Friday, January 13, 2012

Favorite Writers

Just thought I would take a break from writing about movies to talk about literature. Even though I have a passion for film, I have just as much of a passion for literature. I guess you could say that overall, my true passion is in storytelling, rather than just narrowing it down to one specific medium of storytelling. Anyway, a couple weeks ago, I shared my favorite directors, and now I'll share my favorite writers.

  1. Dennis Lehane- I'm a sucker for mystery novels, and that is the one thing that Lehane has mastered. He has written several books including Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River. Both of which were turned into great movies, one of them being amongst my favorites.
  2. Stephen King- This really applies more to his work pre-2000. Since the late 90's I don't think he has written as good books as he did during the 70's and 80's. I will say that I did enjoy his latest book Full Dark, No Stars, but it doesn't nearly compare to Salem's Lot, The Shining, Misery, or Carrie. And do I even need to mention The Dark Tower? I think it goes without saying that The Dark Tower is some of King's finest work.
  3. Professor JRR Tolkein- I shouldn't have to say that much about this writer, considering he is known for being one of the most influential and most beloved authors of the past century. The Lord of the Rings has practically become the Holy Bible of both geekdom and modern literature, setting the bar for both story and characters, and providing a precedent for certain archetypes.
  4. JK Rowling- It would be difficult for me to avoid this entry, considering that, like a lot of people, Harry Potter was a big part of my childhood.
  5. Tom Clancy- Much like Stephen King, this one really applies more to his past work more than his most recent work. I am a huge fan of the novels involving Jack Ryan, as well as other novels like Rainbow Six. The rest of his stuff is a little mediocre.
  6. John Le Carre- This is what I think Tom Clancy should be more like. If you want to get an idea to what his writing is like, take all of the James Bond novels, suck out all of the action and pizazz, and you have John Le Carre. Sure, his writing is much slower than Tom Clancy's, but I think it is a bit more engaging.
  7. Mario Puzo- What can I say about this guy? Well, he wrote The Godfather, does that give you an idea? Moving on.
  8. Mary Shelly- Even though her work is very old, she did write one of the most well known books of all time. If you don't know what that particular book is, kiss it. The part of her novel that I really love is the idea of that constant battle between science and nature, and how there are some dastardly consequences that occur when science tries to but out nature. The idea is that either they should leave each other alone, or they should go hand in hand to work towards a better tomorrow.
  9. Edgar Allan Poe- Some people may think that I am a little messed up for putting him here, but I don't care. There is a reason why Poe is considered to be one of the greatest American authors, and why his work is taught in every junior high and high school. If you want to know what that reason is, then I would refer you to The Tell Tale Heart, The Raven, or even The Fall of the House of Usher.
  10. Hunter S. Thompson- This guy is one of those people who is both entertaining and insightful. When he isn't saying something thought provoking, he's just being bat shit insane

Monday, January 9, 2012

First Monster Flick Review

This wasn't brought to my attention until recently, but I have yet to review a monster flick! That being said, let's talk about the mother of all monster movies. The one that sneaks up on you when you think you've hit smooth sailing. The one that eats all other monster films right out of the water. In case you couldn't tell by those really bad puns, the film we're going to talk about today is Jaws, the movie that scared people away from the beaches for years to come. This movie was the first of many big hits to be directed by Hollywood legend Steven Spielberg, who has since made several good movies, including two of my favorites, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Saving Private Ryan. But does it hold up? Do the techniques employed still scare audiences today like they did all those years ago? Well, let's take a look!

First of all, I should point out that part of what made this movie a classic was a bit of an accident. Originally, the studio and director decided that this would be a Godzilla-type movie with people running away from a giant shark that would look terrifying on the big screen. Here's the rub: The shark that would supposedly go on to scare the living piss out of its audience kept breaking down. And it was for this reason that the movie fell into such a tremendous debt and production fell so behind. It was for this reason, among others that the movie was in danger of being scrapped altogether. Spielberg and Richard Dreyfuss (one of the stars) probably would have never made another movie, and Roy Scheider would look back on this project as just some failed experiment in an otherwise sterling career. That would have been the case... Except for one thing. Spielberg came up with the idea of instead of showing us the shark (nicknamed Bruce on the set), he would show us everything from the shark's perspective, all while playing that subtle but still heart attack inducing music... You know the music I'm talking about. I'm betting you're probably humming it right now! Duuuuun dun... Duuuuuuun dun.... You get the idea. Anyway, by combing these two elements, you wouldn't exactly have the audiences shrieking right away, but you would have them getting closer and closer to falling off the edge of their seats as we see the shark moving closer and closer to the naked lady/ 9 year old kid. And then when you actually show the victim being dragged to the bottom, that would be the moment where the aisles became flooded with the urine and vomit of a thousand saps, cascading down the steps of the theater like a river of... you know what? I'm going to drop that analogy there before even I get grossed out. But you get the point. Part of the reason why the movie worked so well is that you never saw the shark, I can recall 3 times that I can remember seeing the shark. It may be more than that, but it probably is no more than 5. The point is that this movie follows the principle of less being more. The less the audience sees, the more intimidating and suspenseful it is, and thus the reaction you get is much greater as well when things get to a head.

