Archive for the ‘Movies That Settle’ Category

Well, everyone is weighing in on this one, so I figured I would, too, but no matter what any critic, blogger, pundit or neophyte out there on the internets says, the only opinion that really matters has spoken, to the tune of the largest March opening weekend ever, and the sixth biggest U.S. opening ever. I don’t really understand it, but about $20 of that were mine, so I guess I’m just as crazy as the rest of the country.

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The opinions of this *ahem* film seem to range from “absolutely terrible” to “wasn’t that bad.” That’s certainly not a wide range, and I don’t think I’ve heard too many people say it was actually good, but that’s what’s kind of interesting to me. Despite the fact that people either think it’s one of the worst movies ever made, as I do, or they think it is just “not bad,” it seems to be a very polarizing piece of pop culture, especially in the comic book fandom. There is definitely a fair amount of comic-movie backlash floating around these days, but some of us who are devoted fans of the genre will defend it to the death, especially to those non-fans. It’s like Mel Brooks making fun of Jews; he can do it and it’s not offensive because he’s Jewish. You can’t make fun of my comic book movies because you’re not a fan and you don’t know my pain! I’ve waited my whole life for this!

Still, even though I am a comic book reader, that doesn’t mean I go all in. I mean, I also like baseball, but I don’t love every team. And when you really think about it, there hasn’t been a decent Superman movie since 1980. That’s five really bad movies in a row over 36 years. How many does it take before someone says, “You know what? I don’t think Supes works.” Apparently never, because we’re stuck with a few more of these Zack Snyder crap-fests over the next five years.

That aspect may be more remarkable than the public opinion of this movie; the fact that Warner Brothers felt so far behind Disney when it came to comic book movies that they jump-started their whole slate of tentpoles for the next five years with this one, never once thinking, “What if nobody likes it?” Next summer, we have Wonder Woman, followed by Justice League: Part One in November, then The Flash in Spring 2018 and the long-awaited Aquaman solo film for your summer popcorn flick in 2018. If that doesn’t make you want to toss your lunch, 2019 brings us Shazam!(?????) and Justice League: Part Two. Wow! And if I’m not in prison for murdering Zack Snyder by 2020, we’ll have a Cyborg solo venture, and a Green Lantern Corps movie. That’s eight movies, plus whatever Ben Affleck solo Batman films they churn out. And we are not off to a good start.

(PLEASE NOTE: I intentionally left out Suicide Squad, because I don’t really think they will have much interaction with the other DC heroes. Plus, that trailer doesn’t look that bad.)

Now, I know the counter-argument is Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, which was a movie with characters nobody had ever heard of that was way better than anyone expected. And yes, it could happen. Shazam! could be a Tour de Force of cinematic wonder. I’m just not holding my breath. And I know it’s hard for some, because most of my friends don’t know which company puts out which movies, but let’s not even compare the DC films to the Marvel ones, because they are using completely different pizza recipes, as far as I’m concerned. It’s like comparing all other animation companies to Pixar.

The funny thing is none of this actually matters a whole lot because Batman vs. Superman is being judged in the court of public opinion, which, thanks  to social media and people (myself included) wanting to get their two cents in, is not a vacuum. Last week, when the first reviews were coming out, the majority of them were negative. Then when the general public started seeing it, we saw more backlash. Rotten Tomatoes at this moment has it at a pretty abysmal 29%. By way of comparison, the universally-panned Phantom Menace is still pretty low on the Tomatometer, and that is at 56%. Still, way better than BvS.

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But then came the apologists. The people who just need a couple hours of entertainment. The people who just wanted to see some explosions and some pretty people duke it out. The people who really, really wanted to like it, so they willed it into the Not Bad category. And that’s totally fine. I sometimes wish I could be one of those people. But I went to film school and have a pretty analytical mind, anyway, and so I am cursed with having to wonder what went wrong. I mean, hundreds of people are involved in making every blockbuster. I can’t believe someone involved didn’t have the kahones to walk up to Zack Snyder and say, “This is drivel.” Or maybe they did, and he took the Billy Mack route. I mean, it made $170 million on opening weekend. I’d call that sold gold shit, all right.

But what I really want to study is this cultural phenomenon of a lot of people really hating a movie, and then suddenly a bunch of people coming out and saying it’s “not that bad.” I don’t know if it’s an underdog thing, but I’ve heard people stick up for this movie like it was a person. We’re talking about a major studio blockbuster release here, which probably cost about as much as it takes to launch a space shuttle, not some indy director trying to make it in this cutthroat business. And what does “not that bad” even mean?  To me, “not that bad” is kind of just a euphemism for “not that good.”

To be fair, some people seemed to have kinda-sorta actually liked it. One common (semi-)positive review is that it’s better than its predecessor Man of Steel, which is kind of like saying that one carton of sour milk tastes slightly less sour than another. However, that same reviewer goes on to say that ” ‘Batman v Superman’ is neither as stupid nor as stupendous as it might have been.” So, it’s not as stupid as it might have been? Seems like this guy still thinks it’s kind of stupid. But somewhere between stupid and stupendous then? Gotcha. Sounds like another way to say “not that bad.”

Andrew O’Hehir from Salon.com wrote: So Batman v Superman is kind of dopey and plays out some laborious plot twists in the DC narrative at unnecessary length, but as I’ve already said it largely kept me entertained for two and a half hours, which is not nothing.” No, but is it something? He also says that “This movie isn’t nearly as terrible as I was expecting.” These seem like apologist reviews to me.

Even Comic Book Resources, which should be this film’s bread-and-butter, could not sugarcoat this movie. That’s right. Even a comic book fan called this movie “a trainwreck.” And it is. Jesse Eisenberg plays the worst criminal mastermind in film history. Superman isn’t the Man of Steel here, because he’s actually wooden. Wonder Woman is fine, for the entire seven minutes she’s onscreen. The Aquaman cameo is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen in any movie. And the long-anticipated battle of the century (y’know, Batman vs. Superman) takes so long to develop that they only have a few minutes to actually fight, since they didn’t really start until the thing was already around the two-hour mark. Plus, the trailer pretty much gave away that they would be buddies by the end, anyway.

But that’s just one side of the coin. Of course, every movie has its supporters and detractors, but this one seems different somehow. Some movies are needlessly long and drawn-out. Some movies are poorly acted or poorly written. Some movies are weighed down by too much plot and not enough action. Some movies just insult my intelligence. This movie does all of these things, and yet, some people liked it. Or at least, it wasn’t as terrible as they thought it would be. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe they like going against the grain. Maybe they don’t care so much. Maybe it appealed to them in some other way (and I don’t fault them for that. In fact, I’m sort of jealous.)

Or maybe they felt bad for poor, old Ben:

I could watch that all day.

It’s possible I may picking on someone’s favorite movie with this one. Or maybe not. I really don’t have a very good gauge for contemporary pop culture. That’s why I write about movies from many years ago and whether they’re still good or not. It’s sort of my thing. Although I’m definitely not alone, because I did find this article during my research.

The other reason I write about these movies is because my opinion on them has usually changed greatly over time. This change may be due to circumstances in my own life, or the changes may be more societal, but something has brought it on. Obviously, since the movies haven’t changed much, unless it’s Star Wars and George Lucas has been dicking with it. But I am aware that some people’s opinions don’t waver like mine, because they probably saw a movie when it came out, liked it, and if they happen to see it again, they remember that experience and it brings a smile to their face, and it colors their opinion of that movie forever. Which is totally fine. I have had that moment many times in my life, and it’s great. However, I have too often had the opposite reaction, as well. I very often see a movie again and think, “Whoa. I used to like this movie. What happened?” Most of the time, though, it’s just a matter of perspective. As one gets older, things you used to think were important turn out to be kind of silly.

Recently, Garden State was on one of the many movie channels I get, and even though I only watched a few minutes of it, I cringed almost every second. At least every second when Natalie Portman was talking. Now, before anyone reading this (anyone?) chastises me because this is a wonderful romantic film made a by a young auteur and with an amazing soundtrack to boot, hear me out. I know it may not sound like it, but I am not saying this is necessarily a bad movie. This is simply a movie that I saw in 2004, when I was 28 and wide-eyed, and enjoyed a great deal. And saw again recently as a completely different man of 39 and realized that it was absolute hokum. Believe me, hokum has it’s place in the world. Just not quite this much.

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So, let’s get to it: the film revolves around Zach Braf, probably playing some version of himself since he also wrote and directed it, returning to his childhood hometown to attend his mother’s funeral. Zach’s character, as Zach did himself, has gone to Hollywood to become and actor and left all the glory of whatever podunk town he grew up in behind. Well, sort of. As the movie progresses we discover that poor, famous, movie-star Zach is tortured because when he was a little kid, he pushed his mother over and she fell and hit her neck on the open dishwasher and became paraplegic. His psychiatrist/dickhead father then sent him away to some boarding school for his trouble, and he was on horse-paralyzing amounts of medication for all of the ensuing years. According to the movie, he was always on them so he never really thought about getting off them, but, Jesus, you’d think at some point in the last decade the kid would nut-up and realize he didn’t need all those drugs. I’m sure some pot would have loosened him right up.

While home, he goes to a party at the home of his “unimpressive” friend, played by Stellan Skaarsgard (Whoops. I mean, Peter Sarsgaard), where he proceeds to get drunk, play Spin the Bottle(!), and wake up with the word BALLS written across his forehead. This prompts one of the only funny lines in a movie with thousands of supposedly funny lines, uttered matter-of-factly by Jim Parsons, a.k.a. the guy who now plays Sheldon the Butch on Big Bang Theory: “By the way, it says balls on your face.” I guess what the movie was trying to illustrate with this scene was that Zach (who plays a character with the rather on-the-nose name Andrew Largeman) has evolved past all these things, since he’s a big Hollywood actor now, but come on, he did get drunk and stoned and play Spin The Bottle and make out with Amy Furgeson (who does, like, real movies now), so he really doesn’t have a leg to stand on. But good on him. She was cute.

