Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Bother. Review of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (Review #20)


G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA

I start with a confession. I didn't watch the cartoon series of G.I. Joe and didn't play with the toys except for a Cobra Commander figure. I played with it so much that I ended up tearing it in half, but still kept playing with it for some time afterwards. After watching G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, a Bible verse came to mind, about putting away childish things. It seems that today, we are doing the opposite--making whole FILMS out of childish things. I am still amazed that today, it isn't television shows that are being made into films (I'd line up for a Mr. Belvedere film), but TOYS that are the inspiration for features. Heaven help us if we have Wrath of the Tonka Trucks.

The story has Mr. McCullen (Christopher Eccleston, whom I remember as the Ninth Doctor on Doctor Who), a weapons manufacturer who has created a new weapon involving nanotechnology of some sort. Basically, these weapons eat everything in their path: tanks, buildings, people I imagine too. To transport these weapons, you have a military escort headed by Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans). They are attacked by a shadowy group but are rescued by another shadowy group. The latter are G.I. Joe, headed by General Hawk (Dennis Quaid). Duke & Ripcord join this elite squad to stop the other group, Cobra. One guess as to who is behind this nefarious SPECTER knock-off. You have the evil scientist, who is in league with Cobra to try to conquer the world. It ends up in a massive battle above the Artic Circle (bringing memories of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider to mind).

There were quite a few things wrong in this film. The biggest problem I had was with the flashbacks. There seemed an endless series of flashbacks to explain things (I counted four). In fact, the movie BEGINS with a flashback. It takes you out of the film when you have to go back to explain things that are happening now or will happen in the near future.

 
The flashbacks lead to the second, and bigger problem I had with G.I. Joe. There were too many damn coincidences in the film. One flashback explains why Duke and The Baroness (Sienna Miller) knew each other. Why did they need to? Why did they need to have a romantic history? Why couldn't she just be a villain to be a villain? Another flashback explains the animosity between Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow. To be honest, it wasn't important. Why DID they have to have a history, and what are the odds that they would meet again? Near the end, Storm Shadow says, "You took a vow of silence after our Master was killed", or something like that. While that explains why Snake-Eyes didn't speak, it was something we would have no knowledge of. That, to me, is cheating. I never gave a thought as to WHY Snake-Eyes was silent because I didn't care.

Then there is the matter of the performances themselves. Channing Tatum made Duke the strong, silent, stoic soldier. From what I saw, he has no real emotion, which might be correct for a military man but doesn't add much to Tatum's range. Wayans was all right as the comic relief but didn't add much to the story. As for the others, well, they range from the odd to the laughable. Joseph Gordon-Levitt must have had fun as the Mad Scientist, but frankly, Gordon-Levitt, we didn't love it.

Miller was a non-entity as The Baroness, and if keeps at this she won't convince people she's a genuine actress. It's their elders that should be embarrassed. Eccleston tried to ham it up, but couldn't bring himself to either play it straight or be in on the joke. As for Quaid, he just says his lines and cashes his paycheck. When he barks out, "Release the sharks", I burst out laughing. In fact, I laughed a lot during the film, and I doubt I was suppose to.

It seems that there is one thing people watching the film have not taken note of: that G.I. Joe is no longer a Real American Hero. That's because he's no longer a Real American. It's now an international force, a steroid version of the United Nations. That's all well and good, but it isn't what the toys were about. When the film version of a toy series violates the spirit of the toys themselves, you're headed down a bad path.

Out of all the things wrong with G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, the biggest problem was the ending. There was none. Instead, what the film ended up being was an extended trailer for the sequel. It violated one of my Golden Rules of Filmmaking: Never End A Movie By Suggesting There Will Be A Sequel. It won't make me want to figure what happens to them because I don't care.

Ultimately, G. I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is made for kids who like to play with toys. Eccleston and Quaid are good actors, and deserve better. As for star Tatum, I don't know if this is a Step Up for his career, but if he keeps Fighting for scripts like this, he'll end up having to go back to stripping.

 

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It Should Happen Every Night: It Happened One Night Review




IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934)

Almost everyone who participated in It Happened One Night did not think this was a good film. Claudette Colbert said to a friend after production wrapped, "I just finished the worst picture in the world". Clark Gable was alleged to have been forced to make the film for Columbia Studios when he refused to make another one for his studio, M-G-M. When the Academy Award nominations were announced, it seemed few thought it had a chance. Colbert decided not to attend the ceremonies, and Columbia was a minor studio at the time. When the studio learned she had won, she had to literally be dragged off a train and rushed to the awards, where she was forced to accept the Best Actress Oscar wearing her traveling clothes rather than an elegant gown. When the film won Best Picture, it was not only a smashing victory for Columbia, but it was also the first comedy to win, and deservedly so.

History has proved Colbert wrong: it was not 'the worst picture in the world', but rather a bright, sparkling romantic comedy that was the genesis for the screwball films like Bringing Up Baby or My Man Godfrey.

Ellie Andrews (Colbert), the rich, spoiled daughter of a millionaire, is desperate to escape and be reunited with the man with whom she eloped. She does so by literally jumping ship, diving off her family yacht off the Florida coast. She boards a bus for New York where she meets Peter Warne (Gable), a reporter who has just lost his job. At one stop, she is stunned to discover the bus left without her...even after she told the bus driver to wait for her. Warne recognizes her and makes a deal: in exchange for helping her avoid her father's agents and get her back to New York, she will give him an exclusive to her story. Along the way, they have a few misadventures, culminating with a famous scene involving hitchhiking showing that Colbert had a "leg up" on the competition. As they are forced to share rooms, Warne has come up with the concept of "The Walls of Jericho" a blanket thrown between a piece of rope to divide the room. Knowing this is a romantic comedy, you can guess what happens to them as they go on their journey together.

Few people could tap into the "common touch" as well as Frank Capra. He had an instinct and talent for making films that were both good AND popular. 1934 being a Depression year, he allowed us to laugh at the rich, identify with the average Joe, and yet still find the humanity in the characters. We see their attitudes toward each other (and those in their position) soften over the journey. We have the theme of the star-crossed lovers, people we KNOW should be together but for various reasons and misunderstanding aren't but that we KNOW eventually will be.

