Saturday, June 20, 2009

Linkin Park Rocks - Lookin Forward to Transformers Movie

This looks pretty cool and I now have another reason besides Megan Fox to look forward to the Transformers movie. I know, kinda creepy that an ole guy like me still appreciates the looks of a young girl, hey what can I say? I may be 56, but I ain't dead!

Such a Sucker for American Idol

For those of you who are wondering, yes I am getting back to my top 20 movies that influenced my life. But for today, I am taking a little stutter step before getting back to the Top 20.

I confess, I am a American Idol sucker. So here is the answer to today's question, Whatever Happened to Jordin Sparks? Yes, I did like her and Yes, I did vote for her. So here is her latest video and I like it. Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Top 20 Movies That Influenced My Life #18

Peter Swanson (IMDB) states in his commentary about Silverado that it is “….the western for 12-year-old boys of all ages." And so it is for me. I grew up in the era of the TV Western so it was with some sense of melancholy that I watched this venerable movie and TV genre slowly die out.

I often reflect on what is different about today’s culture vs the culture of earlier generations. I think that much of what we deal with today is a sort of moral ambiguity nothing is “black and white” everything is “shades of grey”. This is why, when I recently had a discussion about the movie “Watchmen”, my daughter pointed out to me that she loved the movie because the characters seemed like “real” people with "real emotions" and "real personal issues". Not some "fake goody two shoes whitewash like you have with some comic book characters". Well try as I might to enjoy "Watchmen", I found myself focusing too much on the technical aspects of the film in a way that ultimately led to boredom. However, I acknowledge that much of the world we live in now is a post-irony, cynical world where all potential heroes are relentlessly scrutinized until their flaw is found. Today the possibility of someone being a completely virtuous hero simply does not exists. This is why, I suppose, that Batman and Spider Man triumph over Superman with today’s movie going youth.

Now, before you get all “grow up gramps” on me, let me say for the record, I do find Batman and Spiderman good entertainment and I do like that the characters have flaws. This is precisely why (in the Western genre) I enjoyed Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven so very much. It was nothing but shades of grey with no completely right character.

However, let me go back to what I said at the beginning Silverado is “….the western for 12-year-old boys of all ages." As a young boy, I believe it is important to have heroes. Our heroes ought to be clear pillars of the ideals we hope to live up to. So, having Gary Cooper, in High Noon, stand up for the town, when no one else in the town will stand up with him, is a noble selfless act and it is worth us trying to live up to because it is simply the right thing to do.

The Westerns of my youth did that for the most part. I was able to look up to many of these characters like The Lone Ranger, Matt Dillon and the Cartwrights as heroes before having cynicism and sarcasm that marked my late teens and early 20’s kick in.

Silverado came along at just the perfect time in my life. It was 1985 and Westerns in general, especially ones that were done in the style of the “old fashioned” movie and TV Western had fallen out of favor big time. I was 32 and finally able to enjoy something for its simplicity of joy and celebration of more traditional values without feeling compelled to put down those values for fear of looking unhip or uncool.

Silverado plays for me like the Western’s Greatest Hits. It did nothing particularly new. It had all been done before in other movies. Each of the characters reminded me of Western Heroes from the past. Scott Glenn as Emmet channels Gary Cooper, Kevin Kline as Padin channels characters like Paladin, from “Have Gun Will Travel”, and Kevin Costner is simply over the top as Jake, the cocky kid that is like a younger, looser version of Roy Rogers. You round this out with Linda Hunt, Danny Glover, and Brian Dennehy and this is one rip-roaring cast that is just flat out fun to be with.
The dialogue is often brilliant. Consider the following exchange between Padin and Stella at two critical junctures of the movie:
Stella: The world is what you make of it, friend. If it doesn't fit, you make alterations. Paden: I'll drink to that.
Paden: [lifts his drink] To my midnight star. Stella: Cobb's using me to stop you. So good people are being hurt because of me. That makes me mad. Some people think because they're stronger, or meaner, that they can push you around. I've seen a lot of that. But it's only true if you let it be. The world is what you make of it. Paden: I like your attitude. But it can be risky. Stella: I'm ready for that. How about you? Paden: [heavy sigh] I don't want you to get hurt. Stella: He can't hurt me... if he's dead.

Every Western cliché is there. But the way this is performed takes everything up to the highest level. I once had the privilege of hearing Peter Vidmar, the 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist give a talk on how you a achieve a “10” in gymnastics. He spoke that if an athlete did everything technically correct, he or she could only get a 9.4. So it begged the question, how did you get a “10”? He talked about three elements necessary to achieve the “10”. They were Risk, Originality and Virtuosity (ROV) 1) Risk is simply doing something that puts yourself at risk of failure, 2) Originality (demonstrating something that had never been done before), and 3) Virtuosity, the Brilliance of the Performance itself.

