Things I Geek About: Movies

If you were to sit down with me for a little chat, it would quickly become obvious that I am passionate about the arts—creating, consuming, dissecting, promoting, enjoying… Give me an art medium and I can probably write you an essay. Or at least talk your ear off with trivia.

You’ll also discover very quickly that I have a problem with the word “favorite”, because I can rarely pin myself down to just one favorite anything. But, as appropriate for a child of the 20th Century, I absolutely love the art of film and the joys of movie making. Yes, I am one of those movie nerds who will sit through all of the bonus features and wear that knowledge proudly (because who wouldn’t after the 9-hour feast that is all of The Lord of the Rings extras??). I will argue with you over the relative merits of the making of additional installments to film anthologies compared to maintaining the integrity of their original incarnations—rule of thumb: be excited and have fun, but keep your expectations low (they will not be as good).

I can’t even pick a favorite category of genre because there are positive points about so many of them. But my best and earliest memories are often focused on the movie-going or movie-watching experience. I remember the faint ghost of cigarette smoke from the evening showings mixed with aroma of buttered theater popcorn; I remember doing my best not to eat all the candy and popcorn while avoiding my brother’s attempts to annoy me or get me to fight with our sister (a favorite pastime of his); there were barely any previews, let alone trivia screens or advertisements, but the anticipation was enough to keep us glued to our seats… at least until it was time for a bathroom break.

Aside from my first impulse career choices—being Barbie or a nurse, because I was five—I remember wanting to be an actor, to be involved in creating movie magic. My mom involved me and my siblings in dance and musical theater, so it should hardly have shocked her that I would want to make a career in entertainment; unfortunately, her personal religious beliefs didn’t really mesh with respect for Hollywood, so she made it abundantly clear that not only would acting be a difficult profession to break into, she would also not encourage or support me if that were my decision.

But I found other ways to fuel my acting bug and need to perform/create. After a switch in schools and a move made dance and musical theater untenable, I joined choir in junior high and then continued taking it through high school; I was lucky enough to have a teacher who was willing to work with me and who enjoyed cultivating students dedicated enough to learn and work hard. I eschewed joining drama because my brother had taken it for is fine art elective and I was at an age where I was desperate to move out from under his shadow—a difficult prospect when most of the teachers easily recognized his name and remembered him from previous classes.

Choir productions gave me a chance to both act and direct (albeit in very small ways), as I was responsible for my own acting choices, staging, and piece selection when doing a solo or duet. Due to a memory like a sponge, I was often the first in my section to have the songs memorized which gave me time to consider the mechanics of the staging and to form an opinion—and thanks to my positive relationship with our director, I felt comfortable discussing his choices and my suggestions. Until recently, I never allowed myself to acknowledge that all those years ago I had the desire and the capacity to direct, to write, and to produce my own creative projects; it’s a desire that I fully recognize and one that I hope to realize one day soon. But on with the show…

As I got older, I became that person… the person who needs to watch the film in absolute silence and will vocally hush whoever disrupts my viewing experience; I also became that person who needed to have an in-depth discussion on the lack of realism in a given sequence or the scientific improbability of a particular event happening at the exact moment it occurs during the film. In short, I’m the type of person to whom the home entertainment system was an absolute godsend because it allowed me to fully immerse myself in the movie-watching experience in a way that had never been possible before. I need to connect, to become one with the film (but only in two dimensions, please).

So, this week, I encourage submissions specifically about movies and film making. What movies, actors, directors, writers have inspired you? How has a particular piece of film changed your life? What have you been inspired to create? I’d be ecstatic to hear from someone actually involved in the industry, or from people in study tracks geared toward launching a career in the entertainment industry; but a huge part of what I want for BFGG, and for this post in particular, is to connect with people who are wanting to become involved, but who are holding back for some reason. This whole thing started with a desire, a need to become an entertainer in some capacity… I’m trying my best to live my dream, and hopefully that can help others see that living their dreams isn’t just a dream any more.