Gable gave great performances in such film as Gone With the Wind, Red Dust (and its remake Mogambo), and Mutiny on the Bounty among others. Here, in his only Oscar-winning role, he made Warne both a wise-guy and a romantic at heart. Colbert also showed the resilient, smart side to a woman detached from her fellow humans. These are two great performances that set the standard for all who followed in the romantic comedy genre.

Ultimately, you care about them and want them to be together. We cheer when "The Walls of Jericho" finally come tumbling down. A witty script, deft direction from Capra (who keeps things moving and light) and fun-filled performances from Gable and Colbert give us one of the first screwball comedies, a delightful romp that really should be better known.

It all just goes to show people have a lot of fun when It Happened One Night.


Please Visit The BEST PICTURE COLLECTION to see reviews of other winners the Academy selected.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Personal Reflections on The Rocky Horror Picture Show Experience


The Rocky Horror Picture Show is something that should be experienced, even just once, by everyone. At the Plaza Theater Classic Film Festival, it was the equivalent of being shown Out of Competition, not in the large Kendle Kidd Performance Hall or the smaller Philanthropy Theater but out in the Arts Festival Plaza, the open space between the theater and the El Paso Museum of Art.  In retrospect, I think the reason is simple: as a historic site, The Plaza Theater might not survive the audience participation The Rocky Horror Picture Show inspires.  It HAS to be held either outside or at a venue which doesn't mind cleaning up.

I've always felt that El Paso is not a town that welcomes excessive individualism. Being weird here is still frown upon, not like our state capital Austin, which revels in its eccentricities.

That is reflected in the audience at the film's screening: most people were not dressed up like the characters and were taken by surprise by the various activities that make up the RHPS Experience. For example, in the opening moments most everyone around me was thrown off by having all this rice thrown all over the place. I heard someone say, "The pigeons are going to explode". I was shocked when I saw what appeared to be pieces of bread flying through the air until I made the connection between this and Dr. Frank N. Furter's cry of "A toast!"

Yes, naïve is a quality I have in spades.

It was clear that most of the audience didn't know any of the songs, but like respectable El Pasoans sat quietly while trying to listen to them. All, except for Time Warp. That one definitely got just about everyone trying it out. The fact that it was held outside might have been the problem. Sometimes it was hard to hear what was on the screen because the true devotees were up front and the noise they made, along with the outside noises like cars, made things hard to hear at times.

For myself, I enjoyed what I could make out of the film. What I would really like to do is go to an actual theater that allows for such intense participation. The Rocky Horror Picture Show, after seeing it, was to me a cry to reject "normality" and surrender to a near-anarchy. It is the ridiculing of standard behavior (certainly by referring to the squares Brad and Janet as "Asshole" and "Slut" respectively) and the celebration of the bizarre and non-conformist that the film gets its holding power.

It appeals to all those who feel different from their peers, out of place in a world where you are not in a clique--the Jock, the Nerd, the Beautiful People. It's a cry to loose yourself from the restrictive patterns of accepted behavior.

I have nothing against non-comformity and individualism. I do have an issue with flying toast and exploding pigeons.

DECISION: B (for the viewing experience)
DECISION: C- (for the film itself)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

It Makes Sense at Midnight. A Review of The Rocky Horror Picture Show




THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW

I came into The Rocky Horror Picture Show as a complete innocent. I'd only heard about the film and its cult, but had never actually experienced either. Now that I've been "Horror-fied", I can't say I was overwhelmed by my first time.

The plot (of what can be called a plot) involves a "Criminologist" (Charles Grey) telling us the tale of Brad Majors (Barry Bostwick) and Janet Weiss (Susan Sarandon), two innocent kids who find themselves in the lunatic and decadent world of, well, freakish aliens from "Transsexual Transylvania". At the head of this merry group of hedonists is Dr. Frank N. Furter (Tim Curry) , though I've also seen it as Frank-N-Furter. He (who proclaims himself a Sweet Transvestite) has created his perfect man, Rocky (Peter Hinwood). In the course of the film, the mad doctor seduces Janet AND Brad, traps the alien-hunting Dr. Scott (Jonathan Adams), and gets them to join in the oddest cabaret show. However, the wanton immorality of Furter's world cannot be, and there's a rather sad ending to all the camp wildness.

 

I figure that the whole thing is meant to be a spoof of horror films, musicals, and films in general. It is good to know that everyone participating was in on the joke. Can't say that I was. The movie has its own logic which I couldn't get. What happened to Frank N. Furter's court once the squares were (I figure) deflowered? How do you celebrate cannibalism? As stated earlier, the ending was rather sad, given how crazy most of the film had been. Also, it didn't resolve anything: Janet, Brad, and Dr. Scott ended up in the middle of nowhere. There was no real point to their journey, and thus, no real conclusion.

That isn't to say there aren't good things in it. Tim Curry delivers a star-making performance as the demented Doctor, abandoning himself with outrageous glee to the role. He goes all in and creates a memorable performance, one that stands out for the sheer madness of the character. Also, the songs were great. Hot Patootie, Bless My Soul (sung by Meat Loaf) was great fun, as were Sweet Transvestite and the signature song, Time Warp. In fact, I would make a case that Time Warp should have been one of the 100 Greatest Film Songs in the AFI list because it's so memorable and the best known from the film.

Still, The Rocky Horror Picture Show isn't a film per se. It is an experience, and it's understandable why it has a cult following complete with people in costumes and props. As a movie itself, it doesn't quite work.

I will end with this. Every time I hear Susan Sarandon talk about something serious like the Iraq Intervention or HIV-infected Haitians, I won't be able to take her seriously because I'll picture her singing Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a Touch Me while seducing Rocky. If interested, these are some thoughts on the cult of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Personal Reflections on Gone With the Wind













I had the great opportunity to watch Gone With the Wind on the big screen as part of the Plaza Classic Film Festival. The theater was nearly full, and I thought that it was interesting that a seventy-year-old film would have this much power over audiences who would never had seen it when it debuted.

However, as I watched it, the audience reaction had me wondering about how the film is seen by today's viewer, especially one who hasn't come across it. Certain thoughts came to me, and I've decided to share them.

The first surprise was the power of Clark Gable. You have an actor who has been dead for more than forty years, yet the audience erupted into applause when he first appears on-screen. Could it be because women still swoon over him and men still want to be like him? Gable exudes masculinity and adds wit to his persona. He could always be counted to be "the man's man", which appeals to us men.

