Ramblin' 'bout Amblin: Jurassic Park

I had the immense pleasure of being able to see this film in a theater very recently. Spielberg decided to honor the film's 20th anniversary by giving it the 3D treatment and letting people spend way too much money on the glasses that make the film viewable. I never saw Jurassic Park in theaters. When the film came out I was only four or five years old and my parents would never have deemed this film appropriate from my fragile mind. My love for this film is attributed entirely to the medium of VHS. Because of it, this film lived in every single one of my friends homes as well as my own. It was our go-to movie as kids (and it still is whenever I need a nice pick me up). And more often than not, the adults would end up stopping whatever they were doing to sit and watch with us. I wore out my copy. Then dvd's were invented and my love for the film was rekindled. I didn't think I could enjoy it any more than I had been. Then I saw it in theaters.

Now because I never saw experienced it thusly until now (and even if I had I can't imagine I'd be focusing on the same things I am now) so I have to assume that some work went into the sound mix. If not then wow because I have to tell you: If you haven't seen Jurassic Park with theater quality sound, you really haven't seen it. It changes the entire experience of the film. When the T-Rex first escapes it's paddock, it goes from thrilling and enjoyable to absolutely terrifying simply because of how intense the sound mix is. When that dinosaur roars you feel it in your blood. You feel it in your bones. And if you really focus you'll see that you're desperately in need of your mommy.
I talk about Jurassic Park a lot in my everyday life. It's a film everyone has seen and most people enjoy so it's a great conversation piece. But rather than relating my favorite scenes to people I usually only bring the film up to make one point. The CGI is out of this goddamn world. This film was released in 1993. The true digital pioneers that worked on this movie changed the way that films are made. Sure, at times Jurassic Park looks a tad dated but I fully believe that the scene that that spawned the above still is not one of them. And though Spielberg's approach to this style of filmmaking ended up coming from a place of desperation rather than intent, his methods have been emulated since in only the best heavy CGI films. The methods I'm referring to are creating a hybrid of practical and computer generated effects. For every instance of a computer generated dinosaur in Jurassic Park there are double the number of animatronic or claymation creatures helping actors have something to act off of or giving DP Dean Cundey a focal point and in so doing, giving the digital fx developers a sense of how light and color will play on the surfaces of these dinosaurs. Without this understanding and relation to environment, CGI effects fail. Perhaps not as much nowadays where the power of computer imagery is absolutely astounding (and whole films are made with them) but for the decade and a half after Jurassic Park, filmmakers and studios tried to cut corners and doomed their projects in the process.
Jurassic Park's other success as a film is that its got great characters. Sure it's a monster movie. Sure it's a disaster movie. Certain characters need to be played. But Jurassic Park manages to ride an extremely fine line in storytelling. We see and learn just enough about these people to know that they are in fact real people rather than positions that were filled. And yes there's definitely a few dud moments. The kids get a tad annoying but on the flip side, some of the film's best scenes wouldn't be what they are without them. And seeing the film in theaters twenty years on was awesome when it comes to the hacking and dated technology of the film. Everyone had a nice appreciative laugh. "It's an interactive CD-Rom" is my particular favorite of these.

Admittedly I'm extremely biased. I love this film. For what it's worth I find it to be one of the most exciting and enjoyable films ever made. But I think it's earned it. With a perfect mixture of well done special effects, fresh and simple storytelling, and a director who understands exactly how to mix all these things together, you've got the perfect adventure story.

And before I wrap up I need to figure out how on earth John Hammond saying "Dr. Grant, my dear Dr. Sadler. Welcome to Jurassic Park" makes me almost cry every single time I watch this film. It's a mystery to me. But a mystery I'm fully intent on analyzing for the rest of my days.

Up next:

"And so my watch begins..." Game of Thrones Season 3, Episodes 3-8

Our lives have been a touch on the busy side of late, but we didn't outright abandon our Game of Thrones coverage. With the season rapidly drawing to a close and the heat rising all over Westeros, let's catch us all up, shall we?

Scout At the risk of you not having seen "The Walk of Punishment" yet, allow me to just say that the thing that happens six seconds before the episode ends, I knew that that was going to fuckin' happen and I'm no less angry about it.

Fox Oh jesus I know. Jamie losing his sword hand is devastating. Just when we were all starting to like him so much! But as GoT teaches us time and time again, nothing can ever go right. Ever. "Walk of Punishment" was a hysterical episode though. One of the show's creators directed it and he did so with attitude. I was laughing my ass off through the failed attempts to set the funeral boat aflame and Tyrion's chair drag. Good lord.

Scout Those two scenes, one after the other, are probably the greatest sustained laughs in the whole series. Jamie losing his hand is proof of something the show does actually follow through on a fair amount: if you don't live up to your potential and do the horrible thing that will save your life, you will lose the ability to do so. It's why Arya's still alive and why Tyrion had to tumble back down the latter to nothing. Bronn and The Hound are great examples of the middle ground - they've been all about self-preservation, which mean that they'll stay roughly exactly where they are. After Blackwater Bay, Bronn vanishes to go have fun, and is rewarded by having his position intact when he returns. The Hound flees, but he offers to take Sansa with him, so for that he is captured and embarrassed, with Arya there to remind him what he did wrong.
Fox "And Now His Watch Has Ended" is the prime example of GoT at it's best. I loved Melisandre this episode. I've always had a weird creepy love for her character but this was the first time I've ever seen her act like a rational human being and I'm always for watching Stannis get shut down. I'm glad they spent some time on Rob's plight as well. Cat's monologue about her father was beautiful and tragic but the real horror this episode is how screwed Rob is.