A Few of My Favorite Films/Creators:

  • Jurassic Park—so much about this film (and its first sequel) just fills me with a sense of both wonder and dread. Spielberg is one of my favorite directors, Michael Crichton is one of my favorite writers (RIP my literary godfather!), and Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm… Film nirvana! Naturally, as I have grown up and become more aware of the world around me I have found other things to love about this movie franchise, but even from a pure entertainment standpoint it’s always a hit.
  • Hook—another Spielberg staple, there was something about this version of the Peter Pan story that always drew me in; the idea that the boy who never grew up would choose to forsake his immortality, only to be drawn back to Neverland by the nemesis who became a man but refused to die out of pure spite? As an adult, it’s the performances of the lead actors which draw me in every time, but as a child there was only the joy of reveling in childhood and childishness.
  • Robin Williams—I think it’s appropriate that I mention him here. There are very few films of his which I haven’t seen, so he was definitely a fixture of mine growing up. Aladdin, The Dead Poets Society, Good Morning Vietnam were my first introductions to him; Mrs. Doubtfire, Hook, Good Will Hunting, What Dreams May Come. I certainly didn’t understand ever role or every film, but he’s definitely an actor who I will always be indebted to in some way.
  • The Indiana Jones trilogy—my love of Indy lead to one of my stints working at Disneyland, which I absolutely adored, and to the unfortunate choice of Intro to Archaeology as an elective during my first year of college (leading to one of the two barely passing grades of my entire academic career); when he states that most of a professional archaeologist’s work is done in a library… he was over selling the excitement.
  • The Star Wars trilogies—say what you want, but I will defend episodes 1-3 to the death! Also, BB-8—I want one. Now!
  • Walt Disney—Uncle Walt will be getting his own post next time, folks! So hang tight on this one.
  • Die Hard—Best. Christmas. Movie. Ever!!
  • Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves—1) Alan Rickman as the sheriff… If I need to say more, then you deserve to have your heart cut out with a spoon! 2) Christian Slater… I am a woman and I have eyes; he was hot! 3) Kevin Costner’s mullet… for sheer entertainment value.
  • Mel Brooks—I’m not a big comedy person in general, but the sheer goofiness of many of his films speak to me in a way that most current comedians can’t. Young Frankenstein and Men in Tights are oft quoted cinematic gems here.
  • The Lord of the Rings—yes, I believe that it is a single 10-hour long movie (extended versions are a must). I saw Fellowship before I had read any of the books, but then rectified that over the Christmas break. I also now own all twelve volumes of the History of Middle Earth released by Christopher Tolkien. Having read those, I understand where die-hard fans of the book were disappointed and disgruntled, but at the same time completely understand the changes and deletions made by Peter Jackson and Co. in the actual filming. I try to watch and read at least once a year.
  • Memento—the reverse linear telling of the story, Guy Pearce’s phenomenal acting, Christopher Nolan’s careful crafting… Cinematic genius!
  • A. Confidential—this was the first film that I really, truly made an effort to understand in depth as a text (I saw the film before reading the book). I was even lucky enough to be taking a class on L.A. literature and was allowed to do a short, uncredited presentation on it to my peers. Amazing performances by the whole cast makes for some truly compelling, if occasionally distasteful, characters.
  • Face/Off—whether or not you like either Nic Cage or Travolta, both of them clearly put in a lot of effort to collaboratively craft the protagonist and antagonist of this film. It was the first movie where I became aware of the process of creating the character, where I was able to so forcibly see the difference between the actor and the role. And John Woo’s cinematic, artistic flourishes certainly didn’t hurt either. It might not be The Last Supper, but it’s still a work of art that requires a response.
  • Pride & Prejudice (and other Jane Austen adaptations)—perhaps because I can never dissociate him with his villainous turn in Shakespeare in Love, but I must confess that I have not seen the Colin Firth version of P&P. Feel free to shun me as a poser, but I just can muster no desire to see it. The version with Kiera Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen will always be the adaptation closest to my heart (aided by the performances of the ever amazing Donald Sutherland, Brenda Blethyn, Rosamund Pike, and Judi Dench). Jeremy Northam and Alan Cumming will always be Emma’s suitors, but Romola Garai makes a better busybody in her take on the role. And, naturally, Alan Rickman as Col. Brandon in Sense & Sensibility makes me swoon… even if Kate Winslet’s wig was highly unfortunate.