The pretension is totally unleashed when Andrew goes to a doctor to literally have his head examined and runs afoul of Natalie Portman’s Sam, who is at the doctor because she’s whacked. Okay, okay. It was for epilepsy. But she is whacked. They begin talking in the waiting room, and she introduces him to the Shins song that will “change his life,” which is a great song that was kind of ruined by this movie. Then he drives her home, and to his friend’s house, and then they bury her dead hamster together. You know, typical first date stuff. The whole time they are together, she keeps telling him that it’s not a date and there’s nothing happening here, but, come on. We all know they’re going to do it eventually. Thinking on it now, it might have made for a better movie if they were just buddies, and we didn’t have to put up with this ham-fisted love story and her stupid platitudes.

For anyone unfamiliar with the term “Manic-Pixie Dream Girl,” it was a phrase coined by Nathan Rabin to describe trope characters like Sam. I think he was originally referring to Kirsten Dunst in ef2cf850-f804-0131-6db2-0aa0f90d87b4Elizabethtown when he came up with it, but since Garden State came out first, I’m going to say that Sam was the catalyst. Either way, it is defined as “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” It’s kind of sad when you realize that this is a thing, and it is a thing that brings this entire movie down, unfortunately.

I once wrote a really long rant called “Llyod Dobler is a Made-Up Person.” The crux of the rant being that Lloyd Dobbler, the romantic, boom box-wielding idiot who swept Ione Skye off her feet by playing “In Your Eyes” in Say Anything, ruined romance for a generation of girls who thought that all guys should be that dreamy, but in fact none of them are. He’s completely made-up, and completely ridiculous. This is also true of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. No one talks or acts like Sam in Garden State, and if such a person did exist, wouldn’t you just find her so annoying that you’d want to slap her?  I mean, this is just one of the annoying exchanges between the two lovebirds:

Andrew Largeman: Fuck, this hurts so much.

Sam: I know it hurts. That’s life. If nothing else, It’s life. It’s real, and sometimes it fuckin’ hurts, but it’s sort of all we have.

You know what else hurts? Movie dialogue that’s supposed to be deep and meaningful. But maybe I’m just being cynical. Obviously, some people like it:

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(Hah! You two idiots got the same tattoo!)

I wish I could say that Sam says that line in a laid-back, “what-can-ya-do?” kind of way. But she doesn’t. She’s being completely serious. And that is the problem for the entire movie. It just takes itself so seriously and tries so hard to be poignant that it blasts right past “poignant” and goes straight to “dippy.” Take the scene where they are all swimming in the pool, except Andrew because he never learned how to swim at the school for mom-cripplers he was sent to, and he gets all philosophical on Sam, realizing that he was homesick for a place that doesn’t exist, and waxing, “Just because it’s a house doesn’t mean it’s a home.” Yeah, douchebag. You got sent away and wished you could go home, only to realize that home was not that cool. Ever hear that the grass is always greener? It’s called adulthood. I’d say jump in, but you can’t swim.

Despite all of this ridiculousness, Garden State has some high points. If I had the time, I would do my own “Phantom-Edit” and simply cut out Natalie Portman entirely, and have it be a cool buddy comedy about Peter Saarsgard taking Braf on an emotional (but weird) journey to get his mom’s jewelry back. Those, to me, are the best scenes of the whole movie. Like when they go to the hardware store to steal something only to return it for the cash, and encounter their deranged classmate who is embroiled in a pyramid scheme. Or at the hotel when they have to deal with the sex-crazed bell-hop played by Method Man who reveals that he regularly spies on the guests. Or the weird family who live at the bottom of the quarry… Ok, never mind. I would probably still edit that out.

The best part about that whole storyline was that there was no over-blown “come-to-Jesus” moment. Braf got the jewelry back, was kind of astonished that they had traveled around Jersey all day just for that, and Saarsgard, as most men would do in that situation, says, “See ya,” and is basically never heard from again. had that been the whole movie, I could look back on it and say, “Now that was a quirky, little indie flick.” Instead, I look back and think, “He knew Natalie Portman for, what, a weekend? And he’s giving it all up for her?”

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Like I said above, I do realize that this is mostly a matter of perspective, and there was a time when I thought this movie was really good. And there is the possibility that the countless indie copycats have made this one retroactively annoying. However, one thing I learned in all my screenwriting classes was that you have to write for the future. Unless you’re making The Wedding Singer, you really don’t want your movie to become dated in this way. And not by the clothes or music (because that soundtrack still holds up), but in the characters and their beliefs. If Zach Braf wanted to make a statement through Andrew Largeman, he shouldn’t have made one that would seem frivolous to anyone in their thirties.

When I was 17, I worked in a small, two-screen movie theater in Weymouth, MA, called the Cameo Theatre (note the English spelling, to connote that it was old, I guess.) I made minimum wage, which at the time was $4.25 an hour, and each employee also got six free passes a month to go to the Cameo’s sister theater, which had actual first-run movies, while the Cameo usually got the duds (We did play Alec Baldwin’s The Shadow first-run, so there’s that.) The employees, who were mostly 17 or 18, like myself, had an inside joke where we would drive by and yell, “Cameo Theater sucks!” at the top of our lungs during the summer when the doors were open. Despite the sucking, it may have been the best job I ever had.

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The corporate honchos at Patriot’s Cinemas, the Cameo’s parent company, did try to get movies that they thought would play well to the locals, as the Cameo was very much a neighborhood establishment. And since there were gaggles of teens around, in the winter of 1994, we got Reality Bites, the Winona Ryder-Ethan Hawke “romantic” comedy that was supposed to be the 90’s version of The Breakfast Club. Obviously, it failed miserably at that (just as it failed to bring the local teens into the Cameo), but for some reason, the fact that I was a ticket-taker for this film gives it a special place in my heart. Part of the reason may be because I invited a group of female classmates to come see it on opening night, and snuck them in for free, and they actually thought I was cool for a change. Yeah, it was definitely that. Certainly wasn’t the Lisa Loeb song.

For those who have forgotten this forgettable movie, here’s the skinny; Winona’s character, Lelaina, was valedictorian of her un-named university, is a budding filmmaker and has a job as a gopher on a morning talk show. Now, I wasn’t valedictorian, but I majored in film, and I probably would have killed for that job back in the day, but Lelaina wants to be an artist, so she is filming a documentary in her spare time about… whatever it is her and her friends are not doing. Unfortunately, since she’s twenty-two and buying groceries with her Dad’s gas card, she hates her life and her job and has no money and no boyfriend, so she’s sad. What she does have is a friendship which is wrought with sexual tension with Troy Dyer, the dreamy do-nothing played by Ethan Hawke. Jobless and homeless, Troy and his sidekick, Steve Zahn’s Sammy, have to move in with Lelaina and her roommate, an aspiring Gap manager played by Janeane Garafalo (Allow me to channel my inner Chandler Bing and ask: could this cast be any more 90’s?). While the four of them living together seems like a recipe for disaster, I think I would like to live in a part of the world where two recent college grads can afford the rent for an apartment that can comfortably house four pretentious idiots.
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The plot thickens when Lelaina begins dating Ben Stiller’s Michael, after a car accident that occurred when she threw her cigarette butt into his convertible. The 1990’s lesson here? Smoking can be good for you! Michael works for “In Your Face,” a made-up-for-the-movie MTV, “but with an edge.” Michael is awkward and wears a suit, and is boning his love interest, so Troy instantly despises him. Tensions run high, until Michael shows Lelaina’s doc footage on “In Your Face,” and it’s been edited and MTV-ized to make it more commercial. Too commercial as it turns out, as Lelaina leaves him and her big opportunity and runs into the arms of Troy The Bum. After sleeping with each other for the first time after years of built-up sexual tension, Troy freaks out, they have a fight, and he goes on stage (because of course, he’s in a band) and sings the Violent Femmes’ “Add It Up,” which features the totally appropriate lyric, “Why Can’t I Get Just One Screw?” Despite the harshness of that, and the emotional unavailability, the pretentiousness, and the unemployment, Lelaina decides that Troy and his nasty brown shirt are just too dreamy, and tells Michael, who has a job and a convertible and really does care about her, to go screw. It was the 90’s.

Add to that the product placement, the pop culture references, Vicky’s AIDS scare, Sammy coming out to his parents, the alternative soundtrack (which, ok, is pretty awesome) and the broad characterizations, what we basically have is a 99 minute episode of The Real World. But that’s just the surface-level stuff. There is slightly more going on here, if you choose to look closer.

This is Ben Stiller’s first shot in the director’s chair, and he may have been young-ish, but he was no fool. Despite all of what I said above, the movie does have heart, and it totally captures what was going on in young America in 1994. We had been told our whole lives that we were unique and we could do whatever we wanted in life as long as we had the passion and the drive, and the blah, blah, blah. But it’s kind of a lie, because not everyone is going to end up doing whatever they want, because otherwise nobody would clean toilets for a living, unless that happens to be their passion. Still, I was a lot like Lelaina back then, except way more cynical. But I did follow my friends around with a video camera because I thought everything we did was so poignant and funny. And I had friends who were like Troy, only way less dirty. So, while it seems like these characters are all mere tropes, they seemed all too real to me. The scary thing is thinking about what came first, the tropes, or the actual people acting like that? Did the movie mirror real life, or did people act that way because it was instilled in us by pop culture?