To the women, it has to be his looks (ears and all), the sense that he could love them as no other man could, and that they would be safe in his arms, as Lynn Redgrave once observed. "You should be kissed, and often, and by someone who knows how," Gable as Rhett Butler scolds Vivien Leigh's Scarlett O'Hara. The women, I imagine, feel he certainly knows how.



The second surprise came shortly after intermission. Tara had been overrun with Yankees, and here comes a Union straggler. In an act of justifiable homicide, Scarlett shoots him point-blank in the face. Again the audience spontaneously applauded. This really surprised me.

Yes, we are in Texas, but we're not THAT Southern as to still celebrate the killing of Yankees. It had to be more than that. I figured out that it was strictly audience identification. We now identified with Scarlett, to the point that some imagined themselves as Scarlett. That being the case, we couldn't allow our heroine (and by extension, ourselves) to be attacked or violated in any way. We had to fight for ourselves, and taking the deserter's life was the way to do it.
 
That showed to me the power of film, especially good ones. It is harder and harder to find films where we so completely identify with the characters on the screen. I don't know anyone who could relate to Gerard Butler in 300, Shia LeBeuof in Transformers, or Patrick Dempsey in Made of Honor. They are not only not real, they are so obviously not real.

Scarlett and Rhett on the other hand, may not be "real" in the sense that they don't exist, but are "real" in the sense that they could be, and therein lies the key. We get insight into their lives, their struggles, and we can identify with them. That is why we cheer when she commits murder: not because we think it's moral but because we believe that's what we could and should do if faced with similar circumstances.

 

This is the third surprise, and perhaps the most troubling. The audience laughed at the first appearance of Mammy, and had lots of laughs at Prissy.  OK, I confess to laughing at the infamous "I don't know nothing about birthing babies" bit.  I wish I could point to something specific: perhaps Butterfly McQueen's voice and hysterics, perhaps the idea of one of the world's first 'bitch-slaps', perhaps the somewhat overblown nature of it all. 

It made me wonder however: were they laughing at stereotypes of African-Americans? Did they find humor in images that to many African-Americans and non-African-Americans would find demeaning? I don't think so, or at least hope so.

Rather, I think the audience was laughing at the circumstances Mammy and Prissy were going into fits over. We have to remember that Mammy was yelling at Scarlett about not inviting the Tarlton twins over to supper (thus violating almost arcane standards of conduct) and it would be humorous to think a "servant" would be in a position to order someone about.

As for Prissy, Butterfly McQueen's voice did not help in taking her seriously, and she was at times silly. It's almost impossible not to laugh at her telling "Miss Scarlett", "I don't know nuthin' bout birthin' babies".

 

The fourth and final surprise, at least to me, was in how slavery itself was treated. This was the first time I really took note of the fact that Mammy (Hattie McDaniel), Prissy (Butterfly McQueen), and the male slave Pork (Oscar Polk) were never called "slaves", but "workers" or "servants", as dainty a euphemism as could be culled.

The harshest term used to refer to them to was "darkies", and while unpleasant, it is far better than the alternatives (ones that the book is full of). Gerald O'Hara at one point admonishes Scarlett that she must be firm with "inferiors" but gentle with them, especially "darkies".

That 'inferiors' thing does not sit well with me, and it adds to the myth of the "moonlight and magnolia" Old South as some marvelous fantasyland rather than one built on human misery. However, when one sees Gone With the Wind, one has to judge these things not by today's standards in the Age of Obama but by the standards of the times of both film and setting (1939 and 1865-66).

In those years, such language would not have been disturbing en masse. In reality, it would have been an improvement. In the opening, Mammy, Prissy, and Pork are not labeled the O'Hara "slaves", but their "servants". The distinction between the two worlds is an immense one, implying the three were almost there by choice. Still, I can't help but wonder when Pork asks "Miss Scarlett" who is going to milk the cow if he was hinting at something being left unspoken. "We is house...workers", he reminds her. I found that pause curious.

Could it be he couldn't bring himself to say "slave" but was sending a subliminal message to the black audiences about the truth of the situation? I have no way of knowing for certain. I can say that ultimately, the images of slavery in Gone With the Wind don't bother me only because I KNOW they are not real. For that, we have Roots: a far more accurate portrayal of the "peculiar institution".

I can't and don't endorse the film's imagery of slavery.  It is grotesque.  That being said, not only should we judge the film by the standards of the time but also understand that slavery is not the point of the film.  It's about the romance of a rather horrid woman and a misunderstood man.  Gone With the Wind is not history, but romance and fantasy.  As such, we should assess soberly the disingenuousness of how it portrays slavery without throwing out all the good things in it.  The film, while flawed in that respect, is miles ahead of something as truly vile as The Birth of a Nation.
 
Ultimately, Gone With the Wind will have a hold on audiences until the last copy disappears from history, and even then, the memory will still possess the imagination of romantics long after we've all passed from the scene. It is a Great Film, made with great care by craftsmen in front and behind the camera. Thus, it will be enjoyed by generations of film lovers.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Rose Bowl of Epic Films: The Grandaddy of 'Em All. Gone With the Wind Review



GONE WITH THE WIND (1939)

What a year 1939 was. It was the greatest year for film in history. In that year, a person could choose between Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Young Mr. Lincoln, Stagecoach, Beau Geste, and The Wizard of Oz. Out of all those epics and masterpieces, the BIG FILM was Gone With the Wind, David O. Selznick's adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. The novel had captured the imagination of Americans (think of it as the Twilight of its day, only difference being Gone With The Wind is actually well-written).

Few thought the book could be adapted into a film; the film, and Selznick in particular, would prove equal to the task.

Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh), our heroine, is a antebellum plantation owner's daughter madly in love with the dreamy (I would argue dreary) Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard). He is in love with Melanie (Olivia de Havilland). Scarlett is determined to make Ashley her own, but the dashing Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) is equally determined to make Scarlett his own. The lives and loves of these characters go on with the American Civil War as a backdrop.


What makes this a great film, so great that people will flock to watch a seventy-year-old film on the big screen? There are many components. The performances are the first part. Vivien Leigh makes Scarlett a beautiful, intelligent, and dangerous woman. She's independent, and not afraid of anything that will stand in her way of her goals, be it a man or in keeping her beloved Tara. Her performance as the original Southern belle is more remarkable given that she is not Southern or even American, but British. She not only has the physical beauty to make one believe men would kill for her, but she shows the determination to succeed, to go on, to keep fighting even when it looks like all the odds are stacked against her. There is a lot of Scarlett in Leigh: the fact that she was unknown outside America and not well-known within Britain itself but still beat out all others for the role speaks volumes about her own will and determination. Her Oscar was well-deserved.

