Movie Review

Connery vs Craig, the Finale

I thought about naming this post “A Good Time to Die” or some other play on the recent Bond title, but didn’t want to freak anybody out. Or, worse, make you think this was a review of the late-1980s thriller Flatliners. Nice and timely.

A few years ago, I ranked the best James Bond actors. At the time, I ranked Daniel Craig two, or more precisely 1a. The jury was still out on whether he could eclipse a certain Scottish knight. Well, now that Mr. Craig has finished, it’s time to reassess my rankings.

So, you know, spoilers and whatnot ahead. The movie’s been out for a month, so if you wanted to see it, I assume you have.

But, you know, while I’m letting you think about if you want to hit the back button in lieu of forging on. Assuming you’re one who wants to wait six months to see a movie but also avoids spoilers. But, like me, you also want general reviews, so you click on the tantalizing links promising you some, but not too much, of a preview. Give yourself a few paragraphs. Above the fold, as we used to call it. I guess it’s above the scroll now. So I’m giving you a few more paragraphs before I get into James Bond’s gender selection party where he and Blofeld have a glorious three-way with Desmond Llewellyn’s reanimated corpse. Bond will come again.

Even before this film, Daniel Craig had two of the four best movies. Note, I didn’t say “my favorite,” but “best.” I’ll broker no debate nor discussion here. The four best Bond movies, in no particular order, are Goldfinger, Goldeneye, Casino Royale, and Skyfall. Okay, that was in a particular order, but it was chronological. But it should not be construed to imagine Goldfinger is better than Skyfall. 

And really, Goldfinger only holds its spot on this list if you skip the rape scene. The wrestling in the hay is fine, but then hit “forward fifteen seconds” twice and assume it was consensual. 

The fifth best movie is a tie that stretches on for decades. I could make a reasonable argument for From Russia With Love, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, or The Living Daylights. If I wanted to be magnanimous and throw a top-ten bone to Roger Moore, it won’t pain me too much to say The Spy Who Loved Me is tolerable. (And I also secretly like For Your Eyes Only, but that admission causes physical discomfort).

No Time to Die doesn’t belong in the upper echelons, but it fits with that other group. Certainly the first one to avoid the “last movie curse” that afflicted every other Bond actor with more than one title to his name. If I were to compare it to any specific movie, it would be On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which they even acknowledge in the movie itself with the “We Have All the Time in the World” homage. More on this later when I can be sure those spoiler-free people aren’t snooping around. 

The other two Craig movies weren’t enough to supersede Sir Sean. Quantum of Solace, everyone can agree, was terrible. Blame it on a writer’s strike if you must, but it belongs squarely at the bottom of the heap with the likes of Octopussy, Moonraker, and Diamonds are Forever. Spectre was mediocre. Indistinguishable and forgettable, especially for a movie that’s supposed to reintroduce the franchise’s biggest baddie. In fact, I spent a good portion of No Time to Die wracking my brain to remember what the hell happened in Spectre, because the previous movie plays into the current movie. In fact, it’s the same Bond girl. I feel like that’s a first.

Speaking of Bond girls, Ana de Armas was phenomenal. And underused. Stop the search for the new Bond right away and just give Poloma an entire franchise. 

Under normal circumstances, ie for the first twenty-ish films in the franchise, not remembering the contents of the last movie made little difference. I’m pretty sure every Pierce Brosnan movie after Goldeneye was the exact same movie, loosely named The World Dies Tomorrow Not Enough. But Pierce Brosnan’s Bond never (are we alone now? SPOILER!) had a child with the Bond girl from the last movie. Even Denise Richards’ dingbat of a “physicist” was smart enough to be on birth control.

And okay, now that we’re into spoiler territory, let’s delve into the biggest spoiler that wasn’t even really a spoiler if you’ve been paying attention to the five-film Daniel Craig arc. Right around the time the first trailer came out, which was back in 2019 because the movie was supposed to come out in May, 2020, I made the bold prediction. If, for the first time, they were treating an actor’s movies as sequels instead of stand-alones, and if they started the run with Bond’s first mission, then it stood to reason that they’d end with his last mission. And there’s only one way you stop a guy like that from coming out of retirement. 

I mean Craig, not Bond.

Can’t wait to see how they pull the Daniel Craig version of Never Say Never Again. But I have the feeling that, whoever becomes Bond next, they’ll pale in comparison and we’ll be clamoring for just one more go. Maybe make him a zombie Bond? Or how about a clone? Blofeld held onto his DNA and….

Oh right, they killed off Blofeld, too. Then how about his good friend Felix…

Wow, they went all scorched earth on this bad boy, didn’t they. No time to die, unless you’re any Bond character outside the office with the padded door. Then you’ve got all the time in the world.

I’ve got minor squibbles with No Time to Die. Safin was utterly pointless, a throwback to the boring Pierce Brosnan bad guys. I think at least one of those guys had a messed up face, too. Not sure what the disfigurement added to the plot. The fact that he was the only survivor when the rest of his family was murdered might give him plenty of vengeance points without fucking up his face. I heard England was contemplating a law that disfigured people couldn’t be shown as evil in movies anymore. Not sure it needs to go that far, but fucking up their looks for no reason seems pointless. Unless you’re hoping for a makeup Oscar.

At least Safin’s plan to destroy the world was great. No, not great. What’s the word I’m looking for? Oh, right: Horrifying. Don’t go checking my Google history or anything. 

But seriously, poison tied to your DNA, so it can be released into a population but only kill certain people? That might be one of the most Bondian villain plots of all time. Way more intriguing than media moguls with stolen nuclear bombs. Or space lasers. 

So again, why did his face need to be all pock-marked? While we’re at it, why have Safin anyway? You’ve got the definitive Bond villain of all time in the movie already, just to kill him off? Have Blofeld break out of prison and put the plan in motion. Then the final confrontation in the pool would bring a stronger catharsis. Given their history, Blofeld seems like the one who would, upon realizing he wasn’t going to survive, would release Madeine’s DNA, thus bringing Bond down with him. Nothing about Safin’s story made me believe he’d pull the “Well, if I can’t win…” move.

The American who kills Felix also seemed bland. He’s a badass mastermind in Cuba, then only shows up one more time when he drives into a totally obvious trap. What’s the point? Combine Safin and Ash, give the denouement to Blofeld, and maybe you could’ve had a run-time less than the average bladder size.

