Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Man of Mystery

Posted: August 9, 2018 in Uncategorized

Back in February 2016, I wrote this but I don’t think I ever posted it because I was afraid that the subject would one day Google himself and find it and be hurt (I mean, how hard would it be when your name is “Jenci?”) Well, I learned last night that Jenci had passed away back in May of Leukemia, so I decided I would post it now, since tomorrow would have been his 62nd birthday. I only edited a few spelling errors, so it would be a clear representation of how I felt then, even though now some of it takes on a slightly different meaning. The section where he talked about euthanizing himself is especially grim, because if he was serious about that, which I think he was, that choice was taken away from him. According to the obituary, however, he died peacefully in his sleep, so that was probably better.  

While re-reading it, I did feel bad about what I wrote about “becoming him,” as if that would have been the worst thing in the world. I’m sure he didn’t look back on his life as wasted. He probably recalled fondly his summers as a raft guide, took solace in the knowledge and wisdom that he passed on to the countless students and young employees that he worked with over the years, and I have no doubt that he was pleased with his record collection. Still, when I read his obituary, the last line gave me pause: that he was survived by his older brother and “beloved dog Andi.” Obviously, his life and legacy amounted to more than that, but it does make one wonder…

Here’s the post:

I recently returned to my pseudo-former part-time job at Harvard Media & Technology Services, because it’s extra cash and because I feel like I owe them for giving me a job right out of college when my only experience with audio-visual technology was pressing the play button on my VCR.  I say “returned” even though I technically have never actually left the job, although I like to take semester-long breaks on occasion.  And yes, I actually started working there in 1998, and in my current incarnation, I have been working there off-and-on since 2006.  Any way you slice it, I’m a veteran.

The reason for my most-recent hiatus was that the evening supervisor in the office I was working out of had started to grate on me a little.  Jenci (pronounced “yen-see”), despite being very smart in general and incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to audio-visual equipment, is undoubtedly one of the strangest people I ever met.  However, a funny thing happened the other night upon my return: I found out Jenci was gone, having moved back to his hometown in Ohio, and the thought struck me that I would probably never see him again.

The quick backstory on Jenci is that he was recruited by Harvard University’s football program as an undergrad in the 80’s because he was both a good high school athlete and also had the grades to excel at their prestigious institution.  Jenci got a work-study job at then-Harvard Audio-Visual Services.  Upon graduating with a degree in one of the sciences (although he was always very mysterious about what it was), he was offered a full-time job at Harvard A/V, and there he stayed until just a couple months ago.  On my first day in 1998, he trained me and several other newbies on the ins-and-outs of A/V equipment.  I still vividly remember him teaching us about a fictitious numbering system he came up with for measuring audio output, which he affectionately called “Jenci Units.”

In the years I knew Jenci, I found him to be a pretty laid back and even kind fellow.  I heard him on more than one occasion offer student employees money if they needed to buy lunch, or even offer some of his own food (A large man, Jenci and food were never far apart.). He was always helpful when you had any kind of question, whether it be about life or a basic wireless microphone set-up. And Jenci was a man who loved his dog. So much that he often referred to him as “Cousin Andi.”

Still, elements of the bizarre were always at the forefront of his personality.  I remember the evening not very long ago when Jenci patted me on my bald spot, as if pointing out something that I was not aware of (I always find it amazing that the more obese a man is, the more hair he seems to have on his head.). I remember how he stowed away food all over the office like he was preparing for the coming apocalypse. I recall how he would cut his Post-Its into tiny shards and stick them to his monitor, and inscribe notes on them in very small handwriting, until his monitor became a sort of memory-jogging kaleidoscope. And I remember him telling me, in grave detail, how he would euthanize himself once he got to a point where he could no longer work and, thus, was no longer “useful.”

“I don’t really want to burden anyone, so if I can’t work a job anymore, I’ll just take myself out,” he proclaimed.

“Seriously?” Even though we had been joking around earlier, his tone had changed. He wasn’t sullen, but very matter-of-fact, like he had given this serious thought and this was his solution.

“Yeah, I have no children to worry about me, so when the time comes, I’ll just take care of my affairs and do what’s necessary.”

“So, what? Call Dr. Kevorkian or something?” I asked.

“No. There are certain chemicals that can be used to dull the senses so that I wouldn’t feel anything. All I would need is some of those and a plastic bag, and it would be easy.”

“You really have this all figured out.”

He nodded. “Like I said, I don’t want to be a burden to anyone,”

“There are no bridges nearby?” I muttered.

It was this conversation that lead me to believe that he would be found in a Harvard lecture hall one morning, a plastic bag over his head.

Conversations like this were also why Jenci disturbed me so.  Not for the obviously maudlin How-I-Plan-To-Kill-Myself reason, but because they became all-to frequent occurrences. Well into his fifties by this point, he would talk to the young female students as if they were his companions rather than subordinates, and I think they were definitely a little freaked out by him. Even I found it incredibly awkward when he would invite me to his home to drink his craft beer, knowing of my affinity for it, because it was never in that “Hey, want to come over and have a beer and watch the game” kind of way. It felt more like a Ralph Wiggum “Please be my friend” kind of way.

But the thing that most frightened me about Jenci was the fear that I would one day become him. He was a nice guy, like I said, and always good for a story, but the closer I get to my fortieth birthday, a part of me worries that I may one day become a 50-something man who has been working at a university for far too long and who makes creepy conversation with young female students far too often.  This, combined with his fastidious office behavior and his bizarre eating habits, lead me to take my latest break from Harvard.  I even feared going back this time, because I would have to make small talk with Jenci.

Still, when I learned of his departure, I was a little sad. Something about the finality of it all unnerved me. He seemed like such an institution at that place that I could never envision him leaving. I heard different theories as to what happened, but I wasn’t able to learn the truth. I had hoped that he had simply retired in peace (and changed his mind about the whole suicide thing), but I also heard that he was still working somewhere in Ohio. One theory I heard was that he perhaps unnerved one student too many and was shown the door. Another was that his mother had become ill and he returned to care for her. Not that I would wish that something bad would happen to his mother, but I kind of hope that was the reason. I would hate to think that after the years he had worked at Harvard that they would cast him aside if he wasn’t willing to go.

That’s the interesting thing here; Jenci was not someone I would have ever chosen to hang out with, or would have invited over my house for dinner, and yet, when I think about it, he was actually a mentor to me. Not just because he taught me about Jenci Units, but he also taught me how to deal with ornery professors (always tell them you know what the problem is, even if you have no idea.), which in turn helps me deal with people in general. Also, considering that I actually worked with him off-and-on for 18 years, and he didn’t seem to have many social outlets outside of work and his dog, he probably thought of me as a friend. Of course, it doesn’t take a Harvard degree to see that is probably why I disliked him so, because really, despite the occasional weirdness, there was inherently nothing wrong with him. I simply didn’t want to see him as a friend.

Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned from Jenci had nothing to do with technology or friendship. It was that we don’t always get to pick our mentors in this life. While I don’t necessarily look back on him with fondness, or feel inspired by his teachings, I did learn a lot about how to deal with people, and maybe how not to talk to female students. Most importantly, I learned that people come into your life, and it’s all very random.  You don’t necessarily have to drink beer with them, or even like them, but they are there and you can learn valuable lessons from them, like it or not.

I will definitely miss him a little, and despite all my grumbling, if I ever do see him again, I will be sure to thank him for the memories and the mentoring. Maybe I’ll even pat him on the head.

If some people think I’ve been too kind to some of the Brie Larson movies during this project (even though I bagged on Trainwreck and Digging for Fire pretty good, and really crapped on Spectacular Now. Man, have I actually liked any of her movies?) I figured I would throw this one out there and get it over with. Why not? It sure seemed like the people who made it did.

MV5BMTUwMzI5ODEwNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjAzNjI2MDI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_Kong: Skull Island is the 2nd movie in what is the latest attempt to copy the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe by having a stable of monsters who all inhabit the same space (or MonsterVerse, as I believe it is known by the seven people who care). 2014’s Godzilla was the first, and I found that movie quite enjoyable, as a fan of giant lizards stomping on things.I do wonder, though, as this shared universe goes along, when people will start wondering how Peter Jackson’s King Kong fits in, and why didn’t they bring back Matthew Broderick for these new ones. But that is for another column.

