Archive for the ‘Movies That Settle’ Category

This is probably courting danger, because people seem more divided over these movies than they are over most elections. But with Rise of Skywalker being the supposed finale of the Skywalker saga (which I didn’t know was a thing until Rise of Skywalker was almost released.), I figure this is as good a time as any. And the way that this Disney Era unfolded, I was thinking that maybe it would be interesting to take a deep dive to see how these new ones may have impacted my feelings on the older ones.

I guess it’s best to just come out with it right now, so no one wastes their time reading this if they don’t agree; I was not a huge fan of the final two Episodes, or of Solo. Of the Disney Era films, Rogue One was spectacular, and Force Awakens was fine, but mostly because of Han Solo, who was a hold-over from the original trilogy.  Everyone is entitled to their opinions on them, and we have all read all the arguments for and against these movies, so I won’t reiterate them here (well, I probably will a little), but let’s just say that I personally just wasn’t feeling it. Ok, that was going easy. I hated Last Jedi.  I thought it was a poorly-paced, sad movie. And not “sad” in the way that Empire Strikes Back was a little sad, but sad in that it made the heroes look like complete nitwits. And I am willing to admit right here and now that there is a strong possibility that I wasn’t giving Rise of Skywalker much of a chance because of how much I disliked Last Jedi.

So, yes, obviously each movie impacts how I look back on the others. Some people like to point out that the originals weren’t great, either, and sure, maybe if I saw them for the first time as a 43 year-old man, I would think they were silly. But I didn’t, I saw them as a child, and I was enthralled. And when I watch them now, maybe it all is just nostalgia, the most toxic impulse, according to John Hodgman. But truly, in the last 40+ years, there probably hasn’t been too many days that have gone by where I haven’t watched a Star Wars movie, quoted a Star Wars movie, or just thought about them in some way, shape or form. So regardless of how people see the original trilogy now, I’m a fan and always will be.

The Prequel Trilogy is a different kettle of fish (or Gungans). I find Phantom Menace to be a really hard movie to sit through, and literally from the first words of the opening crawl, it’s easy to be thoroughly uninterested (What the Hell is a Trade Federation?). But we got to see a couple Jedi do some cool stuff, and it was the first new Star Wars movie that we had since Return of the Jedi in 1983, so sue me for being a little sentimental. In fact, the real disappointment with Phantom Menace is that there was actual potential to have a fun adventure movie, if only Qui Gonn had decided to defy his orders (as they allude he had done before) and free Anakin and his fellow slaves from the treachery of the Hutts with a little sword play, rather than win a bet by using The Force. But that wasn’t the direction they decided to go, so instead we got politics. Lots of politics.


I suppose I can’t honestly say how I would look upon Menace now that I’ve seen the Disney movies, because I haven’t watched it in awhile and I don’t know that I will anytime soon. You could argue that I should have re-watched it before writing this whole thing, but I’m not sure what that would have solved. I would have been very surprised if I suddenly decided that it was a piece of cinematic art just because I didn’t like Last Jedi. Sometimes, boring movies are boring movies no matter how you slice it.

However, that doesn’t squash my whole theory. Attack of the Clones is next in the saga. It’s a strange case to me. A couple of my close friends and fellow podcasters think that it is the worst of them all. Seriously, we ranked all 11 Star Wars films, and this, they say, is the worst. As I said, I think Menace takes home that trophy, and Rotten Tomatoes agrees with me that it is worse than Attack of the Clones, with Menace owning a 53/59 critics/audience score. Not that I take a lot of stock in Rotten Tomatoes, but I did find it interesting that Rise of Skywalker has a 52% critics’ score, and an 85% audience rating, while Last Jedi has the crazy disparity of a 91% Certified Fresh score, but just a lowly 43% audience score. Now, you can’t go by the user ratings at all, because they’re completely false, and the website did have to change the way they do things after users were giving lousy scores to Captain Marvel before it was even released, but I do find it interesting that the last two Star Wars movies were flip-flopped like that.

I think the reason I look more highly at AOTC might have something to do with a fond memory of seeing it on an IMAX screen in 2002, when that technology was in its infancy. Back then, an IMAX theater couldn’t accommodate a movie much more than two hours. AOTC has a rather unnecessary and downright bulbous run time of 2 hours, 22 minutes, so it was edited down so it could be shown in an IMAX theater, and I noticed that it was much tighter and less boring with just some minor scenes cut out (Anakin and Padme rolling in the grass being one that really deserved to be on the cutting room floor. Or in the garbage.) You can tell that Lucas likes his old-timey detective stories as you watch Obi-Wan go back and forth trying to solve the mystery of who tried to assassinate Padme’, because there are so many scenes of him talking to people that it becomes incredibly tedious. Seriously, he asks that alien in the diner about the dart, then asks the librarian where Camino is, then asks Yoda where it is, then goes to Camino and asks that tall lady what’s going on, then meets the Prime Minister of Camino and asks what’s going on, and then meets Jango Fett, and then talks to Yoda and Mace Windu about all this, before he finally confronts Jango and they fight. While all this is going on, Anakin and Padme’ are doing nothing except making small talk and sex eyes at each other (He’s actually kind of creepy about it. He’s basically eye-raping her at one point, so much so that she tells him to not look at her “like that.” And in typical guy fashion, he responds, “Like what?”)

With a lot of that edited out, and just the bare bones, it’s not a horrible movie, despite Hayden Christiansen’s attempts to make it so. When the Jedi show up at the end to save our heroes, it actually is quite fun to watch. I had been hearing stories my whole life about how Jedi were great warriors, but I had never really seen much action from them until now. And of course, for 2002 special effects, make the movie CGI Yoda does. Of course, overall, the puppet is better for just hanging out, but the saber-fighting was still pretty cool in 2002.


However (and sadly, it’s a big “however,”) the IMAX version of the movie is not the movie that we got. Similarly, people clamoring for “the JJ Cut” of Rise of Skywalker need not waste their time, because this is the movie that we got. Take them or leave them. Any movie might be better with a few cuts, but we don’t always get them, and such is life.

Interestingly, I found other similarities between AOTC and Rise. As far as pacing, as I mentioned earlier, they are very much alike, with the heroes jumping from planet to planet accomplishing almost nothing. We also find out a lot of things about the characters and their history. At the beginning of AOTC, we learn through their dialogue that Anakin and Obi-Wan have been through a lot together, including that nest of Gundarks, which is how the writers tried to make us feel about Poe, Finn and Ray at the beginning of Rise. Both movies also had a character slowly turning to the Dark Side, and The Emperor behind the scenes, pulling the strings.

Unfortunately for Rise, it was the final chapter of the saga, while AOTC is the middle chapter, so the action is still, pardon the pun, rising. So for my money, that’s a little late to be learning this much about these characters, since Ray and Poe had never, to our knowledge, even met before. It’s also a little late to tempt Ray to the Dark Side, because, let’s face it, that would have been a bit of a down ending. I mean, we knew going in that Anakin was going that way, but we still wanted to see how it played out. I get that you have to have drama, and it mirrors The Emperor trying to turn Luke in Jedi, but Ray’s almost-turn just didn’t have that same impact, probably because we had seen it fail already with Luke. And yes, I’m going to blame Last Jedi for throwing off the pacing of Rise so much. Sorry, fans.

But here’s my big problem with Rise, and by proxy now, the entire Skywalker Saga: Emperor Palpatine was behind it ALL! I mean, if we go back to the stories told in Menace, we learn that Anakin had no father, but instead we are to believe that Palpatine could use the The Force to create life (as he tells Anakin in Sith.) We are to assume then, that Palpatine used this power to create Anakin in the womb of this slave woman, and he would be The Chosen One, who would bring balance to The Force. I guess. Maybe Palpy had no idea that would happen and just thought it would be fun to create a kid. Either way, if Anakin is about 8 years-old when he is discovered on Tatooine by Qui Gonn and brought to Corusant (and then they go back to Naboo, but that’s a different complaint), then trains to be a Jedi for another 12-15 years, we can probably assume Palpatine has been stringing him along this entire time. Anakin is definitely buddies with him during AOTC, while Palps is also manipulating the Galactic Senate, the Jedi Council, and it seems even Count Dooku a little bit. He’s a busy man.

A few years later, he finally ascends to the throne of Emperor, takes over the galaxy, kills the Jedi and takes Anakin, who is probably in his mid-twenties by then, as his Official Sith Apprentice. Meanwhile, his pseudo-grandchildren are born (more on that later) and hidden from him. It’s not for another twenty or so years that Luke comes on their radar. Eventually, when Luke is about 23, Palpatine thinks they can turn him to The Dark Side, but he also seems to think that Luke would make a better apprentice, because in Jedi he suggests that Luke take his father’s place at his side. That is fine, because he did the same with Dooku, twenty years ago. Vader doesn’t seem to agree, and thinks he and Luke would make a better team ruling the galaxy. Man, that Original Trilogy was pretty cool.

Luke refuses and Palpatine is killed and peace returns! Yay!


Nah, sorry, not so simple. We now flash-forward another 30-something years and we find Ray, another Force-sensitive being, who we eventually discover is Palpatine’s granddaughter. Palp is up to his old tricks (and I do mean, “old”) as he literally raises an Empire and tries to convert Ray, just as he did with Ben Solo, who was the off-spring of Liea Organa, Anakin’s daughter. It works out exactly the same, as Ray resists and kills him… again.