So some good and some bad, but overall, No Time to Die hits its mark, breaeking the curse of final Bond movies (Diamonds are Forever, A View to a Kill, License to Kill, and Die Another Day are usually listed among each actor’s worst films). It works primarily because it was approached as a final Bond movie. I hope this doesn’t become a trend. Please, please, please don’t turn this into every new actor getting a four-movie arc to show his first and last missions as Bond.

In fact, maybe we could use a cleanser before we get another long-term Bond. Maybe it’s time for another George Lazenby. I’ve heard Idris Elba was in the running but he’s too old. Nonsense. Have him be Bond, but only for one movie. Then give one to Tom Hiddleston. By then, maybe I’ll be ready to invest in another long-term Bond.

So yeah, I guess you can figure out where I come down on the whole Daniel Craig vs. Sean Connery debate. It’s not entirely Sir Sean’s fault. We can do more with movies these days. Moviegoers can be expected to follow from one movie to the next. We waited thirty years for a sequel to Star Wars and were still able to pick it right up, debates over midichlorians and all.

In the 1960s, you couldn’t pull Goldfinger up on demand for a rewatch before seeing Thunderball. It’s hard to believe, but even TV shows had to be episodic, not serialized. You couldn’t expect your viewers to stay home at the same time every week and there was no way to catch up on missed episodes. 

Plus, you know, consensual sex is wonderful.

What Craig does get credit for, however, is playing the character as he should be played. No, I’m not talking about true to the Ian Fleming character (although he probably is), I mean truer to life, truer to reality. James Bond would be one fucked up individual in real life. Vulnerable and raw. The cool, quippy murderer who never thinks twice always rang hollow. Sure, that’s what was so great about him. But in the long run, Die Hard lives on longer than Commando because of how raw, how prone to mistakes, John McClain was in that first movie. All his choices had consequences. By Die Harder, he’s turned into Rambo.

Rambo, who started out as a visceral, psychological thriller about PTSD and the systemic failures for our Vietnam veterans. 

Bond pretended to go this route before. Good old George Lazenby showed a more human, more humane Bond. Complete with his new bride dying at the end, with the final line of, “We have all the time in the world.” It’s almost like they could’ve had a grittier Bond fifty years ago, but opted to go full schmaltz, first by ruining Connery’s legacy then prat-falling into the lap of Mr. Moore.

In the end, I don’t know if Daniel Craig is the “Best” Bond. Lazenby is still the only one who never had a bad movie. Think about that before you poo-poo my idea of having a few one-offs before giving the keys to the franchise to another relative unknown.

What Daniel Craig represents now, though, is the definitive Bond. He’s played Bond’s entire career, he’s shown us beginning and end. He lost a lover, he lost an M and ushered in a new (acknowledged) one for the first time in the franchise. And in the end, he sacrificed himself for the world, as we knew he would. Just didn’t expect it to happen with his daughter’s stuffed animal on hand.

Prior to last weekend, when I closed my eyes and imagined a generic Bond, when I read something from Ian Fleming or John Gardner or whoever the hell is writing them these days, he was still a lanky brunette with a comically long gun barrel, speaking with a Scottish brogue. Now he’s a gritty blond with piercing blue eyes.

But seriously, regarding Flatliners. Kiefer Sutherland in a trench coat? Really?

Wherin I Explain Why “The Last Jedi” Kicked Ass

Okay, y’all are really starting to piss me off.

Not you, of course. I’m sure my readers, reader, potential reader is awesome with the correct opinions.

I’m talking to all the rest of you. You idiots that didn’t like The Last Jedi.

Seriously, I had just finished writing a wonderful polemic about my childhood friend, Rian Johnson, and his most recent film, which happened to also be one of the best Star Wars movies of all time. While writing it, I was unaware of a burgeoning counterpoint. Evidently, some people were deluded into thinking it did not deserve the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of all Time) designation.

I heard some initial rumblings over opening weekend. The Rotten Tomatoes fan score was middling around in the low-fifties, but it seemed a lot of those reviews had come in before the movie actually opened, and there were rumors of bots intentionally messing around with the score. Certainly, I knew, when real people took to their respective social media outlets, they’d all love it.

But as first the weekend, and then the following week, went on, there seemed to be a very distinctive backlash against The Last Jedi. The actual size of the backlash might be hard to discern. Two weeks in, I still believe it is a very vocal minority that is being given extra media attention based on how outlandish their cockamamie ideas are.

Recently, one of the yelly-yelly shows on ESPN wondered why people are still paying attention to the Balls, the basketball family whose middle kid dropped out of UCLA because they couldn’t single-handedly break him out of a Chinese prison. I remember thinking, “Who, other than ESPN, is paying attention to the Balls? If you don’t think people should be talking about the Balls, maybe stop leading with them every day.”

But considering the conversation amongst the Baby Boomers at my Christmas dinner table, I guess people are still talking about the Balls. And the Star Wars naysayers have also persisted. So now it’s up to me to defend a movie, and by extension a director, that shouldn’t need defending

The first set of people who seem upset with the movie are the political extremists. The right are pissed that Rose is Asian. The left is angry that Rose isn’t Asian enough. The right hates that General Hux is white. The left is pissed that Poe Dameron is white. The right isn’t sure if they like Kylo Ren as a bad guy, because he’s white but he kind of looks Jewish. If he’s Jewish, they’re okay with him being a bad guy, although they’re not too sure they like it when the maybe-Jew kills the Hitler-ish guy. That’s not how the Alt-Right believes Hitler/Jew stories are supposed to unfold. The left is upset that there are no LGBTQ characters. Holdo is, but it didn’t come up in the movie. Because it would’ve been so much more appropriate for her to grab Billie Lourd’s ass in the midst of the evacuation. Right in front of her dying mother, no less!

And don’t get me started on the force-sensitive little boy at the end. Both sides are whining, “Why did the slave have to be a white male?”

The fact that critics loved the movie pretty much sealed the ire of both sides, as well. Anyone who puts ideology ahead of facts hate the so-called experts who tell them things like the South lost the Civil War or that they should vaccinate their kids.

To both sides, I have a simple enough explanation: go fuck yourselves.

