Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Jaws

A lesson in the real-life effects of storytelling, expectations vs. reality, and the vast difference between a mass view of something and a personal one.

 Major Spoilers.

With Jaws being one of Steven Spielberg's most iconic movies, and with me being pretty well-steeped in film culture from a young age, I have almost always been aware of this movie, but never watched it. For a while I was too young for its scary and maturity level, and for another while I believed I still was. But I always figured I would watch it someday, and that day has finally come.

Okay. Don't look now, but... you're in an iconic movie moment.

Watching this film after so long a time made me realize some things: I realized that avoiding seeing it because I was afraid it would make me scared of sharks was a completely moot point, and I'd been delaying for no reason. The reality of the matter is that the moment I learned that this film made people scared of the water, it had its effect on me. Fortunately I have great parents who explained how sharks really work and how unlikely shark attacks are, and fortunately I'm a reasonable person who believed them, and fortunately I love the ocean so much that the idea of sharks will not deter me from the water, but the fact remains. Just knowing that this film scared people was enough to scare me.

Maybe it would have scared me more if I'd actually seen it at ten, but at the ripe old age of twenty-three, there was no more effect to be had. And this is an excellent example of what Spielberg himself discovered with this film; that the unseen is scarier than the seen. Because boy, that shark is at its scariest when it's represented by a POV camera, or moving barrels and docks, or the fear on a character's face. Just like the shark didn't need to be shown to scare moviegoers, for me even hearing about not seeing it was enough; my imagination did the rest.

"I used to hate the water." "I can't imagine why."

I imagined a ton about this movie, by the way. Not purposefully, but knowing about it and being interested in it for so long, I could hardly do otherwise. Hearing bits and pieces of plot or filming trivia, and lines like, "you're gonna need a bigger boat" or "this was no boat accident" all added up to an idea of it in my head. One that I never really realized I had until it was shattered into pieces. My preconception of it wasn't terribly far off for a good portion of the film, but it's worth noting that for most of my life I thought that was the lead, and didn't even know who was. Besides that not much was unexpected for the first two acts of the film.

I did, however, have a childish apprehension that it would be too scary. I knew it was silly, but it was a bit of a relief and extremely satisfying to have been able to relish the fear element that the film offered up so beautifully, instead of feeling regret and worry for my future sleeping abilities. That was a smaller side of my wrong expectations. Here are some of the bigger ones:

Show me the way to go home / I'm tired and I want to go to bed / I had a little drink about an hour ago / and it's gone right to my head!

I didn't know that the whole last act of the film would be the three men, one boat and the shark. Having them be cut off from the world made everything so much more personal, which increased the suspense wonderfully. I didn't know that all three of the characters would be main characters; I expected a few red-shirts to be present. I thought that they would actually get a bigger boat! That one seems ridiculous now, but I honestly thought that if they needed a bigger boat, they would go get one. I didn't know that the character to say that line wasn't the biggest expert on either boats or sharks, but in my defense, (and his) he was right.

I didn't expect Quint to get eaten. I don't know why, but all the named characters seemed off-limits for some reason. So that whole scene really got me. I knew that there would be some personal, human drama going on with Brody, but still that climax was the biggest change to my expectations of all. Just him and a sinking boat vs. the most vicious shark a fish story has ever invented. I recently read Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, and the parallels between it and this sequence really struck me. Except here it was a younger, inexperienced man who knew nothing about the sailing or the ocean who found himself face to face with the terrifying, otherworldly power that the sea houses within its depths.

I always look for the Spielbergian wonder in his movies, and this one is shot beautifully of course, but that's not all of it. Here, appropriately, the wonder comes from the ocean. And I saw it in this scene.

I even knew that the shark was killed by being blown up. I knew that, yet I knew nothing about the film's hero, hardly anything about his arc and the personal side of his struggle, and absolutely nothing about the circumstances of his victory. Isn't that strange? That was the part that made the film good! It's what makes the film great as well, but seriously, without Brody (and even Hooper and Quint too) and the human, emotional element he brings to the story, this film would probably be long-forgotten by now. Just an aged monster film with a good score. Even the score wouldn't be so effective if it weren't for the acting, which was excellent all-around, creating the lovable characters that we don't want to see get eaten.

