Olympics

Every four years we gather around the television to watch the Olympics.  It’s exciting, arouses national pride, and the spectacle is unparalleled.

Unfortunately the Olympics are at times a mixed bag of celebration and outrage.  And for all the pride, joy and ecstasy they arouse they are at times matched by outrage.

As far as outrage goes there is always one big thing to be outraged by: steroids.  It’s common knowledge that almost all of the Olympic competitors are using performance enhancing drugs, in some sports more than others. Weightlifting, cycling and track and field have proven track records of being the dirtiest sports.  At least, they’re caught the most often which probably means they’re the dirtiest.   But that doesn’t mean performance enhancing drugs aren’t involved in sports like gymnastics, basketball or rowing.

And with world records being broken year after year, Olympics after Olympics, we start to grow numb due to the knowledge that these athletes are competing with advantages totally surpassing those of the competitors years ago.  On the other hand it seems every time Usain Bolt sets a record we choose to look the other way because he’s funny and sponsored by McDonalds.

The other form of outrage tends to vary by location.  This year (2016) the Olympics are in Rio, Brazil.  Brazil is wildly corrupt and ridden with poverty, and the corruption and poverty have been well documented leading up to the Olympics.  This has had the effect of making me, personally feel guilty even watching.  I saw a photo taken of the stadium erupting in the beautiful light of fireworks.  But the photo was taken from one of the hills behind Rio with a group of impoverished children, dressed in rags, in the foreground, looking at the stadium.

While the government of Brazil is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to host the Olympics children are literally starving and dying of poor water and nutrition everyday.

And still I watch.  What a mess.

And then there’s the topic of the treatment of Olympic athletes after retirement.  China is known to have former Olympians living on its streets because they weren’t equipped to provide for themselves once they were no longer athletes or taken care of by the government.

The United States is better but not by much.  We fund almost none of our Olympic athletes and even tax them on their way back in to the country on whatever they won.

My friend Steve was an Olympic competitor on the men’s water polo team back in 2000.  He shares stories of many very unremarkable aspects of being an Olympic competitor (like poor living conditions while competing).

But after devoting his life to being an Olympian he had nothing when it was over with.  No care from the government, no preparedness to deal with bills, get a loan or even how to get a job.  Steve was lucky his dad was a plumber and so Steve was able to go into plumbing after years in trade school and apprenticeship.  He now runs a successful plumbing business that can be viewed here but not all Olympic athletes are as fortunate as him.

So while it’s fine to enjoy the Olympics and feel patriotic, remember those less fortunate who might not even have a television to watch on while living a mile from the stadium.  Be thankful for what you have and don’t take any of it for granted.

Joker

So, I saw Suicide Squad.

No it didn’t suck.  In short terms I would just say it was crowded.  There were tons of awesome characters but there were almost too many.

You’ll love Harley Quinn.  You’ll love Deadeye.  You’ll love Killer Croc.  And, yes, you’ll love The Joker.

But that’s just the problem.  In a single 123 minute movie they try and give you backstory for all these characters, develop them, and then try and throw a meaningful antagonist into the mix.  This movie had massive potential, almost too much for its own good.

That being said I did enjoy it, would watch it again, and really really really want them to make an entire movie about Harley Quinn and The Joker.

They were both so convincingly insane and awesome.  Their costumes, make up, weapons, and even lingo was perfect.  I’m not a die hard comic book fan so I can’t tell you too much about how true they were to the canon, but they were awesome from an entertainment point of view.  Here’s a sweet video of The Joker:

 

Yes, if they make an entire film about The Joker it will be awesome, you will love it, and it would be almost impossible to screw up.

Quentin

You guys.  If you find yourself surfing Netflix aimlessly for something to kill your time (I should say WHEN you find yourself surfing Netflix aimlessly), just stop and look up anything by Quentin Tarantino.

Of course Tarantino might not be your cup of tea.  But that’s just the point.  Most movies aren’t cups of tea at all.  They’re cups of luke-warm water.  They have no flavor, no temperature, take no risks.

Whether you appreciate Tarantino or not you must admit his movies are at least distinctive, a quality I believe grows more valuable by the day as big movie studios turn to rehash after remake for material.

It gets old, doesn’t it?  Watching remakes of old classics (or non-classics) over and over?   Remakes can be spectacular but when they become the majority of film selections available you start to feel like a lot of someones somewhere don’t have any imagination.

