Friday, January 30, 2009

FotM: It All Started At The Nite Owl

As with most things I do this was going to be way longer and way more complicated than it needed to be. When asked to write about the movie that had the biggest influence on me my mind swam with the possibilities. Eventually I narrowed it down to three. Three movies that I’m fairly certain are far from what anyone would expect me to write about. Each one of them was integral in their own way into really shaping the direction my life has taken. The thing was that I was two pages into the post and I still wasn’t even done discussing the first film. I realized I needed to give this approach a little more thought and in doing so I realized that out of all three of those films there really was one of them that had more of an impact than any other.

I love the book: “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie” because well, that’s just how life works. One little thing leads to another and then another and well... When I saw APOLLO 13 right around the time I entered high school it made me become fascinated with the way movies we actually made and made me realize I wanted to do more than just write them. Several years later I saw EL MARIACHI which led me to read the second most important book of my life “Rebel without a Crew” where Robert Rodriguez details how he sold himself as a lab rat and made a pretty kick-ass movie for $7,000 thus thrusting him into the Hollywood spotlight.

I have to at least mention both of these movies because they really did have a HUGE impact on my life, we just don’t have the time or the space for me to discuss them properly here. Know this though; if you think you might want to make movies read “Rebel without a Crew”. I dare anyone that reads that book to not want to go out and immediately try and make an independent film, it really is that inspiring.

It is that very mindset that leads me to talk about the film that is the actual focus of this post. I’ve never really marched to the beat of anyone else’s drummer and this has been especially true of the career I’ve sought in film. Because I read Robert Rodriguez’s book when I was a Junior in high school, because I had a like minded movie making partner, because I knew LOTS of people that had graduated film school and were now teaching pottery and because I was young and dumb I decided right out the gate I didn’t want to do the whole film school thing. I had yet to see any benefits of it so my partner and I decided we were going to take all the time, effort and money we would sink into going to film school and invest it in making a movie of our own. It was a brilliant, well conceived plan, except for the fact we had NO idea what movie we were going to make. That all changed in the late fall of 1997.

L.A. CONFIDENTIAL changed my life. It set me on a course and a life path that I am still discovering today. I love STAR WARS and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and so many other movies. All of them have had a huge impact on the kinds of stories I want to tell, but none of them (Save for STAR WARS getting the whole notion of writing going) influenced my life like Curtis Hanson’s opus.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now. L. A. CONFIDENTIAL is one of the best movies ever made. To me, it’s not even open for argument. When the movie came out it got a lot of comparisons to CHINATOWN and while I love Paul Schrader and Roman Polanksi’s, gritty crime tale it doesn’t even come close to matching L.A. CONFIDENTIAL’s brilliance. If you put the two side by side you’ll pretty easily see that L.A. CONFIDENTIAL is a far better, more complex, engaging story than the one presented in CHINATOWN. I know the AFI and darn near every critic in the world disagrees with me but if you sit down and watch them both back to back you’ll see what I mean.

For those of you unfamiliar with the movie, the story follow a trio of cops who find that as they further their careers and lives in the Los Angeles Police Department that they become more and more entwined in a sinister web of corruption, betrayal and revenge. Please note, that sentence doesn’t really do the labyrinthine plot of the movie any justice what-so-ever. L.A. CONFIDENTIAL is one of the richest, most intricate and layered stories ever committed to film. Nothing is black and white or ever really what it seems. The good guys are all deeply flawed characters and the bad guys, while duplicitous and blood-thirsty, display a certain kind of skewed, moral logic in everything they do.

One of the many, many things that L.A. CONFIDENTIAL does right is it never once dulls the sucker punches that James Ellroy’s novel gives you. Things happen so fast and so unexpectedly that your mind doesn’t have time to process everything, instead you feel every punch, every death, every twist and turn. This is never better illustrated than in the scene that changed my life.

I was sitting in the theatre blown away by the more than pleasant surprise playing out in front of my eyes when Edmond Exley, played to slimy yet noble, opportunistic, yet heroic brilliance by Guy Pearce goes to check out a robbery at the Nite Owl Diner. As soon as he arrives on the scene you know something bad has happened but nothing can prepare you for the images of unspeakable carnage waiting around the corner, in the back room, for him and the audience to discover. As the tension builds we follow the signs of brutal struggle until we are confronted by the sight of a literal pile of dead bodies, garishly stacked in the back.

Click! Like that it happened. I remember seriously almost falling out of my chair. My mind works in some sick and morbid ways, especially in the creativity department. To this day I have no idea why that single image out of everything else did it but in about a 10 second time frame that grizzly visage gave me the idea for an entire screenplay. The screenplay revolved around two shmos that work in a convenience store, that discover a pile of discarded bodies in their back room, during the middle of a blizzard. Dark, morbid humor and violent shenanigans ensue. I even named some of the characters in ways that were subtle little nods to the film that inspired the whole thing.

This screenplay would eventually be given the title HITTING THE FAN and from that night on it consumed almost every waking moment of my life for two and a half, almost three years. I wrote the screenplay over the next couple of months and one night over a Jack In the Box dinner before an opening night screening of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN my friend and I decided that was going to be the first movie we were going to make.

The story of course gets much more complicated from there. Ultimately HITTING THE FAN never got made. There are many, many reasons why but at the end of the day it pretty much comes down to the fact that it wasn’t meant to be. Man did we get close though. I mean REAL close. In fact the level of interest and involvement from people WAY above our pay grade and experience level was so overwhelming that to this day I have trouble wrapping my head around it all.