Scout How screwed everyone is. Those fellas by the wall have their work cut out for them. Pitched as opposition to the forces north of the wall, they seem even more pathetic. Everybody's spread thin, but others know how to stay together.
Scout Well with "Kissed By Fire" we're finally in murderland, and the show gains enough momentum for a whole season.

Fox I'll start with the obvious. What an ending! Dany finally earns herself a clear chapter in the book of badassery. She speaks Valyrian?! What?! That's right! And now you're all dead. Truly awesome stuff. It was actually a wonderful choice to handle Dany's knowledge of the language the way they did. In the novel you're aware that she speaks Valyrian right from the get-go. I honestly thought they were going to abandon her knowing it since they got so far into the season without even hinting at it. And having her purchase the translator was the most convincing bit of all.

We had it all though this episode. Varys was all over the episode, which I'm an enormous fan of. I love most of the characters on this show but Varys is so goddamn watchable. And he's got a dude in a box. We had Diana Rigg kicking major ass again which is a complete treat. We had Craster and Commander Mormont bite the dust which I Totally forgot happened. We've got Charles Dance saying "contribute" to Cersei with enough bite that it hurt to hear it.
 And we've got Beric fucking Dondarrion challenging The Hound to trial by combat. I'm really interested to see what we learn about Beric in the show. By this point he's a fairly poignant character in the novels but this is the first we've seen of him. I want all I can get.
Fox "The Climb" continues this season's trend of amazing television

Scout Holy Fuck it's good TV

Fox The scene with Tywin and Lady Olenna was ridiculous. They need their own buddy cop movie.

Scout Well what's awesome is the how recognizing age and personalities and how differently everyone reacts to the same thing. Tywin recognizes that Olenna is used to getting her way but he's still essentially Dick Cheney and won't play games.

Fox Emily made an awesome point tonight about Beric Dondarrion possibly being the true soldier of Light. I never thought about it before but watching Melisandre's confidence for basically the first time ever is awesome.

Scout I love the drunkard priest the more I learn about him. The only thing that needles me slightly is the overwhelming use of magic this episode. I confess to hating Jojen seeing Jon Snow in a dream. That kind of shit is unnecessary. We know where Jon Snow is and Reed seeing that felt like lazy writing, and magic for the sake of magic.

Fox I can get behind that. Bran is trying to get to Jon so knowing him his wherabouts would definitely bolster his confidence but they're already going to the Wall. It's not like he has no clue where to look for him.
Scout To coin a phrase, let's talk about real shit. There's a running joke in my family. My sisters and I were once reading one of the Harry Potter books at a different pace. When asked not to spoil the next chapter of one of the books, I jokingly told my little sister that Snape Marries Hermione. That's been shorthand for me ever since for things that just can't happen if a fanbase is to be kept from rioting. If in season 1 of Game of Thrones you'd have asked me for a "Snape marries Hermione" I couldn't have done much better than "Tyrion marries Sansa." And yet, here. It. Fucking. Is. The concept, introduced a few episodes before the event, is so ridiculous that I assumed something would happen to prevent it, or they'd just prep it all season and leave its possibility on a cliffhanger. And then they up and did it. It's over, it happened, and Tyrion has the hangover to prove it.

And there we have the essence of season 3: the inescapable lurching towards the impossible, until suddenly it's reality and we can only deal with it. The Hound survives and wins a trial by combat, but so does his opponent. The only satisfactory outcome when you have two unstoppable forces like The Hound and Beric Dondarrion fighting each other. Having these guys floating around Westeros gives the show character even if they're offscreen. Magic has crept in in the form of a drunken priest who delivers blessings with life restoring powers to a man he loves more than himself. Jon Snow climbed the wall. JON SNOW CLIMBED THE WALL, made that impossibly gorgeous redhead fall for him by just being his big dumb self, and even confessed, in part about his true motivation, and she still loves him. The Hound came through for Arya, making her believe in forgiveness, getting her a real step closer to safety, and proving that The Hound is human. Dany has steadily growing dragons and an army and soon she'll have her ships. Davos talked his way out of jail and learned to goddamn read. Jamie managed to not only get Brienne to come around to him, but saves her from rape and murder and clearly will not go anywhere without her safety assured first. He got his privileged upper hand back (even though he lost his sword hand) and the first thing he did with it was save a woman's life. Sam proved he's a kind of hero after all.

And the season isn't over yet.

