The Greatest Special Effect In Movie History

Today HBO Max launched. I broke in the service for myself by watching what might be the greatest movie of all time, The Wizard of Oz, which I have seen more times than I can count, including multiple viewings in the theater. To me the theatrical experience of this film is miles beyond the home video experience, but at any scale this is one of the best movies ever made, a truly vibrant and nourishing example of how cinema can transport us completely. 

One moment that always works for me, that always brings with it a wave of emotion and awe, is the famous transition from sepia toned Kansas to Technicolor Oz. It’s the moment when the film shifts, when cinema itself shifted, and the secrets behind it are incredible. I think this is the greatest special effect in movie history. 

Continue reading “The Greatest Special Effect In Movie History”

Disney’s HUNCHBACK: Dark, Sensual, Religious and Weird

There are no churches on Walt Disney’s Main Street, USA. 

When Walt decided to recreate his vision of small town America for his theme parks, the one thing he left out – the one thing he didn’t want amid the restaurants and shops, Town Hall and the windows advertising dentists and doctors – was a church. That wasn’t an accident. Growing up under a strict fundamentalist father, Walt veered towards a kind of secular humanism. But more than that, he had the stroke of genius to understand that the religious future of America was ecumenical and interfaith. He didn’t want to ground his nostalgic look back at turn of the century America in things that he sensed would soon be out of style. 

Continue reading “Disney’s HUNCHBACK: Dark, Sensual, Religious and Weird”

Recommendation: Teenage Lobotomy (As Covered By A Buddhist Monk)

Every week I make a recommendation to my $5 and above subscribers at Patreon. Sometimes it’s a movie, a book, a concept. I write in depth about it. This week I’m recommending a Buddhist monk who covers pop songs, and I’ve decided to share it with everybody. If you like this, please consider becoming a Patron at www.patreon.com/cinemasangha.

Continue reading “Recommendation: Teenage Lobotomy (As Covered By A Buddhist Monk)”

Finding Neverland: HOOK As Response To CLOSE ENCOUNTERS

Hook’s Peter Banning is a bad dad, but he’s got nothing on Close Encounters of the Third Kind’s Roy Neary. And while Roy starts off bad enough – ignoring his family at the dinner table, his home a disaster indicating a life out of control – by the end of the movie, as he happily steps on to the mothership, he’s become one of cinema’s ultimate deadbeat dads. His kids will likely never get a goodbye, and if he ever does return to Earth relativity tells us he’ll be the same age and his kids will be old.

And yet he’s the hero. His moment is triumphant, the apotheosis of his life. The little ETs are his new children-but-also-parents, and the movie treats his domestic life as something he must escape, a prison of Altmanesque clamor that has been holding him back from his true destiny. He is the one human CALLED to the stars, and aliens have traveled light years to make his acquaintance. His kids? Pains in the asses we last see taking off in a station wagon, headed who cares where. 

Close Encounters ends with Dad going to Neverland (scored to a non-Peter Pan Disney tune, When You Wish Upon A Star, but the song is close enough – Peter Pan doesn’t have a big, wistful dreamer number like that). But Hook is all about Dad coming back from Neverland, returning to be with his kids for the first time ever. Peter Banning rejects the wonder for the (upper class) every day, the kind of life Roy Neary turns from with gusto.

To me Hook is answering Close Encounters, and it’s part of a journey that Spielberg was on with his own father. While it’s vital to separate the art from the artist when it comes to how we watch – good works come from bad people! – getting intimate with the artist can open up new areas of analysis of the work, allowing us to see the entire filmmaker’s canon as a personal journey set against their own autobiography. 

Continue reading “Finding Neverland: HOOK As Response To CLOSE ENCOUNTERS”

The Perfect, Shattering, Bittersweet Ending Of AI: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Years ago I interviewed Steven Spielberg and I told him that even well after the release of AI: Artificial Intelligence people on the message board of the site I wrote for, CHUD, were arguing about the ending. 

“Oh I know,” he told me. “I love reading all the arguments. And I love that they’re still arguing.”

Nineteen years after the release of AI it seems to me the arguments should be over but when I tweeted about watching the film this week I was immediately – within seconds! – hit with responses that said the movie should have ended with David trapped under water, spending all of eternity gazing upon the Blue Fairy. 

Continue reading “The Perfect, Shattering, Bittersweet Ending Of AI: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE”

We Are Not A Virus

It is a beautiful day in Los Angeles. Walking my dog this morning I was struck by the incredible clarity of the air, the deep blueness of the smogless sky, the smell of the trees and the singing of the birds. It was 9AM and there was no traffic, just the occasional jogger coming down the sidewalk, respectfully veering into the street to give me and my little buddy, Oliver Reed, the required six feet of social distancing. The mountains, so often occluded by haze, are clear in the distance, and I can see white snow dusting the peaks. 

Gone are the pollution and the rumble of cars, the airborne streams of cigarette and weed smoke, the booming sound systems passing by and giving today’s pop hits a disconcerting Doppler effect. The manic state of the world is not reflected in the streets. 

