December 18, 2008

#005: Re-Watching The Classics

I have really been wanting to watch Ghost Busters lately. I really can't explain why, I just want to see it. I was at Target a few days ago and they had some special edition copy for $7.50. I was so close to buying it, but something stopped me. At the time I really didn't think about it. Then later on, I was thinking about it, and I started wishing I would have purchased it. The same uncomfortable feeling came over me. Then I realized what it was...

I loved Ghost Busters as a kid. Just thinking about it brings back all these great memories. I can remember how much fear I felt during some scenes, and how much joy I felt in others. The thing is, I haven't see the movie for 15 years, if not longer. I am almost scared to watch it again for fear of ruining all these fond memories I have of it. I know it won't garner the same level of tension and fear that it once did. But will re-watching Ghost Busters just kill this great aura that in my mind surrounds this movie?

Several weeks ago I recorded Christmas Vacation on my DVR and we decided to watch it this past week. This is another movie I haven't seen in at least 10 years. When I thought about this movie it also made me to think about watching it with my family around the holidays, and all the laughter it allowed us to share. In my mind this movie was comedic genius that was unrivaled by any other holiday film, except for maybe Bad Santa. I watched it, and I laughed. I noticed some funny things that I was probably too young to understand the last time I had seen it. But overall, the movie just didn't live up to the wonderful memories I had of it. I am not really disappointed that I watched it, but at the same time my experience with it creates apprehension about re-watching other movies that I have distinct memories for. I think Ghost Busters is a good enough movie to hold up over the years. I am sure I will very much enjoy watching it again. There are some other movies though, that I may be embarrassed to watch again because they are so horrible. I thought about it a lot and here is my list of movies that really stuck out to me as a kid, and I haven't seen since, but should maybe never sit down and watch again. The year next to the movie is the year it was released, not the year I watched it. Most of them I probably didn't see right when they came out. Some of them I probably didn't see until many years later. I can't remember exactly how old I was when I watched them.

- The Adams Family (1991)
- The Great Mouse Detective(1986) :I absolutely loved this movie. I owned it and have probably seen it 70 times, but haven't watched it since I was 12.
- Ernest Goes To Camp (1987)
- 3 Men And A Baby (1987)
- Short Circuit 2 (1988): Another one we owned and I watched a lot, but haven't seen since. I liked me some Johnny-5.
- The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)
- Pee Wee's Big Adventure (1985) : I actually would really like to watch this one again. I might add it to my Netflix queue right now.
- Teen Wolf (1985)
- Honey, I Shrunk The Kids (1989)
- Turner & Hooch (1989): I can clearly remember going to the theater to see this movie with my grandmother and cousin. I was embarrassed cause I cried at the end. I was probably only 7.
- City Slickers (1991): Another movie I can remember going to see at the theater right when it came out. I haven't seen it since.
- Gremlins (1984) :I can remember watching this at home with my family and being scared out of my mind, but I can't really remember anything else about it.
- Labyrinth (1986) :Yes, the puppet movie with David Bowie. I loved it.
- The Neverending Story (1984) :Again, I can't remember anything about this movie except for the flying dog, and how much I liked it.
- Critters (1986) :I can't really say I loved this movie, but it totally scared the shit out of me. It was probably the most traumatic hour and 20 minutes of my life.
- Indiana Jones, Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981): I just watched the most recent Indiana Jones movie and hated it. I think I should re-watch this one to re-capture my respect for Indy.
- Batman (1989) : "Ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?" I will never forget that line. I have wanted to watch this movie again for a while, but I still haven't seen it. I probably haven't seen this movie since 1990.

So, what do you think? Should I watch any of these movies again? What are some movies that really stuck out to you as a kid? Have you watched them since and was the magic ruined? I would love to read your feedback. Post your comments here or email me at

December 11, 2008

#004: Step Brothers / Thumbsucker

     This past week I watched 2 movies that were very different. I watched the most recent Will Ferrell zany comedy, and a fairly obscure indie film from 2005.

     I will start out with Step Brothers. I have to qualify everything I say by telling you that I had very low expectations for this movie. I wasn't even sure I wanted to watch it, but I was in the mood for a comedy so I went ahead and queued it up. Overall I would have to say this movie exceeded my expectations. I'm not really saying this movie was great, but it is what it is, and it provided quite a few laughs. There is never really any message in this type of movie, and the plots are usually a mess. You just kinda have to go along with it and laugh at the crazy stuff they come up with. I was surprised by how vulgar this movie was. It was produced by Judd Apatow and I could definitely see his influence. He is the guy who is behind The 40-Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, & Superbad... among others. All three of those movies seem to have a deeper message beyond the laughs. Step Brothers doesn't really have that component. There is nothing serious that can be taken away from this movie. I don't really have anything else to say about it. If you like the standard stupid comedy I would recommend checking this one out. I found it to be pretty funny.

