Stand By Me

Stand By Me

~~Originally Posted on July 16, 2017~~

The movie that EB Dickey brought to our Thursday Night Movie Time this past week is a timeless classic in every way that a film can be – set in the 50s, made in the 80s, and just as relevant today – Stand By Me (1986) is one of Rob Reiner’s best. Of course he has several other classics in his filmography, including A Few Good Men, When Harry Met Sally, Misery, and my personal favorite of his – The Princess Bride. Richard Dreyfuss plays Gordy Lachance, a middle-aged writer reminiscing about his last weekend of Summer Break in 1959, just as he and his three friends are about to enter Junior High. His narration unfolds the quest they embark upon to find a young man from their town who has gone missing and is presumed dead. On the surface, Stand By Me is about the playful, honest, and pure bond of friendship shared among four 12 year olds growing up together in the same small town. But underneath it’s about the looming cloud of adulthood that is slowly settling over them as they’re forced to grow up. The magic of this film (based on a Stephen King story) is in its ability to capture that moment in time when a kid takes a genuine look into the distance, and perceives, for the first time, that their life is inevitably leading to the same place as everyone else – the grave. The spirit of death hovers over the entire story from beginning to end in a way that doesn’t leave us feeling hopeless and gloomy, but nostalgic for those last days we all experienced just before having the curtain of innocence rolled back on us. I think most of us, like Gordy, have some point in our past that we wish we could return to – and if we could only just get back there – we would hold on to it for dear life. Likewise, we all have friends and loved ones that we’ve lost along the way – either because death took them away from us, or because life took us away from them. This film cuts deep into the core of our hearts with such tact and precision that it’s almost unnoticeable, but there it is – in plain sight, in the very title of the movie, soulfully woven into the narrative with Ben E. King’s beautiful song – nudging gently at one of the deepest longings that any human being can yearn for: that when our time comes, we will have someone to stand by us too.

I give Stand By Me 4 Coffstars 🌠🌠🌠🌠, 3 Coffclouds ⛅️⛅️⛅️, 3 loaves of Coffbread , and 1 choo-choo train 🚂.

The Blues Brothers

The Blues Brothers

~~Originally posted on June 16, 2017~~

The Blues Brothers (1980) was on tap for our Thursday night movie this week. Presented by Chet Dickey. This is a movie I had previously seen only in small pieces throughout the course of my life… a chunk here, a segment there, but never the whole thing. Every time it was on TV as I was growing up, if I was within earshot of William J. Coffman (my dad), he would make sure that I knew about it. So of course I was somewhat acquainted with Jake and Elwood, and I knew they were “on a mission from God.” What I did not know, was that James Brown was the one who inspired them to undertake said mission, and that Carrie Fisher was like the devil trying to murder them the whole time! Holy moly, I cannot believe how much of this film I had never seen before. Not only does it star John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as the iconic duo, but it contains musical cameos from Aretha Franklin, John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles, and others – and it showcases a final car chase that is the longest I’ve ever seen… and the most insane. Additional appearances by John Candy, a pre-Pee-wee Herman Paul Reubens, and Frank Oz (the puppeteer and voice behind Jedi Master Yoda) earned big bonus points in my book. But my favorite part of this movie is that it’s about two dudes saving an orphanage while the whole world tries to stop them. And at first glance it might be tempting to just write them off as hoodlums because of their drinking, smoking, cussing, and excessive parking violations… but shining through all the haze, just a couple of layers deeper, permeating the entire story, are those old words by the Apostle John: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” 

And that is why I give ‘The Blues Brothers’ 5 Coffstars , 4 orders of Coff-fries 🍟🍟🍟🍟, 2 Coffcakes 🎂🎂, 2 Bluesmobiles 🚓🚓, and 1 penguin 🐧.

Dead Poets Society

Dead Poets Society

Last Summer, on Thursday nights, I watched a series of movies with my Sunday school class – asking each person to pick a movie they wanted to share with the group. And just as an after-thought I began writing little mini-reviews on each film. These eventually developed into a full blown hobby, as is obvious by now. But that original set of reviews were only shared on Facebook, and now that a year has gone by, they have begun popping up in my memory feed. So, to better preserve them, I have decided to re-publish them here.