Ok, Even going back to the Immaculate Conception of Anakin, 8-10 years before Menace, all the way to the finale of the Skywalker Saga, where he supposedly met his end, we are talking that Palpatine was pulling the strings in this galaxy for around 70 years, give or take. That is one long game he was playing. At any point did he just say, “This isn’t working. Maybe I should try something else.”? Although I guess technically he was running the place for about twenty years or so.

Finally, the “It was ME all along” aspect of Rise kind of throws the whole saga out of whack because if Palpatine used The Force to create Anakin, then he is essentially his father, although I guess not biologically, but still, let’s go down that weird road for a minute. Anakin then sires twins, and one of those twins has a son, who follows his grandfather’s footsteps and becomes Kylo Ren. Meanwhile, Palpatine, even though he’s really gross and old, has a kid, and that kid has a daughter, Ray. I don’t recall if we’re told that Ray is his biological granddaughter or his Force-logical granddaughter, but for the sake of this discussion, I’m going with the fact that they’re one and the same. So, do you see where I’m going with this?

Basically, I’m saying that if Ray and Kylo are descendants of Palpatine, then all that pseudo-sexual tension during Last Jedi and that kiss at the end of Rise is REALLY GROSS! I’m sure that no one who made Rise of Skywalker was thinking of any of this when they were writing the script, and I’m the one who is reaching here, but the very fact that there is a little branch to even reach for is enough for me. With one creative choice, they suddenly turned Star Wars, the greatest space opera of my lifetime, one that captured the imagination of generations of fans, into Game of Thrones… without all the boobs.

There were tons of rumors and fan theories about Ray’s true parentage after Force Awakens, whether she was related to Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, or even Obi-Wan Kenobi somehow. I never read one theory that suggested she was related to Palpatine, and I suspect that’s because no one wanted that to be the case. But that’s the way they went, I assume because no one suspected it. Sometimes,  however, surprise isn’t always the best choice. Maybe people theorized that she was related to Luke because they wanted her to be related to Luke. The beauty of Star Wars to me wasn’t the intricate plot of the bad guy pulling all the strings. I can watch Usual Suspects for that. The beauty of Star Wars was its simplicity; good vs. evil, redemption, a little love story thrown in. It’s not Skakespeare, but it’s pretty damn close. The Scooby-Doo ending just threw all that out the window. And like I said earlier, there will be no JJ Cut, or no more movies to retcon this one (and don’t give me that novelization crap, because I can’t even…). This is the Star Wars saga that we got, and this is the one I have to live with. I’m just not sure it’s the one I wanted.

The good news is that you can own Rise of Skywalker now and make your own choice. Just click here and then tell me how wrong I am!

This is another one that has been making the rounds on HBO lately, and I happen to catch it at the same part every time: the horrible ice skate root canal scene. Ugh.

Back in 2000, the world was aghast at the prospect of one of Hollywood’s most beloved actors spending two-and-a-half hours on an island with a volleyball. Could even Robert Zemekis pull this off? Is Tom Hanks that good that we would sit through such a movie that sounds like an intriguing disaster-in-the-making?

Apparently the answer was a resounding “Yes!” To the tune of $233 million worldwide gross, and a Best Acting Oscar nom for Hanks. Impressive feat, seeing as how Hanks didn’t interact with anyone but a volleyball the entire movie. Right?

Or so they would like us to believe. In fact, whoever came up with the marketing plan for this movie should get some award nominations, too, because there is a little bit of Hollywood magic at play here.

First, the quick poop on Cast Away, the pretty much universally-loved tale of a Fedex executive who takes on a last-minute assignment and is stranded on a deserted island when his plane crashes. He told his girlfriend at the time, played by Helen Hunt, that he would “be right back” – which is always a good sign in any movie – and was gone for four years, presumed dead. However, he was alive and living off the land for four years, until some weird port-a-potty siding or whatever it was washes up on his beach one day, giving him the means to build a raft that will get him past the powerful surf and off the island. He is found in the middle of the ocean and brought back to civilization, only to discover that Hunt has married a dentist and had a child. Total bummer, but at least you’ve got your health, right?

At its most basic roots, this is a movie about a person surviving with nothing but his wits and some stuff that crash-landed with him, literal man vs. environment stuff. Other than Hanks and Hunt (a little bit), there isn’t a whole lot of character development, so it’s basically, “How do we pass the time imaginatively with one guy on an island by himself?” Which was a pretty novel and cool concept, I’ll admit. But I will say that they probably didn’t have to pay Tarantino to take a pass at the dialogue on this one. But there was a lot more at play here than just your basic movie, and this is what I’ve decided as time has gone on and the movie has settled.

The run time of Cast Away is listed at 144 minutes (2 h, 24 minutes, for the people who hate math, which I do). Using basic Screenwriting 101 principles, the plane crash that maroons him on the uncharted island comes around 25 minutes in, and he wakes up on the island at just about 30 minutes. Interestingly enough, he wanders around looking for food and salvation for another half-hour before opening the package that contains the other major character in the movie; Wilson the Volleyball, which he was delivering on that plane. Wilson obviously doesn’t speak, but Hanks does draw a face on him, which instantly makes him slightly more expressive than Helen Hunt.



We then get about ten minutes of him trying to make fire, which he eventually does. At about 1:18, we get the awful root canal scene, and then the time jump to four years later, and now he has a huge beard and is an experienced spear-wielder. At about 1:45, after escaping the island and floating aimlessly through the ocean for days, Wilson slips off the raft and floats away, and is never seen again, and we feel horrible.


However, despite the clever marketing, Wilson was only in the movie for about forty minutes. Granted, people have won Oscars with much less screen time than that, but no one ever described Elizabeth as, “Cate Blanchett talks to an old lady for two-and-a-half hours.”

Hanks is discovered floating a couple minutes later (call it 1:47), but there is still almost forty minutes of movie left, while we learn about him rejoining the world, reconnecting with Hunt, and delivering the one package that he kept on the island, never opening it because it had cool angel wings drawn on the outside of the box. To me, this last forty minutes is the real crux of the movie, because not a whole lot happens while he’s on the island. He makes fire, bashes out one of his teeth and talks to a volleyball. We did learn while he was planning his escape that he contemplated suicide by hanging himself off of a cliff, and the only reason he didn’t do it was because the branch he wanted to use wouldn’t have held and he would have smashed on the rocks below and possibly not died, but been in immense pain for awhile. Good character development there.

But the real character stuff comes in those last forty minutes, and that’s what makes it a good movie that settled pretty well. In a very understated way, Hanks plays this guy trying to be normal again. After the Fedex gala celebrating his return, he picks up the claw of the half-eaten lobster that they served, and stares at it, no doubt thinking that he used to catch stuff like that with his bare hands so he could live, and now it’s a delicacy. When he goes to bed that night, he lays on the floor, his body not used to sleeping on a comfortable bed yet, and flicks the light on and off so he can look at his locket containing a picture of Helen Hunt, just like he used to do with his flashlight while trying to fall asleep in the caves of his island.

Which brings us to his reunion with Hunt. She was supposed to meet him at the airport, after a brief Fedex press conference. Instead, her douchebag husband (played by Sex in the City‘s Mr. Big, another d-bag) comes in to tell Hanks that she’s not ready yet, and it’s all been a big shock to her. My instant reaction was, “Her? What about him?”

But it’s not true. Perhaps realizing that is not the reaction his girl would have, after the husband leaves, Hanks goes to the window and sees Hunt arguing with him, wanting to come inside to see her lost-and-now-found ex, but Mr. Big leads her to their car and drives away. This convinces Hanks to take the initiative and go to her late that night. Don’t ask me how he knows where she lives. Maybe he used his Fedex connections? Creepy.

They have awkward coffee, discuss football, her daughter, and other mundane stuff. Then she shows him the map that she kept showing where his plane went down, where his island was, and how far he drifted until he was rescued. Despite everyone telling her to let go because he was surely dead, she saved everything relating to him. She even gave him back his car. She saved everything but Wilson.

As she watches him start to drive away, she begins to run after him. Simultaneously, he throws it in reverse and goes back. They share a passionate kiss in the rain. She tells him, “You are the love of my life.” They get in the car and are about to drive away, when they both realize the truth: she is married to someone else, and it cannot happen. She returns to her home and her stupid husband. And there’s still fifteen minutes left in the movie!

Hanks goes to his friend’s house to drink Scotch. He admits that he never thought he would get off the island, that he thought about killing himself, that he had power over nothing. But he kept breathing, kept surviving, and miracle of miracles, the tide gave him his sail (port-a-potty thing), and here he is, alive, and yet, he still lost her. And he admits, “I’m so sad I don’t have Kelly.” But he has to keep breathing, because tomorrow will come, and “who knows what the tide will bring.”

And there’s still 12 minutes left of running time! (OK, including credits)

Next we see Hanks delivering the package that he never opened, the one with the angel wings drawn on it. He drives to the the address, in the middle of nowhere, and finds no one is home, although there are similar angel wing sculptures all over the yard. He leaves the package with a note, saying, “This package saved my life. Thank you.” He then drives back to a four-way intersection, and stops to contemplate his next move. As he stands outside his car, a map laid out on his hood, he is approached by a Samaritan who helps him with some directions, and kind of hits on him. As she drives off in the direction of the house he just left, Hanks sees the same angel wing drawing on the back of her truck, and realizes that she was the angel on his shoulder. He stands in the middle of the intersection, looking in each direction and wondering where to head. Then he looks back in the direction she drove off in, and smiles. FADE OUT. Finally!

