The Sybok Series: Sarah Connor’s Crucible

This stop in our series examining Sybok and his quest to heal the pain of other fictional characters brings us to another interesting character in the 1980s/90s action franchises. We encounter the heroine of the Terminator franchise, Sarah Connor.

Yet another powerful, competent action star courtesy of James Cameron’s dedication to strong female characters, Sarah Connor is more than just a film character. She’s an absolute icon.

It is difficult to think of a heroine more pivotal to an entire generation’s understanding of feminine competence than Sarah Connor. So what would happen if Sybok were to encounter her, and relieve her of her pain?

When Sarah Saw Sybok

Sarah Connor’s heroism truly is worthy of Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey” analysis. Like Luke Skywalker, she’s stuck doing unimportant work in an unimportant place. She is not even a footnote to human history until she discovers that, like the Virgin Mary, she is the vessel for the savior of human history.\

When visited by Kyle Reese, she is thrust into the battle for the very fate of a world that has yet to exist. She has to choose between modern skepticism and hope for the intangible times yet to come. Her importance cannot be understated.

Key to her journey before the first Terminator is her discontent with what the world has offered to that point. She is not satisfied with her situation and uncomfortable with the bland possibilities it offers. Like so many of us in reality, Sarah sees the shallow lie of the debauchery that characterizes youth and is unhappy with it.

Naturally, by the time of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, she has had to watch the horror of a machine from the future that killed her one true love and the loss of her son to the bureaucrats who refuse to entertain her story.

We’re left, much like with Ellen Ripley, with a decision as to when Sybok might encounter our heroine.

If he were to encounter her before the first Terminator, it’s easy to argue that she still ends up on the same path. She is as resolved as anyone can be to an unimportant life; her fate is thrust upon her by a (probably odiferous) time traveler and monster machine from a post-apocalyptic future.

But what if, instead of the glory-hound Dr. Silberman, Sarah’s psychiatrist leading to Terminator 2: Judgment Day was…Sybok?

Sarah Connor Terminator 2 Screencap | kesseljunkie
Rowr.

The Sarah Connor Dilemma

Just like Ellen Ripley, we see confirmation that Captain James Tiberius Kirk of the Starship Enterprise is correct that our pain defines us and can spur us on to do great things. However, unlike both of them, Sarah’s pain and anger blind her to the need for love and devotion.

One of the finest lines someone can cross is balancing your sense of duty, your sense of self, and your sense of dedication to those you love. You may never understand them and they may never understand you.

This is a case where Sybok’s self-help psychology may have helped Sarah, and may not have cost the world. But it’s a curious predicament because, without his mother, John himself is lost at that point in his life and won’t move forward without her.

She is more important to others than she is to herself, and so exposes the biggest shortcoming with Sybok’s philosophies. Sybok is all about freeing you from pain so that you can achieve personal happiness.

But is that the greatest goal?

Personal pain may be a heavy burden, but you have to ask yourself whether your own satisfaction is the greatest cause or if you’re willing to sacrifice your personal goals for the sake of others.

It wasn’t uncommon, in the past, to see self-sacrifice as one of the greatest virtues. Sarah, though she loses her way for a time, comes to realize that the battle isn’t about her but about what she’s willing to give.

Would she still be in the position to give her all without her pain? It’s certainly an interesting possibility.

Sybok | kesseljunkie
Verdict: Unknown

Was the Empire an Abject Failure in Star Wars?

As I continue thinking about Star Wars, which I do enough to cohost a fairly awesome podcast called Aggressive Negotiations with my dear friend Matt, I happened across another thought that strikes me as the root of something that shows how deeply thoughtful the storytelling has been on the whole.

I was rewatching Solo: A Star Wars Story again, and the opening text establishes that the Empire still hasn’t quite gotten complete control of the galaxy. The first words after the Lucasfilm logo are, “It is a lawless time.”

Given Solo‘s placement in the timeline of the narrative, it’s a scant decade before the original Star Wars. The Empire is still engaged in massive shipbuilding efforts, and hasn’t even taken control of the spice mines at Kessel. Their rule, while apparent, is anything but complete.

The original Star Wars clearly establishes that there are other parts of the galaxy the Empire hasn’t gotten under control, as well. The backwater world of Tatooine is a dusty remnant. The Phantom Menace shows that the “noble Republic” didn’t care about it, and by all appearances the Empire doesn’t, either.

Given that Solo takes place well after the events of Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope) is just about two decades after the same, the Empire has been ascendant but never absolute in its power. The excellent animated series Star Wars: Rebels also shows through the struggle at Lothal that the Empire was never able to extinguish the spark that would flare out to become the light of freedom.

Solo a Star Wars Story kessel millenium falcon | kesseljunkie
The Millenium Falcon visits my home planet!

By Comparison, the First Order

Given that the First Order took over the entire galaxy in a couple of days, just to find out a year later that Palpatine was not only still alive but in possession of an even larger fleet that would supersede their force (ahem), the Empire seems a bit of a dud.

After all, if Snoke’s First Order was able to take over the galaxy in a couple of days, and Palpatine’s Empire couldn’t even establish complete dominance in two decades, then doesn’t that just mean the First Order was “better” than the Empire ever was? In essence, Kylo Ren didn’t need to “finish what Vader started” (if you ignore his entire redemptive arc concluding with Return of the Jedi) because he did what Vader never managed.

