Posts Tagged ‘ John Williams ’

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.

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Eleven

30 Day Movie Challenge:

Day Eleven: Favorite Children’s Film

E.T. (1982)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Dee Wallace

One of my most random memories from childhood involves E.T. It’s the first thing I think about. When I was a kid the best place in Lake Cowichan, British Columbia to get comic books and magazines was a little Chinese restaurant that also doubled as a convenience store. It was a good place for such essentials as those stupid plastic paratroopers, designer chopsticks dusty children’s books. It was a small store, so going inside could be an overwhelming, claustrophobic experience. I wondered for years if anyone ever threw anything in the store away. It was a good place to get egg rolls, and censored copies of “Hustler”, but the trinkets never really caught on. I lived in Lake Cowichan for seven years. I can’t remember a time when I would go in, and everything around and behind the counter wasn’t exactly where it had been before. I have no idea if the store is still there, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it was, and not a single thing had changed.

The first things I’d look for would be the E.T. key chains that were sold right next to the condoms, and expired Chinese bikini calendars. I didn’t have the faintest desire to buy them, but they remained in their place, from around age three to when I moved away in 1995.

E.T. was released in 1982, so it had been already a part of the culture for three years, by the time I came along. I can’t remember the first time I saw it. I just know it was a movie I watched constantly, and this goes back as far as memory will allow. It was a lot like Ghostbusters. I just can’t imagine it not being a part of our VHS library.

It’s not hard for me to get pulled into a kid’s movies, and I’ll still go out of my way to see the ones, that I think are capable of being something special. That’s not a claim that looks really fits a single, childless man in his mid-twenties, but people would think I’m desperately strange whether or not I watched them. I may as well watch whatever the hell I want. If you want to blame anything, then you can blame having four younger siblings over a ten-year-period. Living with them meant living alongside their own childhoods.

Now, I have godchildren, so I may be watching this stuff (whether I want to or not) until roughly 2021, 2022.

That’s a scary thought. I already look like I slept a three-day bender in a bad Halloween costume. Time isn’t going to be kind to that image.

Children find me soothing. The reason for this remains a mystery to me.

A couple of things put E.T. above all the others. I firstly wanted to try and go out of my way to pick something that wasn’t animated. That thins out the list a bit. E.T. came to mind more than once, because it was the only one that really didn’t feel like a children’s movie. Of course, that’s the movie’s first and most obvious audience. Look it up on Netflix, and it’ll be under Children and Family. I’m not saying it isn’t foremost that kind of movie. It just never felt that way to me. When I was little I was aware that there were films distinctly for children, and others that were clearly meant for an older crowd (I tried to watch them all). E.T. never felt like it belonged in either group but rather somewhere in the middle. It’s one of those rare movies that can claim to have a shot at appealing to anyone, and actually have history and monstrous success to back that claim up.

My response to the movie has naturally changed through the years. It doesn’t mean the same thing to me now as it did when I was three. The last time I saw E.T. was late last year, and it never felt like a nostalgia trip, or as something that can only be enjoyed within the context of its decade. Timeless is not a word I’m terribly fond of using in any context, but I think we’re stuck with it in this case. It’s the easiest way to explain why this is still the movie it was in 1982. Some movies can both represent their era, and tell a story that doesn’t favor one decade over the other. E.T. can be as significant a viewing experience the first time around (and I do know people who haven’t seen it) as it is for someone like me who has seen it more than a couple of times. Not every single Spielberg movie has pulled this off, but the ones that have are going to be around a lot longer than any of us will be. That won’t make everyone happy, but it works for me.

In any other movie this wouldn’t end well for the lad.

The story is something anyone reading this should already know. I think part of E.T.’s enduring charm is that it’s not so much the story itself (In fact Spielberg has been accused in the past of lifting much of E.T. from an unpublished screenplay called The Alien), but in the way it’s told. Spielberg knows how to open a movie, and his best films are the ones that are beautifully, perfectly paced across their running time. E.T. has a time of almost two hours, and not one second of that slows down the forward moment that is established within seconds of the opening. We’re almost immediately introduced to everyone, and everything we’re going to need to decide if we’re going to stick around. I still think the movie has some of the best child actors I’ve ever seen. Henry Thomas delivers a simple, effective performance over the course of his developing friendship with the stranded alien. He’s not precocious, smug or so sickeningly cute hat he rots the movie from the inside-out. As Elliot his friendship with E.T. is what the film lives and dies on above all else. Through Thomas it’s doing a pretty good job of continuing to live. The entire cast provides the human element that connects with the special effects and science fiction story of an alien getting stuck on earth and trying to find his way home. It remains an example that a Hollywood film can also have some genuine personality behind it.

Cynicism comes easily to me at this point in my life. I wish it didn’t. That kind of thing is cute (to you) when you’re sixteen, but it’s a little more disheartening when you’re closing in on thirty. E.T. is one of the few things that have endured that feeling. I can still be pulled in by the beginning, in which E.T. barely escapes the faceless, cold U.S Government. I still laugh when the physic connection between E.T. and Elliot is revealed when both E.T. gets him drunk while Elliot is at school dissecting a frog. I remain capable of greeting the U.S. Government finally tracking E.T. with dread.

I still love the hell out of the escape sequence that brings us to one of the most satisfying conclusions to a movie I can think of. John Williams’ legendary score enhances it so beautifully that I can’t imagine any of the film without it.

Great movies under the Children and Family banner are still being made. I’ve catch them here and there, and I’d even go so far as to say that the best ones are proving how well-written, and well-acted these films can be. That’s good, but for me E.T. remains an entity separate from anything else in its intended genre. I’d measure it against anything coming out today. I might enjoy it, but it doesn’t have the slightest chance, of having the impact on me that E.T. had when I saw it for the first time. I think one of the reasons why I can still watch it is because I like to remember that I used to be a much more hopeful person. There was plenty of room for a movie like E.T. to grab me. I miss that.