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Indiana Jones In My Mirror

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     For Christmas, one of my gifts was Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures, on blu-ray. My boys and I opened it up the other day and decided to start with Temple Of Doom, not Raiders. Why? Because TOD takes place in 1935, one year before Raiders (trivia geek points). Definitely more of a pulp film, TOD veers off course in some ways. It even kicks off with a show tune of all things and moves on to chilled monkey brains and hearts on fire. Yet, it’s still quintessential Indy in many other ways and as fun of a viewing as ever. My three favorite moments: 1. Indy and Short Round are in the collapsing room of spikes, while Willie Scott repeatedly hesitates to reach in the creepy crawler coated hole to pull the lever. Indy looks into the hole and pleads, “WE ARE GOING TO DIE!!!” 2. Indy and Short Round playing camp fire cards. “You cheat, Dr. Jones!” I love their banter, love that they both cheated, love how it ends with a massive snake dropped in front of Indy. 3. The bridge sequence. Top to bottom entertainment. It’s great watching Indy finally realize he has to cut the bridge with the machete. 

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     Today, I watched Raiders. And just like every other time I watch it, I was instantly nostalgic about my childhood. I remember the hole in the wall two theater movie house off of Highway US 1 by the Indian River in Palm Bay, Florida. I remember my mom shopped at the strip mall next door while me and my little brother watched the Saturday matinee. I remember we stuffed our gobs with popcorn watching a guy with a fedora and bull whip screaming “Jock, start the plane” while he ran from a bare butt, arrow shooting tribe, fictionally referred to as the Hovitos.

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  There are three films that launched my love for movies as a child: Superman, The Empire Strikes Back, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Superman made me believe that a man could fly while showcasing three eye candy landscapes in Krypton, Smallville, and Metropolis. It was the first true superhero film. Empire introduced me to the concept of the cliffhanger. When Vader drops a bomb on Luke, I could hardly breathe. I was still trying to recover from the fact that Luke’s right hand was plummeting into the cloudy atmosphere below. But Raiders for me was extra special because I could be Indiana Jones. Kind of. Maybe not to the extent that Indy is Indy. I’ll never go excavating and find the buried resting place of Noah’s Ark. But I can have Dr. Jones’ spirit of adventure. There are a few signature things that make the man in the hat: he is more than his day job, he seeks adventure, and “it’s not the years honey, it’s the mileage”. I believe life is lived better with these principles, therefore the psychology of Indiana Jones is something I’ve begun to claim. Rather than bore you with the details of it all, I’ll just touch on the adventure aspect.

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     I realized a couple years ago that my mind can be my own worst enemy. This is true for many people. We let our minds plague us with negativity, insecurity, and flat out lies. We give our own minds power over us, often holding us hostage. Take just a moment and think about some ways that your mind cripples you. It’s pretty ridiculous what we let it get away with. The good news is that we can take it back if we so choose. When I came to this realization a couple of years ago, I figured out that just as the mind can be a powerful negative force, it can also be a powerful positive one. And that means, sometimes, for me at least, I have to embrace silly. So I’m quick to look for adventure in the little ways and let my imagination run wild. This came to my attention today when I was out backpacking. It was cold, misty, and raining. This wasn’t the first time I’ve done this. When I was a kid, soccer and football games in the pouring rain were more fun. Why? Adventure! I’ve jogged on snowy paths in layered sweats avoiding icy patches. I prefer it that way. Adventure! I use to live in Colorado and on my days off of work, I would drive out to the canyons and hit the trails. Now my trails are residential hilly streets. I like living the domestic life in suburbia but when I put on my backpack and step outside to “brave the elements”, I still let the little kid come out. I don’t listen to a playlist that starts with John Williams’ Raiders March or anything like that but I don’t mind saying that I more or less pretend that I’m out on an Indy-style adventure! It makes life more fun. That’s probably why I love jogging with the Zombies, Run! story app. Why just exercise for 45 minutes when you could turn it into an imaginative quest? Why just walk through day to day life as an adult clone? Why stay comfortable when you can try something different and look back on it with the satisfaction that you did? It’s not even about exercise or being outside necessarily, it’s just about taking every moment captive. Grab your own fedora and go after your own grail every once in a while.