And what’s really scary is that the characters still seem real 22 years later. Here’s why:

  • I feel like Troy and Lelaina probably dated for a few years, through various highs and lows, until she grew tired of him not being able to commit to anything except a hobo lifestyle and they parted ways. She then went through her fag-hag phase, where she decided that no man could ever love her like a a gay man could. She finally did meet Mr. Right, who was pretty much an older version of Michael, while working her desk job, and lives with him and their two kids in the suburbs. She probably writes a food blog.

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    Indeed.

  • Troy Dyer drifted from job to job, supporting his drug habit along the way, and yet somehow always landing on his feet. Eventually he cleaned himself up and settled down and had a family. All of his friends thought he was amazing for pulling himself out of the gutter, when all he really did was stop screwing up his life. But people love a good yarn. One of my favorite movie lines of all-time? George Clooney in Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?I guess hard times’ll flush the chumps!
  • Vicky Miner still works at the Gap.

But Michael Grates, the somewhat awkward exec played by Ben Stiller? That’s the guy that I’m interested in, and his character is why the movie settles well with me. I came up with this ridiculous theory while driving back from Vermont recently, and “Baby, I Love Your Way” by Big Mountain was on the radio. It’s totally just made-up B.S. on my part, but it’s my rant, so here goes:

Michael is the second-act version of the character that Stiller played in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (which he also directed and starred in). Walter is just as awkward, and single at his age, because people like Lelaina have walked all over him his entire life. Walter talked about his father passing away when he was 17, and at the time he had a mohawk and was an avid skate-boarder. But his father’s death forced him to grow up faster than he would have liked and start working to actually earn money (Not because his mother wanted him out of the house, which is how I came to work at the Cameo), so that’s why he had a good job at such a young age in Reality Bites, but dated a younger woman who represented a period of life that he missed out on. Yes, he did have Lelaina’s documentary footage edited to make it more mainstream, but that’s only because he was so much more mature than her that he realized her version would never fly. Maybe it was his longing to do something creative with his life that drew him to her, and was the reasons for his day-dreaming in Walter Mitty, because he was basically making little movies in his head. When the whole 90’s MTV craze thing ended, he then obviously changed his name to Walter Mitty and got a job as a Negative Assets Manager in the Photo Department at Life Magazine. I mean, it’s so obvious.

OK, that last part is a little far-fetched, but what I think it really speaks to is the kind of work that Stiller is drawn to. To him, and in a way to me, Reality Bites isn’t some delightful rom-com of twenty-somethings trying to make it in this topsy-turvy world. It’s a real coming-of-age story, because your 20’s is when you come of age, by making mistakes and learning from them and then, later in life, when you’re Walter Mitty, you can find a much better girl, who is unpretentious and actually funny instead of ironically funny.

And who is obviously Kristen Wiig.

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I think Michael/Walter made out all right in the end.

First, I want to thank both of the people who gave me some positive feedback on some of my recent posts. While I obviously enjoy positive feedback of any kind, written comments are always welcome, so that others can see that they are not the only ones reading these. I mean, there are so few of you. We might as well have a dialogue.

Anyway, since ’tis the season, I thought I would make this post about a modern holiday classic (modern classic… a new genre), Love Actually, a movie that almost everyone is probably familiar with, and one that can be kind of polarizing, even in my own mind (Was Andrew Lincoln being forlorn and lovestruck, or creepy and stalker-y?). When I first saw it, I had just gotten out of a long-term relationship that ended quite terribly, so the idea that love was actually all around, as Hugh Grant narrates at the beginning, was pretty much utter hogwash to me. My stance started to soften over the years, and I actually went through a period where my roommate and I used to watch this movie rather frequently, and not even always at Christmas. Now, having seen it countless times and over-thought it to death, I think I can speak honestly and  objectively about it. Well, maybe not completely objectively. It is a Christmas movie.

I will forego my usual plot synopsis on this one (dry your eyes), because everyone knows the movie, and there are about 8 love stories in here of varying levels of drama. There’s Colin, the obnoxious, young Brit who travels to America to meet woman because he thinks his accent will be cute over here (which totally works because he gets to sleep with January Jones and Elisha Cuthbert, and a Bond girl all at once), and there’s the other extreme of Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, whose marriage is pretty much in the toilet. I will say that one of the reasons this movie has settled so well with me is that juggling 8 plot-lines in one movie is extremely difficult, because most screenwriters (myself included) have a hard time dealing with one, so Christmas cookies to Richard Curtis to being able to handle all that. I’ll let a little of the timeline-jumping slide because this film must have been a real bugaboo to  write and edit, and he did a great job when all is said and done.

Another reason this movie has settled so well with me is that, over the years and stages of my sanity, I have been able to identify with different characters. There were times when I totally identified with Andrew Lincoln’s love-sick sidekick character. Not because I was in love with my best friend’s wife, because that never happened, but just that the object of his affection was unattainable, and we’ve all been there, I’m sure. And yeah, it seems weird that he makes a video entirely of her, and his giant- cue card expression of love  can be read as creepy. And what exactly would he have done if Chiwetel Ejiofor answered the door?

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When I was thinking about writing this post, I thought about this storyline the most, because I’ve seen a lot of things written on it on the ‘nets. I decided that he wasn’t being creepy because we have no idea what the history is between him and Keira Knightley. Maybe he saw her first and his friend scooped her up. And it’s not like he had videos of her in the shower taken from their shrubs. In fact, from the dialogue between them, you can infer that he was keeping his distance after their wedding. She even confronts him on this, saying that she wants to be friends, even though she thinks he’s never really liked her. That’s why one of my favorite moments in the movie (and any movie) is when she is watching the wedding video he made and that realization washes across her face when she finally grasps that he is in love with her. Now, she is left to wonder what-might-have-been, and he is left to think, “Crap. She knows.” And that friendship she was asking for is probably out the window. Lincoln gets his closure in the end, in my opinion, because he does tell her how he truly feels, and it’s not like he kidnapped her or anything. He had his cathartic moment, she gave him a little kiss to say, “Dude, you’re all right, and if I wasn’t married, I’d hit that.” And he realized that, as he said, it was, “Enough.” He is allowed to move on with his life.

Which is probably more than we can say for Emma Thompson’s rather sad housewife. They really pile it on this poor woman, even going so far as to make the actress wear padding to make her look more like a middle-aged homebody. They also make her the sister of Hugh Grant’s Prime Minister just to make her life seem more meaningless. Fortunately, he shows up just in the nick of time to lift her spirits in one of those Festivus Miracle-type moments.

But what really happened here? Well, Alan Rickman is blatantly told by his new assistant that she lusts after him. After several advances, his resolve begins to weaken, and he buys her an expensive necklace, which Thompson finds in his coat pocket and thinks is for her. When she opens her gift and finds a decidedly less-expensive CD, Thompson knows what’s going on. We then see the beautiful assistant in her bedroom, in her underwear, the bed un-made behind her, putting on the necklace. Now, I’m no sleuth, but it looks to me like Alan Rickman is schtupping his secretary. And at the very least, he bought her a very expensive necklace. My young, naive self used to think that he stopped just short of actually sleeping with her, but another part of a movie settling with you is that now that I’m older and wiser, and grumpier, I think they totally did it. Either way, it’s not good, and let me say right here that Alan Rickman is probably the only person awesome enough to play this part and not make you totally hate him.

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Another thing my older self does now that my younger self did not was relate to Emma Thompson a little more. When she confronts her husband about the necklace that she did not receive, she wonders out loud to him if the necklace was “just a necklace, or if it’s sex and a necklace, or if, worst of all, it’s a necklace and love.” The “worst of all” part is the part that gets me. This is a woman who is married this man, has two children with him, and probably believes her life to be complete, but now knows that he either had an affair or contemplated it. She then asks him if he would stay in the marriage, knowing that, “life would always be a little bit worse.” That’s the real bummer, isn’t it? Much like Andrew Lincoln and Keira Knightley, Emma Thompson’s life is different, and “a little bit worse” to boot. Now, she obviously stays with him on some level, because she picks him up at the airport at the end, but when he asks how she’s doing, she repeats over and over that she is fine, although she is clearly not. Clearly, her life is a little bit worse.

But the one “love” story that every Matt Dursin stage can identify with (especially the older, wiser, grumpier one) is Bill Nighy’s aging rocker, Billy Mack. Apparently, in England, the #1 song on the charts at Christmas is a big deal, and this year, Billy is trying to make a comeback by changing the lyrics to The Troggs’ “Love is all Around,”to “Christmas is all Around.” Even he knows that this is a completely ridiculous idea, he go ahead and promotes it all over the country, making fun of his portly manager, Joe, every chance he gets. After Billy does attain the #1 song on Christmas, he gets invited to a glamorous party at “Elton’s,” who is obviously Elton John, leaving Joe to celebrate the holiday alone. Billy soon realizes his mistake and leaves the party so he can spend Christmas with Joe, realizing that Billy has spent the majority of his adult life with him, and that Joe is, in fact, the love of his life. They decide to get drunk and watch porn to celebrate. Forget “From here to Eternity” or whatever. This may be the greatest love story in the history of cinema.

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On the DVD commentary, Richard Curtis explained that the inspiration of this storyline came from his relationship with Rowan Atkinson, who was famous for playing Mr. Bean and makes a hilarious cameo in “Love Actually” as the sales associate who excessively wraps Alan Rickman’s scandalous necklace. Curtis said that after working with Atkinson for years, and staying in hotels with him and sharing so many hours together, he realized that they had spent more time with each other then their own families. And he wasn’t lamenting it at all, because he also realized that he truly loved Rowan in a very real sense. Not romantically, but truly and probably deeply. Anyone who has life-long friends, as I have, can understand this kind of bond that develops over time. I have people that I have been good friends with for over 30 years, and it is hard for other people to understand that kind of love. But it’s there.

