Posts Tagged ‘movie’

Showalter Nights

17 June 2011


Dear J-

We would go to Showalter on Friday nights those last few years in Cheney, Charlie and Jo and I, as it was the closest thing that we had to a movie theater. I’d bllt down dinner with my family (thinking that would give them an easier adjustment to an empty nest) then walk to their house three blocks away where they’d pop a grocery bag worth of popcorn and we’d all run in the cool dark to Showalter. The ASEWU would run off-peak movies for a couple of bucks: it was cheaper than renting and faster too, although it was only one movie every weekend and three months after it came out in theaters.

I tried going back once or twice when I was going to college myself but it felt too much like something I had left behind in the cradle of Cheney: Showalter, the grand old building with its vintage theater and sharing popcorn in the dark with friends I had known all my life. Thepreparations were part of the ritual, even down to making the popcorn decidedly late so we would be running, running and laughing in the sheltering night, too young to consider tomorrow or anything but the movie ahead, shouting out snatches from reviews half-remembered, excited at the prospect of what our one-screen town called a big night out.

There is a point in the evenings when the sky slips from gray to cobalt. In between lies an electric blue-purple I remember from dreams and Showalter nights. It is consequently one of my favorite times and if you turn the lights off in Calcifer’s room you can get that feeling, sitting on the couch and leaning your head back to catch the intersection of ceiling and wall with the shades letting the slightest amount of light in. You make your choices in this life and believe in the ones you want but you can’t escape the past. I still hear the laughter of Showalter nights and get that little jolt of excitement in my gut now and again.



Chitty Chitty

24 April 2010

Dear J-

I confess that today’s been another wasted day, as it were; there’s nothing I can point to as a tangible change from today aside from purchasing a new belt (the one I have is still solid, but I’ve been wearing it since two jobs ago — eleven years — and it’s starting to look tatty). At some point later in the day, as possible activities start to be checked off, we dip into the reserve of movies we’ve bought and today’s fishing trip brought up Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. There are some contemporary movies where the innate personality of the actors never fail to come out (in rough order, Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, and Adam Sandler) at some point, and in the same way CCBB can be said to be a Dick Van Dyke role.

I can blame my brother for turning me on to the movie; between the provenance (written by Ian Fleming, the father of James Bond) and the execution (characters break into song like any good contemporary Disney flick) I think I’ve been fated to see it at some point or another. It’s not admitting too much, is it, to say that any movie with singing characters has a good chance to win its way onto my shelf? Growing up we were allowed to stay up Sunday nights for two reasons: the Star movies (Trek or Wars) and James Bond flicks, which were a particular weakness of my father. While there’s little intrique, comparatively, in CCBB, something about watching it makes me feel eight again.

It was quiet enough today that a movie comprises the most notable point. Just a little day to fill the time between yesterday and tomorrow, quiet time spent together and perfectly.


Watched It

11 January 2010

Dear J-

I keep getting distracted; right now we’re half-following Watchmen as I try to ignore my sneaking suspicion that it’s somehow been turned into Forrest Gump with masks (seriously, what’s with the un-subtle musical choices, calculated to appeal to, well, me and my fellow Gen Xers? And who’s going to buy Carla Gugino as a sixty-seven year old? Well, I suppose that if Sally Field can be Tom Hanks’s mother in a movie just a few years after she was his love interest …). I suppose that there’s a lot that can be excused in the name of spectacle, but it plays out like a series of disconnected vignettes instead of a cohesive story.

It’s what the style is now, I suppose; instead of the rich tones of the original, to compress it down to the three hours (!) of film, we get it painted in bold strokes and pastiches. I said it before the film came out — so long as it pushes people to read the original, I suppose that it wouldn’t be in vain, but too often we substitute the movie as a reward for reading the source. Sometimes I wonder if the reading lists in high school was set by the availability of movies (likely the other way, as getting good stories cheap is easy when you can pull them from copyright-expired classics).

Back to the movie, then; what made dramatic sense and great pithy bon mots in the comic fall leadenly on screen. You might think that it’s inherent in the nature of the source material — how could you count on something as crass as this, especially compared with something like, say, Dickens, right — but it’s better than advertised: Alan Moore has written a believable world that breathes with as much menace and decay as, say, Blade Runner but this is the treatement it gets? Maybe I’m getting too jaded by movies in general, or my tolerance for crap is decreasing.