I have actually not seen all of Brie Larson’s movies yet (and here I am talking about them as if I know everything, amiright?), but of the ones that I have seen, this may be the worst one. I mean, I’m sure 21 Jumpstreet was rough, and yeah, Spectacular Now was really annoying, but they seriously didn’t even try here. Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson are all great actors, and even they could not save this turnip of a movie. I mean, they probably didn’t know how badly it would turn out, of course. I’m sure Sam Jackson just figured he’d yell a lot like he does in every other movie he’s in and everything would be fine. Well, it wasn’t.

Here’s the skinny, if you can’t figure out the intricate plot. Hiddleston plays a “monster-hunter” of sorts, and is hired to find out what’s the deal with this uncharted island. He is joined by some scientists, and Larson, who is there to take pictures. Jackson and his team of military guys show up to blow everything away, and they encounter John C. Reilly, who crash-landed there years ago and has since gone insane. They run afoul of some crazy lizard creatures, King Kong shows up to battle said creatures, and a bunch of people die, and eventually Kong wins and the survivors leave. It’s basically the beginning of every other King Kong movie that has come before, minus any intrigue.

That is the bare bones plot, but there are obviously other things going on. For example, Larson’s character is actually, according to wikipedia, “pacifist photojournalist Mason Weaver, who believes that the expedition is a secret military operation, and intends to expose it.” I honestly didn’t remember that at all. I just remembered her with a camera. It’s clearly just a device that they came up with to have a female lead and give her character a little weight, but is never followed up on and means nothing once the monsters show up. Let’s face it, that’s all anyone wanted to see, anyway.

At the risk of sounding like my old gym teacher, there’s nothing worse than not showing effort. I guess, when you’re a high school gym teacher, that’s all you have. But he obviously never had the filmmakers behind Kong: Skull Island in his classes. It kind of hurts to say that, really, because I’ve been on a few movie sets in my time, and I can say without reservations that it takes a lot of people working long hours to make even one scene come off well. There’s lighting, multiple cameras, sound engineers, actors, extras, green screens, and everything has to be in the exact proper place for it all to match up. So the fact that a movie gets made at all is a kind of a minor miracle, let alone a movie that is any good. Maybe it would be more appropriate to say that this movie comes off like it was made with no effort, because I’m sure a lot of people worked long and hard on it, and I do feel bad for those people. But they got a paycheck, so…

There is certainly that old Hollywood chestnut that you always hear: “Some you do for money and some you do for love.” And I’ll never forget seeing a Q & A with Bruce Campbell, and when he was asked why he did the movie Congo (in which he was killed in minutes), he responded by saying that he got paid to go to Africa for two weeks, but he worked for two days and surfed the rest of it. So, I get it. And I get that this is one cog in Legendary’s greater Monsterverse wheel, but it doesn’t mean that you have to phone it in. Where would we be today if Kevin Feige said, “Well, let’s just throw in the towel on this Iron Man movie, because really we just have to get to Avengers.”? Well, technically, they might have done that with Incredible Hulk, but still, you see my point.

The real crux of all this isn’t really “why do good actors make bad movies?” And it’s not even “How did this get made?” There’s already a podcast for that. It’s more about how the system works in general. Here’s how I envision it (but if someone from Legendary Pictures knows the real story, I’m all ears.): High-ranking studio execs decide that there’s money to be made with their stable of characters. They decide that they should make a Godzilla movie, then a King Kong movie, then maybe a couple more, then they want to do King Kong vs. Godzilla, because, like me, they saw it when they were kids and loved it.  And how could they not?giphy (2)

So, they get a screenwriter (actually three, plus one person who gets “story by” credit.) After those four people have written something that the studio execs approve of, it is given to a director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who then sets about to making it with a modest (by today’s standards) $186 million budget. Jordan, of course, does not work alone. There are ten producers with probably varying levels of involvement. There’s a cinematographer, an editor, a huge art department, literally hundreds of visual effects artists. and on and on (Seriously, have you watched the credits of a movie lately?) I pasted just the crew list from IMDB into a spreadsheet and it was over 1500, and that’s not including the actors. So, the real question is, did even one of these people show up to work one day and say, “Hey, Jordan, so, this isn’t good.”

Now, I do realize that beauty is in the eye of the beholder here, and in fact, if you want to believe Rotten Tomatoes isn’t total BS, it has a 75% critics score and 60% audience score, so it’s technically Certified Fresh. So why do I dislike it so much that I would waste a whole column talking about it when the only real reason I have for it being bad is that it just is? Because potential, dammit!

When the original King Kong was released in 1933, it was an allegory for the slave trade, which is really driven home when he is brought to New York via ship in chains. He is then put on display for rich people to enjoy, and there’s a line, “He was a god in his own lands, and we have brought him here today for your own amusement.” Obviously, since this is a prequel of sorts, this never gets brought up in this movie, because Kong doesn’t leave the island. Still, it is a pretty essential part of the Kong mythology that they just leave out. I get that it was 1933, and that maybe doesn’t work for 2018, but would it have killed them to add some depth?

There’s also the whole “T’was beauty that slayed the beast” part of King Kong, where he was killed trying to protect a white woman, who had actually grown to like him despite his appearance, that was pretty much expunged. Kong does pull Larson out of the water after she fell in trying to help him, but other than that, I don’t remember the two of them having any interaction. It’s just a shame because other than that 30 seconds, it could have been a nice callback to the original.

This is the issue I have with this movie. and I have a final story to hopefully illustrate it. When I saw this movie last March, I saw it in digital “Lie-Max” which is movie-nerd slang for what theaters call IMAX even though the movie is only showing on a slightly larger-than-normal screen. Here’s my account:

I did experience a first here as the movie froze at one point, and we could hear it but the image was not moving. Naturally, I was the first person in the theater to get up and go tell the usher, because while I don’t know a lot about the science of movie projection, I do know that someone isn’t just sitting in that little booth watching the movie to see if something goes wrong. When I came back, it went right to where the sound was instead of going back to where it froze. Obviously, I missed some big story point while I was in the lobby, because one minute they were escaping the island, and the next Tom Hiddleston was saying, “We’re going to rescue Kong!” 

I was only in the lobby for a couple minutes and the entire movie had changed, with almost no prompting. And you know what I have to say about that, don’t you Deadpool?

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So, hopefully, the next Godzilla will be better, and then King Kong vs. Godzilla will be even better. But since this movie took place in the early 70’s, and Godzilla was in present day, will we see Brie Larson in any future installments? It’s not listed on her IMDB page, but to be honest, her career might be better off if she skips it, anyway.

I hope I don’t run out of clever puns for every one of Brie Larson’s movies. It anyone has one for Kong: Skull Island, I’m all ears. (Bong? How about Numbskull Island?)

For anyone still reading these, so far, I have covered two movies where she was the hot ex-girlfriend, one where she was pseudo-desired by the male lead, and one where she was practically mute. So I wanted to advance the story a little bit and cover a movie where she was actually the lead. And not just a co-star where she was sharing screen time with a man and playing off of him, like most would expect. Nope. Brie gets top billing here, and it was the first time that a lot of people stood up and took notice. I am, of course, talking about the 2013 indy-drama Short Term 12.

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I say “of course,” but don’t fret none if you haven’t heard of it, because I had never heard of it before I started my movie quest last year. It only made just over a million bucks in limited release in 2013. But actors don’t do these for money, right? No, of course not. They do it for love, and to get noticed so that you can go on to star in bigger and better things. (I mean, you don’t get to be Captain Marvel without paying some dues.)

Cynicism aside, this was a big deal for Brie Larson, and it was a big deal at SXSW that year, as well, winning the Grand Jury and Audience Award for Narrative Feature. Larson herself was nominated and won a bunch of festival awards, as well. And if you believe that Rotten Tomatoes isn’t just a BS site, Short Term 12 is only one of ten films to earn a 99% or 100% rating on there. Which sounds impressive, but when you consider how much online trolls mess with Rotten Tomatoes’ ratings system, it’s a little less so.

