Mike offers up some sage, useful history tidbits about the month of March.
…. okay, Mike just talks about March a little bit.
Mike offers up some sage, useful history tidbits about the month of March.
…. okay, Mike just talks about March a little bit.
Well, it’s Award Season – Golden Globes, Academy Awards, BAFTA, SAG Awards, the Razzies – you name it, people are giving out awards. But we here at the Movie Mangle would like to do something less traditional. Like many average Joe’s, I haven’t seen all (or most) of the nominated movies this year. So while I will be losing the Academy Awards bingo, I want to bestow my OWN awards for the movies that impacted me last year (not the tooth that impacted me last year – that jerk gets NO award!). Ladies and gents, I present to you… the Mangle Awards!
#1 WORST MOVIE WITH BEST POTENTIAL: “Escape From Tomorrow”
You’ve probably heard of this one – a filmmaker wrote a “script,” had his actors memorize and rehearse, then snuck his whole sound and film team in to shoot it all in Disney World. Theoretically, this could be really cool. (In fact, a short film titled “Missing In The Mansion” did the same thing and was very fun!) But no.
It starts off fine, a story about a 40-something father of two who gets fired on the morning that he brings his family to Disneyland, then following his point of view as he does creepy things like stalking some underage French girls around the park. The whole point of the movie is to subvert the idea of Disney perfection and showing the juxtaposition between the seeming innocence of Disney and the realities of how adults think and behave.
But then it goes off the rails. The main character starts seeing trippy, LSD-like things happen around him and there’s some stupidity about a “cat flu” going around, so the movie becomes surreal, but then tries to hold on to some kind of reality and never achieves the kind of connection that even a David Lynch movie has. A waste of time.
#2 BEST TRANSFORMERS MOVIE: “Pacific Rim”
If only Guillermo del Toro had been brought on for the first TRANSFORMERS movie, I might still be watching its‘ copious sequels. But instead, we wait a decade or so to watch PACIFIC RIM – or, as I’m sure it was pitched – “Transformers meets Godzilla.”
I’ve heard a lot of people whine about how the effects were great but they were disappointed in the lack of characters and development. I disagree. In fact, I went in expecting ROCK ‘EM SOCK ‘EM MONSTERS AND ROBOTS and instead found some pretty solid emotional and character grounding….. plus some pretty spectacular rock ‘em sock ‘em monsters and robots! PACIFIC RIM made a monster movie better than past GODZILLA’S and CLOVERFIELD and beat TRANSFORMERS in the giant robot department. Personally, I can’t wait for the sequel.
#3 BEST DOCUMENTARY DIRECTED BY DAVE GROHL: “Sound City”
I love music documentaries, especially when they involve “behind-the-scenes” of an album. Of the handful of music docs I saw last year, my two faves were “A BAND CALLED DEATH” (You should definitely check that one out, btw) and “SOUND CITY.” The latter is Nirvana and Foo Fighters member Dave Grohl’s directorial debut.
Sound City was a recording studio in the Valley that had incredible acoustics, an incomparable soundboard, and history of recording some of the biggest records and bands of the past few decades: Nirvana, Fleetwood Mac, Nine Inch Nails, Rick Springfield, etc. Alas, it went out of business. But before it did, Dave Grohl bought the fabled soundboard, installed it in his own state-of-the-art home studio, and made this killer documentary. And THEN, he invited some of the more prestigious people who ever recorded at Sound City and had them come record some tracks at his studio.
Seriously, this is worth watching for a thirty-second Paul McCartney moment alone.
**bonus awesome: Sound City is available right now on Amazon Instant Video, FREE to Prime members… just sayin***<Click here to watch Sound City for FREE on Amazon>
#4 BEST UNDER THE RADAR SURPRISE: “Trance”
I vaguely remember the previews for this one. Vaguely. But an acquaintance from work (at Stan’s Donuts N’ Firearms) had a digital copy that he was selling for the low low price of “stop blackmailing my wife” so I checked it out. And it’s GREAT!
Danny Boyle directs this thriller about an art heist and the hypnotist (James McAvoy) hired to figure out what happened to it. Smart, tight, and featuring an equally smart and tight (and naked!) Rosario Dawson, this is one of the handful of psychological thrillers that does a really good job of keeping the ending a surprise. With great performances and a fun twisty story, I recommend TRANCE to everybody. (I have a digital copy if you want to borrow it. Plus some nice blackmail material if you wish to peruse.)