Equal praise goes to Clark Gable. His power has not been dimmed by the years. His introduction to the film is still among the best: all he has to do is look at you, and you're powerless under his spell. His Rhett is a match for Scarlett: tough, ambitious, but also with a remarkable wisdom about himself and others. Gable also gives him a vulnerability, a soft side that makes the losses in Rhett's life all the harder to bear. De Havilland comes off strong as the seemingly weak Melanie, a woman who in Rhett's words, "had no strength, only heart". Howard has been criticized for being a weak romantic hero, especially compared to Gable. However, I argue that the whole point of Howard's Wilkes was that he was fantasy. Scarlett was in love with a fantasy, not a real person. If one takes it from that angle, one appreciates Howard's characterization much better.

Many other roles should be recognized. Hattie McDaniel became the first African-American to win an Oscar for her supporting role as Mammy. While she was a slave (curiously, a status never mentioned on screen), she was far more wise and moral than her "masters". Butterfly McQueen's Prissy, while more cartoonish by today's standards, did well when you consider that she was suppose to be the opposite of the wise Mammy. Her unmistakable voice made one of the most memorable lines in film ("I don't know nuthin' about birthin' babies") all the more memorable.

Thomas Mitchell, who would win a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for another 1939 masterpiece (Stagecoach) could easily have been nominated for his performance as Gerald O'Hara, the rough Irish proprietor of Tara. Ona Munson's Belle Watling makes the madam of Atlanta almost respectable, certainly a more complex character than the traditional "hooker with the heart of gold".


The second aspect to Gone With The Wind's greatness is the story itself. Americans (for the most part) identify with those who struggle, and there can't be a greater struggle than to pick up the pieces of your life after it's been crushed and burned to the ground by an invading army. The audience relates with Scarlett and Rhett, and want them to be triumphant, to be together. The story itself sweeps you into an idealized vision of a lost world of romance. Martin Scorsese commented once that the film unlocks the fantasy aspects in our minds, and Gone With the Wind is fantasy: romantic fantasy, and a ridiculously idealized idea of the Old South.  However, the epic sweeping nature of it just carries you totally into this lost world (mercifully so).

That being the case, the films should not be seen as being historically accurate. The portrayal of slavery in Gone With The Wind is so genteel that one wonders what all the fighting was about. We have to remember, however, this is not a history lesson or documentary. It's a romance, and it is historic fiction. We mustn't be too harsh in our judgment.

There has been a push to discredit films like Gone With the Wind and all the films it spawned: large-scale films like The Ten Commandments or Ben-Hur. They're derided as "lumbering", "excessive", "overblown". This, I believe, is quite unfair. These films last and are loved by the people because they speak to people's basic needs: partly to escape, partly to find characters that one can identify with. So long as people continue to want to triumph over all adversities, people will continue to love Gone With the Wind.

I conclude by including some thoughts on the issues Gone With The Wind brought up while watching it.

DECISION: A+

1940 Best Picture: Rebecca

Please visit the other Best Picture Winners reviews.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Schwarzenegger's First Stand. A Review of The Terminator



THE TERMINATOR

The Terminator is a rarity in films today: an action/sci-fi film that is both entertaining AND intelligent. James Cameron probably did not have in mind when he co-wrote and directed the film that it would spawn a subculture that would create other films and television programs about the characters he created. It's almost certain he didn't believe that one line delivered by a bodybuilder with an Austrian accent would become one of the most indelible catchphrases in cinema history. However, it's a good thing he didn't know what a cult this film would create. Otherwise, we wouldn't have two extraordinary films, the first being this one.

Two beings are sent from 2029 to modern-day (1984) Los Angeles. The first is The Terminator himself (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a cyborg sent on a mission: to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the future mother of the leader of the Resistance, John Connor. The second: Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), a soldier sent by John to protect Sarah. The two search out for Sarah, a waitress who becomes terrified when two women with her same name have been murdered. She is nearly killed by the Terminator but Reese saves her and after a wild car chase they are apprehended by the police. In the police station she takes refuge, but the Terminator will not stop until his mission is accomplished. Reese saves her again, and they flee toward the mountain home of her mother with the cyborg in pursuit. At this point, there's a twist in the plot that I can't give away but that should be obvious.

This is the film that made Arnold a star and a one-word name. It took just three words to put him in a league of his own. Contrary to myth and impersonators, "I'll be back" was, to my ears, pronounced rather normally, albeit robotically (which was the correct interpretation). I didn't hear "Bach" but "Back", but that somehow has entered into the American lexicon. His performance was pitch-perfect for the character he plays: he's suppose to be a machine, and he speaks his lines like a machine. In the movie, he's a terrifying force: an unfeeling, unreasoning killing machine that won't be satisfied until it destroys what it came to destroy (a bit like al-Qaeda). His relentless pursuit is what gives the film the extra sense of terror: nothing can stop him. Well, almost nothing.

Linda Hamilton makes her first turn as Sarah Connor a vulnerable woman, caught in circumstances she can't possibly understand but realizing that she HAS to live, to survive. This is at the heart of the picture: her unwillingness to be killed versus the Terminator's inability to let her live.

Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese brings both strength and a hint of sadness to the role, fitting for someone who has lived his whole life in a post-apocalyptic world.



I've had my issues with Cameron (Titanic being THE BIG ONE), but when it comes to science-fiction films, he is among the best. The plot makes sense, and the performances both large and small (such as Paul Winfield as a cop investigating the killings of the Sarah Connors) are effective and efficient. Also, the special effects still hold up quite well. Certainly, they are not in the category of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which along with The Matrix pushed visual effects to a greater level of ingenuity. However, so many years after its release, they still look good. That is one of the hallmarks of a great film. They do something that a lot of films with more elaborate effects cannot: they serve the story rather than showcase the technology itself.

The world of the Terminator has taken on a life of its own. There are movies, television shows, I suspect comics dealing with this world.  There's even an experience at the Universal Studios.  It's tapped into the fear of the future many people have, of technology run amok, but also into the belief that the future is not written and can be changed. The Terminator, as a film, does its dual jobs well. It tells a fascinating story well and in an entertaining manner. It is one of the best sci-fi films of the past twenty-five years, and a standard for the genre.