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But what’s the actual deal with this movie? Well, according to the IMDB logline, it’s about “a 20-something supervising staff member of a residential treatment facility navigates the troubled waters of that world alongside her co-worker and longtime boyfriend.” Now, I’ll admit right off the bat that this movie sounds pretty awful from that description. Like a Lifetime movie that is even too lame for Lifetime. But you can’t really go by two measly lines. Plus, the term “residential treatment facility” is so sanitized that it doesn’t begin to describe the kinds of things that happen in places like that. Basically, it’s a home for troubled teens, and Larson’s character, Grace, is pretty much the only one smart and caring enough to really do what she has to do to help these kids. And to pile on top of that stress, she’s pregnant! I know that some people say that there’s never a good time to be pregnant, but working in a place like that, it’s gotta be rough.

But what is this facility really all about. Well, Short Term 12 (The name of the movie and the facility) has tons of teens living there, but the movie mostly focuses on two, Marcus, who is turning 18 soon and finding the prospect of living in the world rather daunting, and Jayden, a recent arrival with a sordid history. Grace and Jayden feel a kinship, and after Jayden’s father doesn’t pick her up on her birthday and Jayden has an episode, Grace reveals some her own personal scars, physical and mental, as Grace used to cut herself. As an aside, I don’t think the movie delves into this too much, but in my experience (more on that later), revealing personal details like that to troubled teens should be a huge violation of the rules of the place, not to mention a ginormous error in judgement.

Jayden ends up leaving the facility, at night, forcing Grace to follow her (another big no-no is touching when you are alone with a kid in those situations, because it’s their word against yours.) They end up at Jayden’s Dad’s house, only to find it empty. Jayden returns to the facility and reads Grace a story that she wrote, and this all leads Grace to believe that Jayden was abused by her father.

Meanwhile, Grace herself is dealing with this whole pregnancy thing, and not really feeling it. In fact, she has made an appointment to get an abortion without telling her boyfriend, Mason, who also works at the facility. Mason is a nice guy, and trying to do all the right things, even proposing to Grace, because who wants a bastard? Grace accepts, but is again thrown for a loop when she receives a phone call the next morning informing her that her father is being released from prison. She then goes to work and finds out that Jayden has been picked up by her Dad, and is enraged, even though there was nothing anyone could do, since Jayden denied being abused, and that’s how the system works. Just to throw some more crap on the pile, poor Marcus, in an attempt to stay at the facility, or just because he’s psychologically damaged, attempts suicide after the death of his fish. What a world.

Grace then has a break down, tells Mason that she doesn’t want to marry him and that she’s getting an abortion. In her rage, she goes to Jayden’s house and breaks in, either to beat her father up, or at least find evidence of abuse (probably the first one.) Jayden thankfully stops her, and they decide that instead of smashing her father, they smash his car instead. I know that this was based on director Destin Daniel Cretton’s personal experiences, but I couldn’t find any evidence if this car-smashing was real or not, but if so, it sounds cathartic. Afterwards, Grace opens up about how she was abused by her father, and Jayden finally reveals the truth about how her father also abused her. They return to Short Term 12 and Jayden spills the beans.

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To tie everything up in a bow, Grace gets back with Mason, and they are seen getting an ultrasound, and even Marcus is going to be ok. Yay! Good triumphs over evil!

Sorry. I’m not making light of the circumstances, of course, but I think we know that these stories don’t end like this. Or end at all, really, unless the principles just get another job somewhere happier and the teens all move on at the same time. There are always going to be teens coming in to Short Term 12 with new problems. And let’s face it, Grace will always have to carry the burden of her own past. This isn’t one of those movies, though. This is just a capsule look inside the lives of these people, and it’s probably a look that most people need to take.

Many years ago, I worked a couple summers in a place similar to Short Term 12. Not exactly “troubled teens,” but certainly developmentally disabled. The girl I was dating at the time was similar to Grace, but unfortunately for her, I was no Mason. I’m not going to sugarcoat anything here. I hated that job. Obviously, there was no money in it, but of course I didn’t take it for money, so that’s not the reason it wasn’t for me. I just didn’t have the temperament for it, and I admire the Hell out of anyone who does. The alarms going off when a kid decides to bolt. The special staff that are called when a kid has to be restrained. The day I got spryaed with a fire extinguisher was particularly rough. My only saving grace was that I knew it was only for a few months. I really do respect people who do this all day, every day. And then it goes a step farther for people like Grace, who want to help, and go that extra mile every day to make these kids’ lives just a little bit better.

However, Grace has her own issues, as my girlfriend did back then. I often wondered if that was why she did it, that if she could help these kids, it would ease her own suffering somehow. Spoiler warning: it didn’t. She spiraled and spiraled and drank and spiraled and, as far as I can tell, is still spiraling down 15 years later, to the point where I believe that her mental anguish has manifested itself physically and is now breaking down her body (any smart people out there can feel free to dispute this, but until I see some proof that I’m wrong, I’m a believer). It makes me a little sad, obviously, but this is the tragedy of mental illness, especially when brought on by childhood abuse. Honestly, smashing the car was giving the guy a pass.

As I watched this movie, I wondered if the same fate would befall Grace, or if it did befall whoever Grace may have been based on in real life. Hopefully not. People do overcome these things. And I think that is the take-away here. The point was not to tie all the storylines up at the end like a sitcom. I think it was to open up some eyes, lift up some hearts, and maybe give some people a little hope.

Whew. That was a deep one. Next time, I’ll try to keep things a little lighter. Not sure what movie I’ll feel like covering, but just to put this one to bed: As mentioned above, this was Brie Larson’s first starring role, and the one that really got everyone’s attention. After a lot of filming in 2014, 2015 would be her breakout year, and we’ll get to that soon.

Before I start talking about the movie being focused on in this post, I wanted to call attention to the post-credit scene for Avengers: Infinity War. If you haven’t seen it, well, what the Hell? If you have, then you know what I’m talking about, but just in case, yes, Nick Fury was “paging” Captain “Brie Larson” Marvel. And for anyone who thinks that maybe she’s not cut out to be a super-hero, please click here. It’s literally a 20-second video, but you’ll be impressed.

But this post isn’t about Cadownloadptain Marvel. It’s about a very different movie, in fact; the Joseph Gordon-Leavitt/Scarlet Johansson (with some great Julianne Moore on the side) vehicle Don Jon. If you are unfamiliar with this movie, it’s definitely worth your time, and probably not what you were expecting from the trailers, which made it seem like this lovely, little rom-com where a guy meets a girl and they go through the motions and end up together and happy at the end. So, if you’re looking for something a little different, here we go:

Jon (Gordon-Leavitt) is one of those Jersey guys who loves his nice car, his swank apartment, his crazy family (and who wouldn’t? His Dad is played by Tony Danza), and his hot women. His friends constantly marvel at the fact that he meets “a ten” literally every weekend. Unfortunately, when all is said and done, the pleasure that he gets from these women pales in comparison to the pleasure he gets from watching internet porn. Seriously, guy watches a lot of porn, and goes through a lot of tissues. Not sure if he’s an addict, but he’s at least bordering on being one.

He meets Barbara, (Scarjo) and is flummoxed when she plays a little hard-to-get by not sleeping with him right away. This drives him to want to be with her even more. She is from a more affluent upbringing, however, so she tries to mold him into something a little more respectable. She encourages him to take night classes to better himself. The relationship progresses and they finally sleep together, but Jon still prefers the porn (because he can “lose himself.” Also, he doesn’t have to have actual conversations with the porn actors.) Barbara catches him watching a porn video, and is livid, but he claims that it was just a joke sent to him by a friend. She tells him “no more porn,” but that only lasts until the moment he discovers that he can just watch it on his phone. There is a classic moment when he is caught watching a video on his phone by Esther, one of his classmates played by the amazing Julianne Moore. Instead of judging him like Barbara, Esther laughs and says, “Oh my God! Are you watching porn?” and it actually helps them forge a cool bond.

Barbara and Jon continue to have issues (She feels that him cleaning his own apartment is beneath him, for example.), and eventually, she breaks up with him when she checks his browser history and sees that the one video that was supposedly sent to him as a joke was not an isolated incident. Man, even his noob friends point out that he really should have deleted his history.