Originally from June 23, 2017 —

We took a contemplative dive into some deeper waters this week for our Thursday night movie (courtesy of Jalen Brower). The first time I watched the movie ‘Dead Poets Society’ I was a sophomore in high school. If I’m being honest here, I have to say that, at the time, the message in the film flew completely over my head. I knew I was supposed to be learning something because it was my English teacher who was showing the movie to us in class, but other than the fact that it was about guys who were close to the same age as me, I couldn’t relate to the struggles the characters were going through, or their environment. A few years later I saw the movie again in college, and this time, it made a little more sense. The young guys in the film were struggling to figure out who they were inside an institution that only seemed to be concerned with their conformity. THAT was something that I could connect with at the time. And this is a major theme in the film -non conformity- but it’s secondary to what I now see as the main message all these years later; and that’s simply the idea of pursuing what you love – no matter the cost. This is what’s happening with most of the characters. Robin Williams’ character Mr. Keating is the kind mentor, pursuing his passion of teaching the way he knows best, even when it could cost him his job. Knox Overstreet is the hopeless romantic, pursuing the girl of his dreams, even when it costs him a beating by her boyfriend. Charlie Dalton, a.k.a. ‘Nuwanda’ is the rebel who pursues non-conformity itself at the cost of being expelled from school. It’s Ethan Hawke’s character Todd Anderson who is meant to stand in our place inside the movie, who embodies the message of the film, and learns by watching the other characters pursue what they love, that this is what defines us as individuals. We all have to struggle with “seizing the day,” and we all have to deal with the consequences of what that ultimately means, especially when our passions come into conflict with the passions of those around us. And love doesn’t always win. Sometimes it loses. Sometimes it has to lose in order to remain love. I won’t venture into spoiler territory, but this idea is most fully expressed through the character of Neil Perry, and his inability to pursue what he loves without hurting the people he loves. To its credit, the film doesn’t try to give us a nice, fairy tale answer to this tragic dilemma. But it does give us an answer that is tragically real. And this makes ‘Dead Poets Society’ a timeless classic in my book.

I give it 5 Coffstars🌠🌠🌠🌠🌠, 3 Coffburgers 🍔🍔🍔, 3 Coffbars🍫🍫🍫, 2 Coffpoems✍️✍️, and 1 saxophone solo 🎷.

Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers: Infinity War

There are no spoilers in this review!

As you have probably surmised already, I decided to take a small break from reviewing classic films this week in order to take a look at a new movie that has just opened in theaters across the world – Marvel’s Avengers, Infinity War… I don’t know if you’re supposed to put a comma or a colon after Avengers, so please forgive my janky grammar usage. That’s not the point. The point is, that 39 year old Adam has been waiting for this movie since 12 year old Adam first read the comic book. As a kid, I loved reading, and I loved making up stories, so when I discovered comics it was like striking gold. During that phase of my childhood, Dad would take me to the comic book shop almost once a week, and I would excavate my way through the giant white boxes like I was pick-axing through a mine. I loved it. And even though that time eventually passed, I will always remember it with a deep appreciation for my dad who took the time to drive me into town and buy those comics for me. Thanks, Dad.

Back in the early to mid 90s, Marvel had been going through quite a financial crisis. The comic book market had reached a place of astronomical sales in the few years prior, and then all the sudden, with little warning, came crashing down in a tremendous implosion that crippled the entire industry. I think there were a few factors that contributed to this – nerds and geeks have been speculating on the causes ever since, but my opinion is that it had something to do with the perfect storm of full market saturation of home PC usage, the internet coming online in millions of households across the U.S., and The Simpsons reaching the height of their cultural influence. I’ll concede, that last one is probably a bit of a stretch, but there is a character in The Simpsons known as ‘Comic Book Guy,’ who made us real comic book guys (and gals), look bad – and no one wanted to be THAT GUY (or THAT GAL). Anyway, the result, when you put all these things together, and remember that the Seattle grunge scene was also blowing up at the time – was that comic books were no longer universally cool. They burned brightly at the peak of their coolness for a few moments, being enjoyed by millions, and then like MC Hammer and Milli Vanilli, their coolness cooled out. And like those cultural phenomenon, they were once more relegated to being enjoyed in secret by a faithful few.