Supposedly, the ancient Greeks has six words for “love,” representing the various kinds. For example, “Agape” meant “a love for everyone,” while “Eros” translated roughly to “sexual “passion.” I think Love Actually covers them all and more, between Billy Mack and Joe, Liam Neeson and his step-son, or Laura Linney and her love for her brother. It also adds in a love for Christmas. There are so many times in the movie where the characters realize that Christmas is a time for love, and that’s kind of like The Force binding the universe together.Love-Actually-250x250

One of Andrew Lincoln’s cards to Keira Knightley says, “At Christmas you tell the truth.” Maybe it is this Christmas honesty that makes it hard for even someone like me to be grumpy and analytical about this movie.This one was good when I first saw it, it was good a few years later, and it’s still good, no matter which Matt Dursin is watching.

Last night, I put in the DVD of Return of the Jedi, and I was immediately awash with feelings of nostalgia for the first time I saw that movie in theaters back in 1983. My whole family went, and it was a packed house, and what I remember most (I was only 7) was how cool it was when the whole audience erupted in applause when the title screen appeared the music of John Williams filled their ears. It was probably my first time experiencing one of those shared moments like that. I imagine it will be a similar feeling in about a week, when The Force Awakens plays to a hungry audience.

Then, harsh reality struck; I’ve had a feeling like this before. Strangely similar, in fact. Actually, almost exactly the same amount of anticipation I am experiencing now came over me in 1999, when everyone I knew was talking about the first new Star Wars movie since Return of the Jedi: The Phantom Menace. Yes, perhaps the worst settling movie of all time.

Over the ensuing sixteen years, I’ve heard a lot of differing opinions of this movie, as well as its two sequel-prequels. I’ve known people who are so mad that they say that they don’t even exist, or that George Lucas raped their childhood.  Those are one extreme, obviously, because I’ve also come across people who think that they were okay, and if you take the entire story (all six of them) as a whole, it’s an epic hero’s journey.   And when I saw The Phantom Menace re-release in 3-D a few years ago, my fellow theater-goers applauded at the end.  Perhaps because it was over, but it was still applause.

In some circles, the Star Wars prequels probably evoke more emotion than any film series in history.  People certainly talk about them, positively or negatively, more than any saga in my life (maybe even the original Star Wars trilogy.)  But what really was going on there?  Certainly because of how beloved the original trilogy is, the new trilogy had an uphill climb, anyway, but not only did they not live up to the expectations, the prequel trilogy rolled down the hill and crashed.  But why?  And more importantly, how?  Everyone clearly has their own opinions, but I think enough time has passed now, and with three new films on the way, the first of which will be here in a matter of days, that it’s time to cut open the body and examine the cause of death. And thus, I give you the Biggest Burrito Movie of All-Time: Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

Basically, The Phantom Menace runs off the rails two sentences into the opening crawl.  The Trade Federation?  The planet Naboo?  Who the Hell cares?  After a few minutes, we see our heroes, the Jedi Knights, one of them being young Obi-Wan Kenobi, whom Star Wars geeks should actually be happy to see.  There is a mention by the oddly-Asian-like villains that the Jedi are bad news, although we don’t really know what great fighters they are yet.  They attempt to rub the Jedi out, but obviously fail (To think, all the needless suffering could have ended right then.).  Obi-Wan and his Jedi mentor, Qui-Gon Jinn, flee the evil Asian’s ship and retreat to the planet Naboo below, which is apparently a planet we are supposed to care about because this Trade Federation is somehow repressing them.  Things go from bad to annoying as the Jedi soon encounter and mysteriously befriend Jar-Jar Binks, one of the most reviled characters in over a century of cinema.  Jar-Jar takes them to his subterranean hometown of Gungan City, and they meet his king, Boss Nass, who basically sounds like Big Bird on smack.  None of this seems to have real purpose except to be an elaborate introduction of Boss Nass, a character that we see three times in the whole saga.

I’m going to break from the riveting plot synopsis to talk a little about Jar Jar Binks. Seriously, is there a more polarizing character in all of history? Love him or hate him (I hate him, but I suppose someone must love him), he represents all that is wrong with the prequel trilogy: he is clumsy, he blathers on-and-on about nothing, and even though he is seemingly pointless, it all works out for him in the end.

But, as I said, he is polarizing. Some people think he’s harmless, and some others (including this Reddit user) who think that he is actually a Sith Lord who is pulling all the strings behind-the-scenes, and that Lucas’ master plan all along was for him to be revealed as the big baddie, until everyone simply hated him and never wanted to see him again, so George shoe-horned Count Dooku in. While the Jar Jar Theory couldn’t have been much worse than what they actually did, I’m glad they didn’t go that route. There was really no need to give Jar Jar any more screen time. And fear not, Jar Jar-haters. J.J. Abrams has heard your plea, and he has stated that the reviled character will not be appearing in The Force Awakens. So who cares if he was a Sith Lord or not?

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As is the theme with the entire film, nothing of note happens and Jar-Jar and his Jedi companions head back to the surface to rescue the Queen of Naboo, Amidala, whom we were told is a good person in need of rescue earlier in the movie, but we never saw any evidence of wrong-doing, so who knows?  They actually very easily rescue her, and decide to take her to the planet Coruscant, where she can stand before the Imperial Senate and ask them to tell the evil Asian bad guys to basically stop being evil. Based on what we’ve seen so far, the two Jedi were probably enough to whip the bad guys and their stupid droids all by themselves, but we have a lot of time to fill here.

Long hours seem to pass, and the end result is that our heroes are attacked and must land on Tatooine, the future home of Luke Skywalker, to repair their ship. Qui-Gon then makes a twisted deal with a flying frog named Watto for some spare parts.  The deal involves Watto’s slave boy, Anakin Skywalker (the future Darth Vader), whom Qui-Gon has deduced is The Chosen One, and will become the greatest Jedi ever. Anakin, despite being a toddler, is somehow a great pilot, so he is tasked with winning the ship parts in what amounts to a really long NASCAR race, complete with incredible annoying Chris Berman-like commentators. The similarities are so rich, they should have just gotten him to do the voices.

As part of Qui-Gonn’s compulsive gambling, Anakin wins the race, the parts, and his freedom, and is convinced to leave his mother to go with these virtual strangers to Coruscant to learn the ways of The Force.  He says good-bye to Mom and all the other slaves (who Qui-Gon decided weren’t worth the effort. I guess Anakin literally is The Chosen One.), gets on the ship and is off to meet his destiny.  He begins to form a bond with Padme, who is apparently the Queen’s hand-maiden, although anyone familiar with the casting of the movie knew right away that it was all a big farce and that Padme is in fact the Queen, since we were all told that Natalie Portman was playing a Queen. There are apparently whole websites devoted to fans theorizing when it was Portman and when it was Keira Knightley. Personally, I’m not worrying about it (or even linking it. Sorry.)

When they reach Coruscant,” the Queen” pleads her case, although nothing seems to come of it (again.) Meanwhile, Qui-Gonn asks the Jedi Council if he can train Anakin, but they don’t believe he’s anything special, so Qui-Gonn reckons he’ll do it, anyway. So nothing comes from that meeting, either.

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Amidala then decides, although she’s not really the Queen (or is she?), that she must return to her repressed home planet and save it from the evil Asians.  The Jedi are instructed by their bosses to return with her to keep her safe, and they decide to bring the decidedly-unspecial Anakin with them. So basically, the same poor assholes that just flew across the galaxy and sat around on a desert planet forever to get to Corusant to accomplish nothing  have to turn around and go back to fight a battle that they probably could have won before they left and spared us a whole lot of talking. And wipes.

The Battle for Naboo is actually the best part of the movie, although two-thirds of it is not very good.  The battle unfolds on three stages, with some Naboo pilots waging war in space, trying to knock out the droid ship, which is no Star Destroyer, let me tell you. This battle isn’t very good because we don’t know who any of these pilots are.  In the second battle, we see Jar Jar Binks, suddenly a general, leading his fishy friends into combat against said droids.  This is also not very good because it has Jar Jar on the screen, and I would rather gouge out my eyeballs with a light saber than watch him fumble around on a battlefield, and yet somehow still take out several droids.

The third part of the battle sees Qui Gon and Obi-Wan battle Darth Maul in one of the best light saber duels ever seen.  It is something to marvel, and it would probably be remembered more fondly if there wasn’t two hours of crap before it.  Ray Park as Darth Maul almost single-handedly saved the whole movie, and he was on the screen for all of five minutes and didn’t even have any real dialogue. His voice was dubbed over, and even that was only three lines. And remember what I said earlier about Boss Nass having all that time?  Couldn’t we have cut a few chunks and given them to Darth Maul?

Still, for the brief period he’s on screen, Maul flips around, his double-sided light saber flashing like crazy, kicking the hell out of Obi-Wan and even killing Qui-Gon right in front of his helpless pupil, prompting the requisite Star Wars cry of “Nnnnnooooooo!!!!” It’s just too bad that there was no build-up to this duel, no prior meeting between Maul and Kenobi, and no reason to believe why this guy was a bad guy other than he wears a black cape.

Meanwhile, little Anakin manages to get into the space battle, flies his ship into the hangar of the droid ship (the same one that about 20 Naboo fighters have been trying to destroy) and ACCIDENTALLY fires his torpedoes into the hangar wall, naturally starting a chain reaction that destroys the whole ship, thus rendering all the battle droids inert (in typical sci-fi cop-out fashion) and simultaneously ensuring victory for the Gungans, as well.  I could have almost bought all that as simple feel-good cheese, if Anakin didn’t actually say “Oooops” after he fired the torpedoes.  Somehow, even though he was made aware of the entire mission, the fact that he made it into the main bad guys’ ship and didn’t actually mean to blow it up made the whole thing even worse.

