Death of a theater

There’s a lot of bitching about the supposed death of movie theaters. The argument goes that the only way to appreciate filmmaking is on the silver screen with a fellow audience. Because of the proliferation of internet streaming, the communal experience cinema has fallen by the wayside.

Do I agree with this assessment?

Yes.

Do I give a shit?

No.

Perhaps I became a cinephile at the wrong time. I mean, I get it. I really do. But the dynamics of the filmgoing experience has changed. And that’s alright. EVERYTHING changes at some time or another.

But I quit caring about movie theaters a long time ago. Long before COVID even. The last time I’ve been to a theater was in 2017 to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi. This is largely because I have truthfully never bought into the “communal experience” of watching a movie.

I remember watching Joe Dirt in theaters long ago. I realized it was funny before everyone else did; before it became a cult classic. When Joe Dirt threatened to blow up the Grand Canyon and got poop spilled all over him, I laughed hysterically. Everyone else sat in their seats stone-faced. Audiences (except for me, of course) wouldn’t know what was funny if it bit them in the nuts. So fuck what other people think.

My argument is this: if you want to enjoy a movie, it has to be just YOU and the film. My love of cinema didn’t start in the theater. It started at 11 years old, after midnight, while watching Taxi Driver on Cinemax. Of course I was watching Cinemax at that hour to see some gratuitous T&A. At least initially. In fact, if anyone caught me, I would have probably quickly switched to porn and denied I was watching the classics of cinema. The first time I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, it was with some friends and, to be cool, I had to say it was the most boring thing I’ve ever seen. But in my heart, I knew it was genius. At 12 years old, I stayed up late to watch The Deer Hunter and cried myself to sleep. I never told anyone that until years later. Enjoying a movie, to me, should be an intimate experience; it should reveal things about yourself both good and bad…things that you may never tell another living soul. THAT’S the power of filmmaking.

This isn’t to say that theaters don’t have their purpose. But I’d argue that theaters simply offer the spectacle of film. They serve a similar purpose to churches. Sure, everyone can come together and listen to a sermon, but to have a truly transcendental religious experience, one must transcend the spectacle and enter a state of gnosis; of opening one’s mind to things unseen. Movies can be more than a spectacle. They can be a revelation.

Honestly, the slow death of movie theaters probably started with VHS.

Oof

Other than the James Bond films, I typically don’t pay too much attention to new releases. But I was so blown away by Midsommar that I’ve been loosely following the career of Ari Aster. Originally called Disappointment Blvd, the trailer for Aster’s next film Beau is Afraid has recently dropped, and, well, I gotta say…Beau is afraid for Beau is Afraid.

Perhaps I should be glad that the same guy who made the short film The Strange Thing About the Johnsons is getting carte blanche in Hollywood, but a cursory glance at the history of filmmaking will tell you that’s almost never a good thing. Ever heard of Heaven’s Gate?

Damien Chazelle is the latest victim of this curse of talent. You make a few great films on a modest budget and suddenly you’re the toast of the town. Producers then give you $100,000,000 to do whatever you want and you create a three-hour, self-indulgent mess called Babylon.

Not to say that Beau is Afraid won’t be interesting. One man’s unfortunate adventure to visit his mother sounds like a hoot. But here’s the problem: it’s also three hours long!

Very few movies across history deserve to be that long; maybe, like, five total. And if there’s any genre that absolutely should NOT be that long, it’s horror AND comedy. Audiences should stand up and say to Hollywood: if you can’t tell a good story in under two hours, you don’t deserve to be making movies.

That’s a hill I will die on.

But maybe Aster has earned the benefit of the doubt. Allegedly, we’ll be shown Phoenix’s gigantic (prosthetic) testicles. Maybe when his mother says “I am so sorry for what your daddy passed down to you,” she’s referring to his abnormally large wang? So this might be a story about the burdens of having a big dick. If that’s the case, then I think three hours are warranted (because I can relate, of course).

But if we really wanted to maximize Aster’s talents (Hollywood, if you’re reading), here’s my suggestion: Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Producers have been trying to adapt that book for years, but the truth is that it’s nearly unadaptable. UNLESS you have someone like Aster’s sensibilities. Clearly, much of the novel would be cut out, but Hollywood needs a horror film director to tackle that material. Moreover, you need a director that’s willing to pull the trigger on disturbing subject matters. For a guy that made a short film about a dude that sexually abuses his father, Ari Aster is just the man for the job 👍

Troma’s War (1988)

If you knew nothing of this movie (as I did), you’d think that this movie was meant to be a genuine action thriller that was repurposed into a comedy.

Also known as 1,000 Ways to Die, the plot revolves around a group of plane crash survivors that get caught up in an armed conflict on an island. Various characters include a deranged Vietnam vet, a blind woman, a saucy Latina, a (probable) British secret agent, an asshole Wall Street broker, etc. Apparently this was Lloyd Kaufman’s response to the glorification of war and violence during the Reagan era.