DECISION: A-

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Necrophilia Was Never THIS Weird. A Review of Vertigo


VERTIGO

While Alfred Hitchcock is called (correctly) The Master of Suspense, it appears to me that few of his films involve suspense exclusively. Some of his very best films are about love with the veneer of suspense: Notorious comes quickly to mind, as does Spellbound or Rebecca.

Vertigo, one of his greatest films, is also about love: a very twisted love, built on obsession that borders on necrophilia, if not actually about that.

Jimmy Stewart is John "Scottie" Ferguson, a San Francisco cop who has to retire from the force after his fear of heights and accompanying vertigo causes the death of a fellow officer. He soon is contacted by an old Army buddy, who asks him to follow his wife Madeleine (Kim Novak). He says that his wife believes she's being taken over by the spirit of a dead ancestor and fears for her life. Scottie agrees, and after he rescues her after she jumps into San Francisco Bay they fall in love. He tries to help her solve the mystery within her mind, but the pull of death is too strong. She throws herself off a church bell tower, and Scottie cannot save her because of his acrophobia. Madeleine's death plunges Scottie into a complete breakdown, from which his best friend and former fiancée (Barbara Bel Geddes) cannot help him emerge from. Eventually, he recovers, but it's an empty recovery. He haunts all the places they would go, following the trail he would use to follow Madeleine when she lived. In one of his wanderings, he finds Judy, who bears a striking resemblance to his lost love...

While there is a mystery within Vertigo, the film is really about how love can be an illusion, and that the illusion can grow into an obsession that destroys all those that come in contact with it. Scottie becomes so obsessed with Madeleine that once she leaves, he tries to recreate her in Judy. His obsession with his memories takes on a doomed nature, where in his fragile mind he soon no longer can tell reality from fantasy. His methodical way of recreating Madeleine becomes possessive, and when Judy reemerges to fit his fantasy world it's as if the line separating reality and fantasy blur into ultimate tragedy.

Stewart's performance is among his greatest. There is no folksy down-home mannerisms to his Scottie. He's a man obsessed, unhinged, totally given over to love that he sacrifices sanity to keep his myth of love alive. Novak also shines in her role, the object of a man's desire who would go along with his madness for the sake of love. Barbara Bel Geddes brings a touch of humor but also of pathos as the woman who loves Scottie but cannot save him from himself.

Hitchcock creates one of the greatest films of all time, and his skills are unmatched in capturing the subconscious. For example, when Stewart is getting the backstory of Carlotta Valdes, the ancestor, note the lighting in the room. It's a brilliant piece of directing. Also, note how there are long periods when there is no dialogue, only the music to provide the mood. This is the place where special recognition needs to go to Bernard Herrmann. His score evokes the intense longing in the characters, their doomed romance, even the swirling nature of the plot. The fact that Herrmann, along with Stewart, Novak, Hitchcock, and the film itself all failed to get Oscar nominations in their respective categories borders on the insane.

The Best Picture of 1958 according to the Academy was Gigi.  Think on that for a moment.

Vertigo is a dizzying exploration into the madness of obsessive love. It's an intense, mournful experience. It is also one of the Greatest Films Ever Made.

DECISION: A+

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Good Night, Honey. God Speed. Some Like It Hot Review


SOME LIKE IT HOT

Marilyn Monroe was an incredible mix of beauty and vulnerability. She was a figure who easily inspired lust just by looking at her. However, as soon as you heard her speak, she inspired another desire: to protect her. It's unfortunate that she valued herself so little, and that critics of her time valued her less. Still, we have the proof that she was a first-rate talent, and Exhibit A is Some Like It Hot.

Billy Wilder's farce is about two musicians: tenor sax Joe (Tony Curtis) & bass fiddle Jerry (Jack Lemmon), in the wild days of Prohibition-era Chicago. After the speakeasy they work at is raided and its owner, mobster Spats Columbo (George Raft) is arrested, they seek their next gig. While getting the car Joe sweet talked his way into borrowing, they end up witnessing the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. On the run from Spats, they escape in the last place the mobster & his henchmen would ever think of looking for them: as the newest members of an all-GIRL band.

Now, tenor sax "Josephine" and bass fiddle "Daphne" find themselves falling for the charms of voluptuous singer Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe). The band heads on down to Florida, where Joe (disguised as oil heir "Shell Oil, Jr.") woos Sugar, while "Daphne" fights off the amorous advances of Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown), a very randy and eager old playboy. However, there's a hitch: guess who's having a Mob Convention in the same resort?

The comedy comes from the sheer outrageousness of the plot. No one could possibly believe Josephine & Daphne are real women (Monroe, in fact, resisted playing the role because she thought it would make her look too stupid). That's all part of the fun. Lemmon's Oscar-nominated performance shows him to be a first-rate actor. He gives Jerry/Daphne a wild sense of abandon, someone who would be so suggestible that he could TALK himself into believing he really was a girl. The train sequence when he ends up having a party with all the "other" girls is hilarious because we know just how difficult it is for him to resist all that candy. However, when he ends up willingly engaged to Brown's Osgood, he becomes a man/woman unchained from any sense of sanity other than his own. When Joe asks him, "Why would a guy want to marry another guy?", Daphne/Jerry's answer, "For security!", makes sense in the oddest way.

This doesn't take away from Curtis' best performance, and few have acknowledged the difficulty he faced with playing THREE characters: Joe/Josephine/Shell Oil Jr. The latter is a bit of a send-up of Cary Grant, but he carries it off brilliantly (no pun intended). He goes full circle from being a shameless womanizer who would take advantage of Sugar to a guy who has really fallen for her and wants to protect him from guys like him.

 

The greatest recognition, however, has to go to Monroe. She takes a character that she's played before (the dumb blonde) and gives her a world-weariness and intense vulnerability, something she took from her real life. The stories of her being difficult on the set are legendary: how she needed cue cards to memorize short lines of dialogue or how she needed something like twenty takes to say "Where's that bourbon?" However, Wilder was right to assess that ON the screen, she was magic.

