Tuesday, October 31, 2017

there's a big future in weight guessing

It occurred to me watching The Jerk that "jerk" didn't necessarily mean the same thing in 1979 that it does today. Words change, connotation changes. Today, Merriam-Webster defines "jerk" as a: "an annoyingly stupid or foolish person" and b: "an unlivable person; especially: one who is cruel, rude, or small-minded." Anecdotally, I can say most people I know (including movie characters) tend to use "jerk" to indicate that "b" definition. Specifically, I use "jerk" to describe someone who is deliberately or impulsively hurtful. But the Online Etymology Dictionary points out that in 1935, coming from "American English carnival slang, of uncertain origin", "jerk" referred to a "tedious and ineffectual person." This feels more accurate to describing Navin Johnson in The Jerk. He's far from cruel. In fact, he's almost obnoxiously pleasant, like when he gets that first ride hitchhiking, and the guy drives him only to the end of the fence, and Navin thanks him cheerfully for the company. (Plus, he even works at a carnival for a while.)

Additional evidence: director Carl Reiner (who appears as himself late in the film) was born in 1922. Writers Carl Gottlieb, Michael Elias, and Steve Martin were born in 1938, 1940, and 1945, respectively. All old enough they grew up closer to the carnival-derived definition than the more recent application to mean people.

All this got me wondering if this film isn't a sort of hundred-years-on rumination on Dostoyevsky's The Idiot. But, then, I gotta remind myself that I have not actually read The Idiot, though I have read other works by Dostoyevsky. I could Phil Connors it (or Danny Rubin it, I guess) and just pretend that I know it; you know, "When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope" and all that. When Chekhov was apparently pretty funny in the original Russian; translations just lose all the fun. Like, for a history class in college we read Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls, and the professor steered us away from one particular translation. I checked out that translation at the university library and saw that it was much more dry and boring, while the translation the professor suggested conveyed more of the humor--it's a whole satirical thing about a guy buying up ownership of dead serfs before the next census, getting rich by buying cheaply the thing no one wants. It's a thing.

A simple comedy film could easily be a new version of something older, something from literature. Or maybe the story of an idiot bumbling his way through the world is just so obvious that it's going to be told again and again. It's an easy entry point for satire. Navin Johnson sees the world like a child sees it, and that leaves room for the audience to look at aspects of the world in a new light (or old light, as the case may be). How does Navin view romance, perhaps? How do you? How does he view monetary success? How do you? How easily does he trust other people? How easily do you? Same goes for a character like Forrest Gump, like Lloyd Christmas, Billy Madison, even Jeff Lebowski. Simple-minded character, limited reactions to the wider world, this leaves room for the audience to inject themselves, or to be shocked or surprised by it all.


By the way, I finally looked it up, and the original title for the film was Easy Money, but reportedly (I got it from a Mental Floss piece, so I don't know the original source of the quote), Martin told Reiner that the title "needs to be something short, yet have the feeling of an epic tale... Like Dostoyevsky's The Idiot, but not like that. Like The Jerk."

So, either I'm brilliant.

Or it was really obvious.

Or both.

Monday, October 30, 2017

i don't need any of this

Why is The Jerk funny?

I mean, is absurdity enough? It holds up as something funny, so perhaps absurdity can be timeless. Roger Ebert makes a distinction in his review between what he calls Funny Hat and Funny Logic approaches. For example, it is funny that Navin grew up with a black family in Mississippi and thinks he is black. When he learns that he was left on their doorstep, and he sets out on the road, he wears a bomber's helmet with goggles. He looks ridiculous. But, there is no reason that he grew up black (except for a little racial/cultural appropriation in the satire to come, maybe), and no reason he wears that helmet, except that the imagery is, on a very simplistic level, funny. (Like the visual of Navin's birthday dinner: tuna on white bread with mayonnaise, a Tab, and two twinkles.) This is Roger's Funny Hat humor. The hat is funny because it looks funny. The humor does not come from the reason Navin wear's the hat, it just comes from the visual. Similarly, when Navin thinks those oil cans are spontaneously exploding, and then thinks the guy with the rifle is aiming at the cans, the only "logic" comes from Navin being an idiot. But, being an idiot can take a story only so far.

You could hitchhike to the end of the fence, or think John Denver is full of shit because you are in the wrong state, or you could accidentally become a shrimp boat magnate, but without a plot to tie your story together--including a love interest because, well, Hollywood--there isn't much there there.


Some of the satirical stuff is easier comedy--the sign: GAS PRICES: If you have to ask you can't afford it--in the 1970s, that's pretty good on its own as a comedic visual (in case you don't know you're 70s history, there was an oil crisis in '73 and '74; barrels rose from $3 to $12, retail gas prices raised from an average of 38.5 cents to 55.1 cents a gallon. There were lines at gas stations after Nixon suggested gas stations not sell gas Saturday night or Sunday. It was a whole thing. [Reportedly, gas shortages at the time of filming had Steve Martin and Carl Reiner carpooling to the set.]

Navin's almost accidental rise as a rich man is the same way. Like the Madman picking Navin's name randomly out of a phone book. Much of the plot of The Jerk is built on these random events. Which could be taken as an indictment of the American Dream. Add the Pizza in a Cup or even the Mask-o-Derm Marie demonstrates at May Company. Or the nouveau riche bit when Marie and Navin go to the fancy restaurant and don't understand wine or escargot--

Actually, that scene is one that Janet Maslin called, in her New York Times review, an example of the film's "emphasis on comic sophistication." But, that's the thing about comedy; as Roger puts it, "the question of whether the comedy was 'good' or 'bad' depends almost entirely upon whether or not the reviewer was amused." Except, here's my thing: I am amused by The Jerk, but I am also pretty sure that it's not that great a movie. But, however much Navin Johnson misunderstands the world around him, just like Lloyd Christmas or Forrest Gump so many years later, he's just so damned optimistic that it is hard to really dislike him. Or, as Maslin describes the sweetness between Navin and Marie, "even when they sing a duet of 'Tonight You Belong to Me,' [they] carr[y] sweetness to what could easily have become an intolerable extreme" but they don't hit that extreme. The film is funny, and at times it's sweet.

And, the water-smudged breakup letter is hilarious.

As is the Madman's explanation when he happens to be the guy bringing Navin his royalty check from the Opti-Grab: "That was the old me. I was a little mixed-up at the time. I had a bad marriage. I just gave up smoking. I'm okay now."

And the woman hitting Marie after the Mask-o-Derm is removed.

And the punishment for early withdrawal.

And the cat juggling.

And Carl Reiner’s “cut” footage.

My biggest complaint is that the third act feels like a cop out. He loses all his money, loses Marie, and ends up on the street, but then his family shows up to rescue him and he and Marie get a happy ending... that they haven't earned.

And, that's a big part of what one might learn from this film. Hollywood romance, no matter the bumps in the road, gets you a happy ending. And, no matter how stupid you are, how little effort you ever put into succeeding in life, no matter where you were born, you can succeed.

Hell, you can even be president.

But, you can also lose it all in a moment, when your fad wears out.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

i was born a poor black child

Not really, though. We were pretty well off when I was born, I'm pretty sure. Nine of us in the house. Living on a lot of credit, though. Sometime in the late 80s that fell apart. I don't quite remember when. When I was young, though, whether it was true, whether it was because of credit cards or whatever, I figured we were affluent. Not that I knew the word affluent. We lived in an old house, two stories, with a small attic and a basement, a working fireplace, four bedrooms and a back room that was part utility room with the washer and dryer and part puzzle/game room. What I wouldn't do for a room like that today, when there are far more games I'd like to play and more folks than just my sisters I might want to spend time playing them with. I don't remember exactly how young I was when we got our first VCR, but I remember that VCR--a Quasar that loaded from the top, and the remote was not wireless...

As "Mr. Nussbaum tries to buy some gas with a stolen Master Charge, I get distracted by a Google search. I find two VCRs that are close to the one we had, but neither one seems like the right one. There's this one (Model VH5031WW):


Which is really close, but ours didn't have that fake wood paneling on the top. Then, there's this one (Model VH5141XQ):


Which is closer, but info I found says this one didn't exist until 1984. I swear we had a VCR before that. Plus, as I often argue in this blog, the experience matters more than the facts. Or maybe we just rented so many movies from The Wherehouse starting in 1984 that it just seems like we must've started earlier. But, then, as Navin rides off and figures our what his "special purpose" (aka his penis) is for with Patty Bernstein, I find this commercial for The Wherehouse from 1981. And, I just don't imagine us waiting for 1984.

We also had "cable" around then. ONTV last from 1977 to 1985. We had one of those boxes. We also had SelecTV at some point--it broadcast from 1978 to 1991. As for our VHS collection, we had some bought movies, some movies recorded off cable, and I will neither confirm nor deny the existence of copies of rented videotapes--you know, just throw a piece of scotch tape over that little indent on the front and you could copy those pretty readily--with the FBI Warning intact, because that's just the classy way to to do it.

