Another Clue For The Portfolio Suggesting That Boys and Girls May Be Different In Ways Beyond Simple Outward Physical Configuration

Parent: “What are your plans?”
Seven Year Old Boy: “World domination.”

Parent: “What are your plans?”
Seven Year Old Girl: “Making ponies happy.”

Great Big Scary

Disturbing. Right Wing Sparkle links to a Frontline story on the Great Big Scary Internet.

Of course it’s disturbing. That’s what Frontline (and all “news” shows) sells: disturbing, scary, ominous, whatever makes them seem relevant. Every now and again one of these shows will come up with something actually useful. (I think it was Dateline NBC that introduced us to the Charlie Foundation.)

But they can’t–or don’t think they can–survive on a diet of just useful information, so even when they have useful information, they dress it up in fear.

The abused analogy of ten years ago was “information superhighway”. But if we were putting up superhighways now, these shows would sell stories on the basis of the fatal accidents that occur on them, and less on the value to commerce and even lifesaving value they can have.

Meanwhile, a modicum of common sense is all that’s required with regard to the ‘net, not too much more sophisticated then “look both ways when you cross the street”. Most kids can and do benefit from the ‘net, educationally and socially. Not just “most” but the vast number, to where the seriously harmed ones are statistical outliers.

Speaking of outliers, there are some kids who probably need to be kept far away from the ‘net, just like there are some that need to be kept away from television, and others that need to be kept away from soy products.

The cyber-bullying thing is kind of interesting though.. I sort of wonder if the upshot of being exposed to Internet Trolls is that this next generation is going to be very hard to intimidate or even provoke. It’s impossible to function online very long without learning to ignore them.

Maybe everything bad IS good for you!

Everyone has one. Or is one.

Just got through looking at this piece of Onion A.V. snark and reminding myself why I don’t read stuff like this more often. Internet lists are the lowest form of life. The title is the sole setup (“Unbreakable: 18 film stars impervious to box-office flops”) and the rest of the article goes on to name actors that one presumes one or more of the five writers feels isn’t worthy of their ongoing successes.

It switches seamlessly between criticizing the actors for being in flops, to being in movies the article writers just didn’t like, to not following career paths the writers feel they should, to never deserving success in the first place. This allows them to keep up an unrelenting stream of disdain without ever having to say anything of merit.

For example, it might be interesting to ask if any screen actor had an unbroken string of successes through their whole career. Certainly not Jimmy Stewart. (It’s A Wonderful Life, his first post-War film, was a flop. Maybe he should have just crawled into a hole.) Cary Grant? He made some real stinkers in between Hitch films, and he retired twice. John Wayne? Inconceivable.

They also get to make unfounded suppositions. Like, the success of the film The Break-Up was due to Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn’s romance at the time. Apparently they had access to the moviegoers’ exit polls where people admitted going to see the movie just because they’d read something in the tabloids about Aniston and Vaughn. (That must be why Gigli flopped: Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez were never in the tabloids when that movie came out.)

For sheer sloppiness, they throw around “bankable” and “big box-office attraction”–both of which refer to an ability to draw tickets–not what sort of salaries they command. And yet the whole premise of the article is that these people aren’t bankable and are (presumably) overpaid.

Forbes did a similar article bang-for-the-buck stars which, while stupid for a number of reasons, at least backed up its premise with some solid facts. Not surprisingly, they came up with different and contradictory results. Brad Pitt movies return $24 for each dollar he is paid. Jennifer Aniston, $17. Angelina Jolie, $15. Sandra Bullock, $13. Nicole Kidman, $8 (before Golden Compass, ouch).

So about the only one they agree on is Nicole Kidman. And, frankly, an $8-to-$1 return would be considered pretty good in most businesses. Except of course there are all the other production costs, but that just reveals the stupidity of the whole premise: Popular actors can ignite good movies that might not otherwise be seen, or push so-so movies into profitability, and they can power home rentals/sales even for bad movies. They can’t save a movie that no one wants to see (and that’s independent of quality).

I’ve never seen Angelina Jolie in a good movie. She won me over as an actress with her portrayal of Lara Croft–I can’t think of a modern (or maybe any) actress who could pull off the insouciant adventurer without seeming ditzy, plastic or otherwise as lifeless as the computer character is. (Well, okay, Helen Mirren or Judi Dench could do it, but I don’t think they’d fit into the costume, and that’s high company to be associated with anyway.)

