Category Archives: movie review

Penny Dreadful (Thoughts from the Uncritical Critic)

 

pennydreadful

693f7ef8bf277666673ab6672d2f4fe8

I confess to binge-watching the show Penny Dreadful, all three seasons on Netflix.   Good God!  What was I thinking?  It is everything that I cringe about in movies.  Blood and gore.  Gratuitous sex and debauchery.  I almost gave up and stopped watching when the Creature came bursting through the chest of Dr. Frankenstein’s latest creation.  And yet for a monster to be introduced to the series in such a way, and then to become the one character that strives hardest for redemption… I was hooked.

Sin and redemption is the major theme of the whole series.  And each character strives so painfully for redemption that you cannot help but love them… even though they are monsters.

You see, I, like all other people, am aware that one day, sooner than I would like, I will die and live no more.  And life, though filled with heartache and suffering and regret, is a priceless treasure to be guarded for as long as I can hold onto it.  There is poetry in that condition.  The greatest beauty that can be beheld is soon to pass away into ugliness.  The candle flame lights the darkness briefly and then is gone.

6178f62bbe77b62b4078d8fcacd3cde3

The story is built from Victorian era literature and includes Mary Shelly’s Dr. Victor Frankenstein, Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a couple of werewolves, numerous witches, demons, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll, and a character named Lord Malcom Murray who is obviously based on the African explorer Allan Quartermain from King Solomon’s Mines by H.Rider Haggard.

The characters all do a lot of suffering and striving.  Friendships are formed and made blood-and-family deep by shared adventures and brushes with pure evil and death.  The main character, Vanessa Ives, is variously possessed by a demon, courted by Lucifer, hunted by witches, and then seduced by Dracula.  She uses her deep faith in God, which wavers continually, to defeat every enemy but the last.  She is also aided by a cowboy werewolf and sharp-shooter who is her destined lover, protector, and killer.  It all swiftly becomes ridiculous-sounding when you try to summarize the convoluted Gothic-style plot.  But as it slowly unfolds and reveals new terrors with every episode, it mesmerizes.  The sets, the cinematography, the costumes, and the horrifyingly sweet-sad orchestral background music puts a spell on you that, when you awaken from it, you realize you want more than is available.  Three seasons was simply not enough.

The_Creature.PNG

As I believe I indicated previously, the character that almost made me give up on the series, Frankenstein’s Creature, became the most compelling character of all to me.  He began as such a violent, repellent, selfish thing… and in the end became the most self-sacrificing and tragic character in the entire drama.  He took the name of the English poet John Clare for himself, and became a tragically beautiful person.

Do I recommend that you watch this thing?  This poetic and sometimes deeply disturbing depiction of what it means to be human and be alive?  I cannot.  It was a moving personal experience for me, one that made me weep for beauty and horror at almost every episode.  No one can find that sort of thing through a mere recommendation.  It is entirely between you and your God.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under ghost stories, horror movie, humor, insight, monsters, movie review, review of television

The World is a B-Movie

Yes, I am saying the world I live in is a low-budget commercial movie made without literary or artistic pretensions. You know, the kind where movie makers learn their craft, taking big risks with smaller consequences, and making the world of their picture reflect their heart rather than the producer’s lust for money.

Mostly what I am talking about are the movies I remember from late-night Saturday TV in black and white (regardless of whether or not the movie was made in Technicolor) and the less-risky as well as more-likely-good Saturday matinees on Channel 3. Movies made in the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s. They were perfect, of course, for the forbidden Midnight Movie on the show called Gravesend Manor. I had to sneak downstairs to watch it on Saturday nights with the volume turned way down low. (Not that Mom and Dad didn’t know. Well, maybe they didn’t know how many of those I watched completely naked… maybe.)

I watched this one when I was twelve, late night on an October Saturday. I had a bed-sheet with me to pull over my head at the scariest parts. Frankenstein was a crashed astronaut brought back to life by the magic of space radiation. He was uglier than sin, but still the hero of the movie, saving the Earth from invading guys in gorilla suits and scary masks (none of which looked like the movie poster.)

This one, starring James Whitmore, a really good B-Movie actor, was about giant ants coming up from the sewers and the underground to eat the city.

I would end up watching it again twenty years later when I was wearing clothes and not alone in the dark house lit only by a black-and-white TV screen.