We had a few boxes, two drawers, each drawer fit 12 tapes, and if you recorded on EP, that's 3 movies per tape (unless one is particularly long, which they weren't). Once I was a teen, once I had a job, I had plenty of videotapes of my own, none of those allegedly recorded off rented tapes, but plenty of those recorded off cable, and a lot of bought ones too. And, in the 90s, specifically immediately after the first season finale of The X-Files, I also recorded a lot of television. And, I mean a lot. Once shows started being available on video, on DVD when that became a thing, and online when that became a thing, I got rid of most of my VHS tapes. I've still got a couple boxes full of them, tapes with obscure shows that were canceled too soon, or were in syndication and never would make it to home video. And, I've got a single bookshelf, five shelves with some box sets on the top, of DVDs. But, I rarely touch them anymore because the internet makes everything more convenient. Hell, right now, it takes an extra effort to even use my blu-ray player (gotta swap out HDMI cables on the back of the tv).

Navin runs from the Madman and I think back on all the times we rented movies, reading the back of the case of some film we've never heard of most of the time; all the times we watched the ones we already had on tape; all the times we went to the theater (for a double feature perhaps at the second-run theater, or sneaking from one theater to another. All habits I've been unable to break. (Well, the method of rental has changed.) The last three days, I saw three movies in the theater (no sneaking), for example. I don't own a copy of The Jerk so I rented it through Amazon Prime.

 

 

 

 

 

And, I realize I've not really said anything about The Jerk tonight. It has actually been a while since I'd seen it and I got started late, and I had no plan as to what I was going to say.

I imagine that I will have more to say tomorrow.

Or maybe I'll tell you more about our VCRs from the 1980s, or how at one point in the 90s I had two cable boxes and three VCRs hooked to the TV in my bedroom, or how once when I was dealing poorly with my depression and anxiety I knocked over an arrangement of about 50 videotapes in my room in a fit of anger and left them scattered on the floor for most of the following week. Or maybe I'll just tell nice happy stories about my early love for film.

(I imagine a political rant, though, given the satirical elements of The Jerk. But, we'll see.)

Saturday, October 28, 2017

so get used to it

Gotta love a movie that has people walking out before the end.

Oh, jump forward a few decades. Forget the childhood deconstruction for the moment. I'm talking The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the latest film from director Yorgos Lanthimos. That's the guy behind the fairly bizarre Dogtooth, a nominee for Foreign Language Film at the Oscars several years ago, and for last year's The Lobster, bizarre but (maybe) a little more straightforward. He doesn't make films for a wide audience. He puts characters who don't quite speak like real people into situations that are strange, but that feel a little familiar. Dogtooth was all about how parents can manipulate the shape of their children by the way they raise them, the way they restrict them, the way they protect them. The Lobster was all about the need for companionship, for love, and when things don't go the way you want, the world might as well fall apart, you might as well not be a part of it anymore... It's a little emo, actually. The Killing of a Sacred Deer, on its surface is a modern take on the Greek story of Iphigenia and Agamemnon. But underneath, it's far simpler--a sort of meditation on mortality, that any time, any day, you might die. Never mind the manufactured scenario within the film, death waits for us all. The problem the characters have in the film--the adult characters at least--is that they don't quite seem to be living. So to speak.

Steven (Colin Farrell) is a successful surgeon, but he worries about fancy watches, and interacts with the child of a man who died on his operating table as much as, if not more so than, he interacts with his own kids. That's not a SPOILER, by the way. But, I imagine some are coming. His sex life with his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) for example--she pretends she's under anesthesia and he starts up on her motionless body. Which, in another context might be just a fetish. But, he's a surgeon, and one has to wonder how he ever talked Anna into this, like in the middle surgery every day, he's thinking about sex with the patient...

The movie begins with a shot of a beating heart. Chest cavity open. It's a revenge story, but not driven by emotion. It's also, as I said, something more like a meditation on mortality. Someone will die at the end of the film. Like someone will die at the end of your life. It is inevitable. And, two things worked as--and sorry if I don't feel like quite explaining the term just now--punctum for me. Consider this something of a deconstruction of my more recent life, as opposed to the childhood deconstruction project in this blog of late. As an undergrad not too many years ago, I was on the speech team, I competed in every event at least once, but I particularly liked debate and interpretation. One of the pieces I performed as Dramatic Interpretation was Neil Labute's Iphigenia in Orem. It's a short play from his collection Bash. (Showtime aired a filmed version of the three monologue-based plays years ago (circa 1999), but I don't know it's available on DVD. You can get the book, though.) The gist--with a bit of SPOILERS--is a businessman thinking he's going to lose his job, sees how his family's lifestyle will be destroyed, so he kills his infant daughter to make life more affordable, makes it look accidental. As a monologue, cut down for time, it's a nice portrait of a man so enamored of his own success that he would risk ruin to protect it. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is about a doctor--Steven, who I've already mentioned--who has to choose who dies out of his two children or his wife, or risk them all dying. If not for the strangely inhuman dialogue in so much of the film, this could make for the same sort of monologue, get inside the head of a man willing to destroy his own family for the sake of... Well, it's almost for the sake of convenience, for the sake of modern civility, and capitalist success.

And, there I go making it political.

The second thing that worked as punctum for me, and what makes the film more overtly a meditative exercise than a straight sort of thriller (given its premise) is that somewhere around plot point one, Steven sits down to watch a movie with the young boy (Barry Keoghan) whose father died beneath his scalpel and the boy's mother (Alicia Silverstone). The movie they watch: Groundhog Day.

In particular, we see, then mostly hear in the background, the start of the date night sequence. Phil working his way closer to Rita. Day in, day out. He doesn't know when his loop will end. When his life will end. Steven knows that his family will die. There will even be a warning sign when death is close--they will bleed from the eyes. But, until then, there is just their partial paralysis, one by one, and his figurative paralysis, because no matter how much monetary success he has had, no matter how good a career he has--and we see him giving a speech to a very large crowd so he can be understood to be a surgeon of some renown--no matter the nice house, the good wife, the two and a half kids (they do have a dog), no matter the nice watches, the nice clothes, it can all be taken away from you at any moment because you are still mortal.

Phil Connors might be relatively good at his job, he might be a successful womanizer, but he's still an arrogant asshole who can lose everything that he thinks matters when he gets stuck in a time loop in Punxsutawney, PA. Or when he dies. Whether every day feels the same or you manage some variety, eventually, the time loop ends.


But, honestly, you won't like The Killing of a Sacred Deer. At least, probably not. Just playing the odds there. So, watch Groundhog Day again. Or watch that movie you used to watch whenever you were bored as a kid. Or do that thing you used to do when you were bored as a kid. Play a little bit in the sandbox of your childhood. Because, well... I'm reminded of Moonstruck, actually. Like Ronny's take on love:

Not like they told you love is, and I didn't know this either, but love don't make things nice. It ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren't here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die. The storybooks are bullshit.

Or the much simpler take from Rose:

I just want you to know, no matter what you do, you're gonna die, just like everybody else.

In the meantime, live a life that's messy. Love who you can. And, be loved as well. Watch some good movies, some good television, some good plays, read some good books, make some good friends, and have a good time.

i thought you said you had it

The working title for this movie was simply Summer Camp. Jim McLarty, who plays the Camp Mohawk camper Horse, told his family he was in a movie called Summer Camp. So, a movie called Summer Camp opens at a drive-in in Burlington, Ontario, where he lives. His brother and sister go to see it and, well, it's a softcore porn film. "McLarty tells Vanity Fair,

And it had a character named Horse! This really confused them. I'd told them my character in the movie was named Horse, so they're watching this flick and a guy called Horse shows up and he's clearly not me. They were really peeved at me.

As for the final title, in that same Vanity Fair piece, producer Daniel Goldberg explains:

We were going with the name Summer Camp for a long time. I don't remember when we changed it to Meatballs, or why. I know there's a scene where Fink called Spaz a meatball, but that's not why we changed the title.

This is just this past summer, 2017.

But, director Ivan Reitman told Yahoo! in 2012, in response to the prompt: "Having watched the film a few times now, I still have no idea why it's called "Meatballs."

Neither do I. It seemed to be one of the staples that was part of camp food. Spaghetti n' Meatballs. And meatball also has a secondary connotation, as in goofy. We couldn't call it "Summer Camp" cause there was going to be another summer camp movie, so it was just a name I came up with.

Let's break that down in reverse order.

First, the idea that they changed the generic title because it might also fit some future film amuses me. I mean, in a universe where you've got bullshit generic titles like American Haunting, Sniper, American Sniper, The Gunfighter, Lawless, Deception, Defiance, Criminal, and far too many more.

(To be fair, sometimes a deliberately generic title can work if 1) the film has some ambiguity that makes it appropriate or 2) the film is amazing. Think SE7EN, think Halloween, think most any action movie from the 80s--Commando--though not all of those are actually any good. Hell, think mother, think A Ghost Story, think The Lobster.)