     The next movie I wanted to write about is called Thumbsucker. You may have heard about this movie when it was released, but I had not. I heard it mentioned on the Filmspotting podcast, so I decided to check it out because it seemed like I would enjoy it. The movie is about a 17 year old boy who still sucks his thumb. He is getting pressure to stop this habit from his parents and his dentist/psychologist played by Keanu Reeves. He finds out that the solutions to one problem just seem to cause others. The film follows him through his senior year of high school and shows us all the changes he undergoes while preparing for the next stage of his life. I really enjoyed this movie. Sometimes Indie films are hard for me to watch because they can get too caught up in the art and come across more like a series of well crafted scenes that are loosely stung together, causing me to lose focus. For me, the story of this movie was very engaging and had me interested all the way. I felt like it was very well put together. It definitely falls into the "character movie" category. The plot is only moved forward by the changes that this boy is going through.

     One thing I really bought into about this movie was the message it was trying to send. I don't really want to tell you what the movie is about, because that is really up to your own interpretation. For me it had a fairly clear message that I identified with. However, there were parts that I really didn't get the point of. I guess your own background will make you decide which scenes you deem important to the overall message. This is definitely a coming-of-age story about an awkward teenager. However, all the characters in this movie seem to be on a quest of self-discovery. The movie isn't really about completing that quest, and magically finding yourself. It is more about learning to be okay with how things are; learning to become comfortable in your own skin. It worked for me and I really enjoyed it.

     There are also quite a few stars in this movie. The main character is played by a pretty obscure actor, but he does a great job. I really feel like his performance makes the movie. I did notice a couple of corny scenes by some of the the other kids from his high, but they aren't bad at all. The mother is Tilda Swinton, and the father is that guy from Law & Order. Vince Vaughn is one of the teachers. And like I already mentioned, Keanu Reeves plays the orthodontist. Benjamin Bratt also has a small part in the movie. Overall I thought the acting was very good, although it is difficult to take Keanu Reeves very seriously. I would definitely recommend seeing Thumbsucker.

     If you have seen either of these movies let me know what you thought. I would really like to know what you thought about Thumbsucker. You can post a comment on this blog, or you can email me at my new address .

December 3, 2008

#003: Characters vs. Plot

     There are movies out there that just seem to have no plot. It used to drive me nuts to sit and watch a movie where nothing happens. This year I really started focusing on paying more attention to the how the plot effects the characters and visa versa. I realized that sometimes a movie isn't about what happens, but rather who it happens to. I started noticing whether plot elements were there to move the story forward, or help develop a character. It got me a lot more interested in knowing who the characters are, and why they act the way they do. I think about how a writer has to sit down and consider every word a character speaks, and the body language and tone he uses. There is so much thought that has to go into each character. Then once the concept is there, the director has to get the actors to execute it correctly. Some movies do a very good job of this, while others rely on an exciting plot to carry the movie. This post is going to consider the "character driven" film.

      Don't get me wrong, there is no dichotomy between character movies and plot movies. Every movie has to have some sort of plot; and every movie has to have characters, or at least someone/something the movie is about. There is a pretty big range between the ends of this continuum, and all movies fall somewhere in between. I would say that most Hollywood blockbusters fall on the plot-driven side. Independent movies tend to be more character-driven, where the plot elements are used to further develop the characters. I think the best way to illustrate what I am trying to talk about is to make examples of some movies.

      The first movie I want to think about is Transformers. This movie is almost completely plot-driven. Why do I say this? Lets look at our characters played by Shia LeBeouf and Megan Fox. There is very little time spent developing either of these main characters. We do learn some things about Megan's past, and how her father was a criminal, but this has very little impact on the overall plot. It might have contributed to a side story that was never really explored in the final cut of the movie. When I was done watching this movie I realized that I knew very little about the characters involved in this story. Any other teenage guy, with totally different issues, could have replaced Sam Witwicky, and it wouldn't have changed the movie all that much. There just aren't very many scenes that give us a background of why he is the way he is, or why he reacts the way he does. Those scenes are left out so they can just show him doing things. I am not saying this is a bad thing. I mean, it is an action movie.

     The next movie I want to look at is I Am Legend. I had a lot of fun watching this movie, but at the end I was disappointed. I really feel it was lost on the cutting room floor. To me this movie was trying to split the middle between plot and character. They wanted it to be an exciting action movie, but they also wanted to explore the impact this situation was having on the main character. I imagine there were a lot of scenes captured on film that show us the mental anguish his solidarity was causing him. However, in the final product, we got a lot more of the action, and not enough of the character. Certain plot elements in this movie hinged on us realizing how emotionally tormented Robert Neville was. I think he was basically at the point of insanity, and was only hanging on because of his dog. However, they didn't take enough time showing us this. For example, there is the scene where he is talking to the mannequins. I think we were supposed to think that he actually thought he was talking to real people. To me, it didn't work at all, and came across as comical; almost like he was joking around. However, when the male mannequin is out of place, he reacts as if he thinks the mannequin walked there himself, which didn't jive with the feeling of the previous scenes. My point is, it was confusing. I don't even know if my interpretation is correct, it is just how I took it. If he realized they are fake, and the mannequin moved without him moving it, he has to know something fishy is going on. Instead, he walks right into the trap that was set for him. This movie was pretty suspenseful, but for me, any suspense wasn't because I cared about the character, but because I was worried something was going to jump out at me. I didn't really understand what he was going through, and how much his dog meant to him. I didn't get a sense of the hopelessness he must have been feeling. All that being said, I really enjoyed the first hour of this movie. Then the ending came... When the CG zombies attacked I completely disengaged with this movie. It was probably one of the most ho-hum endings I have seen for quite a while. Part of this was due to the "fake" look of it, but a lot was because I wasn't emotionally invested at all in this guy's survival.

