It's That Time of Year Again

I’ve mentioned before that The Wife has a particular fondness for this Christmas movie. I never thought that calling it a Christmas movie would be so controversial.

How about a soundtrack dominated by Christmas music? Does that make it a Christmas movie?

Vaughn Monroe – Let It Snow – Die Hard – Film Version

Making a Nakatomi gingerbread house? Does that make it a Christmas movie?

Imgur

How about an advent calendar? Is that good enough?

Reddit

I saved the best for last. Yes, there is a Die Hard christmas storybook.

Sideshow CollectiblesDie Hard Christmas Book with Steve Blum – Dec 17, 2018

Hat/Tip to Merbrat for all of these. I used to refer to her as a stoic (specifically an email stoic) when I mentioned her on the blog because I thought it was a funny joke to label someone as effusive and outgoing as she is with a philosophy marked by asceticism and reserve. I’m not sure why I thought it was a funny joke back then, but I did. What can I say? I have a weird sense of humor.

Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains

Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains (2019)

(No, it’s not that kind of movie)

Jacob Anders ReviewsVirgin Cheerleaders in Chains – Nov 13, 2019

This is how you do a movie review. The film he is reviewing is the one that I felt I had to write a Movie Rating for Dummies post for just to help the entertainment challenged understand that if you sat through the entire movie, it’s probably at least a three star experience. This guy gets it, and he understands how to mix praise with criticism.

Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains is better than three stars, as Jacob Anders does a much better job of explaining than I can. He’s nicer to the movie than I was, and he doesn’t have to sleep next to the producer of the film knowing she could kill him in his sleep if he trashes her movie.

Which I wouldn’t do to this movie anyway because it is hands down the best made movie she’s worked on. The credit goes to the writer, the director, the cast and crew, all of whom would never have found each other without the producer, the woman I sleep next to. So she gets credit too, even if she isn’t one of the named credits in the movie. The editing job is superb, the acting is excellent, the script won awards. It’s a great movie. Go see it.

I’m simply not a person who watches horror films and enjoys them. I’m still haunted by The Ring after watching it more than a decade ago. I laughed at and was traumatized by Scream when it came out. Halloween still gives me goosebumps, and I’m a certified John Carpenter fan. Don’t ask my opinion on horror films if you want more out of me than it’s not my kind of movie. I’m more at home with dry, intense dramas than I am with action and horror.

This movie scared me, too. So if you like scary movies, go see it. You’ll enjoy it.

RAnt(hony)-ings

If It Didn’t Exist, We’d Have To Create It Anyway

Yesterday (2019)

Picture the Emerald city as seen in the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz. Imagine that you had lived there all your life. Born there, raised there. It was what was normal for you. Then one day you wake up and you live in Kansas, the dull, drab black and white existence from the same film. No one has ever seen or heard of the beauty of the Emerald city. No one knows what the hell you mean when you say Emerald city to them.

Wouldn’t you try to create a version of the Emerald city? Just so that the beauty that you remember could be shared by everyone you know? So that they would know what you mean when you say the words Emerald city.

That is the essence of Yesterday. The story of a man who wakes up in a world in which the greatest influences of our past no longer existed. It is a movie with soul. A movie that makes you want to shout to the rafters about the beauty and inspiration that was the Beatles, and quite a few other things as well. Watching Yesterday was one of those rare instances when the movie that I’m watching is better than the movie I expected to watch when I queued it up. Give this movie a chance and it will surprise you.

Love is all you need.

Ratings Systems

For my own sanity, I feel that I need to say something about ratings systems and how to rate entertainment fairly. Specifically, rating movies fairly, although the descriptions for the basis of giving a particular rating can be broadly applied to more than just movies. But it’s movies that I’m going to be talking about here.

Full disclosure. The Wife’s latest film project has just been released. It is the fourteenth film she’s worked on, the second that she has produced. The title of the film is Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains. No, it is not that kind of movie. It is a horror-comedy with strong female leads, a reasonably well-known director and a reasonably well-known leading actor. I give the film a solid eight out of ten stars on IMDB, four out of five everywhere else.

Why did I give it this rating? There is a logic to it that most people should recognize. First off, I liked the film. When I got to the end of it, I didn’t feel like I had wasted my time, and I didn’t feel like I had been sitting there for too long. If you look on Netflix you can see that logic reflected in their star rating system. For those who don’t have a Netflix account, I’ll go through the generic descriptions using my own language.

One star – I hated it. A one star rating goes on films that you can not even sit through, or that if you do sit through it is simply to grasp the full extent of the filmmakers crimes so that you can testify to them later. If your eyes aren’t bleeding after fifteen minutes of viewing, the movie is probably not a one star experience.