Grandpa didn’t even manage to overthrow Palpatine, with a Death Star at his disposal.

I’d argue, of course, that it’s more of a bug of the storytelling with the sequel trilogy, as opposed to a strong support of the argument I’m offering here.

I don’t think the Empire was an abject failure, and in fact I think its long journey of creation is a fascinating piece of world-building.

The Empire Was Not a Failure at All

While it was established by name in Revenge of the Sith, it took those decades for the Empire to become the monstrous behemoth that the Rebels were fighting to overthrow because that’s simply how it would have to be done.

The Empire’s journey of creation respects and highlights the fact that systems aren’t easily converted in a matter of days or months, and it’s not always the people you think who are at work. Palpatine maneuvered for some time within the system of the Republic to corrupt the people in positions of power because he had to do that.

Even Emperors need supporters to create an empire. Without key support, they would be overthrown. There are plenty of past and current examples of this fact.

Fervent zeal in the population isn’t born overnight, either. It needs to be inculcated into the first generation after the overthrow. So long as people are alive who remember how things were before the Emperor, the work won’t be completed, unless you can distract them with fear.

The Empire had to use the crime syndicates to make people afraid, and make them grateful for the sense of order and security the Empire offered. This would cow the older citizens who just want an end to the chaos, because how much would their daily lives change anyway?

The chaos would also provide great distraction from what the Emperor was achieving behind the scenes. When life is turmoil, details of governance get fuzzy.

It’s an intricate, and, if you’ll pardon the term in the context of discussing a space fantasy, realistic approach to things.

So no, the Empire wasn’t an abject failure. It was a great success in that it overthrew the galaxy in a methodical and convincing fashion.

That’s why its story remains a fascinating lesson in the dangers of hate, anger, and greed.


Author’s Note: Agent Bun recently commented, “I don’t know how you manage to find so much to talk about with Star Wars,” in reference to the podcast. I assure you, it’s easier than she might suppose.

“House of Fincher”: A Limited Run Podcast About David Fincher

Every so often, an artist comes along who gets a reasonable amount of fame without the fawning devotions typical of someone like a Lady Gaga or Christopher Nolan. (Complete transparency: I make fawning declarations about Christopher Nolan.)

David Fincher is one of those artists. Though he’s made some truly genre-defining films like Fight Club, profiles of him don’t trigger exclamations of “artiste” that register on the Richter Scale.

He has prolifically produced motion pictures during the same time frame as Quentin Tarantino, with the same sort of dedication to craft and impact, without the bombastic marketing campaigns of every film.

He’s produced and directed more than films, as well. He’s kept a hand in music video direction and pioneered the very idea of “binge watching” with House of Cards. He’s brought a clinical level of insight to crime procedurals with Mindhunter. He’s been a responsible implementer of digital effects.

So, my friend B-Shea got together with me and the infamous Tristan Riddell, publisher of The Nerd Party network, to put together a limited-run show looking at the works of David Fincher. After much debate, we named it House of Fincher.

During the journey of helping to create House of Fincher to look at his body of work, I’ve come to see him as a far more influential artist than I’d ever realized. If you’ve seen a few of his works, or you’ve seen all of them, I’m proud of the show and I think it’d be worth your while to tune in for an hour a week as we ramp up (hopefully) to the impending release of his film via Netflix, Mank.

House of Fincher on The Nerd Party | kesseljunkie

On the Verge of Madness

With everything happening in the world today, it’s hard to put into writing what it is that I feel like I’m personally going through. Wherever you go on Social Media, old friends and new acquaintances are making broad statements about everything they read and see. Relationships are crumbling and open declarations are made about who deserves to be friends with whom, and for what reason.

As I scroll past all of these posts, I’m struck by one thing. Not a single one of them shares links to my blog.

That sucks.

My Mission

Here in the month of June, which is in and of itself disputable since the calendar is a descendent construct of Roman domination, in the year 2020, which is also disputable since the year is a construct of a dominant society that changed calendars across the world, hardly anyone I’m connected to, and trust me that far fewer of them are “friends” than they think, is making any effort to find happiness.

I think it’s boring, to be honest. I have plenty of places to read things that try to tell me what to think. Why on Earth would I want to add to that discordant heap?

So I’ll take it upon myself to bring that joy, in some small part, to the world, by starting to write again. I know I can still make some people laugh and think about less serious things. They’re the only ones I’m trying to talk to write for now, anyway.

I’m sure it might rub some the wrong way, though I’m not sure how many correct ways there are to rub in the first place, that I’m not writing about heady topics or delivering judgments from a soapbox about Things Upon Which We Must Agree.

This is an image of my pal, Craigula.

If the only reason you came here was to read someone get somber about things or reinforce your belief system, you don’t have to stay here. I don’t care about politics here, and this is my online kingdom, so I make the rules.

In short, if you want to read someone pontificate and attack Straw Men for the cerebral thrill of the mob you can go to Facebook, or Twitter, or wherever.

I am declaring my return to writing free content for now, so let’s enjoy it.

First up will be an exploration of an idiotic quest on which I embarked through the month of May: 31 Movies in 31 Days.

See you soon.

One Last Thing

You may be wondering why I started this so “dramatically.” It’s a fair question.