While HITTING THE FAN never fully came to be, the unthinkable experiences we had making it would ensure that I never once looked back and doubted my decisions in not only my career choice but the way I wanted to go about doing it. If L.A. CONFIDENTIAL hadn’t inspired me to write that script, if that script hadn’t gotten so much attention and come so painfully close to getting made I can very easily see myself rethinking a lot of my decisions at that early stage in my life. Maybe I would have gone back to school, maybe I would have decided movie making wasn’t such a good idea, maybe my life would have taken a RADICALLY different course, but instead this one movie and that one little image set my life on a course that I’m still travailing today.

From that moment some twelve odd years ago I’ve spent almost every ounce of blood, sweat and tears and every moment I can spare to trying to get a film made. Last August all that effort, all those years of ups and downs, triumphs and disappointments finally paid off, but none of it would have happened if a not so simple story of 1950’s era cops hadn’t randomly sparked my imagination, thus giving me a script that almost got made, thus giving me confidence to write more scripts, thus leading me into a partnership with my sister Megan, thus leading to us making a movie, thus leading to… well, that chapter hasn’t been written yet.

Not to beat a dead horse or a thinly connected correlation to a children’s book into the ground but along the same train of thought of the consequences of giving a mouse a cookie, as I sat down to write this more and more things struck me as to just how big of a role this movie played in my creative DNA.

It was while I was writing the last few pages of HITTING THE FAN, the script that L.A. CONFIDENTIAL inspired that I caught the season 2 finale of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, a show my sister had been secretly watching for months that I had laughed off as silly and childish. When I saw Buffy run Angel, her boyfriend, through with a sword, thus sending him to hell for the betterment of all mankind I became intrigued. When Megan made me sit down and watch the show I became a fanatic and overnight my myopic views on the horror genre and its possibilities changed forever. If I hadn’t been writing the script that night I wouldn’t have discovered BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, thus I wouldn’t have fallen in love with horror movies, thus I wouldn’t have ever written END, the dramatic horror / thriller we shot in August.

If it weren’t for L.A. CONFIDENTIAL I would have never discovered James Ellroy, my favorite author of all time and a man who’s brutal, staccato, razor sharp writing has affected the way I write my scripts more than perhaps anyone else. One little movie changed so much of my life that I can hardly process it all. See what happens if you give a mouse a cookie?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

I'd Like Some More Please.

Listen to this role call of names. Freddie Highmore, Mary-Louise Parker, Nick Nolte, Martin Short, Seth Rogen, David Stratharin, Tippett Studios, Industrial Light and Magic, James Horner, Michael Kahn, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, John Sayles, and those are just the names you’d be familiar with at first glance. I haven’t even gotten to Mark Waters (Director of MEAN GIRLS and FREAKY FRIDAY), Karey Kirkpatrick (Writer of CHICKEN RUN and OVER THE HEDGE) and David Berenbaum (Writer of ELF). No, this is not the production credits for some huge summer blockbuster or one of the more recent Oscar bait films to hit your local multiplex, no instead these are just some of the people behind the brilliant and criminally under seen and under recognized THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES.

Remember when family films used to be you know… good? Remember when you could look to places other than Pixar and HARRY POTTER to make quality family entertainment? When I was a kid we had movies like E.T., MONSTER SQUAD, GREMLINS, CLOAK AND DAGGER and FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR, great all ages fair that didn’t treat kids in the stories or in the audience like idiots. Movies that told imaginative, well made stories, where kids actually acted like kids and were put into honest to God, real life or death danger. These movies captured the imagination of an entire generation of you movie watchers and then just like that, they disappeared.

Personally, as with most things, I blame political correctness. Suddenly kids had to be either ludicrously vapid and clich├ęd or overtly adult, hip and too cool for school. You also couldn’t for a second allow kids to have a mind of their own or put them in situations where actual harm may come to them, because apparently that never happens in real life. Instead if you wanted any sort of family film with two brain cells to rub together it had to be animated and have a bouncing lamp as a mascot.

Imagine my surprise and delight then as I watched THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES to find that the artists involved decided to take the genre seriously again. Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy assembled people that wouldn’t tell a light and fluffy, let’s treat everyone like idiots tale, but people that who’s first and foremost mission was to simply tell a good story.

For those of you unfamiliar with the series of books the movie is based on (As I was) the story follows a fractured family who has been left with no choice but to move into a long abandoned house that’s been in their family for generations. On their first night there one of the kids discovers Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide a book that not only reveals the secrets of the fantastical, unseen world all around us, but also may very well bring about the end of the world if it falls into the wrong hands.

At a none too extravagant 100 minutes THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES takes off like a rocket and never really stops. The movie is filled with thrills, chills, fully realized characters, emotions and real world situations that give you a vested interest in everything that is happening. Best of all though the film is filled to the brim with fantastical magic, both literal and story telling wise that is all too rarely found in most family entertainment now-a-days.

THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES is my favorite kind of movie, an unsung gem that was unfairly ignored at the theatre, yet that I have no doubt will find generations of fans on home video. This movie flat out blew me away with how well done it was and how entertaining it managed to be. Ten minutes in I deeply regretted not trying harder to see this in the theatre and cursed the fact that more people don’t take this genre seriously. I mean I love the HARRY POTTER films but they shouldn’t be the only watchable, live action family films out there. Is it too much to ask that more film makers and studios give these type of films the quality and care they so richly deserve.

Mark my words, seek this film out and you will most definitely not be sorry. This is one of those films you’ll want to instantly add to your collection so that you and your offspring (Eventual or current) can enjoy it for years to come. I’m still trying to put together my Best Of list for 2008 and this movie didn’t do me any favors. I’m gonna have a real hard time not putting it somewhere on there, because it really is that good. Seriously Hollywood, take note and follow this movie’s lead, film fans of all ages will thank you for it.

My Bloody Valentine to Rambo

You know what I hate? Pretentiousness. There are few things on earth that bother me more than people who think and or try to be more than they are all just to earn the love and platitudes of a bunch of strangers. That is why I love Michael Bay.

