Ocean’s Eleven: Twenty Years Later

We watched Ocean’s Eleven the other night with Daniela. In my head, it’s a movie that’s still pretty recent. I mean, it didn’t come out that long ago, did it? But then when I saw all the actors, I realized it must have been a while. Even knowing that, I still figured it was maybe 10 years ago.

Nope. It’s been 20 years. It came out in December, just a few months after 9/11.

The great news is that it still very much stands up to the test of time. I’ve loved this movie since I first saw it. It’s such a great mixture that operates well on so many different levels. The actors, the plot, the soundtrack. The movie just oozes with cool. I love a good movie where the plot itself is a heist, setting the audience up for something and making them think they know what’s going on, only to leave them all bewildered at the climax, thinking everything can’t possibly turn out okay now, and then twisting a final time to show what’s really going to happen. The Sting is another movie that does that supremely well.

Of course, Ocean’s Eleven is an interesting case, because it’s a remake of an earlier movie, done forty years later. I’ve seen both, and the new one resonates better with me. That actually leads me to a good question: what makes a movie fair game for a remake? I know Hollywood is in love with taking something that’s already there and just redoing it, and I know it gets a lot of guff for it. Which movies should be considered off limits, and which shouldn’t?

Funnily enough, I’m not at all opposed to remakes. I’m just opposed to bad ones. And often you don’t know if a remake is going to be good or bad until you see it. That said, the hallmarks of a bad remake are usually easy to spot. I’d say the biggest one would be what’s motivating the remake. If it’s really nothing more than just wanting a quick cash grab, it’s almost certainly going nowhere. Take the remake of Psycho, for instance.

Done in 1998 (just 3 years before Ocean’s), and a remake of another 1960 movie. But Gus Van Sant mimicked the original to a fault, using the same shots, the same camera movements, the same editing. He basically made a modern copy of Hitchcock’s. It was in color and with different actors, but . . . why in the world did anyone think it was a good idea?

With Ocean’s Eleven, they took the core conceit of the original. Vegas heist. All-star cast. And they updated it. Changed the plot. Modernized elements. Brought in a new sense of style and coolness, and so it all worked very well. To make a successful remake, you can’t just photocopy. You have to bring something new. Something of yourself.

Could they remake The Sting? Sure. It’s one of my favorite movies of all time, but I’d go check out a new version. If that new version had ragtime music, took place in the 30s, and just treaded water in the wake of the original, I’d pass, but if they saw something in that original and wanted to do their own thing with it? I’d give it a shot. The biggest trick is reminding yourself that a remake doesn’t replace the original. It doesn’t erase anything.

There are some movies that I think would be very difficult to remake and bring something new. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, for example. It’s a work that so sprawling and involved, I just can’t imagine a movie studio funding something like it again. But never say never. I would love to be shown up by Hollywood, and while the industry excels at pushing out a fair bit of drivel, it also can make some really great stuff in the process.

In any case, back to the original topic. Since the movie is now older than quite a few college students, if you haven’t seen it and want an excellent example of how much fun a heist movie can be, I encourage you to check it out.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice . . .

After my article yesterday gushing about In the Heights, I was taken aback to read about some of the blow back the film has been suffering from in certain circles. Not because it’s too diverse or too woke (which I cynically expected), but rather because it isn’t diverse enough. Specifically, that it doesn’t adequately represent the Afro Latinx community. Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jon Chu have both publicly apologized for this now, and when I read about it, my reactions were mixed. I wanted to parse those reactions out a bit to see what I’m thinking, why I’m thinking it, and if those thoughts were justified.

A warning in advance: I’m going to be blunt, to try and show both where I started and where I ended up. Please read to the end, and please keep the whole of the post in mind.

My knee-jerk response was an eye roll, to be honest. Come on. Not diverse enough? One of the things I found so encouraging about the movie was its diversity. It made a point to show how people in the neighborhood came from all over: Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, and so on. There’s even a song and dance number about it. If a movie like In the Heights is getting yelled at for not being diverse enough, then it feels like there’s just no pleasing some people. They should be happy with the progress that’s being made, and quit being so impatient all the time to have every single teeny tiny group represented. What are film makers supposed to do? Run a statistical analysis of their work to make sure it accurately portrays the actual racial and socio-economical make up of the setting of their work? Stories are about different people. It doesn’t make sense that the story should need to come second to the race or gender or whatever of the characters involved.

So. Once I got that initial thought out of my system, I took some time to think about what’s going on, and why it might be upsetting to some. In this case, there’s a film being made that’s supposedly celebrating diversity. Where everyone’s going to have a place at the table. And so members of that community head into it expecting to find themselves in there somewhere, only to walk away feeling excluded yet again.

How are they not supposed to feel disappointed? Back pre-Fellowship of the Ring, I was typically disappointed whenever a fantasy movie came out, because they generally stunk. Was I supposed to just suck it up and be happy they were making any fantasy movies at all? If I was upset back then over something as frivolous as “is this fantasy movie any good?” then how can I begrudge someone for feeling like they’ve been left out of a movie that, when you think about it, really doesn’t have many dark-skinned actors in it?