It is in the third category that Silverado shines. It takes (and includes) every Western cliché and performs them in a way that has never been done before (or since). So, when I see Silverado, I am instantly transformed into the 12 year old boy, when life was less cynical and people could be heroes.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Top 20 Movies That Influenced My Life #19

I consider Forbidden Planet to be the Father of Star Trek. This 1956 gem had all that a young boy's imagination needed to fuel a sense of wonderment and adventure. It had a dashing young captain, played by a pre-Airplane very straight leading man, Leslie Nielson. It had a beautiful nymph of a young woman, played by a gorgeous, young Anne Francis that had me dreaming of what it would be like to be older for many nights. It had a very intelligent but mysterious scientist, played by Walter Pidgeon who introduced me to the idea that science was needed to understand the questions of the universe and that brute force would lead to disaster. It had the mysterious Krell who were never seen, but play a major role like ghosts in the machine. Finally it had Robbie the Robot, who was both savior and comedian. What was there not to like by an 11 year old boy?
One of the themes I will return to throughout this series of movies that influenced my life is the theme that what makes a movie stand out is that it speaks to me (and perhaps to us) differently as we grow up. So it is with Forbidden Planet. What I saw and understood as a young boy, though engaging and full of wonder, did not come to full fruition until many years later when I understood some of the more thought provoking aspects of this film.
I first saw this on an afternoon on a black and white television. I remember being mesmerized by the dashing and chivalrous captain as he both sought to understand the mysteries of Altair IV, protect his crew, and protect the girl. I was too young to notice the over-acting being displayed. (It set me up perfectly for Captain Kirk when he showed up a few years later.)
Robbie the Robot was both cool and at the same time funny. The "monster" created by the Disney folks for this was both frightening and mysterious.
When I finally got to see this a few years later in a theatre on a summer afternoon, I was truly in popcorn heaven. I loved it it even more. Seeing it on the big screen and in Technicolor was way too cool. When Star Trek came around a few years later, I was primed and ready to go.
Watching it again years later as an adult, I was still able to evoke that innocent childlike sense of adventure but became impressed by the messages and deeper (though not too deep) meaning. Of course, basing anything on Shakespeare is nearly a guarantee that what is presented will be thought provoking. I may not have "gotten it" the first time I saw it, but one of the main themes of the movie is that "thoughts are powerful and can be destructive". The machines of the Krell literally make this true.
So here's to powerful thoughts, beautiful young women, dashing young captains and Robbie the Robot. May we always have adventures of the mind that are thought provoking and never lose a sense of fun!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Top 20 Movies That Influenced My Life

Today I begin a series entitled Movies that influenced my life.

I will write about various movies that I have seen in my lifetime and how and why they impacted my life. Some impacted my life because they were thought provoking, some influenced my life because they were stunning in their originality, others because of where I was and who I was with when I saw them. All of them had an impact and continue to evoke strong feelings in me even today. This is not necessarily about the "greatest movies" from a critical perspective, rather it is about thoughts on movies that shaped me in terms of who I am, what I learned about myself or others and how I view this artistic form.

I start with number 20:

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Most people know that this "spaghetti western" was one of the best character study tales ever done. Why did this movie have such an impact on me? The main reason was that this was one of a handful of movies that I saw with my Dad where we both walked out with one of those "Wow" moments. My Dad would often say to me, let's go to the movies. It was his way of spending time with me doing something that he knew my Mom would not probably enjoy. One of the earliest movies we ever saw together that I remember was the first James Bond movie, Dr. No. I couldn't believe it, I was maybe 10 or 11 years old and my Dad, I mean MY DAD, was taking me to a "grown up" picture.

I don't remember how many Bond flicks we saw together, but we saw a lot and we shared that great sense of adventure and just a wee bit of naughtiness, kind of like we were two men and girls were just not allowed into our clubhouse.

What makes TGTB&TU stand out in these primal male outings was the sheer scope of what Leone did. By the time we got to the infamous "Mexican" standoff at the end, you could feel every muscle movement of each of the characters, no matter how slight. When my Dad and I walked out at the end we were nearly exhausted from the tension. I remember clearly that the ride home we were both silent. We knew we had just witnessed something special and in our way, so much was said between us in the silence of the drive home.

Years later we would talk about that experience and express our opinions about what made the film such a technical triumph as I began to better understand film making and what went into a great film. Still, I can not think of or watch this film without being taken back to that time when I sat silent in the theatre next to the person who, in the way he reacted to what we saw on the screen would convey to me much of what it is to be a man.