Michael Bay catches a lot of crap and is pretty vilified throughout most of the film community. More than a few critics have decried how he is the anti-Christ of film, threatening to bring it down with his testosterone soaked orgies of explosions and mayhem. My response to that would be; yeah, so?

The beauty of someone like Michael Bay (PEARL HARBOR being the exception and we all saw how well that turned out) is that he knows when you go see a movie called BAD BOYS, you have two expectations action and some choice witty banter in the midst of the insanity. He knows that when you plop down your hard earned cash for TRANSFORMERS you’re doing so because you want to see giant freaking robots blowing crap up. Of course I was happier than a pig in squalor when I saw TRANSFORMERS on opening night and discovered that was EXACTLY what I got. I’m sure that movie had the vaguest semblance of a plot but all I really remember is Megan Fox and $150 million dollars worth of anarchy and I’m ok with that.

Tom Shadyac used to make great comedies. I mean the guy was responsible for ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE. It’s gotten to the point now though where I won’t even bother with one of his movies because they just tend to tick me off. You see somewhere around the third act of LIAR LIAR Shadyac decided his works needs to have more gravitas and a heftier and loftier message amidst all the juvenile humor. Since then his movies have been almost completely unwatchable.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for smart entertainment any time I can get it. When something can tickle the mind and the eyeballs it’s a wonderful thing and there are many of the greatest film makers of all time, the likes of Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Alfred Hitchcock and Christopher Nolan who can do it with such ease that it’s scary. I also love going to a movie expecting one thing only to find something far different, that blows away my expectations waiting for me. Heck, that’s probably how I’ve seen at least half of my favorite movies of all time. No, this is not an indictment of being able to have your cake and eat it too but there’s something to be said for guys like Mel Brooks who has never had a single serious note in anything he’s ever done and as such everything he touches is comedy gold.

All of this is a rather long preamble to explain why in the movie industry, more than anywhere else it seems people want to sell you things under the auspice that there’s far more under the surface than meets the eye. Well, I just had two recent movie experiences that show sometimes, honesty and simplicity is just what the doctor ordered.

If you had told me at the beginning of 2008 that I would be head over heels in love with RAMBO more than INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL we might have come to blows. None-the-less here we are a year later and out of all the 80’s icons that have been brought back to life in the new millennium I’m not sure any of them has made me happier than the violent escapades of one John Rambo.

Allow me if you will to describe the plot of RAMBO for you.

Rambo lives in Burma and hates life and people. A bunch of missionaries come to Rambo and ask him to take them up river to an area where a viscous, bloody civil war is going on so they can lend a hand. Rambo tells them no because to do so is suicide but finally he decides the cute blonde missionary has a good enough argument to appeal to the last shred of his humanity so he changes his mind and takes them up river. As soon as they’re off the boat and Rambo is back to his miserable existence the unnamed bad guys kidnap the missionaries and do terrible things to lots of people. The pastor in charge of the church these missionaries came from asks Rambo to transport a pack of blood-thirsty mercenaries back up river to rescue said bible thumpers. Rambo reluctantly agrees to do so and since his soul has been awakened again wants to go with the mercenaries to help rescue the people in peril. Said mercs say no but low and behold the crap hits the fan and Rambo charges in to save the day with a bow and arrow. Rambo takes charge of the rag-tag group of guns for hire and they set out to save the hostages and Burma.

What I just described to you is the first 45 minutes of a barely 90 minute (With credits) long movie. The last 45 is just simply death. It is Rambo and this group of badasses (Including a sniper with a 30 caliber howitzer of a sniper rifle) reigning justice on all who have sinned against humanity. The last 20 minutes is especially invigorating since it is quite literally, no joke, no exaggeration, Rambo with a 50 caliber, jeep mounted machine gun blowing away the scum of the earth. Then give Rambo 5 minutes to literally just stand around and look badass, cut to him returning home to America and roll credits.

In case you haven’t been able to figure it out by now this movie is AWESOME! Seriously I was so entertained I was beside myself with glee, and here’s why. Sylvester Stallone knew EXACTLY what people wanted out of a Rambo movie and didn’t deliver anything less.

While the first Rambo movie, FIRST BLOOD actually has some depth to it and stands as a pretty strong damning of the way America treats it’s heroes, especially those that fought in the Vietnam War, the 2nd two films are little more than American wish fulfillment. In FIRST BLOOD PART II Stallone goes back and wins the Vietnam War for all of America. In RAMBO III he cleans up the mess that is the Middle East. In RAMBO Stallone avenges the senseless bloodshed and violence caused by despot rulers and civil wars in third world countries around the world.

My hat is off to Stallone for realizing that no one has looked to John Rambo for anything other than violent, red, white and blue, American wish fulfillment and vigilante justice in over two decades. As such he didn’t try to shoe horn in a deeper meaning or greater sense of social importance into his film, instead he set about having Rambo kill everything that moves and as a result made an unimaginably kick-ass movie.

The second film to beautifully prove my point is a film that took me by surprise more than any other film I’ve seen in quite a wile. Seriously don’t laugh because I’m talking about MY BLOODY VALENTINE.
I’ve been sick as a dog the past couple of days and to take my mind off of it I decided a movie was just the ticket. The only problem was that I’m on so much cough syrup and all sorts of fun stuff is secreting from every part of my head so I knew I wouldn’t really be able to concentrate on some of the “heavier” films I still need to see. I had actually read some pretty kind things about MY BLOODY VALENTINE; the start time was convenient so I figured what the heck. Man oh man am I glad I did.

Hands down MY BLOODY VALENTINE is the best slasher flick to appear in theatres since the genre’s heyday in the 80’s. This doesn’t count the SCREAM franchise because those go beyond the genre by so precisely dissecting it. No, MBV (I’m tired of typing out the whole thing so that’s the acronym I’m using) is one thing and one thing only an old school 80’s style slasher flick and because it never once tries to be anything else the movie is one of the more entertaining times I’ve had at a theater in several months.