This isn’t a new observation. Almost immediately after over a billion of Earth’s inhabitants went into shelter in place mode people began noting that the air was clearing, that noise pollution was diminishing. Seismologists have noted that the background rumble of daily life picked up on their seismometers has died down, and most of what they hear is the noise of the planet itself.

With this observation has come a little meme, based on a bit from The Matrix. Agent Smith, disgusted by his time in the Matrix, has captured Morpheus and gives him a villain speech about how fundamentally worthless humanity is.

Continue reading “We Are Not A Virus”

I Finally Understand LEAVE IT TO BEAVER

Growing up we watched Leave It To Beaver reruns. You have to understand, we didn’t have many options. There were, in the New York City area, six channels to watch. You had your three networks – ABC, NBC and CBS, and you had PBS and then you had local indie channels WPIX and WNET. Those last two ran all kinds of reruns, and we grew up soaked in the pop culture of older eras.

Leave It To Beaver was like a transmission from an alternate universe to a kid growing up in 1980s New York City. Its blandly pleasant suburbia and the characters’ edgeless lives were hypnotically boring. Their troubles were hysterically minor, their behavior ludicrously flat and dull. This was the 1950s to us – a decade of stultifying conformity, repressed years of bloodless conservatism. It always seemed fitting to me that Leave It To Beaver left the airwaves five months before JFK was shot. 

Continue reading “I Finally Understand LEAVE IT TO BEAVER”

Staying Sober At WORLD’S END

I got shit faced at the premiere party for The World’s End. A couple of them, really – I went to the London and the LA premieres. The London premiere was funny because they didn’t have beer on tap, and this was a movie about a pub crawl, so a few of us ran out of the premiere party to hit a local pub just to scratch that itch. The LA premiere was particularly exciting; at the afterparty I did shots with Chris Evans (you know the “S! H! O! T! S!” thing in the movie? Edgar Wright got that from Evans) and at the after-afterparty I saw a famous person vomit in the bushes next to the Roosevelt Hotel pool. 

Continue reading “Staying Sober At WORLD’S END”

The Needs Of The Many In The Age Of Coronavirus

Spock: “It is logical. The needs of the many outweigh…” 

Kirk: “The needs of the few…” 

Spock: “Or the one.” 

That’s the reasoning that Captain Spock has as he leaves the bridge of the Enterprise during the Battle of the Mutara Nebula, as the crippled ship struggles to escape before the Genesis Device, activated by Khan, threatens to wipe them all out. He heads down to engineering and enters a compartment flooded with deadly radiation in order to manually make the repairs necessary so the ship can warp away with death nipping at its nacelles. 

I was eight years old when Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan came out in June of 1982. I saw it in theaters and I wept when Spock died. I cried the whole way home in the car. I had been a Star Trek fan since before I could talk, zooming around the living room in my little wheeled scooter when the opening credits played on WPIX Channel 11. I have no memory of a time before me knowing about Star Trek, about Captain Kirk, Mister Spock. 

Spock’s reasoning has deeply impacted me. I’ve not led a blameless life, and I’ve failed at keeping my own ideals, but again and again my moral compass has eventually found its way to this true north – that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. Even as Western culture, especially American culture, has taught me to look out for myself, even when I’ve fallen into that trap and thought “Fuck that guy, I gotta get mine,” I always come back – eventually, painfully – to this belief. 

Continue reading “The Needs Of The Many In The Age Of Coronavirus”

PICARD Reminds Me Of That Time My Mom Made Me Get An Earring

When I was entering high school my mother took me to a mall on Long Island and got my ear pierced. It wasn’t really something I wanted – I’m a huge baby about needles, so the idea of having one shoved through my lobe was terrifying. Also, it seemed weird to me. It was 1987, and earrings on men were pretty edgy. I was 13. I was very concerned, as a fat little 13 year old nerd who once had Nair poured down his crotch by bullies, about the messages an earring would send about my masculinity. At the time we believed that the ear you got pierced had deep meaning, a modern day Hankie Code, and that if I got the wrong lobe pierced I would be loudly announcing that I was a homosexual. In 1987 this was very frightening to me as a kid who had been immersed in low-grade homophobia from birth.

Eventually I got more piercings; I had about six when it was all said and done. The first one I got I used to very weird effect – I ordered a severed finger earring out of the pages of an old Fangoria and wore that around, looking like the world’s dipshittiest try-hard. I had a lot of fuzz on my face at this age, and a lot of acne, and I was a rotund little thing, with a permanent scowl on my unibrow and a severed thumb hanging from my ear. Eventually I toned down the earring – I wore a lot of studs, a bunch of little hoops – but I was very susceptible to infections, I didn’t keep the holes clean and I always had some smelly crud accumulating behind my ears. Over time I just gave up on them; I suppose the holes are technically still there, but nothing has been inside of them since Layne Stanley was alive. 

Continue reading “PICARD Reminds Me Of That Time My Mom Made Me Get An Earring”