Her performance is the highlight of the film, at both comic and tragic. I read somewhere that two songs she sings in the film accurately reflect her life, I Want to Be Loved By You and I'm Through With Love. Watch the scene where "Shell Oil, Jr." calls to tell her that they will never see each other again and see if she doesn't communicate her heartache. Whatever problems she had, whatever torments she was enduring, she never failed when she went before the cameras.

With standout performances by Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and especially Marilyn Monroe and masterful directing by Billy Wilder, Some Like It Hot is a bright film that takes an outlandish idea, runs with it, and makes it if not believable at least plausible in its world.  Some Like It Hot was voted the funniest film by the American Film Institute. It is difficult to say if it's the FUNNIEST film ever made, but it certainly is one of the best.

It's true: Nobody's Perfect, but Some Like It Hot is pretty close to it.

 

Friday, August 7, 2009

Like All Vampires, It's Lifeless and It Sucks. Twilight Review (Review #13)


TWILIGHT (2008)  

Twilight in short, is the erotic fantasy life of someone with the mind of a 14-year-old girl.

It was the worse experience I've ever had in terms of literature. I tried reading it twice, but couldn't get through the insipidness of the writing; it tries the patience of anyone over 16 (physically or mentally) to read endlessly about the perfection and beauty that is EDWARD CULLEN. I resorted to the audio book, and even that was a struggle. I don't know if you were suppose to laugh at certain parts, but it was impossible not to. When the protagonist, Bella Swann (or as I lovingly call her given her predilection for perpetual pining over EDWARD CULLEN, Bella Swoon), said, "His skin...literally sparkled", I howled with laughter for 5 miles. Such lines as "It was the first night that I dreamt of EDWARD CULLEN" or "I couldn't believe that someone as beautiful as EDWARD CULLEN would be speaking to me" are bound to make anyone with an I.Q. of 100 burst into fits of laughter.

It was only a matter of time until we got the film version, and to be fair Twilight sticks close to the novel.  That is also its curse, as there was no great improvement on any level to make one of the most truly dreadful films of Young Adult fiction (with the rest of this series...excuse me, SAGA) probably being equally bad throughout).

Bella Swann (Kristen Stewart) moves from sunny Phoenix to rainy Forks, Washington to live with her father, Police Chief Charlie Swann (Billy Burke). There, she encounters the Cullen family, whom all the kids at Forks High are fascinated by due to their ethereal beauty and perfection.

Chief among the perfect people is EDWARD CULLEN (Robert Pattinson), the most perfect being to ever walk the earth (who was not actually divine). Amazingly, EDWARD CULLEN notices Bella, and even more amazingly, EDWARD CULLEN becomes attracted to her, and soon, EDWARD CULLEN cannot deny his passion for her. Someone as beautiful as EDWARD CULLEN is in love with her.

Eventually, she discovers EDWARD CULLEN'S secret: he & his "family" are vampires, but their "good" vampires since they don't drink human blood. This condition does make their mutual desire all the more difficult to consummate. Near the end of the book, another group of vampires threatens her life, and EDWARD CULLEN saves her. Add to all that a potential love rival in Native American Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), who also is beautiful, though not as beautiful as EDWARD CULLEN, who may be a werewolf, and you have the first part of this "saga".

 
There were a couple of improvements in the film version to the novel. First, all the boys at Forks High were not as obsessed about Bella in the movie as they were in the book. It seemed in the novel that every guy wanted to BE with her in every way possible, falling all over themselves to make this "plain Jane" theirs. Second, there was an element of danger introduced earlier in the film with a series of killings, while 9/10ths of the book itself delved endlessly about Bella's obsession with EDWARD CULLEN and his perfection. Finally, we didn't have to hear the name EDWARD CULLEN repeated so much. In the book, every single person in town (Bella, her father, their classmates, their teachers, EVERYONE) refers to him by his full name. He's never Ed, Eddie, Edster, or as I call him, Sullen Cullen. He is always EDWARD CULLEN. This endless repetition soon starts taking on the form of a deranged mantra, to the point where it becomes another thing to laugh at.
As a film, however, it takes already pretty weak material and stomps it to death.

In order to capture the nearly-eternal cloudiness of Forks, the movie has this hazy shade of grey almost all the time, even with scenes taking place inside. It's as if no light ever comes into any room. Not only does it become distracting, it becomes ridiculous and unrealistic.

There is also the problem with the length, not so much of the movie but with the source material. It makes the romance between Bella and EDWARD CULLEN appear very rushed. The sheer scope of the book's narrative made it impossible for the romance to blossom on the screen. In short, it had to be done quickly in order to move on to more important things, like a Vampire Baseball Game (let's thank God it wasn't cricket).


Worse sin of all is the performances themselves. The film was cast to compliment everyone's near total inability to act. The scene in the hospital with Bella, Tyler (Gregory Tyree Boyce), Chief Swann and Dr. Cullen (Peter Facinelli) will be studied in acting schools forever, under the heading, "Don't Let This Happen to You". No one gave a hint of any actual emotion, and none of them were any good in reciting their lines either. In the book, Dr. Cullen was described as an amazingly beautiful creature. As visualized by Peter Facinelli, with his light blond hair, chalky face, and bright red lips, he ended up looking like the Joker's bastard son.

The whole scene had me bursting with laughter at how horrible the acting was. Chief among the lousy performances was the Chief himself. Billy Burke spoke the lines with the conviction of a not-too-eager middle school theater arts student. It would have been better to have gotten the other Billie Burke, even if she has been dead for decades now--she at least could ACTUALLY act.

Another horror was Jackson Rathbone's Jasper (I pray no relation to actual actor Basil). When the Cullen family make their debut in the cafeteria, I wouldn't have thought they were beautiful. I would have thought they were on their way to perform at a Kabuki theater. Specifically with Rathbone, whenever I saw him on screen, with his upswept hair, bulging eyes, confused expression, and little dialogue, he reminded me, not of a perfect being, but of Beaker from The Muppet Show.

He doesn't compare to an even worse performance by Cam Gigandet (which I learned is pronounced Ji-gahn-DEY, not GIG-an-det) as James. However, there's nothing giant about his acting. He was lousy on The O.C., and he was lousy here. Does anyone else sense a pattern? In fact, all the villainous vampires were pretty bad. Their entrance was wildly and obviously overly cinematic (i.e. it looked fake), capping off some of the weakest special effects since Howard the Duck. When EDWARD CULLEN'S skin was suppose to sparkle, it just looked like he was reflecting sweat.