Two stars – I didn’t like it. I made it to the end and for whatever reason, the movie didn’t make me feel the way I expected to feel at the end. This is not to be confused with feeling sad when the film is a sad film (See Schindler’s List) paranoid when the film induces paranoia (see the Matrix) Or angry when the film wants you to be angry (pick any work by Michael Moore) If you need happy endings, stick to solid hollywood releases. They are the movie creators that will feel compelled to leave you with a happy ending.

Three stars – It was OK. There was no particular reason why I couldn’t watch the entire film. It didn’t feel too long, it worked the way I think the creators wanted it to work, but it didn’t make me want to recommend it strongly. Most films are going to rate a solid three stars because most films are made by people who want the average moviegoer to feel like they weren’t wasting their time watching the movie.

Four stars – I liked it. The movie spoke to me in a way that was unique to the movie. A four star movie is one you can remember, and you can remember it fondly. A movie you might even watch again with a friend so that they can experience it too. This is perhaps the most unambiguous rating because most people know when they like something. Either they do or they don’t, there isn’t any uncertainty about it.

Five stars – I loved it. The film is near-perfect in execution. The soundtrack adds to the film, the cinematography is beyond reproach, the subject matter is something that people will relate to in later generations. You feel compelled to tell people to watch the movie, because it is just that good. For me, it’s hard to rate a movie five stars that I don’t feel was a singular experience. Few movies will rate five stars in my estimation. The vast majority of them simply do not measure up to that high standard, not even films made by a lifetime companion who could kill me in my sleep if she wanted to.

For a ten star system like IMDB, you double the star rating you would give it on a five star system, with some added granularity. Five instead of six stars because I really did feel like the movie lost me somewhere. Seven instead of eight stars because there were some technical flaws that I just can’t get past (see the duplicate droid scene in the original Star Wars) nine instead of ten stars because you don’t think the film will be that timeless, but it was damn good all the same.

You don’t, for example, give a film a one star rating and then offer a wishy-washy description of why the film was so bad that you felt like you had to gouge your eyes out rather than watch it. Either you hated it, and you can describe why, or you are trashing the film because the mood struck you and you went for it. Or you are simply an idiot that doesn’t understand what the correct star rating for the movie you just watched was. For those of you who made it to the end of this short guide, you can now be excused from the class of idiot that doesn’t understand what the star ratings mean. You are welcome.

I’m just sorry that I wasn’t in time to save the idiots that gave Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains a one star rating and then said I thought it was meh. Meh is three stars, moron.


I half-jokingly tell people that it’s kind of autobiographical. I had written a script called Creature From Blood Canal, which was an entry and official selection at the NoLa film festival screenplay competition, and that’s where I met [director Paulo Biscaia Filho]. Now Creature was a $100 million script, and I couldn’t get anyone to read it, and Hollywood wouldn’t read it, so basically that’s the same thing that Shane says in Virgin Cheerleaders.

Gary Ganaway in the Austin Chronicle the author of Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains.

Thriller on Halloween

Michael Jackson – Thriller (Official Video) I wish he hadn’t put a disclaimer on this.

Happy Birthday, Son!

A video from the year after I graduated high school, back in the time when Michael Jackson was just a really good dancer and singer. One of two albums of his that I bought and cherished, after listening to his and his families music all through my childhood.

The Rise of Skywalker?

The release date for the ninth and last of the originally slated sequels to the 1977 blockbuster, Star Wars, has been announced. When George Lucas was rewarded for his work on the original film, put together with a shoestring budget (judged by today’s movie budgets) he was floored by the fanbase that he had unwittingly created. People who willingly shelled out money for tickets to see the same film, over and over again for over a year, a feat that hadn’t been witnessed in movie history since Gone With the Wind had been released, a full human generation previously. When George Lucas saw how much money he could make in creating sequels to his original work, he abridged his stand-alone creation and let it be known that he had a lot more story to tell, if people were interested.

Star Wars: Teaser Trailer
Star Wars Original Trailer 1977

…and they were interested. The Empire Strikes Back was the second-best selling film after Star Wars when it released. Mr. Lucas went outside of the group that made the first film possible in order to realize the second film, but the movie made big bucks and set us on the course that we’ve been on, Star Wars and movie-sequel-wise, ever since.

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back – Trailer

Return of the Jedi, the third film in the franchise, didn’t do as well as the previous two films, even though Mr. Lucas brought the film back home to have it made under his direct supervision. It was at this time that the nine film series narrative emerged. After the third film was in the can and George Lucas was looking for his next project. This was when Star Wars became Episode Four, and the plotting of the three prequels began.