I realized on the second viewing that it was actually a pretty good movie in spite of cheesy special effects. And I realized too that I had learned from James Whitmore’s hero character that, in times of crisis, you have to run towards the trouble rather than away from it, a thing that I used several times in my teaching career with fights and tornadoes and even rattlesnakes visiting the school campus looking to eat a seventh-grader or something (though it was a bad idea for the snake even if it had been successful.)

This one, of course, taught me that monsters liked to carry off pretty girls in bikinis. And not just on the poster, either. But it was the hero that got the girl, not the monster. This movie taught me that it sucks to be the monster. Though it also taught me that it was a good movie to take your pajamas off for and watch naked when you are thirteen.

But not all B-movies had to be watched late night on Saturdays. This movie was one of the first ones that I got to go to the movie theater to see by myself. (My sisters and little brother were still too young and got nightmares too easily to see such a movie.) It came out when I was in my teens and Mom and Dad began thinking of me as an adult once… or even possibly twice in a month.

And not all B-movies were monster movies, gangster movies, and westerns. Some, like a lot of Danny Kaye’s movies, were movies my Dad and my grandparents were more than happy to watch with me. I saw this one in both black-and-white and color. And I learned from this that it was okay to take advantage of happy accidents, like a case of mistaken identity, and using your wits, your creative singing ability, and your inexplicable good luck to win the day for everybody but the bad guys armed only with your good sense of humor.

And some of the best movies I have ever seen, judging by what I learned about movies as literature from Professor Loring Silet in his Modern Film Class at Iowa State University, are by their nature B-movies.

I am using movie posters in this blog post only from movies I have personally seen. (And I admit that not all of them are strictly “good” movies according to Professor Silet, but I like them all.)

Feel free to tell me in the comments if you have seen any of these movies yourself. I am open to all opinions, comments, and confessions.

This one is based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
I saw this one in college. You had to be 18 at the time to even buy a ticket.
I actually think that this is one of the best movies ever made. It will always make my own personal top-ten list.

I live in a B-movie world. The production values around me are not the top-dollar ones. But the stories are entertaining. The real-life heroes still run towards the problem. And it still sucks to be the monster. But it has always been worth the price of the ticket. And during my time on Earth here, even in 2020, I plan on staying till the end of the picture. I go nowhere until I see the Best Boy’s name in the end credits. And maybe not even then.

Leave a comment

Filed under art criticism, heroes, humor, monsters, movie review, strange and wonderful ideas about life, TV as literature, TV review

The World is a B-Movie

Yes, I am saying the world I live in is a low-budget commercial movie made without literary or artistic pretensions. You know, the kind where movie makers learn their craft, taking big risks with smaller consequences, and making the world of their picture reflect their heart rather than the producer’s lust for money.

Mostly what I am talking about are the movies I remember from late-night Saturday TV in black and white (regardless of whether or not the movie was made in Technicolor) and the less-risky as well as more-likely-good Saturday matinees on Channel 3. Movies made in the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s. They were perfect, of course, for the forbidden Midnight Movie on the show called Gravesend Manor. I had to sneak downstairs to watch it on Saturday nights with the volume turned way down low. (Not that Mom and Dad didn’t know. Well, maybe they didn’t know how many of those I watched completely naked… maybe.)

I watched this one when I was twelve, late night on an October Saturday. I had a bed-sheet with me to pull over my head at the scariest parts. Frankenstein was a crashed astronaut brought back to life by the magic of space radiation. He was uglier than sin, but still the hero of the movie, saving the Earth from invading guys in gorilla suits and scary masks (none of which looked like the movie poster.)

This one, starring James Whitmore, a really good B-Movie actor, was about giant ants coming up from the sewers and the underground to eat the city.

I would end up watching it again twenty years later when I was wearing clothes and not alone in the dark house lit only by a black-and-white TV screen.

I realized on the second viewing that it was actually a pretty good movie in spite of cheesy special effects. And I realized too that I had learned from James Whitmore’s hero character that, in times of crisis, you have to run towards the trouble rather than away from it, a thing that I used several times in my teaching career with fights and tornadoes and even rattlesnakes visiting the school campus looking to eat a seventh-grader or something (though it was a bad idea for the snake even if it had been successful.)