Only Ashley Green as Alice brought any sense of fun to her performance. Her performance was the most "human" of the vampires, but at least she had a personality that stood out from all the others.

As for the leads, I will give credit to Robert Pattinson for speaking with a very convincing American accent, although he had little to do except look longingly and beautiful. Since that was all that was asked of EDWARD CULLEN, I guess he did it well, albeit without any hint of what can be called emotional range.

However weak his performance, it was Kennedy Center Honors-worthy compared to Kristen Stewart's Bella Swoon. She looked perpetually dazed and never spoke like anything resembling an actual person. Her constant protest of love to and for EDWARD CULLEN were in a curious monotone. In her efforts to appear the Everygirl, she only succeeded in making the Everygirl a whiny, brainless twit. Finally, Taylor Lautner's Jacob Black had little to do, so it will be hard to judge whether he can actually act.

Watching the film, a song that I heard in a Goth bar came to mind. I can't remember who sang it, but it describes the performances en masse. It was a catchy little ditty called "Christian Zombie Vampires". Take the 'Christian' out (maybe substitute 'Mormon'), and that's what you have: Vampires who look and behave like Zombies.

 
There are some positive things to Twilight. I think it's a positive both in the book and film to see Native Americans portrayed as regular people, not as either bloodthirsty savages or superior spiritual beings. I also commend the film for having a multi-ethnic cast. We had an Asian in Eric and an African-American as Tyler (I guess the Hispanics were too busy in the cafeteria kitchen to notice all the goings-on around them). The fact that it's making positive steps in portrayals of minorities does not remove the fact that the actors were themselves still pretty awful.

The book is trash. The movie is trash. The fact that it's insanely popular should not be a surprise. The fact that people think it's Good (as in it's quality stuff) is a sign of THE END OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION. It's a case of projection: every girl sees herself in Bella: not particularly beautiful, or smart, or talented, or athletic. Yet she knows that there is something special about her. Then comes the Perfect Man: handsome, muscular, mysterious, brooding, who notices her, sees her as she really is: a beautiful woman, worthy of love, of inspiring passion. He's been waiting for her, longs for her, wants her, but he resists his desire to use her because he loves her. That's what girls respond to, not its literary qualities (of which there are none).

This is the thing one has to remember about its rabid fans: they don't care the book is lousy (or for that matter, that the movie is equally lousy). They're too busy obsessing over the pseudo-romance between its main characters to notice that it's the dumbest thing to have ever achieve popularity. Either Stephanie Meyer KNOWS she has no talent for writing or she doesn't. If she knows, then I congratulate her for taking Steve Miller's advise to "take the money and run". If she doesn't, she has deluded herself into thinking she will rank among the likes of Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, or Anne Rice. That, my dear Mrs. Meyer, is as likely as Lady Gaga being the new Ella Fitzgerald.

In conclusion, this will appeal to the "Twilight Twits", those ABSOLUTELY convinced the books are the Citizen Kane of Vampire Literature (or ALL literature). To the rest of the world, one will wonder what all the fuss was about. To misquote from another (and far better love story), "For never was a tale told more woefully, than that of Bella Swoon, and her Sullen Cullen".



POST-SCRIPT: Riddle me this, Twilight Twits. Remember that scene in the ballet school where James and EDWARD CULLEN fight? If I know my vampire lore (and I think I do), vampires cast no reflection. Why is it then that their faces appear in the mirror? Here are more thoughts on the Twilight Series...excuse me, SAGA.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Plaza Classic Film Festival 2009: An Introduction

 

It's good to see movies being shown at the Plaza Theater again. The first festival was sensational (although the Western-themed opening light show did get on my nerves after the fifth time). In any case, we're at it again, and I intend to report on the films I see. Last year, it was seven. This year, I've got tickets to four already. If all goes well, I might go for nine! I really should ask for vacation time in early August.

What's great about the festival is that people get a chance to be exposed to GREAT films in a great setting. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I have nothing against multiplexes. However, they strip away some of the elegance that there was to seeing a movie. Movies used to be an event, something you did that was to be savored. Today, it seems the most important thing is how much money a film made the first week-end, as if the total it takes in equals the quality. Seeing a movie in a Movie Palace like the Plaza and seeing it in a multiplex is like the difference between making love and having sex: both are the same activity, but the first involves passion, the second merely mechanics.

 

It's unfortunate that too many people nowadays have been robbed of a true Movie Watching Experience. Places like the Plaza Theater remind people that once, not too long ago, the cinema wasn't a place where one sat passively and let the images ooze into your brain. Rather, YOU became a participant in the joys, pains, struggles, and/or triumphs of the characters on the screen. We laughed WITH the Marx Brothers, wept WITH Davis & Crawford, sang & danced WITH Mickey & Judy, fell in love WITH and ALONGSIDE Bogart & Bacall.

Think on 1940: an audience could laugh about Hitler via Chaplin (The Great Dictator), rage or sympathize (even empathize) against the injustice that the Joad family struggled against (The Grapes of Wrath), and/or tremble as the fearsome Mrs. Danvers tormented the second Mrs. DeWinter (Rebecca). Will one have the same emotional connection to Optimus Prime as one can have with any of the above? I doubt it.

Yes, I might be a touch prejudiced in this matter, but I get the sense that the films that will be shown at the Plaza these eleven days are great because they allow for audience participation (and in the case of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the participation is quite literal). Even the more recent fare (such as The Terminator and Alien) rank among the greatest made because they follow one of my Golden Rules of Filmmaking: Creating Empathetic Characters Will Almost Always Guarantee a Great Film. One can enjoy a movie with no real value (I, for example, am unrepentant about liking Eurotrip and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Don't even get me started on Santa Claus Conquers the Martians). However, I recognize they aren't in the same league as Some Like It Hot, Roman Holiday, Vertigo, Cabaret, or The Hidden Fortress.

That leads me to my second point. These films should be seen by everyone, and to those who've never seen them but are going to, you're in for a real treat. You'll discover movies can be good AS WELL AS fun. Tragically, many people won't go, not because they can't but because they don't "want to be bored". They've judged something without even knowing what it is they're condemning. I've actually heard all the following complaints verbatim:

"Some Like It Hot? A black-and-white movie with a bunch of dead people in it?" (For the record, as of this writing Tony Curtis is very much alive).
 
"Roman Holiday, that's a chick-flick, but I bet it's not as good as Made of Honor".