I did it because I know a lot of people won’t actually read this on social media and I enjoy getting them to click “like” as if they were drug addicts chasing a high. It scores a few points in their lizard brain because they presume I’m writing something with which they agree.

Did you read all the way down here? You win nothing either way, but thanks for paying attention.

I’ve Seen Jaws: The Revenge. It Was Personal, and Discussed on the “Fanchise Fatigue” Podcast!

For once, I haven’t written a lengthy review on Letterboxd before writing one here. I meant to write this before now, but hey life gets in the way and it’s not like either of us are making money with this blog.

All I’ve written thus far is:

There’s an argument to be made that this is better than Jaws 3. And I’m going to write it and post it.

They both suck, though.

So this is my fulfillment of the promise to make the argument that Jaws: The Revenge is better than Jaws 3-D, which is usually referred to as Jaws 3. (For the record, whether you say Jaws 3-D or Jaws 3, it’s still terrible.) In fact, Jaws 3-D has my common half-star rating that acknowledges that at least they made and released a movie, but Jaws 3-D truly deserves what Michael Corleone was willing to pay Senator Geary: nothing.

I don't feel like writing an alt tag
OK, here’s my pitch. In Jaws 5, the sharks evolve and start flying planes to get to their target destinations to terrorize us.

So Why Do I Rate Jaws: The Revenge Higher Than Jaws 3-D?

Without being too flip, “because it’s a better movie.” To offer some shading to that, it’s a more coherent script that makes an attempt to get back to the basics and make it an actual human story.

Before you get too far ahead of me and think I’m claiming it’s a great or even good movie, I’m not. It’s still a bad movie. It’s just that on the scale of bad movies, it’s not as bad as Jaws 3-D.

In fact, it’s a charmingly bad movie. One of the things that’s endearing about it is that it’s a clear example of a series “rebootquel,” which is a nonsense term that I’ve read somewhere or other, but means: a sequel that ignores all the other sequels since the first movie/the most recent you want to remain valid in story continuity. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is arguably the earliest “rebootquel” I could name, but such a term of art didn’t exist back then. Highlander III: The Sorcerer/The Magician/The Final Dimension/The Final Conflict (no really, all those subtitles are valid) is also a “rebootquel,” but at this point I’ve just fallen in love with writing “rebootquel” as many times as possible in a single sentence.

Back to the point, Jaws: The Revenge allows the viewer to ignore Jaws 3-D completely, or even ignore Jaws 2 if they so desire. I’d argue that since all of the sequels to Jaws are best to ignore, it’s almost like it’s encouraging you to wipe the slate clean after enduring this one.

That’s not the only reason I like it more than Jaws 3-D, though. As clunky as it is, there’s an earnest desire to focus on Ellen Brody as a woman living with tragedy and trying to make the best of her life after losing her husband off-screen, and one of her sons in the beginning. In fact, if you remove the shark attack at the beginning that kills one of the sons, it’s an interesting concept. Years after the traumatic events portrayed in the first Jaws, we come back to a woman who wants to start anew.

By contrast, Jaws 3-D is a steep dive (get it?) into an abysmal place with a poor premise, bad performances, and terrible execution. Jaws: The Revenge has a decent premise and the performances are actually fine for the material. The only exception being Mario Van Peebles’ Jamaican (?) accent, but you can’t be too picky.

She moves to the Bahamas, finds a man of her own age (Michael freaking Caine?!) that is legitimately interested in her, and starts anew. Naturally,  a shark finds her cursed family and that’s really the absolute worst part of it all. But I can’t help but think that one of the things that makes it such a bad call is because of the baggage of the previous sequels.

It’s also intriguing because despite the very-clunky beginning, it functions sort of like Superman 4: The Quest for Peace. It’s not a bad premise, but the execution is befuddling. I’d argue the premise for Jaws: The Revenge is actually better than the one for Superman 4, but that’s a story for a different day.

Since this is one of those sequels that rebooted a series, like 2018’s Halloween, it seems that maybe the marketing is where it really went wrong. They could have pushed the angle not of the shark, but of a woman coming to terms with aging and loss against the backdrop of feeling trapped by past trauma.

But did the thought enter executives’ heads to market things in such a way in the first place? Would it really have helped Jaws: The Revenge be a more gently-reviewed movie?

Likely it wouldn’t have been much more gently reviewed, because again I agree that it’s not a good movie, but I’m willing to bet that the reviews wouldn’t have been quite as harsh.

Jaws 4 Jaws the Revenge is Better than Jaws 3 Jaws 3-D but it's still not as good as Jaws but Jaws 4 Jaws the Revenge is a movie that has Jaws in the title.
Contrary to rules about the advancement of technology and technique, the shark in the fourth movie looks far worse than ever before.

So of Course I Talked About It on a Podcast!

Naturally, if I finally decided to watch all the Jaws sequels after a happy and fulfilling life without having watched them, I was motivated to do so. That motivation was to appear with my friends B-Shea and Zach on their show “Fanchise Fatigue” on the United Federation of Podcasts. It’s a really fun show, and it’s always good to talk with them.

Have a listen to three friends having a lot of fun discussing a bad Jaws movie that all three insist isn’t as bad the bad Jaws movie that preceded it!

As an added bonus, discover what I think would be the perfect pairing for a Double Feature of the Damned when paired along with Jaws: The Revenge!

