Tag Archives: Movies

On This Day We Remember

911-stampIt’s one of those days you remember better than any birthday or wedding. Those were planned; these hit you suddenly, stunning your mind, breaking your heart. “The shuttle blew up!” “The Towers fell!”

The impact was even greater if you saw it happen in real-time. If you watched the shuttle launches. If you caught the breaking news before the second tower was hit. Saw the second plane, realized at that moment, “This is no accident!”

Even if you saw it after, you saw it; saw it as an attack.

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Movies: Big Duds

Lucy-0Okay, so now I’ve seen the final installment in the Peter Jackson The Hobbit Trilogy. In a word, Meh! (And that high because I didn’t expect more.) One bit of common praise I’ve heard suggests, “Thank God! It’s over! At least there won’t be any more of them!” These days that may be rather wishful thinking. Never underestimate Hollywood’s ability to return to a lucrative well.

I also watched Lucy, the latest from Luc Besson. I usually like Besson’s work. He’s written many good ones, and directed some as well. I’m leaning towards my lowest Ugh! rating here. I can’t decide if Lucy is so bad it’s deliberate self-parody, or if it’s genuinely, earnestly… just that bad. Or maybe just doesn’t care.

As far as I’m concerned, two big duds and I don’t mean milk!

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BB #41: Cookies Come Early

movie cookiesDoes everyone these days know what a movie cookie is? I’m talking about the little scene a director sticks at the very end of the credits. They aren’t quite the same as outtakes — those are bits with muffed lines or where props didn’t work, and they’re often shown during the credits. And obviously, both are different from deleted scenes, which are bits that the director artistically excluded from the final product.

For a long time movie cookies were rare and always came at the very end, after all the final credits. They were a special treat (a cookie) for sophisticated movie goers who watch the entire movie rather than heading for the door the moment the final music begins.

Recently, cookies have become common, and are appearing early in the credits!

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Storytelling, Chapter 1

This is the first of a series of articles that discuss something I believe is unique to humans. In fact, I think it’s one of the few things we can point to that does differentiate us from the animal kingdom. And it is something that goes deep into our past. It is our ability to use language to create and tell complex stories.

It is also one of my favorite topics. If you’ve read many of my posts, particularly those about movies and TV, you’ve seen me write about my love of stories.

There is an interesting continuum of storytelling modes. Books lie at one end; movies at the other. Plays and TV lie between. The continuum describes—in part—the experience of the audience. Here’s the deal…

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Let’s go to the movies!

Yesterday I threw down the gauntlet regarding Christopher Nolan’s new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises. In fact, that article was a first entry into a discussion about how we’ve constantly upped the ante regarding violence in movies and television and modern life in general.  That larger discussion will evolve over time as I find things to say about it.  In this article I want to talk specifically about the Batman movie… or rather about the “going to the Batman movie” theater experience.

When it comes to going to the movie theater to see a movie, each time I do that lately I seem to find one less reason to do that ever again. Let me count the ways:

The ticket prices continue to rise.  For an adult, my local (AMC) theater charges $10.00 (USD: United States Dollars).  If you go to a 3D movie, add another $3.50 to rent those damned glasses. (3D movies… a rant for another time.)  To bring your children costs you $7.50 each.  If you go very early, a ticket might cost only $5.00 (adult and child), and during the other off-peak times adults might pay $7.50 (children $5.00).

That means a canonical family of four normally pays $35.00 just to get in the door. If they’re seeing a 3D movie, it’s $49.00, which includes $14.00 for the glasses rental. (On the other hand, I just found a rare reason to enjoy being single and childless!)  If you’re willing to go way off-peak times, you can get that down to a mere $20.00 ($34.00 for a 3D movie, in which case you’re paying almost as much to rent the damned glasses).

So already you have to be questioning whether there isn’t something else you could be doing. Say, perhaps, watching slightly older movies on your wide-screen TV in the comfort of your home. But in this me first and gotta have it right now world, people will pay for the privilege of the movie experience. And there are some movies that you do want to see on the biggest, loudest screen possible (which is why we went to see Batman; that was one of those movies).

These prices just get you in the door. I’ve always thought that an important part of the movie experience was the popcorn (and the Milk Duds and a soda).

For decades I’ve had a thing going where one night a week my buddies come over to my place, and we all drink (my) beer and chat about movies, books, physics, philosophy, science fiction and so forth.  Then some of us (who don’t have to get up too early or who don’t care much about sleep) go to see the night’s last showing of some movie.  The advantage is a reduced price ($7.50) and a severely reduced audience.  Many times we’ve seen what amounts to a private showing. There’s something kinda neat about sitting in an empty movie theater or sharing it with just a handful of others—infinitely fewer chances for annoying distractions, for one thing!

For a long time, for years, it’s been possible to break a $20.00 at the door and then exactly use the remainder purchasing the already mentioned (medium) popcorn, Milk Duds (the smaller 3 oz movie theater box) and (small) soda.  In fact, I thought it was kind of cool how they calculated it to use your entire $20.00. The popcorn, candy soda combo must be a common one.

