#ThrowbackThursday – The Shawshank Redemption


Original US release date: September 23, 1994
Production budget: $25,000,000
Worldwide gross: $28,341,469

Based on Stephen King’s novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, Frank Darabont’s more-succinctly titled The Shawshank Redemption is one of the most beloved films in all of cinematic history.  Released in 1994, and garnering a plethora of award nominations in 1995, over the decades, The Shawshank Redemption has garnered a reputation for being one of the greatest films ever made.  In fact, users of the Internet Movie Database have openly declared it as such, as it currently sits in the number one position of all films according to the user ratings on the enormously popular website.  And it has resided in that spot for a long time.  If only that enthusiasm had been there when the film was originally released; the movie was an unquestionable flop at the box office as moviegoers shied away from the low-budget, thinking-person’s drama with no special effects or (at the time) marquee stars.

The Shawshank Redemption follows two penitentiary inmates (Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman) as they struggle with their imprisonment, their corrupt warden and guards, and their futures (or possible lack thereof).  Long before prison dramas were the cool thing, as they now are, largely thanks to Netflix’s excellent comedy-drama Orange is the New Black, Robbins’s Andy Dufresne and Freeman’s “Red” Redding redefined audience’s perspectives on life in the big house by reminding everyone on the outside that those on the inside are people, too.


Those who aren’t among author Stephen King’s Constant Readers (and he has lovingly dubbed his loyal fans) are often under the misconception that King writes nothing but horror schlock with no redeeming social or literary value.  That’s as far from the truth as anything could possibly be.  All of King’s stories – even those that feature a strong horror component, such as It, Cell, or The Dark Half – are about the people first and the genre elements second.  But he has also been responsible for many non-horror stories, several of which have been adapted into very popular and beloved films.  Aside from The Shawshank Redemption, both The Green Mile and Stand By Me were originally Stephen King stories.  He’s a tremendous writer with a bottomless pit of imagination.

Helming the film was then-newcomer Frank Darabont.  The Shawshank Redemption was Darabont’s first feature film as a director.  Believe it or not, he’s only directed three films since then, and two of them were also Stephen King adaptations (The Green Mile and The Mist).  He has since also developed a little property called The Walking Dead for television, though he left the show shortly after its debut.  Led by Freeman and Robbins, the cast of The Shawshank Redemption was comprised of respected actors who were fairly well-known and recognizable but lacked true superstar status.  While this was likely because of the film’s modest budget, it also helps keep the viewer invested in the fictional characters instead of on the reputations of the actors involved.


I like doing these classic films for my #ThrowbackThursday columns but sometimes it can be difficult.  Honestly, what more can I say about The Shawshank Redemption that hasn’t already been said a million other times by a million other people?  This film marks one of those somewhat rare instances where audiences and critics agree: the movie is brilliant.  Everything hits exactly as it should.  Even though the film is relatively long at two hours and twenty-two minutes (counting credits), the script and the performances keep it engaging, never allowing it to drag.  The characters are relatable, believable, and unique unto themselves.  Their arcs play out organically and each character serves a purpose for both the larger narrative and the stories of the two primary leads.

What really hits home is how the themes of the film and the struggles of the characters can be metaphorically applied to virtually anyone.  But few would ever think to apply such ideas to people who have been locked away for years – maybe even decades.  And, often, when considering criminals, those internal struggles can be exacerbated exponentially due to their particular circumstances.  For instance, the very notion of institutionalization would typically be beyond the reach of anyone who has never been incarcerated, but King and Darabont explain it in a way that is not only both beautiful and heartbreaking but also effortlessly accessible.  We see each character wrestling with their own problems and, though we know that most of these men got themselves into the position in which they reside, we also come to understand that people can grow and change.  And maybe some of them deserve another chance at a real life.  But that’s not always as easy as it sounds.


This story could not be told for general audiences by anyone who isn’t a master storyteller.  I’m not going to go on and on about the film.  If you’ve seen it, you know.  If you haven’t, you should.  It lives up to its reputation.  The Shawshank Redemption is a poignant and poetic story about the strength of the human spirit and the unexpected weaknesses to which it may also succumb.  Though we are often unable to control the events of our own lives, we can still control how we process them and what we do with them in our hearts and in our minds.  And if we are able to maintain and come out standing at the end, we all get our ultimate redemption.

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#ThrowbackThursday – The Shawshank Redemption

Review – mother!


I couldn’t make it out to see Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, last weekend, and it’s been difficult to avoid hearing about it in the meantime.  Everybody has an opinion – even (unsurprisingly) people who haven’t even seen it.  But general audiences rejected the film soundly, last weekend, which made me even more curious and anxious to see it.

Now that I have, I’ve been struggling with how to articulate my thoughts.  I feel like saying almost anything about the story or character content of the film, itself, would be a betrayal of Aronofsky’s artistic intent.  And, being someone who avoids spoiling films and who also respects filmmakers and their respective visions, that makes my job here difficult.


