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The Tropes of True Love

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SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen either Frozen or Maleficent, I recommend you not read this until you do. I also recommend that you see those two films if you haven’t.

sleeping beauty

I really have to hand it to Disney. Over the course of six months, they have provided audiences with two films that take the formula of “true love” and turn it on its head. In Frozen, only an act of true love can melt a frozen heart and in Maleficent, only true love’s kiss can wake the sleeping beauty. But true love in those films did not come in the form of romantic true love.

One of the best aspects of these films is the gentle mocking of the notion of love at first sight. Anna is chided by several people for claiming she was in love and wanted to marry a man she just met in Frozen. In Maleficent, it’s Prince Philip himself who notes that he just met Aurora when the fairies push him to kiss her to awaken her from the curse. Philip is definitely attracted to the princess but he is not in love with her, and neither is Aurora with him. And so, the kiss fails to break the spell.

Romantic love is one of the greatest joys of the human experience. Disney has told that tale time and again over the course of the 20th century. However, this tale has been told so many times to the exclusion of all other great loves that I think we were starting to believe that romantic love was the only love really worth having.

Not everyone finds true love. Not everyone is looking for it either. Sometimes true love is there but then it doesn’t always last a lifetime. And love does not always have to be expressed in shared lives and sexual experiences. But without other stories to balance things out, one could be forgiven for thinking that true love is the answer to life, the universe and everything. (It isn’t, you know. 42 is the answer.)

Romantic stories are beautiful and uplifting and I still want them to be told. But I also want to see other kinds of love stories. And clearly so does everyone else since both of those films have done well at the box office.

Love is a many splendored thing, right?


My Kind of Marathon

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I usually joke that I don’t run unless I’m being chased. It’s funny because it’s true. But there is one type of marathon that is right up my alley. A movie marathon!

And what makes a movie marathon even better? Friends and a fabulous spread.

This past weekend, we finally got around to having our Muppets Marathon. About a dozen brave souls spent all day Saturday watching all seven theatrically released Muppets movies. Some are much better than others but there was no one there that felt like they were slogging through (well maybe during Muppets Treasure Island).

We also went to the theater on Sunday and saw the latest iteration, Muppets Most Wanted. This film got better each time I saw it (three times, in fact).

Statler and Waldorf don't agree.

Statler and Waldorf don’t agree.

If you love movies and you’ve never hosted a movie marathon, I highly recommend it. You can start small with something like the Back to the Future trilogy. Most people can handle three average length films in one day. Then you can work your way up to the longer film series.

My friends are true film buffs and we’ve already done one of the longest possible marathons, the Bond-a-thon (25 movies in three days).  Here is a video of some of the ones we completed.  I wasn’t this tech-savvy so no video was shot for the Muppets viewing.

There is something to be said for watching a bunch of the same characters going through several different adventures.  It’s the reason binging on TV shows has become so popular as of late.  You can really get into something if you get to spend more than an hour or two with it.  You notice more.  You connect more.  We had a Muppet virgin who was actually quite impressed with some aspects of The Muppets movies even though they will never be his thing.  It’s easier to appreciate something when you can immerse yourself in it.

Or you may turn yourself off completely to something you once enjoyed.  It’s a risk worth taking.

And rating the movies is just an added bonus.



If It’s Too Loud…


If it’s too loud, you’re too old.

This is kind of a bullshit phrase.  As we age, our hearing deteriorates.  If that is the case, if it’s too loud for us, what the hell is it like for someone with better hearing?  Or perhaps our hearing deteriorates because we had it too loud all these years.

I’m going to sound like an old fuddy-duddy but I think movies are getting too loud, too bright and overall too chaotic.  Well, action movies are.

For the past few years, I’ve been suffering through the action scenes of the big summer films with less and less tolerance.  There are movies that I genuinely want to see but they are becoming very difficult to watch.

I really enjoyed last summer’s Star Trek Into Darkness but I couldn’t keep my eyes open during some of the action sequences, especially the shootout between some of the Enterprise crew and the Klingons.  I saw the film multiple times and every time, I just closed my eyes until it was over.  Not exactly a glowing review.

Some people have told me that it’s because movies are trying to compete with the videogame experience of the first person shooter variety and the scenes are shot to mimic that.  Well those games make me physically ill, literally (and I’m using that word correctly here).

It’s also been proposed that it’s cheaper to shoot an action scene with a constantly moving camera so that it creates tension and urgency without having to spend too much time or effort on actually doing something better.  Not as much skill in performing stunts or choreography is necessary and you can remain in a tight frame to keep effects costs down.  I saw The French Connection on a big screen and it was just as exciting as anything they put out today.  And I could watch the whole thing, including the car chase, without a problem.

I like a fun movie as much as the next person but not if it’s headache-inducing.  I know that I’m not necessarily the target audience for some of these films but I fear it may get so bad soon that someone will be thrown into an epileptic seizure from all the lights and sounds.  The human body has its limits but we seem to pride ourselves on testing those as often as possible.

