Friday, February 26, 2016

American Graffiti

"Where were you in '62?" asks the trailer for American Graffiti.  In 1962 I was in diapers.  The movie came out in 1973, and at the time I thought that it was one of the most amazing movies I had seen.  I was 13.  

George Lucas wanted to document a particular time in American history, before the assassination of JFK, the Vietnam war, drugs, free love, and the invasion of British Rock 'n Roll.  Only in America, and only during this particular time, there was this mating ritual of cruising in automobiles trying to meet the opposite sex.  I suspect that this was more common in California than, say, the midwest.  Cruising came back somewhat after the movie was released.

Lucas said that he wasted four years of his life cruising the streets of Modesto California, before going off to college.  He wanted to explore the theme of being afraid of change, and how that is one of the things that holds people back from success.  He also wanted to explore the theme of how we feel like we have a relationship with disk jockey's, because we listen to them so much, or used to many decades ago, so we think of them as our friends, when in reality they are complete strangers.

American Graffiti is intended as a musical.  Popular music of the late 50's and early 60's permeates the film.  Particular songs seem to accentuate various plot points and moods of the movie.  This was the first movie to really do this, so at the time the film could be considered experimental.  The music in the movie seems to come from everywhere.  People are listening to it on their car radios, but even people walking down the street seem to hear it from offscreen sources.  
The world that these characters live in seems very artificial, and as it turns out, very fleeting.  The world changed drastically in short order, which is why George Lucas wanted to make a film capturing that particular time period.  

The film succeeds brilliantly in capturing all the themes that Lucas wanted to show.  It is sort of a history lesson, which the film also does brilliantly.  The acting, by many young actors who would later become famous, Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Cindy Williams, Harrison Ford, is also brilliant.  The plot meanders, which is probably intentional because the main characters are sort of meandering through life trying to decide what to do next.  So the film seems less entertaining to me now, and far less relevant than it did four decades ago, but noteworthy for its accomplishments.

My Rating:  * * * .5

The movie inspired the TV series Happy Days, which in turn inspired the spin-offs Laverne & Shirley, and Mork & Mindy, the latter of which fired up the career of Robin Williams.  Likewise, Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, and Harrison Ford might not have been as famous were it not for this film.  It was because George Lucas had worked with Harrison Ford on American Graffiti that Ford was chosen for the parts of Han Solo and Indiana Jones.  And it was only because American Graffiti was such a big hit that Lucas was able to do his next big project, which was Star Wars.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Left Behind.

Left Behind has a 2% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  Some critics described it as one of the worst movies of 2014.  So when I saw that it was available on Netflix streaming, I was annoyed that they would put such a crappy film on their streaming service.  Then on a whim, I decided that I wanted to see for myself just how bad this film is.  What was the result?  I felt like it is almost watchable.

Let me break this down for you:  The first 32 minutes is set up that isn't terrible, but isn't particularly interesting either.  At one point during this period, a non-religious person gets into an argument with a pious person and makes a pretty good argument for her point of view.  I thought that this was an interesting contrast for a film about The Rapture, which happens 32 minutes into the film.  The next fifty minutes or so I thought was pretty interesting in a science fiction sort of way.  After all, what would happen if millions of people, and all the children, suddenly vanished?  In this film what happens is large scale panic and mayhem.

Fortunately the film doesn't get very preachy.  Maybe in a couple of places, but it is mild.  This is more like a science fiction film about an extraordinary earth changing event.

The last 32 minutes of the movie is like the first 32 minutes, where it isn't terrible but it isn't that great either.  Parts of the film feel like a mediocre Hallmark television special, but I found the middle portion of the movie to be pretty entertaining.

What can I say?  This is a movie that had potential to be more than it is.  Unfortunately, it is only half a movie.

This concept could make an interesting TV series, not unlike The Walking Dead, where supernatural events wipe out part of humanity and those remaining struggle to survive against difficult circumstances.

Thursday, February 4, 2016


Equilibrium starts out promising with a dystopian future where human emotion is a capital crime.  This society views emotion as the cause of war, murder and greed, and therefore requires everyone to take a drug to suppress their emotions.  When the top enforcement officer accidentally misses a dose, he starts to feel emotion and question the morality of his actions.  The longer he is off the drug, the more he feels, but the harder he has to work to avoid detection by the authorities.  For his sake, so that he would not be discovered and executed, I found myself wanting him to go back on the drug to suppress his emotions, but by going off the drug he has discovered a whole new part of himself and doesn't want to go back.

What disappointed me slightly about the film is that it degrades into repeated martial arts style shootouts like The Matrix or Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2.  It is over the top and not very believable, but I am not sure the movie cares if it is believable or not; the goal seems to be to entertain regardless of believability.  

There is also much about this movie that reminds me of other films, such as The Matrix, Kill Bill, or 1984.  There are also themes that remind me of Nazism, or North Korea, or plays like The Crucible.  If you can imagine any totalitarian society, fictional or real, then this film has it.  And this is why I think the film is worth seeing.  This haunting view of authoritarianism is one that is going to stick with me for a while.

In a way, the movie is like an extended version of the 1984 Apple Commercial, which itself was based on 1984.

The movie feels low budget, and the shootouts border on being corny, but the story drew me in and I cared about the characters.  That is enough.  

Rating:  * * *