All of that is eminently worth talking over (obsessing over, in our case) but the thing I want to focus on is Tyrion marrying Sansa. You feel bad for her. How could you not? But the more you think about it, the more you see that it is legitimately the safest option open to the poor girl. Tyrion isn't a sexless sadist creep like his nephew, he doesn't find the thought of sex with her completely repulsive like Loras Tyrell, won't assault her like so many other people in court. Tyrion not only respects her will, but has had sex with enough women to know that 14 is too young, that a girl is not a woman and should not have that imposed on her to please men in power. And furthermore, he's still in love. Also, we get to hear him say "If my father wants someone to get fucked, I know where he can start." Which is my kind of writing.

Joffrey going out of his way to be a dick to Tyrion on his wedding day takes us back to Season 1 Episode 2, when he slapped the little shit for being who he is. Who he can't help but be. And this whole time, for his whoring, his drinking, his sarcasm, his cruelty to the ignorant, Tyrion has always been a good man. Maybe the best man in the realm. And certainly the show's beating heart, so it's wise to let us spend time in his company so long during his wedding. When Joffrey takes his prodding too far, Tyrion grabs a knife, sticks in the table and shouts "Then you'll be fucking your own bride with a wooden cock." At which point I had fond flashbacks to Season 1 and the reason I fell in love with this world in the first place. Being strong is one thing, but surrounded by ceremony, by men with swords paid to keep the worst among you safe from harm, your wit and words are your greatest weapon. The feud between Tyrion and Joffrey will be one of their undoing. I can just feel it. And the writers make us feel what it's like to be consumed by an unwelcome hatred. They also make us fear. Who will kill who? How is Cersei going to react to Brienne? How is Tywin going to take Tyrion's refusal to impregnate Sansa and save King's Landing from annihilation from the Starks? Tyrion's quoting the Night's Watch oath filled my heart with such admiration I could barely lift my chest when the episode finished. That this was the episode where Arya rides side saddle on the Hound's horse, looking ridiculously small and adorable next to the big burned-up troll of a knight didn't help.

What worries me is that now that we know where everyone stands, how good everyone is beneath the bluster and responsibility, who deserves to be called a hero in a world where that word means almost nothing, is how cruelly the show will treat these people. The Hound could only die protecting someone, but something tells me that he will have to die, and this saddens me greatly. Something bad seems guaranteed to befall these great men and women. They will bear it, because they must, but I don't want them to have to. I want to change the destiny of these characters that drama demands bury them. And that is how you make a good fucking hour of television.
Fox "Second Sons" is in an episode conveniently located in the calm before the storm (of swords, hehehe). It takes the time to patiently and methodically move the final pieces. But to what end? In the past two years, the 9th episode has been the season’s climax and in both seasons we had a pretty good idea as viewers what’d be happening. Ned’s execution was our deepest fear but judging the world we’d been living in for the last eight hours of runtime had us believing in the darkest parts of our minds that he wasn’t long for this world. Almost all of season two is a lead up to The Battle of Blackwater Bay. We watched every would-be king move their forces further south to King’s Landing not fully knowing who’d be the first to rap on the Lannister’s chamber door but knowing full well that Joffrey’s throne would be directly challenged. We watched Tyrion court a strange man of science to get his hands on the city’s saving grace: Wild Fire. And we weren’t disappointed.

Critics and audiences have been at Second Sons’ throat calling it disjointed and not the episode they were hoping for. I couldn’t disagree more. Many of the loudest detractors are readers of the novels and knowing what we’re going to see in the next installment may make Second Sons appear slow or a waste of everyone’s time. I just think these folks aren’t looking at the bigger picture. And that picture is huge.

For those reading every single clue the writers have dropped this season. For those who’ve counted and catalogued every glance, nod, and wink of every character who’s in a position of power, they’ve still got a mess on their hands. If season 3 has told us anything its that those seemingly without power can change the course of history. This really does shows just how far the series has come. In the beginning this was a show about powerful families waging a war of words and occasionally weapons. But seeing Jon Snow journey over The Wall and back again, seeing Dany go from a submissive that demands our sympathy to a self made queen that demands our awe, seeing Samwell defend a woman he loves from not only an attacker but a demon, seeing Theon actually garner sympathy from an audience that detests him, seeing Jaime lose his pride but reclaim his honor by saving a woman he’s finally found a true bond with, seeing Catelyn finally admit that she’s mistreated a son who can carry a sword but in the end was still just a boy, seeing The Hound continue to prove that despite his scarred appearance he’s a human being underneath it all, seeing Arya who’s done nothing but repeat her oath of revenge wind up riding on the lap of one of her intended, seeing Robb wheel and deal in a way that begins to rival the Lannisters only to build up his forces to continue fighting a war the rest of the world seems to have forgotten about, seeing Cersei move from a comfortable life long position of power to taking the backseat to her father’s plans for world domination, and finally in tandem, seeing Tyrion’s wit and charm finally lose all its power and leave him under his father’s bootheel. All of these things have shown characters grow in ways we couldn’t possibly have imagined in the show’s early stages. But more importantly, they show that if you aren’t on the inside track, how on earth could you possibly predict what’s going to happen next? Any one of these characters could be in a position of imminent success or imminent danger. Knowing Game of Thrones, its probably the latter. But who? This season has left us staring true chaos in the face and all we can do is plead that they don’t take our favorites. The problem is, like you mentioned above, they’re all my favorites. Everyone is written beautifully. Even characters I despise with every inch of my being are essential to my viewing experience. I’m fearing for my own life here.