I’m not actually complaining about the length of the movie, because it flows very well, but merely commenting on how most of the stuff that actually happens in the movie takes place after he is rescued. The movie itself, to me, isn’t really about a guy stranded on an island, foraging for coconuts. It is actually a tragic love story about a guy who is gone and presumed dead, only to return and find his true love has married someone else. It could just as well have been called “I Thought He Was Dead for Four Years: The Kelly Frears Story,” except that the island stuff made things more interesting.

I know that I’m barely touching on the religious aspect of the angel wings, the bro-mance between Hanks and Wilson, and I didn’t even mention the “divine” whale intervention that awakens Hanks just as his would-be rescue ship is going by what remains of his man-made lifeboat. That is all very cool stuff that adds to this movie, but in the end, it’s just stuff that fills the time until we get to the real story, the story of tragic lovers Chuck and Kelly. The story of a man who never married his girl, and now he never will. But the tragedy makes it all worth it, because let’s face it, if he had come back and she left her family for him, wouldn’t that have been pretty ridiculous? Yeah, for this movie to settle well and not be remembered as simplistic, Hollywood pap, it had to end this way. So, sorry, Chuck. Hope it worked out with the angel chick.


Unless you went a different way.

I am maybe playing with fire here, because I haven’t actually seen this movie in years. In fact, I think the last time I watched it, it was my VHS copy. Remember that? It was one of those two-tape monsters.

Yes, Michael Mann’s Heat, starring Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro was long. Or it seemed like it at the time. With a run time of two hours and fifty minutes, it is actually a half-hour shorter than the last Lord of the Rings movie, and about as long as the first Hobbit movie, and yet those movies seemed to go on forever and I would probably never be able to sit through them again, but I’ve seen Heat several times. It’s either a shortening of the collective attention-span or the fact that Heat just had fewer characters to keep track of, but it seems like a quick, little crime movie to kill an afternoon compared to anything Peter Jackson has ever done. Maybe the whole two-tape VHS thing just seemed daunting in retrospect.

Or maybe Heat just seems long because not a whole lot happens in it. Basically, the movie is one long acting duel between two of the greats just before their total descent into the land of Phoning It In.

(In fact, I think they made that skit based on this movie. And it’s hilariously on target.)

The funny thing is that Heat was actually marketed on being a Pacino-DeNiro slugfest, but which is enough for most people, but when you strip that away, it’s a very basic heist movie. Like, extremely basic. We are told that DeNiro and his crew are super-thieves, and Pacino is a super-cop, but other than that, it’s basically an over-acted episode of Law and Order. The logline on IMDB says that it’s about , “A group of professional bank robbers start to feel the heat from police when they unknowingly leave a clue at their latest heist.” Now, I don’t doubt that happened, but it seems like a minor plot detail to me, and yet that quick synopsis makes it seem like that’s the driving action. Maybe this is just my faulty memory again and that was the big moment, but I suppose that the people at IMDB have to say something that describes it better than, “Two aging legends ham it up one more time!”

Basically, there’s a whole lot of talking for two hours of the two hours and fifty minutes, but what it boils down to is that Pacino knows that DeNiro is pulling a heist (because they sit down and have a little chat. Standard police procedure for all super-cops), but DeNiro has to pull it anyway, because this is, of course, the big “retirement” score. DeNiro has also gone against his Jedi training by falling in love with Judging Amy (Amy Brenneman), and therein lies the rub. DeNiro’s mentor told him,”Never have anything in your life that you can’t walk out on in thirty seconds flat if you spot the heat coming around the corner.” Not only does it make for a great title for the movie, but some prisoner somewhere probably has that tattooed on his back.

In the movie’s one great scene, DeNiro and his crew pull off the heist, sort of. There is all sorts of ratting out and stuff, but basically, it’s DeNiro and Pacino and their various colleagues shooting at each other, and eventually DeNiro gets away with some of the money, and Val Kilmer, and Pacino kills everyone else in DeNiro’s crew. So, it’s win-win.

After wasting all the rats, DeNiro asks Judging Amy if she’s down to make a getaway to New Zealand with his stolen money. They plan to meet, but acting on another tip (these are the worst criminals ever), Pacino shows up, as well. DeNiro spots him and decides that it’s time to invoke his 30-Second Rule, but it’s too late. Pacino spots him and the chase is on. Well, “chase” may be exaggerating a little. Both of these guys were in their fifties, so they kind of waddled.

The big finale comes on an airport runway, just for dramatic effect, and Pacino shoots DeNiro in the chest multiple times after seeing his shadow in the in the bright lights of an oncoming plane. DeNiro is happy to not have to go back to prison, and Pacino is happy because, well, he got paid to do this. The two men share a nice moment as DeNiro  lay dying, holding each other’s di- uh, I mean, hands.

I guess we’re supposed to understand that the two were more alike than they seemed to be. That they both had struggles in their personal lives that made them eerily similar, but their professional lives kept them from being pals. I think in the end, though, you’re kind of happy that it’s over, and that you got to see this:


I do love my gifs.

The thing that struck me as I was looking around the interwebs for information about this movie, was that it actually has a pretty good/famous supporting cast. Other than Kilmer (who is completely crazy but will always have a special place in my heart for his role in Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang), we have Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Ashley Judd, Dennis Haysbert, Natalie Portman, Hank Azaria, Henry Rollins, Jeremy Piven and the great Danny Trejo, who actually plays “Trejo.” And yet, all of them play second fiddle to the two aging stars who basically just mumbled for 90% of the movie.

The real problem with this movie, though, was that it was incredibly slow and bland. You’ve heard people use the saying “All sizzle and no steak,” right? Well, this movie was just steak. And slightly over-cooked, if you ask me. I know it seems strange to say this, given the two mega-stars known for chewing the scenery, but that’s what I think. I would have expected Mann, the creator of Miami Vice, to have something with a little more pop than this. Yes, the heist scene is amazing, and there’s a little bit of drama with the two guys leading similar lives, and Kilmer as the guy that DeNiro sees as the son he never had, but mostly it’s a lot of talking leading up to one cool gunfight, and then some more talking, and then the good guys win. And maybe in the hands of younger, hungrier actors, and a filmmaker who was a little more daring, that would be enough (In fact, See The Town for a similar movie done way better.). But here, we’re stuck with this:


Never gets old.

I know that Halloween is practically over, but you have to write when the Muse is with you, so I’m posting this now.

I’m about to admit something that I haven’t admitted to anyone in years, but here goes: I walked out of Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before ChristmasIt almost pains me to admit it now, but also, it was 1993, and I was a cynical high school junior. My friend Brian and I bought a ticket to see it, not really knowing what it was about, but we liked the first two Batman movies enough (and I always had a soft spot for The Fox & The Hound) to see the name Tim Burton and figured it was worth a try. Then there was singing, and we walked out and went into Sylvester Stallone’s Demolition Man instead. And after that we snuck into Judgment Night, starring Emilio Estevez and Denis Leary. Yes, high school juniors. I am unbelievably, retroactively ashamed.

The years, however, have been very kind to this movie. Not only have I gained a great appreciation for Danny Elfman’s music (who also sang the Jack Skellington parts), but thinking about the lost art of stop-animation, which was how this entire movie was made, it’s amazing that people don’t laud this movie even more. Even with all the CGI now, which is cheaper but still doesn’t look as real, The Nightmare Before Christmas holds up extremely well. Certainly better than Demolition Man.

The story is a simple one. Burton was always a fan of those classic Christmas cartoons, but because he was also an obvious fan of the macabre, he asked himself, “What if there was a Halloween version of the Christmas villages and Whoville and what-not?” And so began the story of Jack Skellington, the man about Halloweentown, and the Bone Daddy who plans the Halloween celebration there every year. The only problem is Jack is getting a little bored with the same old Halloween stuff year after year. By sheer luck he stumbles one night into Christmastown, and discovers that there is a holiday where people don’t try to scare each other, but exchange gifts, instead. Jack is swept up in the idea of Christmas, but doesn’t quite grasp the spirit. He tells his fellow townsfolk about his findings, but they don’t grasp it, either.xmas

While agonizing over the spirit of Christmas, Jack builds a sleigh, reanimates some reindeer and decides to have Santa Claus (but since he’s the King of Halloween, he think it’s pronounced “Sandy Claws.) kidnapped, telling him that he can take the night off and Jack will bring presents to all the girls and boys. The real issue (besides kidnapping Santa), is that  Jack had asked everyone in Halloweentown to make the Christmas presents that he wants to give out and, well, they just don’t have the knack:


The other issue is that Santa has been taken by the arch-villain of the movie (re-kidnapped?), the evil Oogie-Boogie, who appears to be nothing more than a burlap sack of bugs. Sally, a bride of Frankenstein-esque doll with the hots for Jack attempts to rescue him, but is also taken hostage, so jack must rescue them both. He does, rather easily, as he really only had to pull a loose string on Oogie and he came apart, literally, at the seams. As Jack is worried that Santa can’t complete his run and he has now ruined Christmas, Santa shows him the true meaning of the holiday by telling him that it ain’t just about the presents. So whether he finishes or not, Christmas will come. Of course, he will do it, because he’s Santa and he’s awesome. Also, Jack realizes that Sally is pretty cool, and that he is actually the Halloween guy, and he should stick to what he knows, which is scaring people.tumblr_mubkfcxgfl1rrhs85o1_500

You can look past the simple plot when you think about how long it must have taken to complete this movie, as the stop-animation wizards would sometimes get mere seconds of the movie filmed in a day. For the uninitiated, a film camera shoots at 24 frames per second, meaning that they animators had to simulate that by physically moving a model of the characters in the tiniest ways and take a picture of them, twenty-four times just for one second of the movie. It’s a wonder that the movie isn’t ten seconds long. You really have to admire the work that went int it, even if you’re the type of person who would walk out of the theater during the first few minutes.