When the comic book market finally did crash, Marvel was hit the hardest, and having significantly over-extended its supply, they were on the brink of complete bankruptcy. So, in a last ditch effort to salvage what was left, they began selling the movie rights to their characters, one by one, pimping out their most sacred heroes to the all consuming, ever greedy movie industry in Hollywood. Spider-man was sold to Sony Pictures, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four were sold to 20th Century Fox, and several other deals were made as well, including one which involved the Incredible Hulk being temporarily leased to Paramount. They were carved up and served like Christmas hams, and when it was all over, Marvel was left with the bones in the center that nobody wanted. Those bones were the characters who were left – the rejects, the outcasts that the studios had decided were unprofitable and useless on the big screen. And what did Marvel do with these leftover bones? They did the only thing anyone can do; they made soup beans. And the result was something that few expected. Characters that were previously considered un-filmable, like Captain America (a poor attempt at making a Captain America film in 1990 only strengthened the conviction that he was doomed on the big screen), Iron Man, and Thor, were given complete cinematic overhauls, and made into movies that connected to contemporary audiences (unfamiliar with the source material) while remaining true to the deep historical and cultural roots of the characters that had given joy to their fans across several decades. They were made the right way, by the right people, and the box office success has since been reverberating long afterward with the same gusto and jolly goodness with which a good bean soup reverberates through the night and into the next morning.

At the helm of Marvel’s renaissance has been a man named Kevin Feige. When Feige became the head of Marvel Studies in 2007, he crafted a plan that was long-term. He didn’t just want to make a few movies about a few characters, he wanted to create an entire cinematic universe, involving several characters, each with a handful of movies, all tying together into one over-arching story, leading to one grand finale. This began 10 years ago, with the release of Iron Man, and has since continued with an astounding 19 films. Avengers Infinity War (split into two parts) is the culmination of this decade long endeavor. The success of Feige’s plan cannot be overstated. He not only helped to rescue Marvel from bankruptcy, but he has slowly re-built its reputation, and introduced these characters to a new generation of young fans, while satisfying old fans (like me) who dreamt of seeing these movies when we were kids. Along the way, and with the help of Disney who bought Marvel in 2009, he has given Marvel the clout and financial ability they needed to re-acquire most of the licensing rights to characters they had sold off – including the amazing Spider-man, a cornerstone of the Super Hero genre.

As for the actual story of Infinity War — with a few twists and turns, and minus a few dozen characters, it was taken almost directly from the pages of what was originally a 6 part mini-series of comics released in 1991 called Infinity Gauntlet. Written by Jim Starlin, this was a special run of comics, made with the primary purpose of gathering as many characters as possible into one storyline. Marvel had done this before with its Secret Wars series, so the concept wasn’t entirely a new idea, but instead of having all the heroes square off in a royal rumble with all the villains, it had all the heroes square off with one super duper ultra mega-villain of villains called Thanos. In order for the writers to outdo all previous attempts at creating a super duper ultra mega-villain, they made the Devil (the actual Devil, known as Mephisto in the comics) Thanos’ lackey side-kick, and the destruction of half the universe the mission that he’s trying to accomplish in order to impress his girlfriend, who is Mistress Death. I’m not sure how much pot they were smoking back in that writer’s room, but it must have been the good stuff, because they came up with some ideas that were beyond the realm of bonkers.

The movie takes many of these ideas and makes them slightly less fantastical, and more grounded in reality – as much as that is possible anyway. But the real strength is the characters, and the care that has gone into developing them. If they had tried to release Infinity War in 2008, or even after just a few years worth of Avengers movies, I don’t think it would have worked at all, and the outcome would have been drastically different. But because they took their time, and slowly introduced audiences to these characters one bean at a time, the result is a well-seasoned soup that brings together many flavors that we’ve had time to grow accustomed to and appreciate. However, if you haven’t seen any of these Marvel films, Infinity War will seem like a stitched-together mess of over-bloated madness and a confusing jigsaw puzzle of chaotic battle sequences (in which case, I do not recommend watching it first). If you have been following the films since 2008, then I’m sure it will have its intended emotional impact. I found myself being pushed and pulled all over the emotional spectrum while watching it. I laughed, I shed a few tears, my heart sank, and I had to get up and pee twice because of adrenaline rushes… or the Diet Coke I was drinking… not sure which it was. Either way, and even with my familiarity of the source material, it still left me feeling shocked at the end, and having no idea how it will all be concluded a year from now when part 2 is released.