Just because I’m not lining up to see The Good Shepherd doesn’t mean that’s her fault. I’d like to see her in a good movie, really! I’m sure if I did see Shepherd, I wouldn’t think, “Man, Jolie is awful.” But you know, if I did think that, I’d probably know how I felt going in, and would just avoid the movie in the first place.

Keanu Reeves, for example. People hate this guy, apparently. But he was perfect for The Matrix movies, and adequate in a lot of his other roles, and most people concede that while simultaneously arguing that it doesn’t take much talent. Let’s accept that premise; the follow-up has to be something like “So what?” Don’t like it? Don’t go see it. But don’t go see him–don’t give the guy your money, for crying out loud, while simultaneously bemoaning the taste of those who go see him.

For myself, I have a low tolerance of Nicholas Cage. I don’t begrudge him his success, and I enjoyed him in Peggy Sue Got Married and Moonstruck. Odd films he was appropriately odd in. And, hell, Raising Arizona! Great! But somewhere in the early ‘90s, it wore thin. So I’ve seen only a few of his movies since, mostly on cable.

Actors do what they do. A great many have one character they use for all their roles, like John Wayne or Owen Wilson. Some have a little more range. Some have a lot of range. But except for the occasional star who’s just phoning it in–something that doesn’t happen all that often, and certainly not very frequently for any particular star, given how fast bankability declines–most of them acquit themselves in fairly predictable fashions.

If big-budget big-star movies are tanking today, it’s really not the actors’ fault. But just as most people are probably not all that aware of the the producer, director and writer’s impact on a film, most internet articles on the subject are going to be predictably shallow.

Flashbackflashbackashbackackkk

We’re watching Darren Aronofsky’s The Foutain which takes place in three different time periods (ca. 1500, ca. 2000, and sometime far in the future), and which made the dubious choice of showing the 1500 era timeline out of sequence.

But I was reminded of the 1944 Michael Curtiz film Passage To Marseille with Humphrey Bogart as a (heh) Frenchman. (We viewed the French differently back then.) Passage to Marseille is told in a flashback. Then that leads to a flashback. Which itself leads to a flashback.

At one point, if I’m not mistaken, you’re five flashbacks deep.

I can’t remember now if all the flashbacks are even reliable.

The Fountain is freaky.

Of Indian Burial Grounds and Killer Satellites

Ace makes this point in his review of Cloverfield:

Any explanation they could have provided would have been trite or stupid or both anyway, so what’s the point?

Bingo.

You’d think Stephen King could figure this out after 35–no 45!–years.

The Overlook Hotel in The Shining? Indian burial ground. Pet Sematary? Indian burial ground. Tommyknockers? Haven’t read it or seen the movie (did they make a movie out of it yet?) but I’m told it’s that old Indian black magic yet again.

The ancient indian burial ground was such a cliché back in 1979 when Kubrick’s movie version of The Shining came out, that grade schoolers were mocking it. King keeps trucking along, though, happily trotting that out as the “explanation” for whatever horror is being visited on his poor characters.

Speaking of trucking along: Maximum Overdrive? Army experiment gone wrong. The Mist? Army Experiment Gone Wrong. There are probably more but I haven’t read much King since the early ‘80s.

And, of course, “the government” is the villain of other King novels, whether it be the army or a CIA type group or what-have-you. Who could forget Firestarter’s evil “The Company”…or “The Business”…or maybe it was…“The Co-Op”…“The Shop”! That’s what it was! (“The Shop” had a super-secret hideout with horse stables! That’s right: The guys cleaning out the stalls had to be thoroughly vetted for mucking! But I digress.)

Explanations aren’t always bad. In horror fiction, they can create atmosphere. Lovecraft formed a very suggestive background out of the snippets he put into his Cthulhu story. For horror movies (which are really quite separate from horror fiction in tradition and style) the explanation can serve as a plot hook.

In Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddy’s roots as a pedophile provide a satisfying base for the attacks, and a hook for the heroine to ultimately escape him. (Said hook thoroughly trashed by the tacked-on ending designed to facilitate sequels. But that’s another subject for another day.)

The horror movie Unearthed tries for meaningful explanation, both to sort-of explain the why and provide a hook for the heroine to kill the monster. It’s not well handled but it’s not tacked on.