There’s a brief exchange at Tyrion’s wedding where Cersei tells Margaery about the story behind "The Rains of Castamere", a bard’s song written to tell the story of how The Lannisters destroyed the lord and people of the once great hall. Cersei uses it to get her claws into Margaery. A feeble attempt after watching Marge whip Cersei back and forth the last seven episodes with a smile on her face all the while. But "Rains of Castamere" is much for important in the GoT world than simply to instill momentary fear. It’s a song sung by characters both high and low. It’s a legend everyone knows. It was used as the closing credits to "Blackwater". It’s been used throughout the last two seasons as theme music, most notably as when Jaime pulls Brienne from the bear pit. It’s a song of foreboding. It’s a song that truly seems to ring the bells of doom.

And it’s the title to the next episode…

Ramblin' 'bout Amblin: Hook

1991's Hook was a sequel no one needed. Peter Pan was a rather open and shut storyline and I doubt too many people were dying to know exactly how Neverland turned out after Captain Hook was defeated. It turns out Steven Spielberg was one of the few people who were wondering about Neverland's uncertain future. What's more, Spielberg didn't want to know what happened after Hook died. Instead he wanted to know if Hook died at all. His answer: a rapturous no.

Spielberg came and went from this project a few times starting in the early 80's. But when he finally did come on board in the beginning of the next decade he was ready to make a film that centered on a subject matter near and dear to his heart. For Spielberg like so many others in his generation were raised on the story of Peter Pan. And frankly what child since its publication hasn't been enthralled by the heroic story? Spielberg tackles the father-son relationship again, saying that this time he was the boy in a relationship with a father who had zero time for him. What's interesting about Hook is that Spielberg gives the father a chance at redemption. In fact, the entire story revolves around whether or not Peter Banning will decide to find his courage and fight to save his children. Spielberg's own relationship with his father drove the narrative's inception. The director's personal comment on the film and the time period was as follows:

I think a lot of people today are losing their imagination because they are work-driven. They are so self-involved with work and success and arriving at the next plateau that children and family almost become incidental. I have even experienced it myself when I have been on a very tough shoot and I've not seen my kids except on weekends. They ask for my time and I can't give it to them because I'm working.

Hook is the film that cements my idea that though Steven Spielberg makes films for the masses, he rarely forgets his heart. Sure there have been time where we've genuinely wondered if he made a film for anything but the money but when he does come out with one of his greats they're genuinely rooted in a deep feeling. And like many of his other films Hook remembers what it's like to be a child and though the film spends its majority in a fantasy world, the children are true to their name. They're fun-loving, innocent and an essential part of helping the older characters (maybe not the villains) realize who they once were and more importantly, who they really are. And speaking of villains, good god is Dustin Hoffman killer as Captain Hook.
Hook isn't a perfect film. But luckily it doesn't take itself seriously enough to warrant to much anger toward its flaws. It's fun, loving and like many of Spielberg's films spreads an important message. I will say though for those who have seen the film, the sequence where Peter and Wendy return home to find the children have been taken by Hook is one of my favorite scenes on film. The scar that Hook leaves on the walls from the front door all the way to the nursery is a setpiece of shear terror and in my opinion shows Spielberg's true power as a filmmaker. He utilizes a simple visual to tell you so much and horrify you at the same time. Simply wonderful.

Up next:

As Difficult and Tedious as ABC

Horror anthologies are almost as old as straight-up horror. There are bonafide classics (Dead of Night) and worthwhile curios (Black Sabbath, The Asylum) throughout the history of genre films and now it seems they're making a comeback. Last year's V/H/S and The Theatre Bizarre rekindled our collective interest in watching masters and new voices alike tell tiny stories on a theme. Or just seeing how much depravity can be packed into a few minutes. The latest in the craze, The ABCs of Death, with 26 directors tackling a different segment for each letter of the alphabet, leans heavily on the latter, with critics finding it largely an endeavor worth forgetting. As fans of the craze, Lucas Mangum and I gave it a shot to see how it stacks up and what it says about this moment in horror.

 Lucas Mangum So at long last, I ask: What did we think of ABCs of Death?

Scout Tafoya Well, it's hardly worth saying anymore, but some segments make others look like utter dreck. No theme seems to link them and few do little more than embarrass themselves. Some do even worse. So what we'll more than likely wind up doing is picking a few we love and discussing the ones worth discussing....so, allow me to start! I found the first three are mostly boring and started losing hope. Ernesto Diaz Espinosa does Nacho Vigalondo's Timecrimes, and Vigalondo does his own Extraterrestrial in 2 minutes.

Z has a warped early 90s energy that I half-heartedly applaud - I've seen it done better. X sort of gets there, but gets no points, what with its barely stomachable premise (PUNS!) and half-assed execution. I like director Xavier Gens' debut film (he's the only director who took the letter of his first name, if that counts for anything), even if he's struck out since then and was hoping for a glimmer of hope, that he'd return to being good at being bad. I got half of what I wanted...