This story, in general, is a difficult one for me to analyze. I find it tricky to do this with any story or character that I was introduced to when I was a kid. They were planted in the soil of my young brain at a time before my critical and analytical thinking was developed. I just enjoyed them. I didn’t give them much thought. I knew they were stories about good versus evil, and (unlike the newer stories of today) it was easy to tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys. But time has changed things. We need our fantasy stories to be more real these days, and in real life, the lines between good and evil are all too often blurred in the chaos of human existence. In the Infinity Gauntlet comics it was easy to see Thanos as the cut and dry bad guy that he is. We didn’t get much insight into his thought process. But the version of Thanos we get in the Infinity War movie is slightly different. We’re given a full explanation for why he seeks to gain power, how he plans to use it, and the logic behind it. We know he’s still the bad guy, but we’re made to sympathize with him just a little bit – and we’re given the information we need to see from his point of view. He’s not portrayed as an angry madman trying to blow up New York City or take over the world, but as a broken, grizzled soldier, who has experienced immense tragedy, and is responding the only way that seems reasonable to him. Along the way, his conviction and resolve to complete his chosen task is sufficiently tested, and he is forced to weigh the consequences of his actions. The good guys, on the other hand, are bitterly divided, shattered by their own weaknesses, their own failures, and the harm they have done to each other unintentionally. They are forced to face their enemy as a fractured team, without the strength that they could bring to bear if they were united. Even though it’s an epic fantasy, with millions of dollars worth of special effects, computer conjured backdrops, and creatures that don’t actually exist, there’s something painfully real about that sentiment.

I sometimes wish I could go back to being a kid again, before these stories were so complicated… before they were so real.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

A long time ago, in an America far far away…

A gifted director made a film about a greedy, imperial machine that was threatening freedom, and wielding its power over the innocent, the helpless, and the downtrodden. In the way of this immoral juggernaut stood the courage and the tenacity of one man—a man who grew up as a simple farm boy from the outskirts, suddenly finding himself thrust unwittingly into a struggle for truth, justice, and hope.

The director was Frank Capra, the year was 1939, and the film was Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

1939 was a great year for movies, giving us The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind among others, but it was a tumultuous year for planet Earth in general. The world was shuddering as millions of white men began slaughtering each other in Europe, and eventually roping the rest of the world into the carnage with them. The United States had not yet entered the conflict, but tensions were high as the doom of its European allies looked certain. Only a month and a half after Germany invaded Poland, Capra’s film blitzkrieged its way into American theaters with a Washington D.C. premiere. It was not well received by the local establishment. Though it was eventually banned in German occupied territory, the powers that be—in our nation’s capitol—were afraid that the movie was too un-American, at a crucial time, when anything but unquestionable patriotism was unacceptable. Thankfully, none of the unwarranted denunciations produced any real fruit as more serious and credible movie critics defended the film’s integrity. Through the lens of time, it has become clear that Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is not a film that criticizes Washington, democracy, or the political process—on the contrary, it’s a film that seeks to provide education on how Washington functions, defend pure democracy, and shine a light on elements that would seek to destroy the political process from the inside. And it’s meant to inspire hope. As Capra himself stated: “The more uncertain are the people of the world, the more their hard-won freedoms are scattered and lost in the winds of chance, the more they need a ringing statement of America’s democratic ideals.” History agreed with him, and 50 years after its release, having come full circle, the Library of Congress deemed it worthy of a place in the preservation vaults of the United States National Film Registry.

As for the plot… I’ll give you the overview. The ultimate villain of the story is a corrupt business mogul who has bought influence in the Senate by extracting the loyalty of those who are only concerned with maintaining their seats in Congress. The hero is Jefferson Smith, played by a young Jimmy Stewart; he’s the down to earth country boy that is appointed to the Senate by the Governor of his home state when the previous senator dies unexpectedly. The central conflict of the film revolves around a land appropriation bill that Smith introduces without knowing that the other senator of his state (an old family friend who he looks up to as a mentor) has already introduced legislation dealing with the same parcel of land—land which will profit his corrupt business mogul partner. As Smith is slowly drawn into a position where he is at odds with those he admires, and eventually threatened by them, we see him age from a wide-eyed, innocently naive, good guy, into a distraught, desperate, pariah who has had the wool pulled from his eyes. Jean Arthur plays the role of Clarissa Saunders, Smith’s secretary and aide who has spent enough years in Washington to know how things actually work. The relationship dynamic between her and Smith is on point, as she helps him to see the reality of his situation and understand the struggle in which he’s embroiled, while he, in turn, helps her to shed her cynicism and recapture some of the hopeful idealism that she has lost along the way. The two of them genuinely need each other as the main battle ensues on the floor of the Senate, before eventually spilling out into the realm of public opinion—public opinion that is bought and paid for by big business and the press outlets it owns.