If you get there first and you want the generic title, you take the generic title. Unless you're worried about trademarks, or being unique, standing out. You know, like Airplane!. I meant that sarcastically, but, you know, maybe that exclamation mark does set it apart just enough that you don't have to know the film specifically, or maybe the real reason we remember Airplane! more than we remember Airport or Earthquake is that comedy holds up better over time, and disaster movies are oddly not timeless. And, we remember Meatballs not because of the title but because it both captures that romance and nostalgia of summer camp and plays for a remarkably subversive and, at the same time, wholesome comedy... Or, possibly, Meatballs was just the kind of title a film needed to get people to pick up the video from the shelf at video rental places in the 80s. And that means everyone who grew up in the 80s saw it at some point, and they got older and shared it with their younger siblings, or their kids, and despite a few bits of fashion that rather fortunately stayed in the 70s, and some schmaltzy music*, the film is timeless, is evocative of memories and fantasies about summer camp.

As for meatball as slang. English Through the Ages (Brohaugh 1998) has the use of the word meatball somewhere before 1840; and that's the food. It has no listing for meatball as slang, but meathead was in use by 1945. The online Free Dictionary lists the slang definition (not counting the baseball reference) as either "a stupid, clumsy, or dull person" or "a stupid or boring person". The Google Ngram for meatballs gets its line going in the 1930s and rises substantially in the 60s and 70s. Meatballs with the capital M rises in the 70s, and peaks in the 90s. Referring to the title song for the film, Will at a blog called grain&noise, explains:

The song was written by Oscar-winning composer Elmer Bernstein [who took on composing for this film on spec because he liked what he saw]. The same guy who composed the themes for classics such as The Magnificent Seven, True Grit, and To Kill a Mocking Bird [sic]. The song is performed by Rick Dees a radio DJ who voiced a character on the Flintstones cartoon named Rock Dees and had one other "hit" with Disco Duck.

Regardless of its unique pedigree, Meatballs (the song) is a cringe inducing mash up of uninspired disco instruments and bizarre meatball related lyrics. Including: You don't want to be a meatball, with meatsauce on your face. The lyrics are particularly odd because never in the film do any characters eat meatballs, nor is anyone referred to as a meatball. [He's wrong on that one.] Begging the question "Why meatballs?". We're given no explanation. In fact, the chorus/hook of the song is just the repetition of the word "meatballs" sung by a heavy baritone followed by a female harmony.

But, I cannot really trust this blogger Will because 1) he's a blogger, what do they know? and 2) he says of the film, "The film itself is not much better. It can only be described as "whacky"... the film is so sentimentalized and the script is so poorly written that the film comes across as little more than a string of hastily drawn sketches." Now, yes, the film does play like a series of sketches, which 1) makes sense because it was made by several people involved in sketch comedy, and 2) putting a more exacting plot over the top of it would have made it rather silly; I mean, there's a reason summer camp movies have simplistic or nearly-nonexistent plots--the point to telling a story about summer camp is not the plot. Little Darlings is about girls trying to lose their virginity at camp. Poison Ivy uses a love story as its backbone but is also a bunch of vignettes involving campers. Friday the 13th (and its sequels) is a bunch of vignettes about oversexed young adults who most people should be shocked are trusted to run a summer camp and many of those vignettes get interrupted by at first some random old woman and then by her deformed son who apparently likes hockey. Now, that last bit was a joke, of course. But, seriously, summer camp is a bunch of discrete situations, different activities and sports shoved up against one another, a bunch of disparate kids and young adults shoved up against one another, their lives intertwining just temporarily and then twisting apart. Also, since we're talking about words, note my use of vignettes instead of sketches. The latter is not inherently negative, but it does suggest a haphazardness that I don't think this film involved. Not any more than, say Casablanca, which didn't even have a completed script when they started filming, and go rewritten on the fly. As many movies do. Nor, by the way, do I think whacky is inherently negative, but Will definitely means it as an insult.

Meatballs being a staple of camp food--I can buy that. Plus, separate from why the filmmakers went with the title, there's the more important question of what does the title mean? Like, why, cosmically, is this film called by this title? And, the idea of meatballs as this basic, easily mass-produced foodstuff, formed out of random bits of meat shoved together to form a delicious whole--this works for me. I mean, consider the ensemble of characters: Tripper, Roxanne, Mickey, Rudy, AL, Wheels, Crockett, Candace, Spaz, Fink, Jackie, Wendy, Hardware... plus Brenda, Jody, Lance, Phil, Horse. There can't be just one plot here. And these characters all have their moments to shine (for good or bad). In a way, the film should almost be Meatball, singular. These characters are all just the ingredients in this big movie meatball, wrapped up in a ball, fried, served on a heaping dish of spaghetti, then eaten, never to exist in that particular form ever again. Just like any group of people at summer camp.

 

 

 

 

 

Or, they could have called it Hot Dog.


But, then, what would that skiing movie have been called five years later?

(Also, I may have to skip the next movie and come back to it. Turns out the guy I bought a cheap copy from decided not to even ship the damn thing until this morning, 8 days after I ordered it, and 3 days after the supposed arrival date. I shall have to write scathing feedback.)

Thursday, October 26, 2017

somebody's gotta do it

On the one hand, I feel like I neglected the commentary track because I got to rambling about my own experience at summer camp--well, one particular detail of it, anyway; I could probably ramble about more, actually. Now, this isn't so bad, because if there is any point to this current sub-project of the Groundhog Day Project, this childhood deconstruction thing, ties right into it. I mean, what matters is what these movies taught me, sure. What they instilled in me when I watched them over and over again when I was young. But also, what came later? What memories get twisted into these movies? What do they make me think about? The Star Wars trilogy, for example, reminds me of one particular day when I was home sick from school and I rested on the couch and watched all three in a row. And, by the time Return of the Jedi was on, I was feeling a little better, so I was playing with my AT-AT and my action figures and that AT-AT was far more dexterous than any in the movies, standing up on its hind legs when rebels tried to board her...

On the other hand, I have an inclination to just list off all the lines from this movie that have become part of regular dialogue in my life.

On the other hand--yes, there are three--I am watching Meatballs again when I have said most of what I have to say about the film. This is because the movie that is next on the deconstruction list has not arrived yet. Seems the only way to watch the next film was to buy a cheap DVD of it. So, I might as well try to do both... And hope the next movie arrives before tomorrow, or tomorrow's theater movie is so good I have to write about it.


Two months to write the script. Written basically because Reitman hadn't seen any films about summer camp. I had to doublecheck because I thought Little Darlings had already come out but, no, that was in 1980. There were, of course, a few more Meatballs movies--including Rudy coming back in the third one. Friday the 13th came out in 1980. And, wasn't, of course, about the more universal bits that many would experience at summer camp. And, one summer camp film I remember well--Poison Ivy--was made for television in 1985.

Bill Murray was just as difficult to nail down on a project back in 1978 as he purportedly is now. On the first day of shooting, they heard from an attorney and got the impression that Murray would be in the film. On the third day of shooting, he showed up wearing that Hawaiian shirt and did the walk and talk with the male CITs in one take. Without him, the film might not have happened--or it probably would have been far more forgettable.

Goldberg just thought Makepeace was a mopey kid. Reitman saw his expressiveness and saw the heart of the film being about Rudy (even before they added all the extra stuff in Tripper's cabin).

The nose thing and stacking the dishes came from Goldberg's experience at camp.

Getting into the cast members (unnamed) who hooked up then broke up, Reitman and Goldberg talk about the quirkiness of summer camp, how it is its own little world. I've already said that I made friends--good friends--at camp that I never spoke to again.

"You going to Vegas? If you're going to Vegas, man, I would be up for it, because I love that town." This is something I might say if someone tells me vaguely that they're going somewhere.

You make friends, you have (or yearn for) romances, and then they just go away. It's actually a bit like a movie, really. You come in, you invest in the characters around you, invest in the romance, the story, and then, the credits roll, you pack your bag, get back on that bus (plus an airplane for me) and head home. I wrote a letter on the last day of camp to the girl I liked, the one from the phone booth story. I received a letter from her a few days after I got home. I wrote her another one. But, we really wouldn't connect again until the Internet allowed it. We're friends on Facebook to this day. I also got a letter from another girl, wrote her back one, and that exchange fizzled. And, about 9 months after camp was over, I happened to run into one of the female counselors that I had become friendly with at the college that our church ran in Texas--she was a student there, I was there with our school's "choraliers" for a concert. Otherwise, camp was a memory.

Meanwhile, Reitman is talking about choreographing the wrestling with Tripper and Roxanne and getting all the coverage he needed by thinking about it ahead. Now, he's talking about getting Elmer Bernstein to do the music. Bernstein did it on spec for a piece of the film after seeing an early cut.

Spaz (Jack Blum) was the casting director's brother, they say--the IMDb listings suggest no Blum brother in the casting department and do list Jack (along with Sally Dennison and Linda Russell)--and he was reading in auditions. They hadn't found a Spaz yet, so decided to go with him.

"You've been watching the cards, marking the cards." I have no idea what context I say this. But, I know I have said it a lot.

"Children starving in India, and you're walking around with a whole sombrero full of peanuts." This one probably just when someone says they're still hungry after eating a bunch of food. Or just randomly. Quoting movies does not always have to make sense.

One line I really should say more is "No questions, dog face!" But, unless the person I'm talking to knows the film, it's going to come off a little rude.

Goldberg implies that stuff like moving Morty was something he experienced at summer camp. I wish he offered up details to that story. Or maybe he just meant late night antics in general. Unfortunately, my summer camp experience did not include much in the way of late night antics because, well, it was Alaska, and it just didn't get dark enough to sneak around.