One of the reasons this movie holds up, however, isn’t even the movie-making magic that is taking place, but the themes, and the age-old question, “Is it a Halloween movie or is it a Christmas movie?” At least, it’s an age-old question in my apartment. It definitely has the creepy, crawly characters that you find in most Tim Burton movie. But it also shows Jack discovering the true meaning of Christmas, like a lot of Christmas movies. And it’s because of this duality, because it works as both, that the movie stands the test of time. So watch it whenever you want. Whether you’re young or old, high school junior of grumpy old man. To admire the craftsmanship or enjoy the music or the simple holiday story, there’s really no other movie like it.


With all the Suicide Squad talk  that was floating around about what was cut and why, I thought it might be a good time to turn back the clock to a time when Warner Brothers actually made good comic book movies.

Maybe “good” is too light a word. And I honestly think that “comic book movie” pigeonholes this movie into a genre that immediately screams “low expectations.” I’m going to say right here for the record that Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is one of my favorite movies of all-time. Not comic book movie, or movie that involves homicidal clowns. Just in general. Take every movie that I have ever seen in my 40 years of living, and this is probably top

But is it? Does it still hold up in the wake of all the other blunders put out by Warner Brothers since? Or does it just shine brighter because those were so bad? Let’s find out.

After the events of Batman Begins, Gotham City has seen the crime rate drop, as criminals cower in fear when they see that signal light up the night sky. They also have a new District Attorney, Harvey Dent, who has vowed to put the mob out of business. Between Dent, Batman and Lt. James Gordon, crooks are on the run.

However, Batman has also brought out a little crazy in Gotham. One man in particular was so inspired that he decides to start painting his face like a clown and leave a Joker playing card at the scene of all his crimes. But the real crazy part of his M.O.? He’s robbing from the mob! This “Joker” then has the guts to crash one of their big boss meetings and tell them that, for enough dough (whatever he hasn’t stolen already), he’ll kill Batman for them. After Dent and Batman put the squeeze on the mob’s money launderer, they agree and hire the clown. And the dance begins.

Because this Joker is a lot more devious than Jared Leto’s (at least, the few minutes we saw of Jared Leto’s), he publicly dares Batman to unmask and show the world who he is, or he’s going to murder someone each day until he does. He then proceeds to blow up a judge that was scheduled to preside over the mob guys’ trial, poison the police commish, and then he tries to whack Dent (all in one night!), only to be thwarted by Batman. That encounter, however, only serves to heighten Joker’s obsession.

Because he knows that Batman can’t give in and reveal his identity, Dent tells the world that he is the Caped Crusader, and is locked up for vigilantism. During his transport to prison, Joker and his men attack, but the real Batman comes to the rescue, and they catch and arrest the Joker. Of course, this isn’t Cesar Romero’s Joker here, so it is revealed that both Dent and his fiancee’, Rachel Dawes (who also happens to be the love of Bruce Wayne’s life), have been kidnapped by Joker’s men while he was sitting in a cell.

This leads to the amazing interrogation scene between Batman and Joker, where Batman tries to get him to reveal their location, and Joker tries to break Batman down into a murdering psychopath like him. Joker finally tells him where they are, but knowing that Bats really will want to save Rachel, he lies and switches the locations, because there won’t be enough time to save them both. Oh, did I mention they are strapped to gallons of gas, set to blow? Not even Jack Nicholson’s version would have been that conniving. Probably.

Batman arrives at the spot that he thought Rachel would be held at, only to find Dent. He pulls him to relative safety and Dent survives the explosion, only half of his face was coated with gasoline and is severely scarred. Rachel Dawes wasn’t that lucky, and she is blown to bits in spectacular fashion, to the horror of Bruce Wayne, but the delight of movie audiences everywhere. (In case anyone forgot, Katie Holmes played Rachel Dawes in Batman Begins, but was so reviled that she was replaced by Maggie Gyllenhall in this one. Too late, it seems, because even though the actress was an improvement, people seemed to really hate Rachel Dawes no matter who was playing her.)

While Batman and the Gotham Police are rescuing people (badly), Joker easily escapes, not only blowing up the entire Major Crimes Unit, but also absconding with the mob’s money man, who gives him the all their cash. Joker then burns him alive, on top of the giant pile of mob money, because as the Joker himself puts it, “It’s not about money. It’s about sending a message.”


Joker then tells the people of Gotham that he’s going to blow up a hospital, but again that is just a smokescreen to kidnap a bunch of people, and have a little conversation with Harvey Dent about chaos theory. Harvey, who is already pretty broken anyway, realizes that Joker’s advice to “introduce a little anarchy” is dead-on, and begins his own life of crime, using a flip of the coin to decide if his potential victim lives or dies.

Meanwhile, Joker stages his final battle with Batman, using the kidnapped hospital folks, and two boats as his staging ground. One boat is filled with the worst kind of prisoners, while the other holds regular citizens, and Joker gives each boat a detonator, asking them to choose which one should be blown up. Because there has to be some happiness in this movie, the prisoners surprisingly refuse to blow up the regular citizens, and the regular citizens also decide to spare the prisoners. It illustrates the philosophical difference between Batman and The Joker as far as the film goes, but let’s face it, if this were real life, I’m betting both of those boats would have been blown to smithereens in seconds.

Joker has also dressed all the kidnapped doctors up as his clown-faced minions, and dressed his minions up as the kidnapped hospital workers, hoping that the police will fire on the wrong people. A good plan until Batman sticks his nose in, rescuing everybody. In the end, Batman does best the Joker in single combat, but that is to be expected. Joker doesn’t even seem to mind, really, because he has already won the war by corrupting  Gotham’s “White Knight,” Harvey Dent. Batman ends up confronting Dent and Dent is killed. Since no one but he and Gordon knew that Harvey had gone bad, and a murdering D.A. would have meant all those mobsters would have been set free, Batman nobly takes the heat for Dent’s death and is declared public enemy number one.

Wow, a lot happens in this movie. I probably could have glossed over some of those details and just said “Batman and Joker fight and Batman wins in the end. Yay!” But would that really have covered all the bases? There’s a lot of underlying stuff here, between Batman’s moral ambiguity and Joker’s revelation that Batman and criminals he fights aren’t all that different. During the interrogation scene, Joker rightly points out that Bats let five people die before Dent came forward and took his place, which he also allowed to happen. That’s the hero that Gotham deserves?

There’s also the whole Harvey Dent-Rachel Dawes-Bruce Wayne love triangle, which interestingly sees her choose the guy that isn’t Batman (just before her demise, but she did choose him), who also isn’t a complete scumbag. That is usually the case in Hollywood blockbusters, right? The new boyfriend of the hero’s ex is always a total jerk. Oddly enough, until the end, when he goes on a bit of a killing spree, Harvey Dent isn’t bad at all. He’s kind of the only guy in the movie that doesn’t have a bad streak in him. Even Jim Gordon is working with cops that he knows are corrupt, since that’s pretty much all there is in this city.

But what I really would like to get into is Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning Joker, what some call the role that killed him. Please don’t think that I am making light of that terrible tragedy. But some do speculate that his dedication to the role at least partly contributed to him losing sleep, which lead to him upping his medication dose, and so on. But what was it about this Joker that lead him to that gruesome fate, while Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Jared Leto, and even Mark Hamill, are able to laugh through it and move on?

Because this guy was crazy!


Obviously, Jack was comic book villain crazy, and I’m not saying that he didn’t bring his own Nicholson-ness to the role, and blaze a trail for all future Jokers. And maybe Romero had his impact as well, although probably more in a “Don’t be like him” way. And Mark Hamill is an awesome Joker on the animated series, but it is animated, and I don’t think he’s really allowed to go full homicidal with that character. But Ledger? His Joker was nuts!

Or maybe not. Maybe he was brilliant. Despite what he tells Dent in the hospital scene about not having plans, claiming that he’s like s dog who chases cars, Joker does seem to have a few good ideas. He steals money from the mob, which only serves to wake the cops up to them so they can throw them in jail. He then takes out a couple mobsters for good measure. He also tries to get his “frenemy” Batman into the game by asking him to reveal who he is. And then he converts Dent into the fold. As he says,”introduce a little anarchy… and everything becomes chaos.” And the best part? Chaos is fair. Did I mention that he’s wearing a nurse uniform while he’s saying all this? Maybe he is a bit off.

In the end, most of the mobsters are either dead or in jail, and the corrupt cops are all pretty much out of the picture, too. Harvey Dent is gone, and Batman goes into hiding for the next 8 years. As this redditor puts it, Joker is actually the protagonist of the movie. I don’t know about that, but he definitely restores balance to The Force, so to speak.