As I watched this movie, I found myself becoming more and more sad as I realized the terrible truth embedded in its plot—Capra’s film is highly satirical of course, but it contains a warning that our government and political process might be in jeopardy by immoral forces seeking to buy it, own it, and sell it at their leisure. The story that Capra told was ultimately a hopeful one. As Stewart collapses like a sacrificial lamb on the floor of the Senate after a marathon filibuster, the corrupt senator who has been accusing him becomes overwhelmed with guilt and confesses that he has been compromised and is morally unfit to maintain his seat in the government. This brings the story to a satisfying ending… that would never actually happen in real life. While Capra’s film has a positive, redemptive conclusion that should leave one feeling hopeful, it did not leave me with this feeling. Because it was made in 1939—at a time when there was still a chance to prevent what was happening, and to salvage American democracy from the hands of greed, corruption, and indifference.

Maybe I’ve become too pessimistic about this subject… Maybe I’m just tired of hearing everyone talk about it, when most people have no clue what they’re saying… those are two very good reasons for me to end this review right here, lest I begin spilling my thoughts out into the open as well. I don’t want to be that guy. So I’ll just end with this final thought:

We are now living in a time when even the echo of Capra’s warning has long since faded away, and in the wake of its passing, we have exactly what he imagined could happen if corruption was allowed to mature and thrive.

Or maybe it’s just a really good movie.

Sunset Boulevard

Sunset Boulevard

A few weeks ago I resumed my ongoing mission to explore films I haven’t seen before, primarily of the classic genre, with a viewing of Sunset Boulevard. This one, admittedly, threw me a few mental curveballs on its own accord, but with an unexpected bought of pneumonia to go along with those curveballs, the accompanying fever, and the inevitable cold medicine inebriation that followed, it’s taken me awhile to recover enough to feel like writing a review.

I guess I should say, before getting into this, that Sunset Boulevard is an excellent film. It’s listed on IMDb’s ranking of movies as #54 of all time—which is pretty significant. Likewise, it won three Oscars in 1951, while being nominated in just about every category that existed at the time. With that said, this is not a light-hearted film. It does have some wit to it, and a sprinkling of charm here and there, but it’s also deeply introspective of some subjects that are not very pleasant to think about, and whatever humor does exist, I believe it only serves as a bit of sugar to mask the horrible taste of the medicine it offers.

Set in the world of early 1950s Hollywood, Sunset Boulevard opens with the narration of the main character, whose body happens to be floating upside down in a pool. We’re told right from the beginning how the story will end, before being transported back six months to watch as this tragedy slowly unfolds in front of us. It’s not really fair to pin Sunset Boulevard down into any one particular genre; it dabbles in several. However, from my personal point of view, this is most definitely a horror film. Like many of the classic horror films from the 40s and 50s this movie tells the story of a monster, made hideous by circumstances beyond its control, desperately seeking a redemption that is just out of reach, and falling in love with its inevitable victim. From King Kong, to Frankenstein, to the Wolf Man, to the Mummy, to Dracula—all the classic horror films follow the same general pattern. What makes Sunset Boulevard shockingly different is that the horror is real, not pulled from the pages of archetypal fantasy and fairy tales, but instead culled from the bones of early Hollywood, specifically the silent film era of Hollywood and the phantoms it left behind as the shift was made to talking pictures. The Monster is Norma Desmond (played by Gloria Swanson), an aging has-been of the silent film era, living secluded in her mansion, running on the fumes of her once profitable stardom that has since faded into the past along with any meaningful relationships she may have once had. She has no family, no connection to reality, and spends her days lounging in opulence surrounded by portraits of herself as a young star. Her only companions are her butler and a pet chimp. Our introduction to Norma finds her in the midst of extravagant funeral preparations for the chimp who is subsequently laid to rest during a midnight ceremony in an ivory coffin in the backyard. Yes, this movie is very strange, and it is very creepy. As I said, the horror is uncomfortably real, though it presents Norma almost like a giant spider, her mansion a black burrow of death and dust, with an insatiable need to feed on the worship of fans who have forgotten she even exists. Into her web stumbles the doomed protagonist, Joe Gillis (William Holden), a struggling screenwriter who is down on his luck. As mentioned, we know the story isn’t going to end well for him—he’s the corpse floating in the pool at the beginning, narrating the tale of his demise from beyond the grave. Did I mention this is a horror flick? It’s definitely NOT the kind of movie anyone should watch while running a high fever.