I’ll admit, the opening few minutes are quite funny. Through the credits, we hear a voiceover from the pilot calmly and casually inform the passengers that the plane’s about crash and the opening scene depicts a woman losing her shit as she watches people flail around while on fire. It sounds horrible, but it accurately sets the tone for the rest of the film. We watch as the survivors slowly evolve into full fledged commandos as they fight a hodgepodge syndicate of terrorists and communists that occupy the island.

There are a few lines here and there (“I don’t know if the guy’s psycho, or just crazy”) that might crack you up. But there are also a few moments, like an interaction with a villain where a priest’s tongue gets ripped out, that feel a little too real. Of course, that was the filmmaker’s goal. However, the satirical points never quite mesh and honestly it mostly feels like an awkward mess. When compared to other self-aware 80s parodies like Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke Em High, Troma’s War falls short in my view.

That being said, I’ve been waiting a long time to see something like this. Whenever I watched Apocalypse Now as a teenager, I’d always laugh at the thought of replacing Wager’s Ride of the Valkyries during the helicopter attack with a bangin 80s soundtrack, complete with synthesizers and electric guitars. Suddenly the complexion of the movie would change. So thank you Lloyd Kaufman, I guess, for thinking the same things I did.

Year End Review

So my goal for next year is to watch more movies. A SHITTON more movies.

Which makes me think: what was the best movie I saw in 2022? And unfortunately, I have an answer (and you’re gonna hate me for it):

Top Gun: Maverick 😔

Other than bangin Kenny Loggins soundtrack, I don’t remember shit about the Tony Scott original. Was it about fighter pilots? I don’t know, nor do I care. The important thing is that Maverick was WAY better than it had any business being and I think that took everyone off guard.

Part of the reason why I enjoyed it so much is because it told to me how far I’ve come along. If I saw this three years ago, I would have been railing against the military-industrial complex and Scientology and how evil American public is for enjoying such a glorification of aggressive US foreign policy.

But those days are over.

After watching Maverick, I am more than happy to suit up for the Navy and firebomb Dresden all over again. And that’s thanks to Tom Cruise and the power of filmmaking.

Now I’m not gonna write another thesis on the importance of Cruise and his impact on Hollywood. There’s plenty of that shit on the Internet already, although it is nice to be reminded that he can still put on a performance. Instead, I want to talk about how dialed back Maverick feels.

Remember, this movie could have easily been a piece of shit. But it wasn’t.

Cruise was smart. This was his film and audiences desired to see him return to one of his most iconic characters. There was no need for an overly complicated plot or contrived villain or actors needlessly wondering in front of a green screen for two hours. The filmmakers kept it simple: do what made the original so beloved and add emotional depth.

I think that’s why Maverick feels so oddly refreshing: it’s a reminder to audiences that mainstream films can still be good and it tells Hollywood that “hey, sometimes all you have to do is tap the ball into the hole. You don’t have to overreach.”

So for whatever reasons, Maverick feels like it’s a turning point in mainstream film OR it’s the last hurrah for old Hollywood. OR our expectations have gotten so low that we cheer anything that modestly hurdles it.

Die Hard Another Day

It’s a shame that the illustrious Die Hard franchise ended with A Good Day to Die Hard. Sure it had its moments, like fucking up Moscow then driving to Chernobyl on the same day. But it could have been so much more.

“I’m on vacation!”

That’s a wasted line in A Good Day. John McClane wasn’t on vacation! But imagine the final Die Hard movie where he is on vacation: John McClane goes to Bangkok and the CIA learns that the daughter of Hans Gruber, Hanna Gruber, is out for revenge. So CIA agent Jack McClane heads to Thailand to rescue his father. When Jack arrives, he says, “Dad, I won’t ask questions. I’m just here to rescue you.” Right then, Gruber’s minions bust in the hotel room and blow the place up and John goes “I’m on vacation!”. Of course, there’s a car chase through the streets of Bangkok.

Fortunately Jack and John escape the country by boarding a C-17 but it eventually gets shot down. John falls out of the aircraft without a parachute, so Jack throws one on and leaps out of the plane before crashes and grabs his father. As they’re falling to the ground, John screams “I’m on vacation!!!!”

They land in China and while they’re wondering through the jungle, of course, there’s some character development where they say things like “being a dad is hard,” and we shake our head at John’s vague racism towards the Chinese people. Unfortunately, Gruber’s men catch up with them, and they escape by boarding a speed boat. John says “I wanted to go down the Yellow River, just not this one!”.

After a thrilling boat chase, Jack and John arrive in Beijing (which the Yellow River doesn’t flow through) where they are reunited with the CIA. But there’s a double cross and they are recaptured by Gruber. From there, they are taken to Pyongyang, North Korea where we learn Hanna Gruber is in league with Kim Jung-un.