This one, of course, taught me that monsters liked to carry off pretty girls in bikinis. And not just on the poster, either. But it was the hero that got the girl, not the monster. This movie taught me that it sucks to be the monster. Though it also taught me that it was a good movie to take your pajamas off for and watch naked when you are thirteen.

But not all B-movies had to be watched late night on Saturdays. This movie was one of the first ones that I got to go to the movie theater to see by myself. (My sisters and little brother were still too young and got nightmares too easily to see such a movie.) It came out when I was in my teens and Mom and Dad began thinking of me as an adult once… or even possibly twice in a month.

And not all B-movies were monster movies, gangster movies, and westerns. Some, like a lot of Danny Kaye’s movies, were movies my Dad and my grandparents were more than happy to watch with me. I saw this one in both black-and-white and color. And I learned from this that it was okay to take advantage of happy accidents, like a case of mistaken identity, and using your wits, your creative singing ability, and your inexplicable good luck to win the day for everybody but the bad guys armed only with your good sense of humor.

And some of the best movies I have ever seen, judging by what I learned about movies as literature from Professor Loring Silet in his Modern Film Class at Iowa State University, are by their nature B-movies.

I am using movie posters in this blog post only from movies I have personally seen. (And I admit that not all of them are strictly “good” movies according to Professor Silet, but I like them all.)

Feel free to tell me in the comments if you have seen any of these movies yourself. I am open to all opinions, comments, and confessions.

This one is based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
I saw this one in college. You had to be 18 at the time to even buy a ticket.
I actually think that this is one of the best movies ever made. It will always make my own personal top-ten list.

I live in a B-movie world. The production values around me are not the top-dollar ones. But the stories are entertaining. The real-life heroes still run towards the problem. And it still sucks to be the monster. But it has always been worth the price of the ticket. And during my time on Earth here, even in 2020, I plan on staying till the end of the picture. I go nowhere until I see the Best Boy’s name in the end credits. And maybe not even then.

Leave a comment

Filed under art criticism, heroes, humor, monsters, movie review, strange and wonderful ideas about life, TV as literature, TV review

Why Do You Think That? (Part Two)

In my short, sweet sixty years of life, I have probably seen more than my share of movies.  I have seen classic movies, black-and-white movies, cartoon movies, Humphrey Bogart movies, epic movies, science fiction movies, PeeWee Herman movies, Disney movies, Oscar-winning movies, and endless box-office stinkers.  But in all of that, one of the most undeniable threads of all is that movies make me cry.  In fact they make me cry so often it is a miracle that even a drop of moisture remains in my body.   I should be a dried-out husk by now.

de la mano

I wept horribly during this scene.  Did you?

And the thing is, people make fun of you when you cry at movies.  Especially cartoon movies like Scooby Doo on Zombie Island.  (But I claim I was laughing so hard it brought tears to my eyes.  That’s the truth, dear sister.  So stop laughing at me.)  But I would like to put forth another “Why do you think that?” notion.  People who cry while watching a movie are stronger and more powerful than the people who laugh at them for crying.  A self-serving thesis if ever there was one.

open-uri20150422-12561-1plzyv7_a194ba80

Movies can make you cry if you have the ability to feel empathy.  We all know this.  Old Yeller is the story of a dog who endears himself to a prairie farm family, saves Travis’s life at one point, and then gets infected with rabies and has to be put down.  Dang! No dry eyes at the end of that one.  Because everyone has encountered a dog and loyal dog-love somewhere along the line.  And a ten-year-old dog is an old dog.  The dogs you knew as a child helped you deal with mortality because invariably, no matter how much you loved them, dogs demonstrate what it means to die.  Trixie and Scamper were both hit by cars.  Queenie, Grampa’s collie, died of old age.  Jiggs the Boston Terrier died of heat stroke one summer.  You remember the pain of loss, and the story brings it all back.

vign-le-bossu-de-notre-dame-6ur_x43

Only psychopaths don’t feel empathy to some degree.  Think about how you would feel if you were watching Old Yeller and somebody you were watching with started laughing when Travis pulls the trigger on the shotgun.  Now, there’s a Stephen King sort of character.