No seriously. Both of you have successfully ruined politics, humor, discourse, general civility, and pretty much everything else in our country. You just couldn’t leave Star Wars alone, could you? And be honest, you didn’t enter the movie with an open mind, did you? You went in looking for things that didn’t fit with your political alignment and proceeded to focus entirely on that. Were you aware that there was a movie with dialogue and a plot going on around all of those casting choices? Probably not.

Here’s something to assuage both sides. Alt-right: It was a long, long time ago, so it’s about as conservative as you can get. Socialists:  no planets were destroyed by human action this time.

Now go back into your corners of watching only war movies or Oscar-worthy dramas. And when you’re there, don’t forget to go fuck yourselves.

The other group that dislikes this movie did not approach it with an open mind, either. They are the people who have spent the last two years trolling around on slashfilm and other internet sites espousing their theories about the two great mysteries brought up during The Force Awakens, namely the backgrounds of Rey and Snoke. And if darthmaul-69-420 has based his entire online presence on Snoke being the love child of Palpatine and Yoda, and if he has Jar Jar as Rey’s parents in the office pool, he’s not going to be happy when neither answer is correct.

It’s an odd world we live in. People hate when questions are raised and they hate when those questions are answered. There were all sorts of petitions and calls to boycott The Walking Dead after they ended Season 6 with Negan killing an unknown character. HOW DARE YOU, they screamed, USE A COMMON STORYTELLING DEVICE? Would those people have been happier if the season ended with Abraham lying dead on the ground? Then the people who thought it would be Glenn would’ve been pissed, until Glenn was actually killed, and they would’ve been pissed again. The Walking Dead has been hemorrhaging viewers ever since that fateful decision to add some suspense to their story.

Westworld might have found the sweet spot, but that was helped by the fact that it was a little slow to catch on. It took a few episodes before people realized they were playing with timelines and putting clues and red herrings everywhere. By the time people started going back to re-watch the first few episodes for “clues” (aka the orgy scene), there were only a few episodes left and we had been promised it would be wrapped up by the end of the season. I’ll be curious to see how many people will be pissed off during the second season if it follows a similar pattern. Ten weeks might be a little long of a wait for the big payoff in this watch-an-entire-season-in-an-afternoon world we live in.

If Dallas aired today, “Who Shot JR?” would need to be solved the following week. Hell, if comment threads existed when Empire Strikes Back came out, the Rotten Tomatoes score would be filled with all sorts of “How can we even know if Darth Vader is telling the truth? How dare they bring that up if they’re not going to resolve it?”

Speaking of Empire, you are all aware that The Last Jedi is the second movie of the trilogy, right? Remember all of those questions and mysteries and mythologies of the first Star Wars trilogy? They didn’t really show up until the second movie, and then were resolved pretty early in the third movie. The first movie was a straight-forward, standalone fairy tale. If these people got their wish and Episode VIII started with a flashback of Snoke and Rey in a baby manger together, how satisfying would the next five hours of movie (counting Episode IX) be?

So the question of Rey’s parents was either going to be held over until Episode IX or it was going to be answered the way it was. And it’s very fitting. Anybody can be the hero, you don’t have to come from wonderful Skywalker sperm. Let’s not forget that in the original Star Wars (I know I’m supposed to call it A New Hope, but that was never really a thing until the prequels came out), Luke Skywalker was a nobody. And for ninety percent of Empire Strikes Back, too. Anakin started out that way, too, even if we already knew what he would become.

Speaking of Luke, that’s the other thing people are pissed about. They were hoping that Rey would show up, he’d say “Gosh, even though I have the Force, I had no clue my nephew is a bad guy or that the galaxy is in tatters. I had just retired here for shits and giggles. I guess I’ll come back, no questions asked.” Somehow that would have been more in line with his character?

Or maybe they just wanted Luke to sink an X-Wing into a swamp and mock Rey for not being able to raise it.

There had to be a pretty major reason he had exiled himself. To be true to the hero y’all seem to think he is, the best reason to exile himself would be if he felt he was bad for the galaxy.

Some people are pissed that the Extended Universe was retconned out of existence when Disney bought the rights. Those same people are now pissed that some of the things from that Extended Universe are being brought back into canon. In the Extended Universe, Luke briefly succumbed to the dark side, and he tried and failed to train Han and Leia’s son.

And if you think Luke should’ve been much more perceptive about Kylo Ren’s power or corruption, don’t forget he made a whole bunch of horrible judgments in the first trilogy. “I’m looking for a great warrior,” he said when he first met Yoda.

But whatever. “Not my Luke Skywalker.” Yeah, no shit. Your Luke Skywalker is now 65 years old. He’s Obi-Wan. He’s Yoda. He’s supposed to be a hermit that is not quite sure if the galaxy is ready for thenext generation of Jedis.

Back to Rey, have the people that are so pissed off really thought their theories trough? The two most prominent ones were that she was Luke’s daughter or Obi Wan’s granddaughter (which she may still be). How heroic does that make those deadbeat dads? Conflicted Luke is a bad thing, but Maury Skywalker would be great?

Sure, Anakin abandoned his pregnant wife, but a) Episode III retconned it so he didn’t even know he had done that, and b) he’s Darth fucking Vader.

Do we really want a movie where heroes with subtle mind-control powers are impregnating women and then skipping town? How awesome would that be on the heels of all of the sexual harassment and assault cases coming out of Hollywood and Washington this year? Not your Luke Skywalker? Of course not. He’s Harvey Weinstein’s Luke Skywalker.

I suppose in Obi-Wan’s case, there was the whole “hiding from Darth Vader” thing, but what excuse would Luke have? That he isolated himself on Ahch-To to avoid child support?

Again, I don’t know if the backlash is real. I hope it’s not. Everyone I’ve spoken to loved it. But everyone I’ve spoken to has an IQ and an ability to understand nuance.

A number of theaters have had to post a warning that the ten seconds of silence is intentional. People were complaining that the sound cut out, then cut back in. Really? Because in the theater I saw it in, there were a few gasps, followed by an awe-inspiring, simultaneous holding of two hundred breaths. It was probably the most collectively powerful scene I’ve ever seen in a theater of complete strangers.

I can’t imagine who saw that and thought “Hey, some shit just done blowed up, but there ain’t no big blowsy-upsy sounds. I want my money back.” These same people think that an entire theater’s-worth of speakers can go on the fritz simultaneously and then be fixed within ten seconds.

