Category: movies

A Tribute to Richard Donner

Richard Donner passed away yesterday. I realize there are many who won’t recognize his name, but he did a whole lot for fantasy in film, and I wanted to take a minute to appreciate that. When the Christopher Reeve Superman came out in 1978, it was the first time a studio had really thrown money at a superhero film. As we all know (or should know, at any rate), simply throwing money at film isn’t a formula for guaranteed success. (Waterworld, anyone?) It would have been very easy to have this first superhero effort go seriously wrong.

Warner Bros. picked Richard Donner to helm the film. What had he done before that? He’d directed The Omen, a small budget ($3 million) horror movie that grossed $60 million. He’d also directed a whole slew of television episodes, ranging from Perry Mason to Get Smart to The Twilight Zone. Superman had a budget of $55 million, so much bigger expectations. Donner took the movie and made it a huge success. ($300 million. That might not seem too impressive, until you realize that would be $1.2 billion today.)

In many ways, Donner set the stage for the future superhero movies to come. The mixture of comedy and action. Special effects but retaining a focus on character as well. (Though of course, the biggest contribution was proving a superhero movie could make a whole lot of money. That’s the biggest thing a movie can do to ensure other movies like it will be made.) I loved that movie, and spent many hours pretending I was Superman, even though I’d never cracked open a page of the comics.

If Superman were the only movie Donner had done, he would have still been very influential on the genre. But he went on to direct a slew of great films: Ladyhawke (straight up fantasy with Matthew Broderick and Michelle Pfeiffer), The Goonies(!), Lethal Weapon, Scrooged (one of the cooler (and more bizarre) Christmas Carol adaptations, with Bill Murray), and Maverick (comic Western with Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster).

The Goonies is flat out incredible, and I’d argue it played a role in the development of YA as a genre. Entirely kid-centric, with no parents barging in to solve the problems. Fast paced and snappy, but still recognizing the kids as real people with real wants and concerns. I’m not saying the whole genre stems from the movie (that’s clearly wrong), but rather that its acceptance and growth were helped along by the success of The Goonies. At least for yours truly, that movie defined in many ways what I want to get out of a YA adventure. (Plus, the movie gave us Sean Astin . . .)

These are all movies I grew up with, and which I’ve watched multiple times. To have them all come from the same director speaks to his ability to really make films that resonated with me. Were all his movies great? Well, no. Let’s not talk about The Toy or Timeline. But still, he had a great track record of success. If you haven’t seen some of these, I encourage you go and check them out. I just might have to fire up The Goonies tonight in his honor.

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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.

Funniest Movie Scene of All Time

The semester starts Monday! Have I mentioned that? So even though I haven’t done one of these for a while . . . I’m calling in sick for the blog. You’ll have to get by without my scintillating wit today. Instead, here’s my nomination for the funniest movie scene of all time:

You think it’s over, but it’s not. That by itself is already pretty funny, but what takes it to the next level is the next gag:

Every time I watch those, I end up crying with laughter. Maybe that says more about me than about the scenes . . .

Got a different nominee for the funniest movie scene of all time? Please share! I could use a few more laughs right now.

On Being “Well Watched”

We’re still working our way through the movie list I made for Daniela, but I just wanted to pause for a minute and say again how happy it’s making me. It took away all the stress of “which movie will we watch”, empowered everyone to be able to decide what they wanted to do on their own, and it’s gotten us watching a really wide array of films. Daniela’s been there for all of them, enthusiastically watching them and then discussing what she liked and didn’t like about them after they’re over.

What have we watched so far? Risking some judgement by admitting to how many, here we go:

  • WALL-E
  • Rear Window
  • His Girl Friday
  • Field of Dreams
  • Ghost
  • Interstellar
  • West Side Story
  • My Man Godfrey
  • 12 Angry Men
  • Roman Holiday

The best thing is that 4 of those movies are black and white. Almost all of them are quite very old by any modern standards. I don’t know why, but being “well watched” has always felt as important to me as being “well read.” In fact, it’s probably felt more important to me, ironically. Probably because I can knock out a classic film in under two hours, whereas getting through Les Miserables in print took me a good two weeks. (But it was totally worth it!)

The fact that my kids are taking interest in the same sort of thing? Tickles me pink. It’s not different from them watching my favorite movies. I mean, as much as I think UHF is a classic, I don’t necessarily think it makes you a better person to have seen it. (But it might help you understand me . . .) But watching movies that are recognized as important and noteworthy helps you evaluate and understand all the other movies you encounter in the future.