  • The X-Men films—I’ve seen all of them except the most recent Wolverine story, but I found something to love or admire about all of them. I was a huge fan of the 90’s cartoon version and watched it religiously after school. Reading comics was not something my Mom encouraged in me, and now as an adult I find that I can’t appreciate the pacing of comics; so, here is my great weakness at last, fanboys!! I have not read the X-Men comics. Suck it if you don’t like it!
  • Jane Eyre (2012)—another adaptation, but having studied the book at length for multiple classes, I felt that this version finally captured something ineffable in the text. I thought the casting was particularly inspired, with Mia Wasikowska appearing quite as spritely as originally described by Bronte (but with the steel spine and acting stones to believably stand up to her Rochester) and Michael Fassbender bringing both a believable rage and an aching tenderness to his role. The cinematography, the use of darkness and shadows, was nothing short of perfection and immensely helped toward establishing the tone.
  • The Marvel Cinematic Universe—again, I haven’t read any of the comics (save for the Ghost Rider graphic novel Trail of Tears), but I am a sucker for the Marvel films. I have plenty of issues with many of them individually, but on the whole I find them to be incredibly entertaining with a lovely dose of philosophical meat to chew on. Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Tom Hiddleston as Loki, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Chris Evans as Steve Rogers are all especial favorites in their respective roles; the fact that they all are genuinely nice people in real life certainly doesn’t diminish the fangirling a bit.
  • Tombstone, Maverick, American Outlaws, and Young Guns—while not usually a fan of westerns, all three of these films are great examples of the genre. The sheer star-power of the first, even if you discount the amazing performance by Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday, dazzles. The other three all manage to be self-conscious of the genre and are willing to mock it and themselves in order to give the audience a good show. Honorable mentions go to: the Steampunk-inspired Wild Wild West for Will Smith, Kenneth Branagh, and the sheer ridiculousness of the premise; and Gettysburg, for Jeff Daniel’s performance as Joshua Chamberlin and Sam Elliot’s General Buford… with cats who often tussle, “the high ground” speech is quoted quite a bit around here.
  • Gladiator and 300—I am convinced that the reason Hollywood keeps making and remaking the sword-and-sandals epics (as well as westerns) is because when they are done right, then they are pure cinematic gold. Russel Crowe completely earned his Oscar as Maximus, and I think Joaquin Phoenix deserved to take home his own statue. 300 is one of the few films I have seen in Imax, and the visuals on this are positively mind-blowing. Historical inaccuracies abound, but tons of buff, oiled, mostly naked Brits, Celts, and Scots? What’s not to love??
  • The Harry Potter films—while I was an adult by the time I finally read the books and first watched the films (Goblet of Fire was the first one I saw I theaters, and I only started reading the series because of a bet), I knew that this was the story and the character who would define a generation in the way that Star Wars did before it. The first two films retain more than a dash of the wonder and joy of the books, capturing the audience and transporting them to a new world delightfully. With the change in directors for the third film, each book and movie combination lose the bright, shiny newness and show us the dark, gritty possibilities of a world where the choices between right and wrong, between good and evil, are just as complex as they are in the Muggle world around us. Watching the three main actors grow into themselves as their characters, as actors, and as lovely human beings has been the true joy. And I could go on at length about the adult actors supporting these performances with stellar work of their own—Alan Rickman and Maggie Smith in particular—but that can be another post for another day. I am currently in the midst of a re-read and re-watch for each book/film, as my nephews are particularly involved in enjoying them at present and I hope to involve them further in the fandom as they continue to grow up. Baby Chi has yet to be sorted, but Judah (11) and Ezra (5) are both Slytherins; their parents are both Ravenclaws, I am a Hufflepuff, and our younger sister is a Gryffindor (her husband is a Hufflepuff); our parents have refused to take the exam, so they’re Muggles I suspect.

And these are just some of the highlights. Like I said, perpetual inability to choose a favorite. I fully intend on writing critiques and reviews of different films as part of my ongoing participation in (BF) Geek Girls, so if there is a film you would like me to discuss then feel free to drop me a line. Until then, stay geeky, my friends!  –J.J.

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