Something I can say is that I might be entirely off base regarding Aronofsky’s intent.  Much like with other filmmakers of his type, such as David Lynch or Terrence Malick, Aronofsky’s films are always open to some degree of interpretation, so it’s possible that my interpretation is all wrong.  But I don’t believe that my assessment of his intent is wrong.  Aronofsky’s intent is to get his audience thinking.  There’s no doubt about that.  Where the problem lies with that specific intent is in the fact that most mainstream moviegoing audiences don’t want to think.  They want everything spelled out for them.  And in mother!, exactly nothing is spelled out for the audience.

So, that leads me to believe that this film is actually less open to interpretation than Aronofsky’s others.  I think there is a specific way to interpret the film – only one correct interpretation with all others being flat-out wrong.  The reason for my belief is the structure of the film.  It is far too meticulous with precisely-worded dialogue, specific plot developments, and even particular casting choices.  Literally every word, every shot, and every interaction contains meaning and holds weight.  Every molecule of this film is a puzzle piece.


And this isn’t the same type of puzzle film that made me so angry in the form of last year’s The Neon Demon.  Unlike that ego-trip of a disaster, mother! gives us all of the puzzle pieces so that the audience knows what it needs to know in order to see the bigger picture.  The film also has a coherent surface narrative that can be followed without looking deeper into the film, which is what I was really angry about regarding The Neon Demon, since its surface narrative was nonsense.  But, though comprehensible, mother!‘s surface story would be remarkably strange without considering what’s going on underneath.  Aronofsky forces the audience to analyze the film or otherwise miss out on the overwhelming majority of the experience.

Make no mistake – this film is absolutely an experience.  I won’t give any clues to the plot or the characters, but to give you an idea of what that experience is like, I’ll say that when I heard the film was like a nightmare, I thought people meant it figuratively, but it turns out they meant it literally.  The pacing is exactly like a bad dream, where one bothersome event is immediately followed by another more bothersome event which is quickly followed by another and then another and another in such a way that they escalate in nature and in scale to an impossible degree.  It’s like an illustration of the Butterfly Effect that grows exponentially so that one can’t even fathom how Point A could have possibly led to Point ZZZ, much less how it happened so quickly.  There is absolutely no time to get bored during this movie; my attention and my brain were both fully engaged from the opening frame and the two hours flew by in what felt like 45 minutes.


I guess this is as good a time as any to squeeze in a mention of Jennifer Lawrence.  While Lawrence is supported by very talented and esteemed actors (Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Harris) who all do great work, mother! is her film.  And it may be her best work.  I can’t even come close to comprehending how emotionally exhausting this role must have been for her (not to mention physically taxing).  You know those bad days we all have?  Those really bad days?  Those days where maybe three or four intensely overwhelming and stressful things occur and we just can’t wait until we get to tomorrow?  Imagine a day where those sorts of events happen every three minutes.  All day.  And imagine if you had to suffer through a full year of those days, with no respite.  That’s what Jennifer Lawrence did for mother!.  And I know, now that she’s super-successful, it no longer matters how down-to-earth or talented she is and that’s it’s currently in vogue to hate on her (all the kewl kids are doing it!), but she deserves recognition and respect for her performance in this film.  She owns it and she earns it.

Aside from that, I am still fully processing the events of the film.  I have a framework for what I believe Aronofsky intends to be the interpretation, but I’m still putting some of those puzzle pieces in their proper spots.  To fully digest the story, I will have to see it again – probably multiple times.  There’s just no way to completely crack Aronofsky’s code with only a single viewing.  There’s too much going on and, by simply taking a second to step back and think about something that just happened, the viewer will miss out on the next clue.  Multiple viewings are required for full understanding.


But that’s not a bad thing, is it?  It doesn’t mean that the first viewing isn’t rewarding.  It most certainly is.  It simply means that every viewing will continue to be rewarding.  Is that not something to which filmmakers should aspire?

Let’s talk about the audience reaction to this film.  mother! is only the nineteenth film to receive an F Cinemascore from audiences, who were exit-polled on opening night.  Look, I don’t care what people like and what they don’t like.  Truthfully, that can’t be helped.  We don’t actively choose our likes and dislikes.  But what we do choose is how thoroughly and fairly we consider our words, our actions, and how much importance we place on our own opinions.

I loved mother!.  I loved it.  I want to be very clear about that.  It’s one of my favorite films of the year and one of the best, as well.  But, even if I didn’t like it, I would still maintain the capacity for appreciating it.  I could appreciate the artistry.  I could appreciate the thoughtfulness.  I could appreciate the performances.  I could appreciate these people literally suffering – physically and mentally – in their efforts to bring this story to us.  And I would not take my personal opinion so seriously as to equate it with fact and to arrogantly presume that I held the right to casually dismiss someone else’s passion project, especially considering the pedigree and the credibility of the people behind said project.