In the aftermath, Obi-Wan swears to his dying master to train Anakin in the ways of The Force, the soon-to-be Emperor takes his place as Chancellor of the Senate, although I’m not sure if we’re supposed to know that, and Naboo is, well, about as irrelevant as it was at the beginning. We do learn, however, that even though Obi-Wan destroyed one Sith-Lord, that “always two there are.” Sith Lords are like these movies: one isn’t bad enough.

Unfortunately, like Anakin himself, this one bad movie started the whole series down the path to the Dark Side. The problems with this movie are many, and as I stated earlier, they start right at the opening crawl. “Crawl” is also an appropriate term for the movie’s pace, as it is basically a lot of people talking between wipes. Seriously, it’s like a child’s Powerpoint presentation. The few scenes that don’t involve a nice, long chat are imbued with childish Lucas tropes, like the young hero-in-training following the lead of the wise, old master who can act circles around him.

But even with all that, my main problem is that it could have been a lot better, and if George wanted to make it different than the original trilogy, he could have easily done that and accomplish all his story goals. He could have had Darth Maul do bad things, like hurt the people of Naboo, instead of just saying that they were being hurt. He could have had the Jedi do good things, like, free slaves. Last I checked, slavery was not cool, but when presented with the option. Qui-Gon Jinn clearly states, “I did not come here to free slaves.” Wha-huh? What kind of hero is he, anyway? Why let a planet full of slaves stay enslaved, but take one stupid kid with you? Basically, when your main character doesn’t want to free slaves, your main heroine keeps putting her lookalike hand-maidens in danger, and the child who is supposed to be the future savior of the universe is an annoying brat who wins battles by accident, it’s kind of hard not to root for Darth Maul in this one. Well, I guess those three minutes or so were worth it, right?

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As I said at the beginning, however, I was really, really looking forward to this movie when it came out, similar to how I feel now about The Force Awakens, and that scares me a little, but it would be tough for it to be as bad as Phantom Menace.  While I think that anticipation made me gloss over a lot of these faults at the time, there were certainly plenty of them. That is probably why it settled so badly. It was a long way down.

One simple sentence: “I don’t like my job, and I don’t think I’m gonna go anymore.”

Make sure you put the accent on “go,” as Ron Livingston’s Peter Gibbons did in the 90’s workplace comedy brought to us by the masterful Mike Judge,Office Space.

Like my last post, this isn’t a movie that I have recently re-discovered, but this is one that was always near-and-dear to my heart. When I first saw it in 1999, I loved it for the corporate zaniness, the Superman III-referencing thievery, and the awesome printer beat-down scene. But it was released in 1999, and I was just a spry 22 year-old, cock-eyed optimist with dreams of becoming the next Tarantino. I was actually still working two part-time jobs at the time, so I really couldn’t identify with the premise. In fact, even when I actually got a “real” job later that year, I didn’t have to deal with the cubicle-Hell madness that Peter and his colleagues do in the movie.

Alas, the year is now 2015, and as I stand on the precipice of 40, my job has changed somewhat, and I get a little more Office Space in my life than I ever wanted. I don’t have a boss like Bull Lumberg, but I am waiting for the day when I am asked to move my desk into the basement like poor Milton. (I do, by the way, have a red Swingline stapler.)

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So, what’s all the hub-bub about? Well, Office Space follows Peter and his hapless co-workers , Michael Bolton and Samir Nagheenanajar (two of the best character names in movie history) as they trudge through life at Initech, a software company that is in the process of updating all their bank systems for the year 2000 switch (remember that whole fracas?) Peter is annoyed at the clamor that arises when he makes one minor mistake, like not attaching a cover sheet to his TPS reports, and for being asked to work on the weekend. Meanwhile Michael Bolton has daily squabbles with the office printer. Samir is equally unhappy, but more because no one can pronounce his name.

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To try and alleviate his malaise, Peter’s girlfriend takes him to an Occupational Hypnotherapist, who tries hypnotizing his blues away. Unfortunately, right as Peter is falling under, the hypnotherapist has a fatal heart attack and dies, leaving Peter in a happy haze. He awakens the next morning, er, afternoon, to several messages from his boss, asking him why he isn’t at work. He also receives a call from his girlfriend, who was wondering the same thing. Peter simply responds that he didn’t feel like going in. While she begins to berate him for flaking out, he simply hangs up on her, effectively ending the relationship (very effectively.) Peter then hilariously falls back into bed while she screams into his answering machine that she’s been cheating on him.

The following week, Peter still forgoes work, deciding instead to courageously ask out the local waitress, Joanna, played by Jennifer Aniston in full-on Friends mode. It is during this date that we learn of Peter’s epiphany: he doesn’t like his job, and he doesn’t think he’s going to go anymore.

Meanwhile, Initech has hired two consultants, “The Bobs,”played brilliantly by John C. McGinly and Cheers‘ Paul Wilson, to trim the fat at the company. As they go through the staff, they determine that Michael and Samir are expendable, and Milton, the mumbly, stapler-obsessed office wierdo played by Stephen Root, who was laid off but still receives a paycheck. will no longer receive it, so the “problem will work itself out.” Oddly enough, even though Peter told them how much he dislikes working there and how he hates having 8 bosses and how no matter how hard he works, his pay never increases, The Bobs feel he’s worthy of a promotion.

Now super-angry at the company, Peter, Michael and Samir pull the old “Superman III” heist, where they run a virus in the company’s computer system that will drop tenths of a penny into an account several million times, so that over a few years they will make a lot of money. This, of course, backfires, and the transfer takes hours instead of years. Peter decides to return the money and take the fall. Fortunately, Milton finds the returned money before his bosses do, and sets the building on fire, as revenge for his boss stealing his red Swingline stapler (among other things. Maybe being fired, but probably the stapler.) Peter ends up taking a job in construction, enjoying the outdoors. Michael and Samir go to work for the competing software company, while Milton ends up on a beach resort, having absconded with all their money.

But that’s just the surface stuff. The part that really resonates with me now that I missed back in ’99 is the conversation Peter has with the two consultants.  After telling them comically that he comes in 15 minutes late every day, and then spaces out for an hour, staring at his desk, appearing to be working, the conversation then turns to what I feel is the film’s main message, as much as a comedy can have a message. Remember, nothing is written into a movie by accident. Peter illustrates that the reason he hates his job is “a problem of motivation,” that if he works really hard and the company makes more money, he still doesn’t see any of it in his check. He points out how annoying it is to have all 8 of his bosses come down on him for making one small mistake. And the part where I feel Mike Judge was really trying to get his point across, Peter closes his rant with:

That’s my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.

I won’t say that he is speaking for all of us, but let’s face, he’s speaking for a lot of us. I’m pretty sure that for every person who just loves their job, there’s one or two who are just doing it to not get hassled (or if you’re like me, for health insurance.) Think about it; how many people do you know who do their job just hard enough not to get fired, or because they’re afraid not to work, or most likely just for the money? What does it say about the world we live in when there are literally thousands of employed people who at this very moment are probably only working just hard enough not to get fired? And I’m not knocking them. They are probably all like Peter Gibbons in that no matter how hard they work, they won’t see another dime in their paycheck. This isn’t exactly an epic revelation, I know, but it’s still something that hasn’t been put into words quite as succinctly as it is in this movie. And when you think about it, it does kind of suck. The American Dream of getting a good education to get a job and get married and buy a house and have kids and then retire after 30-some years kind of seems wasteful when you may have spent most of that time working just hard enough not to get fired.

The movie tacks on a sort of Hollywood Ending by having Peter admit to Joanna that he doesn’t know why he can’t just go to work and be happy. Joanna echoes his statement by saying that’s just what people do. Basically find something you sort of like and soldier on. Now, according to the DVD extras, Judge faced a lot of studio backlash while making this movie, and I’m willing to bet my meager salary which doesn’t go up when I work really hard that these lines were shoe-horned in at the behest of the 20th Century Fox people, who just needed the hero to not seem so bad. The weird thing is that Joanna also had a bout with her boss (played by Judge himself, in his most Hank Hill-iness) regarding her uniform. In a total T.G.I.Friday’s send-off, Joanna is required to wear 15 “pieces of flair,” or buttons to the non-corporate folks, on her person every shift. She gets spoken to for not “expressing herself” enough, because she is wearing only the required 15 pieces. Joanna is chastised for only doing the bare minimum, so for her, even doing what she’s supposed to isn’t enough. She eventually quits the job, expressing herself by flipping off her boss. However, at the end of the movie, we learn that she has gotten another waitress job at a competing restaurant. Presumably, there is no flair involved, but I still find it odd that they wouldn’t find something else for her to do. Or perhaps this is another statement by Judge that it doesn’t really matter, that we all sort of have our lanes. And maybe that’s what she was communicating when she was speaking to Peter about soldiering on.

Of course, even though everything in the movie is true, we still have to work for money, right? Office Space tackles that topic, as well, when the characters debate that silly test most high-schoolers take about what they would do if they had a million dollars. Michael rightly posits that the entire concept is ridiculous, because no one would put down janitor, because no one would clean toilets if they had a million dollars. Peter’s neighbor Lawrence, eloquently states that if he had a million dollars, he would simply do “two chicks at the same time, man.” Lawrence is obviously the smartest person in the movie.

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When Peter says that, if he had a million dollars, he would do absolutely nothing, Lawrence the Wise points out that you don’t need a million dollars to do that, as his cousin is broke and he “don’t do shit.”