While the movie itself has gone down in history as Billy Wilder’s indictment of Hollywood’s dark underbelly, hidden away by all the glamor and lights, I think it holds something much darker in its depths. The questions that are being silently asked of the audience throughout the film, are questions we all must ask ourselves at some point in our lives—what is integrity, and is there a price for which mine can be bought? Joe falls into Norma’s web because she needs a writer to edit her script. She’s produced it for the sole purpose of trying to grab back a piece of the fame and stardom she has lost in the years since she faded from the spotlight. It’s a terrible script, and a terrible waste of time and effort for Joe. We know from hearing his internal narrative dialogue what Joe really thinks, what he really believes, and how he really feels. But we watch haplessly as he deliberately ignores his own thoughts, goes against his own judgment, and allows himself to become Norma’s slave—because doing so means he doesn’t have to worry about paying the bills. Joe has many opportunities to escape Norma’s web, but in the end, he’s willing to give up his freedom, his artistic integrity, and even the love of a woman who is much more suited to him, all for financial security. By the time he realizes his mistake, that it wasn’t worth it—it’s too late, and he pays the cost with his life. The spider doesn’t let him leave the nest without blood being spilled.

The moral of the story is something worth thinking about—however uncomfortable it may be: If you know what the truth is, but you act in such a way that denies that truth, you are, in effect, killing yourself on the inside. There’s nothing more horrific than sacrificing your integrity. I think our society, as a whole, must have had a better grasp on that concept in 1950. Nowadays, I’m not so sure.

 

It Happened One Night

It Happened One Night

Well, guess what? This week I watched a movie. I know, I know, this is unbelievable news. I don’t know how, but it just happened one night… after dinner.

Sorry for the lame joke. That was just a warm up paragraph. It’s good to do a quick warm up before writing something. It’s especially important if you haven’t written for awhile. You don’t want to hamstring your cerebral cortex or have a neurological blowout – which happens all too often these days.

I have, of course, seen a few movies over the past couple of months—just nothing I really felt like writing about—not even the new Star Wars movie. It’s going to be awhile before I get to that one. But this week a friend from my church let me borrow one of his favorite movies on the condition that I write an official review. So I gladly accepted his challenge, and honestly, it was the exact kind of motivation I needed. This movie really surprised me. I admit that I am terribly ignorant of most film history before the 1970s—and anything in black and white has never really been on my radar. I do like Charlie Chaplin, but I only first started watching his films about five years ago. The point is, when Mike (or as I like to think of him – Professor Lunsford) suggested I watch It Happened One Night—a black and white film from 1934—I was interested, but not overly enthused about setting an evening aside to watch it. I don’t know what I was thinking, but it was something along the lines of, “how can a movie made so long before I was born have anything interesting to say to me.” I know that’s a ridiculous sentiment, and not something I believe of course. Any kind of art, especially good art, transcends generational boundaries. But this was personal… this involved setting down a good book, and not picking up the XBOX controller for an evening with those two old folks that go by the names Monochrome and Monotone.

Well I’m glad I spent some time with them because this ended up being the most transfixing film I’ve seen in a good long while. I don’t think I physically moved an inch the entire time, and yet it moved me emotionally so far beyond myself that by the end I was left with nothing but a face full of tears and a confused dog trying to console me. Although, to be fair, he might have just been angling for the Pringles can that was also occupying the couch with us.

I’m not sure how far back the film genre of Romantic Comedy goes, but given its age, this must be one of the originals. And I don’t want to be that old fart decrying the supremacy of things from the past – especially since this was only my first real foray into the ancient chronicles of movie history – but this story puts the rom coms of today to complete shame. It’s pure and it’s beautiful in ways that are difficult to find in the films of our time. Moreover, It Happened One Night was the first film to win in all five major Academy Awards categories, and one of only three to ever do so in 89 years. In other words, this film really cuts the mustard.

As in all the best stories, the characters in this romance are archetypal and cross generational – like in Beauty and the Beast. It’s about a strong, independent woman meeting a stubborn, independent man, and the two of them breaking each other into interdependence.  Those are the baseline ingredients for the tale as old as time… as far as I can tell. I don’t know if that’s how it always works in real life, but in the movies it translates to gold if portrayed well.