So, why are general audiences hating the film?  I can’t say for sure, but I have some theories.  One, as I mentioned above, is that they don’t want to think.  That theory has put itself on exhibition many times over the years, both within the world of film and without.  Another theory is one I’ve already discussed in great detail: many of them are hypocrites who claim they want originality from Hollywood but reject it when it arrives (I ranted about that here).  You truly want originality?  Prove it.  mother! is the most original film of the year.  Go.  Enjoy.  Tell your friends.

The third theory is tied to the first.  The third theory is that, in not desiring to think, audiences don’t.  And, in making that choice, they take the film literally.  There are many bizarre events that transpire in mother!.  They aren’t only bizarre but they are often severely disturbing, as well.  But if the brain is engaged, it’s obvious that there’s something else going on within the narrative and that things aren’t necessarily as they seem.  Many viewers are taking the online mentality of reacting first and thinking never into the real world and it’s affecting other people’s work and their success.  And it’s affecting other moviegoers, as well, because every time a film like this fails at the box office, it becomes less likely that we get more films in the same vein.  These moviegoers are directly affecting people like me because they cant be bothered to show respect to a genuine piece of art.


Why do audiences disrespect film, so much?  If a book is deep or thought-provoking, it’s heralded as a classic.  When a musician such as Bob Dylan writes near impenetrable lyrics that most people can’t begin to interpret, audiences bow at his feet and he wins a Nobel Prize.  When television carries true weight and intellect, it’s the talk of water coolers around the world and is considered must-watch.  So, why is it when a film is deep and complex and outside-the-box, audiences shun it, laugh at it, and actively seek to sink it to the bottom of the celluloid sea?

As I left the theater, tonight, the guy in front of me turned back to me and said, “That was stupid.”  What did I say?  I said, “That was anything but stupid.  That was amazing.  There was so much thought and heart put into that that I’ll be thinking about it during my entire hour-long drive home.”  “Well, it was amazing,” he said, “but I’ll also have to go home and read twelve articles on it in order to understand it.”


And, again, I ask . . . what the #$%& is wrong with that?  Why is it so awful to think about something after it’s over?  Why is it so horrible to have to reach out and interact with other people and discuss a piece of art in an effort to gain a full appreciation of the message behind it?  Why is this a bad thing?  Or, perhaps the more appropriate question would be: When did it become a bad thing?

I’ll say it again: I love mother!.  That is my opinion.  mother! is a genuine masterpiece and a work of art that is far superior to most other films that have been released in 2017.  That is an objective fact that takes all the aspects and goals of filmmaking into account.  This film will one day be viewed as a classic work of genius that was misunderstood by an undeserving audience in its day.  By then, I will have seen it umpteen times and will be a better person for it.  Those of you who are willing to expand your mind and grow a little bit, give mother! your money.  It deserves it.  For those who aren’t as willing, Despicable Me 3 is on blu-ray soon.

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Review – mother!

Review – Kingsman: The Golden Circle


If you were to have polled comic book readers sometime before 2008 regarding which original story by acclaimed superstar comic book writer Mark Millar would end up as the highest grossing film adapted from his various works, few would have predicted Kingsman: The Secret Service.  I suppose one reason for that would be that the film wasn’t released until 2014 and the comic didn’t even debut until 2012 but, even if there was supernatural foreknowledge of what was to come, most would have probably assumed that Kick-Ass would be the reigning film champion of the motion picture Millarverse.  But then Secret Service hit theaters and more than quadrupled the worldwide gross of Kick-Ass, raking in just over $414 million worldwide on an $81 million budget.  So, this sequel was inevitable.

The original wowed and surprised audiences with a no-holds-barred, nothing-is-off-limits approach to its content that included seemingly endless instances of offbeat, hyperstylized violence, language, and sexual content that was somehow presented in such an over-the-top and charming way that it was difficult to be offended and absurdly easy to be entertained.

And “absurd” is an appropriate word to describe both that original film and the new Kingsman: The Golden Circle.  The new installment in the franchise carries over the absurdity that viewers loved so much about the first film and in some ways even takes it up a notch.

This film feels much more like a comic book movie than the original Secret Service but it achieves that goal without sacrificing its own identity.  There are lots of silly little gimmicks that are thrown in for fun, the headquarters of the antagonist (Julianne Moore’s Poppy) is a delight, and the action scenes are absolutely breathtaking and spectacularly choreographed.  Director Matthew Vaughn clearly loves this franchise and really takes every opportunity he can find within it to let loose and just go crazy.  Sorry, Spinal Tap; your level of eleven just wouldn’t cut it, these days.

Despite that, he seems to reign it in with respect to other aspects of the film.  While the violence is as ever-present as before, it’s not nearly as graphic as in the first movie.  Most of the really brutal acts are either shown through rapid quick-cuts, are in some way obscured from sight, or even occur off-screen entirely.  The so-called “controversial” sex scene is also brief, features no actual nudity, and serves a larger character arc rather than existing to justify an R-rating.  I have no personal preference regarding these choices, but I was a bit surprised as I do feel that the film sacrifices a bit of its quirkiness and boldness because of them.