This technique ended up saving the movie because the scenes with the shark became few and far between, and the budget problems were nearly solved. The only thing that people were waiting on were the box office results. And wouldn't you know? The movie absolutely killed at the box office, making a ton of money and giving the studio enough reason to make not one, but THREE sequels, but we'll get to those later. According to Spielberg, there was an incident where he saw a patron start to run out of the theater in the middle of a screening. Naturally, Spielberg thought that the guest was sickened by the film and was leaving in anger. Well, one of those statements is true, and it's not what you think. The patron WAS sickened by the movie, and he left the theater to go puke his guts out. When you are making this kind of movie, that should be the highest praise you can get! Screw letter grades, forget about scales of 1-5, when you have a guest tasting his last meal, you have done your job mister! Pat yourself on the back you gruesome bastard! The movie has since become a legend, making icons out of all the people that were involved in the making and has even been parodied to death. I think three of those parodies are mistaken for being actual sequels... At least let's pray to God that's the case

When all is said and done... Does this movie still hold up? Well, yes and no. Yes, because it still scares audiences even to this day, again proving that less really is more. Some of the greatest horror films of all time have proven that. Take movies like The Shining, The Haunting, or even The Others where the fear comes from what you don't see, thus building suspense and tension in the mind of the viewer. Other movies, like the remake of The Haunting, try to get cheap scares by showing us CGI ghosts and having things scream in our faces. It's good for a momentary scare (if that), but leaves no real lasting impression on the audience. A movie like Jaws does leave an impact because of the amount of things we do see, or rather, what we don't see. For this reason, it does hold up.

The reason why I would say it doesn't hold up is this: Audiences would not be able to accept this movie if it were made today. These days, the so-called 'scary movies' are all about the ghost or whathaveyou. Jaws is more about the people that are being affected by this, and how they react to the situation. We really do care about these characters and want to see them pull through. And, since the scenes with the shark are few and far between, that makes them more special and therefore, more memorable. This was again, accredited to the fact that the filmakers were limited by the technology of the time and had to make do with what they had. Audiences these days would just be bored out of their mind and continuously ask "Where's the shark?" This has less to do with the movie itself and more to do with the audience that would be viewing it.

Bottom line: Do I recommend it? Umm... Duh! The only reason I wouldn't recommend this movie is if you list any of the Saw movies on your top ten. Even if you don't find it scary, you will at least learn to care about the characters and cheer for Roy Scheider when he says "Smile you son of a bitch!". In any case, go buy it or rent it. Especially now in January, when going to the beach is not ranking high on your to do list. And now, since I talked about this one, I feel almost obligated to talk about the rest of the movies. Expect to see that review soon... God help us all...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Believe it or not, I have quite a few mixed feelings about this movie. I despise it, don't get me wrong, but when I actually watch it, I always go through the same cycle of emotions: Start out with hopeful, like this movie could be good. I see the opening fight, and I get optimistic. We witness the infamous fridge scene, I slap myself to see if I'm dreaming because that was really stupid. The rest of the movie goes on, I get a bit more optimistic, and then the aliens show up and I blow my brains out.

That's pretty much a summary of what I go through every time this movie is on TV. When I actually think about it, the movie as a whole isn't that bad, it has the same tone, the same feel and even the same music as the other three movies, but there is just one thing that causes me to check out of this movie every time, and it ain't Shia LaBeouf. To be honest with you people, I don't have that big of a problem with Shia. Sure, he was annoying in the Transformers movies, but then again, so was everyone, even Jesus. And here, he was actually a pretty good choice to play the young supporting character. And the thing that bothered me wasn't the fridge scene either. Sure, that scene was beyond ludicrous, but if it weren't for this one thing, I would be able to forgive that.

The thing that really turns me off to this movie is this: aliens... Sorry, inter-dimensional beings, or whatever the hell John Hurt calls them at the end. The idea of throwing sci-fi into this when all the other movies were well... not science fiction is just a turn off for me. Now I do understand that aliens and religious artifacts fall under the same category (labeled "Things we may never fully understand and shouldn't screw around with"), but in terms of a film genre, they are on completely different ends of the spectrum, and throwing them together without any sort of warning is just risky and all around unwise. The other thing that bugs me about this twist is that they try to call them "inter-dimensional beings". Not entirely sure what that means, I'm guessing they can travel between dimensions, or whatever, but here's the thing: You may not call them aliens, but they look like traditional aliens, crash-landed in Roswell, New Mexico, have mind powers like a lot of aliens do, and flew away in a FUCKING UFO!!! You may not call them aliens, but they sure do fit the fucking bill!

Other than that elephant in the room, the movie as a whole is not that bad. Sure there are scenes like the fridge and the monkey swinging scene that are pretty ridiculous but aren't all that bad. The other movies had some scenes that required us to suspend our disbelief for a short while, and these scenes weren't all that different. And this will come as a shock to nobody, but the aliens idea was George Lucas's idea. And apparently, he was the only one who wanted it to happen. Short reminder here, this was the guy who thought audiences would find Jar-Jar hilarious. Spielberg knew the idea was BS and even fought it off as long as he could, arguing that people wouldn't go for it and that he was through with making alien movies. But George insisted that this must be made and... well, the rest is history. Lucas is now credited with almost ruining two of his own brainchildren. Can we just all agree that George Lucas is the enemy of the human race?