Visitor's Day footage, like the crowded mess hall earlier--real footage of the working Camp White Pine. There was a brief overlap between the camp's days of operations and the production, which helped crowd these scenes and some of the Olympiad scenes.

After a disappointing screening for studio folks in Toronto, a bigger public screening in Century City was what got studios bidding over the film. After making the film, Goldberg's MasterCard was maxed out, they were all broke, but they heard through a guy in business affairs that Fox would offer $3 million. They were blowing off Jeffrey Katzenberg from Paramount. But, the $3 million offer was that business affairs guy joking. "Having heard it once" that $3 million figure seemed reasonable. Then, another screening in New York happened, a small one, and Goldberg complained that there was no crowd to watch it with. "Give me an hour," he says. And they recruited people off the street to fill out the theater. Finally, Paramount offers $3 million, and that was the "magic number" now, so they said yes. Reitman says Paramount didn't need them, the studio already had five big movies for that summer. I'm looking at a list of Paramount's movies from that summer and the only one I even recognize is Escape from Alcatraz. I guess those big movies weren't so big after all. (They had Star Trek: The Motion Picture coming in December; I wouldn't see that until years later on television.)

At the dance, the actual music playing included "Miss You" by the Rolling Stones, but the production was never going to be able to afford to keep that track.

"Well, you're not exactly known for your taste." Surprisingly useful line. And, it works whether the person knows the movie or not.

"Somebody's gotta do it, and it can't be me, because I'm too busy." This one may have actually been replaced by Mike Birbiglia's line about being "really busy" as I performed his "Sleepwalk with Me" story for a year when I was on CSULA's speech team. Also, this sort of line always links me back to Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle and Bokononism's "busy busy busy" line. And, you know, modern life in general. Like today, I'm watching my blog movie early because I've got two classes later, and my daughter's play opens tonight (which means I'll be watching Critical Role late for a change. Thursdays are always busy busy busy.

Tripper's and Roxanne's clothes on the ground--they had no time to get a real scene done, so they filmed the stuff, added voiceover later, and cut it with the silhouette shot in the water. The PA announcements are more easily recognizable as stuff that could have been added later. This moment feels so integral to the ongoing story that it's not as obvious.

In the initial draft, Reitman says, Candace and Crockett were a much bigger story, but "a little goes a long way."

Reitman: "Really, the romance of being at summer camp--that was really captured in this moment [cutting from Candace and Crockett kissing to the canoes full of CITs returning to camp] and this song ["Moondust"] and this... sort of the whole sequence." Goldberg says that watching the film again he's surprised by Reitman's confidence as a filmmaker here, and says it makes him want to go to camp again. It is a nice moment, and such an encapsulation of the, as Reitman says, "romance" of summer camp. Not just the love stories, but the world away from the world, kids finding a little bit of independence away from their parents, kids finding some control over their lives even within the confines of activity schedules, finding friends, finding lovers (if they're lucky) and getting to do things they don't normally get to do.

The real camp's owner is one of the Mohawk guys sitting on stage as the Olympiad begins. The production had one day to get Olympiad scenes with real campers around for backgrounds. And, they couldn't do too many takes because they weren't paying the campers as extras.

Sidenote: I'm so used to thinking about Bill Murray as Phil Connors that when I just read the goof on IMDb about a shot of Phil being reversed during the rally speech, I started looking at Murray to see what shot might be reversed. Phil, is of course Greg Swanson's counselor character. And, sure enough, right after Tripper gets into the "It just doesn't matter" part of the speech, cut to Phil and the shot is reversed. Backward NYU on the wrong side of his jacket. Not sure how that even happens. (Odd character note: earlier in the film, when he's working on that window that keeps getting broken, Phil wears a Harvard t-shirt. I doubt Phil went to either Harvard or NYU.)

During Spaz's cup stacking event, Reitman and Goldberg go back and forth trying to remember how they did it, gluing the cups together and cutting away perhaps. But, most of the race is one long cut. Reitman calls it "the best stunt shot in the movie." They recorded this commentary for the 25th anniversary of the film, but it's still amusing that they can't remember if they glued cups together or not.

Goldberg pokes fun at Jackie being the runner but breaking her ankle. "This is good storytelling," he says, clearly sarcastic. But, the film actually showed her get injured as part of yesterday's montage. Her injury isn't random. It's part of showing just how horrible the Mohawk competitors are. In the field hockey game, they deliberately injure her. This actually is good storytelling.

Rudy's having to run the final race was always part of the story. Adding more footage with him and Tripper just made it more meaningful. Goldberg later calls the lesser reaction to Rudy winning the race in the first screenings was a "supreme disappointment."

Multiple-printing the last frames of the race to fake the slow motion finish cost $1000. At this point, Goldberg and Reitman were already in for a lot of money.

Tripper talking to Rudy right before the campfire scene at the end was an original shot, but works better because of the added scenes with the two of them.

Regarding the changes from the early edit to the final film, they boil it down simply: Reitman: "You get rid of the bad stuff, put more good stuff in; Goldberg: "It seems so simple."

The one thing that they never explain in the commentary track, and maybe, if I'm watching this film again tomorrow, if my DVD of The Villain doesn't arrive, I might try to work through it and explain it--why is the film called Meatballs? There was a documentary series on the Disney Channel years ago about summer camp, and it was called Bug Juice--which was apparently the nickname for some watered down kool aid, the cheap kind of drink they would serve at summer camp. I'm wondering if Meatballs as a name means something more to those who spent more summers at camp. Or is it just because meatballs, like bug juice, means something cheap and easy to serve to a lot of people... And, did I just solve it?

Insert a shot of me waiting by the mailbox for my DVD to arrive so I can move on.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

but they're saying it

Tonight--not that this was ever a part of my childhood--I've got the commentary track playing on Meatballs. Director Ivan Reitman and writer/producer Daniel Goldberg.

They might not say anything interesting. I'm going in blind.

Opening scene was a pickup. I've already read about the stuff in Tripper's cabin, and Tripper's announcements were done after most of the production.

Sidenote, as I maybe figure out what they're rambling about regarding casting Bill Murray: the "sombrero" Tripper gives Rudy later is visible on the wall early in the film. And, it's got me thinking about props. But, not hat props. I've had a problem recently with photograph props. For example, I saw The Snowman today--it's not awful, but it is quite lazily and haphazardly edited--and noticed that Harry's (Michael Fassbender) counter has this picture frame with five photos, him and his ex and her son. And, the photos look like they were all taken at the same event. And, that's a weird way to group photos, in my opinion. But, you know, practically speaking, these characters haven't actually had a life together. So, someone has to take photos to put in that frame. But, they couldn't manage a few different costumes? Still, within the universe of the film, that these photos are in the same frame together isn't as weird as the situation from The Foreigner; see Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan) has a wife and daughter. Wife is part of the film but daughter never really matters much. Anyway, on his desk in his office is a photo of them, apparently taken at their ranch house. That's fine. But then in a different frame behind his desk, is a photo that was taken maybe seconds before or later. Same outfits, same location almost exactly. Then, later, at that ranch house, there's another photo from that same photo shoot on the wall. Same outfits, same location. And, I'm wondering about these lazy prop folks who are tasked to take photos and can't be bothered to connect with the costume department, or to bother taking photos in different locations or at least from different directions.

Anyway, early commentary track is a lot of talk about casting people, how they didn't have Bill Murray when they started filming what was supposed to be a film about the CITs. Tripper was a bigger character than they expected and they needed more of him, and needed to rework the story. Murray's first day of filming included the bit with him telling Spaz he thought he had a chance, then leading the male CITs along past campers, past the female CITs and over to the trash can, where he rips up the rules and leaves them in that trash can in case they want to read them.

Cast members hooked up and broke up within the 30-ish day production schedule.

First cut of the film was around 2 hours, with a lot less Tripper-Rudy stuff, and was very "diffuse." They cut out nearly an hour, then shot new stuff over three days, including the bus station scene.

They're talking about the loneliness of Rudy Gerner and I'm reminded of the first night at camp in Alaska. I had this awesome trench coat, bought a few years earlier when my family went to Ireland and England. Somewhere between the airport--where I was the first to arrive that day, so I ended up waiting around for a few hours with a couple of the counselors as other campers from out-of-state arrived--and the campsite--an hour and half or so by bus, I believe--

Meanwhile, some great tidbits in the commentary about shooting coverage on the wrestling scene with Tripper and Roxanne (Kate Lynch). Reminds me a bit of some of Robert Rodriguez' commentary on El Mariachi, where he talks about planning his shots ahead, including when he wants to pull focus, so he can use less filmstock when it comes time to actually shoot.

Also, Murray wrote the kidnapping scene. Because he wanted to give more to the other actors.

But, I was talking about my trench coat. So, it's not until we've made it to camp, been shown to our dorms--two boys dorms, two girls dorms, each dorm with three cabins--and we're getting our first big introductory talk from our counselor, that I realize my coat is not with my bag. Didn't even have a bed assigned yet and I realize my coat is gone.

Chris Makepeace had grown between shoots and reshoots, and was getting some facial hair. Murray showed him how to shave.