Some of the folks I was most excited for supremely let me down. Angela Bettis, the only female director, seemed to have trouble executing her premise. The terrible CGI helped not at all. Andrew Traucki and Ti West, two legitimately great filmmakers, an actual fucking master in West's case, seem to have knocked theirs out in an afternoon. They don't exactly look worse for their involvement, but they probably should have politely declined, rather than get fans hopes up for something worth their personal touch. Ok, maybe West does look worse. The man made House of the Devil, for Christ's sake. He's a genius.

It was the work of Timo Tjahjanto, Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani, Ben Wheatley, Jason Eisener, Jon Schnepp, Jorge Michel Grau and Simon Rumley make the endeavor worth while. Tjahjanto, who we'll next see in V/H/S 2, at least does an awful lot of very convincing work with production design, performances and creatively gross nonsense. I'd rather have more to think about than less, even if I only like 2/3 of his ideas. Jason Eisener's isn't as good as it could have been, but I heartily applaud the art direction. Simon Rumley's is better and more interesting than his feature films. Schnepp's is hilarious and very off in a way I find appealing. Grau proves he's got more up his sleeve than just his marvelous debut, using texture just as splendidly as he did in We Are What We Are. Looking forward to his work on the sequel! Ben Wheatley's was far and away the funniest and most charming, the POV being put to devilish use and the writing and direction on par with each other; rare here. And you can't throw enough money at Cattet and Forzani for my liking. Those two are unstoppable geniuses.

The problem is...well, everything else. I mean, I guess expecting 26 films to adhere to the same standard of quality as its best is...foolish on my part, but with directors famous for movies that barely share the same genre (and fittingly, some barely qualify for inclusion in a film like this) it seems like a fool's errand packaging them together. How could anyone assume that fans of the Cattet and Forzani would like the Noburi Iguchi? The sensibilities are too off for it to ever work, even on paper, what possibility was there they'd work together? So between bright spots I was either bored, repulsed, or both.

Also, I genuinely think that encouraging Jake West and Srdjan Spasojevic is damaging to our culture. West thanks Adam Mason in the credits. He should have just handed him the camera and gone the fuck home.

Lucas I had a hard time viewing it all in one sitting because there was just so much content. By the last 45 minutes I was counting down how many films were left. Not because I disliked everything, it was just a little much to take. I think the filmmakers would've had more success breaking it up more. Maybe if it was a webseries...

I really enjoyed Adam Wingard's segment. It was fresh in the sense that it was funny and didn't involve dicks or toilets. Like you, I felt that A, B & C had their moments (C was at least interesting), but the first segment I thoroughly enjoyed was Marcel Sarmiento's Dogfight. The twist put a nice bit of icing on the cake for me. I also really dug the cartoonish H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion. It was just too damn whacky for me not to get a kick out of it. Grau's segment was a truly unpleasant piece of film, but it was so effective for that reason. It was, after all, addressing a real-world unpleasant topic. I'd call it an ugly masterpiece. I felt the same way about L is for Libido, but I could've done without the little boys scene. As uncool as it may seem for someone so into horror, I do have my limits. Aside from that, I found it to be a twisted surreal journey through the world of sexual deviance. I respectfully disagree with you over Jake West's segment. It possessed a larger than life comic book style that I quite enjoyed and, while not original, I kind of dug that it was all some drug-fueled death dream. Vagitus was just really cool because it had that dystopic element to it that almost always wins me over when I see it. For some reason W & Z felt really similar for me, and I almost wished they weren't so close together. I guess that would involve fucking up the alphabet.

Scout You bring up an interesting point about pedophilia. Which is to say that films like this, and in their deliberately singling out directors known for extremity in its many forms, the curators must know and most probably hope for and encourage incredibly 'edgy' material from them.
 So my thought is, is there anything left to find in that direction? I can sort of hear "it's like Saw but with 12 year olds" being pitched in a boardroom somewhere. Like, at this point, 50 years after the invention of the gore film and 40 years after its apex with the Cannibal movies of the late 70s, and now with standards relaxed to an all-time low, what else is there? Tjahjanto putting kids in his movie is sort of like paying lip service to the big question mark hanging over the genre. If we can get away with that (and clearly we can), then what else is there left to do? 
I do sincerely hope this promotes a return to classicism and in some ways I can see it approaching (formal elegance saved Kiss of the Damned from being a total bore and the school of hyperactive Asian Frankenstein Girl movies has definitely lost the rabidness of demand it once had). 
I can only hope we get a slew of movies who count The Innocents, Cat People and The Haunting among their influences. Hell, I'd even settle for a new age of surrealism a la Alucarda or Messiah of Evil. The fact that among 26 movies by the world's supposed vanguard produced maybe a half dozen I'd ever consider watching again can't be a good sign.

I even feel like such subject matter can be utilized if the goal is beyond mere shock. Take a film like In a Glass Cage, for instance, in which pedophilia is a huge part of the plot. But that's just it, it's an ugly but complicated story about an ugly subject, not a thinly plotted story where such a sensitive subject is reduced to a gag for shock value's sake.