Small Stuff

17 August 2009

Dear J-

Don’t sweat the small stuff, they say on one side, then turn around and tell you that details matter.  Intent is a tricky thing to prove; you need details to hint at it, but the overall theme must demonstrate it as well.  We are a family given to hyperbole and exaggeration; tales become slightly taller in each telling, details stretched just so to give the right dramatic effect.  I woke up this morning, for instance, with a nagging stomachache; whether it’s from the excess of the weekend or the joy of uncompleted work, by the time I describe it, it will have grown to epic proportions, a stabbing misery that I gamely overcame to face the day.

The intent is not to deceive; it’s an excuse (and a lame one at that) to explain why and  how things went so slowly off the tracks today.  We are given ample opportunities to show off the noble sufferer — many of Chow Yun-Fat’s early roles play up this trait — silently bearing the drama of life; I think that it’s infected my writing, often already given to exaggeration, with the curse of self-pity.  Though the plot of my life follows some sort of bumbling comedy, I keep wanting to reinterpret it as weepy costume drama.

After all,  comedy is hard; it’s far easier to hit you over the head with the obvious and make you cry before you laugh.  We delight in watching others overcome obstacles, whether self-imposed or not; emotions are easily manipulated into artificial highs by inducing imipossible lows.  But life, it turns out, has little to do with movie making; for the most part what we see on screen has little relevance to actual shooting sequence — scenes are shot out of order, which makes actors’ jobs even harder — they don’t build along the same emotional spirals we in the audience do.  We don’t get an advance copy of the script, after all, and so injecting false drama rings as hollow as my head.


Watchmen Speculation

12 November 2008

Dear J-

I keep reading about the Watchmen movie; am still conflicted on watching it, as the graphic novel did things that I thought would be impossible for movies to replicate.  Rumor has it that the Tales of the Black Freighter will be brought out as a standalone DVD, which will pretty much tip me over to not watching it unless an extended cut is restored to interleave the story with the pirate comic.  The crowning achievement of the graphic novel is the world that created — a world parallel to ours and yet believably different because of a simple schism:  how would our lives change if superheroes became commonplace?

Central to the believability is how Watchmen — the novel — treats its source materials; the long text interludes are not bonus supplemental reading, they’re prerequisites.  By forcing the extra material onto a DVD to be purchased and watched prior to the actual movie, you doom it to mediocrity;  inexplicable to casual fans, unimaginable to folks who just want an action movie, and limiting appeal to those of us who’ve memorized line, chapter, and verse.  The fanbase is not, I suspect, large enough to support the movie’s ambitions; we’re talking about a twenty-year-old book here, steeped in the everyday worry of the Cold War, after all.  Should it spur sales of the novel, then yes, good job, great.  Should it spur people to reject comic book movies in general — and boy, have there been a lot lately, and of books less deserving than the big titles (Fantastic Four, Ghost Rider) — then you have succeeded in killing that golden goose for the sake of the hardcore.

On the one hand, it’ll be interesting to see how Cold War fears play out twenty years out of date, though a newly resurgent Russia may give us some fodder for reflection.  On the other, will the central plot have enough meat in it to explain the intricacies of the world and enough hooks to grab a large-enough audience?  I’m not convinced that there’s enough without extending the movie well past four hours, interleaving the pirate comic and forcing people to do their homework.  The shame of it is that it’ll likely turn people off the Watchmen book and Alan Moore in general, when he’s one of the strongest modern writers, regardless of genre, I’ve read lately.


Watchmen Speculation

20 August 2008

Dear J-

There’s been a surfeit of comic book movies lately — growing up when I did, sure you had your occasional Superman movie or Batman, but the great majority of franchises crossed over from film into print, graphic or otherwise.  I have a Blade Runner graphical adaptation sitting around somewhere that reminds me of how it was in the days before home video — and even when VHS tapes ran $80 plus, no one except those crazy Laserdisc folks actually owned movies.  Instead we had still-illustrated large-format storybooks (some prepared well in advance of the final cut, if you ever get a chance, look up the Star Wars storybook, which includes a deleted scene between Biggs and Luke on Tatooine) and novelizations, where now it’s just much simpler to wait for the inevitable DVD in six months or so.