I used to love roller-coasters and I still do enjoy the ones built up until about 2000.  The latest ones are no longer fun.  They’re endurance tests.  That’s not how I like to spend my weekends.  If that’s what young people like, more power to them.  I just don’t want to be left out of the fun all the time.  I have disposable income too.  And I’m willing to pay a little more for what I want.

Catering to the new DINK demographic might be quite lucrative.

DINK life meme

I joke that I’d pay double to go to places like Disneyland on a 21 and over only day.  I imagine I’m not the only one.  Sometimes the best thing about going to a bar (if it’s not too loud) is that there are no kids there.  And as rates of childbearing drop, there are going to be a lot more adults than kids in the near future.


So start catering to the early to middle adults (25 to 55).  We’re a little more discerning so you’re going to have to work just a little harder for our cash.  But it could be well worth it.  Here we are now, entertain us.

On The Nose


I watched a movie last night that has not been released so I don’t wish to name it or give any details.  This is not a review of that film.  This is an examination of a comment someone made who watched it with me.  One of his comments about the film was that it was too “on the nose.”  He saw this as a flaw or a weakness.

Oddly enough, while I can agree completely with that statement, I didn’t see it as a flaw or a detraction to my enjoyment.  There are several terms like this that get thrown around by film critics that to me seem really neutral and merely explanatory rather than harsh criticism.  Another one would be calling a film sentimental or schmaltzy.  I thought this film was both of those as well.  And I balled like a baby.

There’s nothing new under the sun… some ancient Greek philosopher once quipped.  Imagine how little newness there is 2000 years later.  As a student and connoisseur of storytelling, I can say that I’m rarely surprised any longer.  This has nothing to do with a lack of creativity and just an acknowledgement that I’ve almost seen it all.  That is a blessing and a curse that comes with age.

If you’re paying attention, a story (be it a film, a play or a book) discretely makes its audience a promise somewhere early on that it must then pay off or deliver by its end.  How it does this is where the creativity and ingenuity comes into play, but it will still do it in one of several expected ways.

Story is character and vice versa.  I always harken back to the brilliant words of my college film professor, “A film is just a person with a problem.”  The meat of the story is how that person solves his/her problem (or fails to).  When the problem is solved, the story is over.

I think a film can be successful and fail to entertain.  I think a film can fail miserably and be entirely entertaining.  When a film achieves both, that’s when you generally have a hit on your hands.

Many people love the comfort of things working out the way they anticipate.  That explains why people will eat at a McDonald’s when they visit foreign countries — the comfort of know what you’re going to get.  Others love to be surprised and shocked.  They like to be kept guessing the whole way through.  I enjoy both but as I noted above, I need the story to hint at where it is going so I know what ride I’m on.  I’m willing to go with you as long as I have some idea where we’re going.

A ghastly good time.

A ghastly good time.

One film I loved that did a 180 degree flip was Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners.  It started off as a comedy with Michael J. Fox playing a man who can communicate with the dead and he uses this ability to con people.  The flip comes when he finds the dead are not so nice and the film rolls into a horror story for its second half.  It felt like when it flipped from light to dark, I was cued in and I enjoyed the ride.

One film that failed this flip (to me, at least) was Guarding Tess with Nicolas Cage and Shirley Maclaine.  Cage plays a secret service agent tasked with guarding an ex-first lady.  It’s kind of played for laughs as Ms. Maclaine is a curmudgeon that gives Cage grief at every turn.  The midpoint complication is she is kidnapped and buried alive and Cage has to find her before she dies.  What!?!?!  I didn’t see that one coming in any direction.  It was like the movie had given me a punch to the solar plexus.  I still hate this movie.

I'd rather be watching Raising Arizona.

I’d rather be watching Raising Arizona.

I don’t begrudge anyone who enjoys movies I don’t like.  And I only secretly think they’re idiots for disliking the ones I love.  The more I see, the more I realize how incredibly subjective story is.  Rare is the film that lands the consensus of being universally loved or hated.  Personally, I think it’s because some people just enjoy being contrary to popular opinion.  There are people who hate sunny days.  Nutcases… unless you’re allergic to the sun, I guess.

In someone’s world, this is the best thing ever!


Movie Lovers Unite!

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A little over a year ago, a couple of friends decided they wanted to watch all of the James Bond films in one giant binge-like marathon.  That weekend, something special and incredibly fun was born.

In addition to watching the films, a camera with a live stream was set up for those who couldn’t attend and another camera took intermittent photos so that a time-lapse video could be created of the events.

Movies are a shared experience.  We spent the whole weekend debating which actor made the best Bond, which movies still held up over time and who’s making the next round of martinis.

We went on to watch and rank all of the Star Trek, Batman and Star Wars films throughout all of last year.