Scout Which to me is the paradox of the age we're in right now: Nothing shocks anymore, even if it churns stomachs, so why bother? I applaud Tjahjanto's inventive approach to every second of the film and the world he created, but the gag ain't much of a gag, and whether it's girls or boys, they don't mask the fact that he has nothing to say. Maybe it is meant as a commentary on our demand for the most disgusting things. If so, it's in terrible company, because no one else seems to be in an analytic mood. And frankly I'm not sure I'd buy it in Timo's case because of his gleefully sinking to the depraved depths in all their gory details. 

ABCs and V/H/S both thrive on objectification, so, even if their point is "Look how gross men can be," they're perfectly happy sinking into the shit along with them. It's not enough to say that you're pushing the envelope, because the envelope doesn't exist anymore and I think we're experiencing taboo fatigue. We get that you can show anything, so now let's please get back to understanding why we didn't settle for doing that for all those years.

 Even Men Behind The Sun had a point.

Lucas Yeah, I mean, as viewers we can only speculate. I'd love to see if Timo has commented in any way on what his intentions were for his film. Either way, ditto on the rest not being in an analytic mood.

Scout The propensity of actual onscreen toilets as plot points speaks volumes about collective ambition.

Lucas We're not the first to comment on that. You'd think the heads of this project would've said, "Um, we already have 3 toilet segments, sorry."

Scout Makes you wonder if they couldn't have searched a little longer for their contest winning T segment.


I think they should've used Maude Michaud's T is for Toothpick.

Me too. I only hope that guys like Larry Fessenden class up the joint in the next outing.

Definitely. I will say that I enjoy the fact that something this large was attempted and I think the potential for making something really great is there. A few five minute segments shouldn't have exhausted me as a viewer. It should've left me exhilrated and eager for the next ones.

And that is the tragedy of the endeavor. Some accounting of sensibilities should have been taken in the assigning of letters. The three in the front end shouldn't have been so similar, and then it's tonal schizophrenia from then on out.

 I get that surprise and diversity is a big part of the agenda. But it also shouldn't be the worst part of the film. 

Ramblin' 'bout Amblin: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade manages to reclaim much of the adventurous spirit that Temple of Doom tried to strangle and bury in a shallow grave. It was great watching this trilogy almost entirely at once. I got to watch Spielberg treat a storyline with almost the exact same style of filmmaking throughout. Generally when a series of films is being made, the director (assuming it's the same one throughout) grows as a filmmaker. I'll never say that this is a negative though there are plenty of film series that change dramatically in visual style and tone as they go on. Generally it fits in with the tone of the story being told. Spielberg becomes a nice exception to the rule. All three Indiana Jones films are treated very similarly in terms of production style. Though they do get bigger and better in the traditional sense they look and smell the same. As if they were all made at once and cut into three sections much later in the creative process. Even a series like Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings shifts dramatically in presentation from film to film. Color schemes and even lighting and camera style are all over the place in that series. Now I'm not calling it a detriment to the films but to people who cut apart cinematography in their spare time (i.e. the people who write for this blog) it makes that element of production seem like an afterthought. What I'm trying to say is that Indiana Jones doesn't do this at all. All the films have a great look and feel that carries over between entries. And why shouldn't it? These films are an homage to a bygone era of storytelling. Spielberg and Co. weren't reinventing the wheel with these films. They were using a pre built template to tell a new story in an old medium. Still with me? Good. Let's roll.

Steven Spielberg took five years to decide exactly what kind of film Last Crusade needed to be. As I wrote in my review of Temple of Doom, Spielberg wasn't the biggest fan of his contribution to that film and took a much more assertive role in the production of the third installment of this franchise. The film's many script and story ideas rival that of Alien³. Spielberg was hellbent on making an enjoyable film to apologize for the last outing.  

His big push was to include Indiana's estranged father as a major story arc. This is where Spielberg's tastes really begin to appear. Close Encounters, Hook, E.T. and even future films of his like Catch Me if You Can and Minority Report deal in one way or another with a strained relationship between fathers and sons. Though Spielberg's treatment of the issue is fairly lighthearted in this film he's still using it as a powerful tool. The climax of the film sees Indy and his father Henry finally reuniting for a common goal and admitting their true feelings for one another. It brings a sense of heart to the trilogy that it had been missing before and it really helps to conclude a great adventure story. By adding this element to the series, it forces an audience to care about the characters in a way that the previous entries had never done before. Spielberg achieves the impossible by very realistically portraying a working relationship between father and son in a fantastical adventure story. As a son there is hardly a more powerful drive in life than not only impressing your father, but surpassing him and being told you've done well by him. It seems trivial but it's an incredibly important element in a young man's life. Spielberg's choice to include it in Last Crusade , even in the scenes you may not always remember when discussing the film with friends, brings the film from simple adventure territory to a film that can safely reside close to home.

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Ramblin' 'bout Amblin: Empire of the Sun

Spielberg's first stab at a World War II drama is an odd duck of a film. Beginning it's production in the same way that Jaws did, Spielberg pushed to direct the film after originally signing on to produce for David Lean. 
So begins a pseudo trilogy of World War II dramas from Spielberg (the others being Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan).