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[I had to quickly take this picture of myself backpacking because it was raining on my phone. I tried to look cool. Very silly. Don’t care.]

The Hobbit in 48fps: Not A Review

           

I saved this document a few nights ago, and by now, I’ve read several other blogs/reviews of the film that may have an echo here. Nonetheless, the other night I watched The Hobbit as Peter Jackson intended, in a high frame rate, at 48 frames per second, and in 3D. I am very eager to see it now the old fashioned way, 24 fps, 2D. I don’t feel that I can truly write a review of the film because I feel like I only saw maybe 50% of it. Now, I did watch the entire film, almost 3 hours long, without stepping out to use the restroom or to get a drink refill. But even though I watched it from the first to last frame, I’m convinced I didn’t really see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey yet. I cannot begin to tell you how visually different this film moves and affects the viewer than if seen in traditional 24fps. For me, the frame rate assisted in the worse possible outcome: I was completely aware of my surroundings, that I was sitting in a theater and watching a screen. When I watched this film, with each new scene my sense of sight was confused, and therefore had to adjust. When this happens, the viewer cannot get lost in the fantasy world known as Middle Earth. I was keenly aware that I was looking at immaculate set pieces. I saw Gandalf enter Bilbo’s home at Bag End, and I wanted to feel something familiar. Instead, I was noticing that I had never seen him in that capacity. When he smoked his pipe, instead of smiling, I was thinking, “those smoke rings have a strange motion”. This cannot be what Peter Jackson wanted. I’m sure he wanted me to see something with rich clarity, but I doubt he wanted me to see so clearly that I began criticizing the Dwarves hair and makeup blemishes. I will say that all the shots that were suppose to be what the eye views as “slow motion” looked terrific.  In battle shots that were slowed down, every movement, such as Thorin’s hair, looked so cool. But, alas, you cannot watch a film in slow motion, it’s typically set aside as a trump card, something to use for a brief montage. The rest of the time, you watch what should be normal movements and it just looked jittery, choppy, and this was never more apparent than the opening 20 minutes of the film in the Shire and specifically when the dwarves invaded Bilbo’s home. I felt like I was watching A Very Hobbit Christmas Special on ABC in the 80’s. My guess is that in the old fashioned way of watching it, it plays as a very charming scene. But at 48 fps, when the Dwarves start throwing the plates around, it just looks silly. So this is just one of many scenes I look forward to seeing the old fashioned way. Hopefully I’ll like it then. Perhaps most confusing is that at 48 fps, the CG characters looked like poo, except Gollum. He’s never looked better, I mean, it’s a massive improvement in CG. How is it that Gollum is eye candy and the other animated lives are so distracting? Maybe my friend Josh is correct: Andy Serkis. This is an actor that knows the ins and outs of motion capture. In fact, it’s his bread and butter. No one and I mean no one can mo cap like Mr. Serkis. In a group discussion today amongst fellow geeks, it was determined that we’d prefer that Mr. Serkis just played all the CG characters so that we could see the very best representation of the technology. So, there it is, the anomaly of 48 fps, as best as I can describe it. It was easily my biggest problem with my initial viewing experience of The Hobbit.

       
     The second problem is also hard to call a review because it isn’t that the acting or ideas are bad, but there just seems to be too many ideas and that makes it hard to capitalize on a few great ones. This may not be Peter Jackson’s doing. I am unsure of whether he pushed for 3 films approx. 3 hrs. each for this 300 page book or if the distribution company did. Understandably, they’re going to want to make a lot of money off The Hobbit and in some ways it makes sense to make another Middle Earth trilogy. But there’s just not enough for Bilbo or Thorin or even Gandalf to do with this much footage. Don’t misunderstand me. Bilbo was great. Martin Freeman is ten times the actor Elijah Wood could ever hope to be. I believe when the credits roll at the end of The Hobbit film trilogy that I’ll believe the true “Hobbit with the heart of gold” is Bilbo, not Frodo (though delivered well by Wood), but as of yet, no chance for Bilbo to shine. He gets lost in the background to extraneous subplots with rabbit iditarods and character dev on a kabillion dwarves. Ironically, aside from a few, the dwarves were less than memorable. Again, good acting, and there’s probably more to come with the other installments, but for now, just too many things happening to emotionally invest in all the dwarves. There were just several scenes that could have been cut and I just flat out didn’t care about some of them.