#5 BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT SINCE INDIANA JONES 4: “Man Of Steel”
This movie was so bad it made me angry.
It’s a lot of non-linear storytelling that doesn’t reveal anything so much as simply stop the narrative dead several times. Characters make ridiculous decisions that as an audience member I cannot relate to (See: Clark’s father’s death), they have blase reactions to monumental happenings (see: Clark’s MOM’s reaction to aliens wrecking her home), and we’re supposed to simply understand who people are by them TELLING us their caricature type (see: Lois’s first scene) so that we don’t have to see people interact and learn about them. Hence, we don’t care. At all.
And good thing, too! Because once we’re halfway through the movie, everything and everyone in Metropolis and Smallville is completely destroyed with no thought to life or property. BUT Superman cares for us humans SO MUCH!!! (When and where does he do this? Oh, right: never. He just says it but then lets people die and destroys buildings thoughtlessly.)
This is where I point out that the only person who has ever made a good Superman movie was Richard Donner. In the exact same scenario (Zod and alien supercohorts attack and destroy Metropolis), Superman reveals his WEAKNESS: caring so much for people’s lives that he spends most of his time PROTECTING them rather than FIGHTING the enemy. (And yes, that was Richard Donner’s movie – I don’t care who’s name is on the credit card in Superman 2.) We get to see Clark slowly grow up and deal with his problems and see his connection to his parents in realtime and feel for him in the first SUPERMAN movie. Here, the same beats are played out, but even though the CGI is great and could pull us into more character development, it’s simply a sight gag in Hack Snyder’s hands.
Oh, and Superman needs to have a love affair with Lois. Right. So add that checkmark and make sure that they kiss at the end of the movie. Why? Because “Superman loves Lois Lane.” Says so in the comics. Check. Got it. Ignore the fact that they have, oh, ZERO chemistry or moments of intimacy in the movie.
MAN OF STEEL had some great design elements and could have been a really good ten minute film.
I wish it had been.
#6 BEST ANNIVERSARY RE-RELEASE: “The Wizard Of Oz in 3D IMAX”
And it was fantastic. I’m not a fan of 3D most of the time and I find it to be a money-grab more often than not, but the depth and clarity of the picture (you could see the SEAMS in the clothing and baldcaps!) for this was incredible. And the movie itself?
Come on, I’m not even going to review it. If you’re not a fan of The Wizard of Oz…. something’s wrong.
And there you have it! Matt’s Mangle Awards for 2013. Let me know if I missed any great or unique movies by commenting below and I’ll see you at the Oscar Bingo game!
PS. As always, if you like what you see we really appreciate your positive reinforcement. Please share your thoughts and send to a friend. Cheers!
An article recently found its way onto the internet’s official gossip-and-misinformation site Facebook. It claimed that JK Rowling had officially announced that she was going to write an eighth volume in the epic Harry Potter series. People went crazy, naturally, and there was all kinds of speculation and fan fainting, I’m sure. Nobody checked to see that the date of the original article was April 1, 2013 – and I’m not sure that Snopes is the right place to debunk that kind of misinformation. I imagine that after finding out that there will be, in fact, NO more Harry Potter books ever, legions of momentarily excited fans went into a deep depression without realizing that the promise of never writing about that character again is the greatest gift JK Rowling could ever give the world.
There are a number of tales universal in their popularity and reach that can be called “classic” or “timeless,” the more modern of which include the STAR WARS saga, the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, and the Harry Potter stories. Not only do these epic stories deal with characters and places that are not “modern,” and are therefore timeless, but they are well-told tales that employ the monomyth – also known as the Hero’s Journey – to great effect. Each features an untested hero who must move out of his comfort zone into a new “world,” stock characters who fulfill the roles of guide, sidekick, shapeshifter, love interest, guardians, and of course, the Shadow or main opponent. Each of these beloved stories has a definitive beginning, middle and end. Some go longer than the three-act structure to achieve this, but all have satisfying conclusions.