[spreaker type=player resource=”episode_id=18647016″ theme=”light” autoplay=”false” playlist=”false” cover=”https://d3wo5wojvuv7l.cloudfront.net/images.spreaker.com/original/d06827b8fc4edea57132daa0d938913c.jpg” width=”100%” height=”400px”]

I Finally Saw Jaws 3-D and Here’s the Review

Here’s the next entry in my journey of watching the Jaws sequels after a lifetime of not watching the Jaws sequels. To emphasize the point, I was asked by my friends on the United Federation of Podcasts to appear on a show called Fanchise Fatigue. They were covering the Jaws series, of which I’d only seen the first film. Like most human beings who enjoy movies, I love Jaws. That’s far from a unique opinion.

So I watched Jaws 2 to embark on this mission (I didn’t want to be “lost” in the later sequels after all), and that inevitably led to watching Jaws 3–D. Of course, the silliest part is that skipping Jaws 2 wouldn’t have affected my enjoyment (?) of Jaws 3-D at all.

What’s below is my review from Letterboxd, enhanced slightly, for your reading pleasure on this platform. But if you want more complete thoughts, as well as a rip-roaringly fun discussion of this nightmare monster (of a) film, then please check out my friends’ show Fanchise Fatigue. It’s worth your ears and your time!

Seriously. If you’ve watched Jaws 3-D, I think you’ll get a heckuva kick out of it.

Jaws 3-D which is Jaws 3 called Jaws 3-D which is the third Jaws movie being Jaws 3-D which is Jaws 3 I just linked to this picture and though it's here it's not really here.
High levels of realism were not demanded of this film. And the un-retouched 3-D effects on home video are *chef kiss*.

My Review of Jaws 3-D

This magnificent travesty of filmmaking is a marvel. I don’t have the words for how bad it is. I don’t think the word has been invented for that yet.

Jaws 3-D fully embraces the shock schlock horror of the slasher movies of the era. Everything about the structure of this movie seems to crib from the Friday the 13th playbook; that’s not a compliment.

It’s obviously a script written for its own horror purposes, rapidly rebranded as Jaws for the franchise recognition. I guess I shouldn’t fault Universal, for thinking they could still squeeze some blood from this stone after Jaws 2. But I do. Someone in the head office should have had the sense (courage?) to raise their hand and say, “We really shouldn’t.”

Jaws 3-D also fully embraces the 3-D renaissance of the 1980s. I’ve lived through two 3-D renaissances now. I wish I’d been able to avoid both.

Watching it for the first time now, it was a special treat to see exactly how terrible 3-D effects of the era transfer to the small screen. Sure, the technology has come a long way. But…wow. I could write a whole thesis on this movie alone, on how it exposes what a cheap gimmick 3-D is overall.

So why does it get half a star? Judge me all you want, but Lea Thompson. She’s in it! And she’s in a bikini! [Additional note for the blog: Like so many men who were growing up in the mid-1980s, there’s a “first crush” sentiment associated with Lea Thompson. At this point it’s as much that I’m infatuated with the memories she triggers of that time in my life as anything else. I promise this isn’t some overtly creepy angle begging for an angry internet mob thirsty for the virtual blood of someone making a cheeky reference in good fun.]

She also later appeared in Howard the Duck, so I’m not sure who her agent was. I’m not sure her agent was paying attention. I want to find out if it was the same agent to get her into Back to the Future, or if that was the work of a newer, smarter agent.

Her presence nearly distracts you from the fact that this movie obviously had someone late in the process order its time cut. There are entire plot lines that evaporate at whim and I consider it evidence that they realized what a turd burger they had on their hands, and so cut as much as possible to focus on the jump scares.

That person deserves a medal. Now, if only they’d prevented the movie from being released at all.

Now it’s on to Jaws: The Revenge.

I Saw Jaws 2 After a Lifetime of Not Seeing Jaws 2…Here’s My Review

This will lead somewhere special shortly. You’ll understand when we get there.

Suffice it to say that it wasn’t just some wild whim that overtook me to watch Jaws 2 finally. There was a purpose to it. I chose this, though, and all that came with it.

I’ll spare you the usual preamble as this is really just an overture to a larger performance piece wherein I finally saw all of the sequels to Steven Spielberg’s genre-defining, summer-movie-changing masterpiece.

Do I need to bother telling you that this review was originally entered on my Letterboxd account? I feel like we know each other well enough now that you should realize that. You should also realize that sometimes I expand and correct things from there, but you’ll just have to read them both to discover if that’s true this time!

Jaws 2 Image that's hosted on another server about Jaws 2 with images from Jaws 2 that I've linked to and this Jaws 2 image isn't really here. Jaws 2.
Peek-a-Boooooooooo. Emphasis on Boooooooooooo.

What I Thought of Jaws 2, the First Sequel to Jaws

I accepted an invitation from a friend to finally, after a lifetime of avoiding it, to watch Jaws 2. I had a faint memory of having seen the ending on TV when I was a kid, but I’d never consciously watched it.

I have now, and I’m prepared to give you my thoughts. I have no idea if these reviews are read by anyone, or if this will be another forgotten journal lost in the morass of digital noise.

It’s not good.