"The 400 Blows? Sounds like a porno (he-he). The Hidden Fortress? That sounds interesting, though. What? Both are NOT IN ENGLISH?! Then I'm DEFINITELY NOT watching those! I can't watch a movie AND read subtitles AT THE SAME TIME!" (Curious, that never stopped anyone from watching The Godfather or The Godfather, Part II. Funny that).

Frankly my dears, I don't give a damn. Those who think this, in my view, are narrow-minded and stupid. "Look at me; I can bench-press my weight, but I'm scared of Liza Minnelli! I'm so frightened of kids speaking French!" Wimps. Free your mind/and the rest will follow. Well, c'est la vie.

For myself, I hope to enjoy movies I've loved on the BIG screen, and maybe discover one or two I have only heard about.  I look forward to this year's Plaza Classic Film Festival, and many more.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

I'm Just Mild About Harry. An Introduction to The Harry Potter Retrospective



The Harry Potter series (book and film) is a phenomena that I can't get into and don't understand. However, since they are dominating the world of children's literature and are beloved by critics, I thought it would be good to take another look at the series as a whole.
There are two questions that are asked about Harry Potter: A.) Are they good, and, B.) Are they dangerous? Let me answer the first one first.

In terms actual literature, my answer is No. In fairness, I've only read one Harry Potter book (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone), and I didn't like it. Mind you, I think it's a good IDEA for a story: a school where kids learn to be wizards is fantastic, and fantastical. Let's face it: wizards are cool.

However, I have serious problems with its execution. I HATE the portrayal of the Dursleys--they make the orphanage in Oliver Twist look like Candyland--and I think it was a mistake to reveal all (pun intended) at the very beginning. It would have worked better in my view if we (and Harry) learn gradually that he is a wizard. I think there should have been an air of mystery to it all, rather than explain EVERYTHING at the outset.

I also object strongly to Harry's size (no pun intended). The first two (Sorcerer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets) were a decent length for children's stories. While Prisoner of Azkaban is a bit long, it's still serviceable. All the others after that: Goblet of Fire, Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince, and especially Deathly Hallows, are far too long for children. I get the sense that either A.) J.K. Rowling let the story get away from her, or B.) she was convinced (or convinced herself) that she was writing an EPIC in the style of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia or J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.
 
Imagine if someone tried to collect all seven Potter books into one (The Chronicles of Harry Potter). It would be impossible. When you consider that all seven Narnia books are about the same length as Deathly Hallows, you can't help but wonder which one will be easier and/or better for children.

I admire her efforts, but I doubt Harry Potter will achieve the status of other children's stories like the Narnia stories or Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, or The Hobbit. Few books for children embraced by kids achieve the status of Great Literature. If one notices, all the other aforementioned books work on TWO levels: as stories or allegories. Harry Potter doesn't.

Finally, let's face it: children are, on the whole, not the best arbiters of what is good literature and what isn't. Time will tell if Harry Potter really stands the test of time or if it relegated to a less lofty status.

 

Now, Question Two. The question of the dangers of Potter is primarily a Christian question, predominantly in evangelical/Protestant quarters. There are those who believe the Potter books are the marijuana of Satanism: the gateway drug that will plunge children's souls into eternal damnation. A smaller group sees them as almost a mirror image of Christianity. Let me tackle the second.

For those who hold that Harry's parents sacrificing themselves to save their son is reflective of Christ's sacrificial death for us: You Are Idiots. Rowling, I doubt, ever had that in mind, so dismiss such thoughts.

As for those who believe "Pot is to Heroin as Potter is to Hell", you don't win converts by not only burning the books but by taking pride in such acts. It only makes you look Fascist and remarkably ignorant and superstitious. The fact that some of these Book Burners also condemn J.R.R. Tolkien (a man of most Catholic values) and even C.S. Lewis (the greatest Christian thinker of the 20th Century) makes you lose credibility. Censorship (the act of forbidding people to read/see things for their own protection) is barbarism. Parents have every right to decide what is appropriate for their children. Self-appointed guardians do not. Whatever your objections, state your case and you shall have a fair hearing, but do not justify your Fahrenheit 451 actions by invoking the Blood of Christ. Debate, reason, intellect: that defeats your enemies, not Gestapo-like tactics. You may think you're doing the Lord's work, but you're more Torquemada than St. Francis.

I can only offer my view, and it is this. I DO NOT believe reading Harry Potter books will lead children to become Satanist or break out the Ouija boards. I don't see it as harmless fantasy because it does harm children. It harms them by thinking this is good writing. It's a bit like what the Twilight series (excuse me, SAGA) is to teenage girls: harmful if accepted as good writing, but not harmful because in truth, the stories can't be believed or taken seriously.

I can only judge by my experiences. I grew up reading such things as Encyclopedia Brown and The Three Investigators, and my favorite T.V. show growing up was Hunter. Surprisingly enough, reading all those books didn't make me want to be a policeman or detective, and the show did not desensitize me to crime and murders. Even though I think children are not as bright as adults, I have trust that they CAN distinguish between reality and fantasy.

It is true: I wouldn't like my children to read Harry Potter, but not because I fear they would start performing occult ceremonies after Nap Time. Rather, I object to the killings galore in the books, and I find the size of the latter books far too much for children to handle.

Finally, I state here and now that I reject the idea that the Harry Potter books gets kids excited about reading. It gets them excited about reading more Harry Potter, but that's different. I've never heard of a case where after finishing Deathly Hallows, a ten year old rushes out to get his/her hands on War and Peace or And Then There Were None. Children respond to the fantasy elements in the books. I have a sense that when they grow up, they may see it as either a cherished childhood memory or an embarrassment as to how they could like something so awful.

 

Now, at last, as for the films. Since I've only read one I can only judge by what I see on the screen. I intend to do so, by going through every Harry Potter movie currently available. Which one is the best? Which one is the worst? Why is that? Why are some of Britain's greatest actors vying for roles as if they were being asked to perform Shakespeare? The movies have talents such as Richard Harris & Michael Gambon, Dame Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltraine and Alan Rickman--and those are the regulars. Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, David Tennant, John Hurt, Ralph Fiennes--all great actors eager to be connected to it. I imagine it's because they are insanely popular, but there it is.

Harry Potter vs. Rick's Cafe Texan. Let the Quidditch match begin!