This satisfying conclusion is where things begin to get problematic. Popularity is profit and many people make and made lots of money on quality storytelling with satisfying conclusions. But businesses are not content with the amount of money they make from a project until they have found every possible way to squeeze it to death. This is not a creative decision, it is a financial one. Epic stories such as The Dark Tower, Game of Thrones (if that blasted George RR Martin will ever give his hungering fans another book), and Star Wars are seen by these businesses as little more than cash cows, and it’s when these guys get their hands on our precious tales that the march toward death for creativity begins its steady drumbeat.
The Harry Potter story (SPOILERS approaching, kids) ends perfectly: the seven-volume-long story of a boy whose life-long destiny and battle with the single greatest force of evil ever to exist (for Voldemort was essentially the sometimes-physical embodiment of pure evil) concludes with a well-thought-out and deserved finale based on character and well-paced plot. Our hero, after years of fighting, has vanquished the greatest enemy in the world. In a coda, we see that he has grown up to have children and that he is now living a normal life. He has fulfilled his destiny. End of story.
It’s perfect. And so obviously, people want more. Because perfection isn’t enough. You want to experience that perfection again and again in exactly the same way. In a perfect world, we could erase the memory of reading or watching these stories so that we could go through that experience of discovery and excitement again. What is NOT possible is to continue a story that has ended.
Now, of course, it IS possible. Anything is possible. But it’s a mistake. It’s the storytelling equivalent of drinking just enough alcohol to feel fantastic and then doing one more shot of vodka – it doesn’t increase your pleasure, it starts to make things much worse. Once Cinderella has married the Prince, we’re done. The sequel is exactly five words: She lived happily ever after. Because there is no more story. Can you invent something? Sure. But it’s not going to work. It’s going to be something else. And there is a difference between a cinematic sequel and the kind of story continuation I’m talking about: without sequels, there would be no STAR WARS, LOTR or Harry Potter. The sequels were necessary to complete the epic stories. But you know when the story is done. You can feel it. When Luke Skywalker has made amends with his father and saved his soul, the story is done. When The One Ring has been destroyed, the story is done – it is so thoroughly done, in fact, that the hero of the story decides to die since he knows that the purpose of his life has been achieved and there is nothing left.
This isn’t real life, kids. It’s story. And the best stories have a concrete and satisfying and very FINAL finale.
There is the argument that people love the “world” and just want to hear more stories that take place in it. Well, okay, I can buy that. I am of the opinion that what makes a story is actually the characters and their choices – put the exact story and characters of STAR WARS in the Old West and change the requisite words and it’s still just as quality a story. I respect the desire to want to experience more of a certain world…. however it is rare that a world is created on it’s own. The world itself is not interesting if uninteresting characters do nothing inside of it. A story about Luke Skywalker having a drink alone in Mos Eisley then taking a nap is just boring as one about me doing the same thing in Los Angeles. And it’s certainly possible to create new interesting characters who live in the same universe as your original hero, but it’s rare that you would achieve the same affection for that character.
So what would the next Harry Potter book be about? It couldn’t be about the day to day work that he does as a magical police officer taking care of evil talismans or enchanted people – the guy has exorcised the greatest evil in the world… where’s the suspense and mystery now? To be anything close to as satisfying as the original series, it would have to involve Harry (and not his kids, because those are new characters we don’t yet care about) being somehow drawn into another life-or-death-the-world-hangs-in-the-balance scenario. And doing that does two things: it negates or cheapens the original story while simultaneously pandering to its audience by saying, “oh, no, we were kidding about that last thing being the most worst thing in the world – this NEW thing we’re telling you about is REALLY the even BIGGER obstacle and the stakes have never been higher!”
You had my attention and my devoted belief in your world and its rules for as long as it took to effectively end your story. To now go back and change those rules so that you can sell me more products makes me feel like I’m getting used and it makes me feel disrespected. It’s one of the (many, many) reasons that the STAR WARS prequels are abominations and that no matter how good or bad the Disney sequels are, they will never have any affiliation to the epic stories of original trilogy for me…. the story I loved began, it told an amazing tale, and it ended. Everything else is non-canonical fan fiction, I don’t care how “official” it is.