In many ways I liken MBV to the brilliant works of Edgar Wright and Co., SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ. It is obvious from the very first frame of film that the film makers LOVE 80’s slasher flicks and they are going to pay homage to them by making a flick that could have come out 20 years ago and be held up next to the likes of FRIDAY THE 13TH, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, PROM NIGHT, FRIGHT NIGHT and… well, you get the idea. The only difference between this film and say SHAUN OF THE DEAD is that at no point is it obvious that the film makers have their tongue in their cheek. However like SHAUN OF THE DEAD the film makers aren’t deconstructing or making fun of a genre, instead they are reminding everyone why we all fell in love with that genre in the first place.

Make no mistake MBV is not going to win any awards or be lauded by the film critic community. No, instead it will receive a much higher form of praise as teenagers, college students and lovers of the genre will be popping it into their DVD players, cracking open a case of beer and having a ball with a film that wears its intentions on its sleeve as it repeatedly drives a pick-axe through your skull.

No ifs, ands, or buts about it I loved these two movies. Do they hold a candle to something like IRON MAN, THE DARK KNIGHT, THE WRESTLER, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED or any of the other brilliant works of art I’ve seen over the past 12 months? No, not at all, but they’re not meant to. These films have one mission and one mission only, to entertain the crap out of you. During both of these films I was cheering, laughing and having a ball and I walked away from each one with a huge grin on my face. Is there any higher compliment a film can receive?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

FotM: Really? It just sort of comes naturally to me.

Steven Spielberg often says he can remember the first movie he ever watched and how it affected him. I have been in love with the movies for as long as I can remember, so in a way it makes me sad that I cannot remember the first film of my life.

When I sat down to think about the films that have influenced me or changed me in some way an entire rolodex of films flashed through my head, these were all films that I remember watching for the first time and watched many more times after that, movies like The Princess Bride, Star Wars, Blazing Saddles, L.A. Confidential, The Fountain and a whole slew of movies in between. I was fully prepared to write about The Usual Suspects and how greatly that movie influenced my view on movies and filmmaking until I realized that sure, The Usual Suspects influenced me but it was not the first movie to influence me – there had to be movies that put a love of films in place long before I ever encountered the world of Verbal Kint as a high schooler. It was then that it struck me, one of the movies that has had the single most influence on me through my entire life is Superman.

From my earliest days I remember that my father had a hardbound copy of a collection of early Superman comics. He kept it on an immense bookshelf that was built into an entire wall of my brother’s room. More than once I remember (before I was tall enough to reach) climbing up this book shelf so that I could grab this book and haul it back down where I would sit and flip through the pages watching Clark Kent & Superman’s exploits. Superman fascinated me. You can imagine how much more I was fascinated when I was old enough to see and process Superman the movie.

To this day I remember the awe my childhood mind felt as I saw Superman stand on the side of a building and thwart a jewel thief, fly with Lois Lane and yes – even fly around the world backwards to reverse time and save the day. I didn’t think about the special effects involved, I just thought about Superman and that maybe Christopher Reeve really was him, he just hid it like Clark Kent did. I loved that movie and it increased my love of that hero. Superman was real to me because he had flown off the pages of my dad’s book and into a movie.

As I grew up I kept watching Superman and as I evolved as a film viewer and later a filmmaker how the movie influenced me evolved too. I saw Superman II and realized that Superman had other levels to him, I then watched Superman III and realized I wasn’t going to like every Superman film that was ever made. But I would still watch the first film and I would be happy, even as I realized that Christopher Reeve wasn’t Superman, and that the film itself was very flawed in regards to the story itself and the way it treated the main characters.

One of the saddest days of my life was the day that Christopher Reeve was thrown from his horse. I remember thinking that Superman couldn’t be hurt like that, even though I knew he wasn’t really Superman. It was after that accident that Superman and Christopher Reeve somehow separated and entwined even more for me because as Christopher Reeve came back into the public eye as a quadriplegic and became an activist for the paralyzed research into spinal cord injuries he showed me that it was possible to conquer even the most daunting odds, and somehow doing all of this in a broken body made him even closer to the Superman I always thought he was as a child. To this day I am a fan and supporter of the Christopher Reeve Foundation. I don’t admit this often but I actually cried the day that Christopher Reeve died.

Through my adolescence I became more interested in Superman the character and I continued to watch Superman the movie. At some point as I became what I call a Superman purist I realized that no matter how much I adore that movie when it boils down to is Superman has never been faithfully adapted to screen and Superman & Superman II were fatally flawed and cheesy, though not entirely the fault of the filmmakers (who didn’t have movies like Rami’s Spiderman to bolster them) as too few good versions of comic book movies existed until a few years ago. This has not made me hate Superman, it has simply made me realize that despite the talents that went into making the movie, a better version could still exist.

When God finally hit me over the head with the knowledge I wanted to direct Superman stayed with me, but again my interest in it kept evolving; I could see the flaws and the beauty of the film and when Superman Returns came out my love of Superman evolved yet again because I realized if I ever am going to get to see Superman and Clark Ken the way I see the characters in my head, I or someone like me needs to be the one that makes a Superman movie. The first real hard thoughts of a dream project were born. It’s a project that I may never get to make, but it’s a project that inspires me – all because I fell in love with Superman as a child.