The simplest answer is that people wanted a predictable Star Wars movie and The Last Jedi was anything but. We’ve been indoctrinated, Empire Strikes Back notwithstanding, that there aren’t supposed to be surprises in Star Wars. The plot is supposed to follow a prescribed narrative. The missions aboard the First Order base of operations aren’t supposed to go sideways. The mercenary is not supposed to stay a mercenary. The bad guys aren’t supposed to realize there are cloaked escape ships. The force is supposed to have a very limited power set. And the hero must only come from an established, Eugenics-based bloodline that would make Hitler Palpatine proud.

People complained that The Force Awakens followed that narrative too closely, then they complained that The Last Jedi strayed from it. Welcome to 2017 America.

Now about that milking scene…

Pulp Fiction Turns Twenty

Pulp Fiction just turned twenty. Wow, right after I turned forty. What are the odds? I wonder what Pulp Fiction was doing when I turned twenty.

I don’t know, but I bet I know what Quentin Tarantino and John Travolta were doing nine months before I turned twenty. Bow-Chicka-Bow-Bow!

They were probably filming a movie. Get your mind out of the gutter.

So happy birthday, with sugar on top. Now go clean the fucking car.

It’s hard for me to classify Pulp Fiction now. For a while, it was one of my favorite movies. I still think it was a game-changer in Hollywood. But I don’t know if it’s stood up to the test of time. I can’t remember the last time I’ve thought “I need to watch that movie again soon.” Part of this, I’m sure, is because so many other movies have copied elements of it, and maybe even done them better. The Matrix falls into this trap a little bit, but oddly, I don’t believe Airplane! does. The other reason it might have lost some appeal is because Quentin Tarantino might just be a one-trick pony. Why bother watching Pulp Fiction when you can check out Inglourious Basterds?

But I don’t want the film’s current status to sully how revolutionary it was at the time.

I was in college at the time, and I don’t remember if there was much buzz about the movie prior to its release. I’ve never been much of a movie aficionado, so if it didn’t have the blockbuster appeal of a Jurassic Park, I wouldn’t have known it was coming. But Pulp Fiction grew like a word-of-mouth slow burn. It feels like I overheard rumblings of this new movie, and a few outright questions if I had seen it or heard of it.

“No, what’s it about?” I would ask.

“It’s hard to, it’s just… Did you see Reservoir Dogs?” was the usual response.

“Never heard of it.”

“Oh, you should definitely go see it. Then rent Reservoir Dogs.”

(Thankfully before seeing Reservoir Dogs. I don’t know if I would have proceeded, or gone in with an open mind, had I already seen the ear cutting scene. It’s now been nineteen and a half years, I suppose, since I first saw it, and I still can’t hear “Stuck in the Middle with You” without cringing.)

I don’t know if these conversations were happening outside of college towns, but I guess they must have been or the twentieth anniversary wouldn’t make the news. It also seems that these conversations were not happening in October. Maybe closer to December or even 1995. Was this movie intended as more of a cult hit but then hit the mainstream? Was it a movie that was added to more theaters as it went along? I’m sure if I were less lazy, I could find out how many screens it was on by month.  But why do that when I can rely on spotty 20-year old memories? Crap, how did “buzz” happen before YouTube?

Truthfully, I don’t remember my exact reaction when I first saw the movie. Obviously, I loved it or I wouldn’t have gone on to see it maybe a hundred times or more in the ensuing twenty years. But it’s hard to extract my thoughts after just one viewing. How many of the scenes stuck with me? Was I confused by the reappearance of John Travolta after he had already died?

But I assume the things that jumped out at me were the same things that set it apart from so much that had come before. The pace, the dialogue, the adrenaline.

Others might say “the violence,” but I’ve always maintained that Pulp Fiction is not nearly as violent as it is given credit for. There are only a handful of deaths. The two guys in the opening scene. Then their friend Marvin. John Travolta’s character dies, but then is brought back due to non-linear storytelling. Zed and Maynard, but let’s be honest, Zed and Maynard had it coming. Plus we’re not entirely sure that Zed’s dead, Butch’s assertion notwithstanding. Only that Marcellus was about to go “Medieval on his ass.” Hard to believe that’s a phrase that did not exist twenty-one years ago.

Am I missing anyone besides those six? I don’t think I am. A few others get shot, my favorite of which was the woman who got shot in the thigh by a dazed Marcellus when she’s helping Butch after the car crash. The reason I love that particular scene is the same reason I think the movie gets credit for being way more violent than it is. The violence in Pulp Fiction is presented in a way to which we were unaccustomed in movies twenty years ago.

A person being shot, or especially killed, in a movie was supposed to be a serious, somber occurrence. Take a movie like The Godfather, a very violent movie. Almost every death in that movie is shown with a heightened sense of tension. When Sonny drives up to the toll booth and all the windows shut, the audience gasps. In war movies or life on the street movies, death is shown as the inevitable end to the unjust  struggle that is life in a pointless world. Even in campy horror movies, they are built up, a steady stream of “Ch-ch-ch, hu-hu-hu” building to a crescendo with the violin in the background. And after each death in these movies, the audience and, often, the characters are given a moment to reflect.

To contrast, when Martin dies in the back seat of the car, Vincent argues with Jules over whether or not he hit a bump. The aforementioned woman helping Butch just screams, clutches her leg and is quickly forgotten. The first murder happens when Brad is bumbling through an answer, so Jules shoots his friend lying on the couch, then quips “Oh, I’m sorry, did I break your concentration?”

So death doesn’t matter. Characters don’t even break stride when violence occurs. Even worse, the violence is often followed up with humor. We are not supposed to laugh at people being shot or killed. So when we leave Pulp Fiction, we talk about how the woman being shot was so funny. Or how awesome the “Dead N—– Storage” conversation was. And how cool it was that when Butch put the chainsaw down and grabbed the sword. This all makes us think it must have been a more violent movie than it really was – why would we be talking with such frivolity and enthusiasm about the death scenes?

Unfortunately, I think even Quentin Tarantino fell prey to the hype about how violent his movies are. While his first two movies use it sparingly, yet powerfully, it seems most of his later movies use violence (and the N word) as their focal point. The first Kill Bill is little more than violence porn. In porn, the plot is pointless, just a few minutes of dialogue to set up another twenty minute sex scene. Replace the word “sex” with “fight” in the last sentence and you have Kill Bill, Vol. 1.

