what makes me who i am

1. I saw Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets today, and while it had some awesome visuals, the overall plot was fairly standard fantasy fare. Entertaining, sure. But, nowhere as original or as memorable as, say, The Fifth Element.

2. While I have ended my obsessive, extended time with Sing Street, I don't plan to return to the dystopian films to finish out the month. Instead, I think I'm just going to go with whatever comes up. My summer classes are over and I've got time.

3. Despite that image. I'm not sure I want to write about Valerian, really. In fact, the links to Rogue One yesterday got me to thinking more generally about films. Like, what do I want from them> What do I expect from them? Why do I embrace them such that I could, in Fever Pitch-style, outline my life according to the movies I saw at certain times--Cliffhanger on our senior trip to Maui; Say Anything (not the first time I'd seen it) in a motel in Los Angeles with my then-future now-ex wife; walking home from seeing Cocktail and getting picked up in my family's new car, purchased while I was out; watching The Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising with my D&D friends late at night after a game night; watching Born Yesterday after trying to sneak into Indecent Proposal as a teenager; going out with a high school group of friends that would exist just for that one night in a weird, almost teen-movie-ready fluke to see Sleepwalkers and only getting in because one of the girls in the group lied about her age and flirted with the ticket booth guy; leaving the Sunday Los Angeles Times movie page, open to the full-page ad for Project X on the floor in front of my dad while he watched tv to subtly hint that I wanted to see a movie that particular Sunday (and, we did go); seeing Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers in the afternoon, opening weekend, having some Chicken Littles at Kentucky Fried Chicken for dinner, then seeing Halloween 4 again that night because my sister wasn't able to come earlier...

And the specifics here might not even be fully accurate, but what matters is that this is how I remember things. And I actually wish that I'd seen more movies with friends, growing up, now. Lately, I've seen a few with my D&D friend Jared. In high school, I saw a couple movies with my nerdy friend Alain (like Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country after a half day of school and a trip to the ice skating rink). But, mostly I have seen movies with various sisters of mine. The youngest two--Bobbie and Brooke--we've probably seen the most together, including a lot of bad horror films rented from Now Playing, a video store that was just a few blocks from the house we moved into when I was 17. As a teen, I also spent nights at my sister Stacey's house or my sister Susan's house, watching whatever looked interesting at the rental store. (It wasn't my rental store, so I don't remember the name.) And, I saw a lot with my mother as a kid, including a lot of movies at the local second-run theater The Academy and a lot of tapes rented from the Wherehouse. In my late 20s and 30s, i.e. when I was married, it would be a few movies here and there with my wife, more as she got more interested in movies, and a lot of rentals from Blockbuster, then Netflix, when it was all discs by mail. And, now, between Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime, not to mention HBO, Starz and Showtime, I can find pretty much any movie the day I want to watch it. Or, I'll go to the theater, at least once a week. Thousands of films, many more thousands of hours, spent in the dark, watching a screen, watching someone else's story...

Sometimes, I'll admit, it's because my own story is just not as interesting or exciting. But, it's not just that. I'm not one to list escapism as the primary reason I watch movies. I think it's not that other stories are more interesting or exciting, but that they are more clear, perhaps. Like, just by dint of being contained within their cinematic confines, a set runtime, with opening and closing credits, it's simpler, easier to follow, easier to invest energy into. In real life, I've always had a hard time planning too far ahead. (I've explained before how my religious upbringing at the end of the Cold War fucked with my impulse to plan.) In movies, I can see where it's going, I can see how the plot will be resolved, and then it is resolved, and that's so much...

Better isn't the right word. But, picture it: I watch a romantic comedy, girl meets guy, they get to know one another after some meet-cute, some arbitrary hinderance gets in the way, they overcome it, and end up happily together; meanwhile, in reality, I'm like a timid teenager still, most of the time, hesitant to act on an attraction, afraid of being rejected, afraid of not being rejected, girl meets another guy, or another girl, and they end up happily together.

Picture it: I watch a movie about some inspirational teacher--Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, perhaps, or my favorite, Dead Poets Society--that teacher has a hard time at first, some arbitrary hinderance gets in the way of connecting with the students, then suddenly the students get it, the teacher gets them, and they pass that big exam or make bold life decisions, the music rises, the action crescendos, and the credits roll; meanwhile, in reality, I teach a lot of college freshman, taking a course they are required to take and don't really want to take, and I want it to be something important, like I want to teach them public speaking skills because I want them to be able to express their identities and put their big ideas out into the world, and I want my Mr. Holland's Opus moment where all the old students come back for an emotional reunion, or I want my students to step onto their desks and call out, "Oh Captain, My Captain" but really they barely do the work, manage some basic speeches on some generic topics and most of them are forgotten by me almost as quickly as they forget me.

Picture it: I watch a nice family holiday movie like Home for the Holidays or Christmas Vacation and there are squabbles, maybe even serious fights, maybe some hilarious antics, but a lesson is learned and all (or most) is well in the end; in reality, though, my family's holiday gatherings tend to be boring, at least until an interesting board game comes out, except for maybe once when one drunk sister got into an argument with... Oddly enough, our mother who was already asleep at the time; it was a very one-sided sort of argument. Christmas gatherings (never a thing growing up with my family, but a thing in recent years) offer up opportunity for karaoke, but I can do that elsewhere, when friends are up for it. Or I can watch a crappy pseudo-karaoke film like last year's Sing!... Actually, that is an awful plan. Though a good musical film is a nice option.






Last year, one of the things I considered when ending this blog--if you're confused because this blog clearly still exists, get over it--was a podcast or YouTube thing with me and someone else discussing movies after watching them. Never found someone to do that with, so I did YouTube reviews myself for a few months. Then, just as I was actually getting better at editing those things quickly, I was getting frustrated with the lack of views. (And, now a couple friends of mine are doing a podcast talking about movies; go figure.) When I took a Media Theory class in grad school, the teacher, ostensibly a film and television teacher not a communication studies teacher, was shocked when I told him I wrote over a thousand words a day about movies. "Do you want to be a film critic?" he asked. Best I could say in response was that I wouldn't mind it, but I also wouldn't know how to get into that. If I could make a living watching movies, I would probably jump at the chance. Or, I'd hesitate just long enough to miss my chance, because that's what I do.

But seriously, I don't imagine giving up movies. When I hear people talk about the handful of movies they saw this year, I can barely fathom it. Like, why would you just exist in your own life all the time like that? Or is your life that exciting? (For the record, though, if all of my classes were as full of eager students like the Upward Bound classes I taught this summer, teaching might feel as exciting in practice as it does in my imagination.)

For now, I need my movies. I need my television. I need my boardgame and RPG time. And, more so lately than maybe ever before, I need my friend time. And, my kid time, of course. When any of these things overlap, that is just a magnificent bonus.


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