The movies we’ve been viewing right now have been heavily skewed to “Hollywood classics,” mainly because I’m limiting myself to films we own first, because money. But films like Spirited Away or Seven Samurai are coming. The list is light on international movies, however. (Probably because I drew heavily from AFI’s lists, which are all American, but also because Daniela’s only 12, and I didn’t want to overwhelm her all at once. I wasn’t sure how some of the older movies would go over with her. At this point, I’m pretty confident we’ll do a second list once we’re through with this one. Yay!)

Anyway. I know I’ve posted about this multiple times already, but these days I have to take my victories where I can get them. I think we might add on a few impromptu additions to tackle some of the racial issues that have been coming up in current events . . .

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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.

Fighting Quarantine Doldrums: Making a Movie List

Here we are in June, and things have long since blended together into one everlasting day. We’ve all done things to try and break it all up a bit. I started the family sprint challenge. Daniela worked her way through all the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. MC has been reading anything in print in the house. But there comes a time when you have to keep pushing yourself to figure out a way to keep yourself occupied.

Daniela had been feeling kind of restless ever since her MCU binge was over. We just got KK Slider to join our Animal Crossing island yesterday, and it’s as if all the big “To Do” items were getting crossed off the list. I was feeling pretty blah in the evenings as well.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and I had a bolt of inspiration hit me out of the blue. Daniela had been really good to go when I gave her the list of MCU movies in order. She happily went down the list, checking them off one at a time. What if I came up with another list? A list of great movies she should watch?

I didn’t want to go through the trouble of making a list if I didn’t have buy-in, so I approached Daniela with the idea. She loved it. The two of us sat down with IMDB’s top 250 films, as well as many of AFI’s film list, and we ran through them. We wanted variety, and we wanted movies Daniela hadn’t seen before, and we wanted them to be age-appropriate. After about an hour, the list was done: 150 movies all told.

I printed it off and failed to save the file (because I’m a bonehead, I guess), so I can’t easily share the list here, but I actually think the act of creating the list was an essential part of the equation. Most of the movies on the list are ones I’ve already seen, though there are some on there that I have yet to come across. (I’m very weak in Miyazaki movies, for example.) Sitting there selecting the movies from a pool of films was a fun thing to do, and it makes the list seem more personable than one you just cut and pasted from online.

Why 150 movies? Why not. At least we’re pretty future-proof for the quarantine. If we finish all 150, then . . . I guess I’ll make another list. But so far, things have been going swimmingly. We watched WALL-E, His Girl Friday, Field of Dreams, and Rear Window. It’s a pretty broad list, which is good. We debated making it genre specific, but it’s more fun to mix things up. Tonight Ghost is on the slate. (Oh, and I alphabetized the list to remove any sort of preconceived ranking or genre grouping.)

The biggest problem so far has been deciding what movie on the list to watch next. Daniela solved that by having me mark down which of the movies we had access to for free right now (41), and then she had our Amazon Echo pick a random number between 1 and 41. Let me tell you: when you already have a list that’s agreed on, and you pick a random movie from that list, then all drama over what to watch next ceases. You announce to the family what’s on the slate for the evening, and they decide if they want to watch it or not.

Beautiful.

So if you’re trying to come up with something to do, might I suggest this as an option? I’m also having Daniela rate the movies as we go through. So far her favorite was Field of Dreams, followed closely by His Girl Friday. She’s going to be so well versed in film history by the time this is done! (Because of course I can’t help but give her a bit of an overview of the movie’s history and why it’s important before and after we watch each one. She’s learning about classic film stars and genres, directors, techniques. The works!)

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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.

2020 Oscars Review

Another year, another Oscars. This time around, I’d seen most of the movies that garnered a slew of nominations. I also just barely panned the movie that won best picture, Parasite. So first, a response to that win.

Some asked me if Parasite’s win means I need to change my review of the movie. Of course I won’t. I stand by my feeling that this is an Emperor’s New Clothes sort of a win. Don’t get me wrong: I was happy to see a non-English language movie gobble up some awards, and I think that’s something that’s been a long time coming. I just wish it had happened with a movie that was better than Parasite.