      Now I want to give an example of a main-stream "character" movie. I can't really think of an example that falls almost completely on that end of the spectrum. Most love stories usually have quite a bit of character development. They also usually have a well structured plot with a problem and clear resolution. One fairly popular movie that doesn't have much plot is Lost In Translation. I haven't seen that movie for quite some time, but I remember how nothing really happened. Most of the movie was just watching the characters deal with their issues, and at the end there was nothing to really resolve. I watched one movie this year that completely epitomizes what I am trying to talk about, but it isn't likely many people have heard of it. It is called The Station Agent. There is almost no structure to this movie. It merely shows us how 3 people meet, and how their relationships form. The movie shows us their interaction for a while, then stops. I think that is my main problem with these type of movies. We have been programmed to think that a movie needs to have a nice clean resolution at the end. When a movie doesn't offer that to me, I feel.... odd. In the past I would watch a movie just waiting for the big payoff at the end instead of enjoying the journey. Now I try to consciously focus on not projecting an ending, and just going along for the ride. To finish this post off I will list some movies I have watched this year that seem to do a very good job at developing the characters, and relating how those character traits effect the plot.

The Station Agent: I liked this movie, but you have to be in the right mood for it.
Children Of Men: Clive Owen stars in this post apocalyptic tale about a world where no more babies are born. Great characters, great story, and great camera work. I would definitely recommend watching this movie if you haven't seen it. Pay attention to the scenes in the city towards the end. There are a couple of continuous shots that follow Owen around the buildings. These shots don't cut for a very long time. It is impressive.
Waitress: This movie tells an entertaining story and has great acting. I would recommend this movie even though it is a little quirky. I am not sure that everybody will like it, but it is worth watching.
Rocket Science: This is an indie film about a high school boy with a stutter who joins the debate team. Its a good movie, but might be hard to find.
Dan In Real Life: You've probably heard of this movie starring Steve Carell. If you haven't seen it yet, check it out. Its a nice little movie.
There Will Be Blood: I rented this movie expecting a action thriller. I got a slow movie about an "oil man" and his son. I really didn't like this movie. However, it got tons of positive reviews, and Daniel Day-Lewis will probably get an award for his performance. I should probably give it another shot at some point. You will have to decide for yourself if you want to invest 158 minutes of your time to watch it.

The last two movies are probably my two favorite movies I saw this year. I obviously would recommend watching both of them if you haven't yet seen them. I might do dedicated posts for each of them at some point.
Pan's Labyrinth: This movies is in Spanish so you will have to deal with reading subtitles, but it is worth it. My initial reaction was mixed, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. I just watched it again not too long ago, and I liked it just as well the second time around.
No Country For Old Men: This is just a great movie. I really like Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem in this film. I am really looking forward to seeing this one a second time.

So thats my list of movies that focus a little more on character development than most. Let me know what you think about this post. Did it make sense or am I completely out in left field? If you have seen any of the movies I mentioned let me know what you think. Do you agree with me that they spent more time making sure we understood the characters? I would love to read your feedback.


December 1, 2008

#002: DVD Releases 12/2/08

Here is a quick post to fill you in on something I do most every Monday. I check out what DVD's will be releasing the following day so I can re-order my Netflix queue accordingly. This week is pretty slim as far as major DVD releases go, but 3 of the 4 I am planning on checking out.

The first release is The X-Files: I Want to Believe. This is the much anticipated sequel to the first X-Files movie that was released in 1998. I have to admit that I never saw the first X-Files movie, and I was only mildly a fan of the television series. I probably won't be seeing this one.

Second is the next comedy installment from Will Ferrell, Step Brothers. I am planning on watching this one because I do enjoy Will Ferrell, as well as his co-star in this movie, John C. Reilly. However, I don't have very high expectations. It is probably going to be stupid, but I am ready for that.

Third is The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. I enjoyed The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe enough to be semi-excited about this next installment. However, I did read the books a while back and I remember this story being slightly less engaging. I am sure the movie will look nice, but it may not be able to keep my attention.

The fourth movie being released this week on DVD is Wanted. Ever since I saw a commercial for this movie I have wanted to see it. I am a big fan of both James McAvoy and Morgan Freeman, so it should be strong as far as the acting is concerned. I can't wait to see the scene where Angelina spins the car out and McAvoy jumps into the seat perfectly as the car is still moving. I have heard good things about this movie so it is being bumped to the top of my queue.