         
     Here’s what really works well for me with this film. Despite watching him in a 48 fps version that took away some of the majestic nature of his character, Gandalf was great. This is the character I missed after Fellowship. I understand the need to transform him into The White for Two Towers and ROTK, but he lost some of his twinkle when he got so serious. All was forgiven of course when he brought the army down the side of the mountain in the bright light on his white horse. But, in The Hobbit, Gandalf was not only his old self, he was playful, almost child-like at times. It was my almost favorite Gandalf portrayal on screen second only to Fellowship and that’s probably because it was the first one and set the bar high. But the real reason to see The Hobbit is when Bilbo and Gollum meet. Even in 48, these scenes were magic. It was everything I hoped it would be and Bilbo is finally a match for Gollum, who always seemed more clever and a step ahead of Frodo and Sam. There’s a brief moment where Gollum playfully rests his chin on a rock to listen to Bilbo and it burned in my memory. The last hour of the film was certainly the best of the 3, and it had so many familiar action beats. They were welcomed by me and I didn’t mind that I’d already seen this formula in the first trilogy. For me, it was what I came back for after all these years of waiting. I really want to like Thorin but for now, he’s just a lesser comparison to Aragorn, and a mope. The new music cues fit well and were melodically infectious.
     In the end, Jackson really had a lot going against him in trying to accomplish this story. The Hobbit is smaller and lighter than the Ring trilogy. So yes, it suffers in comparison, though not fairly. It’s had hype and expectation against it from the beginning. The studio money issues kept the film from going to production for a couple of years. And New Zealand red tape made life difficult for Mr. Jackson too. It’s actually a wonder he was able to make the new trilogy. Had I never seen the Ring trilogy, I’m sure The Hobbit would blow people away, myself included. In conclusion, I’m sure I’ll like it much more when it actually looks like a movie in 24 fps, and I look forward to the development of the story and characters and the next two installments.

Star Wars Geek For Life

I still cannot believe that Episode 7 is going to happen. Last week’s announcement of Disney buying Lucasfilm from George for $4.05 billion was shocking. It’s consumed me ever since. I simply didn’t think SW would get a rebirth until after George passed away years from now. As a result, I’ve spent the week checking Twitter for updates, talking director wish lists with fellow geeks, even watching a youtube video archive of Maria Shriver interviewing Mark Hamill in 1983 just before Jedi came out where he mentions being involved in Episode 7 around 2004. http://bit.ly/Pwd1OF

I should say before launching into my thoughts on the Disney purchase and the future of SW that I’m aware that I’m a fan with limits and that I’ve never committed to the extended universe like many other fans. Let me briefly explain what I mean by “a fan with limits”. When I drove to Celebration III in Indianapolis back in ‘05 just before Sith, I could see a deeper level of commitment all around me. I met a father and son dressed in legit bounty hunter attire while standing in line to get in the convention center. Wearing my Empire t-shirt, I asked them how far they had travelled. They had flown in from Norway. I was almost embarrassed to tell them I’d only driven 30 miles. The convention was full of fans with simply amazing costumes, I even saw three dudes walk by as the Ghostbusters just to get laughs. So, I’ve not spent the time that others have on costumes, and I’ve probably not waited in near as many lines, and I know I haven’t spent as much money on merchandise. As an adult, I have waited in the lines for the first showing (midnight when offered) of all the films. I have read the Timothy Zahn book trilogy (obviously terrific SW literature) as well as Truce At Bakura. All this to say, if this makes me lose credentials, feel free to click away but I plan to persuade whoever you are about my thoughts. In my heart, I am a SW Geek For Life regardless of my credentials. I’m the fan I am without apology. Here now is a short list of my SW opinions that pre-date the Disney buy:

  • I think Empire is the best of the films and Attack of the Clones was the worst of them.
  • I think Hayden was a horrible choice for Anakin but I didn’t mind him in Episode 3.
  • I thought Jar Jar was stupid but no more so than Threepio (who gave Jar Jar competition in Episodes 1-3). 
  • I could care less about whether Han shot first in the grand scheme of things. Why? I know it was just a dumb revision and when he’s about to be lowered into the carbon-freezing chamber and Leia says, “I love you”, Han still simply says, “I know”. When I watch the revised films, I still see Han being Han.
  • I do wish George would allow the old versions be released on blu-ray.
  • I could care less about the Clone Wars series but loved the micro series that came just before it. Remember those short stories? The one with Mace in the desert taking on the entire droid army was so fantastic.
  • I loved Jango Fett’s character and think the fight in the rain versus Obi Wan on  Kamino was classic (and similar in tone to Empire). One of just a couple of good scenes from Episode 2.
  • I think the green screen sets for Episodes 1-3 were excessive. I believe in this CG era of filmmaking to use it conservatively or the story suffers. Watch Episode 2 or 3 on Spike in HD and the outline around the heroes’ bodies shows technology’s failure.
  • I think as storytelling goes that Episode 3 is a great film and that the lightsaber duel where Anakin and Obi Wan fly into the depths of hell to fight is so satisfying.
  • I don’t believe that George Lucas has “raped my childhood”. We geeks live in a time where it’s so convenient and accessible to sound off to an audience and we should hold our tongue more. I’ve heard this statement repeated multiple times. Mr. Lucas may not be the best director for his films anymore and he has championed some bad choices in my opinion. But he didn’t just set up the SW universe. He’s changed filmmaking and probably influenced most films that you love.

I’m from the old guard but have thoroughly enjoyed sharing SW with my kids, even Episodes 1-3. I was the little kid in denial sitting in the theater watching Empire when Vader told Luke who he was. I was the thrilled kid in the swimming pool at Vista Riviera in Melbourne, Florida when Dad told me and my brother we were going to see Jedi after dinner. I was the youth worker in Grand Junction, Colorado who sat most of the afternoon outside in line with my youth group to see the Special Edition and laughed when Han stepped on Jabba’s tail. Yeah, it added nothing to the film, but it was fun seeing it happen the first time. I’m the father who shamelessly owns the entire set of 6 films on blu-ray and enjoys a lot of the revisions. And guess what, when my kids watch Anakin standing in spirit form next to Obi Wan and Yoda at the end of Jedi, it makes sense to them that it is Hayden Christensen. Even if I’m from the old guard and thought that it was a silly revision, the old guard can no longer be the only fans to consider. And this leads me to my main thoughts on the Disney years to come.

1. I don’t believe Disney equals the dark empire that George was once against. I think they are capable storytellers that can respectfully take SW to another level for family audiences. Whether the old fans like myself want to add more gripes to a growing list of frustration or not, this new direction of SW is real and will happen whether we want it to or not. Disney can back the big budgets since George isn’t financing these on his own anymore and they are interested in giving SW a vibrant and long future with new avenues and a collaborative approach to the stories.

2. I’m okay with Episode 7-9 taking creative liberties in regards to the extended universe but hope they use it as research for how they develop the “original” stories because there are some fantastic new characters, primarily Mara Jade. I would love to see Episode 7-9 be adapted screenplays of Zahn’s Heir To The Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command but I know this won’t happen. So I’d love to at least see more strong female leads for future SW films like Mara Jade but I’m also really hopeful that I’ll get to see Jorus C’baoth and all his crazy wizardry looking like Gandalf on crack. I’ve come to respect the many years of extended universe fandom so I hope Disney and Kathleen Kennedy respects the characters and chronology as they develop new films.

3. The fans gain decades more of hype thanks to the Disney purchase. For years to come, imagine the geek giddyness of Hall H at Comic Con, and the excitement at future SW Celebrations at convention halls. Every two years there will be something to learn about and it won’t be confined to just George’s on screen heroes.

4. This could potentially be a brilliant marriage of ILM and Pixar for SW. I would love to see future SW films created not just by the innovation of ILM but the creative choices of Pixar. Wall-E is a great example of what Pixar could do to assist in future SW stories. If John Lasseter is allowed to collaborate, we will receive SW with a whole lot more heart.