Of course, we had to have the digital updates of the original trilogy first. And then we got the forgettable Star Wars episodes one, two and three. The kids liked them, so they sold well enough. There was a cartoon series about the Clone Wars and there were other spin-offs too numerous to mention. For someone who was let down watching the first Star Wars because the novelization was better than the film, it is hard to imagine waiting on the edge of your seat for anything Star Wars after those prequels dropped.

There were no theaters in Leoti, Kansas or Stinnett, Texas, the places where I was trapped during the year 1977, when Star Wars first hit movie theaters. The family had zero funds and bigger problems than my desire to see the epic adventure of our time, to deal with. So I didn’t get to see the movie when it released. I had to borrow a paperback copy of the novelization from the library in one of those two places. It was probably Stinnett. I didn’t get to see the original film until Empire Strikes Back was in release, and then I managed to catch the two films back to back in a new-fangled, dual screen twin cinema, constructed on the edge of my place of exile in 1980, Garden City, Kansas. One of the last things I did in that town before being shipped back to Texas.

My Star Wars diorama

It should be no surprise to long-time readers of the blog that I was much more impressed with the second Star Wars than I was with the first. An impression only strengthened after watching the third film, and then in witnessing the digital cheapening of the first trilogy in preparation for the release of the prequels.

I knew that what would come out after that would be questionable, and my impressions of all six of the later films is filtered through that doubt, the unwillingness to be suckered once again into paying money for an experience that couldn’t possibly be as good as what my own imagination could create in just reading the screen plays. Enjoying fantasy requires the suspension of disbelief, and I don’t have the willpower to suspend disbelief for something so clearly created just to manipulate my feelings with familiar characters. One. More. Time.

Is anyone waiting to see this film? Waiting like I waited to see Empire Strikes Back? Wanting to know what will happen next? Will Luke and Leia get together? They blew up the Death Star but the Emperor is still out there. Surely he has more versatile weapons at his disposal? We know all that stuff now, and none of the original characters have survived to be part of this last film.

Everyone has known the name of the ninth film for awhile now. The Rise of Skywalker. Does anyone care about these new characters? Just curious. I don’t. I’d like to care about Rey, but episode seven was just an orgasm of special effects loosely hung around the bare bones of the exact same story that George Lucas used in the original Star Wars. I watched episode eight specifically because Mark Hamill was going to be in it. It too was largely forgettable and I have mercifully forgotten it over the course of the last few years.

The best Star Wars film I’ve ever seen isn’t even one of the nine films. The best Star Wars film was Rogue One, with Solo coming in for a close second. Rogue One spins out a tale about how the plans that are mentioned in the original film’s crawler came to be in the hands of the rebel alliance. (h/t to screenrant) no, the film does not follow the previously established narratives for how the plans were stolen. None of them were in movies, so their relevance to the canon as established in film is really irrelevant, unless you are a die-hard fan.

Solo of course is all about Han Solo, my favorite character from the first and second films. I followed Harrison Ford from then to now, watching every film that I could afford to go see that has had him in it. Harrison Ford has been worth the effort to follow. His career has encompassed many movies that cannot be described accurately with words. You simply have to experience them to appreciate them. Movies like Blade Runner. The man is a master on screen, like few movie stars can be. The actor for the Solo movie did a passing good job of capturing Han Solo, the character, not Han Solo as portrayed by Harrison Ford. A subtle but important difference lost on people who aren’t movie buffs. He did well enough on screen following the master that I have to give him credit for trying, even if he fails to be Harrison Ford in presence on screen. No one but Harrison Ford could be Harrison Ford, in much the same way that no one but Morgan Freeman can be Morgan Freeman.

Harrison Ford has been worth the effort, even having to suffer through episode seven just to see the ignominious end of the character of Han Solo. As Harrison Ford said, when asked about the film “I got paid”. His were the only scenes in episode seven that were worth the price of admission. Episode nine has the abramanator once again in the director’s chair. Nothing the abramanator has done has ever been worth the price of admission when viewed in hindsight. I doubt that episode nine will be, either.

It is scheduled to be released on December 20th.

wait til it comes to cable

Mark Hamill

Highlander

Looper caught me again. The short clip on Youtube named The Untold Truth Of Highlander doesn’t really have anything untold or anything particularly decapitating in its truthfulness. It did, however, reference an anime movie spin off that I’d never seen before.

Highlander: The Search for Vengeance – Trailer

For that, Looper gets a hat/tip. Highlander was an obsession of mine for quite awhile. I never could get into the TV series spin-offs of the movie, even though I had friends who loved them and wrote fan fiction for them. Spin-off series for blockbuster movies have been things that I’ve avoided like a plague, with the significant exceptions of M*A*S*H and Stargate SG-1. I can blame youth for the first. I don’t have an excuse for the SG-1 addiction. I just like it, and there is no explaining taste. Planet of the Apes and Galactica 1980 burned me on TV series spin-offs, and I never looked back.