When it boils down to it Superman is one of the many, many movies that influenced me as I grew up, but I think it is one of the few movies that is going to stay with me in some way my entire life. So as I work on my computer at my job and Superman stares at me, as the symbol hangs on my Christopher Reeve Foundation key tag, my Superman shirt stares out from my closet, or one of many images looks at me from my bedroom walls I can remember that it all started with my Dad’s book and Superman the movie.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Window and a Magnifying Glass

I’ve never been a terribly voracious carnivore, but the best way that I think I can explain what the movies mean to me is to bring up steak. Imagine for a moment that you are a person who loves the stuff. You’d probably have all of your favorite restaurants all lined up in your mind, ranked from best to worst or worst to best, based on the quality of the steak. But the thing that would probably stick out in your mind was the one steak that stood out above the rest; the one steak that started this great love affair. I bet you’d know exactly where it was and how wonderful it tasted. In fact, I bet that every other time you’d go out to eat, that one steak would be in the back of your mind, poking at you. Sure, you might go to Carl’s Jr. to enjoy a hamburger now and then, but you’d know that the strangely named “Six Dollar Burger” didn’t even compare to “the one.” Even if you went to an upscale restaurant with excellent cuisine, while you might enjoy the food, that steak would still be in your thoughts. Then, just when you’d just about began to give up hope that you’d ever have one that good again, you go out and VOILA! Brought to you on a plate that might as well have come borne on the wings of an angel comes another that you’ll remember for a long time, maybe forever.

That is how I feel about the movies. “The one” directly correlates to the films that have left such an imprint on me that I consider the time when I watched them to be a life-altering event. I have often been told that my love of the cinema is misplaced and that the devotion that I bring to the films I love (and the films I hope to love) would be better placed elsewhere. People have said things to me like “it’s only a movie” and “there’s more to life than movies.” By their own statements, they have implied that the type of things that they love and value are somehow inherently more important than the one thing that has become the great passion of my life. I disagree. While I cannot dispute that there is more to life than thinking about, talking about, and watching films, I find it troublesome that these other people feel a need to discredit my connection with the cinema because they do not understand it. At the end of the day, I have decided that I am truly a very fortunate person to have found something that I have connected with on such a personal level. If those individuals who don’t understand have never felt such a passion for something in their own lives, then I sincerely feel sorry for them.

I’ve been blessed with many “steaks” in my life, some of which I have spoken with you about here. I would like to talk about the one that is most prominent in my memory and left the deepest impression.

It was January 7, 2005. My sister and I went to a 1:15 showing at the Block of Orange in Orange, CA. We bought our tickets at 1:00 and entered one of the multiplex’s larger theaters, which was mostly empty, due to the time and the fact that the movie was in limited release. The film was Million Dollar Baby. I sat there in my seat for 2 hours and 12 minutes, and when I left, I was a different person. I don’t think it was something that I really realized at first. My sister and I, who normally don’t have any trouble finding things to talk about, drove the 15 minutes it took to get home in relative silence. The rest of my day was spent thinking about the film. I literally could not take my mind off of it. Even when I tried to think about something else, I just couldn’t do it. The film seemed to be demanding my attention, even though it had been over for hours.

Million Dollar Baby is the story of three people whose lives come together in a boxing gym. Frankie (Clint Eastwood) owns the facility and manages boxers that he deems worthy, and Scrap (Morgan Freeman) serves as the gym’s janitor. Maggie (Hilary Swank) comes to the gym and begins training in the hopes that Frankie will help her become a professional fighter. Frankie reluctantly agrees and the two begin working their way toward a title fight.

What makes this film a tricky one is that, for much of its duration, it’s a conventional boxing picture, albeit a very good one at that. Then, around the midpoint, everything changes. Everything. Million Dollar Baby becomes not only a look at the prices one must pay to get to the top, but also becomes a meditation on the meaning of friendship, loyalty, and what happens when someone is forced to give up a dream. I don’t feel that I am justified in going into detail about exactly what takes place in the film, despite the fact that it’s been out for several years. A part of me seems to rebel against that, due to having had a number of films spoiled for me in that way. However, what I will say is that the film shook me to my shoes, so to speak. It took a very complex issue that, to that point, I had very brusquely presumed that I knew my feelings on and turned it upside down. For the first time, I was forced to truly consider it and question my old assumptions. Easy answers weren’t enough. They couldn’t be. Somehow, Frankie, Maggie, and Scrap didn’t deserve that. For the first time, I became aware that some questions cannot be answered. Some decisions are too terrible to be justified, whether the decision is to do something or not to do something. Either way, with some things in life, perhaps with too many things, someone loses.

I think that my experience watching Million Dollar Baby makes a larger point about what I love about the movies. When I watch a film, I am not interested in merely being entertained, although I hope to enjoy the films that I watch. What I want is a window and a magnifying glass. The window is an opening into the life of another person or group of people. This person might be a lot like me, or we might have nothing in common. The magnifying glass is that chance to do the single most important thing that one person can do for another. It gives me the chance to understand. It is not the enjoyment of seeing beautiful people in exotic locations or seeing people escape dangerous situations with explosions going off all around that entices me. It is that chance to understand that makes going to the movies so special for me. The other stuff may be enough for some people, but not for me.

That’s why I refuse to watch some films. Some friends of mine present the idea that I need to broaden my horizons and watch more movies. However, I remind you of that steak I mentioned earlier. That’s what I’m after, not the cheap imitations. Sure, I might go get “fast food” sometimes by going to see a film that’s just trying to be funny, entertaining, and harmless, but that steak is always in the back of my mind. In fact, I think it’s in the back of my mind every single time I watch a new film. I’m always hopeful that whatever film I’m watching will be another life-changing moment. With high hopes like that, I’m usually disappointed, because those moments are few and far between. Of course, I know that certain films won’t be able to meet those standards, but I always hold out that hope.

4 years later, Million Dollar Baby is still one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen. Since that overcast January afternoon, I’ve seen a few films that have stopped me in my tracks, but those that have impacted me like Million Dollar Baby are fewer still. I believe that that connection is the highest aim and goal of cinema, and that’s why I go to the movies.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What the...? YOU CAN'T BE SERIOUS!