It’s been eights years since this movie came out, and we’ve seen a lot in that time. Even a new Joker and Batman. This new Joker acts a lot like the previous one, just with a few more tattoos, but he doesn’t really have any cool ideas, or theories on chaos, or anything to do with anything except he laughs and wears purple. And the new Batman? He’s just kinda old. But when I watched The Dark Knight again recently, I realized that we didn’t need those new ones, because these 2008 versions hold up just fine. In fact, I started thinking about the current state of the world. I thought about the corporate bigwigs that The Joker would probably call “schemers.” I thought about the current political climate, and the upcoming election, and how maybe someone needs to introduce a little anarchy into that (although, I wouldn’t call Trump a “schemer,” since he doesn’t seem to have any plans at all.) I’m certainly not abdicating violence, but maybe a little chaos wouldn’t be so bad right now. The Joker was right about one thing: chaos is fair, because, good or bad, we all get treated the same.


Recently, my brother told me that he and my nephew had watched the first John McClane action shoot-’em-up Die Hard together. I was shocked for a moment, until I realized that my nephew is actually 16 years old now, and I probably first saw Die Hard when I was twelve. And look how I turned out!

Anyway, my brother and I then discussed the movie for the first time in awhile. I honestly feel that he has embraced this fatherhood thing on a new level now that his kids are old enough to watch movies that he loved when he was younger, and now he gets to look at them through fresh eyes. As we discussed the movie, I sort of did this vicariously, as well.

I won’t get into the whole plot of the film, but in case you’ve forgotten, it should suffice to say that some call it the greatest Christmas movie of all time, while my Dad once referred to it as “The Guy in the Tower with the Bloody Feet.” Yes, the bloody feet is the lasting image for most viewers, but as my brother and I dissected it, I realized there’s a lot more to this one than one cop killing a bunch of bad guys.

The thing that separates Die Hard from all the knock-offs that came after it (including thegiphy actual Die Hard sequels that followed) was the personal touches to the characters, especially the bad guys. Hans Gruber, of course, played by the amazing Alan Rickman, in his big-screen debut, if you can believe it, unfortunately inspired a generation of less-amazing actors playing less-amazing villains, but Hans was superior because he actually felt like a real person, not your token raving lunatic. You get the feeling that Hans didn’t even really want to kill people. They were just standing in the way of his $640 million. Hans also is sympathetic to the pregnant woman that he has taken hostage, and agrees with Mrs. McClane that the hostages have to use the bathroom. No Bond villain has ever been that nice.

Hans’ right hand man, Karl, played by the late Alexander Gudunov (Boy, these Die Hard terrorists are dropping like flies!), also had real motivation after his brother became John McClane’s first kill of the movie. And it can almost be said that McClane didn’t really *mean* to kill him. I mean, it happened, and McClane certainly didn’t feel bad, but they were struggling and fell down the stairs and the guy broke his neck. Sorry, Karl. Can’t make an omelet…

There’s countless other little touches that make the terrorists into real people, from the one who steals the candy bars as he’s waiting to shoot the SWAT team, (Side Note: I just remembered another interesting moment from that scene: when Hans tells his men to “Just wound them.” He says it in that cold, Alan Rickman-way, but you get the sense that he kind of realizes these poor schmoes are sitting ducks, so let’s not actually kill them. They’re just working-class slobs, after all.), to the computer guy who actually scratches his nose after he kicks a guard’s dead body over. I mean, it has nothing to do with the plot, but terrorists are people, too, and people scratch their noses. I don’t recall any nostril penetration, but who knows? And if you want to get all psychiatrist on me, you could make the argument that it’s more twisted to scratch your nose after you help kill a guy, or that it’s more painful for Hans to “just wound” the SWAT team rather than just blow them away, but the point is, no other movie villains bother with these subtleties.

Even with all these small personal touches for the bad guys, no one in the movie represents the regular Joe more than the hero, John McClane. McClane is a cop from New York who is visiting his estranged wife in L.A., and just happened to be at the Christmas party when Hans and his boys showed up. As the only person who managed to get away, and because he still has a thing for his wife, it falls on him to stop them. Or at least not get killed. He obviously has no plan at all, which is what makes him such a great hero, and this such a great movie. Unlike Rambo or Chuck Norris or whoever, John has no real fighting skills, no special training that makes him better than his rivals, other than “cop.” He’s not really even in great shape. I mean, he looks great for an average Joe, but he’s not Schwarzeneggar or anything. All he has is a gun and his wits, and an attitude that allows him to push the envelope. Even as he encounters his first terrorist, Karl’s brother, and the terrorist says that he won’t shoot him because policemen have rules, John quips, “Yeah, that’s what my Captain keeps telling me.” So, we get the sense that even though he’s a regular guy, he’s not a regular cop. Or even a very good one.

Still, there are elements of him that are not like his action-hero contemporaries. When he is on the top of the building, which he knows is set to explode, the only way he even has a chance of surviving is to jump. So, as he ties a firehose around his waist, the only pep talk he can think to give himself is, “John, what the fuck are you doing?” He then tells God that if he lets him live, he will never think of going up in a tall building again. I don’t recall Arnold ever uttering a prayer like that. In fact, Arnold probably would jump without the firehose.


Arnold also never had to deal with bloody feet. The story with that is that McClane’s neighbor on the flight to L.A. was a seasoned traveler who told him that the secret to surviving air travel is to take off your shoes and socks and make “fists with your toes.” It just happens that the terrorists attack just as John is practicing his toe-fisting, thus he spends the entire movie running around a building fighting terrorists barefoot. Now, come on, what action hero outside of Bruce Lee spends the whole movie fighting without shoes? Not only does John McClane do it, but he pulls it off without looking silly. It becomes a  bit of an issue when Hans orders his cronies to shoot out a bunch of office windows, but otherwise,… masterful.

I remember taking a screenwriting class years ago that covered Chinatown, and how the studio was opposed to having the hero of the movie spend half of it with a bandage on his nose, but that’s what people remember about the character. It doesn’t take away from the character at all, but rather adds to it. The no-shoes aspect adds to John McClane’s struggle and makes you feel for him more, especially after the whole glass thing. I don’t even think any of the more established (at the time) action heroes could have pulled it off without looking a tad ridiculous. Bear in mind, Bruce Willidiehard_2_glass_600s was basically known as a comedic actor (the funny guy from Moonlighting) at this point. In fact, even with all my talk about how great a job Willis does at playing the “everyman,” the role was supposedly offered to many in the action hero community, like Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, Robert De Niro, Charles Bronson, Nick Nolte, Mel Gibson, Richard Gere, Don Johnson, Burt Reynolds, and Richard Dean Anderson, and thank frikkin’ God they all turned it down. Can you imagine McGyver running around a tower with bloody feet? The movie would have bombed bigger than Nakatomi Plaza!

The climax sees McClane at his odds-beating best (three terrorists, two bullets, what’s a guy to do?) McClane is able to K.O. one with the butt of his gun, leaving just two. However, Hans has discovered that he has his tormentor’s wife in the throng, and his holding her at gunpoint. McClane, recalling their earlier exchange about American westerns, tapes his gun to his back and, for all intents and purposes, surrenders, lacing his hands behind his head like a classic action hero, stating, “Ya got me.” He and Hans share a laugh as the German butchers the famous “Yippee-ki-yay, mother fucker,” line, and when Hans has dropped his guard, McClane pulls out the gun and blows the final two terrorists away with his last two bullets. Hans does manage to hang on to McClane’s wife for a brief moment as he falls out the window, but John is able to rescue her, by unsnapping her Rolex (mentioned earlier in the movie as a gift for all her hard work. Nothing is by accident…). Hans’ slo-mo demise is one of the few action movie cliche’s in the whole film, but it was the late-80’s so we’ll let it slide.


Like I said in the beginning, Die Hard more than holds up, and is separated from the pack of bad action movies that came, and is still coming, after, because it is written to be believable. Most Rambo movies are basically the same as this, where it’s one guy versus a billion and he just shoots them all. But this one is structured so well that you can believe that this one guy took out all these bad dudes, and did it with gumption and wits. It’s another thing I learned in screenwriting classes; if you’re going to write a movie that involves a time-traveling car, you have to write it so that the audience believes it can happen. If you’re going to write a movie where one cop with no shoes is going to take out twelve money-grubbing terrorists, you have to write it to make us believe it can happen. Not that we know it will, but that we believe it will.

While you’re at it, believe in Santa Claus! Happy Holidays, everyone!

When reading through these posts, you may get the idea that most movies don’t settle very well. Mainly, that as I get older, I tend to think about movies differently and my perspective changes and now movies I used to like all stink. Or that maybe I just don’t like any movies. I have actually been accused of changing people’s minds on movies before, which is certainly not my intention (well, perhaps subconsciously), but I spent four years in film school, so I apologize if that changed how I watch movies. Also, someone has spent trillions of dollars on these movies. The least I can do is give it some thought. Lord knows, sometimes no one else has (directors included.)

So, I’ve been wracking my brain a little for a suitable movie that has settled well, but not necessarily because I’m older and grumpier now.The one I came up with has settled well simply because it was so prophetic, which is saying something considering it was a semi-brainless Arnold Schwarzeneggar action movie. I give you… The Running Man.