5. My daughter gets a cool addition to the family of Disney princesses. Aubrey loves them all and I hope Disney will capitalize on this and reintroduce Leia in all her glory minus the side hair buns.

6. The isolated character film approach is now possible. Joe Johnston approached Lucas this last year requesting the opportunity to create and direct a Boba Fett film. Did he already know what was coming? He was at Lucasfilm in the early days (created Fett), maybe he knew what the public just recently found out. Either way, Disney has a chance to not only tell isolated SW character stories now for The Fett, but for other bounty hunters, jedis, smugglers, the list goes on and on. And I’d see every one of them on the big screen. I’ve been waiting for the live action Jedi TV show. That was all I could get my hopes up for. The possibilities are endless now for film and TV.

7. I can’t wait for the amusement park explosion. In the near future, when I take my kids to Disney parks, it won’t be limited to Star Tours or SW Weekends. The characters in costume, the rides, the sections of the parks like Tomorrow Land, or dare I dream, entire SW themed parks. Star Wars World anyone? Are you aware of all the land Disney owns in Orlando that hasn’t even been developed yet? Bring it. 

8. Gratitude to George Lucas. Here’s a guy that, until now, has hoarded this franchise and controlled it all. He made an intentional choice to give SW a larger future for the fans, old and young, and to come. He let go. Here’s what he said that I really appreciate: “It’s now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers. I’ve always believed that Star Wars could live beyond me, and I thought it was important to set up the transition during my lifetime.”  Finally, what does Mr. Lucas plan to do with the 4 billion? Give it to education. Yeah he doesn’t need the money, but a $4 billion philanthropic donation is quite respectable. To all the naysayers, give him his due.

9. The Summer of 2015. I could be wrong but I believe the summer line up will include Episode 7, Justice League, and the Avengers followup. Who would have thought that Samuel L. Jackson would be competing against SW? Oh yeah, Disney owns Marvel too. Nevermind. I hope this summer has all 3 of these films. As a DC guy, I’ve been waiting for Justice League. The thought of all 3 of these films opening in the same summer is crazy to me. It may be the greatest movie summer of all time.

10. Brad Bird. He’s at the top of my list for potential directors (not just for Episode 7 but 8 and 9 as well). I also like Jon Favreau based on his good director/actor relationship with Harrison Ford and his creation of Iron Man (he set a new bar for ILM challenging them with better CG). I also like J.J. Abrams, and Matthew Vaughn. But I love Brad Bird. Watch the heart of The Iron Giant. Rewatch The Incredibles (superheroes and James Bond collide beautifully). But please watch Mission Impossible 4. He rebooted a franchise. He respected the roots. But he gave it a bright future if Tom Cruise is smart. Brad Bird can not just handle live action, he knows how to handle CG, he speaks Pixar, and he takes no crap. Is he really preparing to direct 1952, a new Disney sci-film film series? Or is 1952 a fake title for what we’re all waiting for? I hope it’s a fake title.

This new direction for SW got me blogging again. So excited. Geek for life. More to come.

The Warrior In Me

I’ve not blogged in almost a year. I was burdened by it. Burdened by my own premise. I don’t need to keep up a blog on film criticism. The reason being, I’m about to turn 40 and don’t want to approach the second half of my life thinking that the things I want to speak most about are limited to why I do or don’t like this or that film. There’s just more to life for me. That’s not a jab at other film lovers. I am and probably always will be a film junkie. However, what matters most to me are the relationships in my life. So, I decided to write a new entry about a film that was personal to me. And it’s called Warrior. If there is a film that makes me want to blog again, I’m glad for it to be this one. Side note- do not watch the trailer or look up the movie poster on IMDB, it gives way too much away.