Quentin has imagination.  Quentin knows what he likes and he makes movies that fit his own personal tastes.  His movies reflect this of course.  Crazy, over the top characters, absolutely wild and unique story lines and, of course, gore.  This brings me to another point.

Have an opinion.  I know the word “opinion” is used too much and in the wrong ways by “victims” on social media and crap like that.  But when it comes to movies have a taste, have something you love about movies that other people don’t.  Learn to think, process and digest the movies you watch.

But don’t be an idiot.  Don’t hate a scary movies because the monster wasn’t cool enough or because it wasn’t revealed at the end.  Don’t hate a movie because the ending wasn’t necessarily happy or didn’t have closure (that was the point you moron).  Know when you’re watching a movie who’s plot was constructed by a bunch of suits on a tall corporation tower, meticulously constructing it so as to reach the most demographics, not take any risks and make the most money.

Appreciate movies that have flavor.  Not everyone has to like Indonesian fair trade coffee black made in a Chemex.  But don’t tell me it’s less than room temperature water.  Don’t like it but be OK with things being unique and purposeful.

Way to go Quentin.  Keep at it.  Thanks for giving us Hans Landa and Django.

Babadook

While I love science fiction and fantasy my second favorite movie genre just might be horror.  “Horror” might be a strong word.  It’s certainly broad.  I’m not necessarily a fan of gore or jump-scares or the grotesque (I guess jump-scares are pretty cool sometimes).  There’s a plethora of classic horror films I have no care to see, like the Saw films, Texas Chainsaw Massacre or anything similar to those movies.

I actually don’t mind demonic films.  It just happens to be the most trite and cheap type of horror film out there. There are definitely a few exceptional demonic films, like Paranormal Activity or The Exorcist (which I don’t even like because of how true horrifying it is).

My all-time favorite scary movie was The Ring for a long while.  I watched it at an impressionable age and have continued to enjoy it since.  It truly creates a dreadful atmosphere while delivering a monster with no explanation or metaphysic.  This girl just crawls out of the television and kills you somehow.  Don’t overthink it, it just happens.

But The Ring was just recently overtaken as my all-time favorite.  The Babadook.  The Babadook has become my all-time favorite scary movie.

Firstly, don’t scoff at me talking in terms of “favorite” or “all-time favorite”.  While it’s viewed as very immature or non-adult to talk in such terms, I think it’s very respectable and helps tremendously with conversation.  Without getting too attached to your favorite or whatever it’s good to have something in the bag in case someone asks or you’re trying to generate conversation with someone.

Secondly, The Babadook is freaking awesome.  If you haven’t seen it it’s on Netflix.  Watch it now.  Because SPOILERS ARE COMING.

Too many scary movies are about just that and nothing more, the scare.  They aim too low in their objective.  That’s how you get a million demon movies, a million gross medical movies or gory films.  Not that any of those sub-genres are inherently worse than the other, it’s just that films that care only about making you jump or squeal end up devolving into cheap trick machines.  They don’t create anything new or add to the discussion about human fear.

The Babadook is not like this.  The Babadook, like The Ring, creates a spectacular sense of dread and sorrow.  It’s about a single mother and her son, like The Ring.  But, unlike The Ring, there is as much tension between the mother and her son as there is between the family and the thing haunting them.  This is what makes the Babadook great.

While the Babadook itself is an unexplained entity that you just gotta go with and not think about too much, it’s not just a random bad thing wanting to do bad stuff.  It seems to show up because of and then feed off of the stress in the relationship between Amelia and Samuel.  You see, Samuel was born the day his father died.  Amelia and her husband were on the way to the hospital to deliver Samuel when they’re in a car accident that left the husband dead. Since then Samuel has never been allowed to celebrate his birthday on his actual birthday because it’s also the anniversary of his father’s death.

Amelia has at times secretly wished her husband had lived instead of Samuel.  The Babadook plays off this and gains strength from it and isn’t defeated until Amelia decides to fight for her son and be thankful for who he is.  The climax is absolutely epic.  The Babadook repeatedly presents itself to Amelia as her husband, obviously shaking her up, and says they can be together if she will just give up Samuel.  She ultimately denies her secret longing and chooses her son, screaming at the Babadook, “If you touch my son again I’ll FUCKING KILL YOU!!!”  It’s a phenomenal climax to a phenomenal movie that’s ultimately about not just fear, but human suffering, love and will.

