Posts Tagged ‘movies’

Someone recently criticized a review of a book I wrote because it contained spoilers, particularly about the ending. I won’t mention the book because, frankly, it doesn’t deserve any more of my attention, but I wondered whether I had been wrong about posting information within the review that might have “spoiled” the ending for others.

Then I thought, No, I wasn’t wrong.

What was “wrong” was that the person didn’t want to read a review they weren’t prepared to agree with, or at the very least consider my arguments.

Of course, I wouldn’t have wanted people, say, telling me what the big “twist” in “The Sixth Sense” was about, but when I went to see it (after many friends gushed about what a huge surprise it was) I was disappointed more to have guessed the twist in the first ten minutes of the film. Had I been warned that the entire film was based on a premise that the audience wouldn’t be smart enough to guess the twist in those first ten minutes I would have been more entertained, because, honestly, I felt the fuss over that film had more to do with how easily people could be fooled by a simple lack of visual literacy than it did some great narrative surprise. You want a real spoiler? Go into a deep philosophical discussion about the meaning of the ending in “Inception.”

Here’s where I find many people wrong about the notion of spoilers: What they want is to be reassured the book/play/movie is going to meet their expectations without being told how. By this very reasoning, it is impossible to write a critical (i.e. negative) review of any narrative form because a reviewer would need to discuss specifics in order to explain and justify their point. What is spoiler to some is a critical examination to others, and thus we come to the great truth about media reviews:

You should be reading them AFTER you’ve seen/read/experienced the thing in question if you don’t want spoilers, because who knows exactly WHAT is going to be a spoiler for any given individual?

People use reviews online to help them make decisions, and with a service like Amazon, reviews and their subsequent ratings (another topic, a question of pure evil) can determine the success of a product.

For example, earlier this summer I bought a car-top carrier for our family vacation and of all the warnings I read, all the positive and negative reviews, NO ONE mentioned this top-rated item had a zipper that was not properly stress rated for this design. It isn’t really a “spoiler” to say “There are design problems” or “I had problems with the zipper” but if someone had said “I have pants with stronger zippers than on this item” I would not have bought it, I would have been “spoiled” from making a purchase that in the end upset me.

So if I’m reading a book with an ending that is full of problems, and I simply say it was “weak” and “didn’t meet my expectations” you would not get as full a sense of my criticism as if I’d said “There are serious errors in human behavior that, in the real world, would have made this happy ending implausible, if not impossible” followed by a brief outline of the issues at hand. Does it reveal too much to be thorough? For some people, perhaps, but there’s still a larger issue here, one i came to many years ago when i began reviewing movies for radio.

See and read everything that interests you, and judge for yourself.

Don’t let a reviewer or a critic ruin anything, simply go out into the world and read the reviews AFTERWARD. If you felt cheated by the story, angered by the implausible, or otherwise burned by the experience, you have performed a very valuable service for yourself: You have gained insight into what does or does not appeal to you, and you have gained the insight without the aid of being told what to think by others.

And in light of recent concerns over reviewers accepting pay for positive reviews, perhaps that isn’t such a bad thing.

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Our national cinema, when we need to show that something is important, that will rock us deep to the core, we always go for the presidential seal. Once things get all the way up the chain to the Commander-in-Chief you know that’s where the buck is going to stop. But what does it mean to have the highest office in the land (well, here in the ol’ US of A that is) used so freely in our national storytelling?

Recently while watching the movie Air Force One I couldn’t stop wondering what the founding fathers would have made of Harrison Ford’s portrayal as president James Marshall. Would a bunch of dudes who were so eager to create a new form of government where no one branch would be more in control than another have appreciated this portrayal of the head of state as a man of action, able to single-handedly defeats terrorists on board, fly the plane itself for a bit, and then perform a dramatic escape in air via zip line to another plane? The events themselves are patently absurd – if we had a presidential candidate that buff I’m guessing the election would have been decided in an epic arm wrestling match. But leaving aside those improbabilities, why was it important to make fictional American president the hero?

When you look at the history of actors who have played fictional presidents it seems like there was a hands-off policy at either portraying or making fun of the office until after Nixon. There are a couple portrayals in the 30s (including the most bizarre Gabriel Over the White House in which divine intervention converts a fat cat into a benevolent fascist with a little help from god) and a few more in the 60s (Dr Strangelove) but seriously, after Nixon, the gloves are off and the president transitions from wimpy buffoon (Being There, Escape From New York) to in-your-face catchphrase-spouting dudes (Air Force One, Independence Day) to everything in between (Dave, Americathon).

Is the United States the only nation that does this, that creates fictional versions of its top official for entertainment purposes? Occasionally, yes, an international spy thriller will need various heads of state to give the nod or order the plot further into motion, but are their European movies whose leaders are taking names and busting heads of CIA task forces who dare threaten them?

And at the very least, what could the rest of the world make of so much Hollywood product dedicated to projecting our elected officials as heroic stoics or power-mad? Once you compare these cardboard toughs with the actual candidates running for office in any election year the disconnect is so great that it wouldn’t be hard for outsiders to assume American citizens are clueless to their own delusions. We want Arnold Schwartzenegger, or at the very least Morgan Freeman, but in the end would settle for Tom Hanks.