So discounting the violence, I think it’s the dialogue that sets Pulp Fiction apart. The pacing, the attitude, and the violence are all portrayed through the dialogue. Few movies are as instantly quotable. Oh sure, I can run off a litany of Airplane! or Monty Python and the Holy Grail lines at the drop of a hat. But I don’t often find myself in situations where I can naturally drop a line about swallows and coconuts into everyday conversation. But “Check out the big brain on Brad?” Oh yeah, that one I can use. Even something as simple as “Mmm, this IS a tasty burger,” said with the right inflection, can bring to mind one specific scene from one specific movie. And although I don’t know if I’ve ever said “I’m a mushroom-cloud-laying mother fucker, mother fucker,” I can certainly think of some situations where I could have. I remember when my roommate bought the first computer with Windows 95 – we spent hours cuing up the VHS tape to record all of these lines and more, assigning them to every ding and ping that the computer would let us.

Of course, all three of those lines are said by Samuel L. Jackson. I know the movie momentarily revitalized Travolta’s career, and put Tarantino on the map. But nobody’s career is as closely tied to Pulp Fiction as than man who created Mr. Jules Winnfield of Inglewood. Samuel L. Jackson defines badassery. When you heard he was going to be in a Star Wars movie, you thought, “Oh, there’s going to be a badass Jedi?” He even makes shilling for a credit card company kinda badass. I remember sitting through the Iron Man credits, talking with a fellow comic book guy about the “S.H.I.E.L.D.” reveal near the end, asking “I wonder who they should get to play Nick Fury?” Then the post-credit scene came on and we both nodded. “Yep, nailed it. Nobody but him.”

How impressive was it that a relatively unknown actor would steal the show against such names as Travolta, Willis, Walken, and Keitel? Today, that would surprise nobody, but in 1994, nobody knew who Samuel L. Jackson was. I’m sure he would have made a name for himself anyway. He’s too talented of an actor.  But I have to wonder if he would have carved quite the same niche if he had a different breakout role. Would we be living in a regrettable world without, shudder, motherfucking snakes on a motherfucking plane?

As the years have passed, though, I don’t know if Pulp Fiction stands up to the test of time.  Its impact is still noticeable, but that very impact has made it a bit more pedestrian by comparison.  You can find similar quick dialogue in pretty much any Aaron Sorkin script. Want that brazen mix of humor and action? Just watch any of those Samuel L. Jackson-led Marvel movies.

If the movie is on TV, I won’t necessarily sit through it. To me, this is the definition of a timeless movie. If Star Wars is on, I’m watching it. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is on? Put down the remote control. The Rock, which came out two years after Pulp Fiction, fits this description as well. In fact, there is very little that Pulp Fiction does well that is not one-upped by The Rock. Unfortunately, this includes Michael Bay becoming more of a “keep doing the same movie over and over” director than Tarantino could ever be.

But if I scroll through the channel guide and see Pulp Fiction, my first thought is not “Click!” but “what part of the movie is it?” If it’s the first twenty minutes, I’m probably changing the channel. If it’s near the end I might or might not tune in for the Bonnie Situation and the diner scene. But if it’s anywhere near the black hole of a middle that is the back-to-back Oral Pleasure/Cab Drive scene, forget it. And if I did tune it in to watch those early scenes, I’m going back to whatever else I was doing as soon as Uma Thurman gets the adrenaline shot in the heart.

Unless it’s the edited-for-TV version, because that is a whole nother level of unintentional entertainment. But that is a subject for another post.

So happy birthday, Pulp Fiction. Like most big birthdays, let’s focus more on the zany, brilliant days when you were setting the world on fire, and not on the bloated, middle-aged Al Bundy you have become. And the less you mention those kids, Django  and Jackie Brown, the better.

And to those of you who disagree with my assessment, allow me quote Jules… “I don’t remember asking you a goddamn thing.”

Why You Gotta Be So?

Why I gotta be so?

I often get in love-hate relationships with elements of pop culture. Usually it’s a TV Show I keep watching only to justify the amount of time I’ve put into it. The last two seasons of “How I Met Your Mother” fit into that category. In the middle of almost every episode, I would ask myself, “Why the hell am I watching this?” And the usual answer was “Remember how funny that one episode in the first season was?”

This summer’s love-hate entry is a song. So the good news is that it should be much more ephemeral, lasting only four minutes at a time and already waning from its peak rotation. But this love-hate is different than most, in that I truly can’t decide if it is an excellent or horrible song. Yet when it’s done, I’m filled with that same “end of the chip bag” sense of introspection.

You were singing that at the top of your lungs, weren’t you? Yeah, how does that make you feel? Boy, you’re going to regret that one in the morning.

It’s just so catchy. The music is great. Just the right instrumentation, rhythm, movement. A peppy little reggae beat that I can twirl my three month old baby to. And isn’t that why we listen to music? Because of the music? So what could be wrong with it?

The lyrics. The lyrics are horrible. And dammit, it’s the lyrics that I have to sing along to whenever it pops up on the radio.

The song is “Rude,” by Magic, and although it started the summer obscure, it listed as the number one iTunes download a few weeks ago, so it now exists in the zeitgeist. If you know the song, you might even be humming it right now. Hell, if you’re anything like me, you knew which song I was talking about four paragraphs ago. I was referencing it while teaching the other day, and all I had to say was “What’s that catchy tune with the really stupid lyrics?” and two or three students offered up “Rude” before I could even describe it further.

The radio station I first heard the song on encourages people to text them if they like or dislike a song. Of course, this seems to be encouraging people to text while driving. I, ahem, have of course, cough, never texted my opinion on a song while driving. I mean, that would be illegal. And please believe me when I say none of this happened anywhere near a moving vehicle of any kind. Honestly, officers, no need to check my phone records.

The first time I heard the song, I was grabbed by the perky, upbeat rhythm and went for my phone. I had already thumbed in the word “like” when the crystal clear singing got to chorus. If one can have a spit take whilst not only not drinking but also driving (er, standing completely still nowhere near a car), I might have done just that. The lyrics, and the entirety of the song, are stupid.