After the break-up, Jon begins a bit of a downward spiral, and Esther begins to lend him her wisdom. She also lends him a video that she says has a more realistic depiction of actual sex: a Danish erotic film from the 70’s that she says is “pretty hot.” That only pushes him to initiate sex with her. She then encourages him to maybe quit the porn, and even try masturbating without it. She suggests that maybe he could lose himself in a real person. This ends up being pretty life-changing, as he eventually does lose himself in Esther, after learning that she lost her husband and son in a car accident, and discovering what a strong and incredible person she is for overcoming all that, and he can have sex with her and not have to run to his computer after. So, there you go. That’s his arc. End scene.

But wait, “isn’t this a blog about Brie Larson?” you may ask. Is she even in this movie? Of course, and she has a pivotal role. She plays Jon’s sister Monica, and Brie, a future Oscar-winner, and Marvel Cinematic Universe flag-bearer has all of one line in Don Jon. But it’s still a very important role. See, Jon is very close to his family, and they all love Barbara when he first brings her home. But as the relationship progresses, Monica has some thoughts about how it’s playing out. She doesn’t reveal them at first, as while the rest of the family continually discuss the topic, she spends most of the movie like this:

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Naturally, I thought it was a bit of a waste of a good actress, and they were trying to make some kind of comment on millennials always being on their phones while life passes them by. I was foolishly missing the fact that she is clearly observing what’s going on, but clearly letting everyone figure out their own problems. When it comes up at a family meal that Barbara and Jon have broken up, and Jon’s mother goes ballistic because all she wants is grandchildren, causing his Dad to also go ballistic, Monica finally speaks amid the chaos, at first drowned out by the TV, and says:

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Monica is the only one who consoles her brother by rightly pointing out that Barbara wanted a guy who would just do whatever she wants. She also looks Jon right in the face and tells him that it’s “a good thing” they broke up. In their family dynamic, it was all about getting married and having a family, and Barbara was the right girl for that, even if Jon wasn’t sure he wanted to do all that now. I personally know many marriages that went down this way, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

As fun and compelling as that scene is (and as fun as it is to watch Tony Danza play the angry old, Dad), what really worked for me was the movie’s take on porn. The IMDB parental advisory warning says

  • This move might be difficult to watch since there is such an extremely strong portrayal of desire for women in “porn” as objects for gratification without consideration of the feelings of the women however there is a corresponding portrayal of a healthy attitude about sex and women.

I have to admit that I find this mildly amusing, and even though I’m not a parent, I guess I understand the rationale there. I am picturing a very concerned stay-at-home Mom, not unlike Jon’s mother, perhaps, sitting at her keyboard typing that, feeling the need to tell the world that this movie portrays the women in porn as “objects,” as if we didn’t know. Because of course, we should all consider the feelings of women starring in the porno video in a fictitious movie. Joking aside, yes, we should not look at any women as objects, and despite this poster’s lack of correct punctuation, we should definitely applaud them for pointing out that the movie also shows us “a healthy attitude” about women and sex, which I guess was Esther’s role. I’m not sure that’s what the writers of the movie were going for exactly, but at least this person didn’t go on IMDB just to rip on the politics of Don Jon.

In reality, Jon’s porn addiction is clearly a cover-up for deeper intimacy issues, and I was pleasantly surprised that the movie didn’t portray him as some sickie simply because the dude likes his adult flicks. He’s actually a nice guy who is very religious, loves his friends and family, but is feeling such enormous pressure to get married and have kids, that he is having trouble connecting with anyone on an emotional level. That’s what he sees in the women in the videos he watches; they’re not necessarily “objects,” but they are women that he never has to connect with in real life. A lot of movies have men with these kinds of intimacy issues, but I can’t think of too many that handle it this way. Just like a lot of movies have male characters obsessed with porn, and almost all of them are portrayed as one-dimensional, horny assholes. That’s where this movie gets it right.

This is all exemplified by Esther. She doesn’t judge him for his porn-watching, his station in life, and she certainly doesn’t judge him for cleaning his own apartment. She’s like a Manic Pixie Dream-girl without the manic (and ok, without the pixie, but she’s pretty beautiful.) She does not judge him, but in fact, tries to show him a better way. And succeeds, as does the movie. Jon and Esther are then free to lose themselves in each other, and we’re freed from another boring romantic comedy.

To wrap things up here, Brie Larson was still a couple years away from an Oscar, but she was definitely starting to make waves. I’ll be back soon to recap more of her journey to the big time, but until there, watch that workout video. Seriously.

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I am trying to build a narrative here, so if you’re waiting for my take on Trainwreck or Kong: Skull Island or something a little more mainstream, don’t worry. We’ll get there. If you really don’t care, then this is the column for you.

In 2015, Jake Johnson cashed in on his newfound “New Girl” fame and made Digging for Fire with Joe Swanberg, best known for… nothing. No, I’m kidding. Apparently, he’s known for little indie movies with a lot of improvisation, which includes this one. I assume that because no studio would make this movie. That does not necessarily mean it’s bad, and it does have a lot of famous people in it (including Larson, Anna Kendrick, and Sam Rockwell), but it’s just not something that a studio would care to make. And who could blame them?

Digging for Fire, as I wrote in my previous post last year, is about, “young parents Johnson and Rosemarie Dewitt who are hitting all kinds of ruts, financially, romantically and just in general feeling old and grumpy as they house-sit for a much-richer couple. She and their young son go to spend a weekend with her mother so they can have some Me time.” Yes, I quoted myself, because you probably didn’t click the link, right? Before I begin my rant, let it be known that the New York Post called it a “hilarious, existential treasure.”  You believe them, right?

Anyway, on to the Me-Time weekend; Johnson spends his partying and getting high with his buddies, while she spends it getting seduced by Orlando Bloom. There’s also a storyline that Johnson found an old gun and a human bone buried in the greenery on the property, and becomes convinced that there’s a whole body there somewhere. So he digs and digs (hence the title), which is the actual impetus for his wife to spend the weekend elsewhere. He also blows off his taxes to dig for a body that’s probably not there, which I guess is supposed to tell us something about obsession or whatever. All it really tells me is that Hollywood filmmakers don’t know much about how real people live. (More on that later.)

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Since this is supposed to be about Brie Larson, I should tell you that she plays “Max,” one of the young co-eds that Johnson’s Moloid friends invited over to trash this rich couple’s house. Since most of these guys are old college buddies but are older and married now, there are levels of partyers there, from the stereotypical jerk who never really stopped partying, to the other jerk who is a total stick-in-the-mud. Johnson is somewhere in-between, but his digging obsession kind of takes up most of his limited brainpower, anyway. Larson is the only one who sees the lure of finding a real, live dead body, and that draws them together a little. To the filmmaker’s credit, there is a story here. Apparently, because they are men, they had written in the story outline that Larson’s character flirts with Johnson and there’s a bit of intrigue regarding whether or not they will have sex with each other. Larson rightly pointed out to them that, according to a Vulture article, by way of this dude’s blog, “‘I would not be sexually attracted to a married man with a 5-year-old who’s digging in his backyard.’” But the mystery and sense of adventure bring her back the next day. She ends up going to dinner with Johnson, and they share some moments, which mostly consist of him complaining about how his life as a high school gym teacher wasn’t really what he had in mind when he was growing up (No duh!).  I think we’re also supposed to see that her young, fancy-free lifestyle is alluring to him because he’s so old and passed his prime, because he’s 37. I’m really giving this story too much credit by delving into it that deep, though. Basically, he whines and she listens, which is pretty much all he wants because his wife has probably heard it all already, and she’s got problems of her own.

Ah, yes, the wife. Sadly, since this was written by men, she sort of gets relegated to the B-storyline. While visiting her family, DeWitt (who played Midge Daniels on Mad Men, if you need a reference. I know I did.) decides to head out to a nice bar and enjoy some time by herself. Of course, she is accosted by a belligerent drunk, and rescued by a handsome stranger played by Orlando Bloom, because of course, right? A guy who looks like Orlando Bloom is a single man living in L.A. in 2015. And not a douche. Orlando gets punched for his troubles, and he and DeWitt end up hanging out some more because she feels bad for causing his handsome face to get pounded. They, in fact, share a very intimate walk on the beach, which I again covered last year in my previous post, and said, after that “even I wanted to jump him.”