But back to comic book movies; it’s not to say that there aren’t ambiguously good heroes in graphic literature, but the movies that have been chosen draw from source material with reasonable brand recognition — Superman, Batman, Spiderman, the X-Men, Iron Man — with pretty cut-and-dried heroes.  When they come from more obscure sources, the advertising budget suffers (Ghost Rider came and went with hardly a peep, although maybe that was due to the general awfulness of the movie) and it’s not a mainstream viewing.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Watchmen are handled in their big-screen translation.  For what it’s worth, I agree with Alan Moore’s assertion that parts of it are essentially untranslateable from print to film, but comic book fans demand a certain verity and fidelity to the source material — more than most, I would assert — and I don’t doubt that they will be much disappointed.  With that said, I can’t help but believe that the character development must be far shallower, just based on time constraints.  How will that Cold War tale play out?  Only one way to learn.


Waitress Review

27 July 2008

Dear J-

We watched Waitress last night as part of the quest to stay culturally relevant (it’s difficult when you realize all the cutting-edge new music stations you listened to in college are still playing those same songs that were new — ten years ago); yes of course we revel in being old-fashioned and behind the times, but every so often it’s nice to experience something new, something that hasn’t been recycled to the point where your sense of déjà vu is merely echoing fragments of things you’ve watched before.

The fairy tale formula (distressed damsel desires dashing do-gooder’s derring-do to destroy dilemma) would have you believe that in the movie, our white knight doctor would sweep the eponymous waitress Jenna off her feet by the end of the movie.  But life’s slightly more complicated than fairy tales; although the loutish husband Earl is painted in broadly unflattering strokes, you notice, early on, the doctor’s wedding ring and wonder about his wife and who he’d leave behind.  It can’t possibly all fit together neatly by the end, you suppose, and yet it all manages to by standing the convention on its head:  she rescues him.

That’s the key, as I see it — not the roles boys and girls are supposed to play as they grow up and supposedly get better at these games, but a message of self-reliance, stripped-down and essential — if you’re waiting for someone or something, it goes a lot faster when you’re out there looking for it at the same time.  Me, I never bothered doing much pavement-pounding, resume in hand, and it obviously cost me nearly two years of a working life.  There’s a bit of a deus ex machina at the close of the movie, but it facilitates the ending rather than dictates it — you can already tell the direction she’s chosen, and the epilogue serves as a la mode to this particular slice of pie.


Mr. Bean’s Holiday

12 July 2008

Dear J-

Mr. Bean’s been in two movies; if like me you were ready to write him off after the first (way back in 1997!) or even after the uneven Johnny English, a thinly disguised version of the same bumblingly ill-natured idiot, rest assured that the 2007 movie Mr. Bean’s Holiday brings back the Bean you’re thoroughly familiar with from the television series.  Of course, if you believe he’s some sort of odd man-child who merely mugs his way via horrible faces through scenes without much thought, this isn’t the movie for you.

In his own way, Rowan Atkinson proves to be as gifted in physical comedy as, say, Jackie Chan — aside from the plastic face, there are several moments of sheer genius — some revolving around his single-mindedness in establishing a course and sticking to it, some relating to how (badly) he relates to other people.  He exhibits a decided lack of social skills, but the real trick is in what it forces other people to do in response.  What do we do when confronted with someone — something — so obviously alien to our own experience?  What do we choose to do, knowing that the other person isn’t going to know or possibly even care?

Most of the film students who turned critics drag out M. Hulot’s Holiday as a point of (admittedly superior) comparison.  Yes, Tati is a comic master and yes, there are several parallels you can draw, most notably the title and mostly silent characters, but this newer film can stand on its own, knowing that it’s not a remake, but rather a reinterpretation of how our modern lives have changed.  I enjoyed it.