I’m the first person to say that in most songs, the lyrics don’t matter. I can’t understand the lyrics for most of the songs on the radio in a given day. I’ve even karaoked a few songs only to say “Oh, that’s what he says there?” when the lyrics pop up. “Rude” is a song that might have benefitted from a bit more Eddie Vedder style mumbling.

Even when the lyrics are decipherable, they don’t need to make a lot of sense. I watched Alternative Nation at midnight through most of college, and I was fine with a song about a chick who puts Vaseline on her toast. There’s a Crash Test Dummies song that merely describes three people who had little quirks. No point to the song, whatsoever. Perhaps the point of the song was going to be explained in the chorus, but they just decided to sing “mmm mmm mmm mmm” instead. Then again, I’m pretty sure the lead singer of Crash Test Dummies can sing the Brown Note, so we best handle him with kid gloves to protect our bowels.

So I’m fine with silly, pointless songs. I’m fine with fun lyrics without a lot of depth. I’m fine with not even knowing what the guy is singing about. So what’s the matter with “Rude?”

For those of you who haven’t heard the song, the entire thing is about a guy asking his girlfriend’s father for permission to marry her. Yes, in the year 2014, an entire song is devoted to an action that was already insulting and obsolete fifty years ago.

In the first place, asking a girlfriend’s father for “permission” to marry his daughter is insulting to your future bride. It’s the 21st century and you’re implying she can’t make this decision for herself. After the father gives you permission, will the discussion turn to the dowry? Because I’m pretty sure that’s where the whole asking for permission came from. While you’re at it, go ahead and have the father sign the marriage license, because obviously your new wife can’t be trusted to sign legally binding contracts or anything.

But even more than the insulting nature, in the 21st century, the question is pointless. I think this makes it even more frustrating to have this song sung so earnestly. Honestly, what’s the father going to say? No? Chances are you’re already living with his daughter, and even if you aren’t, you’ve at least got some carnal knowledge, right? So Dad says no and you say “Gosh, Pops, you want me to keep getting the milk for free? Awesome. And just for you, I’ll throw in an extra ‘Who’s Your Daddy?’ or two when I’m shtuping her tonight.”

I do understand the desire to alert your future in-laws. You’re setting the stage for your future with your wife, and that includes her family. I found a nice way to do this was to let them know, but not ask their permission. The night before I proposed, I told my father-in-law “I’m going to ask your daughter to marry me tomorrow. I hope I have your blessing.” I was not asking permission, but I also wanted them to be prepped in case their first response was going to be “You’re marrying that loser?” they had fifteen hours to get it out of their system.

But the father in the song said no. I imagine he saw the litany of poems and songs this kid had written for his daughter and, understandably, felt he had no future writing drivel like that. The guy should have asked permission with the background music playing. Then the father probably would’ve said yes, because, I can’t stress enough, it’s fun and catchy music. Although if the father said yes because of the music, then the song would never be written, and I believe that’s how the space-time continuum begins to collapse.

The singer then goes on to sum up why asking a father’s permission is a pointless exercise that barely deserves a mention, much less a song. He’s going to marry her anyway. So you really weren’t asking permission, were you? Any Catholic can tell you the wonderful difference between asking for permission and asking for forgiveness. Again, my father-in-law comes into play here. He asked my grandfather-in-law permission and was told no. So what did he do? Hint: he’s my father-in-law and my wife wasn’t born out of wedlock. So even 40 years ago, it was understood that asking permission wasn’t really asking permission. Yet here we are listening to some Canadian croon on about a non-issue.

“What the hell is he singing about?” I said out loud, phone frozen in my hand, when the chorus hit. “Is this whole song about… Why, this isn’t a new song at all. It is clearly from 1955.”

I quickly thumbed a “dis” onto the front of the “like” text I had already written. I was just about to hit send when the “marry her anyway” part hit. At this point, the music goes from a 4/4 beat to a 6/8 beat. It’s subtle, a change that most people without music backgrounds might just consider a tempo change or not even notice. And it’s quick, maybe only six measures then back to 4/4, but the effect is to take a straight-forward reggae song and fuse it with something else. I still can’t tell what. Is it reggae-rockabilly? Can that even exist? So I sat there, transfixed again by the music with the phone in my hand, unable to push send on either a “like” or “dislike.”

Which is really where I still am today. I never turn the station when the song comes on. Most of the time I sing along. I’m singing lyrics I can’t stand about a subject I find insulting. But dammit, what else can I do?

Of course, listening to it as much as I have, I now know the lyrics quite well. The more I’ve gotten to know them, my initial hatred has only grown. I know I’m picking nits here, but there are two major errors that I’ve found with the song. Both are semantics, and both would barely warrant a mention if not for the catchy tune that makes me listen to the horrible lyrics.

The first problem deals with grammar. Or not even grammar, but how to write dialogue. The lead-in to the first chorus states the father’s response: “You say I’ll never get your blessing for the rest of my life. Tough luck, my friend, but the answer is no.” Okay, is it just me or does that line start out as an indirect quote, then finish as a direct quote?

“Hey, dude,” comes the retort, “you don’t understand poetry. Every word needs to count. We have to worry about rhythm and rhyme. It’s taken you 2000 words to write about a three minute song.” Touche. I can’t imagine writing poetry. Way too verbose. And I understand that poetry, and by extension songs, don’t have to follow strict language rules. But poetry or prose, you’ve got to be consistent with who is speaking. Indirect dialogue is fine, but keep it indirect the whole time.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of rhyming? No and know are homophones, I don’t think that counts as a rhyme.

The second language problem I have is the very name of the song. They could’ve gone with “Marry Her Anyway,” which is the catchy 6/8 part and captures the point of the song better. But instead they went with “Rude.” The singer’s response to the father’s denial is “Why you gotta be so rude?” This is the second worst rejoinder in history, topped only by his next line, “Don’t you know I’m human, too?” (Insulting the father’s observational skills isn’t going to win him back to your side.)

But rude? I don’t know that I would classify a man not thinking someone is good enough for his daughter as being “rude.” To be rude, one needs to be deliberately hurtful. If you ask someone out on a date and they say no, that is not rude. If they say “not if you were the last human on Earth,” that’s where the rudeness comes in.