But I think I can defend having lots of empathy as a reason for crying a river of tears during Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  You see, identifying with Quasimodo as the main character, hoping for what he hopes for, feeling like a monster and completely unloved, and fearing what he fears connect you to the story in ways that completely immerses you in the experience.  This is basically a monster movie.Original-Hunchback_of_Notre_Dame

But the film puts you inside the head of the malformed man, and you realize that he is not the monster.  Righteous Judge Frollo and the people who mistreat Quasimodo for his deformity of outward appearance are the real monsters.  If you don’t cry a river of tears because of this story, then you have not learned the essential truth of Quasimodo.  When we judge others harshly, we are really judging ourselves. In order to stop being monstrous, and be truly human, you must look inside the ugliness as Esmeralda does to see the heroic beauty inside others.  Sometimes the ideas themselves are so powerful they make me weep.  That’s when my sister and my wife look at me and shake their heads because tears are shooting out of me like a fountain, raining wetness two or three seats in every direction.  But I believe I am a wiser man, a more resolved man, and ultimately a better man because I was not afraid to let a movie make me cry.

The music also helps to tell the story in ways that move my very soul to tears.  Notice how the heroine walks the opposite way to the rest of the crowd.  As they sing of what they desire, what they ask God to grant, she asks for nothing for herself.  She shows empathy in every verse, asking only for help for others.  And she alone walks to the light from the stained glass window.  She alone is talking to God.

the-hunchback-of-notre-dame

Yes, I am not embarrassed by the fact that movies make me cry.   In fact, I should probably be proud that movies and stories and connections to other people, which they bring me, makes me feel it so deeply I cry.  Maybe I am a sissy and a wimp.  Maybe I deserved to be laughed at all those times for crying during the movie.  But, hey, I’ll take the laughter.  I am not above it.  I am trying to be a humorist after all.

Leave a comment

Filed under cartoon review, commentary, compassion, Disney, humor, insight, inspiration, movie review, music, philosophy, strange and wonderful ideas about life

The World is a B-Movie

Yes, I am saying the world I live in is a low-budget commercial movie made without literary or artistic pretensions. You know, the kind where movie makers learn their craft, taking big risks with smaller consequences, and making the world of their picture reflect their heart rather than the producer’s lust for money.

Mostly what I am talking about are the movies I remember from late-night Saturday TV in black and white (regardless of whether or not the movie was made in Technicolor) and the less-risky as well as more-likely-good Saturday matinees on Channel 3. Movies made in the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s. They were perfect, of course, for the forbidden Midnight Movie on the show called Gravesend Manor. I had to sneak downstairs to watch it on Saturday nights with the volume turned way down low. (Not that Mom and Dad didn’t know. Well, maybe they didn’t know how many of those I watched completely naked… maybe.)

I watched this one when I was twelve, late night on an October Saturday. I had a bed-sheet with me to pull over my head at the scariest parts. Frankenstein was a crashed astronaut brought back to life by the magic of space radiation. He was uglier than sin, but still the hero of the movie, saving the Earth from invading guys in gorilla suits and scary masks (none of which looked like the movie poster.)

This one, starring James Whitmore, a really good B-Movie actor, was about giant ants coming up from the sewers and the underground to eat the city.

I would end up watching it again twenty years later when I was wearing clothes and not alone in the dark house lit only by a black-and-white TV screen.

I realized on the second viewing that it was actually a pretty good movie in spite of cheesy special effects. And I realized too that I had learned from James Whitmore’s hero character that, in times of crisis, you have to run towards the trouble rather than away from it, a thing that I used several times in my teaching career with fights and tornadoes and even rattlesnakes visiting the school campus looking to eat a seventh-grader or something (though it was a bad idea for the snake even if it had been successful.)

This one, of course, taught me that monsters liked to carry off pretty girls in bikinis. And not just on the poster, either. But it was the hero that got the girl, not the monster. This movie taught me that it sucks to be the monster. Though it also taught me that it was a good movie to take your pajamas off for and watch naked when you are thirteen.

But not all B-movies had to be watched late night on Saturdays. This movie was one of the first ones that I got to go to the movie theater to see by myself. (My sisters and little brother were still too young and got nightmares too easily to see such a movie.) It came out when I was in my teens and Mom and Dad began thinking of me as an adult once… or even possibly twice in a month.

And not all B-movies were monster movies, gangster movies, and westerns. Some, like a lot of Danny Kaye’s movies, were movies my Dad and my grandparents were more than happy to watch with me. I saw this one in both black-and-white and color. And I learned from this that it was okay to take advantage of happy accidents, like a case of mistaken identity, and using your wits, your creative singing ability, and your inexplicable good luck to win the day for everybody but the bad guys armed only with your good sense of humor.