So, I can't remember if I waited for the counselor to finish talking or immediately headed for the bus. A few hundred yard walk back to the center of camp. It was still light out because summer in Alaska, but it was probably late evening. I get back to the bus, and they've totally unpacked the luggage storage underneath. They've found no coat. Now, I loved that coat. I would get a replacement later that summer, but it wasn't as nice, not as long, not as free flowing--I've got a cape used for the occasional costume that is nice and free flowing like that coat was. I immediately missed that coat. And it was upsetting. And, I wandered. I had no interest right then in being in a cabin, or being around a bunch of strangers (even if I was about to spend part of the summer with them).

Eventually, I made it back to the big cabin at our dorm. That's where my bag was. The beds were all assigned. I went to one of the smaller cabins. The beds were assigned. I went to the other. And, it seemed that one, too, was all full. Which, given my occasional manic panic episodes, was not a nice addition to my day. And, because my social awkwardness gets worse when my mood gets worse, I didn't immediately find the counselor and tell him I didn't have a bed. Instead, I wandered some more, lamenting the loss of my coat, imagining having no particular place to sleep during my stay in Alaska. Ever the outrageous imagination, mine is.

Meanwhile, by the way, Reitman and Goldberg have been rambling for a bit about a big screening of the film. And negotiating with studios.

At some point, I calmed down, or just realized that wandering around with no coat and no bed was accomplishing nothing. And, I was on my way back to our dorm's main cabin to talk to the counselor and a friend of mine, who went to my same school--in case I haven't made it clear, this camp was owned by the church I grew up in--the Worldwide Church of God--which also ran the private school I attended here in California. There were four of us from our school there at camp. One of them asked me what I was doing. I said I hadn't gotten a bed yet, I probably said something about my missing coat, too. And, I'm sure I was on the verge of getting emotional about all of it all over again. And, he says, oh, there's a bed in here, still. That third cabin. When I looked there, several bags were on one bed that no one has actually claimed. I claimed it now, I put my bag below it, and I was probably asleep not long after.

Next day, I was over the bed situation completely. I would lament the loss of my coat a bit more, but there was stuff to do, activities, games, new people to hang out with. You know, summer camp.

Meanwhile, a lot of the commentary is really about how disjointed this production was. Reitman just summarized it as, Movies aren't made, they're remade. It's all about the editing, and in this case the pickups. Counter to the thing about the prop photos above, consider this production detail: all of the scenes in Tripper's cabin were shot in one day. But, he and Rudy have multiple costume changes, and there's a progression of their relationship.

Campfire scene, there had been some drinking.

Limited takes on Tripper's rally speech because Murray was putting everything into his voice. Plus, they had actual campers as extras, and they and the other actors had no idea what was coming.

Murray, understandably, didn't like going sincere. That wasn't his thing. Which I find interesting, actually, because if not for the impression of his sincere interest in Rudy, even if it is hidden most of the time in sarcasm, the film wouldn't be the film it is. Of course, that is Murray's thing. No matter how awful he is, no matter how many jokes he makes, no matter how many insults, you always get the impression that his characters really do care about everybody else; they just have trouble admitting it.

The slow motion race finish wasn't filmed that way. They had to overprint frames to fake it.

And, making this film was both a "miracle" and a "learning experience."

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

you'll be released unharmed

Rudy Gerner (Chris Makepeace) may have a self-esteem problem, but he's got a great view on what he wants out of life... or at least what he doesn't want. Plus, you've got Tripper's whole rallying cry about it not mattering if you win or lose. And, I think some of what this movie instilled in little kid me is obvious. Outside of fiction--i.e. when I'm playing a game or writing a story--I have no interest in doing... well, evil. Doing bad things. Hurting people.

That doesn't mean, in any exclusive way, that I don't do bad things. I'm not sure anyone really wants to do bad things. Some people just lack the empathy and understanding to realize the consequences of their actions. Some people, given power--and its corrupting influence--inevitably take advantage. And even the best person, in a moment of weakness, can do the wrong thing. But, there are no mustache-twirling villains in the real world. There are bullies, there are manipulators and power-hungry bastards. There are murderers and rapists. But, in fiction, the villain has the benefit of glee.

Still, I've said often in this blog that I'm a bleeding heart liberal. Even in D&D, one of my adventurer characters was a pacifist who only turned to violence as a last resort. Perhaps because I've always surrounded myself with fiction, or maybe because of some inherent, and quite human, damage, I have always been fascinated by evil, by evil characters, by the villain who consciously turns to villainy. But, Meatballs is far from this. There's barely a mean spirit anywhere in the film. Even Lance Cashman (Ron Barry) seems like he's just desperate for attention more than anything else. And, he's more a simplistic type, worthy of the most basic dislike on sight--because sometimes movies need to keep things simple when it comes to minor characters--more than he's a bad person. He doesn't really do anything bad, he's just a little skeevy and full of himself.


Add to this the urge to do your best or at least have a good time, regardless of whether or not you actually win. When I play a board game, I'd rather have a good time and lose than obsess about winning. When my character dies in D&D, within the narrative, it would be nice to be resurrected, but really, because I'm obsessive and certain apps make character creation extremely easy, I've got multiple backup characters ready to go at any time. To be fair, the longest any of my characters has survived is maybe five months.

I do try to win, of course. But, I don't mind losing as long as it was fun.

It occurs to me, though, that this isn't always a positive. I mean, outside of the gaming table, this also means I'm not as ambitious as some people. I might have big dreams but lack the ambition to really get there. And, as long as some basic things are good, I don't seek more. I want more, but I don't seek it. Like a renewed love life, for example. I've got friends. I've got my kids. I've got movies and tv. I might want something romantic in my life, but I don't need it, and I don't make the effort to get it. Like, as long as life is pretty fun, I don't need to win, I don't need to have everything. I'm reminded of an old tv ad--I think it was for Diet Coke, but it might have been for another soda--cute girl is being interviewed for a dating service, and they're asking about her hobbies and whatnot, and she talks about doing stuff with her friends, and the offscreen interviewer tells her that her life sounds like it's pretty good. And, she realizes--as she's drinking the soda in question, of course--that, yeah, her life's pretty good. The implication is she doesn't even need the dating service. I get that.

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, sociopathic assholes get ahead in the world.

I could probably use a little more badness in my life, a little more urge to win. Instead, I've got a nice, wholesome Meatballs inside me, reminding me that as long as it's all in good fun you can play jokes on people, as long as you put forth a little effort you can find love, and sometimes victory means pulling someone else's pants down and running away...

Well, maybe not that last one.

Monday, October 23, 2017

...and you're doing pretty well

Out of nowhere today, it occurred to me what was "missing" in Marshall. Well, not out of nowhere; I was leaving the theater--I saw The Foreigner today before heading off to class, and there was a poster for Marshall in the lobby. And, I realized that Marshall has the same sort of subconsciously racist problem that Birth of the Dragon had this summer, and that numerous other movies have all the time. See, Birth of the Dragon is ostensibly a story about Bruce Lee (Philip Ng), but the main character is the white guy (Billy Magnussen). Marshall is ostensibly about Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) but the filmmakers didn't choose a case he won on his own, they chose the case where he brought in the white guy (Josh Gad). Now, these white character's stories are interesting in their own right, sure. But, it's problematic when you tell the story of the famous person of color and you have to bring in a white character to tell the story...

Meatballs doesn't have that problem, of course. Hell, I'm not sure if Meatballs has any people of color at all, but it also it isn't their story. Meatballs takes place at Camp North Star, a Canadian summer camp where race is irrelevant, where politics are irrelevant, where class differences barely matter (outside the rivalry with Camp Mohawk, of course), and where Tripper Harrison has an almost supernatural knowledge of the goings on. Outside the film, stuff like the bus station scene were filmed later to change the focus of the film, but inside the film, it's a nice moment of characterization for Tripper; he may be a bumbling fool, but he also cares about other people. He cares about each and every kid at Camp North Star. I mean, you could imagine that Rudy isn't his only project this particular summer. It's the kind of character Bill Murray was born to play. Like Peter Venkman or Phil Connors. A... I want to say it was a year ago [I checked and it was indeed last September)], there was this thing going around on Facebook, as things do. Like explain who you are using three fictional characters. I chose Mr. Keating from Dead Poets Society, Silent Bob from Kevin Smith's Askewniverse--and Kevin Smith is the celebrity that people tell me I look like more than any other (I've also gotten Jack Black and Zach Galifianakis)--and Tripper Harrison from Meatballs. Like so:


If I wanted to explain my life, I'd probably have to include Phil Connors, but this wasn't about life but personality. The inspirational teaching of Mr. Keating, the patient silence and sage-like advice of Silent Bob, and the chaotic amusement of Tripper. But, I could include so many other characters from the films I've seen time and time again. They get in your head, good characters do. Their lines become your lines. Their stories become your stories. I mean, I actually spent a lot of time camping as a kid, went to Yellowstone once, went to our church's campground at least a couple times a year. But still, the challenges they face in Adventures of the Wilderness Family stand out in just as clear relief sometimes. Blackbeard's irreverence, Luke Skywalker's urge to rebel--these things and so many others are inside me. Like a cinematic foundation underneath my mind, my being, my soul.