In the end I don’t think it does us any good to focus so much time and energy on this idea of a president being as integral to our entertainment as they are to running the country. In fact, I would rather our politicians quit trying to manage their images in appearing “presidential” and instead focus a little more on the real heroics of making things work.

I don’t imagine Hollywood would make a movie of that. Not enough ass-kicking going on.

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Yeah, that’s right, get ready for it. Spandex and roller boogie and perhaps even leg warmers and headbands!

Okay, maybe not, but it’s just as plausible as most dystopic fiction out there. And for proof, I now draw your attention to one of my favorite topics in the history of late 20th century American cinema, science fiction films of the 1970s.

What the heck was in the water back then?

There were movies about killer robots (Westword, Futureworld), movies about population control (Logan’s Run), movies about what was called “the greenhouse effect” back then (Soylent Green, which was also about population control), and of course, the reign of Charlton Heston as king of all things dystopian-to-come (Planet of the Apes, Omega Man, uh, Earthquake). In a decade that started with A Clockwork Orange (Cold War dystopia!) and The Andromeda Strain (killer viruses!) then ended with a remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (virus from space!) and Mad Max (Cold War dystopia!) there had to be something that would pull us out of the doldrums.

And then along came disco.

Okay, so disco was a simultaneous response to the world, a response that also begat punk rock, but there was huge crossover. So much of the idealistic imagery of the future in 70s sci-fi movies looked like disco outfits — lots of white polyester and feathered hair — while the darker stuff looked like a fashion template for crusty punk squatters. But in the end, wherever there was a dark movie about sanctioned cannibalism there was a new Donna Summer dance tune or a Bee Gees hit!

If YA had been around back in the 70s — and I mean, as huge a market as it is today — I have no doubts teens would have gobbled up books like much of the dystopic sci-fi movies out there. I know, because I was there, and we were hungry for it. I also have no doubt those imaginary books would have been made into movies not unlike the ones that were made that all the teens saw anyway.

So to those adults wringing their hands about how “dark” YA has become, or worried about the boom in dystopic fiction I say fear not. This too shall pass, and in its wake we can expect there to be a rise in mindless pop confections to counter-balance all the darkness. Pastels and fern bars and a return to campy decor is just around the corner. Heck, for good measure, let’s have Woody Allen team up with Dianne Keaton one last time for Annie Hall 2: Electric Boogaloo where the two senior citizens kvetch about New York like nothing has changed in the last 35 years. Maybe Jeff Lynne can collaborate with Olivia Neutron Bomb* for a return trip to Xanadu.** Perhaps the old guard major networks can revive the oldest reality shows they ever created, Battle of the Network Stars, just in time for the Olympics.

Because maybe nothing has changed.





* This was a nickname that combined two of the greatest threats to our well-being in the late 70s, the omnipresence of Olivia Newton John and the threat of a neutron bomb which we were told would destroy populations by leave the buildings in tact – as if that were a reassurance!

** Shortly after I wrote this post, but before I updated it to the interwebs, Donna Summer died. The original line here was “Giorgio Morodor and Donna Summer need to get back into the studio STAT and show these girls what it means to work hard for the money.” As much as I mocked Donna Summer as a teen she did, indeed, work harder for the money than many singers these days. 

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As summer comes to an end, a poem reflecting on the end of another summer and the film that did not mend a teenage relationship. To be fair, nothing would have saved it, but dragging my soon-to-be-heading-to-college girlfriend to see Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band certainly didn’t leave things on a high note. Though the poem stands nicely on its own (I think so at least) if you really want the full effect of that summer you should read this while listening to the instrumental middle of the Steely Dan song “Aja.”

Under no circumstance should you be able to locate, much less listen to, the soundtrack to the film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. The ghost of George Burns will haunt you if you do.


MGM sold off the props
and let the backlots go to rot

surrounded by a steel fence
gone to rust like holey undies

worn by Mrs. Miniver’s house
down Andy Hardy Lane

the old gal didn’t care any more
what folks saw through her


That summer Culver City buzzed
Lot 2 would get its final shot

a musical on the same streets
Judy Garland called St. Louis

the broken window panes replaced
weeds pulled from faux sidewalks

newly whitewashed picket fences
in support of the facade town called



The movie date idea was mine
a Hail Mary of desperation

to rekindle a relationship
that ended months earlier

in the sticky late summer heat
waiting in line opening night

to see the last movie shot at Lot 2
absurdly based on songs written by the


It never occurred to me then
how selfish my choice was

how a date movie should have been
something both of us wanted to see

or that the premise was a disaster
to rival the Hindenburg

or to heed the warning that
a sold out show meant we wouldn’t sit


A late-night walk on the beach
salt air to erase the movie’s stench

one final make-out on moon cold sand
a clumsy lip-locked kiss-off

our 3 AM parents furiously waiting
for us to finally come home

grounded, single, car keys taken away
“I hope it was worth it” dad said


Right now I’m willing to bet there’s some kid out there thinking about taking his soon-to-be ex to a movie. As is the case when it comes to underage drinking or drug use, I hope the kid makes good choices. The wrong movie can be deadly.