Compounding this problem is the relocation of much of the story from England to America.  I preferred the action take place across the pond because that assisted in setting it apart from most other films within its realm.  We get enough of America in the movies.  England is a nice change of pace, providing different sensibilities and visuals.  The move to America jettisons a bit of the charm.

However, in exchange for said charm, we add Jeff Bridges and the aforementioned Julianne Moore to the cast.  Bridges is one of the greatest actors living, today.  He doesn’t get much to do, here, but it’s always nice to have him around.  Moore clearly has a blast playing the villain and I had just as much fun watching her do it.  She would have stolen the show if not for Elton John, who steps in as . . . well . . . Elton John.  In a nod to the celebrity-kidnapping plot of Secret Service, John plays an alternate version (I assume?  But I also kind of hope not.) of himself and the results are stupendous.  All-in-all, The Golden Circle wasn’t as funny as The Secret Service, but all of Elton John’s scenes deliver in every way in which they are intended.

I wasn’t crazy about the much-publicized decision to resurrect Colin Firth’s Harry as I was hoping this series wouldn’t fall into those sorts of tropes and clichés that we see so often from various forms of comic book media.  There’s a narrative and emotional trade off, though (that I won’t specify in order to avoid spoilers) so I suppose that I can’t complain too much.  Firth also has a nice screen presence and is a welcome addition, but part of me still would have preferred an alternate option to bringing him back.

Amidst all of this, the narrative serves as a metaphor for Donald Trump’s black-and-white perspective on lawbreakers, treating them all as equally reprehensible and lacking the ability to discern amongst the many layers and circumstances that perpetuate such actions.  This comparison isn’t necessarily overt (it’s intended to be, but many viewers will miss it, anyway), but it’s there and adds an extra element to the film.

Despite my minor quibbles, it’s virtually impossible to not have a good time while watching Kingsman: The Golden Circle.  The action, the dialogue, the twists and turns, the music, and the cast all combine to provide an enthralling and exciting experience that is almost at the level of The Secret Service.  It’s not quite there, but I imagine if you wanted more from the first film, you’ll be happy with The Golden Circle, even if it’s toned down a bit from that initial installment.

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Review – Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Review – Friend Request


If you know me, you know I’m usually down for a horror movie.  It doesn’t matter to me if it’s supposed to be good or not; I’m willing to give it a shot.  Sometimes expectations are high.  And sometimes not.  Sometimes it pays off.  And sometimes not.  But one never really knows without seeing it.  Back in 2014, I expected virtually nothing from a little film called Unfriended and it ended up being a sharp, original, clever, effective, memorable, and surprisingly poignant little thriller.  The title of this particular film, Friend Request, is certainly evocative of that 2014 gem, which gave me high hopes, though perhaps illogically so.  Also in its favor is that it stars Alycia Debnam-Carey, who has been a standout on AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead.  She’s becoming a modern scream queen, starring in a handful of low-budget horror-thrillers, though this is probably the highest-profile of the bunch, so far.  She has a lot of potential, so I looked forward to seeing her in the film.

Despite the apparent similarities between this film and Unfriended, I really didn’t have a sense for what Friend Request was actually about.  I feel like saying virtually anything regarding the plot is a spoiler, so I’ll refrain as much as possible on behalf of those who wish to go in as squeaky clean as I did.  In an effort to say at least something, however, I’ll peg the narrative as largely a hybrid of Unfriended and The Ring.


I suppose The Ring was more of an influence on the scares and Unfriended on the story, though both films can be felt throughout the duration of the movie.  Still, the influence of The Ring is mostly superficial.  The structure and execution of the film is much closer to Unfriended, but that doesn’t mean the two films are identical.  Yes, they both obviously deal with . . . cyberhauntings?  Is that a word?  Can I coin that, right here, right now?  Cyberhauntings.  You heard it here, first.

But, despite being haunted through Facebook-but-not-called-Facebook (with some similar scares) the themes of the two films aren’t exactly the same.  Unfriended (rather brilliantly) dealt with cyberbullying and the harmful consequences.  It also had a fresh and inventive presentation.  Friend Request takes a traditional filmmaking approach and features themes surrounding social outcasts and modern society’s propensity for defining their worth entirely by their social media popularity and presence.  The two themes are tangential, but not synonymous.


In Unfriended, the supernatural force was unquestionably the victim of her targets, as she enacted revenge on people who had callously used and embarrassed her in order to boost their own social status, eventually leading to her death.  With Friend Request, the deadly entity begins as a somewhat sympathetic figure, but quickly reveals their own inability to co-exist with and relate to others in a nonthreatening fashion.  This is the type of person one might expect to become an active shooter on a college campus, somewhere.  There is no question that they are not the protagonist.  There are no shades of gray.  And this character essentially goes that maniacal route, but in an exaggerated and ghostly way, rather than a real-world way that simply wouldn’t be any fun to watch.