Maybe that's just me, because I never saw it coming and wasn't prepared for how much I would love those characters and the depth they brought, but there it is. It really surprises me, considering it now: All the things I heard about this movie -- from various sources that loved the film -- were the superficial things that didn't really make a difference to me in the end. Maybe they were avoiding spoilers? And it was probably my fault too, since I was more interested in the neat tidbits and trivia and technical aspects than I was in remembering characters I didn't know played by actors I'd never seen. But my conclusion is this: my original idea of it wasn't mine at all; it was just an average; a general overall perception of it from the general movie audience, culminated inside my head. Now, it's been replaced by a personal view; and what will stick as important has been completely flipped around.

Before, I saw a shark. Now, I see a shark, and a man.

Of course, the action and technical side is as impressive as ever, especially now that I've seen it all working! I will always respect practical effects more than CGI effects, even when the practicals become noticeably dated. There's just no replacing the realism that doing things in camera creates. And no one does practical effects like Spielberg. Actually watching the film hasn't dampened that legendary status I've always attributed to it even slightly.

I still have that feeling, that I mentioned in my Jurassic Park review, where I feel almost unqualified to love a film that's a classic because I'm new to it, but in the case of Jaws, the feeling of being new to it seems like a positive thing in a neat way. Like I've gotten rid of some baggage and am free to move forward in my own direction. I still have a little while to go to develop a full personal love, and I look forward to adding to that, and to my familiarity with it, but one thing will probably never change: I've always thought of this film as a masterpiece.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Charlie Bartlett

Some Spoilers.

One of the many movies I watched because of my love and appreciation of , and probably would have never even noticed otherwise. And likewise one of his many movies that wound up surprising me with unexpected greatness. Charlie Bartlett tells the story of a rich high school student who is kicked out of yet another private school and must attend a public school. Charlie's goal in life is to be popular, so he begins to use his rich-kid connections to deal prescription drugs to the student body. Along with listening to their problems and giving them advice, because hey, he's a nice guy.

"Would you like to talk about it?"

I've seen this film twice now, and both times was on TV and edited for content. The original is rated R, just for your information. Also, obviously, the film deals with mature and questionable content. The whole plot is about drugs, and the lead is a full-on drug dealer whichever way you slice it. It's also technically a teen dramedy and ticks all the boxes that usually requires. It touches on a lot of serious subjects and always seems to be on the verge of going down a path that is too dark. The first time I watched it, that all came as unexpected. I was just there to watch Anton and have a giggle, but the movie really is more than that. I sat down with it again yesterday with a totally different mindset, and this time the movie clicked for me.

This time I paid attention to what the movie is trying to say. On the surface it easily seems like a casually promiscuous movie full of characters doing objectionable things and getting away with it. But I was surprised at how morally upright it was in the end (comparatively) and at how good its message and themes were. The movie strikes a neat grey area by having Charlie do bad things with good intentions, particularly selling prescription drugs to students. He doesn't need the money; he does it for two reasons: One, he feel that it's important to be popular during high school years. And two, he actually does care for the students. He knows that they often can't or won't get professional help, and thinks he can be a good third option. And in a lot of ways he is.

The doctor is in.

He spends a lot of time listening to kids who have never had anyone listen to them before, and genuinely tries to help them. When his doling out meds backfires he even continues to listen and give advice free of charge. Charlie always seems to be in the pursuit of doing the right thing. And really this story is about him discovering what exactly the right thing is. He messes up a lot along the way, and almost in some permanent ways, but he mends his mistakes and he gets there, and it's very rewarding when he does.

What's really neat about this character is that, like the film that features him, his surface impression is actually very inaccurate to the real him. Charlie looks and acts like his life is well-put-together, but really he's just as confused and messed up as anyone. His obsession with being liked is very easy to relate to, and slowly we discover ever darker and deeper sides to him. Anger and insecurity which he keeps suppressed -- and even that he does with good intentions -- but it comes out slowly, and impressively subtly for a teen flick. Really I don't think this should count as a teenage movie. It's much too deep, and intricate, and thoughtful for that. Its biggest failings come when it tries to work within the teen flick genre and shortchanges itself.

Charlie's mother played by is excellent.