Hey! It’s Poetry Friday! And there’s plenty of other poetry out there, this week being hosted by  non-hurricane-Irene over at Live. Love Explore!

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Movie poem time again! This time the subject is what happens in those moments of consciousness transitioning between life and death, and the medium of education is Roman Polanski’s 1971 adaptation of Macbeth. After losing his wife and unborn child in one of the infamous Manson Family murders a few years earlier, I cannot fathom how he could have made this film. Was it the catharsis of work, or of working out a vicarious murder of a Macbeth who looked vaguely like Charles Manson?

There’s no need to get into the particulars of Polanski’s later foibles, the film is an artifact of time and place and the imagery a film, any film, provides is worthy if it sticks with you your entire life. It was a cold, late night in the spring of 1977 when I saw this movie, and I can remember this image as clearly as if I saw it last week.

if godard is right
and movies deliver the truth
then polanski clarified that death
isn’t always instantaneous

poor macbeth
climbing the stairs in vain
knowing fate had come to collect
on his misdeeds

but the lasting indignity
to losing one’s head by broadsword
was remaining conscious long enough
to be spat on and mocked

carried through the courtyard
on the end of a stake
held aloft, cheers softly fading
in celebration of death

that the brain could remain
conscious for those fleeting moments
was more horrifying
than what might come after

shakespeare would have approved
of these unspooling truths
while my parents would reel in horror
at what the movies taught me

had they known

What Jean-Luc Godard is famous for saying is “Film is truth at 24 frames per second, and every cut is a lie.” And if we wanted to drop Susan Sontag in here and talk about how photos (or in this case movies) make reality real to our memory, then I have no doubt that what I saw was the truth. Yes, I know no actor was beheaded in the making of the film, but the emotional psychology that follows the action, that I know to be real. The movies made it so.

Fridays mean Poetry Friday, and out there in the Interntiverse there are people sharing all sorts of poems where, hopefully, no one is losing their head. The roundup is at Dori Reads and it looks like quite a collection.

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Last week I weighed in with a memory culled from my teenage movie-going days and was surprised at how it began to pry open a collection of similar reflections. I’d hate to announce to the universe something like “Huh, I think I’ll make August my month of movie-related poems” only to suddenly find myself battling my muse for slivers of inspiration, but I think it’s worth a try for a second week in a row at least.

Some background. It was raining and there were less than twenty people in the audience that night. Afterward when we all filed out the theatre employees handed us small stickers that featured the iconic shot of actor Jack Nane with his column of hair sticking up and the words “Eraserhead – I Saw It!” around the outer edge. I reckon it was meant as a badge of honor but none us put it on, and in fact I distinctly recall that everyone seemed to deliberately avoid eye contact.

on a midweek Halloween
after midnight
see Eraserhead

despite curiosity
at seventeen
think you’ve seen it all

attempt to explain to friends
what it all meant
and be surprised by
blank stares

see Cornish game hens
erasers the same

The title, for the uninitiated, is an actual line of dialog from the film.

And so goes Poetry Friday! Karen at The Blog with the Shockingly Clever Title (no, seriously!) is hosting the round-up today. By all means, check it out. Not everyone is writing about David Lynch movies – although it would both funny and weird if they did!

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I didn’t mean to wind up on a Poetry Friday vacation, but life happens. You end up out-of-state, away from home, out of routines, and the next thing you know you’re trying to redefine your routines.

Summers remind me of the years when I hung out with older kids who could drive and loved movies. They took me on as a mascot to the rep houses and introduced me to the world behind the world, the world of movies filled with adults who were nothing like the ones on TV and certainly unlike my family. It was a lifting of a veil of sorts, full of images that linger with me to this day.

Watching the oh-so-very non-linear The Man Who Fell to Earth I was intrigued by David Bowie’s alien character but when it was over was more struck by the destiny of the Buck Henry character being the one true man who would fall to earth. He stood for something and suffered the fate of his convictions, more than any other character in the film. Bowie’s alien lost his way and suffered but he was allowed to live with that suffering guilt. Henry was punished for his stand, and in those adolescent self-righteous summer nights I felt like life was warning me about what awaited those who dared stand up to power.

Obviously, I’ve learned so much more since about the subtleties of conviction, but at fifteen I felt that door to my mind opening.

two men in helmets
sparkling burnt orange suns
two tawdry, officious suits
hustling buck henry
toward the plate-glass window

a heave and a ho
like tossing a campmate
into the lake
except he bounces back
from the tempered glass
“i’m sorry”
“ah, don’t worry about it.”


through the window
no scream, no fear
only the labored breath
and the knowledge of
the inevitable

a single shoe
liberates itself
at the last moment

barbels chasing
floating despite their weight
through the canyons of high rises

the fall from grace
the corruption of power
the frailty of principle

at fifteen
flickering 24 times a second
these were the lessons
I learned in the dark
from the man
who actually fell

Poetry Friday. Every Friday. This week the round-up is hosted by Libby over at A Year of Literacy Coaching. Plenty of things to read there. Probably none of them as dark as the recollections of my fifteen-year-old self.

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