And some of the best movies I have ever seen, judging by what I learned about movies as literature from Professor Loring Silet in his Modern Film Class at Iowa State University, are by their nature B-movies.

I am using movie posters in this blog post only from movies I have personally seen. (And I admit that not all of them are strictly “good” movies according to Professor Silet, but I like them all.)

Feel free to tell me in the comments if you have seen any of these movies yourself. I am open to all opinions, comments, and confessions.

This one is based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
I saw this one in college. You had to be 18 at the time to even buy a ticket.
I actually think that this is one of the best movies ever made. It will always make my own personal top-ten list.

I live in a B-movie world. The production values around me are not the top-dollar ones. But the stories are entertaining. The real-life heroes still run towards the problem. And it still sucks to be the monster. But it has always been worth the price of the ticket. And during my time on Earth here, even in 2020, I plan on staying till the end of the picture. I go nowhere until I see the Best Boy’s name in the end credits. And maybe not even then.

Leave a comment

Filed under art criticism, heroes, humor, monsters, movie review, strange and wonderful ideas about life, TV as literature, TV review

Jungle Book

This is a re-post of my review of the Disney movie Jungle Book directed by John Favreau.  It was the movie version I have been waiting for all my life.

MOWGLI_AND_SHANTI_by_FERNL

The amazing thing about this movie is the way it took the book and layered its themes and central idea on top of the classic 60’s Disney cartoon.  The music is still there and intact, though mostly moved to the end credits.  The kid is still cute and mostly vulnerable, at least until the conclusion.  And they have still given the Disneyesque comedic touch to the character of Baloo the bear, voiced by comedian Bill Murray in the this incarnation.  But this is a live action movie and the kid-friendly Bowdlerization of the original story is a thing no longer.

20160424_104053

A classic book illustration by E.J. Detmold

Fortunately for the young actor, Neel Sethi, they don’t require him to play the entire movie naked as would be required by a strictly by-the-book approach.  They allow him the Disney-dignity of the cartoon red loin cover.  But the sense of a human child facing the violence of the jungle naked, armed only with his creature-appropriate natural defenses, has been put back into the story. This version literally has teeth and claws.  We see the boy’s body wounded and scarred during the course of his life in the jungle.  And at a time of crucial confrontation, Mowgli takes the defense stolen from man village, a torch of the feared red flower, and throws it away into the water, facing the terrible tiger with only his wits and the abilities of his fangless, clawless human body.   Thus, an essential theme I loved about the book when I was twelve is restored.  Man has a place in the natural world even without the protections of civilization.

The story-telling is rich and nuanced, with multiple minor characters added.  Gray Brother has been restored to Mowgli’s family.  The fierce power of Mowgli’s wolf mother has been written back into the screenplay.  And the character of Akela is given far more importance in the story than the cartoon could even contemplate.  Although his role in aiding Mowgli to kill the tiger Shere Khan has been taken away from him, Akels’s death becomes the central motivation bringing Mowgli and Shere Khan together for the final inevitable confrontation.  And this movie does not shy away from the reality of death as the cartoon did, resurrecting Baloo at the end, and Kaa’s attempts to eat Mowgli being turned into a joke (though I would like to note if you have never read the book, Kaa is not supposed to be a villain.  He was Mowgli’s wise and powerful friend in the book).  Even the tiger survives in the cartoon version.  This is no longer a cute cartoon story with a Disney sugared-up ending.

I will always treasure the 1960’s cartoon version.  I saw it at the Cecil Theater in Mason City, Iowa when I was ten.  I saw it with my mother and father and sisters and little brother.  It was my favorite Disney movie of all time at that point in my life.  I read and loved the book two years after that, a paperback copy that I bought with my own money from Scholastic book club back in 1968, in Mrs. Reitz’s sixth grade classroom.  That copy is dog-eared, but still in my library.  But this movie is the best thing that could possibly happen to bring all of that love of the story together and package it in a stunning visual experience.

the-jungle-book-2016-poster-header-165110

Leave a comment

Filed under art criticism, humor, movie review, Uncategorized

Allegro Non Troppo

allegro

Fantasia_Disney_Vault

Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain from Disney’s Fantasia

 