So imagine my shock when I walk up to the counter, change in hand, order my usual … and am asked for $15.50. I don’t know about the Duds, but the markup on the popcorn and soda is truly astronomical.

We all know the cup costs much more than the soda, and my guess is the popcorn costs less than the increasingly smaller paper bag in which it comes. (In fact, a quick check on the ol’ interweb turns up a 130 oz, 500-count home theater package of popcorn bags for $80, which amounts to 16 cents per bag.) That the (small!) soda comes in a cup the size of trashcan doesn’t compensate for much of anything.

I have no idea what our canonical family spends on concessions, but I can see the bill for such a family, seeing a 3D movie, reaching $80.00 or more. For something you can nearly accomplish in your living room. And to my mind, the cons of home viewing are overwhelmed by the pros: better, far less expensive food; clean restrooms (assuming you clean yours); the ability to pause for interruptions; no distractions from obnoxious strangers… you have to ask what’s so special about going to the movies anymore.

I happen to be a fan of Disney World.  Been there many times, would go again in a heartbeat. I mention this to contrast another extremely costly enjoyment with everything I’ve just written. With Disney you pay and pay, but you get phenomenal value for your buck. To my mind, it’s one of the better ways you can spend vacation dollars (if you have kids or are a big kid). The quality of everything is top-notch, and the service is finest kind.  Really, no one does it better. The point is, I don’t mind spending money on value returned.  But, increasingly, movie theaters don’t return much value for their cost.

The other night at the movie theater, the ticket gal was upbeat and pleasant, but the concession guy was a bit of a dud. He did cram my popcorn bag pretty full, I’ll give him that.  Given the again reduced size of the thing, I’m grateful. There seems quite a variation on the attitudes of the youngsters that run movie theaters now. Some of them are charming and upbeat and have a good sense of how to interact with the public in a positive way. And then some don’t.

So, now $23.00 poorer, popcorn, Duds and soda precariously in hand, there’s one more stop. Gotta have the yellow grease to lube the popcorn! One of the two yellow grease dispensers was non-functional, so I had to walk across the lobby to the other one (which fortunately was working). Points off, AMC, for a 50% failure rate there.

And then during the movie, the projector lamp went out giving us several minutes of black screen (the audio continued). Of course, the way the projectors work these days, there’s no option to rewind so we can see what we missed. We were just lucky it was a talking scene and not an action scene.

All in all, final score on the movie theater experience: D.

I say this to the movies theaters: You’re doomed, dudes.  Doomed. Keep this up, and audiences will continue to dwindle. As home systems get better, and as release cycles get shorter, the incentive to go to the movies gets smaller and smaller.

For me, the bar on what movies are “must see in theater” movies gets higher and higher. Comedies are definitely off the list.  They play just fine on my wide-screen TV, and I’m plenty enough patient to wait for them on cable. It’s really only the mega-spectacles I would even consider seeing on the big screen anymore, and since most of those tend to be empty-headed shit, it’s going to take something really special to bring me into a theater.

I thought The Dark Knight Rises was one of those above the bar movies, but as it turns out I was wrong.  But that’s a tale for another post.

See you at the movies!  Or not.

SciFi: Two Important Things

And then there was one.

Last time, I wrote that my definition of science fiction is fiction with science + imagination. And that the science is freely defined to include guesses and completely made up, if not downright illegitimate, physics. In fact, that’s the imagination part of the equation. The fiction part is also freely defined, but basic story telling rules should apply. The science part must also play by certain rules, even when it’s made up science, even when it’s illegitimate

This article is about how I view the science and fiction in science fiction when it comes to playing by the rules. (Keep in mind that science fiction is art, and in art rules are made to be broken.)

Fantasy lovers take heart; in this case, my definition of science includes magic, the supernatural and the metaphysical. This uses the context of speculative fiction, which includes everything beyond current physics. The  fiction canvas is framed by any physics, or metaphysics, the story requires. Warp drive is no more real science than vampires or Norse Gods; all of them are fiction.

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Sideband #37: Joining the Group

A recent Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic set off “Ah, Yes!” bells today. It explains graphically and precisely why I’m so allergic to trendy:

from SMBC by Zach Weiner

Or as great Groucho Marx so famously put it, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”

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Movies: Green Lantern

Finally saw Green Lantern; thumbs definitely up. I’m no Green Lantern expert, but I’ve read enough to recognize a lot honor done to that comic. The Guardians and Oa seemed pretty on the money to me; so were Abin Sur, Tomar-Re, Kilowog and Sinestro. And I had no problem with Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan; no more so than Christian Bale as Batman or Toby Maguire as Spiderman. Or with Robert Downey Jr as Ironman, for that matter. (And I like them fine, in case you mistake me as being sarcastic.)

I also appreciated the way Hal used the ring: unusual, and yet appropriate, inventions to solve the problem at hand. That seemed very Green Lantern-ish. I’ve always considered slightly odd-ball combat and rescue tools as kind of a signature of the comic. For one example, lofting the oil tanker with a pair of bigass rams and then blowing it up with AA guns. That was pure GL.

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