Still, despite those differences, throughout most of the film I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching that amalgamation of The Ring and Unfriended that I was describing, earlier.  And I hate to constantly describe a movie by comparing it to another movie, but that’s what I was noticing, for the most part.  Although it was a fun amalgamation, I wasn’t seeing much of anything new that helped me to understand why the movie had been produced.  And then . . . there was a pleasant surprise.


Eventually, the events in the film take . . . I’ll say . . . an unexpected turn.  Describing it as a twist wouldn’t truly be accurate.  It’s not really a “twist”.  But it’s a surprising and sensible payoff to a seemingly-minor subplot that I honestly didn’t believe would get any sort of satisfying resolution.  I was wrong.  I didn’t see it coming, but the hints were there, all along.  I tip my hat to director/co-writer Simon Verhoeven and his other co-writers Matthew Ballen and Philip Koch for that one.  I honestly think this plot point was what got the movie made.  And I don’t want to build it up too much to the point where anyone watches it and thinks, “That’s it?!”  Don’t let me do that.  All I’m saying is that it surprised me even though it happened organically and it set the film apart from the others to which I had been comparing it, up to that point.

On one final note, Debnam-Carey doesn’t get much to do on paper, but she makes the most of what she does have, adding a tenderness to the role in a film that otherwise lacks subtlety.  I feel like I’ve said it a million times, but any professional actor can handle the big, dramatic moments with relative ease.  True talent is in the smaller moments and making those feel genuine.  She does that with regularity and – though no one in the film is in any way bad – it sets her head-and-shoulders above her fellow castmates.  I hope she gets bigger and more varied roles in the future because I think she’s capable of great things.


All in all, Friend Request isn’t the most original film anyone will see, this year, but it’s never boring, always entertaining, provides plenty of effective visuals and jump scares, and puts the talented Alycia Debnam-Carey front and center, where she belongs.  And then, at the end, it surprises.  Anyone with the ability to perceive the subtleties that do ultimately set this film apart from others in its field should have a good enough time.  It’s still going to get swallowed up by It, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a worthy destination for fans of the genre.

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Review – Friend Request

#ThrowbackThursday – The Cider House Rules


Original US release date: December 10, 1999
Production budget: $24,000,000
Worldwide gross: $88,545,092

So here’s another #ThrowbackThursday film that’s a first-time watch for me.  All I really remembered about The Cider House Rules (besides its distinctive title) was that it starred Charlize Theron.  Upon my rediscovery of the film, however (or my first full discovery, as the case may be), I found that the film has much more to offer than the excellent Theron.  Sharing the screen with her are Tobey Maguire, Paul Rudd, Michael Caine, and Erykah Badu in her first major film role.  Michael Caine won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the film in one of the many award nominations it received (including a 2000 Oscar nomination for Best Picture, where it lost out to American Beauty).

I wouldn’t say that The Cider House Rules has been entirely lost or forgotten over time, but it hasn’t exactly remained at the forefront of the public’s memory, either.  It stuck with me to some degree, however – despite the fact that I never saw it – perhaps because it was the only Best Picture nominee from 2000’s Academy Awards ceremony that I had never taken the time to watch.  Well, no more, my friends.


Based on John Irving’s novel (Irving also wrote the screenplay for the film), The Cider House Rules tells the story of Homer Wells (Maguire), an orphan who never receives the gift of adoption.  Growing up in a Maine orphanage and being raised by orphanage director Wilbur Larch (Caine), Homer is trained in the skills of a doctor, though he never receives a formal education.  Growing weary of the emotional toll of living a sheltered life in an orphanage, as well as the stress of performing difficult doctoral duties, including abortions, Homer decides to leave, see the world, and pursue a simpler life, elsewhere.  When a soldier and his pregnant girlfriend (Rudd and Theron) arrive at the orphanage in need of an abortion, Homer hitches a ride as they leave, with hopes for a more fulfilling future in his heart.

As evidenced by the names mentioned above, the cast more than delivers.  Tobey Maguire, still two years away from exploding in popularity following the release of Spider-Man, is the unquestionable lead, with the entire narrative being presented from Homer’s perspective.  Homer has never truly felt loved, despite being thoroughly cared for by Larch.  His sheltered existence has kept him from both the best and much of the worst that life has to offer.  His resulting thirst for discovery and life experience leads to quite a journey and is quenched in some rather unexpected ways.  Maguire does a fine job in projecting complex emotions and conveying Homer’s deep internal emotional growth to the audience.


Michael Caine is excellent as always, winning an Oscar, as I mentioned before.  Charlize Theron’s star was still rising in 1999.  And though she’s now positioned herself as a tough-as-nails, A-list action star (why haven’t you seen Atomic Blonde?!), she has spent her career taking a variety of challenging roles, and her performance here as Candy Kendall was the first that really allowed her to show that she has the talent to back up her presence and charisma.  Paul Rudd is best known for his comedic abilities, but he does a fine enough job as Candy’s boyfriend Wally Worthington, even if there’s not much required of him.  Delroy Lindo (Malcolm X) is also very powerful as migrant worker Arthur Rose, father of Badu’s Rose Rose (that’s not a typo).