In the end, DeWitt resists Bloom, and Johnson had no shot with Larson, anyway, and they return to each other with a renewed understanding of their relationship, and hopefully an interest in doing their taxes. Do I have to write any further about the on-the-nose casting of this movie? Brie Larson as the young girl that Johnson clearly wants to have sex with, Orlando Bloom as the handsome and extremely gentlemanly gent that DeWitt probably should have sex with, and Sam Rockwell as the obnoxious friend. I guess they wanted to show how strong-willed our protagonists were to be able to resist temptation, but let’s face it, who would have faulted DeWitt for cheating on her idiot husband with this beautiful man?

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Casting aside, I feel like this is the screenplay version of motel room art. It’s technically good, and the structure is fine, and if a lot of the dialogue was indeed improvised, good on them because that is pretty hard, but they should have just let Brie Larson handle the whole thing after her suggestion. It was good that they listened, but there’s still a little too much “man” stuff going on for it to work. I do get that married people, especially young parents, probably do face periods where things get rocky. And yes, no one wants to be a gym teacher. And yes, people do get tempted to take a walk on the wild side. All of that happens in here, and it’s very realistic. And yet, somehow I still don’t buy it.

One more quote from myself (You really might as well have just clicked the link): “because filmmakers are really doughy-eyed, Johnson and Dewitt resist all urges and realize that all they really want is each other, and to raise their child as they see fit and to Hell with the pressures of the world (Yay!)” It’s not that I didn’t buy that they were able to resist cheating and resist the lure of digging or whatever Johnson was doing, but I just really didn’t care all that much, and I almost wished they did cheat, just to give the story a little more teeth. Instead, we got this very happy little Raymond Carver story that wraps up all nice at the end.  I mean, they never even found a body buried in the ground. Nothing dramatic really happened, at all. I feel like if I had submitted this in some screenwriting workshop, that’s the feedback I would have gotten. And hopefully, that’s what they did get, because this totally seems like the kind of screenplay that someone would write for one of those horrible workshops.

This is what I was getting at earlier about filmmakers in Hollywood not knowing how real people live. Yes, all the things that happened in this movie can and do happen to people, but how the characters reacted wasn’t very believable, or even interesting. I’m not asking for a movie to reinvent the wheel, but I am looking for some reason to make the 90 minutes I just spent watching your movie seem worthwhile. Passion projects are great, and everyone should definitely get to see their dream movie get made, and that’s what most indie movies are. But if your dream movie doesn’t really have a lot to say other than, “Sometimes, love wins,” then maybe just jazz it up a bit to make it worth it.

So, unless you’re endeavoring to watch all of Brie Larson’s movies, you can definitely skip this one. But this same year would see the release of both Trainwreck and Room, so things were looking up for her, and those who follow her.

 

Yeah, I went there. Just so people know that I am not just gushing about every Brie Larson movie with this project, I am writing about the Miles Teller-Shailene Woodley high school drama-fest The Spectacular Now, which for some reason took Sundance by storm a couple years ago. There’s no accounting for taste, I guess.12009008_1050x1400

Of course I understand that a 40-something male is not the target audience for this movie, but I will get into my real problems with it in a moment. First off, why did a 40-something male even watch it? Well, I’ll tell you that much now. As stated many times before, in 2017, I endeavored to watch as many movies as possible to see, well, something, and I ended up watching a couple Brie Larson movies in a row at one point, totally by accident. So, to just continue the trend, I figured I’d watch a few more and give it the fancy name of The Brie Larson Experiment, because it had a better ring to it than “A Year of Movies.” But while writing about it, I didn’t always actually cover her movies (In fact, I rarely did.) So, that’s where we are now. And since I had to sit through this one, I might as well get a post out of it.

Before I sink my teeth into this movie, and bite its head off, I will say that there’s nothing really wrong with Ms. Larson’s performance in it, and out of all the characters, hers is probably the most believable. But that’s only because the other characters are so cookie-cutter that they come off as silly. If you haven’t seen it, there are literal spoilers ahead and by that, I don’t mean I will spoil the movie by giving away the plot. I will spoil it for you because I will explain why it’s not good.

The ridiculously-named Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) is a hard-drinking, hard-partying, directionless high school senior with no plans for the future, which is apparently where they derived the title from, but I just got that now. IMDB’s description describes him as “a budding alcoholic,” but I’m pretty sure he’s all the way there. He is pretty much always drinking out of a booze-ified Big Gulp. Now, far be it from me to judge someone’s drinking, but after a couple scenes, it just gets gross. So much so that even his girlfriend, Cassidy (Larson), who is portrayed as the school’s “hot girl.,” thinks that he’s a bum. Here’s one of their brilliant exchanges:

Cassidy : But you can’t go around having fun all the time. You have to be serious.
Sutter : I am serious. I’m one hundred percent serious!
Cassidy : About what?
Sutter : About… *not* being serious!

According to other dialogue, though, he *really* liked her:

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Despite all of this, Cassidy dumps Sutter, which sends him on a bender (or as he looks at it, Tuesday), after which he wakes up on the lawn of Aimee Finicky (Woodley), who is apparently “different,” because she’s nice. Even though they are classmates, and he doesn’t even know her name, she agrees to tutor him in Geometry, because he’s failing. As he begins to learn more about her, like that she’s actually funny, and nerdy, he decides to invite her to a party, where he is spurned by Cassidy again. He takes a walk with Aimee, and they get drunk from his flask, and corruption ensues, as we find out that she’s never been drunk, or had any fun, in her life. He wakes up the next day with a hangover, and realizes he asked her to the prom. It’s basically a less-funny episode of Three’s Company. Even better than that, when they do end up going to the prom, he buys her a flask. I thought most guys just bought flowers, but maybe I’m old-school.

Nice Aimee and Drunk Sutter begin hooking up, and he starts to finally understand how stupid he is. They then make goofy teenage pacts to stand up to their horrible mothers. She goes with him to meet his also-drunk father. When that goes awry, they get into a fight on the drive home when she tells him that she loves him and he tells her that he’s an angry teenager whose parents don’t love him (Well, not literally, but close enough.) He tells her to get out of the car because he doesn’t deserve her, and when she does, she gets HIT BY A CAR! Damned if he wasn’t right on that one. Turns out she just broke her arm, but because their love is so transcendent, like all teenage flings, she forgives him.

After graduation, it all hits the fan for Sutter, as Aimee is going to school in Philadelphia, Cassidy is going to California with her new man, and Sutter is… going to a bar. That’s not even me being snarky. He actually goes to a bar, after driving passed poor Aimee, who was waiting at the bus stop for him so they could go to Philly together. He leaves the bar drunk, totals a mailbox, gets into a fight with his mother, who tells him that he’s a good boy. Which was apparently all he needed because he then decides to complete his months-late college essay, just for kicks, and drive to Philadelphia to be reunited with his love. What the Hell? It worked for Will Hunting. Although I’m sure she dumped him after a few months when she realized what a depressed, backwoods hayseed he really was.

So, there are obviously a lot of themes at play here; alcoholism, family issues, teen love/sex, car accidents. Typical of most teenage dramas, really, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Just like all action movies have a hero and a villain and explosions, most high school romances have some unrequited love and a whole lot of “Come away with me to some paradise where I’m going to college.” This movie isn’t bad because it’s typical. It’s bad because it goes way over-the-top with the drama, and doesn’t spend any time with the details, like actual reality.

I wasn’t born yesterday, so I know that teenagers have their ways of procuring booze, and maybe I’m nitpicking a little, but seriously, this kid drinks a lot of booze. Like, a lot. Where does he get it, and where does he even get the money to buy it? He’s a senior in high school, for God’s sake. I guess we can assume he has a fake ID or whatever, but for someone with such a baby face to be able to acquire that much alcohol, and not just from a store but for him to be allowed into bars and served, is just preposterous. If everyone in this town was that lax about the rules, the entire high school would be dead from alcohol poisoning. Except for Aimee, I guess. Which is a whole other issue I had. Why would I root for this dickhead who corrupted and de-virginized this innocent girl, caused her to almost die twice, and then it’s all good because he finally followed her to college? When he was driving drunk near the end, I was actually hoping he would get into an accident and die. At least then he would be able to corrupt anyone else.

I wonder if I dislike this movie this much because it reminds me of something from my own life. Not the drinking, no, but the tone is eerily similar to a movie that I worked on back in 2001 in Huntington, IN, the birthplace of Dan Quayle. (Side note: if anyone I worked on that movie with happens to be reading this, I apologize if it offends you, but really, you should be apologizing to me.)