Director/Writer Gavin O’Connor (Miracle, Pride and Glory) built this mixed martial arts story from the premise that a father (Nick Nolte) and his two sons (Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton) can take a worse beating from family wars with each other than any beat down they could ever receive in the cage. I was moved by this story because of my relationship with my father and my brother and my two sons. I feel it is rare to have such close relationships. My father lives in my neighborhood and I like that. My brother, a Navy man, is in Okinawa and according to Google maps, it would take 37 days to drive there (thought it was funny that it even offered driving as an option). If I had my choice, I’d want them close to me, I enjoy their company, and there is a level of intimacy that cannot be broken. The thought of my sons growing up and putting distance between us hurts, but not as much as emotional distance. So, I can’t say I relate to the characters of this film in how broken they are with each other, but it represents places I don’t want to ever have to go with the blood men in my life and as a result, I’m pulling for each one these characters. The compelling thing about Warrior to me is that I never knew who to pull for. In the ring, out of the ring, it was always a toss up. They are all severely flawed and in need of redemption. That is the state of man. If I don’t care about the characters, I generally don’t care for the film. I gotta have at least a glimmer of hope from the lead character.

Nick Nolte’s character, Paddy, is more than his youngest son’s (Tom Hardy) ex-trainer, he’s an ex-father. He doesn’t deserve forgiveness for the crap he’s pulled, for the years of pain, for the consequences of choices, but man does he want it with his boys. His heart is in his hand and he allows them to pummel it at will if they so desire. Nolte has always been a good actor, but his recent history has seemed to blackball him from the big screen. So art imitates life here. Give him a chance to be a good dad, boys… give him a chance to be a good actor in an outstanding role, Hollywood. He made me cry alot. Buckets. He wants the war to be over, time for a truce. I saw some love coming off of him to his boys, wanting to be close, that reminded me of my Dad and maybe me once my boys are older. So I loved this guy no matter what horrible back story they wrote about him. Probably an Oscar contender.

Tom Hardy’s character, Tommy, represents the ferocity of war. He is merciless in the cage and he’s relentless in his words to his father and brother. Therefore, the guy is extremely entertaining to watch. He has a brooding charisma that reminds me of the old Tyson boxing days when he’d quietly enter the ring with no gimmicks, take care of business, and get out. His character made me think of the warrior in me. I am ashamed to say that I have an explosive nature that I have to keep in check. Unfortunately, I’ve unleashed some verbal jabs on those I love the most. I’m sorry Dad. I’m sorry Brother. I’m sorry boys. And while I’m at it, I extend that apology to my wife, mom, and sister.

Joel Edgerton’s character, Brendan, is the family man (wife, Jennifer Morrison) that is the reluctant warrior. He thinks that’s all behind him but suburban life has offered him more than a few obstacles. You can try to run from family problems but blood is blood. For him to put bread on the table for his wife and kids, he has to deal with father and brother, one shunned, one welcomed. Such is life. I expected Tom Hardy to be a power house, and figured if Nolte was given the right opportunity, could shine again, but I never saw Joel Edgerton coming. He carried such emotion in his face showing his duality of love, willing to give to one, withhold from the other. I’ve always prided myself on being a guy who reaches out. But I know from my recent history that I’ve spent years of my life not letting people truly inside. It’s one of my life goals now; to share, relax, and explore joy with myself and others. The warrior in me will always be equipped to explode, to find a battle, to say horrible things, but what I’ve learned from battle is that I really want to make peace.

The Classic Nobody Saw In Theaters

     Establish.  Interior.  A room full people at a wrap party for a stage play.  The writer, Richard Collier, is surrounded by beautiful women hanging on his every word.  With his back turned, he never sees her coming… an elderly woman touches his shoulder and as he turns around, she places something in his hand, covers it and says four words, Come back to me”.  She turns and leaves.  Confused and curious, Richard looks at the item placed in his hand: a pocket watch.  This is the opening scene to, in my opinion, the most romantic drama in film history, Universal’s 1980 Production, Somewhere In Time.  

     My spoilers end with the premise: the Chicago playwright becomes obsessed with the female who approached him in the opening scene, and successfully combats the constraints of linear time to find her in the prime of her life.  How he learns about her, transports into history, and what happens when he gets there is for you to discover.  The premise is tricky in that stories involving time travel must often lend themselves to silly ideas played out in silly ways.  It works for later productions like Back To The Future because it has a built-in genre expectation of comedic value.  But SIT was a $4 million budget little film with no money for special effects.  Therefore it is a major accomplishment for a small film with dramatic intent to tackle the fantasy aspects so well.  I remember watching the film for the first time in middle school and being inspired by the manner in which time travel was constructed, a delicate fantasy concept saturated in romance.  Part of me thinks this must be a great film because it won my respect at an age when I only placed value on Star Wars, Kung Fu, and break dancing films (and if you could mix any of those together like The Last Dragon, even better).  On a very short list, SIT is one of the first films that made me think independent filmmaking was possible for me.