Irving’s story is a good one, and a poignant one, although it’s also fairly simple.  That’s not a slight, but I did feel that there wasn’t quite enough story for the running time.  And at 126 minutes (including credits), the film isn’t all that long.  Perhaps had the film been a more brisk 105 minutes, it wouldn’t have felt quite so prolonged.  Only three of the characters have meaningful arcs and while that should be enough to fill a couple of hours with compelling story beats and dialogue, the film sometimes creeps along from one story point to the next, while at other times delivering truly engrossing and riveting character moments and revelations.  All in all, it’s time well spent, but a little bit of tightening couldn’t have hurt, in my opinion.


Aside from those points, The Cider House Rules is a beautiful film that addresses the complexities of life and our resistance to seeing the duality of many hot-button issues when presented with something that challenges our own long-held, personal perspectives.  Homer learns that there’s so much more to the world than what we each encounter on a daily basis and it takes opening our minds and mixing up our routines – if only just on occasion – in order to sincerely grasp and hopefully understand the difficulties that people outside of our own personal circles often face.  A more energetic presentation could have benefited the film and maybe even helped it to reach a wider audience, but an exceptional cast and a poignant message make it a worthy journey.  That’s exactly what Homer was looking for.  He found it, and you can find it, too, in The Cider House Rules.

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#ThrowbackThursday – The Cider House Rules

Why Event Films are as Relevant as Current Events

Event Films

With Stephen King and Andy Muschietti’s It continuing to break records on a near-daily basis, I thought it was the perfect time to dive into a column that’s been kicking around in my head for a while, now.  As millions of people continue to flock to theaters to catch the new horror remake/instant classic, there – as always – remains a sector of others who stand on the sidelines and refuse to participate.  They have their reasons.  And they aren’t necessarily bad ones, certainly not from their own personal perspectives.  Maybe they don’t like to go to the movies (for some crazy reason that will never make sense to me).  Maybe they don’t like horror movies, in particular, or are scared of clowns.

But, as with every event film that comes down the line, by giving in to those excuses, those people are missing out on much more than “just a movie”.  They’re missing out on more than special effects or music or performances or elaborate sets and costumes or memorable characters.  By opting out of these films, one is making the active choice to lose touch with where we are as a global society and culture.


Most people would probably agree that, in order to be fully informed on the current cultural climate, whether it be local, regional, national, or worldwide, all one must do is stay up to date on the news.  Whether they’re watching the evening news, reading social media posts from news outlets, devouring the newspaper (or some equivalent), or anything of the sort, then they are fully informed and understand where we are as a collective unit.  Why would anyone even challenge that notion, right?  Well, I question it.  And I do so because it’s a logical fallacy.

Let me very clear about the fact that I wholeheartedly agree that keeping up with the news is immensely important.  People should do at least some of those activities that I mentioned above.  Having knowledge about the events that are occurring around the world on a daily basis is absolutely necessary for being able to contribute and participate as a responsible member of your society and your community.  This column is NOT “Watch Movies Instead of the News”.  Rather, this is a version of “Watch Movies and the News”.  Because, as important as getting the information provided by the media is, it’s only one piece of the puzzle.


When one hears a story that’s being reported on a large scale, who are those stories about?  With the exception of the human interest stories that are often tacked on at the end of a broadcast or tucked away towards the back of the paper, the stories that are widely reported upon regard the exceptional among us.  Said stories concern our elected leaders.  They concern the unstable tyrants who threaten the safety of any who refuse to bend the knee.  They concern the maniacal mass-murderer.  They concern the athlete with the multi-million-dollar contract or the movie star with the mansion in Beverly Hills.  These stories don’t concern the laypeople.  These stories don’t concern the common person.  These stories are the cause.  They are not the effect.

Plenty of movies come along that are expected to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars.  Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.  But then there are the occasional films that aren’t expected to do as well as they do.  These films – the overperformers – are the true “event” films.  These films are often expected to do little-to-nothing or perhaps perform moderately well based on the statistics of similar films that have preceded them.  But then something happens.  Something unexpected.  Something special.  And people are shocked.  People are bewildered.  Well . . . most people.  Because there are also those who have been listening.  There are those who pay attention to people around them.  And those people are quietly saying, “I saw this coming.”


They are the people who feel an unusual groundswell leading up to a given film’s release.  They are the people who understand that many factors contribute to a film’s success – including demand, nostalgia, and the established fanbase if the film is based on a licensed property – but those things can only take a film so far.   They are the people to whom it becomes apparent that something else is making its presence known.  It’s more than a film being “good”.  Wind River is probably, objectively speaking, the best film in theaters, right now.  And it’s doing solid business expected of a film of its type.  Event films have something extra.