The story takes place back in the summer of 2001. My then-girlfriend was cast as the lead in a movie that was being directed by a friend of hers who had just directed her in a stage production of The Diary of Anne Frank. So, off to rural Indiana we went to do a little guerrilla filmmaking. Technically, I wasn’t really part of the crew, but my girlfriend wasn’t too keen on going alone, and I did have some filmmaking experience, not that it mattered to these people. Mostly, I just carried stuff.

My girlfriend played the Aimee role, Anna, and a guy named Matt (annoyingly) was the Sutter, or Elai in this case. In addition to starring in it, he also wrote it, which was also kind of annoying, because he didn’t even know his own lines. He wasn’t a heavy drinker, thankfully, although there was one bar scene. Like The Spectacular Now, this film, which was originally called A Universe Emerging, involved the brooding anti-hero and the nice girl falling in love. Unlike The Spectacular Now, the nice girl died of leukemia. Actually, it was leukemia in the original script, but in the end, I think they changed it to just some unnamed disease, probably because no one knew any of the actual symptoms of leukemia. It wasn’t the worst script in the world, although it could have used a polish, and after all was said and done, A Universe Emerging was probably at least as good as The Spectacular Now, But I never saw it, and I don’t know if anyone did, so the world will never know.

But what really bothers me all these years later is not three weeks of sixteen-hour days in sweltering Indiana, or the fact that I never saw the fruits of my labor, but what bothers me was that Matt the Writer/Star turned out to be a colossal prick. Here was an entire crew of people, who had taken time out of their lives, some of whom were not getting paid (myself and my girlfriend included), to make this guy’s dream come true, and here he was acting exactly like the selfish asshole that he was portraying in the movie. And here I was, 16 years later, having to endure that same kind of selfish asshole. The kind of person who writes (and names) characters like Elai is probably the same type of person writes characters like Sutter. People who have been selfish assholes usually write themselves into their work, because that’s what they know. I’ll give them this; at least they’re self-aware.

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Now, I’m sure that there are people much younger and less cynical than I who love this movie to death, and yes, there are people who have tattooed lines of dialogue on themselves:

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I bear no ill will to these people. Hell, I still love The Breakfast Club, and that probably seemed pretty stupid to adults at the time. But I do caution them, because in a few years, they might realize it’s not as good as they thought (Like I did with this movie). When a movie has to try this hard to get you to feel something, it’s probably a sign that there’s something missing, and the writer needs to cover for it.

The only character to come out of it unscathed, and not alcoholic (that we can see), is Cassidy. She ends up with the handsome Marcus (Dayo Okeniyi, better known as Thresh in Hunger Games) and pulls a Springsteen by getting the Hell out of that place. Cassidy and Sutter do share one final, nice moment, however. When she informs him that she and Marcus are heading to California, he suggests that maybe he will come visit sometime. She rightly tells him that it would be a bad idea, but not to worry, “You’ll always be my favorite ex-boyfriend.” Which was the most he could have hoped for, under the circumstances.

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Still, she followed this with another supporting role in Don Jon in 2013, and then starred in Short Term 12, which was the movie that got her noticed by a lot of people, and was at least a better story than, “‘Dis kid drinks a lot.” She worked pretty steadily through 2014 until the big break in Room in 2015, and the rest is history.

 

 

 

 

Throughout 2017, I attempted to watch as many movies as possible using as many platforms as possible and share my observations on this little blog. After accidentally watching 3 Brie Larson movies in a row, I decided to call it The Brie Larson Experiment, a title which I only later learned was confusing for some. Of course, I didn’t think anyone would really read any of the posts, so the fact that people were confused by the title was doubly surprising.

After having nothing to really write about for the first couple months of 2018, I thought I would try something new and actually write about Brie Larson movies. Why the hell not? I watched most of them fairly recently, anyway. It gives me something to write about, and a quick look at her IMDB page does indicate quite an eclectic career. At the tender age of 29, she has already played roles like the hot girlfriend in The Spectacular Now, the responsible sister in Trainwreck, and won an Oscar for Room, playing next to a kid. No one ever gets noticed playing opposite a kid the whole movie. And to top it off, she’ll soon be adding her name to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Captain Marvel, the most powerful hero of the MCU, and the first woman to get her own franchise in that whole lot of swinging codpieces. That’s way better than an Oscar, right?captain_marvel_

But who is this person, really? And I don’t mean where she was born and all that (even I’m not really all that interested in that stuff.) What I’m looking to do is see what her career choices say about her personality, if anything. I mean, let’s be honest, I’m pretty sure she did Kong: Skull Island for the paycheck, but a girl’s gotta live.

So, what does her oeuvre say about Brianne Sidonie Desaulniers? Maybe, after watching all those damn movies last year, I can figure it out. At least I can justify spending all that time.

I’m going to start with what would have been the first time I ever laid eyes on Brie Larson, without even knowing who she was, as Envy Adams in the amazing Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. Seriously, this movie is awesome. Gets no recognition. kinopoisk.ru

Based on the popular indie comic series written by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World stars Michael Cera as George Michael Bluth/Himself/Scott Pilgrim, who falls in love with the enigmatic Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and must battle her Seven Evil Exes in video game-like duels to win her heart. I know that sounds like a silly premise, but the stylized direction of Edgar Wright and the amazing cast he put together put this movie over the top for me. On a personal note, the cast includes Aubrey Plaza, one of my favorites, playing the character of Julie Powers, which is also the name of a girl I had a crush on in high school. But that’s not why I like the movie. It’s just an amazing coincidence. There are also characters named Todd Ingram, Stephen Stills and Young Neil, which should tell you something about the soundtrack, which is also worth a listen. (Why are you even still reading this? Go download both of these things now. And it wouldn’t kill you to use my links and get me a kickback. Geez!)

While Scott in the midst of taking on Ramona’s Evil Exes, he encounters one of his exes: Natalie V. (“Envy”) Adams, played by Brie Larson, who according to Scott, “used to be so nice.” They were in a band together at one point called Kid Chameleon, and when they were given the opportunity to rocket to stardom by Gideon Graves, the seventh and toughest Evil Ex, Scott turned it down and Envy seized it, and they broke up. She is now in the most popular band in Toronto (in the movie. Not Rush.) and Scott has to see her face everywhere he goes. She’s dating her bassist, Todd Ingram, who is also one of Ramona’s evil exes (and played by Evil Ex-Superman Brandon Routh). Todd is also a graduate of the prestigious Vegan Academy, which, according to Envy, means he’s “better than everyone else.” Scott eventually defeats him by tricking him into drinking coffee that has half-&-half in it, which ends up being his third strike with the Vegan Police, and Scott advances in his quest.  Fortunately, no one has to defeat Envy, especially in a Battle of the Bands, because she sings a ripping version of “Black Sheep” for her band, “The Clash at Demonhead,” named after an obscure Nintendo game.  I couldn’t find anywhere online if Brie performed the vocals herself, but she does have experience as a singer, so I’d like to think so.

Part of the drama at work here, even beyond the whole awkward exes thing, is that Envy has gone on to become a bigger rock star than Scott and his band, the Sex Bob-ombs, have, and even though Scott and his buddies didn’t really want to sell out, it still has to be a bit of a kick in the nuts, especially since, according to an interview with Larson, it’s probably tough to imagine that every girl he wants to date very likely has all his exes’ albums. The movie does a great job at building her up as a giant star, as well as someone Scott doesn’t want to talk about. Scott’s sister, Stacey (Anna Kendrick), even refers to her as “She Who Will Not Be Named.” Interestingly enough, Envy herself is a rather emotionless character, although she does dig at Ramona a little during their pre-performance exchange. (“Ramona, I like your outfit. Affordable.”) When she’s on stage, however, the audience sees that the build-up was worth it.