We all want to re-experience our favorite things for the first time. Or we want to see or hear or read a story about our favorite character in their world doing something new that mirrors the thing that they did before. But you can feel when something has ended. You instinctively know when a story has come to a close. And when you decide, whether it be for profit or nostalgia or for whatever reason, to push the story past its logical boundaries, unstable and often negative results occur. I cite INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL and all of the STAR WARS prequels as examples. Those stories were over. Indiana Jones LITERALLY rode off into the sunset. It was perfect. But then he came back. And it was nothing that we had said we wanted.
Did you know there’s a novel called AS TIME GOES BY which is a sequel to CASABLANCA? Who exactly wants a sequel to CASABLANCA? Who wants a sequel to THE WIZARD OF OZ? Nobody. What we WANT is to experience CASABLANCA and THE WIZARD OF OZ for the first time and a sequel is the closest we can get.
Okay, I will step back for a moment and say that if the STAR WARS prequels had actually been fantastic, I probably would not be writing this. If KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL had been half as good as I’d hoped, I probably would not be writing this. And I’m sure there are aberrant examples people can cite to contradict everything I’ve said, but they would be rare. Also note that I am talking about a certain type of story – a larger-than-life hero’s journey in a heightened world with clearly drawn character types. (I also just realized that Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy fits perfectly as another example).
Look at the fundamental things you love about these kinds of epic stories and look for other stories of that type to fuel the desire to revisit them. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is my favorite movie of all time, but the true continuation of that story and genre wasn’t KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, it was THE RUNDOWN.
Fans of the Harry Potter series may have been devastated to find that the possibility of another book was a hoax, but there is hope: there WILL be another story that will give you the characters, world and excitement that you experienced through those seven novels. I know it for certain. It won’t be a story about a boy wizard in a magic world, but it will be a story that affects you in a similar way – a spiritual sequel, if you will. After all, the story of Harry Potter, the special boy who must defeat the darkest evil in the world and save all of wizardkind is the spiritual sequel to a story about another special boy who defeated the darkest evil in the world and saved an entire galaxy far, far away.
Movies. Media. Content. It’s all changing. Not so long ago, the movie MEET JOE BLACK made a ridiculous amount of money at the box office opening weekend – having nothing to do with the movie or even Brad Pitt. No, movie theaters were packed because the movie featured the first trailer for STAR WARS: EPISODE ONE – THE PHANTOM MENACE. Seats were filled with howling fanboys, and mere moments after the trailer ended, they left. Suspecting this would happen, many theaters promised to show the trailer again after the credits just to get people to stay.
This would never happen now. Five years ago somebody would have made a crude video of the trailer on their phone and posted it to the internet. These days, studios don’t even bother with theaters – they send you text messages about when the trailer will be uploaded to the website or sent directly to your phone in full HD. It’s not too laughable to imagine that in a few more years, you can pay a few bucks to the studio directly after watching the trailer on your iPad, and the moment the film locks, it will download automatically. (Which gives me a huge money-making idea for iPopcorn and iCandy….. but I digress.)
With the advent of huge, surprisingly affordable, high definition televisions and surround sound THX systems, we are closer than ever to getting a movie theater experience at home (and, word to the wise, some of the theatres at the Beverly Center in Los Angeles have screens smaller than HD TVs, so sometimes you’re better off at home). And I will take watching movies at home any day over the rowdy, crowded, sticky movie theater experience. When I sit down during several of the utterly free hours of my day to watch a really great film, it doesn’t become any less exciting and dynamic being viewed on my TV or computer.
Okay, that’s a total lie.
Telling stories in the form of stage productions or major motion pictures demand, by definition, a different kind of experience. Sure, we’re ABLE to watch HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON and AVATAR and BEN HUR on a TV, but don’t tell me it’s a preferable experience to seeing it in a theatre. It’s not. Sure, theatres mean there might be a jerk texting near you, somebody brought their three-year-old to a showing of CHUCKY PART 9, or an obnoxious girlfriend keeps asking her boo “what just happened?” (I’m petitioning for any actions against these people to be deemed “justifiable homicide”), but sitting in a large dark room with a picture clearer and larger than your peripheral vision while being surrounded by incredible sound and no chance that your significant other will disturb and ask you to take the trash out is bliss. It’s exciting. It’s an experience. It’s how some stories were meant to be seen.