In the song, the father was even nice enough to say “Tough luck, my friend.” That has to be one of the more polite denials I’ve heard. Maybe he just felt you had insulted his daughter by asking someone other than her to make this important decision. I don’t know if this is Alanis Morissette “Ironic” level of mis-definition, but it’s up there. SO Canadians don’t know how to define words in song titles. Is that rude? Stereotypical, maybe.  While we’re at it, Bryan Adams was only nine years old in the Summer of ’69, so Canadaian singers are bad at both math and English. Probably more hyperbole than rude, but getting closer. I’m not saying the test for rude and the test for libel should be the same, but they’re in the vein.

Canadian singers suck? That would be rude, so I wouldn’t say it. Plus if I said that, the lead singer of the Crash Test Dummies would vacate my bowels.

By the way, you asked the father for permission and then ignored his answer. Sounds like he had a justified reason for his answer.

He didn’t even bring up the fact that you tried to rhyme no and know.

See what I did there? That was intentionally hurtful.

I know, I know. Why I gotta be so…?

What to say about Sharknado 2?

Other than there should be no better post to start off a brand new blog.

I know this is a week and a half late, but as with any premium entertainment of this sort, I waited to view it with friends. And Beer. The beer probably would have been accessible on a Wednesday night, but getting friends together, and imbibing as much as we would need to properly experience the movie, would have been difficult on a Wednesday night. C’mon, SyFy (which I shall continue to pronounce “Siffy” as long as they continue to spell Sci-Fi wrong), broadcast Sharknado 3 on a Friday night and I guarantee the number of viewing parties will rival the Super Bowl.

The one major drawback of not watching live was the Twitter element.  At the beginning of every commercial break, they ran a handful of related tweets.  I don’t know if we benefited from having DVR’d the West Coast feed, but the tweets they showed were very timely.  Some related to the scene that had just ended or a cameo that was a minute or two old. I had the benefit of pausing and no time pressure, but a number of my tweets were half-written by the time the SyFy people had already processed and placed a smattering from the Twitterlanche. Then again, Twitter is what caused the initial Sharknado mania, so it makes sense they’d be on the ball this time. In some aspects, Sharknado also helped validate Twitter as a bona fide barometer of the pop ephemera. I’m sure there will be some future Master’s Thesis titled “The Twitter and Sharknado Symbiosis.”

As an aside, tweeting out a week and a half late, the predictive text on my hashtag had to make it all the way to the sixth letter before #Sharknado or #Sharknado2TheSecondOne came up. With three or four letters, Twitter thought I wanted to write #ShartToys. I don’t think I want to know why.

On to the movie itself. I have to hand it to the producers. While some low-budget success stories try to ramp up the cinematography or editing or special effects in the sequel, Sharknado 2: The Second One stayed blessedly true to the original. I’m sure the budget was substantially larger – hell, they managed to shut down a block in Manhattan, that’s got to take some coin – but the overwhelming feel was “Oh, y’all like this? Then here’s some more.”  One of my favorite parts of the original was the rapid switching from stormy to sunny skies in the same scene. That still existed in the sequel, although I suspect it was much more intentional this time.

The first movie made a number of homages to Jaws, as is only natural in a shark movie. The sequel, however, did not feel constrained to copying just one movie franchise or even one genre. The opening scene shows Tara Reid and Ian Ziering (I’m sure their characters had names, but nobody knows them) flying across the country in a plane that happens to fly through a shark storm. In a straight copy of the old “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” Twilight Zone episode, Ian Ziering sees a shark on the wing, then it’s not there. Throughout the movie, he seemed to take most of his acting cues from the Christian Bale Batman model (talking gravelly makes you a bad-ass), but in the opening scene he was pure Shatner.

Note to SyFy: Shat-nado. Thank you, I will take my residual checks now.

Once the sharks, who of course were real and not imagined, breach the plane, the tribute changes from Twilight Zone to Airplane! And lest one thinks they were aiming for one of the more serious flying disaster movies, like Airport, they cut to the pilot, the second (after Kelly Osbourne as stewardess) and best cameo of the film.

There were many cameos in the movie, and I have seen various reports of which ones were “the best.” Biz Markie certainly deserves a mention. Wl Wheaton’s was short but memorable. Billy Ray Cyrus as a New York surgeon with an Oklahoma drawl certainly jumped out. Daymond John gets honorable mention for jumping from Shark Tank to Sharknado. Then there was Jared from Subway. Yes, Jared from eSubway.  I refuse to mention the people who played themselves, such as Al Roker and Kelly Ripa, Even if Kelly Ripa stiletto-ing a shark with her high heel was two seconds of pure heaven.  But appearing as oneself is not a proper cameo in a movie like this. In our drinking game, we quickly stopped taking a “cameo drink” when people appeared as themselves. Don’t worry, there was still much to drink about, especially since our particular rules made us drink any time there were “ominous shark fins.” This might explain why my review focuses on the early parts of the movie.

But the best cameo had to be the pilot of the airplane (sorry, Airplane!), Robert Hays. Ted Freaking Striker from the Airplane! movies was cast as the pilot in yet another doomed flight with no basis in reality. I sat on pins and needles for the entire scene hoping for him to repeat some timeless quip from the old movies. Alas, nobody else in the cockpit was named Roger, Ober, Unger, or Dunn. They were flying nowhere near Macho Grande. The closest we got was a girl in the bathroom bouncing up and down like the one putting make-up on in Airplane! (or the man shaving in Airplane II: The Sequel, a subtitle almost as brilliant as Sharknado 2: The Second One).

Of course, this movie’s bathroom girl gets eaten by a shark, one of many to breach the outer hull of the airplane. Robert Hays goes the way of most of the cameos, forcing Ian Ziering to pull his very own Ted Striker, running to the cockpit and landing the airplane. The airplane had absolutely no structural integrity yet, but after flying through a shark infestation at 35,000 feet, one supposes that the physics of a surfer landing a plane that is missing half of its fuselage is a moot point. In the first movie, he could fly a helicopter because he “saw it in a movie once.”

At this point in the movie, something happens to Tara Reid’s character that pretty much takes her out of a majority of the movie, a great call by the producers. The slightly improved production value was enough to make her plastic much more noticeable. And frightening. Kari Wuhrer was also in this movie. I don’t think the Botox allowed her to move her face at all. But that’s all I will say about Kari Wuhrer, because she will forevermore get a pass from her time on “Remote Control.”