Amelia overcomes the Babadook by overcoming her unhealthy coping with her husbands death.

The cherry on top  of this awesome ending is that the Babadook doesn’t actually die or leave but moves into the basement, where Amelia has also stored all her husbands things.  She has to regularly enter the basement to continually face the Babadook and, wonderfully, feed it worms.  Each time she feeds it it gets less angry and powerful and she grows stronger as a person.

I loved this movie as a fan of scary movies and as a parent.  The climax was nothing short of beautiful as her raging and jealous love for her son finally wins out over her grief and self-pity.

This film raised the standard by which I judge all movies, let alone scary ones.  The human story combined with the mysterious and super creepy haunting entity attached to it was fantastic.   I hope more filmmakers will aim as high as The Babadook did.

Lost

We’re gonna do something new with this post and not only talk about a TV show but talk about one of the most negatively remembered shows of all time (relative to its actual success as  a show).  The show we’re gonna talk about is Lost.

You may be moaning and rolling your eyes- don’t!  Bear with me.  You know you watched every season, dying each week for the next episode to relieve the tension left by the last, for it to answer your questions, only to have each episode and season create more tension and questions and ultimately not really answering any questions at all.

Now, true as that may be, let us not all forget how enthralled we all truly were by this show!  At the time there had never been anything quite like it.  The theme, the mystery, the fragmented storytelling was all so riveting.  Rarely has any show combined the normal world with survival and even the supernatural as well as Lost.  And each layer of mystery we did uncover simultaneously revealed two more.  Don’t act like you weren’t addicted!

I’ll personally never forget how exciting and terrifying it was when Jack (or whoever it was) first found the door leading to the underground bunker.  Here you are lost on this remote island with no civilization and you find a government-esque looking door leading underground?  WTF?  Wow was that awesome.

Then once we find out what was underground and what was going on (i.e. the weird clock and the guy resetting every so often) we still had no idea why the clock had to be reset!  That entire segment of the show was masterful.  Of course things kinda got out of whack when we started traveling through time and to and from the island or whatever, but I’m not sure I’ve yet to encounter another television show that inspired as much fear and curiosity as Lost did.

Sure, it’s ending basically undid everything that happened and both didn’t answer our questions and told us it was all basically just a pointless dream or whatever (not sure anyone really knows what we saw!).  But let us not forget how we felt episode after episode, season after season arguing with our friends and theorizing constantly about how the ship got stuck in the tree and what the hell was that black smoke stuff.

Here’s to a show someday inspiring the same excitement and anxiety as Lost did so many years ago!

Cheers!

Villains

They seem to make or break a film don’t they, villains?  No Country For Old Men was special largely thanks to the menacing figure of Anton Chigurh.  Batman: The Dark Knight was a phenomenon largely thanks to Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker.  And the list goes on and on.

For whatever reason we’re absolutely fascinated by villains.  I’m not sure if this is a human nature thing that has always been true of people interacting with stories or if it’s more of a modern/western culture thing.  Either way it’s fascinating.
Unfortunately the latest installment in the X-Men series missed the mark in the villain category despite wonderful casting of Oscar Isaac as the movies villain, Apocalypse.  Isaac is an incredible actor who has several impressive performances under his belt, playing both villain and hero.  I felt his acting was great, but it just felt like the make-up/costume design was too cheesy.  I mean, they’re trying to portray a character who has been worshipped by mankind for millenia as God, Elohim, and Ra.  He even holds himself responsible for nurturing humanity as it grew into civilizations and even caring for nature, purging the forests when they were ready for new growth (unless that was just a metaphor).

All that being said, he was just never very fearsome.  Though his menace and violence were understated which I thought was great he never felt as awe-inspiring and terrifying as he should have.  Magneto inspired more in the audience than the legendary Apocalypse.  And I’m not sure what they should have done differently.

Personally I love when movies tone down the CGI and invest in costumes and live sets.  For that I give X-men credit. They relied totally on make up and costume to portray Apocalypse.  But in the end it all just fell short.  Maybe it’s as simple as his height?  The scene where he’s battling Professor X in his mind was quite scary, mainly because Apocalypse was so physically large.