Jack and John are being interrogated at the Ryugyong Hotel but John manages to escape. As a nod to the first Die Hard, John is back in a white tank top and no shoes as he climbs through air ducts and kills off all the bad guys one by one as he tries to rescue his son. Finally, there’s a showdown at the top of the hotel where John is face to face with Hanna Gruber. “You killed my entire family!” she screams to John. “There’s still one more, sweetheart,” John says. Then she falls to her death from on top of the Ryugyung.

To avoid an international embarrassment, Kim Jung-un releases the father and son into US custody, and John shakes his head and says “I could use a vacation.”

The end.

Dissecting A Scene: Emotional Climax Moments in Star Trek Films (Part I)

So over the Thanksgiving weekend, I made my family watch arguably the worst Star Trek film, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. When the Sybok interrogation scene of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy came up, it occurred to me: “Star Trek is REALLY good at doing this.”

Doing what exactly?

They’re good at creating emotional climax scenes where character arcs come full circle. Trek films may not be the flashiest of the science fiction genre, but that’s not really their intention. Star Trek is at its best when it’s theatrical, or allowing the actors to fully explore their characters. Two of the franchise’s most notable faces, William Shatner and Patrick Stewart, are quite effective stage actors and that’s where Star Trek is at its strongest: being character driven.

So you have to let the actors ACT.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: Mutara Battle/Death of Spock

This is probably one of the most famous and most parodied death scene in all of film. But this sequence is quite remarkable on multiple levels.

It’s a shame that William Shatner didn’t get any accolades for his performance in Star Trek II. His portrayal of Captain/Admiral Kirk is often viewed as hammy, but in truth, Shatner was quite nuanced in his approach. Director Nicholas Meyer figured out that his leading man was far more effective when doing more takes, which caused the actor to slowly dial back his performance. In short, Meyer wore out Shatner, which perfectly suited a beat down and aging Kirk at the beginning of the film. Obviously, Meyer let Shatner return to form at the end which had a huge emotional payoff.

Not only does the villain Khan get his comeuppance by succumbing to his own wrath but…in pursuit of vengeance…he ends up becoming a force for creation. Spock, of course, delivers the ultimate sacrifice, but Kirk finally faces the very thing he’s cheated his way out of throughout his illustrious career: a no-win scenario.

Thus, everything comes full circle.

Of course, it also helps that there’s exceptional editing and the score that made James Horner a sought after composer is playing in the background.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock: Stealing the Enterprise

James Horner is typically given credit for the success of this scene. But you have to tip your hat to the editing and, again, the performances.

While we can criticize Shatner’s acting choices all we want, he always makes it perfectly clear what his characters are feeling. And James B Sikking’s arrogant-ass performance almost makes you forget how shitty the Excelsior bridge set is.

It’s a shame that Leonard Nimoy didn’t direct more movies. While he directed some television before, it’s hard to believe that this was his first motion picture because he REALLY elevated this scene. If you pay attention, not much happens here: the Enterprise slowly backs up to the space doors before they magically open and then the Excelsior begins its failed pursuit. But it’s fucking intense! The hairs on my neck always stand when the Enterprise clears space doors and Kirk orders warp speed. That’s a testament to Nimoy’s superb direction of an otherwise ‘meh’ script.

While this isn’t the “emotional climax” to the film, it is an emotional highlight for the Original Series crew; they’re sacrificing EVERYTHING to save Spock. Now Star Trek III isn’t the best Trek film, but the “stealing the Enterprise” scene is one of the best in the franchise.

Dirty Harold

I sometimes forget the impact that Dirty Harry had on me as a kid. I was expecting it to be some stupid exploitation flick from the 70s, but it turned out to be much more.

Unlike other gritty crime films from the 70s, like The French Connection or The Taking of Pelham 123, director Don Siegel and DP Bruce Surtees shot the movie like it was a western. Clint Eastwood looms large in mythic form over the screen, but he never completely dominates it. Like how the rough and tumble deserts and mountains are a major character in westerns, the streets of San Francisco play a similar role.

But Dirty Harry was slightly ahead of its time. While westerns were fading away, and with it the gunslingers delivering justice on the prairie, Clint Eastwood was offering the a audience a new hero: the pissed off cop that’s tired of rules and regulations and the constant whining from bureaucrats over the rights of individuals. Dirty Harry fit the mood of white conservatives during the age of Nixon and those that wished to return to a simpler ethos of good guys vs bad guys. In short, Dirty Harry was the predecessor to the Cannon Film craze of the 70s through the 80s.