Jaws 2 completely misunderstands what made Jaws so special, and instead attempts to construct a horror movie with a thin plot, cheap characters, and questionable premise. It’s not about the characters this time, it’s about the scares and blood.

[Insert: My friend mentioned below, B-Shea, offers a spirited defense of this film as an unrecognized cornerstone to the Slasher genre. Usually Halloween is recognized as the trailblazer in this regard, but it’s an interesting point. It certainly is more of a straightforward horror flick, as I acknowledge above. However, that doesn’t make it good.]

And boy, oh boy, it is not enough. There are a few sparking moments when Roy Scheider tries to carry the whole thing. But you can only ask so much of an actor when you surround him with bad material.

As a final note, it’s delightful they didn’t learn from Spielberg’s decision not to show much of the shark because it looked fake and shattered the illusion. Because…it looks fake and shatters the illusion.

Steer clear of this. And pray for me, as I promised to watch not just this, but Jaws 3 and Jaws: The Revenge. My friend is lucky I keep my word.

(I know you’re reading this, B-Shea. Or you will. Let my continuing to watch this series be a testament to how much I care and enjoy your friendship.)

[Insert: That’s the original ending to the review, and I’m leaving it in here because B-Shea deserves the shout out. As does Zach, because he’s my friend, too, as well as an avid Superman/Smallville fan, and I got to talk to him about Jaws 3-D and Jaws: The Revenge, too.)

Revisiting “Blown Away,” Starring Jeff Bridges and Tommy Lee Jones

As I continue to trod through 1994 for RetroPerspective on The Nerd Party, we’re getting to the thick of the summer season. Naturally we’re hitting on the films that either went on to be big hits (Speed), or were supposed to be prestige pictures but “underperformed” (Wyatt Earp).

That brings us to this review of Blown Away. I remember liking Blown Away when I saw it years ago. I didn’t expect much, and it seemed to over-deliver.

What a difference 25 years makes! It’s not as good as I remember, and in fact isn’t all that good on the whole.

Read on!

Tommy Lee Jones in Blown Away which is a movie called Blown Away featuring Tommy Lee Jones in a movie called Blown Away which is in Boston, as Blown Away Doesn't Occur in Cocoa Beach.
Questionable Accents and Bad Decisions Abound.

My Review of Blown Away, Starring Tommy Lee Jones and Jeff Bridges

This is a mediocre movie that keeps you hooked with the promise of being better through the entire runtime. That’s at least partly due to the terrific cast that Hopkins has in front of the camera.

There’s a tantalizing hint of “the next moment” being when the movie will elevate to the next level. This allure goes through the entire experience, to the point where one climactic scene captures that fire right near the end. By then, though, you realize it’s the outlier, and it rolls into a dissatisfying coda.

Like so many films of the early to mid 1990s, the Irish terrorist/insurgent/liberator plot line is equally indulgent and absolving of those who had noble ideals but didn’t want to cause real harm. Like those others, it also  never truly explains to the audience why “The Cause” was justified enough to reach outright bombing on the streets. It’s just presumed everyone understands.

There are a few moments that ring hollow and carry the faint scent of reshoots. (I write this without knowing if there were.) The lighting keys on certain “outdoor” scenes is off enough to be discordant with other outdoor scenes, and the content of them seems expressly to hit the accelerator on character and story development. It may be that the script was just in need of a little more polish, but if I were a betting man I’d say they were inserts.

The oddest thing is how claustrophobic this movie is, even when set outdoors. It’s photographed as if it’s afraid to show anything at the edges or communicate an actual sense of scale.

The characters also make a few moves later in the film that are clearly designed just to get them into a specific spot to raise tension. There seems to be a natural ending as well, along with one that feels as if it’s just to get us to a specific farewell shot.

I was very much enamored with this movie when I saw it for the first time years ago. On this rewatch for RetroPerspective, though, it felt more like a missed opportunity than promise delivered.

Revisiting Wyatt Earp, the 1994 Epic Starring Kevin Costner and Directed by Lawrence Kasdan

As I continue to stroll through 1994 for RetroPerspective on The Nerd Party, we hit the week I’d both been anticipating and dreading. The week that saw the release of Disney®©™’s classic animated feature The Lion King (the original one), and…Wyatt Earp, the second take on the legendary law dog six months after the supremely satisfying Tombstone.

Building Anticipation

A script co-written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan, famous for Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Big Chill (admission: I still haven’t seen it as of this writing), the clever Western Silverado (also starring Costner), and The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, secured my anticipation. As a nerd and burgeoning film obsessive I felt an obligation to see this movie.

It promised a more sober look at this legendary figure. From the previews, you could tell it was going to be an epic undertaking, informed by sober analysis of the truth behind the myth. This was going to be the mature answer to Tombstone‘s thrilling embrace – and tacit endorsement – of the legendary interpretation of Earp’s life. Tombstone was focused on one period, and the people close to Earp; Wyatt Earp was to be a biographer’s reliable accounting of history.

You could, of course, debate the artistic merit of it being “reliable” when we have documentaries aplenty. You could also debate that with so much apocryphal retelling and Earp’s own supposed self-promotion, accuracy is in the eye of the beholder.

This was the early 1990s though, and the shift in philosophy from romanticizing the Old West, or past in general, to re-examining it through modern sensibilities and judgments was finding fresh footing. In a sense, this philosophical shift is pointedly illuminated by the contrasts between Wyatt Earp and Tombstone.