4741986_l1

The old faun

In musical terms, Allegro Non Troppo means fast tempo, but not too fast.  So, I recently discovered that Allegro Non Troppo is one of many rare and obscure old movies which I am passionate about that can be found in its entirety on YouTube.  I will include the YouTube link to a portion of it at the end of this post, and I sincerely recommend that if you have never seen this movie, you watch the whole thing at least once.  No matter how many cringes or winces or blushes it causes, this is a movie of many bizarre parts that you really need to take in as a whole.  It ranges from the ridiculous to the sublime, the atrociously ugly to the lyrically beautiful, from the brilliant classical score being played by a mistreated band of old ladies with orchestral instruments to a gorilla running amok,  from Debussy to Ravel, from an artist released from his cage to single-handedly draw the animation, to a satire rich with baudy humor making fun of no less a work of animation than Prisney’s..  I mean Disney’s Fantasia.  The dark elements are there.  The light-hearted, lilting comedy is there.  The fairy tale delicacy and technicolor dreaming is all there.

And why should this be important to me?  Especially now that I am retired from a long and fruitful teaching career?  Well, I have history with this movie.  I saw it first in college.  I was an English major, but I took every film as literature class I could fit into my silly schedule.  As an undergrad, I was determined to be a cartoonist for a career.  I took classes seriously and aced most of them, but I was at college to intellectually play around.  I didn’t take the prescribed courses to be an English teacher.  That had to wait for the more responsible me to come along in grad school for that.  I saw both Fantasia and Allegro Non Troppo during one of the play-time years.  Much as the old satyr in Claude Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, I was enamored with sensory experience.  I took my first girlfriend to see Disney’s Fantasia, and she later turned down the opportunity to see Allegro Non Troppo with me.   Good sense on her part, but the beginning of the end of our relationship.155154089_640  Just as Fantasia has the part in it where Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring describes evolution from the beginning of the Earth to the end of the dinosaurs, Allegro Non Troppo uses Ravel’s Bolero to describe the evolution of life on a weird planet from germs in a discarded Coke bottle to the inevitable coming of the malevolent monkey who is ultimately us.  And, of course, the satire would not be complete without some off-set for Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Allegro-Non-Troppo As near as I can figure it out, the apprentice, played by Mickey Mouse, becomes the snake from the Garden of Eden in Allegro Non Troppo.  When the snake is unable to get Adam and Eve to eat the apple, he makes the mistake of eating the apple himself.  He learns the hard way that, no matter how clever, even diabolically clever, you think you are, you are not really in control of anything in life.  Every would-be wizard in the world has to understand that he is powerless without hard experience.  And what a boring world full of naked people this would be if there were never any apprentices in it foolish enough to actually become wizards. 200_s  Of coufantasia_august2012_blogpromorse, I haven’t really talked about the most heart-twisting part of Allegro Non Troppo… the sad cat wandering the ruins of his former home, or the most laugh-aloud part with the super-tidy little lady-bee trying to eat a blossom, but being interrupted by a couple of picnickers.

allegronontroppo2 03  But the thing is, this movie is a timely subject for me.  Not only did I, just yesterday, rediscover it, but it still has the same meaning for me now as it did when I first saw it.  Then I was an aspiring young artist who loved this movie because it approached ideas non-consecutively, just as I approached my learning years… rambling here and there, finding first a bitter-sweet something, and then a sad beauty behind everything in life.  And it is where I am again now, in a poor-health enforced retirement… divorced from teacher’s schedules and time itself.  Able to do as I please, and aspiring once again to commit great acts of art.

allegro_cat images (1)

2 Comments

Filed under movie review, philosophy

Big Eyes

141202210752_margaret_keane_304x171_margaretkeaneYesterday, before the big game, I watched the DVD I bought of Tim Burton’s Golden Globe Award movie, Big Eyes.  It is the true-story bio-pic of an artist I loved as a kid, Margaret Keane… though I knew her as Walter Keane.

This movie is the bizarre real-life tale of an artist whose art was stolen from her by a man she loved, and supposedly loved her back.  I have to wonder how you deal with a thing like that as an artist?  I live in obscurity as an artist.  My art has been published in several venues, but I have never been paid a dime for it.  All I have ever gotten is publication in return for “exposure”, and limited exposure at that.  But my art always brought vigor, joy, and light to my career as a school teacher.  My art was always my own, and had either my own name on it, or the name Mickey on it.  I shared my drawing skill in ways that directly impacted the lives of other people.  It enriched my “teacher life”.