The character gains depth, however, when Scott later refers to her by her real name, causing Envy to drop the facade and remark, “No one calls me that anymore.” We finally see that she’s not so emotionless, after all, and Larson does a pretty good job of making us feel bad for her. Scott didn’t have to defeat this evil ex, and he, in fact, may have helped her work through some of her demons. Or she just became an even bigger rock star and OD’d like they all do.images

 

I personally never read the comic, but I remember there was some criticism from comic fans that this movie couldn’t possibly measure up, and a lot of those fans were never going to like the changes, anyway, no matter how good the movie was. Michael Cera especially came under a lot of fire as the main character, because there’s no way George Michael Bluth could play Scott Pilgrim. Probably the same ones who thought Heath Ledger couldn’t play The Joker. When will these people get tired of being wrong? It should be known that Cera was called “The Push-Up King” on set because he had to get into ridiculous shape for all those fight scenes, and even dumb-down his bass-playing so his on-screen bandmates (who had just learned to play for the movie) could keep up. And also have the minor responsibility of actually starring in a movie for the first time in his life.

But this isn’t The Michael Cera Project, so what does Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World say about Brie Larson? I can only speculate, but in 2010, Larson had a resume of a lot of TV show appearances, Thirteen Going on 30, and a few high school dramas like Tanner Hall and Just Peck. Even at the tender age of 20, she was probably looking to take a step forward. Besides, what twenty-year-old doesn’t want to play a rock star?  Plus, she got to work with a great director in Edgar Wright, and an amazing cast. Who cares if she didn’t have red hair, like the Envy in the comic? (Word has it that the red wig just didn’t look all that good on Larson, so they went with a platinum blonde one. Wright was supposedly Envy_Adamsthe last holdout, too, because he wanted to stay close to the comic but the blonde just worked better. So get over it, comic nerds! He did!)

To be honest, blonde or redhead, Envy Adams is not the reason to watch this movie. It’s an amazing movie with a great ensemble cast, and Brie Larson is just one small cog in the wheel. It’s a fun performance, showing some comedic chops and a few layers, but she was five years away from winning an Oscar. But watch it mostly to see an up-and-coming Edgar Wright begin to show his brilliance. And then watch Baby Driver to see how far he has come.

But if you are a fan of Scott Pilgrim, feel free to check out the t-shirts and other merch I created to commemorate the film on Red Bubble:

Larson was definitely still finding her footing, but would go on to United States of Tara, Community, and then be seen by a lot of people in 21 Jump Street and Trainwreck, and not long after that, it was off to the Oscar races.

I thought I would compile a few more thoughts on my whole 2017 experiment. And if anyone is interested, here is a link to the spreadsheet with what I watched, how I watched it, and a little blurb about what I thought. I hope I don’t offend anyone with anything that I wrote. Some of it may have been because I was getting kind of tired of movies. Honestly, if someone was a psychologist, they could probably do a study about how watching tons of movies when you’re forcing yourself to do it can affect your enjoyment. Hell, I’ll pay you ten dollars for it!

When I first attempted this in 1997, it was obviously a completely different world. I actually wish I still had the notebook that I kept track of the movies in because that would have been interesting, but for the most part, I watched VHS tapes that I brought home for free from the video store I worked in, and went to the movies. That was it. Two outlets. I didn’t have any premium cable channels, I don’t like watching movies that have been edited for television or have commercials in them, and I certainly didn’t have Netflix or anything like that. Still, with that system, I cracked 100 movies. In 2017, with all that stuff, I watched 159 (and had I not walked out of Justice League because of the stupid 4-D experience bull-poop, I would have made it to 160.) The funny thing is, in ’97, I was a college student (and a film student, no less) with access to thousands of movies for free because I worked in a video store. This time, I was a grown-ass man with a full-time job. Looking back now, as a college student with aspirations to be the one making movies that other people watch, should I have immersed myself in them completely, as my film professor suggested everyone in Hollywood does?

Maybe I should watch movies that way, but I can’t. There are many reasons for this. For the same reason, for example, Jerry Seinfeld can’t just watch mediocre stand-up and not think about how to make it better (Not comparing myself to Seinfeld. I just thought that would drive the point home.) Because I learned things as a film student that the average movie-goer maybe doesn’t know, like basic three-act structure, “end on the button,” and funny phrases like “mise-en-sene.” And even after I graduated, I was still learning things about movies. Before the digital age, one of my tasks at my real-life job was to show 16mm films for BU students. On my first day, I learned the trick to changing reels. Back in the day, and still sometimes now, each film reel was around 30 minutes, so a 90- minute film required two reel-changes, which required two projectors side-by-side and you had to shut one off and start the other one within a split second if you wanted to make the change seamless. Of course, most of the college freshmen didn’t notice or care, but I certainly did. Anyway, to signal the projectionist when the change was coming, a little white circle would flash in the upper right corner of the screen, which was the sign to jump up (or on occasion, wake up) and do the on-off trick. While training me, Tracey, my predecessor on the job, said, “You’ll never be able to watch movies in a theater the same again, because you’ll always notice it.”

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See? This isn’t just some splotch that Lucas edited out of the Special Editions!

Unfortunately, she was right, because even now with digital films, I notice when a movie is nearing the 30-minute mark, and if nothing of note has happened yet, I start fidgeting and sighing. Suffice it to say, I had the department purchase a DVD player not long after that. It was too late, however. The signal was burned into my brain.

I guess what bothers me is that too many movies violate these basic rules that I learned back then. And these aren’t “film school rules.” These same principles are applied to Shakespearean theater. And I was told that you had to follow these rules or you would literally never make it in that business. Not surprisingly, everyone did follow them. I had a screenwriting professor who pointed out that every movie follows the three-act structure, even something like Pulp Fiction, which is told out of order. Even out of sequence, there is still set-up, conflict, and resolution. Too many movies abandon this time-honored method, and not in a cool way, like Memento. They do it in an unbelievably less exciting way, like Manchester by the Sea, where the conflict was, “I’m an angry loser,” and the resolution was to literally go home and leave the kid with somebody else.

So, in this long, history of my life essay that I’ve just compiled, the point is that there are things that make a movie good, and things that make a movie bad, and it has very little to do with how we watch them. Of course, it’s better to watch Blade Runner: 2049 in a theater on a big screen to get the scope of the story (and the huge, naked woman), but once you take away the nice scenery, I can’t really remember what happened in it.

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Definitely best to be taken in on the big screen

Of course, all things being equal, all movies should be good no matter what screen they are watched on, but let’s face it, no matter if you’re a film student or just Joe Movie-goer, or if you watch 159 movies in a year or just a couple, they won’t all be good.

But if Brie Larson appears in it, it can only increase your chances.

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Movies Since Last Post:

Glass Castle
Disaster Artist
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The Big Short
Rush: Time Stand Still
Office Christmas Party
Darkest Hour
The Shape of Water

So, here we are, January 1st, 2018, meaning my year of movies is over. I must say, as fun and enlightening as it was at times, I am a little disappointed in myself. I ended up seeing 159 movies in 2017, which is no small amount, but looking at the big picture, I realize that I did sort of limp to the end. In December, I only watched 8 movies, and that is with a lot of time off from work for the holidays. As a comparison, in March, I watched 16, and I hadn’t even started using Hulu as an option yet. Not that Hulu was a huge difference maker. I only watched 17 out of the 159 on there, and a few of them were also available elsewhere. I will say, however, if you have a Hulu subscription, definitely check out some of their originals. Becoming Bond, Batman & Bill and Too Funny to Fail were definitely three highlights of the year for me.

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While we’re on the topic, let me throw a few stats out there; the final count for Amazon was 35, which was surprisingly eclipsed by Xfinity OnDemand with 43. Google Play accounted for 13, and Netflix 16. I watched 4 DVD’s (which is just too funny to me), and one for Bad Movie Night at my friend’s, and I’m not sure which platform he used. So, by my count, I went to a movie theater (or Drive-In) 33 times in 2017. While I do still think that’s the best way to watch a movie, it’s also pretty expensive and time-consuming, so it looks like I have to give the nod to OnDemand for being the most-used platform of the year. Which is pretty interesting since so many people are getting rid of cable. Also, please note that I didn’t illegally download anything. Maybe that’s just me being a chump, but I still don’t think it’s right.

Now, I’m not going to make any bold statements about why people should or shouldn’t have cable, because frankly, even though Xfinity may have had the biggest selection when you throw in the fact that my package includes all the movie channels, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are the best and if you love movies then you should do what I’m doing. In fact, having the biggest selection only means that there are so many more movies to scroll through before you find one you want to watch. I mean, I know this isn’t news to anyone, but there are just so many bad movies. Honestly, one of the best parts of this quest being over is all the time I will get back because I will no longer be scrolling through pages and pages of bad movies hoping to find one that I want to watch. And after I watch that one, I’d have to go back and find another one.