The Nature of the Discussion

Is it inevitable to discuss Wyatt Earp without mentioning Tombstone? Yes it is.

Costner was originally involved with Tombstone. They battled each other for production services and resources. They filmed close to each other. Costner tried to use his pull to kill Tombstone in any way he could. They were nemesis productions from the start.

They look at the same historical figure and time period. I loved Tombstone, and its embrace of the mythical telling of Earp. It’s terrific.

Did I love Wyatt Earp? Read below. And listen to RetroPerspective for a fun story about one of my viewings of it…and also to find out why my cohost is a monster who doesn’t like The Lion King.

Wyatt Earp Tombstone Cowboy
This is his expression even in the emotional scenes.

My Review of Wyatt Earp from Letterboxd:

This is a stunningly boring film.

Wyatt Earp suffers from a total lack of narrative discipline, and a tendency to meander through events. It’s not even accidentally exciting during the scenes that rely most on adrenaline.

Costner’s Earp is devoid of charm, charisma, and energy. His performance is so deadpan as to suggest the legendary lawman was a part-time narcoleptic. There is an abscence of chemistry between him and his costars that damages the film beyond reclamation.

The overstuffed script would only have worked with the electric aura generated by actors finding those invisible rhythms that thrill an audience. The result is an antiseptic take on a passionate time.

The other performances are fine, but there’s not much for anyone to do except get bogged down in a self-indulgent biopic that mistakes running time for epic scale. It’s kind of mind-boggling to behold the talent onscreen and behind the camera that can’t breathe life into an inherently interesting tale.

I Finally Saw Beverly Hills Cop III and Here’s the Review

As usual, this is one of those reviews that appeared first on Letterboxd.

Once again for RetroPerspective over on TheNerdParty.com, I come upon a film from 1994 that gave me a chance to correct an historical oversight. Why did I miss Beverly Hills Cop III at the time? Aside from critical fizzle, I hadn’t liked Beverly Hills Cop II, and so like any healthy adult I didn’t see the next one.

I held out hope that I’d have the opportunity to buck the conventional wisdom and find a film that had been unfairly maligned. I was ready to let Axel Foley back into my life and find something that, at the very least, was “so bad it’s good.”

Instead, I encountered Beverly Hills Cop III.

Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop III which is a Beverly Hills Cop movie called Beverly Hills Cop III featuring Eddie Murphy but not Craigula.
Eddie Murphy looks just as baffled as the audience.

This movie is terrible. In the litany of 1994 “terrible” movies that I’ve encountered, it’s terrible in a very special way. It’s so bad as to make you *feel bad* for the talented people involved. Unlike Deadfall, this is something where you can’t even come up with a legitimate reason for why things wouldn’t come together.

John Landis was a proven director. Eddie Murphy, though fading by this point, was a major star. Steven deSouza is a successful screenwriter. Everything should have worked. It doesn’t, though. It’s like a band of talented musicians who just can’t get in rhythm together and become a nightmarish supergroup like Hollywood Vampires.

You want this movie to succeed in some way. You see people trying to make something worthwhile. But there is a magnificent lifelessness to the scenes, all the way from how they’re lit to how they’re performed. This is people going through the motions, collecting a check and hoping that someone else will provide whatever’s missing.

The resultant movie is a listless half-narrative that even botches its fan service and callbacks to the first film. This is a movie in desperate need of an identity, without any idea how to build one. It’s constructed as an action film, executed without a sense of urgency or peril. It’s got elements of a comedy film, without the timing or goodwill to execute the comedy for a laugh.

I can say that, for all the great films that came out that year, 1994 had more than enough of its share of stinkers. Beverly Hills Cop III stands out among them because it had the money and the talent to be something great, and instead is the cinematic equivalent of a well-polished turd. Is it as bad as On Deadly Ground? No, it is not. But On Deadly Ground is so insanely bad as to be a modern marvel. Beverly Hills Cop III is terrible in a boring way.

I’ll go ahead and spoil the one truly worthwhile moment in the movie for you. Go look up “George Lucas Cameo Beverly Hills Cop III” and enjoy the only point where there seemed to be any real energy onscreen. Which, given Lucas’ reputation for maintaining a lowly-expressive demeanor, is ironic as all get-out.

Save yourself the precious time and money to see this. It’s not worth it.

“Masters of the Universe”: The Unrecognized Trailblazer in Making Kids’ Properties Grittier and Darker

In discussing movies recently with a pal of mine, he mentioned he had recently rewatched Masters of the Universe. For those of you unfamiliar, it’s a 1987 movie that had the dubious honor of trying to turn He-Man and his friends (and enemies!) into box office icons.

It had a name cast, if not an all-star one, and featured future 1990s television and film icons like Courtney Cox (Friends, Scream) and Robert Duncan McNeill (Star Trek: Voyager). The hero was played by fresh star Dolph Lundgren, still enjoying his success playing Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. The main villain, Skeletor, was played by screen legend Frank Langella.

Much like The Transformers, He-Man was a dominant cartoon of the 1980s; a thirty-minute ad blitz with crazy stories based on the action figures from Eternia. The entire premise of everything was silly, but it was high drama to kids.