I personally suspected It was going to surpass projected numbers because I had picked up on a couple tidbits of information.  Firstly, when the trailer was released online, it broke the record for single-day views, a record that 2017’s Beauty and the Beast – another huge event film that exceeded all box office expectations – had set only months before.  But, then, something else caught my attention, just days before It hit theaters.


Fandango released their statistics regarding presales for It.  The report mentioned that the film was already breaking records, but that actually happens fairly often with online sales, so it didn’t raise any flags for me.  Something else did, however.  Included in their report was an interesting note that only fifty-seven percent of their sample of consumers who pre-purchased tickets to the film described themselves as horror movie fans.  That’s just a handful over half.  It has been marketed as the horror movie to end all horror movies.  So why are so many people who aren’t horror movie buffs going to see this film?

That’s the common thread that all of these event movies share.  They are four-quadrant entertainment spectacles that bring in paying customers who sit well outside of their target demographics.  Much of the time, they tend to be comic book superhero films.  But not every comic book superhero film blows the box office away.  Yet, when the character and/or narrative presented are in sync with the current sociological climate, magic happens, regardless of the inspirational source of the content.


We just passed the seventeenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.  Back at the end of 2001, the world was on edge and the United States, in particular, was downtrodden, depressed, and terrified.  The regular people of the world needed something to believe in.  They needed a symbol of hope and optimism.  They needed a reminder that good was still out there.  And on May 3 of the following year, they got it.  They got Spider-Man.  Blowing away all expectations, the film was the first to ever gross over $100 million in its domestic opening weekend, eventually going on to gross over $820 million, worldwide.

People also worried for their children and their children’s future during that tumultuous time.  They desired to feel that their children could remain uncorrupted and strong in the face of overwhelming and omnipresent evil.  Less than two months following the same attacks that preceded Spider-Man came Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone.  Naturally, the fans of the book series flocked to the film, but so did many, many others.  I know because I was one of them.  Harry Potter was thrust upon mainstream audiences just when he was needed.  And as a result, the film grossed almost $975 million worldwide.


In late-2015 to early-2016, the American political landscape was volatile, to put it mildly.  The country had been deeply divided by controversial and provocative candidates gearing up for the impending presidential election.  Split down the middle, virtually every citizen in the country felt as if their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs were being encroached upon by the opposing side and that if there was no conformity, then they, themselves, were un-American.  And the potential aftershocks of the eventual outcome would hold repercussions for the entire world.

Then, in February of 2016 . . . along . . . came . . . Deadpool.  While the film was much in-demand and wildly entertaining, Deadpool himself also represented the ultimate in anti-authority figures.  His message was clear: screw convention; I’m going to be, do, and say what I want and that makes me awesome.  Deadpool held no apparent political views.  He didn’t pick a side.  Yet, he resonated with everyone who felt frustrated by the others around them.  He was his own side.  He was a metaphorical island.  Original domestic opening weekend predictions had the film pegged at approximately $65 million.  The final opening weekend tally for North America came in at $152 million leading to a final worldwide cume of just over $783 million, making it the highest-grossing R-rated film in history.


I could go on.  There have been so many more, spread throughout all of film history.  This year alone, in addition to It ($371 million worldwide and counting on a $35 million budget), both Beauty and the Beast ($1.26 billion worldwide) and Wonder Woman (approximately $818 million worldwide) defied all conventional logic and massively overperformed.  Beauty and the Beast was unquestionably launched by nostalgia but the fact that it’s a story about looking underneath the surface to find someone worthy of love that was released just months after the conclusion of the most hateful election in American history can’t be casually ignored.  And I, myself, got swept up in the significance of Wonder Woman and laid out all of the reasons for its cultural relevance and resonance in a very personal column, this summer (which can be found here).

My point should be clear.  As I alluded to, earlier, the news itself is the cause.  These event films are the effect.  If one wants to know why people are feeling what they’re feeling, watch the news.  If one wants to understand what they’re feeling and how to reach them, then they need to experience these films because they are the best gauge for where we are emotionally and mentally as a culture.  The films are perceived escapes that are in reality appealing to our deepest needs, desires, and fears while also putting them on display for anyone who’s listening.  And if you’re skipping these films, for any reason, then you aren’t listening and aren’t nearly as in the loop as you may believe.


You’ve undoubtedly noticed that I haven’t dissected the reasons for the way that It has penetrated the public zeitgeist.  Well, I’m not going to.  Come on, folks; I’m a teacher in my day job.  Do you really think I’m going to do all of your work for you?  Here’s your assignment: if you haven’t seen the film, get over your hang-ups and go.  It’s fiction.  Pennywise isn’t really coming to kill you.  The violence isn’t real.  And you can hear naughty words and be fine.  If your kids can get through a day at middle school, you can survive a movie for two hours.  The film isn’t really about Pennywise, anyway.  It’s about the kids and the adults around them.  (That’s my hint.)  Once you’ve seen the film (and for those of you who already have, you may move to the head of the class), put your thinking caps on, ask yourself why it’s truly resonating, and then also ask yourself why it matters.  Because it does.  The films matter because they represent the people.  And the cost of being better informed about the people is a mere nine American dollars (on average) plus a little analysis and reflection.  Try it.  You just might learn something about yourself along the way.