Mrs. Keane’s hauntingly beautiful big-eyed children appealed to the cartoonist in me.  They expressed such deeply-felt character and emotion, that I was obsessed with imitating them.  In fact, the “big-eye-ness” of them can still be detected in some of my work.  I remember wondering how these children, mostly girls, could be drawn by a grown man.  What was his obsession with little girls?  But the true story reveals that he was a man so desperate to have art talent and notoriety that he put his name on his wife’s work, made her paint in secret, and eventually convinced himself that it was actually his.  He had a real genius for marketing art, and he invented many of  the art-market ploys that would later inform the careers of homely artists like Paul Detlafsen and Thomas Kinkaid.  One wonders if Mrs. Keane could’ve ever become famous and popular without him.

 

The movie itself is a Tim Burton masterpiece that reveals the artist that lives within the filmmaker himself.  I love Burton’s movies for their visual mastery and artistic atmosphere.  They are all very different in look and feel.  Batman was very dark and Gothic, inventing an entirely new way of seeing Batman that differed remarkably from the 60’s TV series.  Edward Scissorhands was full of muted, pastel colors and gentle humor.  Alice in Wonderland was full of bright colors and oddly distorted fantasy characters.  Dark Shadows was Gothic melodrama in 70’s pop-art style.  This movie was true to the paintings that inspired it and visually saturate it.  It is beautiful and colorful, while also serious and somber.  It makes you contemplate the tears in the eyes of the big-eyed waifs in so many of the pictures.  It is a movie “I love with a love that is more than a love in this kingdom by the sea”… if I may get all obsessive like Edgar Allen Poe.

big_eyes_2014_movie-1280x960

maxresdefault

keane-movie-still-6

So, there you have it.  Not so much a movie review as an effusion of love and admiration for an artist’s entire life and work.  I am captivated… fascinated… addicted… all the things I always feel about works of great art.

1 Comment

Filed under art my Grandpa loved, artists I admire, artwork, movie review

The Uncritical Critic Watches Another Quirky Movie

MoonriseKingdom

Yesterday was a weird day.  If you looked carefully at the mental map I made of Mickey’s head the other day, you realize that Uncle Slappy’s Big Box of Weirdness occupies a key position in the top center.  I had a traffic accident in the parking lot of Long Middle School yesterday morning, banging bumpers with a lady named Vilma.  The sun was in my eyes, and she started to go, then suddenly stopped for no reason I could see.  No damage was done to anything but my pride.  My wife put her parents, Tatang and Inang, on an airplane yesterday bound for the Philippine Islands, going home for a visit.  Afterwards, my wife was feeling mortal, betting me that she was going to die before me even though I have the head start of six incurable diseases and surviving cancer once already.  There are no symptoms for her impending heart attack, so I will probably win that bet.  But the point is, it was a weird time yesterday to stumble weirdly over a weird and wacky movie on Netflix called Moonrise Kingdom.  It is a Romeo and Juliet sort of story about two twelve-year-olds who fall in love at first sight, and though their families try to keep them apart, they end up together.  Thankfully it is not a Shakespearian Tragedy where everybody dies at the end, though Sam is struck by lightning and the big storm nearly drowns all the boy scouts.  It is more like a Shakespearian Comedy where everybody gets married at the end, though the twelve-year-olds don’t get married at the end… rather, they are married by the middle.

9cd430de

Wes Anderson is the genius director behind movies like;

tumblr_m66zbuiAG41r9a2pz

None of which I have seen, but now have to watch ALL of them sooner or later.  Kinda like the mad quest to see every Tim Burton movie ever made.  I am one of the few idiots out there who think Dark Shadows was a truly wonderful movie, and along with Edward Scissor-hands, one of the finest things Johnny Depp has ever done.

In Moonrise Kingdom Anderson uses tracking shots at the beginning that shift quickly from one room to the next in a way that invokes an old-time slide show.  The story is set in 1965 in Maine, and is filled with all kinds of iconic references to things we 60’s kids all vividly recall.