Set indownload 2017 (thirty years in the future when the movie came out in 1987, but a few months away now), the movie takes place in a world where the most popular show on TV is  a reality game show that is part-American Ninja Warrior, part-WWE Raw, and part-Family Feud, with Richard Dawson even playing the host. He even gets to kiss an old lady from the audience.

Sure, in 1987, it seemed pretty far-fetched.  When the book it was based on was originally published by Stephen King (as Richard Bachman) in 1982, it was even more out there (TV shows that debuted in 1982: Family Ties, Cagney & Lacey, Square Pegs and Knight Rider. Not exactly what King had in mind.)  In this 2017 – 2025 in the book – television networks pretty much rule the country and “The Running Man” is it’s undisputed ratings king. The show offers convicted felons a chance at a full pardon (and apparently a trip to Maui) if they can survive a run through the Game Zone while being chased by “The Stalkers.”  Sounds preposterous, right?  It certainly did even to my ten year-old ears, until several years later when I saw Survivor for the first time.  Obviously, there are no Stalkers, and inaugural winner Richard Hatch was actually convicted of tax evasion after his big win, but the similarities are still there.  Although Survivor host Jeff Probst can’t hold a candle to Dawson’s Damon Killian, who encouraged one of his minions to tell the State Department to “go f*** themselves.” It was one of the most hilarious moments of my youth. And I really didn’t even know what the State Department was.

According to the movie, there has been a worldwide economic collapse, forcing the U.S. into a totalitarian police state (must have been the Trump Presidency). Consequently, all the fun stuff, like art and music, has been censored unless mandated by the government. With no other entertainment to turn to, the public is pacified by government-sanctioned television. It all sounds very diabolical, but, really, are we that far away from this?

This particular episode of The Running Man follows Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s Ben Richards quest to finish the game.  Richards was a military helicopter pilot wrongly accused of massacring a crowd of people during a food riot.  Obviously, Richards is the one good cop in the bad town, screaming, as only Arnold can, “All dey want is food, for God’s sake!” Unfortunately, Richards is subdued when he disobeys the order to open fire on the rioters, and then his evil colleagues carry out the massacre, anyway. With the help of some snazzy, 1980’s video editing, they are able to pin it on Gentle Ben, and he goes to prison. Months later, Richards, because he’s Arnold, leads a jailbreak, and his asked by his fellow convicts to join The Resistance, a rag-tag group of dissenters who oppose censorship and oppression and good TV. The Resistance is oddly led by Mick Fleetwood and Dweezil Zappa, so no wonder they were trying to snag a guy like Arny.

Richards turns down their offer, and seeks out his brother, but finds Maria Conchita Alonzo living in his brother’s old place. He promptly kidnaps her and tries to make his getaway to Hawaii, but she turns him in and he is arrested again. When Killian finds out that it may be possible to get “The Butcher of Bakersfield” on his show, he makes a few call (hilariously to “the President’s agent”), and Richards and two of his weenie Resistance buddies are the newest runners.runningman1

As the game progresses, though, something different happens when Arnold starts killing The Stalkers. Instead of the trip to Maui, though, which we learn isn’t a thing because the winners were all rigged and those chumps died just like everyone else, he and Alonzo (who got tossed in for trying to help him) look for a secret and rather convenient Resistance base in the Game Zone. They find it and present evidence that Arny was framed and broadcast it all over the world during the show, since everyone is watching The Running Man, anyway. Even though that should have been enough to bring the whole network down, it’s not enough for our hero, who has to go in guns blazing to take out Killian, who, despite being the main villain in the movie, is actually just a game show host. Imagine a former Price is Right contestant getting so disgruntled that he felt he had to go back and murder Bob Barker?

As I said earlier, the reason this by-the-numbers, 80’s action flick settles well is because it was kind of ahead of its time, even down to the pre-Draft Kings gambling that went on in the streets as the show was happening. One of the turning points for Killian was when he realized that people started betting on Richards to win the game, which was apparently never done. People love the underdog, even when it’s Arnold Schwarzeneggar. It is pretty interesting, though, when you watch wrestling, UFC and even football games these days, the resemblance to what was depicted in the movie is uncanny. For years, I actually thought that UFC was rigged, much like The Running Man, because it seemed like the fighters who won just happened to be the most popular. Ronda Rousy’s huge loss proved that I was wrong, but the very fact that I was suspicious probably says all that we need to say about that.

It’s not just the physical competition TV shows that remind me of the movie, though, because there are about a million so-called reality shows that also fit the bill. Chefs, tattoo artists, car builders, gold-diggers, hicks making moonshine, or whatever. They all have a little Running Man in them. Other than Dawson, the best performance in the whole movie might be by future-governor Jesse Ventura, basically playing himself as a former Stalker who believes, like a lot of former athletes, that the game shouldn’t be messed with in the name of ratings. When Ventura refuses to come out of retirement to face Arnold on the show, the network folks simply digitize the real faces over stunt-doubles and stage the fight, anyway. That’s a trick that happens in every action movie these days, but this was 1987, remember.


So, if all that other stuff has happened, how far away are we really from watching people kill each other for money on a regular basis? Honestly, if The Running Man was on today, would you check it out? Or at the very least, bet on it in Draft Kings?


As with my last current edition (Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Crap), I am tackling a movie that seems to be polarizing the movie-going public with the new rendition of Ghostbusters. But before I begin, I want to just lay it out here that, although I loved the original, and I never really saw the need for the new one, I went in with a completely open mind. Even better, I actually went in kind of looking forward to it. My first big mistake.

I also want to say before we get rolling that I am not one of those dickhead trolls who doesn’t think that the movie shouldn’t be made because it cast the four leads as female. As remakes go, at least this was an attempt at breaking new ground, and the four females in question are usually pretty funny performers. I actually never understood that whole backlash in the first place. I personally love women, so why not put them front-and-center more often? So, don’t get on me for being anti-feminist or something when I start ripping this thing apart.

First, let’s jump into the Way-Back Machine and punch in March 3rd, 2016, when i first saw a trailer for this new re-imagining of the 80’s classic. Upon seeing the first trailer, I can say unequivocably that I hated it. I can’t really pinpoint what it was about the trailer, but it just screamed “unfunny” to me. I was instantly worried, because I thought my future girlfriend, Kristen Wiig, was capable of more. The subsequent trailers and Papa John’s sponsorship did nothing to quell my fears, and I decided that I would probably skip this one.

Then it came out, and reviews started popping up, and they were good! Rotten Tomatoes had it rated Certified Fresh on opening day. Maybe the trailers were just edited poorly. Maybe it has funny lines not shown in there. Maybe it is just a fun, summertime romp.


This is a good lesson for the children out there to always trust your instincts. Or, perhaps, more appropriately, I think this old chestnut applies here: “If something looks and smells like shit, that means it’s shit.” I only laughed a couple times during the entire movie, and one of them was when Chris Hemsworth, the Ghostbusters’ dumber-than-dumb secretary relayed a message that there  was”a goat” roaming around in a theater. See, he meant “ghost,” but because he’s so stupid… heh-heh. Never mind.

But I don’t want anyone reading this to think that I disliked this movie because “reasons,” because I have actual reasons. Reason #1 is that I was kind of offended. Not as a man or a fan of the original, but as someone who purports to write screenplays once in awhile. They had a premise ready-made. That’s a good chunk of the hard work done right there: “Let’s put 4 people in these jumpsuits and have them hunt ghosts.” They don’t have to pitch anything. All they have to do is write some witty dialogue, and these four talented women should be able to handle the rest. They almost couldn’t lose, and yet…

My second biggest problem is actually the most glaring one, and this is why I was surprised that so many people actually claimed to have liked it. A lot was made about how this movie was breaking ground by casting four women leads in a big-budget, tent-pole summer movie, as if no woman had ever been in a movie ever.And I was all for that. Unfortunately, instead of breaking new ground, this movie decided to just trudge over the same old ground that has been trudged on by every other big-budget, tent-pole summer movie. Let’s see, the black woman has to play the uneducated Ghostbuster, who yells really loudly all the time, and who lends her knowledge of the New York subway system to the team, while the three white Ghostbusters are all scientists. Was that supposed to be an homage to the original, or are they just that uninspired?

Along those same lines, Melissa McCarthy basically played the exact same role that she plays every time she is on-screen, which is loud, over-weight funny lady. Don’t get me wrong, she does it well, but wouldn’t it have been a refreshing change if she played the shy, quiet one for once in her life? And lest you think I’m being biased, Wiig pretty much played the same mousey girl that she plays in all her movies, too, which was also quite irksome.

This wouldn’t have bothered me so much (Hey, men, women and children play to type in Hollywood movies all the time, and they basically print money, so…), but so much was made about this wonderful new Ghostbusters team that’s all female, maybe someone could have done these women the favor of writing them a decent script. In all the meetings that take place before anyone actually films Act I, Scene A of any movie, did nobody stop and go, “Hey, I know it’s a remake, but isn’t this a little too unoriginal?” I mean, they were under pretty heavy scrutiny as it was. Wouldn’t this be time to try something a little different? Would it have killed them to shake things up a little bit?

I also wondered about the anti-feminist approach to Chris Hemsworth, who is playing eye-hqdefaultcandy for sure, which I suppose could be looked at as a nice, little switcheroo, because the secretaries are always played by hot chicks. I just didn’t understand why Wiig had to get all googly-eyed every time he walked in? She basically played the role of Jennifer Anniston in every movie she was in in the 90’s, basically setting women in movies back about 20 years. And the worst part, they never paid off that storyline! I mean, at least Bill Murray got with Sigourney Weaver at the end of the original, just to send everyone home happy.