Empire of the Sun is an attempted epic in scope. The story follows a young boy over the course of several years as he goes from living in a wealthy British family in Shanghai to becoming a prisoner of war in Lunghua Civilian Assembly Center. Spielberg has actually gone on record to call the film his most profound work on the loss of innocence and though definitely see that that's the film's message it does too much meandering to really drive the point home efficiently.

The film clocks in at 154 minutes. The first act of the film grabs up about 45 of those minutes. In that time Jamie (Christian Bale) loses touch with his family when they're separated in a riot, fends for himself by squatting in the abandoned mansions of family friends and then finally surrenders when starvation seems the only other option. Somehow though the film manages to be completely uninteresting though all of that. The riot sequence has plenty of fire fights, and war machines but it all plays out as very stale. Spielberg hardly captures the horror of a child being separated from his parents. The whole film really does lack for any real emotional attachment. The problem is that outcome would be brilliant if it were intended. If I felt that detached walking out of a story about a boy losing everything including his own sense of humanity and the director was just standing at the theater exit laughing maniacally, I'd adore that film forever. 

Unfortunately thats just not the case with Empire. Late in the film the base is "saved" by a number of US planes. Bale's character (and I'll say now before I forget that Bale does a wonderful job in this film and without his great performance it'd be a total loss) after having been abandoned by everyone in his life, and learning that stealing from the dying to save the living is part of this new existence has a conniption when he actually sees the American fighter planes. He shouts and screams with excitement like only a child can do. Its the most moving moment in the film. The problem is it doesn't work with the story that Spielberg is trying to tell. Bale's character loves planes with all his heart and though I'll never stomp on a child's happiness I really wanted to see him ignore the planes. To see them soar over his head and instead of being happy, he continues about his routine of survival. 

I have to make an aside about John Malkovich in this film. His performance is wonderful as always but in a movie that really defines vanilla his character is one of the grayest complex people I've ever witnessed on film. I really wish the story moved passed Bale's youth and into his adulthood so that we could see more of Malkovich in person and more of him develop in Jamie.

I'm really ripping on the film here but I must reinforce that it's hardly a loss. Spielberg's craft is the best I've seen it so far in this chronological run through his films. He tells a long(winded) story and manages total control over some huge settings and character's. The amateur mistakes of Jaws and the campy nature of the Indiana Jones films have been left by the wayside to make a very professional-looking war epic. The trouble definitely resides in a script that keeps telling the audience it should be feeling but never really works hard enough to illicit that much emotion out of anyone.

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Ramblin' 'bout Amblin: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Ready to have your mind-hole blown? Temple of Doom is a prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark. Yeah, let that sink in.

Okay that's probably not news to many of you but it sure as shit was news to me. It does explain a lot though. The disappearance of Karen Allen. The sudden and horrible presence of Indy's two new sidekicks. It's almost worth pretending that this was the first Indiana Jones film just so you can credit the series' creators with having the good sense to get rid of the two side characters and essentially pretend this film never happened. Why? Because it's a goddamn train wreck.

George Lucas made a push for the film to be a prequel because he didn't want Nazis as the villains. First mistake. He turned in a treatment and Lawrence Kasdan who wrote Raiders immediately said no. He seems to be the only one who was thinking clearly. Since then even Spielberg has come out and said he doesn't look positively on the film. Spielberg wanted Karen Allen to return as Marion Ravenwood and possibly introduce Abner Ravenwood (the young man portrayed by Shia Labouf in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). It hurts to know these ideas were shot down by Lucas. One, because I love Karen Allen in these films and two, because this means that we would've got a different young actor to portray Abner which is something we can all agree would've been wonderful.

It's a shame. Having Marion and Abner in the place of Willie Scott and Short Round would almost immediately fix this film for me. The plot isn't the issue. Sure the film's portrayal of Indian and Hindu culture is astoundingly bad, but I'll let most of it slide if it means I don't have to listen to Kate Capshaw and Jon Ke Quan bray like a pair of carnival animals for the first hour and fifteen minutes of this film. Alright I'll try not to openly bitch anymore. Thats not what this article is supposed to be about.

Spielberg does a great job again of approaching the genre with the campiness that made its predecessor so wonderful to watch. They even took it a step farther by making the film much darker in tone (It contributed heavily to the creation of the PG-13 rating). The film has some wonderful moments. The opening in the Chinese Nightclub. The escape from the gangsters that immediately follows. And the mine cart sequence when Indy and gang escape the Temple of Doom at the film's conclusion. All really entertaining stuff. What's funny is all three of those scenes were cut from Raiders of the Lost Ark. They wouldn't quite fit into the first films narrative and were reused for Temple. It makes sense that they're far and away the best parts of the film but it hurts to know that they built an entire film out of scraps and ill-judged crap. 