     Truth be told, this was a film that never had a real chance of success at the box office.  The actors were unable to market the film due to an actors strike and Universal did little to promote it.  Though it was widely panned by critics upon release, and a revenue failure, it still developed a cult following over the years including myself.  I saw SIT during the boom of the video rental market in the early 80s.  That and cable were the new avenues to spread the word about previously released films.  Years later, after researching the film, I learned that Universal was only willing to greenlight it because they needed a director for their Jaws sequel when Spielberg passed.  Enter Jeannot Szwarc.  The French director championed the script for SIT to Universal because he passionately believed in it and therefore used it as a bargaining tool:  he’d direct the shark as long as they also let him direct the obscure love story.  

     How, then, does a minor studio release 30 years ago with failure written all over it become a cult classic?  I’d like to present a few reasons on why I believe SIT is worthy of the title:

1.    The 3 principal actors-

Christopher Reeve stars as the playwright, Richard Collier; Jane Seymour plays the actress and object of his affection, Elise McKenna; Christopher Plummer plays her stage manager, William F. Robinson.  Reeve chose this role over a handful of other offers after his Superman success because he saw in it the opportunity to give a genuine emotional performance.  I’m so glad he did.  As a kid, I thought he was fantastic as Sups in the blue tights, but for me, this was his greatest performance.  There is a scene early in the film where he sees Jane Seymour’s character Elise McKenna in a museum portrait (seen above).  In less than a minute of real time, he completely sells you on the idea that he went from never seeing her to being completely smitten.  The portrait scene is repeated later with even deeper emotional affect.  Throughout the film, he puts on a clinic in acting emotion that blurs the lines between the healthy and unhealthy aspects of love and his performance at the end of the film is just astonishing.  Jane Seymour in her role is an exquisite beauty of Audrey Hepburn status, but so guarded that she comes across almost unobtainable.  Therefore, every little momentum Reeve’s character makes with her is a massive victory.  And Christopher Plummer as the manager to the actress is the embodiment of territoriality and intimidation.  Though unspoken, the potency of his love for Seymour’s character is arguably as strong as Reeve’s character.  

2.    The Location-

All but 4 days of filming in Chicago were shot on location at Mackinac Island, a ferry ride away from the South East corner of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  The island does not allow motorized vehicles and is traveled on only by foot, bicycle, or carriage.  The production of this film was the exception that allowed semi-trailers with production gear brought over.  It is truly a storybook backdrop and the main centerpiece of the film is the Grand Hotel, a destination my wife and I still plan to visit someday.  The hotel holds annual SIT weekends with cast/crew panels, tours, and costume.  Perhaps the fact that not one frame was shot in L.A. transfers over to the viewer; this film feels distinct and attractive due to its beautiful location.

3.    The Director-

These days, Jeannot Szwarc mostly runs television production sets such as Heroes and Smallville.  But make no mistake, SIT would never have been made without his personal commitment to this film.  I imagine directing Reeve on passion came easy.  In many ways, Szwarc’s own love for this story mirrored the protagonist’s love for the leading lady.  Rarely do I see love stories where I actually buy it, where the chemistry doesn’t have some pushy element to it.  This love story is so authentic, I totally believe it, and more than any other film I’ve seen, I connected with the characters and pulled for them.  This has to be because of the delicate handling of Mr. Szwarc.

4.    The Score-

John Barry, the now 5-time Oscar winning film composer (Dances With Wolves) arranged the 007 theme that you know how to whistle.  A personal friend of Jayne Seymour, she sought him out after pitching him to Szwarc, who assumed Barry was too big, too famous for this project, but Barry agreed to contribute.  Seymour stated once that his scores always make her cry and Barry has received more mail regarding the love theme from SIT than any other film composition he created.  It was also, oddly enough, the first film theme he composed after the death of his parents.  In my family, the love theme to SIT can be recognized within 2 music measures.  To me, personally, it is the standard by which all other film scores should be measured (and I know my film composers).
     