Ok, I try not to write too many things when I’m angry but screw that noise because I’m pissed! The Academy Awards nominations came out today and these were the Best Picture nominees: THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, MILK, THE READER, SLUMDOG MILLIONARE and FROST / NIXON. Notice anything missing? You know, maybe like the highest grossing film of the year, the 2nd highest grossing film of all time and yet still one of the most critically lauded films of the year? A film that has wound up on almost every top 10 list of every critic everywhere in America and was nominated by the Producers Guild of America and too many other organizations to list, you know that little movie called THE DARK KNIGHT?

I’ll admit that as a Batman freak I am more than a little biased towards the film but even then I think there are very few people in America, heck the world that will disagree with me that THE DARK KNIGHT was easily one of the best movies of 2008. I’m working on my best of 2008 list right now and when I do I will fully go into my feelings on the film but know this, in my mind it was without equal this year or heck almost any year. It’s not only the best movie of 2008 but also the best comic book movie ever made and hands down one of the single best movies I’ve ever seen and while I know I may be marching to the beat of a different drummer on some things there are countless people that agree with me.

Admittedly I have yet to see all 5 of the Best Picture nominees but of the ones I have seen I don’t hesitate to say that none of them can hold a candle to Christopher Nolan’s brilliant opus. I’m trying to keep an open mind but I’m fairly certain I’m going to feel exactly the same about the other movies when I’ve seen them as well.

The Oscars have been wrong in the past but I don’t think I can ever think of a situation where it’s been this egregious. It’s not like people were expecting them to nominate MEN IN BLACK or INDEPENDENCE DAY, but is it too much to ask to nominate one of the most well made, deeply probing, socially relevant, crime sagas of all time? Apparently it is if it’s a comic book movie.

Remember when the Oscars used to nominate movies that people actually saw and liked? It really wasn’t as long ago as you think. TITANIC, FORREST GUMP BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, BRAVEHEART, UNFORGIVEN, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, STAR WARS, THE GODFATHER, these are all GREAT movies that practically everyone in America saw and loved and the Academy recognized that.

I’ll be the first to admit that the number of truly intelligent and genuinely good, big budget blockbuster films is few and far between now-a-days but that doesn’t mean they’ve gone completely the way of the Dodo and THE DARK KNIGHT proved that. For the past several years the ratings for the Oscar telecasts have plummeted to historic lows because many people complain they’ve lost their relevance. Here was an opportunity to JUSTLY nominate a film that everyone loved and that would have brought in viewers by the truckload. The ratings would have been through the roof and the Academy would have been able to prove that they are still in touch with the American film culture.

For years I’ve argued against all the naysayer that complain the Oscars have become nothing more than a more extravagant version of the Independent Spirit Awards and that they represent the views of a bunch of better than thou, nose in the air, pretentious art snobs. After this I’m throwing in the towel and switching sides because I’m afraid this proves they’re probably right. This group of Oscar nominations has concretely proved that for the most part the Academy Awards are a joke. I guarantee you that not a single one of those five Best Picture nominees will stand the test of time like THE DARK KNIGHT. The Oscars for the year 2008 won’t be remembered as the year SLUMDOG MILLIONARE or THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON won, it will be remembered as the year THE DARK KNIGHT should have been nominated and the year the Academy added one more nail to their coffin.

Will I watch the Oscars? Of course, I’m a whore, they and I know it. Will I be as pissed off then as I am now? Maybe, we’ll have to wait and see, regardless though I really think this is a travesty for the artistic community and all those who think just because you have money, prestige and are a tent-pole film doesn’t mean you have to phone it in. Hollywood used to understand it and I think it’s shamefully sad that the few people that set out to show that can still be done only get slapped in the face for their efforts. Shame on the Academy and everyone too myopic to pull their heads out and smell the brilliance.

Call the doctor, 'cause my jaw hit the floor . . .

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has always had a fiercely independent streak. At the end of the day, it doesn't always matter what success a film's had at the Guild awards or at the Golden Globes. If the Academy likes it, it's in. If not, too bad.

I actually considered getting up to see the nominations this morning. Then, I saw that they were going to be at 5:30 AM. Like that's going to happen. Besides, I don't have cable, so that ruled it out anyway.

The nominations have a TON of things missing, and I'm really surprised that they snubbed some of the films and performances that they did. Here we go . . .

  • Not having Clint Eastwood in the Best Actor category is a travesty. He could have WON this award for his performance in Gran Torino. I have never seen him better, and to see him snubbed was not something that I expected, especially considering the fact that he's usually an Academy favorite.

  • The Dark Knight gets shut out in the Best Picture race, while The Reader gets in? I have mixed feelings about this, as I like both films. I can take solace in the fact that I called The Reader as my #1 dark horse for the #5 slot. Still, while it's not the single greatest movie made this decade, as some would have you believe, I really thought that the Academy would recognize The Dark Knight.

  • What might actually be the biggest surprise is NO SALLY HAWKINS in the Best Actress category!!!!!! She's gotten so much acclaim for her performance in Happy-Go-Lucky, and I think it's ridiculous to think that she missed out on this. I thought with her Globe win that she'd be in for sure, and I even thought that she'd be a major contender.

  • Kate Winslet finally ended up in the right category for The Reader, but it's still surprising. That category (Best Actress) is going to be a slugfest this year. In the end, I'm really ok with her not having been nominated for Revolutionary Road, as she gave a better performance in The Reader, which was a MUCH better film.

  • Michael Shannon squeeked in in the Supporting Actor category for his role in Revolutionary Road but Leonardo DiCaprio gets shut out in the Best Actor category? I don't get it. Shannon was annoying, gimmicky, and overstated, while DiCaprio created a very complex character. He deserved better.

  • No Vicky Cristina Barcelona in the Best Original Screenplay category? You think Woody Allen just MIGHT have deserved the slot that went to WALL-E?