There’s a reference to satellite-caused radiation in Night of the Living Dead but it’s never verified and comes as part of what would be inevitable discussion about causes on TV or radio. By contrast, Maximum Overdrive, which used the exact same explanation (killer satellites), does so as a groan-inducing tacked on post-script to an already groan-worthy film.

Someone (presumably King) had to sit down and say that, “Yes, this post-script makes the movie better. This will make sense of the previous 90 minutes of abuse we’ve inflicted on the audience.” The audience will say “Oh! That wasn’t as bad as we thought while we were watching it!”

The rule should be very simple to follow: If the explanation wouldn’t matter to your characters in the course of the story, it won’t matter to the audience either. Just skip it.

Violence & Old Folks

Our favorite theater is the local Laemmle, which features an assortment of big budget H-wood flicks alongside of art-house and foreign fare.

If you don’t restrict yourself to JUST blockbusters, you have a way better chance of seeing an actually good movie on any given outing.

Plus, you can buy a debit card and cut the price of tickets down to–I think it’s as low as $4 if you go before dark on Mon-Thu. And the popcorn is Orville, the butter is real(!), and the staff are intelligent and alert (if, granted, not Disney-happy).

It’s sort of the Trader Joe’s of theater chains.

And like TJ’s, the combination of quality, variety and price attracts seniors like an Early Bird Special at The Sizzler.

This has result in various moments of irritation and/or hilarity. Irritation because old people, like teenagers, tend to not know (or perhaps care) that there are other people in the world. Hilarity because they’re not shy about broadcasting their misapprehensions to the world.

The French film Caché starts with a video playback, which is then rewound and replayed. Several old people complained loudly that they’d already seen that part.

One employee told me that she had been grilled after Children of Men by some old folks wanting to know when it had happened and why hadn’t they heard. (Children of Men is a post-apocalyptic thriller.)

Recently, I asked if they were going to get Sweeney Todd, and I was told by the manager that she suspected not–that it would be too violent for the seniors. I had not realized–though it makes perfect sense when I reflect upon it–that they tailored their offerings around, essentially, seniors demands and complaints.

She then proceeded to tell me of all the complaints they had received over The Departed, because it was a gangster movie and the old folks hadn’t realized it. OK, maybe you missed the part where it was directed by Martin Scorcese. But they ALSO got the SAME complaints over American Gangster. Now, wait a minute, that’s hardly fair.

After putting off Todd because it would be too bloody, though, she said they were demanding There Will Be Blood.

Huh.

I’m sure the title is meant metaphorically.

This reminds me of an elderly relative who insisted upon seeing The Astronaut’s Wife, because of course it would be a lovely film about the space program, not, say, a movie about a face-sucking alien.

Watch the previews, people. And then, uh, remember them.

Huntley Haverstock: Foreign Correspondent

Foreign Correspondent was Alfred Hitchcock’s second American film, which was made in the same year as (and would lose the Oscar to) Rebecca, his first American film. (Note that 40 years ago, the snobs were saying that Hitch’s best work was his English stuff, which serves as a good example that it doesn’t matter much what art critics say, as long as they’re talking.)

Astute as he is, The Boy has come to rely on Sir Alfred as a brand of quality, and so we settled down to watch this early masterpiece. I guess, like most folk these days, I regard his ‘50s work most highly, and so was surprised at how good this was. I expected it to be good, but at the point where the movie might have been expected to end, there’s a whole segment with an airplane and an almost Lifeboat setup. This segment occurs close to the two hour mark, and yet you don’t get the butt-fidget-itis you do in a lot of today’s 2+ hour films.

The story concerns American reporter Johnny Jones (Joel McCrea) sent to Europe with a fake name (“Huntley Havertstock”) to (in part) interview the head of a peace advocacy organization. From there he gets involved in a complicated plot involving assassination and war, and a romance with a lovely girl (the late Laraine Day) whose father may or may not be involved in anti-English shenanigans.

(This was pretty bold, when you think about it. It wasn’t certain what side of the war we were going to join. And while the bad guys are never identified, they do have thick german accents.)

Anyway, this film moves, and I’d probably put it ahead of the ’35 39 Steps. Although I tend to think of it as an “early” Hitch, he’d been making films for 20 years, from the silent era and throughout the ’30s. By the time America got him, he was a well-polished craftsman.