Though people think it’s a new-ish thing for movies to try to bring toys and cartoons into “real world situations,” it isn’t. Marvel®©™ movies are basically that exact thing, but they struck lucky gold when they got Robert Downey, Jr. to star in a Jon Favreau movie.

Reliable templates before Marvel®©™’s Iron Man were few and far between; the belief was that, if you’re going to bring it life you need to make it “dark.” This was supported by the occasional franchise-starters like BatmanThe Crow, or Blade, which relied on making things darker and grittier.

The problem is that the material doesn’t always lend itself to that. But I’m not here to offer a review of the movie, which remains one of my guiltiest pleasures. No, enough digital ink has been spilled to both praise and bury Masters of the Universe.

I’m here to talk about its unrecognized cinematic impact.

Courtney Cox in Masters of the Universe which is a He-Man movie starring Courtney Cox called Masters of the Universe.
That’s Courtney “Friends” Cox tending to Robert Duncan “Voyager” McNeill as Dolph “Drago” Lundgren oversees things.

Masters of the Universe Made it Dark, FIRST

Back to the point at hand, when my pal said he’d watched Masters of the Universe, a sudden realization occurred. He mentioned how “dimly lit” the final fight between He–Man and Skeletor was. Everything rushed into my brain about the look of that film, and the amazing fact of its darkness, in general.

I remembered when Skeletor’s barge (?) floated into town between the two worlds at night. I remembered Skeletor’s creepy skull-head design, as they took his skull face and adapted it to the makeup capabilities of the time. I remembered how gritty and used the world was made to look, and the grim re-imagining of Skeletor’s horde of henchmen. The grim design of his soldiers, with their shiny black evil and capes, marched into my mind’s eye.

I realized that, in 1987, Masters of the Universe had ushered in the gritty, dark adaptation of kid-friendly properties. It had busted the door down two years before Tim Burton managed it with the genre-shifting Batman!

I’m ashamed to have come to this realization now. I can’t believe it’s been this long to arrive here. I’m stunned no one else has pointed out this irrevocable historical cinema fact.

I just can't do it with this one. The keywords joke can't touch this.
It’s not about budget, it’s about design!

Reclaiming History

I think it’s time to let Masters of the Universe rightly reclaim its place in film history. For too long, people have overlooked a truly influential film that changed the way things were done!

This movie was dark before it was cool. It was imagination run wild, mixing magical fantasy and space-age technology on a scale not seen since Krull. It fully embraced an aesthetic that would be attributed to Batman‘s influence, simply because the fanboys love Batman and insist on holding it up as a standard.

We get blinded by box office success. Masters of the Universe had a more targeted audience and a smaller budget. Batman was carried forward by marketing and a giant base of fans that was multi-generational.

We should move away from the toxic obsession with comic book heroes and recognize a real trailblazer. We should recognize Masters of the Universe.

One Final Note

By the way, since some people don’t pay attention all the way through my posts, I’m totally screwing with everyone. Since you’ve made it this far, I feel you’ve earned this. You’re in on the joke.

This is one of those posts highlighting the absurdity of the majority of online “analysis” and “criticism” we get. Twitter makes it even worse, too, as people trot out half-baked quasi-intellectual takes based on nothing more than knee-jerk emotionalism.

By the end of this, I’ll have put together more than 800 words heaping fake praise on something that I openly acknowledge as a nostalgic curio. If you were to subtract this final section, you’d be convinced that I honestly came to this conclusion without irony. The arguments can’t be disproven so much as disputed, because it’s contained within a perfect bubble of self-assurance.

It’s like an article on just about any opinion site you frequent! I just don’t have a social media army to push this out to the world and legitimize it. [HINT, HINT.]

At the honest best, Masters of the Universe is a magnificently cheesy misfire. As pointed out by my friend “Old Joe,” it was bad enough to kill a successful toy franchise.

I still love it, but just because it looks exactly like the movie that would be made by a kid if you gave them a copy of The Dark Knight Returns, some He-Man figures, a large bag of Skittles, and locked them in a room to come up with ideas.

Frank Langella as Skeletor in Masters of the Universe which is a He-Man movie starring Frank Langella as Skeletor in a movie called Masters of the Universe.
That’s *Frank Langella*.

Also, in case you were wondering, when I mentioned Krull earlier, that was part of the joke, too. That movie’s terrible.

I Don’t Know What to Write for a Mother’s Day Post

There’s this odd burden to participate in the trending topics, or holiday hashtags, even when you’re on a quasi-retreat from Social Media. As such, we find ourselves at Mother’s Day.

In years past, I’d have written up some special memory of my late mother. That in and of itself was a fine tradition. I enjoy remembering my mom, especially after so long a time has passed without her. It’s still disorienting to think that the memory of her is all I can share with people, and that she’s been gone so long.

It gets harder to recall people over time. Enough distance weakens the tether that holds you to their memory.

That’s the way life is, though. We lose and we move forward. Eventually, we’re someone else’s loss.

It’s easy to forget that some people don’t have great relationships with their moms. Holidays like this, loaded with the sense of obligation to honor someone because of their honorific, have to be weird for them.

That’s also a part of life. We could parse any holiday – any event at all – into categories of pain. Pain is as much a part of life as anything else. It’s like a grand subway where, eventually, we have to stop somewhere that sucks.