  • No Bruce Springsteen in the Best Original Song category? The Academy can nominate up to 5 songs, and they only come up with 3? Unbelievable.

  • Slumdog Millionaire gets 10 nominations. 10? Really? You'll probably hear a lot more from me in the future on this, but, while it's a really good film, I don't think all this hoopla is entirely warranted.
Stay tuned to the site over the next several weeks. We'll keep you posted on any breaking developments.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Something to Watch For

Originally uploaded by mrbosslady
I am just chiming in quickly to point something out. Tomorrow as most of you know, the Oscar nominations are announced. What is fun about that for me personally is that this will define the next few films I am going to see; however, the really fun thing to watch is that after tomorrow morning people will stop mentioning the Golden Globes.

Sorry to all the winners of the Globes, but the Academy Awards are bigger, and unless you're in TV no one gives a damn if you won a Globe once the little bald guys come into the picture.

I'd say it's sad but who am I kidding? I love the Oscars.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Oh no, someone's talking politics!

This website is not dedicated to politics. If it were I’d be saying more than a few things about the change in leadership the country experienced today. I’m pretty politically minded and I’ve definitely got more than a few opinions on what’s been going on in the United States over not only the past few months, but the past few years as well, opinions that I’m fairly certain many of the people that contribute to or read this site don’t agree with. That’s not what this post or this site is about though so relax and put away your pitchforks and torches. We talk about movies here and that’s what I’m going to do now. A pretty big change was made in our country today and I’m sorry but I just can’t help but comment on it because, well… brace yourself, movies are gonna suck!

I suppose I should preface this by saying that this isn’t an exact science but during my 29 years on this planet I’ve learned that for the most part there is no greater artistic force than a pissed off liberal! Now look around you is there a single liberal anywhere in America that isn’t smiling ear to ear? Seriously turn on your TV, most of them were at Barack Obama’s inauguration and outside of a post Oscar party I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a happier bunch of celebrities.

Don’t get me wrong, America’s gone through some pretty dark times over the past few years and regardless of your political affiliation or whether or not such emotions are warranted or called for there’s a sense of hope attached with the swearing in of the 44th President of the United States that I can’t recall for any other elected official in my lifetime. That’s not a political statement or an editorial opinion that’s just an observation on the current social climate of the world around me. As an eternal optimist this makes me happy, the idea of so much hope permeating the American public at this moment in history is a good thing, unless you follow the arts.

Seriously look back at the history of this country the majority of our best art comes when people are miserable, down trodden and generally pissed off. For most of the artistic community they seem to feel like this anytime a Republican is in office. How many great movies were made during Clinton’s term as president? A few but NOTHING like what we’ve seen over the past couple of years.

If the last five plus years hadn’t been filled with so much confusion, despair, violence, apathy and well… you get the idea would we have NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, THERE WILL BE BLOOD, MUNICH any of the Jason Bourne films or worst yet THE DARK KNIGHT? I don’t think so. All of those movies and so many more were birthed out of the righteously indignant minds of the world’s greatest film makers.

Music, comics, literature, television and most of all film have all enjoyed something of a new renaissance over the last several years and now that Obama has taken office what do we have to look forward to? Nothing, most likely it’s just gonna be a bunch of phoned in, touchy-feely crap because every actor, writer and director worth his salt is going to be too busy trying to save the world, not put out quality entertainment! PAUL BLART: MALL COP was the number one movie at the box office this weekend, coincidence? I think not, more like a harbinger of the things to come I say!

So go ahead, sit there on your couch with a huge grin on your face and hope in your heart as what most people think is a new day dawns in America. Will our economy, education and health care systems be fixed along with our world image and too many other problems to count? Who knows, all I know is I’m gonna have to make sure my DVD player is running at it’s optimal level because it’s gonna be just about the only place I’ll be able to gain viewing satisfaction for the next 4 or… I shudder to think 8 years!

(I leave it up to the reader to figure out how much of this post is good natured satire but consider this. Movies made while Bill Clinton was in office: THE POSTMAN, BATMAN AND ROBIN, STOP OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT, JUDGE DREDD, LOST IN SPACE, SHOWGIRLS. Movies made while Ronald Reagan was in office: RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, GHOSTBUSTERS, DIE HARD, LETHAL WEAPON, ALIENS… I could go on and on. =-)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Recognizing the Small & Different

Call me bitter, but I am really upset that Charlie Kaufman is nominated for an Independent Spirit Award in the Best First Feature category.

Traditionally this category is one of my favorite awards in any award show. The ISA’s are the one organization that still truly honors filmmakers that make startling and different films, films that no one has ever heard of and Best First Feature is an award that has honored filmmakers that were just starting out in their careers; these directors have included Ali Selim, Zach Braff, Patty Jenkins, Peter Care, and more people that you’ve heard mentioned but perhaps didn’t know what film they made or who they are.

The problem I have with Charlie Kaufman being nominated for Best First Feature at the ISA’s isn’t that Synecdoche, New York isn’t his first feature – it is unarguably his directorial debut – but my objection is the fact that Charlie Kaufman is already a very big name in the film industry. Kaufman is an acclaimed and award winning screenwriter for films like Adaptation, Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Anyone who knows contemporary film knows Kaufman.

While I am glad Kaufman is directing if that is really something he wants to branch into, I feel like he is taking away a chance for a lesser filmmaker to be recognized.

Perhaps though my frustration is more with the ISA’s than Kaufman’s nomination in the First Feature category. I do believe that the ISA’s are one of the most honorable and worthy awards you can be nominated for, one of the organizations still trying to recognize the different and the small, the films that no one else sees; however, I do feel that slowly and surely what used to be independent film is now mainstream (though small) and the ISA’s are losing some of the distinctions they used to have from awrd shows like the Oscars. Last year Juno was nominated for Best Feature at the ISA’s and for Best Picture at the Oscars.