And, I only just noticed, after decades of watching this movie, that right before Tripper checks the events Rudy is signed up for, the stick he's sharpening is the handle of a badminton racket.

But, I was talking about my soul. It makes sense. I spent more time watching movies than I ever spent in church. More time watching movies than I spent in Bible Class. And, considering how long school ended, I've spent more time watching movies than I ever spent in school at all, really. Hell, I still do. Today, for example. I saw The Foreigner (great movie for what it is, but what it is isn't something... meaningful) and that's got a near two hour runtime. That's already longer than my class was today (one hour 25 minutes today, and then again on Wednesday). Plus, I'm watching Meatballs which has a runtime of one hour, thirty-four minutes. Teaching involves plenty of work and, especially, planning, outside the classroom, sure. Today, I had to reconfigure some grade sheets for upcoming speeches. But, so does this blog often involve planning... Though, obviously, I love to wing it a lot when it comes to the actual writing. So does anything worth doing. I also spent an hour and a half or so drawing a map for my D&D campaign earlier, for example. (Not every map takes that long, but this one had a bit of detail.)

I think I tweeted once--partly because I was in an awful mood, but it is also not entirely inaccurate--I am nothing if not a collection of all my faults. Additionally, I am nothing if not a collection of every movie I have ever seen, every tv show I have ever watched, every book I have ever read, every toy I have ever played with, every person I have ever met, every girl I have ever loved, every bit of food I have ever eaten, ever drink I have ever drank, ever dream, ever nightmare, every passing fancy, every elaborate scheme, every attempt, every failure, every success.

Which means, I am part Tripper Harrison. Part John Keating. Part Silent Bob. And, part you, whoever you are, reading this right now. And, you are part me.

You're welcome.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

make one good friend a summer...

I don't expect a lot of words today. Meatballs is a film I've seen dozens of times at least. And, if it was ever on cable in the past, I would likely stick around for a bit. It wasn't one of those few films that demanded I watch until the end even if it was late and I was about to go to bed--and, yes, those exist--but it's such a classic comedy, and something I know way too many lines from... (So many lines from this one have found themselves into my everyday life, and sometimes it makes me sad when people don't recognize those lines. They're not exactly known for their taste, though, so fuck 'em.)

It has its flaws. I don't know if it is, for lack of a better term, cinematically great. But, it works for what is is. An early version of what would probably peak with Porky's--an innocent sex comedy. With heart.


An interesting detail: my DVD of Meatballs had never actually been opened. I bought it just a year or two ago, for potential use in this blog, and never ended up watching it. So, for the first time in a while, I had to, you know (or maybe you don't, if you're particularly young), tear off the plastic; actually, I took it to the kitchen and cut into the edge of it with a knife from the knife block. Then, I had to remove that little security tape on the top edge, that bit of plastic that folds over from the top of the front cover to the top of the back cover and, oh so damn often, wouldn't come off in one piece back in the 90s--I think they used a stronger glue--and would take some serious effort to remove. This one came off easily. No alarm tag inside the case to peel away and trash. No booklet, not even a single sheet with chapter headings and a list of extras. Just a DVD, with a fairly plain label.

So, I switch out my HDMI cables--the Amazon Fire Box rejects the HDMI combination box I've got, so I just leave it plugged it all the time and on the rare occasion that I need the blu-ray player, I have to angle the tv out of the wood cabinet it's in, and without really being able to see what I'm doing, remove one HDMI cable and insert the other into the same slot. Then, it's DVD time (or sometimes thumb drive time, if the only way to watch a particular movie or whatever is by finding a copy of it online, not that I would ever do that).

This DVD includes a trailer for One for the Money, starring Katherine Heigl, and which I had never heard of, and am actually now--as Meatballs gets started--having a hard time remembering the details of. I think she's a private detective. Or maybe a cop. And... something happens. And, there's a guy, presumably played by an actor.

Next, a trailer for Baitshop, a comedy set in, well, a bait shop, and it stars comedian Bill Engvall and singer Billy Ray Cyrus. I never heard of that one before, and am not sure now that I want to have heard of it this time. It is--or appears to be--the kind of creatively bankrupt Hollywood crap that really should be left behind for... Well, honestly, bring on more remakes and reboots and sequels, with budgets and professional actors.

Then, a trailer for L.A. Story with Steve Martin, which it's been awhile since I've watched it but I remember being pretty good.

Finally, an ad for Epix, "the first premium channel that's not just on television" which is just so fucking quaint now, with Hulu and Netflix and Amazon Prime and every network having an online platform, and Crackle and Shudder and so many more.

Onto the movie. Early on, they're in the parking lot of a Kmart. And, I will always link Kmart with LEGO blocks. This is for two reasons: 1) I used to get LEGO sets there. Back in the day of the old Space sets. 2) They used to have these big LEGO models, like a life-size race car, and contests to guess the amount of blocks. I don't know the last time I saw a Kmart, let alone went inside one.

As for summer camp, I did get to go once. I was 15. I went to a church-owned camp in Alaska. Made some great friends that I never spoke to again. Played water polo in ice-cold lake water, rafted some whitewater rapids, not for the first or last time. Rode some bikes way too far over forest trails and city roads. Canoed. Shot some rifles. Lost an awesome trench coat. I wasn't the kid who got chased by the bear, though. I don't even remember that kid's name. I think he had red hair and glasses, and he was a preacher's kid. But, when he got to the bus and told us a bear chased him and one kid balked at the idea, he swore like a sailor. I did get to stay in the cabin with a against-the-rules-but-our-cabin-counselor-totally-agreed-not-to-tell-on-us stereo system, so we had some good tunes going. And, it was Alaska, in the summer, so it never really got dark. The sun would go down. But then it would be coming up again before dusk was over. Fortunately, most of our activities were tiring enough that sleep wasn't a problem. Plus, I have always been able to sleep anywhere, as long as I was tired. In a boat in the sun while fishing with my father. On a concrete floor. Sitting in a chair in a crowded student center on the campus of EMU. A little daylight wasn't going to stop me.

And I had a crush on a girl who would go on to be Miss Alaska in the Miss America Pageant several years later. In fact--and maybe I've told this story in this blog before, but I cannot imagine the context that it might have come up--there was this one adorable interaction between us in the camp phone booth. I was on the phone, talking to my family, because camp was halfway done, it was a Saturday, and there wasn't much to do. And she shows up. She actually lived not far from the camp, so she had no use for the phone. She was just wandering. She comes and joins me in the booth and says something along the line of me having to hurry up because of the line. There's no one waiting. I'm perplexed. She says, as if it is the most obvious thing (and as if she knows that I will get the reference, and I do get it), that Harvey is waiting. And, I swear that I lost track of whatever conversation was going on over the phone right in that moment, like some cinematic conceit out of a comedy. I was smitten, and nothing else mattered right then. All else was silence. Then she smiled as she realized I got the reference--for the record, Harvey is an invisible six-foot rabbit from the 1950 film of the same name.

It was one of the most "movie" moments of my life.

Me the fat kid with glasses, she the beautiful, and slightly rebellious, brunette with the amazing singing voice... I met her when she was singing "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" from the musical Phantom of the Opera--with which I was rather obsessed at the time--in the lodge. The last Saturday night of camp, when there was a stage show thing, she was at center stage, and louder than everybody else, on a rousing rendition of "John Jacob Jinglheimer Schmidt"--a song I had never heard and didn't know. This was my one and only time going to summer camp.

I wish I'd gotten to go more.

But, just from that one experience, Meatballs feels like a both a good amalgam of all that is summer camp--our camp may have been church-owned, but that didn't keep boys and girls from hooking up, for example--and a romanticization of same. The song "Good Friend" that plays over the montage of parent day is such a sappy 70s song, but it's also just so earnest about how people can get along if they just try. And, that's how the movie plays as well. It's more a series of vignettes than a film with a plot.

(Also, if you want to talk flaws, one relatively minor one--and one I only really noticed over time--is that the film shows all these events that should involve more regular campers--the basketball game, the dance--but it seems like there's little more than CITs, Tripper, Roxanne, and Mickey. And, just a handful of younger extras as campers. Footage like the parent day stuff suggests a far more crowded camp--I believe that footage was of actual campers, not extras.)

Similar to "Good Friend", the film's use of "Moondust" is sentimental, but it works. It's nice. It's sappy, but it's nice.

Maybe it's because the film is Canadian. It's all just so nice. Clementine Kruczynski would be disappointed in my choice of words, perhaps, but that's the best way to describe it. I mean, even all the times they leave Mickey and his bed and his table in strange places, it doesn't feel mean spirited. Or Fink's abrupt change of tone from the accusatory "You didn't do anything" to the joy of "You held her hand?"

Like so many of the best comedies--this one is irreverent when it needs to be, but downright wholesome when it needs to be, too. And, it's just so pleasant, and nice. And hilarious.

 

 

 

 

 

And, as Tripper gets into his big rally speech, I must admit, the above might be "a lot of words" and I should apologize.