But then I waffled once again. “Criticism like this is exactly what’s keeping people from speaking up online about anything remotely related to race or any potentially sensitive topic,” I thought. If you say one thing out of line, then the twitterati will show up to yell at you and tell you all about how you’re wrong and how dare you. And indeed, I’ve talked to numerous people who have expressed just that sentiment. They don’t express any opinions online for fear of saying the wrong thing.

That’s clearly not something that’s held me back over the years, for better or for worse. But at the same time, it has kept me from doing some things that I’ve wanted to do or say. I recognize that I don’t fully understand the meaning of some words or some causes or some ideas, no matter how much I may try to. And so I’ve been hesitant to wade into those waters, for fear of saying the wrong thing. For example, I wasn’t going to write this post today, because I was unsure how it would be received, and I didn’t really feel like it was my place to speak up on the topic. In the end, I decided to write it, mainly to illustrate how I’m trying to navigate issues like it. (The biggest issue being my ignorance, and the fact that I consistently want to default to a “what’s the big deal” mindset that’s so dismissive and potentially hurtful to minorities.)

What else have I shied away from? Another example would be putting up a rainbow around my picture on social media in support of the LGBTQIA+ community. I worry that I don’t fully understand the statement I’d be making with that, and so I do nothing out of fear of making the wrong statement. This despite the fact that I believe members of that community deserve protection, support, and love. Despite the fact that I voted in favor of gay marriage and consider myself very sympathetic to their cause. But am I sympathetic enough? I don’t know the answer to that, and so it feels duplicitous to try and interject myself into the conversation.

Where am I trying to go with this? I suppose I’m trying to say to all the people who roll their eyes at some of these issues, “I see you. I get it. I understand why you might feel that way.” But at the same time, I’m trying to explain why it’s important to get over yourself and understand it’s not all about you and the way you feel. That just because things have changed from how they used to be doesn’t mean that they’ve changed enough, and people in the majority don’t get to tell people in the minority when it’s time for them to shut up and stop being heard. Not if people in the majority really think of themselves as compassionate allies.

If there’s one thing I know about feelings, it’s that no one gets to tell you how you feel. If you tell me you’re upset, I can’t say, “No you’re not.” Only you know how you feel. And if I care about you at all, telling you to suck it up or stop being so sensitive or insisting that there’s no real reason for you to be upset is pretty cold-hearted.

So where do I end up after I go through all those thoughts sparked by one simple article? I conclude that the people have a right to feel upset, and that the creators of In the Heights were right to apologize and express a desire to keep improving. If you’ve been failing a subject for year (centuries!), and you finally get your average up to a C or a B, you can be congratulated, even as you can also recognize you still have work to do to really master the material. Sure, you might feel like those are laurels you’re resting on, but if you find out they’re really just dandelions, stomping your foot and insisting they’re not won’t really help anything.

When it comes to these sensitive issues, I try my hardest to listen to the people who are actually being hurt, and then adjust my actions accordingly. Those knee-jerk reactions are my own shortcomings in action, and demanding the world conform to them is short-sighted, egotistical, and kind of a jerk move.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Movie Review: In the Heights

I remember back when I first heard about In the Heights when it was on Broadway. It won 4 Tony’s back in 2008, and it was nominated for 9 others. I . . . didn’t get it. At all. I remember watching the Tony’s and just wondering why in the world people were making a big deal out of a hip-hop musical. It felt very non-musically to me.

A lot’s happened over the next 13 years, of course. I’ve changed. Music tastes have changed. Hamilton happened. And so the musical that I was totally uninterested in back in 2008 became the movie adaptation that I really wanted to see in 2021. I would have seen it in the theaters, but I’ve got HBO Max, and it’s right there to watch on that service, so it was an easy decision to just watch it at home last night with Denisa and Daniela.

We loved it.

In many ways, it felt like a modern West Side Story. Just without the gang wars and Romeo and Juliet vibes. (So yeah, not like West Side Story at all, I guess.) It’s a celebration of diversity and place and heritage and people in general. The rhythm felt very Hamilton-esque. I’d try to sum up the plot, but it’s really a kaleidoscope of different plot lines all arranged around Washington Heights and its impending gentrification. The neighborhood is changing, and its changing the lives of everyone in it. But it also shows how things are always changing and evolving and moving forward, and it’s a celebration of that as well. There are no real villains in the show. No one’s out to sabotage the place. There’s no one everyone can fight against and overcome. It’s just life.

Do I regret not having seen it in the theater? In some ways, perhaps? It’s definitely a show that would play well to a crowd. But at the same time, I got to watch it with subtitles on, which made it much easier to understand and follow. I went into the movie blind. I’d seen a trailer, and that’s about it when it came to the plot or the music. The lyrics come fast and furious, and they’re hard to catch. I definitely would like to rewatch it again soon, just so I have an easier time keeping up with it all. I think seeing it without the subtitles would have left me more bewildered.