I suppose that is what the movie has taught me as it has settled. It’s not about one man’s quest to do nothing, or a botched, Superman III-style heist, or even about three guys slaving away for a faceless corporation. It is about all that stuff, but also a lot more. The main idea is, as the tagline at the bottom of the poster says, “Work Sucks.” It sucks when you have to answer to eight bosses. It sucks to comply to the uniform requirements and still get criticized for it. It sucks that the magazine salesman, who is a former programmer for Initech‘s competitor, makes more money selling subscriptions door-to-door than he ever did as a corporate worker bee. It all sucks. Even the dream job is still hard work. So, what’s the answer? I’m not sure. Maybe find something you like and stick with it?

Maybe the studio had it right, after all.

 

First off, I want to preface this by saying that I always loved this movie, making it a unique choice for a movie that settled, since it was always good in my estimation (and also, apparently, for its director. M Night Shyamalan cites it as his favorite of his movies, as well.) Even as a lapsed comic book fan in 2000, I understood the hero/villain dynamic that Shyamalan was going for, and I really dug it.  The cool thing about this is that I’ll talk about a movie that was great in 2000, and see how it looks now after all these super-hero movies that have come since then.

So, here’s the skinny on Unbreakable, if you haven’t seen it (which is ludicrous.) David Dunn, played subtly by Bruce Willis, is a down-on-his-luck everyman. We learn immediately that his marriage is on the rocks and his life is kind of in the gutter. However, things take a turn when the train he is on crashes, killing every passenger on board (That sounds awful, but bear with me.) Miraculously, Dunn is not only alive, but he emerges without a scratch. This makes Dunn’s wife, played by Robin (Wright) Penn, feel sort of bad and come around a little bit, and his son to start hero-worshipping him like crazy.

Dunn soon receives a mysterious message from Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), asking him if he’s ever been sick. Elijah was born with a rare and unfortunate disease called Osteogenesis Imperfecta, which is smart-people talk for “his bones are like glass.” Elijah, who has had 54 broken bones in his lifetime, believes that if there is someone like him in the world, then there must be someone on the opposite end of the spectrum, someone who can’t be hurt, and he has been on a quest for this person. Elijah also is obsessed with comic books, even owning an art gallery comprised entirely of original comic book art. This obsession is what inspires his quest.

Mr. Glass is not in Near Mint Condition

Mr. Glass is not in Near Mint Condition

Jackson even has paragraphs of dialogue in the movie about how comics are our modern-day mythology, which is ironic considering the pivotal role he would later play in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When they meet Elijah tells David that he is more than an ordinary schmoe. That he survived the trainwreck because he is, in fact, the person he has been looking for. David obviously thinks that he’s crazy, but Elijah drives his point home, asking him if he’s ever been injured, and David’s son reveals that he was injured in a car accident in college, which derailed his professional football career. Dunn also works as a security guard at the local stadium, and Elijah points out that he wanted to protect people. The injury is the maguffin, however. Elijah pushes the matter further after Dunn’s wife becomes his physical therapist, and it comes out that she didn’t see herself with a pro football player, since the violence of the sport is contradictory to what she does.

Meanwhile, David starts to believe Elijah while lifting weights in his basement, when he realizes he can lift hundreds of pounds, and asks his boss when was the last time he had taken a sick day (He even gets a raise out of it, since he never has.) After analyzing all of the pieces of the puzzle, and stumbling upon a Sentry-Man comic, Elijah realizes that Dunn faked the injury he had in college to get out of going into professional football, because he wanted to stay with his future wife. The only other time David was sick was that he once almost drowned, and Elijah chalks that up to water being his kryptonite.

Eventually, Elijah convinces David to go to a public place where there are lots of people, and see what happens. He goes to a crowded train station. and it is dramatically revealed that David can detect criminals when he is near them. A vision of a janitor leads David to a home that the janitor has invaded. David subdues the criminal and frees the children he had taken prisoner. It is true. He is a hero.

Of course, Shyamalan always has a twist at the end, and in Unbreakable, the twist comes when Dunn shakes Elijah’s hand and discovers that Elijah himself is an arch-criminal. Turns out, Elijah had been creating tragedies in search of his counterpart, the person who is his exact opposite. It was Elijah who caused the train wreck that brought David to his attention in the first place. In the one part of the movie that’s a little disappointing, Dunn calls the police and has Elijah arrested for his crimes… off-screen. In a total Joker-esque moment, Elijah is happy to finally know his place in the world, as David’a opposite, because in all comics, you always know who the villain is, because he is the exact opposite of the hero.

Of course, that is just one instance of the comic similarities in this movie. Elijah is most definitely patterned after The Joker. The end title screen even says that he was committed to an institution for the criminally insane. They might as well has said Arkham Asylum. Even Elijah’s distinct purple color palette, and the way his hair is cut kind of askew point to the Clown Prince of Crime, and there is a line in the movie that says that old-school comic book villains are always drawn slightly disproportionate than normal characters, to better illustrate their skewed perspective. Let’s face it, though; if you had broken that many bones in your life, your perspective would probably be pretty messed up, too.

Elijah’s color palette isn’t the only one that stands out, as every person in the movie who is revealed to be a criminal is shown in vivid color, while the rest of the movie is rather muted. The janitor wears a bright orange jumpsuit. The fan who has snuck drugs into the stadium that David pats down (played by Shyamalan) is wearing a bright blue jacket. And the fan who David thinks is sneaking a gun into the stadium is wearing a bright green camouflage jacket. This is meant to reflect comic book coloring, which use distinctive colors to call attention to the action in a panel.

David Dunn is also reminiscent of a comic book hero. Even his name is a reflection of many comic heroes’ real names, which use repeated consonants at the beginning (Peter Parker, Matt Murdock, Bruce Banner). He also wears a green rain poncho with “Security” on the back with a hood, which is meant to resemble many comic heroes, like Green Arrow or The Spectre.

I'm Pseudo-Batman!

I’m Pseudo-Batman!

Nothing in a movie is by accident, and beyond the characters, the movie itself is reflective of a comic book. There are a lot of long tracking shots (almost all of them, actually), to mimic comic book panels, which are supposed to have one action per panel. There are a lot of shots, like Elijah’s birth scene, that are shot at mirrors or through windows, or reflections in the glass frames at the art gallery, to bring home the “Mr. Glass” aspect of Jackson’s character. These are the kinds of things that pop out when you let the movie settle and watch it again (or do some research on IMDB, if you’re interested.)

The thing that I find really interesting is that this movie says more about comic books heroes and villains than any one that Marvel or DC has made. I get that they are trying to make blockbusters and Shyamalan was trying to make something a little more thought-provoking, but why can’t we have a bit of both? Maybe that’s what they were going for with Man of Steel, because clearly they were trying to do… something, but whatever it was, they failed. And as much as I like most of them, Marvel’s movies don’t really try to get very deep, especially with the villains. Loki gets a little character development, with the whole “I was adopted and my dad didn’t tell me” thing, but mostly because he was given three movies to do it in (and Tom Hiddleston is pretty awesome). Other than that, HYDRA is bad, the Chitauri were bad (and pretty useless), and Ultron was really bad (in so many ways.) At least they got The Joker right in The Dark Knight, and it really makes me wonder if Christopher Nolan is also a fan of Unbreakable.

“Marvel-porn” is a slang term I have heard in some circles in comics (Do NOT Google that, by the way), mostly by people who prize independent comics over all other forms of art in human history who think that Marvel books are heavy on action and big boobs and light on anything meaningful. As an indy creator myself, I sort of understand where they are coming from, and you definitely need to take what you do seriously, whether it’s creating comics or saving lives, Still, we are talking about comic books, and they are just entertainment. Even so, entertainment doesn’t need to be quite so vapid. I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but as far as comic book movies, Unbreakable nailed it better than any Marvel or DC movie, and it’s as true now as it was 15 years ago.

Be a real super-hero out and buy or rent Unbreakable on Amazon and help keep this the Dursin-est site ever.

Last week, I wrote about a movie that settled very well, like a meal you think about a few hours after you’ve eaten it and thought, “Mmm-mmm, that’s good eatin’,” while rubbing your tummy. Occasionally, however, as we all know, meals don’t settle very well. Unfortunately, movies are like that, too. I call these Burrito Movies!

So, for this blog post, I am going to write about a movie that didn’t settle well at all: Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy. Unfortunately, this is the quintessential Burrito Movie, because I loved it while I was consuming it, but got mild indigestion when I watched it recently.

Let me preface this rant by saying that I feel kind of bad thinking this way. When I was an upstart college student, I loved Kevin Smith and all he stood for (which wasn’t much outside of his small New Jersey circle of friends, but still…) I loved that this guy put all his money and worked his ass off to make Clerks, a movie that gave hope to fledgling filmmakers everywhere in 1994, but its bad acting somehow seems so much worse twenty years later (And the less said about Clerks II, the better.) But as a freshmen in Film school in 1994, and one who had spent a lot of his prime high school dating years making goofy movies with his friends, I definitely respected what Smith had done. If nothing else, Clerks was a symbol of what could be done with hard work and some friends who were willing to humiliate themselves a little for you. I also felt a bit of a kinship towards the characters, as I was also a video store clerk at the time, and knew their pain all too well.

Three years later, Smith had the money and notoriety to make a “real” movie and hire “real” actors, like Ben Affleck and Smith’s girlfriend at the time, Joey Lauren Adams. While Clerks and its follow-up Mallrats were kitschy, little teen angst-y, 90’s rom-coms, Smith used Chasing Amy to get a little more serious. He tried exploring the dynamics of the male-female-male relationship when the female is not only a lesbian, but also has a somewhat shady past, and when the other male is the first male’s best friend and business partner. This was apparently inspired by a scene in Guinevere Turner’s Go Fish, where a lesbian falls for a man, and is shunned by the lesbian community. This ends up as one scene in Chasing Amy, but still, it was supposedly the inspiration.