This past weekend, we did the fifth marathon which had a unique twist, we incorporated a theatrical film into our movie watching.

After watching all of the Alien and Predator films (as well as the Alien vs. Predator ones), we went to see Prometheus on the big screen.  Who knows what we’ll come up with next.  Whatever it is, I will surely be there.

If you love movies like we do, you most certainly can appreciate what we as a group have created.  If not, you probably think we’re all crazy.  A successful movie marathon requires dedicated hosts and their crazy friends who are willing to sit and watch movies until their backsides are numb.

We are just those people.


What a shame

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This weekend I saw the already dubbed “flop” called John Carter.  It’s actually a very good movie that just failed to find an audience.  Perhaps it will find fans on home video and eventually be regarded as entertaining fare, but its box office run is quickly coming to an end.

Just like when a terrible movie makes a fuckton of money (Transformers, anyone?), you have to wonder why a good movie fails.  Who is going to the crap and staying away from the good stuff?  And what influences their decision?  This is something that I as a writer have to think about sometimes.

From listening to people, John Carter failed to draw in people on several levels.

First, the title itself is so generic.  Not many people today respond to the name John Carter itself since the source material is around 100 years old.  Journey to the Center of the Earth is just as old but it made money (enough to warrant a sequel).  An obvious difference between the two would be budget.  Journey was much less expensive so profitability was easier to reach.  But another reason might be that the title of Journey to the Center of the Earth says it all.  You know what that movie will be about.

The title of the book this film is based on is A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  I’ve read that test audiences didn’t like this title mainly because guys didn’t want to see a film with the word “princess” in the title and girls didn’t want to see a film with “Mars” in the title.  Hence, John Carter.

Secondly, the advertising campaign didn’t make it a must see.  Would a bigger star have at least drawn in more people?  Who knows.  Would giving more of the story helped?  I’m not sure.  Either way, the ad campaign was an epic FAIL.  It showed some action and some aliens but no one could figure this one out and so they stayed away.

Lastly, this is storytelling we’ve seen before.  The funny thing is, the reason we’ve seen this before is because writers and filmmakers have been stealing from this story for decades.  John Carter isn’t like other action/sci-fi stories.  It’s the other way around.

John Carter could be a good lesson to Hollywood except it could have succeeded.  You can’t predict this shit.  Or as the great screenwriter William Goldman remarked, “Nobody knows anything.”  The best laid schemes of mice and (movie) men often go awry.  The best you can do as a filmmaker is get behind something you love and put all you’ve got into it.  You may succeed, you may fail but in the end, at least you won’t be left feeling like a hack and a sellout.

Go see John Carter too.  I know this was a labor of love for the filmmakers because it shows.

My Top Ten Films of 2011

Every year, a friend of mine sends out his Top Ten Films of the year and requests people send their lists back to him.  With the Oscars deciding what they think the best film of the year is this weekend, I think I’ll throw in my two cents.

The best films and the films you enjoy the most are not always the same.  Never be ashamed of what you like (unless you like reality TV, haha).

Here are my top 10 films of 2011.

10. Bridesmaids – cause girls can be just as raunchy as guys.  Plus, everyone is beginning to love Melissa McCarthy as much as I always have.




9. Hanna – a tight, taut action thriller with an ass-kicking teenage Saoirse Ronan in the lead and Cate Blanchett playing a chilly villain.




8. Drive – slow paced, atmospheric for much of it with bursts of action and violence.  Ryan Gosling can do anything and he always looks good in the process.




7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two – a spectacular finish to a well-loved series.  I will miss looking forward to the next one since there won’t be anymore.




6. Rango – an odd but hilarious animated film that is part western homage and part trippy fish out of water tale.  Johnny is quirky even as a CG chameleon.




5. Hugo – this is a wonderful film that was even better because I didn’t really know much about it going in.  Not Scorsese’s normal fare but since he is such a lover of film, I can see why he chose this.



4. Midnight in Paris – the Woody Allen I love is back and in fine form.  This is a charming fable and a love letter to the roaring 20s.




3. Attack the Block – love, love, loved this film and the kids protecting the block from alien gorilla mutherfuckers.



2. The Artist – although this is not the first time I’ve seen Jean Dujardin, it did cement the mad crush I was developing on him from the OSS: 117 films he did a few years ago.  Charming, funny and poignant with a spectacular final performance from Uggie the dog.



1. The Muppets – if you know me, you knew this would be my number one film of the year.  Saw it 3 times in the theater and loved it more each time.  I will never stop loving the Muppets and Jason Segel did right by Jim Henson.



You are what you love, not what loves you (Adaptation, 2002).  As I look back over these films, I can see that what I’m drawn to most is fun and whimsy.  I love films that leave me feeling all warm and fuzzy or with a feeling of completeness.

What’s your Top Ten look like for 2011?  What are you looking forward to most in 2012?