As much as I don’t want to revisit certain memories on Mother’s Day, I do. I’m grateful that I had a mom that I loved, and who loved me, and who I can remember. Even if it’s only in stolen snippets, I can remember those sense impressions and how hard she worked to make my world make sense.

I don’t really write about those moments very much anymore, because I decided that not everyone has a right to them. Memories of loved ones who’ve passed on to their eternal rest are to be treasured and shared with those whom we love and trust.

That’s not the internet at large. I used to think differently about that sort of thing. I used to work to commemorate her at every chance for the public at large. Maybe I’ll feel like sharing those memories again at some point in the future.

Maybe writing about these thoughts acts as a testament to the tremendous love and respect I still have for a woman who shaped me into what I think is a pretty decent guy. In a way, I don’t know if I think the world at large deserves to know her as well as I did. I don’t know if the world at large deserved her at all.

So I’ll say a small prayer and sing a sad song for a mother long gone. If I’m right about the way things work, she knows I’m thinking of her today. She knows I’m thinking of her every day.

She knows her son still misses her. She’ll also know he’s happy to have had the time he had with her. She’ll know he’s glad she made sure it counted, even when he was insufferably unaware of how lucky he was.

She’ll know, especially, that he’s just as addicted to a late-night bowl of cereal as she was, and that he thinks of her when he has one.

Happy Mother’s Day.

20140511-230744.jpg
Fine, here’s her picture from long ago.

 

 

 

On the Topic of the Documentary about Flat-Earthers, “Behind the Curve,” on Netflix

We live in interesting times. I was pointed toward a documentary about members (adherents? disciples?) of the Flat Earth movement that’s currently showing on Netflix, called Behind the Curve.

The documentary primarily follows Mark Sargent, a prominent evangelist for the Flat Earth movement that has taken on a bit of momentum in recent years. We meet others as well, from Patricia Steere to Math Powerland (no, really).

Each of these people seems sincere in their beliefs. That could easily make this a challenging watch. It’s not, though. It’s fascinating. In many cases the subject matter is stronger than the structure at play, but it all comes together to create a compelling moment. It’s certainly one I won’t forget.

Flat Earth is a bunch of bunk, but I want to give people a hug and tell them it's OK that the world is crazy and scary.
The flat-hand signal there is apparently the “salute” (?) that Flat Earthers give.

I have to give the documentary a lot of credit for remaining kind in the treatment of its subjects. It’s a force of habit for many people simply to ridicule and deride others who don’t believe accepted doctrine.

This is especially true when it comes to accepted consensus. You need only to turn on your television to see everyone from Neil Degrasse Tyson to Stephen Colbert turning derisive sneering into an oft-lucrative art form.

In short, it’s easy to call someone “stupid” or “crazy” and move on with your life. It’s an emotional bloodsport we’ve elevated to a place of great honor in our society. Everything from sitcoms to Twitter have reinforced the idea that the best way to deal with “heterodox” thought is to tear down the person.

I agree instead with the person speaking at a convocation of scientists, captured in this movie. He points out that many of the people who believe things as outlandish as flat earth theory, faked moon landings, or the artistic merit of The English Patient, aren’t stupid people.

In many cases, they’re intelligent people who would benefit greatly from empathetic communication. They can and should be spoken to with a presumption of respect and intelligence, and work from there.

Calling someone stupid simply stops the conversation. Finding out why they believe something like Flat Earth Theory can go a long way toward understanding how to discuss it with them. If you start from a point of disrespect and attack, any human being is going to go into a defensive mode and stop listening.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that you shouldn’t point out the flaws in their reasoning. You’re not obliged to go along with a delusion, as much as that seems to be the cultural norm these days. It’s fine to pretend someone you love is Teddy Roosevelt, but only so long as you’re Abby and Martha Brewster.

There will also be people you simply can’t reach. It might be beyond your personal ability. That’s OK, let them encounter someone else who can continue the conversation.

By and large, the movie does a terrific job of approaching these people sympathetically. Where it fails is that it diverges every so often from the intellectually curious to the self-righteous, as if it’s forgetting its own lesson.

Then it wraps up with a moment that needed more exploration than being interspersed with the end credits. A Flat Earth group, doing an experiment to prove that curvature is a lie, fails. Instead of continuing to explore their reaction to the failure in detail, it’s seemingly played for a chuckle. That’s all well and good, but undercuts the empathetic approach advocated earlier in the movie.

There’s another experiment earlier in the movie that works against another set of Flat Earthers, but that’s not followed up, either. It’s left dangling, and as a viewer I was unsatisfied that it was discarded and we just kept moving.

You can’t help but feel like the movie moves past these moments because the director can’t completely resist the default urge to mock just a little bit. That may feed into the perspective of other viewers, but for me it just doesn’t work.

In all, it’s a worthwhile movie to watch. If anything, it’s a fascinating exploration of the human desire to be important, to be heard, and to be special. It’s a testament to what makes conspiracy theories enduringly powerful; their adherents can hold a claim to intelligence and perception beyond the average.

There are undoubtedly conspiracies in this world. But we should approach the claims of them with extreme skepticism. The burden of proof should be on the people proving them to exist, not vice versa.

In short, I recommend this movie to you, if you have Netflix.

This review can also be found on my Letterboxd profile. Share and share alike, as it were. I also talk about it on a podcast. Cheers!