But, I don't wanna.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

mammals of alleged high intelligence

I don't really want to talk about Heaven Can Wait again. If it taught me anything when I was a kid, it was bad things--that one guy can change the world with a few words, that love is magical and comes upon you out of nowhere, and it can conquer all. The film's take on reincarnation and the soul didn't fit with what church and bible class in school were teaching me, and neither take was particularly positive given I was being told regularly that the world was going to end. I mean, who cares if you go to heaven when you die, if your "soul" sits wound waiting for Christ to return and then you get to spend forever in the presence of God, or if you get a brand new body (maybe) after you die, when in a few short years this body you have right now is going to burn in a nuclear holocaust, or if by some slim chance it survives, you're going to die slowly from radiation poisoning, starvation, or some sort of post-apocalyptic factional violence? What points is romantic love when you're not even going to live to be an adult?

Sometimes, it gets to me. I mean, I'm plenty old enough to have moved on from my cultish upbringing. But sometimes... Sometimes it gets to me. I wish I had bought into this romantic notion of love as something legitimate when I was a kid, that my romanticism did not end up constantly checked by my cynicism, that my hope for the future did not end up constantly checked by my pessimism.

Side note: before Joe goes into that tunnel where he's yanked out of his body because his heavenly escort is playing the odds on him dying, a white convertible passes him. In it a brown-haired man and a blonde woman, and 1) I'm wondering if that's supposed to be Tony and Julia (if so, I figure that same car will be shown sometime later) and 2) I'm thinking it doesn't matter if it's supposed to be them, because I see the visual and I see them, and that's what matters, because that's my experience of the film. But then, I gotta think about what it means, because that is what I do. I see a waitress who dreams of visiting Paris in Groundhog Day, a ONE WAY sign in Happy Death Day, or Clementine changing her hair color on a regular basis in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind... or any symbolism in any film, or anything that I might interpret as symbolism in any film, and I think about it. Right there, watching the film in the dark theater, or watching it here at home, sitting on the couch (or, oddly, often the floor) and I get sidetracked in interpretive exercises because what matters so often is what it means. Sure, there's how it feels, too. There's narrative structure, there's characterization, there's performance, there's filmmaking, but what it means, what it becomes deep down inside me--that's what matters. Maybe, if there was anything (arguably) positive I took from this film way back when, it was Joe's attitude in dealing with his escort and with Mr. Jordan--or his anti-corporate arguments, but those are given hardly any screentime at all compared to the football training, the love story, or his wife and her lover trying to kill him--in that Joe is irreverent; he doesn't just accept what he's being told, nevermind the clouds, nevermind the Concorde being boarded by the dead, nevermind the implication of his new wife's homicidal impulse which Joe all but ignores because he's too busy falling for Betty, too busy working toward the Super Bowl, too busy (and then absolutely not busy enough) trying to fix ExoGrey's business practices. God himself could show up and Joe would probably argue with him about whatever came up. He's insubordinate, he impudent, he's rash, he's demanding, and he is willing to stand up for 1) what's right and 2) what he wants... Hell, I wish I took more from him when I was a kid.


So, what does it mean, then? That Tony and Julia were passing Joe by, even as he's about to be the starting quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams. That Tony and Julia head into that same tunnel where that van is about to try to pass that camper. That they manage to get through before the oncoming vehicles are in the dark. That they get by and Joe doesn't. On the one hand, it's because his escort is trying to get him out before he suffers the pain of that oncoming van. On the other hand, if it' small odds, all probabilities, then there was a chance that Tony and Julia would have a head-on collision with that van, and Joe would ride right on past; maybe he would even be the one to call for help, to get an ambulance. And, Tony and Julia might be killed before they had the chance to poison Leo Farnsworth. So, Joe remains Joe, he gets to be starting quarterback against Dallas, and the Rams still get to the Super Bowl that year. But Leo also remains Leo, and he doesn't fall for Betty, romantically, or in terms of her business requests (or whatever threats she implies that she was ready to make), so he builds that factory in Pagglesham, and all those people are displaced, and many more are poisoned by the pollution. And, Farnsworth buys Haiti (or a bunch of Haitian land) and helps ruin the local economy there so he can grow some sugar for his First World customers. And his canning department keeps killing dolphins, and he's got the money to fight that lawsuit and either win or drag it out until the environmentalists just can't take it anymore. Leo remains Leo and the world is the worse for it.

But, Rams fans are happy either way.

But, what it really comes down to is this idea that everything about life is just odds and probabilities, probability and outcome. It's all percentages, all chance. We open at the beginning of time.

...to the beginning of life. How did this flower get here? What was its journey? Therefore, I should infer from analogy that probably all organic beings which have ever lived on this earth have descended from some one primordial form into which life was first breathed?

It is a journey of evolution.

Adpatation.

The journey we all take. A journey that unites each and every one of us. Darwin writes that we all come from the very first single-cell organism.

Yet here I am.

And movies get lumped in with life, with religion, with everything and anything that I've ever heard, seen, done, or thought, and a butterfly can flap its wings in Beijing and in Central Park you get rain instead of sunshine, and I'll give you a winter prediction: it's gonna be cold, it's gonna be grey, and it's gonna last you the rest of your life. Because, what else is there but everything? All twisted up in our brains, vying for attention at any given moment. And, fake news and politics and work and family and movies and games all ask for attention, and your brain (my brain) tries to hold onto all of it. And, movie quotes interject themselves into life--No keys, but please my Paul--just as much as life interjects itself into movies. I mean, really, Children starving in India, and you're walking around with a whole sombrero full of peanuts. But, Who said life is fair? Where is that written? And what are any of us going to do about it when shit gets unfair? What do we do when are romantic ideals are beaten down and broken? What do we do when it doesn't matter what we do, because all the really good looking girls would still go out with the guys from Mohawk 'cause they've got all the money.

 

 

 

 

 

Because what are we but all these lines of dialogue--from life, from books, from movies, from imagined conversations in our heads--running quickly beside one another, against one another, across one another like all those lines of green 1s and 0s in The Matrix. A car drives into a tunnel. 1s and 0s, chance and happenstance. A beautiful woman (or man, or whatever) walks into your office, sits down at your gaming table, sits in the same classroom as you, does whatever wherever so that you fucking take notice and time freezes and romantic ideals are the only ideals and it's still just 1s and 0s, chance and happenstance. There's no Mr. Jordan. No God. No order except for that guided by physics and biology, and you can fuck with those all too easily, and you can dream and you can imagine, and you can balk when it's time to be bold, crack when it's time to stand up, and it's all just 1s and 0s, chance and happenstance. And, after all, tomorrow is another day, more chance, more happenstance... But not really and 1s or 0s because there's no simulation, just reality, just life, day in day out. So, figure out what it is that matters to you. Figure out what you need. The astray and the paddle game and that's all I need... And this remote control. The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote control, and that's all I need. And these matches. The ashtray, and these matches, and the remote control, and the paddle ball... And this lamp. The ashtray, this paddle game, and the remote control, and the lamp, and that's all I need. And that's all I need, too. I don't need another thing, not one... Because it all goes together. One thing is another. One movie is another. One person is another. And, everything is illuminated in the light of the past. It is always along the side of us, on the inside, looking out. Still, the natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.

But, it's such a nice road sometimes.

Friday, October 20, 2017

i've already lived through this day

Heaven Can Wait waits again because today I saw Geostorm and I saw Happy Death Day again. Because, I could.

Some observations regarding Geostorm: 1) it's not quite as bad as I expected, but the bar was really, really, really low; 2) the visuals are awesome (except for the lightning and the running people freezing); 3) the plot is so very simple and doesn't really offer time to care about the pair of brothers at its center, or the one guy getting home to his daughter; 4) the film, like far too many films, begins and ends with entirely unnecessary voiceover narration that 5) doesn't actually fit the plot, and contradicts the marketing with that "SOME THINGS WERE NOT MEANT TO BE CONTROLLED" poster tagline, as 6) the film is absolutely not about how we shouldn't be controlling the weather, nor is it really digging in on the requisite global warming link into its story; it makes a slight effort toward the latter, but essentially spends its time supporting the notion of controlling the weather, you know, rather than fixing the problems that lead to "extreme weather" (the film never actually namechecks "global warming"); the film is a sabotage story, our "playing god" with the weather controlling satellites is only ever suggested to be bad by one character, and that's the guy responsible for sabotaging it; in the end, they're rebuilding everything that's been destroyed to get the weather control going again; 7) that lightning is lame, and I'm pretty sure unrealistic... which is a strange complaint in a movie like this, I know, but seriously, lightning operates a certain way; it strikes the highest conductive thing it can to have the shortest route to the ground, but here, there's a whole lot of lightning in one sequence, and it's just hitting all over the place, including the ground between and underneath metal poles, and it's just not as good a visual effect as so many of the rest; 8) the movie tells a story that has no real depth, and barely a point... it actually reminded me of an action movie from the 80s, but without the political subtext; it's attempt at subtext comes from the saboteur's motivation, to rid the world of our enemies, which is so unsubtle as to be silly.