When I first saw Chasing Amy, I was a college junior, and you would be hard-pressed to find someone filled with more 90’s angst than me, so I thought this movie, and especially Jason Lee’s Banky, was speaking directly to me. When his best friend (Affleck) falls in love with a lesbian (Adams), Lee is not only suspicious but downright anti-gay. I couldn’t see his problem with Adams being gay (maybe because I didn’t know any gay people at the time, it just never registered one way or another), but I could identify with Lee being overly annoyed at “losing” his best friend to a relationship that he didn’t agree with. I have had many friends that got involved with someone who I deemed bad news, and it was only in my advanced years (and after being the friend who was involved with the bad news girl) that I realized that you can’t, and should never try, to get involved, because no good will come of it. Your friend either has to come to that realization on their own, or be condemned to a life of misery. Or, just maybe, you are wrong and your friend is as happy as a clam. No matter what, the bottom line is get over it.

Lee does not. In fact, he gets right into it, digging up dirt on Adams, uncovering her high school yearbook(!) and discovering that her nickname was “Finger cuffs,” a sexual reference that indicates that she had a threesome. So, even though most guys may think that this is pretty cool, Affleck (and I assume, by proxy, Smith) is taken aback, as he arrogantly thought that he was the first man that Adams had ever been with. The real question is, who puts that in their high school yearbook?

downloadIn one of the movie’s funnier scenes, Affleck awkwardly tries to bait Adams into admitting to the Finger-cuffs story while they are at a hockey game. She begins blowing the incident off as high-school silliness, but when Affleck persists, she climaxes it by standing up and admitting to all who can hear that she did indeed have a threesome. The young man next to Affleck hilariously points out that even he saw that one coming.

This leads to the other interesting scene in the movie where Affleck asks his gay friend Hooper how to handle this situation, and Hooper tells him to forget about it. Basically, it is only the ego of a straight man that doesn’t allow for his lesbian girlfriend to have had sex with other dudes. It is certainly good advice. I mean, no man is going to get very far in life if he only wants a girl who is pure and chaste. I understand that wonderful Catholic boy Kevin Smith thought that a girl having a threesome in high school would be scandalous, but seriously? I don’t even care about what I did in high school, let alone anyone I’ve ever dated.

Still. in the world of the movie that Smith has created, this is a no-no. So, where does Affleck turn to for help next? The neighborhood drug lords, of course. Smith (as the affable Silent Bob), tells Affleck a story of a girl he dated, Amy, whom he loved but felt weird about her more-adventurous sexual history. He eventually ended the relationship, and has spent the ensuing years trying to find one as meaningful, or “Chasing Amy,” naturally.

I guess Affleck decides he doesn’t want to end up an overweight drug dealer like Silent Bob, so he calls both his ex-best friend, and his ex-girlfriend together and proposes a way to save both relationships, and I believe it’s pronounced “menage a trois.” This baffled me then, and it baffles me now. As I mentioned earlier, I have had points in my life where my friend was in a bad relationship, or there was a strain on the friendship, and never did I entertain the notion that I should have sex with that person. Not even a female friend! I’m not sure if Affleck thought that this would allow him to experience stuff like Adams had, or if she would maybe somehow enjoy this solution, or why he thought Lee would enjoy it, but that’s exploring the friendship/relationship dynamic a little too much. And even more baffling is that Lee does agree to it! It’s never explained if this is just something he wants to check off his bucket list, but it is insinuated that the two friends basically love each other (They do kiss.), so it’s s’ all good, regardless of the fact that they are both apparently straight (Well…) Thankfully, Adams, the smartest person in the room, says no way, rightfully pointing out that this will not solve anything, and leaves, telling Affleck she will not be his “whore,” which in a roundabout way, is exactly what he was going for (“Hey, baby, why don’t you come over and bang me and my best friend? Trust me. It’ll be so cool! And it’ll bring us all closer together. Really.”)

The final scene is supposed to be the kicker, where a year later all three parties are at the same comic book convention but have gone their separate ways. Apparently Bros before Ho’s wasn’t a thing back then, because Afflack and Lee haven’t spoken in a year and have dissolved their business partnership, as well, and they have a pseudo-conversation across the room, where Lee wordlessly wishes Affleck luck, and nods his head at Adams’ table, encouraging his old friend to go talk to her. Which is really stupid because she probably wants nothing to do with him, but he does it, anyway. He gives her a comic he has written about their time together (titled “Chasing Amy,” of course) They exchange pleasantries, and after Affleck leaves, Adams’ new girlfriend asks who that was, and she replies it was “just some guy I used to know.”

I think as a viewer wecamy are supposed to believe, because of the knowing glances exchanged, that it actually meant more and she misses him, but really, if this were real life, it probably wouldn’t. I’m sure if we could check in on Adams’ character now, Affleck would probably be blocked on Facebook. Hell, I’ve been through weirder stuff than that, and I barely think about it at all now. But that was the 90’s, man. We cared a lot, sometimes unnecessarily so. That’s probably why Nirvana was so popular. We cared so much about things that all we wanted to do is complain about them, and we didn’t even have internet message boards to do it on.

Now, let’s break it all down as to why this movie didn’t settle almost twenty years later. First of all, this isn’t a gay or straight thing, but a relationship thing. And it’s not even a romantic relationship thing, because we’re also talking about the relationship between Lee and Affleck. This is about people getting along. I am not anti-gay, like Lee’s character, but never in my life have I thought that having sex with a friend will save the friendship. And I’m a big Seinfeld fan. But the idea that he would be so bothered by his girlfriend’s past that he would propose a threesome to try and patch things up is not only kind of weird, but also out of left field (I get that she had had a threesome, so he wanted one, too, but really? He jumped right to that? What if she had pierced her genitals?). Now, you could say that Affleck was grasping at straws at that point, so I’ll let him have that one. But this was something that had come up in Clerks, as well, when Dante got extremely upset when he found out his girlfriend had given oral sex to 37 guys. Granted, that’s a lot, but why does Kevin Smith keep going back to sins of the past in his movies? Did he have some unresolved issues or what?

Now, I’m going to throw this out there, too, and I am sorry if this is offensive, but one of Smith’s unresolved issues may be some latent homosexuality, because as much as he likes to hide behind the veil of “Two guy friends can be in love and not be gay,” he tends to take it a little too far. Even in his Batman writing, he pretty blatantly put out there that Batman and The Joker were in love. He’s certainly not the first to do that, but he was definitely the first to just “out” the Joker in a DC comic. And not for nothing but that was a pretty terrible comic.

But back to the topic; Smith’s movies almost always have two male protagonists who are almost too close. I mean, there is someone I have been best friends with since I was in diapers, and once he went to a psychic and she said that he was my soulmate. While I do kind of believe her, because thirty-plus years of friendship will do that, I have never thought about this guy in a sexual way. Because he and I are not gay. And that’s all there is to it. But again, this was the 90’s. Gay marriage wasn’t even a real political debate yet. It would be seven years before I would go to my first pro-same sex marriage rally. The fact that Kevin Smith liked to write sexually-ambiguous male characters in all of his movies was just a charming little distraction. But now it jut seems woefully uninformed.

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It should be noted, I guess, that Kevin Smith’s Twitter was hacked last year, and the hacker sent out a “Coming Out” tweet to the world. The director later regained control of his account and said it wasn’t him, but that he was “bi-curious, not brave enough to commit.” You don’t say. You’ll commit to naming your daughter Harley Quinn, though?

I would also be remiss if I didn’t discuss the comic book backdrop of the movie. This in itself is a cool setting for any movie, because not that many movies have explored this world at all. The problem is that it’s just a backdrop and not much more, other than a convenient way for Smith to display some of his nerd cred. Affleck and Lee play comic book self-publishers who have struck it rich and have “sold out” to a major publisher, and have a TV show in the works based on their comic. This is obviously years before Robert Kirkman “sold out” and made himself millions by signing off on The Walking Dead TV show, paving the way for thousands of other comic book hopefuls who will never, ever get that kind of rich. As a comic book self-publisher, the very idea that someone would scoff at me for “selling out” to a major publisher is ridiculous, since the only way to not lose money in comics is to be with a major publisher (And sometimes, even that doesn’t work). Plus, in 1997, digital comics were a long, long way off, so the only way to get your book in front of anyone was to literally hand it to them. Adams definitely has a point when she rags on Affleck complaining about his success. And I quote:

Oh the cry from the heart of the real artist, trapped in commercial Hell, pitying his good fortune. I’m sure you can dry your eyes on all those fat checks you rake in.

It’s funny what sticks with you sometimes, and this quote, and the debate surrounding it, always struck a chord with me. On one hand, she’s right. Shut up and take your money. I’m sure Jewel never said, “Damn, this success is pretty nice and all, but I sure did love living in that van.” Affleck then asks if there is a hint of bitter envy, and her response is that if she sells two issues she feels “like John Grisham.” Another good line, followed up by the old “Comics books are just spandex and big tits” argument. But the one thing that this whole scene seems to be forgetting is that we are talking about the very small world of independent comics. Sure, I’m guessing there are a few artistes out there who wouldn’t “sell out,” but if the whole point of writing a comic is get it read, sinking thousands of dollars of your own money into one issue and sending it out into the world with your good intentions isn’t enough (believe me, I tried.). People have to hear about it before they buy it, and that is pretty hard to do unless you are with a major publisher. Adams also makes a comment that maybe she should “just sign one of those exclusive deals,” as if Marvel Comics was just banging down her door begging her to work for them, but she was ignoring them. This is when you realize that Kevin Smith really didn’t know what he was talking about, because a few years later, he did, in fact, have Marvel banging down his door asking him to write Daredevil, but, y’know, he didn’t have to sink any of his own money into that, because he’s Kevin Smith. At least he didn’t have Daredevil and Foggy Nelson fall in love with each other.