But in my view, the unsung genius of the film is Andrew Robinson as the crazed villain. Even now, it’s an unnerving character…one that no one could get away with today. The closest comparison that I can think of is Heath Ledger’s Joker, but no sensible writer would permit Batman’s arch nemesis to kill, rape, and abduct children. THAT would be crossing the line. But Robinson’s Scorpio does it numerous times throughout the film.

Which is why the ending was so effective. Sure, it’s a cliche to hear Eastwood utter “do you feel lucky?” before blasting his last round into the bad guy. But you actually feel his rage as he asks Scorpio “well do ya? PUNK!!”. In my view, that was Eastwood’s finest moment as an actor.

While Dirty Harry might be synonymous with Clint Eastwood, I think it would be interesting to see the character return to the screen given its political undertones. Obviously Clint Eastwood is too old, and casting someone like Karl Urban to replace him would seem like parody. But now that the nature of masculinity on film has come under scrutiny, and the zeitgeist has turned skeptical towards law enforcement, it would be fascinating to see Harry Callahan return…especially to such a divisive city as San Francisco.

Skeetin

I’m a little under the weather so I’m just gonna phone this one in.

But I was doing my annual Paul Schrader marathon when I got to Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist. A few thoughts: 1.) it’s a shitty movie but 2.) Vittorio Stararo was the DP?!!! How did that get past me?

And it’s such a shame that this film didn’t work because it is very much in line with the themes that occur throughout Schrader’s work. I haven’t bothered with the retooled Exorcist: The Beginning, but I’m glad Schrader stuck to his guns and at least attempted to make a cerebral film rather than make a run-of-the-mill horror. That’s what made the original Exorcist so interesting: director William Friedkin stated that it never occurred to him that he was making a “horror film” (he could be bullshitting though).

Schrader probably should have had a bigger say in the screenplay. Much of the introspective philosophical back-and-forth that, in my opinion, slightly bogged down The Last Temptation of Christ (which clashed with Martin Scorsese’s rather “extroverted” direction) would have been quite effective for Dominion. Additionally, the event that caused Father Merrin’s lack of faith should have been revealed later in the movie. And while there was some good stuff with the British colonial troops, I felt that there was no payoff for any of it.

(Plus the special effects REALLY sucked ass)

I also saw Touch for the first time. I don’t remember a damn thing about it other than Skeet Ulrich was in it.

Whatever happened to that guy? That dude was like, super fucking hot. Shouldn’t he have had a bigger career?

Were people disappointed to find out that he wasn’t Danish?

who watches the watchers watching the watchers?

I’m a little late on this Alan Moore thing. But while I can empathize to a degree on Moore’s point here, I recall listening to his interview with Chapo Trap House’s Will Menaker from a few year ago where he stated “everything is politics” and it makes me want to beat my head on the wall.

I’m afraid that we’ve reached a point where audiences aren’t allowed to enjoy anything due to the hyper-politicalization of EVERYTHING. The last few years have been a wet dream for ideologues because finally people are as miserable as they are. And I’ll admit, much to my embarrassment, that I’ve played a hand in this. But people need their distractions from a world that’s seemingly falling apart all around them.

While I’m not a comic book fan, I’d venture to guess that most comic/superhero fans don’t connect this material to any sort of real world scenario. They recognize it for what it is: entertainment.

And that’s okay. Let people be happy.

I think Moore is projecting his “everything is politics” (🤢) worldview here. And that, in my opinion, is far more toxic than what the comic nerds are doing.

All good things…

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. -Paul of Tarsus

In all sincerity, in his review of Picard Season 2, Mike Stoklasa nearly moved me to tears when he discussed his realization that Star Trek really was dead, comparing his journey to the that of the boys in Stand By Me (which coincidentally starred Wil Wheaton). His journey of grief led him to face the realities of life, put away childish things, and blossom into a man (who subjects his friends to shitty movies and laughs at old people for a living).

After the disaster that was Season 1 of Picard, I figured that the powers that be…the writers, producers, Paramount+…would have corrected course and made a proper send off for the legendary cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Then the trailer above dropped.

And I’ll admit: my heart absolutely sank to my feet. Patrick Stewart will no longer be alone in his debasement for the upcoming season. Now the entire cast of TNG will be along for this pitiful, disgusting ride.

I could go on ripping this trailer to shreds, but I won’t. You know why? Because someone…a LOT of someones…LOVE this show. When the Star Wars prequels arrived, they were derided by the entire fan base. But they made a FUCK TON of money. So I knew in my heart, despite me hating the SHIT out of the prequels, there’s gonna be a whole generation that will love them.

And honestly, good for them. It’s the next generation of fans that these long-established franchises are aiming at. I could spend the rest of my life being angry at what these new producers have done to my beloved Star Trek. But I’ve been on the ride long enough.

It’s not the way I would have liked to have seen my favorite character go out, but he was a hero of my childhood. And it’s time to put childish things away.

Farewell TNG

***

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