But let’s face facts; making the black woman a scientist or Kristen Wiig getting with Chris Hemworth wouldn’t have really made much difference, because I’m pretty sure everyone was just cashing a paycheck on this one. One of my all-time favorite Saturday Night Live sketches took place in 1992, and it involved the late, amazing Phil Hartman as Bill Clinton, about to go into a Democratic Presidential debate with Jerry Browne, played by Dana Carvey. The two candidates are making agreements on which illicit things in their past that they will not bring up in the debate, and Clinton lists the movie Ishtar as one of his dalliances. for those who don’t remember, Ishtar was the 1987 stinker starring Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman as lounge singers who are somehow caught up in an international incident with the Emir of Ishtar. I’ve actually never seen it, but it’s universally recognized as being terrible. So, in taking the blame for the movie, Clinton says, “I said ‘Put Beatty and Hoffman out there in the desert, put a serape on ’em, and something funny will happen.'” I feel like that’s basically what was going on here. I feel like director Paul Feig said, “I’ll put these 4 funny women in a Ghostbusters movie and something funny will happen.” But you still have to, y’know, make a movie. The movie itself also looks like it was cut in a meat grinder, as they go from scene to scene with literally no flow whatsoever. One minute, they are meeting with the mayor, who is telling them to stop hunting ghosts, and in the next scene they are in an alley testing out their new ghost-fighting weapons, with seemingly no regard for what just happened. Anyone who has ever seen a movie before could probably predict that  all of these weapons would be used by the end, but it they were pretty much all used in rapid succession during the big climax, so we could have done without the exposition scene where you demonstrated what these things actually do to ghosts. We get it. You have fancy weapons. Don’t cross the streams (which actually never came up.)

In spite of all of these pitfalls, the movie scored a $46 million opening weekend, which is solid, and I’m happy, because I’m all for female leads in big movies.But beyond the box office, there are definitely people, critics and regular-folk alike, who enjoyed it. But I always kind of wonder what the agenda is here. One person responded to my Facebook post by saying that he went in with “the lowest of standards” and loved it. He went on to say that it “held its own,” and that is all you can ask for “in a sequel/reboot.” Now, I know that is one man’s opinion, but am I the only one who sees a problem with that? First of all, why did you see it if you had the “lowest of expectations?” Lowest seems pretty low to me. And since basically every movie is a sequel/reboot or comic franchise these days, what do you reserve the high expectations for? Like I’ve said before, I envy people like this man, who can walk into a movie with low expectations and be happy when it even slightly beats them. But I can’t do that, and to be honest, I don’t think anyone should. If we all had higher standards for movies, reboots, sequels, or whatever, maybe there wouldn’t be five Transfomers movies out there. And three Ghostbusters.

That is why I am so troubled by movies. I won’t say that I have high expectations for every movie I see, but I do actually want them to be good, and find myself constantly disappointed. If I’m spending my money, I want the movie to meet some level of quality, or else why would I waste my time? But through all the slime and the goofy cameos and the jazzy special effects, Ghostbusters could not come close to meeting even my middling standards. I guess it’s true what they say: “you only hurt the ones you love.”




It’s always interesting to me how people can relate to certain movies and characters based on where they are in their lives while seeing the movie for the first time. For instance, Magic Mike always harkens me back to my days as a male stripper. This is probably why some movies don’t settle well, because they are meant to appeal to a certain audience at a certain time, but when that audience moves out of that time, the movie just doesn’t hold up.

But some movies do stand the test of time, because they appeal to a wider audience. I’ve written before about how 40-year-old Matt Dursin relates to different characters, even in the same movie, than did 25-year-old Matt Dursin. I’m starting to sound like a big Scotch-drinker, but it’s true. (2017 note: I, in fact, am a big Scotch-drinker)

However, I have a little trouble placing Good Will Hunting. On the one hand, it’s a really ridiculous premise: a genius kid from Southie works as a janitor at M.I.T. and solves equations at night when no one is around. OK, I can swallow that enough. Unfortunately, genius kid meets a girl, and decides to throw away the prosperous future that is being laid out for him, and leave all his buddies in Boston, and drive his beater across the country to chase her, after knowing her for just a few weeks. Also, he lied his face off to her and treated her rather poorly, so why she would even have him once he got there is beyond me. That’s where 40-year-old Matt Dursin has a problem with it.

But, it was 22-year-old Matt Dursin who saw the movie for the first time, and he saw it while living in L.A. Yes, the most Boston movie ever made up to that point, and I was 3,000 miles away when I first saw it, so sue me for being nostalgic. I was spending my final semester out there, and it was very much up-in-the-air on whether or not I would even return to the East coast after graduation. I’m not going to go so far as to say that Good Will Hunting had any impact on my decision, but I will say that, like Good Will, I came back because I had to “go see about a girl.” The thing is that girl and I broke up four months later, which is probably what happened to Will and Minnie Driver, and probably what would happen to most people in this situation. Let’s face it, at 22, you’ve still got a whole lot of livin’ to do.

Before I get into the nuts and bolts about it settling, here’s the skinny on Good Will Hunting: Like I recounted above, Will is a super-intelligent janitor at M.I.T who finishes equations at night for fun. He catches the attention of Field’s Medal-Winner Professor Gerald Lambeau (otherwise known as Creepy Stellan Skarsgaard), who sees world-changing potential in him. The tiny hiccup in Lambeau’s plan is that Will is a bit of a loser. giphyHe hangs out with a bunch of other losers, including Chuckie, played by pre-sexual harassment Ben & Casey Affleck. During one of their pointless skirmishes with other Southie ne’er-do-wells, Will punches a cop in the face, and so is in some hot water with the fuzz. Lambeau gets the judge to go easy on him and turn him over to the professor, and in return, Will must go to counseling. I didn’t think college mathematics professors had that kind of sway in our judicial system, but there you go.

Enter: Robin Williams. After Will out-smarts several eminent psychiatrists by insulting their masculinity, Lambeau turns to his former roommate, Sean Maguire (another Southie boy), played by Robin Williams in an Oscar-winning role. Sean is supposed to give Will direction, preferably the direction that Lambeau wants. Will sandbags Maguire at first, as he did with all the other shrinks, but eventually they bond over Game 6 of the 1975 World Series and the fact that their father-figures weren’t very nice to them. Man, Southie sure was different then.

They also talk a lot about Will’s new lady-friend, Skylar, played by Minnie Driver. Skylar is a Harvard med student who is soon graduating and moving to San Fran to continue her education, so Will sees little point in pursuing anything serious. Widower Robin Williams tries to convince him that he should give love a chance, but really, I think I gotta side with Will on this one. Eventually, good ol’ Chuckie finally rips Will a new one about how he has a winning lottery ticket for a brain, and he needs to use it and blow this burg. (2017 Note: It’s funny that, on the 20 year anniversary, people are talking about what a Boston movie this was, when the ultimate resolution is Will deciding that he needs to get the Hell out. Very Springsteen.)

Like I said, the end result is that Will takes off for San Francisco to follow Skylar, leaving Sean, Chuckie, Lambeau and everyone who helped him and was willing to help him behind. We don’t really know if he got an amazing job out there, but maybe he moved to Silicon Valley and became CEO of some awesome internet start-up. Or he kept mopping floors. Who knows?

I think we’re supposed to believe that he left it all behind for a girl, which I was all for when I saw it at 22. I vividly remember a conversation I had with one of my fellow students out in L.A. when I was discussing my “Will-I-or-Won’t-I” plight. he said, “What good is the greatest job in the world if you’ve got no one to share it with?” At the time I thought that was just wonderful, so I thought, “You go, Will!” I also didn’t know as much about Hollywood endings. Did I mention Good Will Hunting won Best Screenplay that year?

Here’s the real clinker, though; Older and wiser (and grumpier) me thinks about this movie now and marvels at the scenes between Sean and Lambeau. Despite the fact that they paint Lambeau as a total jerk most of the time, he makes some good points. He has seen firsthand Will embarrass brilliant mathematicians, and knows what Will can offer the world. In comparing Will to Albert Einstein, he says, “Imagine if Einstein had given all that up to get drunk with his buddies?”  If you want to say that Lambeau is the villain in this movie, then there is the motivation that makes him an interesting and believable character. Certainly much more interesting than Skylar.

However, Sean Maguire, the Obi-Wan Kenobi to Will’s Luke, makes a similar comparison to another brilliant mathematician: The Una-Bomber. Sean’s point is that if they rush things and don’t let Will grow on his own and face his past, then he could become a looney who blows people up. It seems a little overly dramatic, but it could have been a cool plotline if they didn’t spend so much time on the dopey love story.

The other cool part about the scenes between Sean and Lambeau is the history they have. At one time, they were contemporaries, but Sean ended up counseling veterans and teaching at Bunker Hill Community College after, presumably, meeting his wife. The unattached Lambeau became a sort of rock star mathematician, if that’s even possible, winning what is described as the Nobel Prize for mathematics. So, they took different paths, and Lambeau thinks that Sean is trying to use Will to get back at him for being successful, and Sean thinks that Lambeau is using Will to belittle him for not being successful. In the climactic scene that probably was on the Oscar nomination tape, Sean tells Lambeau that he knows who he is, and is proud of what he does, and in my favorite line, puts him in his place when he says, “I knew you before your were Mathematical God, when you were pimple-faced and homesick and didn’t know what side of the bed to piss on.”