But I loved the first Highlander movie. I collected all the songs from the film that I could get my hands on, before a friend gifted me a copy of A Kind of Magic. I was so obsessed with the film that I knew immediately on listening to Queen, The Works that Hammer to Fall was the song that is playing in the gunner’s car when he stumbles on the sword fight in Manhattan. I knew that film backwards and forwards and even went to the trouble of tracking down the fabled European version (not mentioned in the Looper short) that has the scenes explaining how he adopted his loyal secretary. The woman who inexplicably loves him like a father, even though she is clearly older than he is.

Highlander II was the sequel that burned me on all movie sequels after it. If I decide to go see a movie that is a sequel to another movie these days, I do it with the memory of Highlander/Highlander II firmly held in mind. Surprisingly, there are very few sequels that end up being quite that bad. Some of them come close (yes, I’m looking at you Terminator 4. Alien 3, 4, 5, etc. don’t think I’ve forgotten how bad you all were. I haven’t) but they still can’t quite be as unforgivably bad as Highlander 2 was. Unless it was Highlander 3, 4, 5, etc.

After hating on Highlander II for about a decade the Renegade Cut showed up and I could see what Russell Mulcahy had in mind for the film when he shot the scenes in Argentina. What he had in mind, before the economy there tanked and he ended up losing control of the film. That film would at least have been watchable. It still would have been unforgivably bad (never, ever, remove the mystery. Your explanation will never be as good as the imagination of the audience.) but it at least made narrative sense, while still being bad storytelling.

I have to quit watching Youtube videos. That is clearly the only fix for this tangent problem. No, I probably won’t watch the Highlander remake that is supposedly in the works. Like Star Trek, Highlander‘s emotional vein has been worked out. There is no feeling left there for them to mine. They’ll probably make a goldmine off of it, though. Nothing sells like nostalgia.

Uncomfortable Conversation

All conversations are uncomfortable for me. I think this is why I don’t find most comedy sketches funny. The comic part of the sketch is nearly always somebody getting something wrong, and then the awkwardness of maneuvering around that misunderstanding. Like the dog turd in the middle of the living room floor that everyone is too afraid to mention. This sketch structure is basically every single episode of Three’s Company, a show I was forced to watch with the family, all of whom found it uproariously funny. There were other shows back in the day, back when entertainment was three broadcast channels or a trip to the library. Any number of situation comedies that weren’t funny because they made fun of awkwardness directly, and so I didn’t watch them. Between Two Ferns is the latest awkward thing that isn’t funny to me. Not funny because that is every single conversation I’ve ever been a part of, for my entire life.

Not until The Big Bang Theory did I find a show that was both awkward and humorous, mostly because it made fun of normal people (represented in the person of Penny) people who just can’t grasp the truly geeky nature of the wonder of science. Every episode of the show is immensely funny for me. The geekier the better. Awkward is what Leonard Hofstadter is all the time, and it works. It gives me hope as well as makes me laugh.

The Good Place – Another example of a smart, funny sitcom.

The one exception to this situation, the one time conversation isn’t awkward for me, is when I’m talking alone with the Wife. I know she will be straight with me, and I with her. I don’t have to wonder about what is the right thing to say? I just say what is on my mind, and she does the same thing. No other conversations are absent the discomfort of awkwardness. How can something that is always present be funny? I wonder how many comics are tormented by this, only worse? Having to do the same schtick over and over and you hate it? I’m just being me, and it isn’t funny being me. It’s just being me.

The Between Two Ferns movie is out now. I will be as far away from that movie as I can get from this point onward. I hope that Zach Galifianakis makes a boatload of money from the movie so that he can finally stop doing the shtick and find something else to do that he really enjoys.

Raise Hell

Texas has always been the national laboratory for bad government.

Molly Ivins
Magnolia PicturesRaise Hell: The Life & Times Of Molly Ivins – Official Trailer – Aug 8, 2019

A hat/tip is due to the Texas Standard for the interview clip of Janice Engel, the director of Raise Hell: The Life & Times Of Molly Ivins. I will be watching this documentary. I loved Molly Ivins’ columns. This is one of those times I kick myself for not being willing to drag myself through the news each day (another mass shooting last week sent me away from the news again) Had I listened to the Texas Standard last week when the segment aired, I might have had time to get a ticket to the advanced screening at the Alamo. But probably not. Most of these special Alamo events sell out long before the public learns about them.