This movie is also really fun. It’s a love story disguised as a comedy, disguised as a road trip. Without giving away all the details (because I really hope you’ll watch this movie yourself) Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert are just two strangers who happen to end up traveling in the same direction together long enough to realize they need each other, struggling with the vulnerability that realization creates in them, and then going through the process of dealing with the reality that they have to do whatever it takes to stay by each other’s side. And then… they have to deal with the mess that this creates in the lives of the people around them—because without a mess (and there’s always a mess), the story isn’t nearly as interesting.

One of the things that’s mesmerizing to me is how interesting and moving this story is while remaining firmly clothed in the garment of a time that has long since passed away, in an America that no longer exists. While it might have an element of the classic fantasy love story, it also has something real about it that many films in this genre do not have today. There’s something noble and innocent about it that’s hard to describe. For instance, Gable’s character actually cares enough about the woman he’s falling in love with not to dishonor her, take advantage of her, or make her uncomfortable – even if conducting himself this way means he might lose the chance to be with her. Likewise, there’s something graceful yet dignified about Colbert that inherently repels the need for her to appear over-sexualized or naked (although she does show some risqué calf muscle during the hitchhiking scene). I know this movie was made long before that kind of stuff began showing up in movies, but the best Romance films don’t need the nudity and the sex, as this movie proves. The films of today struggle to portray this kind of attraction between people without resorting to the cheap crudity of a sex scene. I guess it has become old fashioned (it probably became old fashioned a long time ago) to cling to the notion that truly falling in love is about two hearts touching each other long before it’s about two bodies coming together. And real intimacy is about harmonization rather than sex.

Lastly, and most importantly, with all of the many differences between them, the one primary value that the couple in this movie share with each other is that of integrity — it’s the thing that defines both of them, drives their actions, seals their love for each other, and ultimately, “brings down the walls of Jericho.” This film got it right. It celebrates integrity from beginning to end. And if you watch this, and think to yourself how peculiar it seems to be… that’s because this kind of integrity is scarce in our society.  What else can I say… It’s an elegant story, for a more civilized age.

The Postman

The Postman

It was Christmas Day 20 years ago when movie theaters across this great land opened their doors to Kevin Costner’s trinimatic masterpiece—The Postman. Yes, I just invented an adjective to describe this film, because inventing new words like “trinimatic” is one of the things I’ve had to do in order to properly survey and review this man’s career. I call The Postman a trinimatic masterpiece, not because it’s a great film, but because it took Costner the Producer, Costner the Actor, and Costner the Director in order to create it—a trinity if you will—three in one. What makes this even more interesting is the fact that, aside from being released on December 25th, it’s also a film with a very specific “messiah” themed allegory running through its many plot holes. It’s not a pure messianic theme. It’s very awkward, very clunky, and it contains some extremely odd story elements that I won’t go into here, but at its core, it has an undeniably obvious “Jesus” flavor to it all. There’s an unlikely hero, a dramatic villain (named General Bethlehem… not sure where to go with that), a ragtag band of disciples, Tom Petty playing himself (may he rest in peace), a mule, a revolution, and at the center of the whole shebang: a pregnant woman with an assault rifle. This movie recipe can work quite well if done with enough tact and cleverness—poor a glass of sci-fi, add a little Jesus, sprinkle in some good old fashioned American patriotism, stir until blended, and serve. The problem with the messianic theme in The Postman is that it’s much more cumbersome than it is clever. But I mean look, this movie is about a mailman who saves humanity by DELIVERING THE MAIL. They had to do something to make it interesting. Still, it’s a good recipe—and this storytelling pattern works pretty good with a variety of different genres.

Side-note: Someone should make a movie called “The Grillmaster,” about a guy who brings civilization back from post apocalyptic destruction by wandering from town to town instructing his disciples on how to properly make barbecue.

I don’t have much else to say about this one. I like to keep things as positive as I can, and the more I try to dig into this, the less positive it’s going to be. It’s clearly not the man’s best film. But at the end of the day, I really think Costner was trying to make a movie about hope. It may come across as pretentious and awkward, but I can’t fault the man for trying to inspire people with a little bit of hope. Know what I mean?