Minor Anniversary

20 June 2008

Dear J-

We’re leaving work a little bit early today; as I’ve heard, the way they’ve shut down our legacy applications prior to firing up the new ones — indeed, prior to even giving us access to any of these new ones — it’s kinda like asking us to jump from a horse to a stagecoach, like you see in so many movies, except that they’ve shot the horse out from under us.

Meanwhile, I’ve completely failed to recognize the 20th anniversary of Earth*Star Voyager, which was a two-part miniseries that aired on The Wonderful World of Disney (this, durng the Eisner era) when I was looking for anything space or science fiction-related on television.  Two things in particular stand out in my memory:  setting up the rail gun, which they did under great duress; and the whole ship fitting, like a key, into a larger structure.  That all dovetailed nicely with my teenage conspiracy/hidden meanings/superstition life, when I believed in buildings being secret ectoplasmic antennae (Ghostbusters) or honeycombed with secret laboratories (Real Genius).  Hollywood’s got a lot of explaining to do, damnit.

I suppose that’s why the idea of urban exploration appeals to me; it’s like archaeology where you stand a good chance of finding out the answers (usually the history is documented someplace, and digging that up is usually as entertaining as wandering through abandoned places) and the risks are, relatively speaking, fairly low.  How many of my age group are convinced that there’s some treasure map hidden behind an old painting (The Goonies)?  Who’s worked some puzzle devices (you know, “slip the ring off the triangle” kinds of toys), convinced that there’s some practical application?

I read end-of-the-world apocalyptic tales sometimes (The Stand, On the Beach, etc.) and marvel less at the tragedy of so many lost, more at the possibilities of the ruins standing as epitaphs to our lives.  I think I’ve discussed Motel of the Mysteries here before — David Macaulay, of Pyramid, City, Castle, Cathedral, etc. fame envisions latter-day archaeologists excavating a contemporary strip motel (Motel 6-ish) and hilariously misinterpreting their discoveries; chief amongst these delights are the Sacred Points.  There’s lots of fun to be had out there, piecing together a story from fragments.


Always So Magic

6 December 2006

Dear J-,

There’s a line from The Wedding Singer that sounded great — Robbie, Adam Sandler’s character, says he wants to be a songwriter, one who’s going to write a song that makes people think “Man, I get what he was thinking when he wrote that.” Isn’t that the whole purpose of writing anything?

I’m back on the East Coast again again for the first time in what, eight years? At least since I was in school, and I can only think of everything that’s changed since then. Was it always so lonely, this being apart, a whole continent in between?

(I don’t wanna be lonely, baby, please help me)
I wanna love you all over

— Huey Lews and the News, Do You Believe in Love

I know that it’s got to be some kind of minor hell, or more precisely, some kind of karma for never appreciating all the thousands of kindnesses theVet does for me every day. Man that sounds horrible, like I just miss having a servant. Let them eat cake, that kind of stuff. Lonely’s more than that. Days like these, nights like these, I feel lonely in my own skin. I just don’t know what to do by myself any more. No, lonely’s gotta be somewhere between the last seat on the bus and watching the lights flicker and glow out at closing time. It’s empty chairs and desperate calls to 411, trying to remember, trying to reconnect. Lonely’s knowing just how many vacant minutes fill each dark night. It’s 18 000 days — 540 000 hours of knowing exactly what you need and learning how badly you picked that bet. All this time I thought the future was just more of the same, and I dreaded it a thousand times more than the million slow deaths of humiliation I’d already had in my life — the petrification of actually having to stand up and speak in front of everyone, everyone’s eyes, everyone’s expectations weighing a thousand tons of stares.

Dream a dream of the future with me — grey at the houses of worship, lines changed to canyons (you know I’m now almost halfway to where grampa was the first time we met?) — but that’s only the part I can’t control. I’ve said it before: now I can’t wait. Each day is a day closer, and thus another chance to discover. Yeah, I know it sounds completely Polyanna, sunshine lollipops and rainbows and yet I still can’t help but feel a little giddy about it all. Maybe it’s just who I am, but I’m still learning, learning that love is in the details. Figure it this way: 80 years, 365 days, 2 times the sky catches fire at dusk and dawn. 56 000 opportunities to share your life and amazing times while the world reminds you it’s all still magic, it’s all so magic.