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Why Event Films are as Relevant as Current Events

#ThrowbackThursday – The Simpsons Movie


Original US release date: July 27, 2007
Production budget: $75,000,000
Worldwide gross: $527,071,022

The Simpsons is my favorite television comedy of all-time (and my second-favorite television show, altogether, after Lost).  From day one, it’s been a sharp-tongued, envelope-pushing, quick-witted cornucopia of one-liners, sight-gags, satire, and the most memorable characters ever created and designed for in-home entertainment.  Matt Groening’s legendary creation paved the way for virtually every comedy we have on television (in all of its varied forms) today.  The Simpsons and their vast supporting cast are to modern television what Elvis Presley was to music.  So, it was inevitable that they would eventually make their way to the big screen.  And in 2007, twenty years after their debut as a short on The Tracy Ullman Show, they did just that.

Anytime a television show makes the jump to movie theaters, it has to be creatively justified.  It needs to simultaneously feel like the show that audiences have grown to love but also feel grander and worth the trip to the theater and the money that exposure to the product wouldn’t normally require.  It can be a tricky proposition.  The Simpsons Movie accomplishes this on every desired level, both aesthetically and creatively.


While there’s an obvious upgrade in the quality of art and animation, thanks to a higher, film-caliber budget, the video and audio upgrades don’t stop there.  The widescreen aspect ratio adds an extra level of panache and sense of importance.  Less obviously, the omnipresent score in the background contributes a subtle sense of scale and majesty, elevating the production far above its traditional television comedy origins.  Before the narrative even begins to unfold, this feels like the high-quality production that it is.

Yet, it’s still undeniably the Simpsons, with the classic 2D animation and character designs.  Fox and everyone working on the film justifiably felt confident in the property and didn’t make the mistake of using 3D CGI in an attempt to artificially inflate the perceived production values while abandoning the visual core and history of the show.  Other studios would have been tempted because, even in 2007, traditional, hand-drawn, 2D animation was on its way out and struggling at the box office.  It was the right – and only – choice for this film, however, so kudos to all involved in the production.


But what about the story?  Is this movie something that couldn’t be done on television?  Well, “couldn’t” is a strong word, but it would definitely be a tough task.  In the film, Homer inadvertently pollutes Springfield’s water supply.  In response, the (fictional) head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Russ Cargill (voiced by Albert “A.” Brooks) places an impenetrable dome around the town.  Thanks to Maggie, the Simpson family manages to escape the dome and, along with it, Homer’s role in the ordeal.  But that doesn’t stop Cargill from pursuing the Simpsons and developing some nefarious plans to deal with Springfield’s pollution issue.

On television (as established by South Park), The Simpsons has practically done it all.  Coming up with something new, fresh, and high-concept for the film, while not straying from the foundations that had been established in the twenty years prior, could not have been easy.  But this story takes the family and its supporting cast to new locations, puts them in unique situations, and – in true Simpsons form – plays with political and societal constructs through the use of cutting satire.  The film pokes fun at everything and everyone they can manage – including the audience, which hardcore fans are used to and also appreciative of.  If you aren’t in on the joke, then The Simpsons will go over your head.


Speaking of poking fun, the film is exceedingly funny and witty.  I regularly say that mileage varies when it comes to comedies, but, as always, The Simpsons provides intelligent, multilayered humor for informed, well-rounded, sophisticated adults.  There are definitely sight gags, but even the majority of those play out in an unpredictable manner that will tickle the funny bone of even the most stubborn critics of slapstick.  There are clever one-liners coming at a rapid-fire pace (the best line goes to Ralph Wiggum, with Ned Flanders not far behind) and the laughs never truly stop.  Everything lands to varying degrees and the script is an absolute goldmine of comedy that covers every different style for every unique audience member.

I have nothing bad at all to say about The Simpsons Movie.  It was a rare movie that was marketed as a comedy and fully delivered on its promise.  Two decades in the making, audiences turned out in masses, rewarding the film with over half-a-billion dollars in box office returns.  To further demonstrate the love and respect that the producers of the show and movie have for the property, there has been no sequel.  They have been quoted as saying that they don’t want to do one just for the sake of making money.  They want any hypothetical theatrical follow-up to deserve the screens that it will take up and be something worthy of the fans’ time and money.  If and when they feel inspired by an idea, we’ll get another movie.  It’s been ten years since this one arrived and reaffirmed the Simpsons as America’s family and one of the greatest institutions in pop culture history.  Sit back, enjoy Spider-Pig, and celebrate the tenth anniversary of this film along with me.  And just be thankful for the Simpsons and everything that they inspired in the decades since.

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#ThrowbackThursday – The Simpsons Movie