Anton Yelchin always gave enjoyable performances, but this stands out in a few ways. Firstly he was given a chance to really run wild with exaggerated performances bits. I loved all the scenes where he was at the piano, dramatically showing off. But also there are several moments that required intricate depth too. Like where the character himself his acting -- putting on a front to hide his real emotions -- and he portrays the real emotion and the emotion the character is trying to show. That can't have been easy at all. He pulled it off beautifully.

Also in the cast is as the love interest Susan, and the school principle Mr. Gardner is her father, played by He gives a very good performance too. At first he seems like a bad guy, out to get Charlie like Mr. Rooney in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, but he becomes more and more clearly a mess too, with his own desire to be liked. And all that tension between him and Charlie finally culminates at the end in a great scene by the pool. I love that scene. It's the moment where the movie fully and finally transcends the teen flick genre. The stakes slowly climb during the whole film, and there both the characters are finally in over their heads and the facades come down. And then the drama resolves as forgiveness is passed around and things that were for so long right on edge of toppling into cynical tragedy turn around into happy and encouraging endings.

"Some days are better than others."

The theme of forgiveness is very strong, and there's also plenty to be said for loving your neighbor and selfless love (there is great, realistic examples of this shown between Charlie and his mother, and Susan and her dad), and the movie is also very understanding in pointing out the true unimportance of being liked just for the sake of being liked. "It's not the popularity; it's what you do with it," it says. And if a kid like Charlie can figure that out, I guess there's hope for the rest of us, too.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Sunshine Blogger Award

A big thanks to Katy of Oh So Geeky for tagging me for this! She came up with some fun questions, so lets get right to it! Rules:

To accept our award, we simply have to: 
Post the award on your blog
Thank the person who nominated you
Answer the 11 questions they set you
Pick another 11 bloggers
Send them 11 questions

Katy's Questions:


1. What movie surprised you the most this year? 
10 Cloverfield Lane. It was the only movie I went into casually, with no baggage and no expectations, and it completely and utterly blew me away.

2. If you published a memoir, what would you call it? 
The World Through Sarah-Tinted Glasses or some slightly silly, slightly witty reference to my perspective, and how I see the world by observing it.

3. What movie character would you love to see made as a FunkoPop (that hasn't been made already)?
I just saw on Twitter some mock-ups or something of Stranger Things characters -- Eleven and Barb! (Because Katy retweeted them, actually!) They were perfect and should be made! I would definitely consider buying a Chief Hopper one.

4. You can only place three movies into a time capsule for future generations. Which titles would you pick?
I'm gonna assume that this means more like my personal picks for future generations that encapsulates this time, and not that these three will be the only movies they will ever see -- because that is just way too much pressure even for hypotheticals. And I will say... Super 8, The Way, Way Back, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

5. Is there a movie that took you a couple of viewings to appreciate?
Hmm. Maybe Blade Runner? I didn't understand it at all the first time I saw it, and even now I still probably don't understand half as well as I should, but I do appreciate it now, and will keep on watching it and appreciating it more and more.

6. What actor/actress will make you watch a movie no matter how bad it might be?
I have frequently sat through movies just because the names of... Sam Rockwell, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin, Cillian Murphy, and Michael Shannon have appeared in the credits. Some of them were very bad. Some are among my favorite movies of all time.

7. What actor/actress will make you less likely to see a movie?
I try not to let a actors influence me negatively towards movies. However, I'm am pretty prejudiced against Keira Knightly, and Kevin Costner.

8. If you had an opportunity to tell a director to their face how much they messed up a highly-anticipated movie, would you? What would you tell them?
I might have a few choice words for Zack Snyder -- over Man of Steel -- but no, I don't think I would tell it to his face. I just don't care that much. But if I did it would involve a lot of ranting about how stupid Kevin Costner's character is, and how pathetic Lois is, and how un-Superman-ish Superman is when he just lets thousands of people die -- and WHY IN THE WORLD DID HE THINK THAT WOULD MAKE A GOOD MOVIE?????? And then I'd be like, "nice job casting Michael Shannon as Zod though." (Actually, maybe that wasn't his call... actually maybe none of that was his call! Maybe I should be more irritated with the writers in this case.)

9. Can a soundtrack make or break a movie?
Absolutely. Though I think it's easier to make a movie with one. An excellent soundtrack can easily be the highlight of a movie, but it's a lot harder to make a terrible soundtrack that ruins a film!