     This film is the perfect example of why I blog.  If you’ve never heard of this film, it’s time you sacrifice a couple hours within the next few weeks to fully give your attention to this rare find.  You can get it on Netflix.  If you’re a personal friend, I own a copy and would be glad to share it.  You might want to grab the tissue box too, you never know.  When my wife and I lived in Abilene, Texas, when I was in grad school, the Paramount Theatre (a refurbished theater that showed old movies) hosted a Valentine’s Day screening of SIT that we attended.  It was the first time I saw it on the big screen and unfortunately, I’m one of the few who was able to see it that way.

The Disclaimer

     Everyone’s a movie critic. Some people actually make movies. A select few filmmakers are making their movies with studios and distributors that give their stories a national viewing audience. I’m in the “some people” category. So far, nobody has really seen any of my films. I’m as indie as you can get right now. But when it comes to film criticism, do I have more insight than Joe moviegoer who thinks The Hurt Locker is brilliant because he watched the Oscars? Absolutely. However, I can’t say I’ve ever had a L.A. sit down with an A-list actor at the Urth Caffe to pitch my latest screenplay.


     My credentials are honestly more about my discernment than my resume. As arrogant as it sounds, chances are you can’t trust the opinions of the last self-proclaimed film geek you talked to more than me. Understandably, that may not apply to your friend in the business who went to film school at NYU. I invite you, however, to trust my instincts more than your drinking buddy. Film is subjective and you may not always agree with me, but I’d being willing to bet my Australian Shepherd that you’ll want to revisit the films I’m discussing or see it for the first time.


     I understand that many crap films were probably brilliant at some point in the process and that it only takes a couple of bad decisions from powerful people with too much creative control to decimate a pure voice. So before I barrel forward with opinionated posts, let it be said that I salute all filmmakers who work within the Hollywood system and get a single screening for their work. But I am going to have my say on any and every film final product as opposed to judgments on raw ability to craft well.


     This exists to stimulate discussion, to re-examine familiar film, and beyond by posting my observations on accessible films with the following subjects (though not every blog will touch on all of these every post):
• overall story structure
• the director’s execution
• select scenes of brilliance
• Archetype vs. stereotype (the only thing I’ve applied from Mr. McKee)
• The unforced performance
• The Director of Photography’s presence
• Film Scores that enhance and save films
• The editor’s choice


     It is my hope that my readers will fall in love with the process as much as I have and watch the stories I’m discussing and formulate their own opinions. Because if they do that enough, maybe they’ll go make their own movies. They might even get a chance to become one of the select few who makes films accessible to a national audience. And if they make me cry, I’ll blog about it.


     Though this first post is just my disclaimer, I thought I would let you inside a little. If I had to choose one film I’ve seen that I would love to have had a chance to direct, it would be A River Runs Through It.  I believe it to be Robert Redford’s greatest achievement in film.

A River Runs Through It, based on the autobiographical novel by Norman Maclean, was brought to the screen by director Robert Redford. The 1993 production was filmed in the Livingston/Bozeman area of Montana. The film received an Oscar for Best Cinematography by Philippe Rousselot and was nominated for Best Score and Writing.


Actor Craig Sheffer played author Norman Maclean, in the screen adaptation. Neither Sheffer nor Brad Pitt, who played Norman’s brother, had previous experience fly fishing.



Actor Tom Skerritt (right) plays the role of the Reverend Maclean along side Pitt and Sheffer as his two sons who learn about life and grace through fly fishing.



Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, early in his career, played young Norman Maclean with a quiet, subtle performance, earning him a Young Artist Award.



Redford’s screen interpretation of the sibling relationship was rooted in the harsh truth that you have to learn to love completely without complete understanding.



Brad Pitt as Paul Maclean. Norman Maclean’s description of his tragic brother was that he was an artist, not a fly fisherman.



Actor Brad Pitt strums a banjo between takes.



A vintage photo of the real Paul Maclean. Brad Pitt used this photo to pose for one of his scenes in the film.

My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him all good things—trout as well as eternal salvation—come by grace, and grace comes by art, and art does not come easy. Author Norman Maclean from the book A River Runs Through It