It should also be noted that we are talking about comics, and probably only a few thousand people in the entire world (at least, in 1997) even gave a shit.

Even all of this tomfoolery is not enough to make this movie not settle well for me. The real problem for me is the characters are completely unreal and actually kind of bad people. Adams, portrayed as the unrepentant slut, is actually the voice of reason in the film. Affleck comes across not only as an uber-pretentious artist who wants to write a meaningful comic book, but also as a prude who likes to think that he had converted his girlfriend, and is angry when he discovers that he’s not her first male partner (I don’t recall the movie ever really declaring if he is more upset that she had a threesome, or that he wasn’t her first. Either way, get over it, man. It was high school.) Affleck is also severely whipped by his lesbian friend, even before the relationship started, which causes tension between him and Lee, and even though Lee comes across as a total jerk in that instance, he kind of has a point.

Lee himself is just an angry asshole, and yet his is the performance that Smith’s fans seem to remember most, because he was probably speaking to them just as he was speaking to me. Despite the raunchy conversation he and Adams had in the bar, comparing sex injuries, Lee is portrayed as the sexless, joyless, sad-sack sidekick, who constantly and un-ironically throws around the word “dyke” to describe his friend’s girlfriend. Lee even humorously draws out a scenario, showing a nice, easy-going lesbian, a “man-hating dyke,” Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny, and asks Affleck which will get to the dollar in the center first. Affleck, either knowing his friend all too well or actually buying into his way of thinking, correctly replies “the man-hating dyke.” Lee’s reasoning is that the other three are just figments of his imagination. Jason Lee’s performance in this scene is about the only thing that makes it slightly less offensive, but it’s a wonder that homosexuals weren’t stoning Kevin Smith’s house for writing this kind of crap. Lee did this either to illustrate how blinded by love Affleck is, or how much of a prejudicial jerk he is. It’s too close to call, really.

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I must admit that I had this T-shirt once.

Like I said, I was an angry dude in the 90’s too, and even I would have only said that kind of stuff behind my friend’s back (y’know, like a real pal would.) He really just acts like a jealous lover when Affleck goes off and openly has an affair with another person on him. It’s pretty ridiculous to envision two men having such a strong bond that it elicits such emotion, and yet the whole friendship crumbles over this incident in the end.

But here’s what really gets me. When Affleck gives Adams a copy of his new self-published, non-commercial, starving artist-created comic, the audience doesn’t really get to see what’s inside. On the very last page, he writes, “In love, you have to put the individual ahead of their actions. It’s comprehension of the past, not condemnation, that neutralizes insecurity.”

Well, duh! That is maybe the best line of the whole movie, and it’s not even in the movie. Instead, the movie is stuffed to the gills with Smith’s signature, 90’s-staple, “This is how real people talk” dialogue. If this line was somewhere, anywhere, in the actual movie, and a few of the less racy lines were cut out, I would probably still really like this movie. Instead, the line of dialogue that comes up when you Google “Chasing Amy meme?” This nugget:

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Thanks, Kev. Proud to know ya.

I have written many times about how sometimes a movie has to settle before you can really determine its quality, like a meal. This is probably something that only people like me (if they exist) ever do, because I feel like most people watch a movie, mentally rate it on whatever scale they like, and then movie on with their lives. I have a hard time doing that. It may be because I know how much work goes into making a movie because I have worked on them. Or it may be because I over-analyze everything. Or it may be because I am a yutz.

Regardless, I like to analyze movies, and sometimes that can be good, because I see the layers in them, and sometimes that can be bad, because I see all the flaws. Still, i thought there was fodder here for writing, so I’ll step aside from the Fidgeting and Sighing for awhile and figured I’d try this out; namely, seeing how movies “settle.”

I thought I would start with a movie that has been on Cinemax a lot lately (I subscribe to basically ever movie channel known to man, mostly because I hate commercials.); Gary Ross’ Pleasantville, the 1998 black & white/color social study starring Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon as teenagers who are transported into the world of a Leave it to Beaver-like sitcom. Sounds fun, right? A couple of 90’s teen siblings hung up on their rather meaningless lives get shunted into a sickly Americana life, and hilarity ensues. This is a comedy, right? It has Don Knotts in it!

When the movie came out on video in 1998, and I was working in a video store, that’s what I told people when they asked what it was about. You learn to give people elevator pitches because no one wants to hear the film school snob analyze every new arrival. However, there is a lot more to this movie, and a lot of it isn’t very funny. I should have told them about the movie’s portrayal of racism, human sexuality, gender equality, and censorship. There is also some book-burning, lots of references to sex, an extra-marital affair, and even an attempted rape, and that’s by the supposed “good” residents of Pleasantville.

The movie really gets started when forlorn David (Maguire) wants to watch his favorite show, “Pleasantville,” while his harlot sister Jennifer does not. They argue over a mysterious remote control left by TV Repairman Don Knotts, and the remote somehow transports them into the black & white show, and David and Jennifer must assume the roles of Bud and Mary Sue Parker, the “aw-shucks” siblings who are main characters on the show. I use the term “black & white” both literally and figuratively, as there is no color in Pleasantville, and the values of the townfolk are also pretty black and white (mostly white.) Also, the weather is sunny and 72 every day, the fire department only exists to rescue cats stuck in trees, and the sports teams never lose, or even miss a basket. Everything is quite pleasant, in fact.

Bud insists that they play their parts to perfection and not mess with the world of the show, but Mary Sue gets bored with the old-timey values pretty quick, and wants to get it on. Specifically with Paul Walker, who plays Skip, the captain of the basketball team. Skip happens to think that Mary Sue is the “keenest girl in school,” and they agree to go a date to Lover’s lane, which causes Bud to realize that this is *that* episode. However, this Mary Sue takes things a little farther than what is presumably pretty far in Pleasantville, and she ends up taking the basketball captain to the hoop. Skip, clearly wierded out by his first sexual encounter (and apparently, his first erection) drives home and sees a a single red flower in the bushes outside his house. Not only is it a cool metaphor because he has been de-flowered, but it is also the first hint of color since the movie shifted to the Pleasantville world.

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It isn’t long before other hints of color start showing up around town, as Mary Sue has started a sort of sexual revolution all by herself. She even has a heart-to-heart with her TV show-Mom, played by Joan Allen, whom she instructs in the ways of self-stimulation (I know that’s not her real mother, but it’s still kind of weird.) The color doesn’t just come from people getting it on, however. The teenagers around town also start discovering the library, and with Bud’s help, start reading books like Catcher in the Rye and Huck Finn. Bud also helps Mr. Johnson (Jeff Daniels), the town soda jerk, find his focus by giving him an art book after Johnson expressed an interest in painting. Subtly, Bud is moving away from the normal Pleasantville ideals.

There is also some sexual tension between Daniels and Allen, who has awakened her own inner Mary Sue. After trying in vain to cover up her now technicolor skin, she leaves her husband, played by William H. Macy (as only he can). She runs to Daniels and ends up posing nude for him as he paints a very colorful mural of her on the window of his diner. Then it all hits the fan. A little color was one thing, but a naked chick? You are stomping on the very morals this great country was founded on! What’s next? Public sex with animals?

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The coolest thing about the color is that it contrasts so well with the black-and-white. For 1998, it was a marvel of cinematic technology, as characters that were in color were digitally enhanced since they had to interact with characters who were in black-and-white. There was a lot of green screen (and in the case of Allen, green make-up) usage to make the characters stand out, like the girl in the red dress in Schindler’s List. Until Phantom Menace came along (unfortunately for all of us), Pleasantville actually the most digital effects shots of any movie. So the movie was not only effective in what it was saying, but how it was saying it.

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Interestingly, despite being the progenitors of all this color, Bid and Mary Sue remain in black-and-white. Mary Sue especially wonders why, since she claims to have had more sex than any of her high school brethren. Bud thinks it is more than just sex, and he is proven correct when Mary Sue actually gains her color when she stays up all night reading D.H.Lawrence, reading glasses and all. Bud himself goes color when he punches out a local bully who was terrorizing his mother. So, just like in the real world, having sex doesn’t necessarily “color” you, or change you, but doing something against your character. something good, can help you see the world differently, give you color.

Finally, Pleasantville mayor, played by J.T. Walsh (in his final appearance) calls a special town meeting, where he basically puts Danials and Maguire on trial for painting a colorful mural on the side of Daniels’ diner. In a shout-out to To Kill a Mockingbird, the “colored people” all must stand in the balcony to watch the proceedings, while the black-and-white folks can be on the main floor. While Walsh tries to dictate that only black and gray paint colors can be used, Maguire pushes him, and like Tom Cruise did to Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, finally gets Walsh to get angry enough that Walsh turns color, proving that even the most stubborn hold-outs must accept change.

In the end, the magic remote is repaired and Bud is given the chance to return to his real life. However, Mary Sure/Jennifer decides to remain in Pleasantville, where she is given a second chance. She decides that she can now go to college, whereas in the real world, she has spoiled that chance already by acting a certain way (read: slutty.) To me, that is one of the really interesting aspects of this movie; that sometimes the paths that we choose lead to unforeseen consequences, but we can change them is we want. Interestingly enough, I have chosen to see this movie differently than in my video store days, and I am happy I did. if you haven’t seen it in awhile, or ever, watch it again, and see how it settles for you.