Observations regarding Happy Death Day: 1) I want to know what 920 (or 923) is, because a) the opening shot of the film is the clocktower clock showing 9:20 (even though Tree's phone says it's 9:01 and the bell in that bell tower is ringing the hour); when Tree gets to her room at the sorority, and she's late for class, it is 9:20. Later at night, the blackout happens at 9:23; also, the film takes place (mostly) on 9/18; it feels like deliberate repetition, am to pm, but 920 doesn't seem to mean much; in police code, it means an adult is missing (which my daughter theorized means that Tree isn't actually repeating the day, rather she died and this is all happening after her death, her way of dealing with it); there's a 920 organization that promotes the use of psychedelic mushrooms, but that doesn't seem to link right; so I figure it must be a birthday of someone involved with the film... but the writer Scott Lobdell was born in August, and the director, Christopher Landon was born in February; so maybe a significant other; 2) the use of street signs, at least early in the film, is interesting; in Carter's room, for example, there is a ONE WAY sign pointing left (narratively, that's backwards) that is initially seen (or at least the first time I noticed it, in a mirror; Nick's room, where Nick is about to be killed and so is Tree (and that isn't really a SPOILER because of the nature of the film) there's a skull and crossbones on the outside of his door, on the beads dangling over his closet (or whatever space it is the killer emerges out of), and there is a DO NOT ENTER sign on the inside of his door, seen as Tree enters the room, and another ONE WAY sign pointing left.

Plus, of course, it's still a time loop film with a great lead, a better love interest in Carter than Rita ever was--

No, that's not quite right, but seriously, Rita is awful. She needs a good time loop to make her a bit nicer (and she gets one in Rubin's original script). Carter starts off nice. And, as my daughter pointed out today, in the final resumption in Happy Death Day he never really has to know the bad person version of Tree. He met her when she was drunk, and then he's there for (in the eventual, actual timeline) her to wake up, proclaim she killed someone, then leave in a hurry, but she's not rude, she's not demeaning, and later she tells him what's been going on and he still believes her. So, he's not only already a nice guy, he never really has to deal with the worst version of Tree.

 

 

 

 

 

And, I didn't really want to talk about either movie, today.

It's weird, but so many entries in this blog that started as something basic turned into moving personal screeds. (Today’s was going to be called “what gives this day meaning.”) But, sometimes, when I expect something personal, more mundane things distract... No, that's not quite right. I mean, mundane and personal are not inherently antithetical. But, it's day 1176. Inevitably, I'm going to either obsess about trivial (that's a better word) details, or I'm going to get into a political rant, or I'm going to start getting into personal stuff, and this many days in, I've said a lot of the personal stuff that I might ever say in this blog...

Nah, I'm fucking with you. There is plenty of personal shit still to ramble about. Plenty of self-help style stuff, too. And, plenty of politics. And, always, plenty of movies to nitpick

Thursday, October 19, 2017

you know this is not life

The big problem I've got with Heaven Can Wait is that so much of it plays as just too easy. Joe dies, and he's the only dead person who doesn't want to get on that Concorde at the way station? He gets to inhabit (temporarily) the body of a rich business man, and he can reverse all the bullshit corporate norms that just happen to be awful in reality with one board meeting? The first woman he meets in his new life just happens to be the love of his life? This one is really part and parcel of the point of the film, but he buys the Rams and they rush him and rush him to let him know they don't want them there and one successful pass and they're already turning around? Tony is setting up to kill Leo (Joe) a second [correction: third; I forgot about the ceiling mirror collapsing onto the bed] time and the film has set up the cannon firing when they take the flag down at the end of the day, so that detail is fine as a coverup of the gun noise, but Joe just happens to stand in front of the well at that exact moment that Tony needed to shoot him, so there's no body, no messy cleanup? I accept the third body--Tom Jarrett--as heaven autocorrecting for Joe's heavenly escort's mistake, but Betty for some reason has to go meet Corckle at the stadium right after the super bowl (and the logistics of getting in there wouldn't be difficult at all right then, no) even though she was literally just at a crime scene where police would probably want to ask some more questions of everyone involved?

Take, for example, the politics of Leo Farnsworth's business practices. Perhaps one of the reasons a politically savvy guy like Warren Beatty took on this film in the first place. (Bulworth, years later, is basically this piece of this story rewritten as its own tale.) Farnsworth's business, ExoGrey Industries, is actively producing plastic soda bottles that poison people, has a nuclear power plant dangerously situated on the San Andreas Fault (which made me curious about actual nuclear plants in California, and apparently, the last one closed last year), is knowingly killing porpoises in its collection of tuna, is displacing multiple communities (and the ones left behind nearby "will have their health endangered by the inevitable poisoning of their air and water") in England to build a refinery, and is (apparently) trying to buy Haiti (yeah, the whole thing) for its sugar. Personally, though the details are never quite spelled out (his wife simply calls him a "lecherous, sadistic son of a bitch"), he is awful enough that his wife and confidential secretary are having an affair rather openly and made the effort to poison his nasal spray. Interestingly, despite his meeting Betty and his urge to help her being his reason for accepting the body of Leo Farnsworth, he actually tells Mr. Jordan to find him a body that can play quarterback before the board meeting; he resists his own urge to do anything.

I really want to write about the business and the politics, but the film wraps all that up with one speech at one board meeting and moves right along to Joe's football training. I mean, I know Beatty directed this film because it would be an easier directorial debut than Reds (which he wouldn't release for a few more years) but it's almost too easy. No. It is too easy. But, it's also kinda pleasant. The simple theme music that repeats throughout, a little jazzy, keeps things moving. And, the whole plot is just so... breezy. I want to take the board room scene and break it down, use it to explore real world easy fixes for problems we debate constantly. But, it all plays out in such simple terms--"Would you pay a penny more to save a fish that thinks?" indeed. Like the movie wants its cake and wants to eat it too, as it were. Throw in some political depth, sound progressive, sound transgressive, counter the corporate power that destroys lives and environments. Then move the fuck on with more than half the movie to go. It's like the politics of Bulworth--and don't get me wrong; I love that movie--it sounds progressive and shocking as it goes because this rich white guy is going against everything rich and white, but when you think about it, so much of what he says is so fucking obvious that the reason we aren't already acting on what he's saying is not because no one is saying it but because so damn many of us 1) don't want to hear it, and certainly wouldn't say it, even if we believed it because 2) that would upset a world order we have painstakingly built for ourselves--and yes, I'm talking about white people, I'm talking about America, land of the free, built on the backs of slaves, home of the brave, unless that bravery means standing up against the status quo, because there was only one fucking revolution worth a damn that that one happened in the 1770s... oh, and that failed revolution in the 1860s, and don't ever think we're not still bitter about that one; and 3) we would rather be unwitting oppressors than ever dismantle a world that tells us we're special just for being born white, and preferably male. Maybe Joe's disruption of ExoGrey's business practices stood out as something shocking and progressive in 1978. Or maybe it is simplistic characterization to let us know that Joe doesn't doing anything the conventional way... Except, he literally moves in the opposite direction after that, by using his position of power and his money to force his way into the Rams organization. Nevermind who he really is; I mean, going ahead with throwing his privilege around because of who he was before is the same bullshit thought pattern that leads to stuff like MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN and every conservative generation thinking the world was better before. You know, before black people had rights. Before women had rights. Before foreigners had rights. Before gay people could be gay in public. Before Joe had to stoop to being a rich white guy instead of... well, as he was about to be starting quarterback for the Rams, a different, slightly less rich white guy. 


For that matter, Beatty wanted to make Reds, wanted to tell the story of John Reed and the Communist revolution, but he's stuck in--or he's benefitting from--or both--Hollywood, where you can't just do that sort of thing out of nowhere. Sure, Hollywood is a liberal enclave, but that only goes so far before it falls apart. And it wasn't always the case. Take the blacklist, writers like Dalton Trumbo having to resort to cheap B-movie scripts to live, and only barely squeezing an anti-establishment script like Spartacus through. It's the Overton Window thing again--if the audience drifts right, Hollywood can only promote leftist ideals so much without losing cash. And, even if it does manage to seek an idealistic, leftist vision, the audience will be small, or it will play as a fantasy like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; like isn't that cute, he thinks he can change Washington, he thinks he can change the world. Joe thinks he can change ExoGrey. But, you can't change such behemoths suddenly. One man against the world is just a fantasy.

That doesn't mean you don't try.

The big problem here is that the first act of Heaven Can Wait plays like a liberal fantasy, dismantling dangerous corporate practices to save the world. Plus, with Leo dead not much later, and his wife accused of his murder, his changes are not going to go into affect any time soon; rather some temporary blind trust will make sure everything is business as usual. But, then act two is something else, a conservative fantasy perhaps, an embodiment of the so-called American Dream, that anyone can pull himself up by his bootstraps, especially if he's got millions of dollars to throw around, and be exactly who he wants to be simply by force of will. (Leo/Joe may actually be a good quarterback but the film makes the individual quarterbacks so interchangeable that that doesn't matter.) And, act three, especially the culmination of the love-at-first-sight throughline--what is that? Is that a liberal notion, a conservative notion? A ridiculous notion? A figment of Hollywood's, and our collective, imagination? Just like Corkle's ability to drive through Los Angeles during the student-death overtime and make it in time for the locker room celebration afterward. I guess he found one of Jack Bauer's wormholes.