The movie also tells the love story of Sam and Suzy with a painter’s sense of iconic pictures that focus you on important plot points and themes.

c7482fc480a1bef169ba43932b279cb8

moonrise_kingdom_beach

And there are numerous quotable bits that make the movie what we teachers refer to as a text-rich environment, complete with phony kids’ books and maps and notes.

81Jn7yQSuAL._SL1500_

The all-star cast is pretty good, too.

ce6e360efec533bec4bf766dff5c85c3

This is now one of my new favorite movies.  It is a happy-ending-type fairy tale with no fairies in it.  It is full of ineffectual and incompetent adults who have rules of behavior like grown-ups and motivations like goofy kids… just like real life.  The plot is driven by the notion that anything you do in life is a mistake, and mistakes have consequences, but you have to do them anyway because, well… that’s life.

Am I telling you that you should watch this movie too?  Well, you should… but, no.  I am simply gushing about this quirky movie because I like it, and yesterday was a very weird day.

6 Comments

Filed under goofiness, humor, movie review, strange and wonderful ideas about life, surrealism

A Mr. Holland Moment

Life is making music.  We hum, we sing to ourselves, movie music plays in our head as the soundtrack to our daily life. At least, it does if we stop for a moment and dare to listen.   We make music in many different ways.  Some play guitar.  Some are piano players.  And some of us are only player pianos.  Some of us make music by writing a themed paragraph like this one.  Others make an engine sing in the automotive shop.  Still others plant gardens and make flowers or tomatoes grow.  I chose teaching kids to read and write.  The music still swells in my ears four years after retiring.

The 1995 movie, Mr. Holland’s Opus, is about a musician who thinks he is going to write a magnificent classical orchestra opus while teaching music at a public high school to bring in money and allow him time to compose and be with his young wife as they start a new family.

But teaching is not, of course, what he thought it was.  He has to learn the hard way that it is not an easy thing to open up the closed little clam shells that are the minds of students and put music in.  You have to learn who they are as people first.  You have to learn to care about what goes on in their lives, and how the world around them makes them feel… and react to what you have to teach.  Mr. Holland has to learn to pull them into music appreciation using rock and roll and music they like to listen to, teaching them to understand the sparkles and beats and elements that make it up and can be found in all music throughout their lives.  They can even begin to find those things in classical music, and appreciate why it has taken hold of our attention for centuries.

And teaching is not easy.  You have to make sacrifices.  Big dreams, such as a magnum opus called “An American Symphony”, have to be put on the shelf until later.  You have children, and you find that parenting isn’t easy either.  Mr. Holland’s son is deaf and can never actually hear the music that his father writes from the center of his soul.  And the issue of the importance of what you have to teach becomes something you have to fight for.  Budget cuts and lack of funding cripples teachers in every field, especially if you teach the arts.  Principals don’t often appreciate the value of the life lessons you have to give.  Being in high school band doesn’t get you a high paying job later.

But in the end, at the climax of the movie, the students all come back to honor Mr. Holland.  They provide a public performance of his magnum opus, his life’s work.  And the movie ends with a feeling that it was all worth it, because what he built was eternal, and will be there long after the last note of his music is completely forgotten.  It is in the lives and loves and memories of his students, and they will pass it on.

But this post isn’t a movie review.  This post is about my movie, my music.  I was a teacher in the same way Mr. Holland was.  I learned the same lessons about being a teacher as he did.  I had the same struggles to learn to reach kids.  And my Mr. Holland moment wasn’t anywhere near as big and as loud as Mr. Holland’s.  His was performed on a stage in front of the whole school and alumni.  His won Richard Dreyfus an Academy Award for Best Actor.  But his was only fictional.

Mine was real.  It happened in a portable building on the Naaman Forest High School campus.  The students and the teacher in the classroom next door threw a surprise party for me.  They made a lot of food to share, almost all of which I couldn’t eat because of diabetes.  And they told me how much they would miss me, and that they would never forget me.  And I had promised myself I would never cry about having to retire.  But I broke my promise.  In fact, I am crying now four years later.  But they are not tears of sadness.  My masterwork has now reached its last, bitter-sweet notes.  The crescendos have all faded.  But the music of our lives will still keep playing.  And not even death can silence it completely.

2 Comments

Filed under artwork, autobiography, commentary, happiness, insight, kids, movie review, teaching