As I’ve read the many good reviews of the movie, I keep seeing people say they loved it because it was “such a ride.” They had no idea what would happen next, and they just enjoyed the whirlwind twists and turns. I actually felt that was a gimmick of the movie, and not anything to write home about. There’s a fine line to walk to make a plot unpredictable but still rewarding. I mean, you could start a movie out with Mary Poppins and then have Russia nuke Cherry Tree Lane about a third of the way through, turning the rest of the movie into a Mad Max-ian rush through a horrific wasteland, as Mary tries to save Jane and Michael from child slavers. No one would see that “twist” coming, but . . . so what? The unpredictable plots I love are the ones that I kick myself for not guessing. Where the underlying hints are there for what came later, but it’s still surprising when it happens.

That wasn’t Parasite.

I personally worry that now that it’s won Best Picture, many more mainstream people will watch it, and it will become another example to them of why Oscar movies are stupid, and foreign movies are as well. Which would be a shame, because both statements are patently untrue.

But anyway. This post isn’t intended to be another critique of Parasite. There’s plenty to say about the rest of the awards ceremony. I’ll handle that as a series of bullets:

  • There was no host again this year. I know this is a new trend happening with a number of awards shows. I didn’t miss the host last year, but this year . . . I thought the show really meandered quite a bit. It’s like they didn’t want to pay for a host, but still wanted the host elements in place. Having Steve Martin and Chris Rock do a standup schtick at the beginning felt tacked on (and not very funny). The opening musical number was rushed, and then dragged, a strange feeling for a strange number. All in all, the whole evening felt like it had been thrown together by Frankenstein, and it gave it all a haphazard feeling I didn’t like.
  • The Best Song numbers were also all over the place. Elton John’s was . . . fine. I don’t think I’m going to be listening to it again. Randy Newman’s song had all of two verses, but it felt like it went on for ten. I enjoyed the Frozen II number with the multilingual Elsas, but then again, I was a linguistics major. The song from Harriet was moving and well done, but it just highlighted how weak some of the other presentations were. I know many wondered why Eminem of all people showed up, but to me, that was a stark reminder of songs that were actually good and impactful, and how far most of the others were from that standard. I thought Eminem’s surprise visit was one of the highlights of the show.
  • Overall, I got 15/24 of my picks, which is a good sign in my book. It means (to me) that the awards aren’t all going according to what people guessed would happen. (Though then again, this year I let my personal opinions of the movie sway me, which might be a reason I did worse than usual. Not sure about that one.) But all told, I like it when no one movie sweeps the show. Parasite won four awards, but that’s as close to a sweep as we got. Yay.
  • I really wish they would mute the audience when they do the In Memoriam. I’ve said it before, and I’ll continue to say it. Clapping for people who have died is tonally wrong, and I hate how it also turns into a popularity contest for those who have died the past year. (And as a side note, why in the world did Kobe Bryant get a spot in the segment? I look him up on IMDB, and he did produce a TV series, but movies? Surely this segment shouldn’t just turn into “people we liked who died this year, even if they have nothing to do with movies,” should it?) ***EDIT*** The illustrious Justin Longhurst pointed out that Bryant actually won an Oscar for an animated adaptation of his poem “Dear Basketball.” It’s totally fine to honor previous Oscar winners at the Oscars (duh), and I officially withdraw my critique.
  • I’m not a big fashionista or anything, but can we all agree that Kristen Wiig’s lasagna dress should never be repeated? I mean, I couldn’t remember who wore it last night, and all I had to do was google “lasagna dress: to find out I wasn’t along in my opinion . . .
  • Acceptance speeches were all over the place. I enjoyed Laura Dern’s quite a lot, and I liked the slew of Parasite speeches. Joaquin Phoenix’s speech was . . . unique and rambling. And a reminder that people feel impassioned about all sorts of causes.
  • We didn’t do a full blown party this time around. It was too close to Groundhog Day to really feel the need for it. But I did make brownies and buy a slew of toppings, so we had an impromptu Brownie Sundae Sunday, which went over well with the kids. I won the Oscar the Grouch hat by a mile this time. DC was closest to me with 8. Poor MC managed to somehow get none of her picks right, which I actually think takes a knack. I mean, most of the categories had 5 nominees. Just picking at random, you should get 1/5 of your selections right, which would put you around 4 or 5.
  • I dream of them actually sticking to an 11pm finish one of these years. You just can’t tell me it’s not possible to hand out 24 awards in 3 hours. I was plenty tired by the end of the show, and I just wanted it to be over.

All told, I didn’t find the night to be too compelling. Like I said, it lacked unity, and with its deconstructed nature, I started to question which things they decided to keep and if they were all really necessary. That said, I still had a nice evening. What were your thoughts?

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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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