Overall I did enjoy the movie.  They’re were just too many great actors and actresses for it not to at least be enjoyable.  Jennifer Lawrence was wonderful, James McAvoy was great, and Michael Fassbender flat out stole the show.  I’d watch a documentary about lawn mowing if Fassbender was in it.  He’s phenomenal.

So, I’d say only see X-Men if you think you’re going to the movies either way just to see something.  If you’re looking for a unique or special experience wait and rent it later.

Again, this might be one of the best movies of the year if Apocalypse was done better.  Villains make or break films, and Apocalypse certainly didn’t make it.

No Country

Let’s mix it up.  Got the Space Odyssey theme going and mentioned it as my all time favorite movie right here, so let’s change up the dialogue.

No Country For Old Men.  No that’s not a statement.  Well, it is, but it’s also the title of an incredible film.

Directed by  Joel and Ethan Coen and starring Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem and Josh Brolen, No Country is a modern western.  It’s modern both chronologically and thematically.  Set several years in post-Vietnam New Mexico, the film takes up themes of evil, chance, purpose and hope.  Quite a mix of themes for a western!

There are a few notable aspects of the film that make it wonderfully unique.  The first, I’ll say, is the soundtrack.  Or lack thereof really!  There is no music in the entire movie, making it feel much more like a horror movie than a western.

This takes us to the second aspect of the film, it’s antagonist.  The action is driven by Anton Chigurh, a merciless, cold-blooded, coin flipping villain. Chigurh gives (almost) all his victims a chance of survival by letting them call heads or tails in a coin toss for their life.  Chigurh believes in chance and destiny and allows the coin toss to decide whether someone should live or die.  He is relentless and robotic in his adherence to this principle, as you know if you’ve seen the film.

The third aspect of this film is Tommy Lee Jones.  In a standard western motif we’d expect Jones to finally catch up to the rampaging Chigurh on his path of death and bring sweet justice once and for all to the story.  But Jones, one in a long line of sheriffs in his lineage, is hapless and hopeless in his pursuit of the faceless evil that is the killer he pursues.  Through the eyes of Jones we perceive the utterly senseless and relentless evil that exists in the world and we’re left wondering along with Jones, why do we have to exist during such a time of unique evil?

We learn that such evil has always existed though it’s face and name may have changed.  Every generation perceives it’s time to be apocalyptic in different ways and bemoans it’s station.  My friend Steve reminds me in a way of Jones’ character- hard working, minds his own business and loves his family.  Steve is a plumber in Orange County so if you need a guy check out costamesaplumbingservices.com.

Anyways, Steve had an awesome reaction to the film.  Steve was pissed!  How did Chigurh *SPOILER ALERT* get away?! It’s quite unsettling.  But that’s the point! Steve, you, me, Tommy Lee Jones, are meant to feel the angst of existence in a broken world.  No, everything is not OK and that’s why films should (in their own different ways) speak to this.

The Coen brothers happened to be exceptional in their delivery of Cormac McCarthy’s exquisite book and left us all aghast.

A good ending is the hardest thing to do with any story but those that pull it off automatically separate themselves from the plethora of mediocrity that is modern cinema.

 

Shmovies

Check it out.  This website is going to be about movies.  Specifically, this website will be about my taste in movies, what I look for in a great movie, how my mood affects them and whatever else comes to mind.

You’ll notice the theme of my site.  The background image is a picture from a scene from my favorite movie of all time, 2001: A Space Odyssey.  In many ways this  movie is the standard by which I judge all other movies.  Sure, not all movies are meant to even be in the same echelon as Space Odyssey and I take that into account when giving my opinions.

Of course, by nature of being opinions mine can change and are not always fair!  I recently saw Captain America: Civil War.  It was a great movie but for whatever reason I was in a relatively salty mood when I watched it.  While I thoroughly enjoyed it I realize now that my critiques err’d on the harsher side.

I’ll do my best to be honest and aware of my mood when critiquing films.  I won’t try to be unbiased or objective. Bias and subjectivity are impossible to avoid.  Whoever says otherwise is either ignorant or lying.  The goal is to be aware of our bias and perspective, not act like we don’t have one.

So there’s a brief little primer for you before we begin our relationship of movie discussion.  After this, posts will be straight fire and ice as we attack and unpack the endless amounts of movies out there.

Have a great day!