And with that…

We have finally arrived at our destination. We’ve reached the end of the line on this journey down the Costner Trail. I haven’t done these reviews in any specific order, and I’ve obviously only done a selection of Costner’s most notable films. Likewise, I didn’t plan on The Postman being the last film to review in this series, but this is just how it came together, as anti-climactic as it may be. There’s plenty more where this came from though, including a few more westerns, a few more sports dramas, a film with Ashton Kutcher called The Guardian that’s pretty decent—and there’s also 3000 Miles to Graceland where the two Wyatt Earps Costner and Kurt Russell joined forces to play the long lost gangster sons of Elvis Presley–I can’t in good conscious recommend that one, but I just wanted to point out that it exists. Thirteen Days is probably the best movie of his that I haven’t written about—it’s a very interesting look into the Cuban Missile Crisis in case you’re interested.

On a personal note, this whole endeavor has been a good writing exercise for me. I don’t really watch a lot of TV, unless someone recommends something to me. I generally prefer to watch movies. I like to watch at least one movie a week just to unwind a little bit. I also like to write, so writing something about the movies I watch is a great way for me to combine my hobbies I suppose. If you’ve kept up with my reviews, I really appreciate it. Thank you for reading my stuff.

In the words of Kevin Costner: “You just do the things that you love and see if other people can like them too.”

Waterworld

Waterworld

Well, after last week’s foray into the dark world of JFK assassination conspiracies, I decided to keep it a bit lighter this week with a viewing of Waterworld. Released in 1995, almost a decade and a half into Costner’s movie career he finally reached his peak — and in the process went careening off the mountaintop in what could best be described as an atomic cannonball into the deep end of a 200 million dollar sea water tank — tank being the key word here. On record as the most expensive movie ever made at the time, Waterworld was a domestic box office disaster. Several months before it was released into theaters that summer, news reports were already decrying it as an inevitable flop; a shambling mess of cinematic production wrought with infighting between Kevin Costner and the director Kevin Reynolds, with a wildly overblown budget that smelled like the hubris of an actor and director who had no where else to go after winning the hand of Maid Marian, rescuing a tribe of Sioux from annihilation, becoming a Baseball prophet, putting Capone in the slammer, saving Whitney Houston from a stalker, and uncovering the plot to kill president Kennedy. I mean, what else can you do after all that?

Well, if your name is Kevin Costner, you can dump millions of your own money into recreating the Madmax franchise in the ocean, grow a pair of gills and webbed feet, blow up an army of chain-smoking numbskulls on jet skis, play it cool while Dennis Hopper calls you a “turd that won’t flush,” bungee jump from what looks like a hot air balloon straight out of the Flintstones, save a group of smug refugees from extinction by salt water, take crayons away from an orphaned 5 year old, and fall in love with Jeanne Tripplehorn before sailing off into the sunset like you just don’t care while on your way to make The Postman. The opening shot of the movie is Costner taking a whiz into a cup, running it through a make-shift chemistry set to give it some carbonation and then drinking it. Yes, folks, the first thing we see in this movie is Costner literally drinking his own urine. Is this a metaphor for the entire production of the film? No comment.

Critics gave Costner a lot of crap for this movie, for all the reasons just mentioned, but I don’t care — I think it’s awesome. Is it a brilliant film? Of course not. Is there anything in it to justify its ridiculous budget? Heavens no. Is this what happens when a man accumulates enough wealth and clout to put whatever he bloody well wants to on film? Heck yes it is. Is it pure 90s action extravaganza? Absolutely. In the same year that gave us Pierce Brosnan as James Bond, Sylvester Stallone as Judge Dredd, and Val Kilmer as the freaking Batman — Waterworld was right where it belonged, forever enshrined between Billy Madison and The Brady Bunch Movie, but inevitably eclipsed by such classics as the first Toy Story, Braveheart, and Apollo 13.

I’ve always had a soft spot for post apocalyptic dystopia… and Taco Bell. The two things go together quite remarkably. And like Taco Bell, which is great in small doses, but gastricly deadly when the object of overindulging, so these post apocalyptic movies and television shows have begun to leave a bad smell behind them nowadays. I apologize, that’s a really gross metaphor… I don’t know where I was going with that. The point is— I was lucky enough to see Waterworld when I was still a young guy, and back then, in the middle of the 90s, these types of stories still had happy endings for the most part. Waterworld, unlike many of the dystopian futures being conjured up in today’s market, still left us with some hope when the credits rolled. That’s good story-telling in my book. And beyond that, it’s just a really fun movie.