The film spends its first hour wandering around aimlessly trying to make jokes. And fails in the process. I can't blame the writing on Spielberg since he had little to do with it but its really a shame he didn't put his foot down more. From everything I've seen and read, Spielberg's contributions would've changed the film's shape completely for the better. So for that I have to blame him a little. But the brunt is still on George Lucas. Why? Because its just so easy. Spielberg's final ruling on the film is that "there's not an ounce of my own personal feeling in Temple of Doom". Really Steve? Then why do it?

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Ramblin' 'bout Amblin: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

E.T. was the highest grossing film of all time when it was released. It held that record for ten years. Then Jurassic Park ousted it. It could be that I'm writing this the day after the bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon but there is something so calming about the fact that for a decade American's favorite film was a film devoid of violence. It was a film about friendship. About family. About helping a stranger.

There are a lot of great parallels between E.T. and Close Encounters. Namely the idea that at least for some people, discovering a being from another world isn't a cause for alarm. Sure, in E.T. the government does pose much more of a threat than they do in Close Encounters but what I find so wonderful about E.T. is that ultimately it's not the government thats the problem. It's more generally adults. E.T. is a film told almost entirely from a child's perspective. Spielberg utilizes numerous low angle POV shots to illustrate this. Though it was many years earlier I saw a lot of Terrance Malick's Tree of Life in much of this film's cinematography. Though Tree does a better job of portraying the beauty and energy of a child's view, E.T. managers to portray the sometimes terrifying nature of being surrounded by people who control you simply because they're larger. Spielberg never over complicates this issue either. Almost every adult is wearing a mask in this film. And it's perfect. Almost no individual adult is important save for Elliot's mother and possibly one of the scientists that gets involved. Masking the adults, whether it be literally or in shadow, is the perfect way to turn them into agents of evil without having to show any kind of violence.

The story in E.T.  is over simplified but I really feel it does nothing to soften the film. Instead it just supports the claim that the film is about and for children. A child wouldn't find out everything he could about a new friend's home-world or genetic make up. He'd simply want to spend time with them. I really can't fight with E.T. on any level. It's a wonderful film with a great message with one of the most touching conclusions I've ever seen. I hand it to Steven Spielberg for keeping the film as innocent as a child.

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A Beautiful Legacy

Hello there! I have a piece up over at RogerEbert.com about the Cannes Film Festival and its importance to cinematic evolution. It's a multi-part job and part one went out yesterday and part two just went up a few moments ago (and here's part three). It's my first foray into short form video essays, or factual documentary criticism, and I wager there's room for improvement, but I'd sure appreciate your eyes and ears for their duration. The Cannes FIlm Festival has always fascinated me; the line-up swerving from harmonic to contrapuntal through the years has much to say about the state of film in a given year. If charting cinema's stylistic and technical evolution from the 50s to today, you could do worse than to look at what's caused a stir on the Croisette over the years. I've read Mike D'Angelo's Cannes coverage ravenously since 2009, and indeed it was festival review dispatches that Spring in many different print magazines that really got me hooked on film criticism as an artform and a science. Those fellas were looking to pick a fight, and it was thrilling. I'd sit at Trident books on rainy days between classes and read Film Comment or Cinema Scope. Defenses of Bruno Dumont's retreat from his usual style, before I knew what his usual style was. Furious takedowns of Tarantino and Lars Von Trier for attempting to do the job of the critic in their movies! The guts of the seventh art were out for me to see, and I got a good look at how everything worked before tucking them back in and getting out the thread and needle.

My good friend Sean Van Deuren and I, as well as this site's own Fox Johnson, Noah Aust, Alexandra Maiorino, Alysha Joslyn and Kyle McDonald, watched the bulk of the 2010 competition when we ran Emerson College's Films From The Margin group. The memories of watching Certified Copy, On Tour, Biutiful & Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and then talking about them, are the most important thing about my time at Emerson College. Those memories combined into a crazy undertaking when I organized the Totally Illegal Film Festival: watch the entire 1968 Cannes Film Festival line-up and give out the prizes that the jury never did. Of course, the end goal was forgotten as I got swept up in the fascinating, frustrating experience of watching two dozen films that the world had all but forgotten about. For the record: Palm d'Or goes to Kuroneko, Grand Prix to The Castle, script goes to The Firemen's Ball, director goes to Miklós Jancsó for not one, but two amazing films, actress Lisa Gastoni for Grazie, Zia, actor, a tie between Albert Finney for Charlie Bubbles and George C. Scott for Petulia and the Jury Prize to The Long Day's Dying (a room of very vocal people were stunned into silenced by it).

And it was all of this, flying around in the attic that is my brain, that helped me create the essays.

It's an incredible honor to have my work run on Roger Ebert's website. The man's influence is incalculable and for most people he was the face of falling in love with movies. He made us all want to be better, more open and articulate movie lovers. Sean used to watch his show as a kid (I confess that my first prolonged exposure came from his cameos on The Critic, a show that defined my childhood) and it was Sean who got me into the writing of Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, who took over on the revamped At The Movies. It's Sean I thought about when this opportunity presented itself, because he is an Ebert Fan, a bigger one than me. And Ebert fans rightly have high standards for their critics, so anything I do under this banner has to be the best work I know how to do. Being a part of the Ebert community for these few short hours has been an incredible feeling, one I'll never forget.