Except one more thing about Kari Wuhrer. Her character spends a lot of time out at the Statue of Liberty with three other females. They all might or might not have been related to Ian Ziering’s character. Regardless, Kari Wuhrer and these other females were frequently talking to each other, and I’m pretty sure they weren’t talking about men. So at least Sharknado 2: The Second One passes the Bechdel_Test, something which cannot be said about most blockbusters.

The next major scene worth noting took place at Citi Field. The best weapon in the first movie had to be the barstool, which a brilliant patron doubled back to get in order to bludgeon a shark with it later. In the sequel, the barstool is replaced with a comically large bat. Comically Large Bat, a souvenir bought during the Mets game, is so magical that it seems to change in size depending on the scene, including growing to roughly the size of the shark that it is hitting for a homerun. Yes, they hit a shark for a homerun at Citi Field, complete with the Big Apple rising up. So I guess it was a home team shark homer.

Inexplicably, the Sharknado is fused with a cold front at Citi Field, explained by Al Roker on a “Today” show broadcast that seemed to go on all day and night. This brought up the promise of a Shark-Nor’Easter. One of my friends is desperately hoping for a Sharkvalanche spin-off, and the detailed explanation had us convinced that was where it was going. But after Citi Field, there was no more snow nor any other mention of the amazing weather phenomenon that they had specifically cut away to explain. I assume this was only done because it was filmed during the winter, so they had to explain why the baseball stadium was surrounded by snow. But the news report failed to mention how the sudden downpour of summer snow caused the snow outside the stadium to be a pre-existing blanket. Nor did the news report mention why the producers couldn’t find stock footage of Citi Field in rain.

The rest of the movie is sharks. And then some sharks. Followed by sharks. A weather map with swirling fronts of blue and red sharks.

Oh, and an alligator in the sewer, which is promptly eaten by a shark. The sharks continue to have the uncanny ability not only to survive and move on land, but also to aim themselves as they are coming out of the tornado (water spout, really, or else how would the sharks survive in it? Because I’m sure there were many biologists consulted on both of these projects.

Judd Hirsch showed up as a taxi driver. This almost rivaled Robert Hays for playing a character related to what you are best known for. But he’s Judd Hirsch, and he’s had many other claims to fame. But, and this bears repeating, this movie had Robert Hays flying a doomed airplane.

Judd Hirsch’s death (Oops, spoiler!) is also tainted by serving as precursor to my one major complaint. A number of people swing Tarzan style from the roof of one submerged car to another. The rope falls into the water with one person remaining, apparently stuck with the car sinking and (naturally) sharks all around. The guy looks at his friend, who had successfully made the jump, then back at the sharks that were forming perfect stepping stones between the two cars.  The two men shout “Frogger!” and he jumps from shark to shark until he makes it across. Now here’s the problem: the sharks were not swimming back-and-forth perpendicular to the cars. Instead, there were three of them forming a line from one car to the next, making it a Pitfall move, not a Frogger move. I can’t believe the editors let that slide, what with all of the painstaking attention-to-detail in every other scene.

No death scene rose to the level of the Hollywood sign in the first movie. That scene was memorable not only because it was the aforementioned Barstool Guy who died, but also because of the line he muttered (“My mom always said Hollywood would kill me”) right before being smashed by the giant W.

The closest parallel in The Second One was the Statue of Liberty’s head, which gets ripped off and hurtled toward the city, rolling down a street and crunching a poor soul.  The scene was not dragged out like when Barstool Guy dodged the swirling letters for a minute of screen time. And there was no fitting quote from the soon-to-be deceased. We actually had to rewind it because we were sure we had missed some “Viva la Libertie” or other reference. But there was nothing. Come on, writers, don’t start mailing it in yet.

The final scene was precisely what one would expect. The logical fallacies came at me so fast, I couldn’t keep track. Why does a random person walking down a New York street have a pitchfork? Or was that a trident instead? Who abandons their fireworks truck in the middle of a Sharknado?

How do all of these chainsaws keep running? Okay, seriously, this is the one that bothered me in the first movie as well. I’ve never really used a chainsaw, but my understanding of them is that they have a kill switch. You have to physically be hold a trigger mechanism or else it dies.  I mean, my lawnmower has this feature and a runaway lawnmower would seem much less likely to sever a body part than an airborne chainsaw. But in this movie, one lucky New Yorker just happens to have multiple chainsaws in his truck bed, each of which he starts up on the first pull (again, something my lawnmower in incapable of) and throws into the tornado. They then spiral upward, cutting through hundreds of sharks each, liberating this particular sharknado in the name of peace and justice. Although I’m sure these were Stalin-esque chainsaws who were actually going to instill their own draconian puppet state in the power vacuum that now existed in these funnel clouds.

Syfy, are you paying attention? Chainsawnado: Behind the Iron-Toothed Curtain! Seriously, call my agent.

The sequel ends much like the original, with Ian Ziering facing down a particularly menacing shark who had taken a loved one (or part of a loved one), mano a mano. Although I seem to remember Tara Reid showing up at just the right time to tip the balance of power against the shark. Somehow, just as in the original, the defeat of this one shark amongst the thousands flying through the air signals the end of the Sharknado threat. Having now seen it twice, it still makes no sense. Was that shark controlling the weather? Was he the shark leader and now all of the other sharks will docilely fly back to the ocean?

The twist in the sequel, though, is that this shark wasn’t just the shark from the last ten minutes of the movie.  Oh, no! It turns out this shark is the exact same shark that attacked them in the plane at the beginning of the movie. Despite the fact that the plane was 35,000 feet in the air and presumably somewhere over mid-America. This shark must surely be the most tenacious and most travelled shark in existence. It also must be the shark with the slowest digestive system in the world. I understand the adage of tying a plot together, of showing something in Act One and bringing it back in Act Three. But I’m not sure this is precisely how it should be done.

It does set up an interesting premise for Sharknado 3, though, doesn’t it? Obviously that shark was targeting poor Ian and Tara. Was this personal? A vendetta? Had the shark mob put a hit out on our intrepid duo after the events in Los Angeles? And does this shark now have children, a spouse, a cousin whot now must track them down to exact their final revenge? It’s dripping with possibilities.

We finished up the movie, as I assume many did, with a trip to YouTube for a group viewing of “Just a Friend,” by Biz Markie. Why? We were just too exhausted to make it all the way through Airplane!