Think about this: you’re an HBO subscriber and for next season, they offer their usual TV and internet options for GAME OF THRONES…… but they also give you free tickets to see each episode shown at a movie theater on the night it premieres. Now, who thinks it would be just as cool to watch it at home on their laptop? Exactly: nobody. Why? Because GAME OF THRONES is an epic cinematic story that almost demands to be seen on the big screen. The emotions you feel when watching a great TV show or movie are multiplied when seen in a theatre, because there is nothing around you other than the story. You can’t go grab a drink during the credits, you won’t have neighbors stopping by – all you have is the story in it’s grandest form. And just as important, there is a sense of community in a theatre.
I know, I know, I just spent a paragraph opining the idiots who go see movies and talk through them. Well, yes. That happens. But it’s very different when you’re in a theatre with people who are all there because they LOVE the project. George Lucas re-released all three STAR WARS films in theatres before doing his Special Editions and I went to the midnight opening night showings of each one when I lived in New York City.
Let me repeat: Original Star Wars movies, midnight showings, New York City. Yes, it was kind of the best thing ever.
The place was packed to capacity, people were dressed as their favorite characters, and even though I only knew three of the probably two-to-three hundred people in that place, as soon as “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” and the first note of John Williams’ score blared out, every single person in that room screamed and cheered. You don’t even get that kind of energy at sporting events – everyone was happy, everyone was on the same page. And the moment one idiot started to talk back to the screen a la Mystery Science Theatre, the whole auditorium booed at him. (You don’t mess with people’s STAR WARS.) And even at special screenings or opening nights of brand new films with a built-in fanbase, it’s the opposite: nobody talks – everybody wants total focus. THAT is the kind of community I’m talking about.
Steven Spielberg and George Lucas spoke at USC recently and opined that this kind of moviegoing experience is going to become so costly that it will soon be financially on par with seeing a Broadway show. And since studios are spending 300-plus million dollars on a special effects bonanza, they won’t have the money or time to promote smaller stories to the big screen. So, TRANSFORMERS ELEVEN: JIFFY LUBE TIME will cost you sixty bucks at the multiplex, but an all-star feature about Teddy Roosevelt with the best cinematography all year will be relegated to TV. Most filmmakers have a specific way they would like their art to be seen – certain sound, certain lighting, hell in some cases, even film projection calibration – but all control over their art goes bye-bye once it’s in homes on TVs that most busy humans have no idea how to properly calibrate.
But does any of this matter? Well, of course it does.
From an artistic perspective, the opportunity to create any kind of content for any platform to be enjoyed in many different ways is thrilling. As Kevin Spacey recently pointed out at Edinburgh International Television Festival, there are no more guardians – and if you DO find yourself blocked by one, just leave and go to another entry point. True, the ability to make money on different platforms is widely variable, but from the standpoint of getting your art seen, things have never been better. The new problem is not getting your pilot on CBS, it’s getting people to discover and watch the pilot you financed and shot and put up online.
But it’s a different experience than sitting in a small, dark, air conditioned room watching a story play out in front of you. And that experience shouldn’t be reserved for $60 tickets to see a movie about giant robots destroying galaxies. Some of my favorite movie-going experiences were watching indie films alone at the Angelika theatre in Greenwich Village in the middle of the day. And Quentin Tarantino’s New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles shows 35mm Double Features all year long – a great way to experience old and new films in the classic tradition of cinematic entertainment.
So which is more important, content or experience?
At the risk of sounding idealistic, they have equal value. They’re symbiotic – one cannot survive without the other. If you’re showing Tommy Wiseau’s THE ROOM, it could be in Technicolor 3D in a surround-sound theater with free alcohol and half-naked women giving massages and that movie would still be an abomination. But watching LAWRENCE OF ARABIA on an iPod touch at Port Authority is equally offensive. (Also, don’t accept the aforementioned massages if you’re at Port Authority…. trust me.)
Vincent van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, those differential-vowel twins Monet and Manet: their artwork is up all over people’s homes and offices and they bring joy and color to the places they hang. But no matter how close you stand to a poster of AUTUMN RHYTHM (NUMBER SEVEN), you will never get the experience of seeing the intricacies of the brushwork and specialized lighting that seeing it hanging in the Met will afford you.
Art is created with a specific mode of perception in mind. And we should all do our best to see it under those circumstances – we owe it to the artist and to ourselves.