Naturally, 22-year-old Matt Dursin could not possibly understand that kind of dynamic, but 40-year-old one does all too well, as I’m sure a lot of people do, in their own way. However, like Sean, I am damn happy with the choices I have made. Living in L.A. and working in the office at a movie studio probably wouldn’t have worked out too well, but then, I didn’t exactly have it all laid out for me like Will did.  No regrets there. But I do sometimes wonder what became of my L.A. friend who fed me that brilliant “No one to share it with” line. Was he the Gerald Lambeau to my Sean Maguire? I will probably never know, because I actually don’t even remember his name.

Seeing that this was the Little Movie That Could, and pretty much launched the careers of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, it is interesting to peel back the layers a little bit. However, in the end, it boils down to a cheesy love story. But there was another moment that probably helped Williams win that Oscar, and that’s not part of the overall love story, but it is a love story: the love between Bostonians and their beloved Red Sox.

As I mentioned earlier, Sean and Will bond over Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, a game etched in Boston sports lore, and sometimes called the greatest game of the greatest World Series ever played. That game climaxed when Carlton Fisk hit the game-winning home run off the foul pole in Fenway Park, wildly waving his hands as he left the batter’s box, willing the ball fair.


You can’t write that stuff.

It’s hard to imagine it now, but in Boston before 2004, that was all the Red Sox really had as far as post-season history. And for it to be woven into the screenplay of a movie was pretty cool. Williams was recounting the story of the night to Will, saying that he and his friends had slept on the street to get tickets, but when Will asked him if he rushed the field, as the fans did in 1975, Sean said that he didn’t go to the game, because he saw a girl in the bar before and decided he had to “go see about a girl,” his future wife as it turned out. Will is understandably incredulous, but Sean tells him that he doesn’t regret anything, not the years spent counseling veterans, teaching at a community college, caring for his ailing wife, and he certainly doesn’t regret missing a baseball game. And he probably doesn’t regret not winning a Fields Medal.

That’s the real love story at work here; loving who you are. That’s why this movie, despite its flaws, does settle well, when you stop and think. It’s really about not living with regret and being happy with who you have become. No 22-year-old can understand that, yet.

Sam Mendes’ American Beauty was considered one of the “20 Most Overrated Movies of All-Time” by Premiere magazine. Which is out of business. Maybe if they were still around, they could take the advice of the film’s tagline and “look closer.”

I’ve seen other instances of people saying that this film is overrated, or undeserving of the Best Picture trophy it received. And that may be true. I mean, I think a lot of movies don’t deserve their Best Pic wins. Since those awards are largely political and are rarely based on the actual quality of the movie itself, let’s just throw all that out the window right now and look a little closer.


We need to look no further than the logline given on IMDB: “A sexually frustrated suburban father has a mid-life crisis after becoming infatuated with his daughter’s best friend.”

That is absolutely, 100% not what this movie is about. Sure, that is what happens, but whoever wrote that line for IMDB must not have actually watched the movie. To say that Kevin Spacey’s Lester Burnham has a simple “mid-life crisis” is not doing the character justice at all. Sure, he buys an expensive car and lusts after a high school hottie, but the character is so much more formed than that. It can almost be described as a spiritual awakening, rather than a mid-life crisis. (I don’t really like the idea of a mid-life crisis at 55, anyway. As Michael Caine once said, “Who lives to 110?”)

Lester is a regular, suburban guy with a teenage daughter, Jane, who hates him, and a battle-ax wife, Carolyn (played by Annette Bening) who also kind of hates him because he doesn’t help her portray the typical American family unit. He is crapped on at his advertising job by younger execs, and his life is basically defined by a scene where he is dragged by his wife to see their cheerleader daughter perform at her high school basketball team’s half-time show. Lester’s reaction? “I’m missing the James Bond Marathon on TNT.”

However, during the performance, Lester sees Angela (Mena Suvari) for the first time. In a beautifully-shot sequence, Lester fantasizes that she is performing just for him in what basically amount amounts to a striptease, except when she opens her sweater, rose petals float out:


It’s pretty awesome.

Anywho, this sets Lester off quite a bit, as after over-hearing Angela tell Jane that she likes dudes who are fit, he begins working out. Lester is further awakened when he is re-introduced to pot by the neighbor’s son, Ricky, and then he really starts to turn it around. Hey, it is a gateway drug!

Ricky and his family are an interesting lot. His father is a retired army Colonel, who seems to hate everything other than his son, especially gay people. After a gay couple that lives in the neighborhood welcome him with a gift basket, the Colonel wonders out loud to his son why “them faggots always gotta throw it in your face?” He also keeps close tabs on Ricky, who has been busted for selling and using drugs in the past. As I said, he clearly does love Ricky, but you can tell that he is more than a little disappointed that his son isn’t anything like him. Incidentally, Ricky’s mother, played amazingly understated by Alison Janney, is just weird.

Lester asks Ricky if he can buy some more weed from him, and Lester sees Ricky’s room for the first time, and he sees all the high-end technology that selling drugs can buy. Lester tells Ricky that when he was his age, he flipped burgers all summer to afford a stereo. When Ricky replies that that sucks, Lester responds with one of the great lines of the movie: “Actually it was great. All I did was party and get laid.”

This inspires Lester to quit his job, as he saw Ricky do the night before. Lester also screws his company out of three month’s salary by threatening a sexual harassment suit, and applies for a job at the local fast food joint. When he is told that they aren’t hiring managers only counter workers, he rattles off another one of my all-time favorite lines: “Good. I’m looking for the least possible amount of responsibility.” And let me say here that I don’t know if anyone other than Kevin Spacey could have delivered that line with such aplomb.

Lester’s marriage is also falling apart, if it was ever together to begin with. But it isn’t just him who is unsatisfied, as his wife begins sleeping with a fellow real estate tycoon, who also encourages her to go to a shooting range to pop off a few rounds when she gets stressed out. This brilliantly shows that there are two sides to an unhappy marriage, and they don’t just make Annette Benning’s character out to be some horrible shrew. She actually has feelings, too. Lesser screenwriters take note: All your characters matter.

However, it is still mainly Lester’s story, so when he catches his wife and her lover canoodling at his drive-thru, it leads to another moment of realization for him when he tells her, slowly and with conviction: “You don’t get to tell me what to do… ever again.” I think it’s something a lot of people wish for, and Lester has discovered it: control. This is another huge step towards his spiritual awakening. He’s not even really mad at her for cheating. In fact, he seems pretty pleased with himself over it.

Just as Lester’s total transformation is about to net him the object of his desire, Angela, he learns another truth: all her talk throughout the movie about the myriad sex she’s had is just bluster. She actually is a virgin. Even though she says she still wants to, this gives him pause. As crazy as he seemingly has gotten, he still does not want to be That Guy. There seems to be some discrepancy over this fact on the movie’s IMDB page. I’m not sure why, but one poster said something about Angela saying that she was a virgin so that Lester would enjoy it more because guys like having sex with virgins. It’s pretty obvious to me, due to her crying after he decides to not have sex with her, that she was making it all up just to feel superior to Jane, and probably everyone else. I am not sure why someone would jump to the whole Guys Like Virgins thing rather than just assume that a teenager was lying about their sex life, but hey, you go with whatever.

Instead of nookie, the two share a moment when he asks her if she thinks that his daughter is happy. When she tells him, “Yes,” he realizes what is really important in life. It’s not the shiny, red car he bought, or the muscles he put on (or the weed, presumably). He looks at a family vacation picture from long ago and realizes just how lucky he really is.

And then he is shot in the head! See, not too long before his big moment, his crazy Colonel neighbor came on to him, thinking that Lester was actually a homosexual (Lester had told him that his marriage was just a facade, and Colonel Fitts got a little confused.) After Lester politely rejected him, the Colonel felt humiliated and decided to go home and get his gun. He then blew Lester’s head off to prevent his secret from getting out. Or for revenge. or because he was just crazy. It’s really another interesting layer to a character who was seemingly just a giant bigot, but in actuality an anguished closet homosexual.

The best part, though? Lester died smiling.

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I could write all day about the themes of this movie, about the red-on-white color scheme, the Lolita references, the meaning of the blowing plastic bag, etc. But what I really wanted to focus on was what was really going on with this guy. To me, Lester isn’t experiencing a mid-life crisis, and he isn’t lusting after Angela in some sort of Lolita-like way, and he wasn’t just some pothead. He’s simply feeling the Weight of Responsibility that a lot of people feel at some point in their lives. This was how he decided to deal with it.  Peter Gibbons from Office Space chose to deal with it a different way, but we all kind of have to deal with it somehow. There are different responsibilities, of course; financial, family, just generally fitting in to society. But we all have them, and if, like Lester, your job and your marriage suck, well then you quit them and move on. If you want to call that a mid-life crisis, then that’s your call. I prefer to agree with Lester himself. After his soon-to-be ex-boss calls him sick, he replies, “Nope. I’m just an ordinary guy with nothing to lose.”

In the end, he realized that he did have his family to lose, but at the time he said, it was total truth, and not the words of someone going through a mid-life crisis. this guy knew what he wanted, and got it.