10. What movie made you laugh recently?
Hail, Caesar! There were some moments in that movie that were so unexpectedly and absurdly funny that I couldn't help but burst out is actual, real laughter -- a that happens pretty rarely in films for me.

11. What movie(s) are you looking forward to seeing this fall?
The only one releasing this fall that I can think of off the top of my head is Doctor Strange. The excitement hasn't kicked in for that yet, but I expect it will. Also Arrival looks neat, and there's Jeff Nichols' new film Loving. I am already excited for Rogue One, but that's more in winter. I'm also looking forward to renting/buying all the movies I skipped over the summer, especially the ones that I didn't skip by choice!

I'm gonna opt out of the tagging people part of this one. Partly because I'm feeling too lazy to come up with 11 questions right now. But if you like these questions, and want to answer them then go ahead and do!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Upcoming Movie Roundup - September

August was a no-go. It was such a no-go that I didn't even watch The Little Prince off Netflix. Netflix. Could have watched at any time and all I did was watch Stranger Things three more times. Not that that was really a bad decision or anything. That show is the greatest.

September has a handful of movies with interesting trailers, but no must-sees currently. I won't be surprised if I don't go to the theater again this month, and that makes me sad.

Does anything look good to you this month? And have you seen Stranger Things yet? You absolutely must!


The 9th Life of Louis Drax
Sep 2nd (limited); R
This one is pretty interesting just because the trailer was very unexpected. I did not expect a creepy sci-fi element. It's also a mystery and a drama, but the supernatural side is really the most appealing aspect to me. Since it's coming out tomorrow there are reviews already, and it's not looking particularly great.




Sully
Sep 9th; PG-13
Not that this isn't an incredibly neat story or anything, but I wonder if it really warrants a full-length film. It seems like they're adding a lot of drama (via "the untold story") just to push up the run time -- to a whopping 96 minutes. Of course Clint Eastwood is a great director, and Tom Hanks is a great actor, so maybe they can make it all worthwhile for more than just a shot at some Oscar attention. The trailer is definitely of a first-rate brand!




London Road
Sep 9th (limited); NR
This movie is so strange I just had to include it. Watch the trailer to see for yourself because it's hard to describe, but it's a musical -- an actual stage musical being adapted for the screen -- about the small, oddball town of Ipswich when a high-profile murder case made them the center of attention in 2006. And it's a musical. And the music is so strange. Seriously just watch this trailer. Olivia Colman and Tom Hardy lead the cast.




Snowden
Sep 16th (limited); R
I'm not really privy to the controversy about this dude, but putting the true story part aside, this trailer makes this film look like an excellent, tight and suspenseful thriller (even though the main genre it's labeled as is "drama"). That, plus Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and I'm sold. If it proves to be what it promises I'll be looking for it on VidAngel.



The Magnificent Seven
 Sep 23rd; PG-13
This is to me the most interesting release of the month. Which is a little sad considering it's a remake and I'm sick to the teeth of terrible remakes. However, I haven't actually seen the original Magnificent Seven, so that helps a lot, and maybe this will be one of the few that actually is a worthy remake. I love the cast, and the trailer -- even with the modern music that is odd but fitting. I definitely want this one to turn out good, but I won't be getting my hopes up anytime soon.




The Dressmaker
Sep 23rd (limited); NR
On the surface this one seems odd -- a little too odd. But I really enjoyed the trailer. The fashion, the mystery, Kate Winslet... it all has an air of originality to it, and that makes me want to see it. Isn't Liam Hemsworth quite a little bit too young to play this part though. Maybe he's playing older and Kate is playing younger. Like I said, odd.




Deepwater Horizon
Sep 30th; PG-13
Ah, true stories of disaster. You know this is gonna be the biggest drama an action film ever was. And still I list it here. Maybe because it's one of the bigger releases of the month, maybe because it looks like there may be some neat action after all, maybe because Dylan O'Brien is in the cast... who knows.




Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Sep 30th (limited); PG-13
I read the book, but strangely it didn't make me all that interested in seeing this movie. Asa Butterfield as Jacob will probably be perfect, but otherwise the adapting doesn't have that since of love and devotion you look for in franchises like this. The lead girl has someone else's powers, and the other character is cut out completely? What's up with that? Anyway, I will probably watch this, it's just a matter of when -- as determined by how good or bad it is considered to be by fans and critics.