Ah, time. Let us discuss this concept for a moment. I will admit that I could have, and even should have, watched a lot more, and probably a lot more quality films, were time not a factor. Of course, it always is. There’s no way around it, but I don’t think I even once clicked “Play” in 2017 without first looking at a clock and the movie’s running time. I definitely started leaning towards the shorter ones as the year went along, too. After a while, if a movie took me days to watch it, I would start to just lose interest, and once you get into that “have to finish” mode, then it ceases to become entertainment and it becomes work. Honestly, if I ever do anything like this again, I’ll probably have to wait until I retire and have all the time in the world. And even then I probably wouldn’t want to sit through anything longer than 2:20.

Still, the point of this whole thing was to think about how we watch movies and try to learn something. In fact, back in March, I wrote, “I thought that by the end of the year, it could be a cool way to examine how we watch movies nowadays (or it could just be a whole lot of nothing).” Well, it wasn’t really nothing, but I don’t know if it was something, either. But I did learn a little about myself, so that’s important. The lesson about myself that I did learn came at the very end of the year, in fact. Before seeing The Shape of Water, my final film if 2017, I saw that a Facebook friend had seen and it and wrote in his status that it was “not for the casual movie-goer.”

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That really sparked something in me. Obviously, I knew that “casual movie-goers” existed, because why else would Michael Bay still be allowed to direct movies? But that status spoke to me because I came to the realization that I am not, and probably never have been (at least since I was a teenager) a casual movie-goer. And while it is a great thing to have taste, I actually think that, if a casual movie-goer decided to take a year and watch as many movies as possible, that person could probably have watched way more than I did. They certainly wouldn’t have taken so much time trying to find one that suited them.   Now, I did watch a lot of bad movies last year (Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, Baywatch), and I did write in the notes on my Google Doc “Not horrible but not great” way more times than I remembered (and some of the movies I don’t even remember that well.) But when I think about all the ones I could have watched but just had no desire to, I have no regrets. I mean, I kind of regret not making more of an effort to watch some real classics, but you have to play the hand you’re dealt. Or in this case, you have to watch the movies that are available, and yeah, free. I could have paid $5 or more to watch everything that Amazon or Google have and probably enjoyed most of them, but I’d be totally broke by now. But this whole thing came about because my idiot film professor in 1997 told me that everyone in Hollywood watches hundreds of movies a year, and everyone in Hollywood is rich, so I guess that’s a pretty good lesson right there.

So, there you have it. Watching movies as a project to see how many you can see is not the way to go about watching movies. Sure, you’ll find a few diamonds in the rough, but with literally thousands of movies at our fingertips, well, that’s a lot of rough. But if you really want to see something, just fork over the dough. It saves time, and more importantly it saves you the aggravation of watching a really crappy movie like The Night Before.

Just make sure you finish within 48 hours of starting it. Another hard lesson learned.

Movies Since Last Post:

Super Dark Times
Blade Runner 2049
Loving
Jerry Before Seinfeld
Blue is the Warmest Color
Prof. Marston and the Wonder Women
Cashback
Too Funny to Fail: The Life & Death of the Dana Carvey Show
78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene
Why Him?
Blair Witch
Black Hawk Down
Thor: Ragnarok
Only Living Biy in New York
Ingrid Goes West
Spielberg
Ratatouille
The Big Chill
Take This Waltz
Greenberg
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Just Peck
Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond
Lady Bird

Just over a month to go, and I just eclipsed 150 movies with “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond,” the Netflix doc about the making of Man on the Moon. If you don’t know much about Andy Kauffman, or about what Jim Carrey did to play him in the movie, you might not be that interested, but to me, it was really interesting. Carrey is a bit of a freak, but somehow, also strangely compelling.

I had a sobering moment last week that made me think a lot about the movie-going experience, and since this whole experiment was supposed to be about how we take in movies these days. I wanted to write about it. My friend John and I went to see Justice League, but upon arriving at the theater, we learned that the showtime we needed was the 4D Experience. For the uninitiated, that means that your seat moves, they blow air and mist at you at appropriate times depending on the action in the movie, lights flash when someone shoots a gun onscreen, and they even pump smells in for odorous scenes. Sounds like fun, right? I did wonder as we were walking in if this would actually make this movie memorable, because the trailers (not to mention almost every DC movie ever) have been rather underwhelming.

You should note above that Justice League is not listed as a movie that I have seen since my last post. After about 8 minutes of creaking seats, rushing air and flashing lights, John and I decided that this was a horrible thing to do. We got up as soon as a moment arrived where we didn’t feel like the seats would jolt us to the ground and left. Like I said about 8 minutes in, which was about 7 minutes after John turned to me and said, “I hate this.” Thankfully, we were within the half-hour window that the theater will give you a refund, so we got our $23 back and went to a bar, with not a regret in sight.

I know that movie attendance has been down in recent years, but I’m not sure that this is the answer to that problem. For one thing, even though we watched a few scenes, I can’t remember anything that happened in them. I think Batman fought some guy, and then Wonder Woman fought some guys. I wasn’t paying attention to what was happening on the screen because the chair was constantly moving and there was the sound of rushing air in my ears every few seconds. And I don’t know if anyone else in the theater was paying attention, either, because every chair movement was accompanied by the requisite “oohs” and “ahhs.” There may have actually been some dialogue in the movie, but I don’t think I heard any of it. Normally, that kind of behavior in a theater would have me enraged, but this time, it didn’t bother me because the whole experience already had me annoyed.

This kind of thing may fly for a ten minute Harry Potter ride, but for a two-hour movie, it’s just a bad idea. Maybe it’s the movie purist in me, but how is a person supposed to follow a plot when they’re being distracted by all this stuff every two seconds? I know, I know, following a plot is silly for most folks, but it’s what I do. Otherwise, why watch a movie? To be entertained? Pfft.

But this is the world we live in. Thousands and thousands of people just like being mindlessly entertained when they watch a movie. I guess our jobs and our lives are so stressful that that’s what we need to do to fill the time when we have it. There’s not inherently anything wrong with that attitude. However, that’s why Michael Bay movies not only exist but thrive in our culture. I know I’m shooting fish in a barrel here, but the guy has legitimately never made what any smart person would call a “good movie.” But the 4D experience seems like an unnecessary step beyond that. Have people become so simple-minded that we can’t just sit for a couple hours and watch a movie without all this extra razzle-dazzle? Apparently not. But as we were leaving the theater, the little old lady who took our tickets asked why we were leaving so soon, and we said we couldn’t stand the 4D experience. She then told us that the kids love it, so I guess that’s the demographic they shoot for. John replied, “Well, we’re old and grouchy.”

Of course, Justice League‘s box office would seem to indicate that no matter what they try to do to enhance the experience, it doesn’t really make a difference. It has eclipsed $300 million overseas, for a combined haul of $81 million worldwide, so “boo-hoo,” right? Still, it is way below projections, so who knows what this means for the future of the DCEU? They have a whole bunch of movies lined up starring these characters (ones that aren’t Batman and Wonder Woman), so I’m not sure who would be interested in seeing those. I probably won’t be, even in a real theater. And not to poop in their gym bag even more, but Thor: Ragnarok has been making money at a pretty steady pace, crossing $500 million overseas, and also has a score of 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, as opposed to Justice League’s 41%.

I’m not really sure what it all means, except that they should just let the movie speak for itself. If it’s good enough, people will enjoy it and remember it. If you feel the need to make it into a ride, then you maybe need a few rewrites.

Of course, having said that, I did have a great movie-going experience that had some added razzle-dazzle. The big differences were that this was an older movie that I had seen many times, so the extra stuff wasn’t a distraction. The other big difference was that the razzle-dazzle was actually an orchestra. I’m referring my Halloween viewing of Nightmare Before Christmas accompanied by the Boston Pops.IMG_20171031_195046.jpg

This was definitely a cool new way to experience both a movie and a night at the symphony. This time, it wasn’t distracting because they were playing along with the actual movie, and they weren’t blowing mist on me when it snowed or anything. If you’re going to spice up a movie, that’s the way you do it. Instead of dumbing it down, why not add an orchestra?