I love my ISA’s and want them to continue recognizing the diverse group that they do but I do wish that we could have a show that even though it is the day before the Oscars it didn’t honor the same films and people as the Oscars.

Monday, January 12, 2009

What have we learned today, kids?

As you probably know, the Golden Globes were last night. While many of the categories went the way that they'd been expected to, there were a few surprises. Although a Golden Globe win doesn't always directly translate into an Oscar, there are a few things we can take from the show last night that will help with handicapping the Oscar race.

  • As a result of her 2 Golden Globe wins last night, Kate Winslet's chances just got that much stronger. She'd already cemented herself in the Supporting race, but now I think her chances in the Best Actress race are a lot better now. She's still going to have to go through Sally Hawkins and Meryl Streep, but it is possible.

  • The stigma against deceased actors winning Oscars got a little smaller with Heath Ledger's win at the Globes last night.

  • In case you hadn't already realized it, Slumdog Millionaire is now the heavy favorite in the Best Picture and Best Director races. There's still a ton of time between now and the Oscar telecast on February 22, but all the momentum is its corner. Consider this: Slumdog Millionaire won 4 Golden Globes last night. Frost/Nixon: 0. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: 0. Doubt: 0. Those are some heavy duty competitors, and Slumdog held every last one of 'em off.

We'll see . . .

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Can You Feel It?

Why do we do this? Those of this that love film, that devour it, wrap ourselves in it and let it seep into every fiber of our being? Those of us that make movies, write about and discuss movies or just plain sneak away to huddle in a darkened theatre with total strangers every chance we get, why do we do it?

It is because we care. I don’t mean movies hold a much more prominent place of relevance for us than most… although that’s very true, no I mean we care deep down in that one thing that can not be fooled, that one thing that for better or worse drives almost everything we do, our heart.

You’ll have to excuse me but I just did something I don’t do very often, I cried. To make this rarity even more... rare, water emitted from my eyes because of something I was watching. Now, I must admit that this thing I was watching actually happened to be a TV show, and since this site is devoted to movies, the mention of such a thing borders on blasphemy but bear with me.

Big or small screen, nine times out of ten I watch what I watch because of how it hits my heart, not my head. Now don’t get me wrong, the old noggin’s working all the time as well but unless my heart feels it my head could care less.

I love movies that make me second guess every thought I have with each new plot twist and turn. I love razor sharp wit fired backed and forth through fork-tongued dialogue. There are few greater joys in life than discovering a movie, or any piece of art for that matter, that make the mind spin endlessly as it mulls the great truths of our existence. But you know what? If there aren’t characters I connect with, heroes I root for, heroines I swoon for (I know it’s not really manly for a guy to swoon but go with me here), comedic relief to chuckle at and heart strings to be pulled whichever way a talented storyteller wants then at the end of the day it’s all for not.

The purpose of this post isn’t to get too deep or wax all poetic. This is me thinking out loud. I love movies, I love movies more than almost anything in life (Save for God, family, friends, you know the REAL good stuff). There are very few things on earth that give me more pleasure, more peace even than sitting down and watching a well told story unfold in front of my eyes. I love anything that can truly engage me and sitting here watching this stupid little half hour of television (OK, it was SCRUBS which is pretty much one of the most brilliant half hours of television, ever) I couldn’t help but think that no matter how all of us high fluting, subtext peeling, psychobabble talking film geeks love to talk about the beauty of the craft and the brilliance of the writer, directors, actors and everyone else in between, Mel Brooks is brilliant because he had a dude punch a horse.

Seriously when you have a few moments to yourself think about why you love the movies you love? Sure THE USUAL SUSPECTS is one of the smartest films ever made, but the reason you first fell in love with it is because the moment they revealed who Keyzer Soze was you FELT just like everyone that had been duped by the greatest criminal to ever grace the silver screen. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is my favorite movie of all time. It’s smart, it’s witty, it’s action packed but most of all it is just flat out fun. As much as I love every word of Lawrence Kadsdan’s script and Steven Spielberg’s direction, watching Harrison Ford punch a Nazi in the face (And hearing that oh so beautiful Ben Burtt sound design blare from the speakers) makes me as giddy as a 10 year old boy because by God, it’s a blast!

“I’ll have what she’s having.” “As you wish.” “Yippee-ki-yay Mother#%(!@^.” “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” “It’s the stuff dreams are made of .” “Bond, James Bond.” “Use the Force Luke.” “Give me a ping, Vasili. One ping only, please.” Those are all great lines who’s mere mention evoke a litany of responses, not because of the brilliance of word play, but the thrill of emotion each one made you feel!

I love writing about movies. I love talking about them, thinking about them and even better yet, making them but above all else I love feeling them. It’s what got me hooked on their heady elixir all those years ago and if some day, something that I write can make some grown man weep or jump out of his chair and cheer not because his brain told him to, but because his heart did, well then that will be a fine day indeed.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

2008: A Year in Movies...

Originally uploaded by mrbosslady
2008 held a lot of surprises for me in many ways both in my life and in my movie viewing. Some movies blew my socks off when I didn’t except them to be nearly as good as they turned out to be, some movies met my every expectation and some movies in the end underwhelmed me. All in all I still loved spending 2008 in the movies.

I can’t remember a year though where one movie so completely overwhelmed me and became my standout favorite of the year before the year was nearly done – it’s not that I expected this movie to be bad and it wasn’t, I just didn’t expect this film to rocket onto my top films of all time after the first viewing. It was the absolute biggest surprise of the year for me at the movies…and when I eventually finish my 2008 movie watching you will find out what the movie is.

I wanted to take a moment and ask our readers to think about what you saw at the theatres this year and if there was one movie that took you by surprise, or even that you just dearly loved please leave a comment and let me know.

Here’s hoping for a great 2009!