The songs are great. The acting is great. The voices are great. The choreography is great. The cinematography is great. There’s honestly not anything I can nitpick about the movie. I loved it from start to finish, and I heartily recommend it. 10/10. It’s fantastic.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

End of School: 2021 Edition

And here we are. I keep having to remind myself this is the end of the second year of COVID-affected school. Last year and this year just sort of blended together into one big mush in my head, as I’m sure it’s turned to mush for most of you. Did we have a summer last year? What month are we in now, anyway? What year is it, exactly?

This morning, I went downstairs and the kids were all still asleep, so I called up to wake Tomas and Daniela up. “Last day of school!”

“That was yesterday, Dad,” Tomas called down to me. Because they’re full remote on Fridays, and they all turned in their computers yesterday, he didn’t have school today, and I didn’t even realize it. Which is about par for the course this year, really.

That said, I realize my kids have had it better than some, and worse than others. We’ve had in-person school for the whole year, even if it was only about half the time each week. It was still miles better than when COVID kicked in during March of last year, and the school decided to keep everyone home and not have any assignments count toward a grade. (I get that kids are supposed to be learning for the love of learning, but how many of you actually believe kids did any work last year once they realized the grades wouldn’t matter?)

What’s on the agenda for the summer? Well, we’re launching things off by going down to stay in Boston this evening and visit with my cousin and her family tomorrow. Tomas is going to be working as a deck assistant at the pool in town until he passes his life guard exam, at which point he’ll start life guarding up a storm. We also have about 50 hours of driving practice still to go with him, so I imagine he’ll be Denisa’s chauffeur whenever possible. Daniela and MC are going to be doing various summer camps and lessons (drama, tennis, swimming), horse riding, and Daniela and Tomas will be back to cello and violin lessons at last.

We have a camping trip planned for the end of July, and we’ll try to get to the beach at least a few times. Denisa is up to her elbows in the garden, and I have . . . work. (The same thing we do every day, Pinky.) I also imagine I’ll have a deadline to revise DON’T GO TO SLEEP once I turn it in the first time and I get feedback from my editor.

On the horizon above everything else looms The Great Kitchen Renovation. Cabinets should arrive at the beginning of August, and that’s when the actual work on the kitchen is slated to begin as well. I’m expecting it to be much less than fun. The kitchen sits in the middle of our house. We’ll likely be without it for well over a month. Nothing says “fun August” like using a hot plate in the bathroom to cook all your meals, right?

But hey, even that will be better than last summer. I think we’re all looking forward to something like normalcy. What are you going to be up to? Maine’s lovely in the summer. Just sayin’ . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

How Old is Your Longest Friendship?

I was talking to my kids the other day, and the topic of friendship came up. Specifically how long we stay friends with people we’ve known for a while. When they found out how few of my friends from school are still active people in my life, they were surprised and disappointed. That makes sense: we’ve lived their whole lives in the same place, and so for them, many of their friends feel almost as longterm as family. I, on the other hand, moved around a lot as a kid, not staying more than a couple of years in any place until junior high.

Looking at my current friendships, I am still in contact with a couple of people from middle school. I still communicate a couple of times a month with some friends from high school. I do have one high school friend who I get together with frequently (virtually, typically, since he’s in Philly and I’m in Maine). And then friendships from then on get a bit more steady. But when I think back on all the friends I’ve had, and I think about how few of them play an active part in my life today, I suppose it could get discouraging. I remember being so close with them back in the day, and now . . . we’re just not.

Of course, I’ve also lived a lot since then, and I’ve seen (personally, at least) that people change and circumstances change, and it’s just not realistic to think I’ll still be such great friends with everyone I’ve ever been great friends. I came across this post from Kottke, which talks about how many friends people can actually maintain. In a nutshell, it argues you can only have 1-2 intimate friends. 5 close friends: people who would drop everything to come help you if you were in trouble. 15 core friends (which include all the ones already mentioned) that form the bulk of your social life. They trace it all the way to 500 acquaintances, 1500 known names, and 5000 known faces. It’s a fascinating article. You should check it out.

It can seem pretty grim when you think of it in those terms. To have a new close friend, a different close friend has to go. But at the same time, that’s often the way it happens, isn’t it? You move, or they move, or jobs change, or whatever. I can’t imagine trying to keep up with 100 close friends. There’s no way I would have the time.

But at the same time, I recognize I’m only speaking from my own experience, so I wondered if I’m out of the norm here. How about you? Are you still friends with many people from high school? Junior high? Elementary school? How far back do your friends stretch? For this, I’m talking about active friendships. People you get more than a Christmas card a year from. People who interact with beyond Facebook likes. Please share.

And at the same time, this train of thought has led me to once again confirm what a vital role family plays in all of this. (Or at least, the role family can play. Sure, my friends have changed over the years, but my family has always been there. I always know generally where they are. I get updates on what they’re doing. To me, family exists in a realm outside that chart of friends I linked to. Not that you’re necessarily always interacting with them, but . . . they form a base of support that you can always come back to. At least, that’s how it feels to me.

What say you?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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