 1998.

I only mention this, because I was roughly five or six when I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I guess I wasn’t a very bright Kindergartner, because the religious allegories of C.S. Lewis’ long-standing classic were completely lost on me until a few years later. I just thought it was a great story. I quickly gobbled up the other books in the Chronicles of Narnia series, and then moved on to other Lewis works (like The Screwtape Letters), and even the live-action BBC adaptations (which have not held up especially well for me).

Eventually, I took on more sophisticated books, but I never forgot how much those books meant to me. A monstrous Hollywood adaption just made sense. All the elements for a great fantasy epic were right there. All it needed to rival Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings was someone to piece those elements together. It’s not a complicated task. The right vision for bringing something like Narnia to life coupled with a great cast would be able to cover things just fine. I was excited by the trailers I saw for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I wasn’t expecting the greatest movie of all time, but what I saw gave me every reason to believe I would at least be entertained.

This probably isn’t the Goat Boy Bill Hicks was talking about.

Maybe I had weirdly high expectations of how much I expected from the concept of entertaining. I don’t know.  I know I was (and still am) baffled by the positive reception this got from a large number of critics and fans. It wasn’t that I went out of my way to dislike The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. When it comes to movies I’m not a masochist, and I’m not looking for excuses to complain. There’s better ways to spend almost two and half hours of my life, than to watch a movie I want to hate before the opening credits have even appeared.

I realize a lot of people like this movie, and I desperately wanted to like it, too. The impact the books had on the literary aspect of my childhood was substantial. From Narnia I moved on to countless other fantasy books and authors. I read them more than once and probably liked that BBC adaptation more than it deserved. Those elements seemed like they had a great chance of coming together. The cast seemed fine (especially Tilda Swinton), and they were throwing a monstrous budget behind it. Disney wanted to cash in on the Harry Potter/LOTR market, and I couldn’t blame them. They had the perfect property on their hands. The source material has plenty going for it to create a great adventure epic. What’s even better is that the Narnia books aren’t particularly deep even when you take all the allegory into account (and it doesn’t really matter if you do—You don’t really have to be an expert on Christianity to enjoy Narnia). They’re well-told, earnest but pretty straightforward fantasy stories, and I didn’t see how a film adaptation could completely screw that up.

It’s true, there are some stunning visual sequences, battles and backdrops. It’s also true that Swinton tears the house down, with the best performance in the whole thing (Liam Neeson as Aslan is also pretty damn cool). It just wasn’t enough for me. Compared to LOTR or Harry Potter (and in my mind comparisons between all these films are inevitable), this just struck me as very flat, and devoid of the scope and personality that allowed LOTR and Harry Potter (well except for the first two films maybe) to be more than just fantastic light shows. The source material being straightforward is no excuse for a movie filled with unappealing actors, and a story that’s overlong and poorly told.

There is indeed a lion though. The movie certainly doesn’t disappoint on that front.

I can probably blame the child actors for that. God knows why, but I truly couldn’t stand any of them. Perhaps I’m just not very tolerant of child actors in general. The list of ones I can put up with for more than eight seconds is pretty thin. The kids of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe are nowhere near that list. I found them to be smarmy, obnoxious little twits, who spend the entire movie wandering around, getting into trouble and accomplishing anything useful mostly by accident. Georgie Henley wore on my nerves me more than any of them. Something about her made me want to leave her at a grocery store. I’m sure there are plenty of people who would love to be engaged by her precociousness, ageless wisdom and cheery pluck. I’m not one of those people.

The other kids bug me, too (as does much of the cast), but there’s something about that particular little scamp that makes me glad I don’t know any English children off the top of my head. It’s probably not fair to condemn an entire country of children over a movie, but the kids of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe were annoying enough to make me want to.

The running time is also ridiculous. Much of consists largely of director Andrew Adamson assuming I’ll be so impressed with the visuals that I won’t notice that most of the time, nothing is really happening. And when something does happen I don’t really care, because everything is so lifeless, so by-the-numbers that I’m really just waiting for Tilda Swinton to say something sinister, Liam Neeson to say something noble or for an extraordinary battle scene to break out. Even those things lose their appeal by the end. All I felt at the end was a completely useless sense of accomplishment. I’ve never walked out on a movie in my life, and I don’t intent to start. Everything I begin will be finished to the bitter, half-awake end.

What does that actually achieve? Probably nothing.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe worked for a lot of people, and I wouldn’t dream of faulting anyone who did like it. I just walked away feeling as though the parts didn’t create the sum of a good movie. Certain aspects of the film are beautifully realized, but for me a great deal of it wasn’t. Most likely there’s a book adaptation I dislike even more, but this one is probably the most disappointing. The books are easy to get into, but that doesn’t mean the movie has to be a dull, completely hollow experience. I left this first film in the series feeling as though I had just seen the same kind of fantasy film, everyone is seemingly trying to do these days. It didn’t feel like the Narnia from my childhood. It was just another empty blockbuster.