A Review of Black Mass

People seem to forget what Johnny Depp’s biggest strengths are. It’s understandable – for the last decade, Depp has slowly descended into the same self parody that his former mentor Marlon Brando became at the end of his legendary career.

Throughout the 90s, Depp was the best character actor in the world. He worked not just with Tim Burton but other oddball directors like Terry Gilliam, Jim Jarmusch, John Waters, and Roman Polanski to disappear into strange characters. They were all different odd balls trying to make some sense about a worlds where everyone is in deep denial about how broken and pathetic reality is. But by the time The Lone Ranger came out, Depp was uninterested in exploring the characters he was playing. Putting on weird makeup and talking in a funny accent seemed to be enough for him –  he was getting huge paychecks out of the deal. But those who remembered his glory days couldn’t help but feel sadness during that stupid “futterwacken dance” in Alice in Wonderland.

It’s why Black Mass is refreshing; Depp finally seems to care again. Now, this film is completely Depp’s show. There are flaws with the story’s structure and in a lot of the other performances. Plus, the film is thematically confused at times, particularly in the first two acts. But Depp’s performance makes Black Mass worthwhile and the third act is so well done that it’s going to entertain a lot of people.

Most have heard that Mass stars Depp as the notorious mob kingpin Whitey Bulger, a man who terrorized South Boston and got away with it because of his status as an FBI informant. Bulger has already been referenced in films before – Jack Nicholson played a version of him in The Departed. But Depp doesn’t treat Bulger as an object of fun but one of fear. He’s a man trying to be a chameleon, able to joke about his mother beating him at cards but then shooting a friend in the back after promising they still had a good relationship.

Depp’s Bulger is not a charismatic Don Corleone. There’s never a deep introspection into why he does what he does. Even when he agrees to rat for the FBI, he’s using the flimsiest of excuses. There’s no doubt that he’s a man capable of extreme violence who hates putting on a costume to pretend like he has to justify himself to his gang. But even in the few moments where humanity does threaten to seize him, Depp never waivers from the monster. I do believe it’s a performance that deserves comparison to Anthony Hopkins’ in Silence of the Lambs. Like Lector, Depp is a classic monster who reflects humanity’s darkest points. The fact that Bulger was a real man who was given a virtual blank check by the U.S. government to terrorize Boston makes it even worse.

This is the real Whitey Bulger

But one performance should not carry a film, so I can’t ignore the problems Black Mass has. The film is not really an examination of Bulger’s crimes but about Bulger slowly turning FBI Agent Connolly into a villain. Connolly’s story is the traditional gangster story of the man who sells his soul by convincing Bulger to rat out rival gangs for an easy short-term gain via promotion and recognition in the FBI. Mass did have a good twist of making Connolly the cop and thus making his defense of Bulger far more devastating to his career and his life. But I never found Connolly to be an engaging character by himself, mostly because I never believed that Connolly would get away with covering up Bulger’s crimes for so long. And I couldn’t believe that Connolly was in such deep denial about what he was doing. Did he ever stop to justify the bodies turning up in the marsh? Or about how Bulger was destroying the Boston neighborhood Connolly grew up in? And what about Bulger’s brother Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch – yes, really)? What did HE think about his brother’s crimes and how it could impact his political career? The film wasn’t really forthcoming in those details.

I also felt that there were some moments in Bulger’s story that didn’t have the proper emotional impact. There’s a scene toward the end of the first act where Bulger’s son becomes incredibly sick and his wife talks about pulling him off life support. The moment abruptly ends with Bulger kicking over the table in the hospital cafeteria. That’s pretty much the last we see of this important moment in Bulger’s life that, possibly, cemented his ability to take a human life so casually.

I supposed it read well in the script, but the way it’s shot seems to give us the desire for one more scene with the child for that emotional closure. I don’t know. That approach can be very mawkish, but for some reason I felt it was a necessity. What’s strange is that Black Mass is usually very economical with its scenes and pacing but still delivers the appropriate impact. The famous “Bulger tracked down a man who bought the winning lottery ticket from a convenience store he owned and proceeded to scare him into splitting the winnings” gets about thirty seconds of screen time but gets its point across. Why that important moment failed is something I still don’t understand.

I’m aware these stories are true and I could read any number of news articles to fill in the missing pieces. But films are about feelings and I think I didn’t get the appropriate one in that scene. It does dilute the impact until at least the third act.

With its flaws, Black Mass is still a great picture that shows an artist finally caring about his craft again. Depp’s performance is an effective one that shows us why Bulger is someone we should still care about.

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Rotten Tomatoes and Buzzfeed – A Reminder of how Criticism Works 

I came across a Buzzfeed post about Sister Act 2 and its low Rotten Tomatoes score. It currently sits at a 7 percent “fresh” rating, which Buzzfeed points out places it below Catwoman and only one point above Gigli.

This is apparently a travesty. (I haven’t seen Sister Act 2, but that’s not important for this piece.) After all, “the sequel is phenomenal” and “all your favorite nuns are back.” Lauryn Hill is also used as a selling point, something that hasn’t been done since her Unplugged album flopped 13 or so years ago.

How many of you bought this? Quit lying.

What strikes me is how the writer Mat Whitehead of the article did nothing to back up his point that Sister Act 2 is some sort of misunderstood gem that the critics got wrong. No, it’s about how the critics are wrong because they don’t conform to their “feels.”

I thought we went over this, but it looks like we’ll have to go over it again.

There is a difference between your “favorite” film and the “best” film. Your favorite film is something that’s used to describe you and your personal beliefs. Your favorite film may conjure powerful memories of a time you miss. It can provide a connection to someone you loved that is no longer in your life. Or it can just entertain you no matter how many times you see it.

Sister Act 2 may fit that bill for someone. I can’t take that feeling away. But that does not mean the film is automatically a good one!

Say Whaaaaaat?

It’s really hard to explain how something is good in a way that other people can understand. This is especially true of art (like movies) because it does hit people at a personal level. But I think I’ve figured out a way. To be good, a movie must do three things:

1) It must give us, the audience, a credible and emotional experience that we could not experience in our lives. This is why I think Boyhood is a great film – I felt as though I had experienced that boy’s life even though I never will. This is also why I didn’t like Frozen, because I never once felt like I was sharing the same emotional experience as the characters, no matter how often the film insisted that I was.

2) The film must skillfully accomplish the goals it set out to accomplish. The fairly recent Dredd movie was a good one because is was so incredibly executed. Ditto Mad Max: Fury Road, which is essentially a prolonged chase scene but one so breathtakingly awesome that no one cares about its flimsy plot.

3) The goals in the second item must be something worth doing in the first place. I call this the “Picasso Toilet Painting” test. Sure, Picasso could paint a picture of a toilet. In some ways, it would be a beautiful painting. But at the end of the day, it’s going to be full of crap no matter how Picasso executes it. He can’t turn around and say, “Well, I painted a toilet. What did you expect?”

It’s the same with filmmakers who waste their talents on a bad subject. I’ve stopped counting the number of times I hear people say, “Well, it was supposed to be a big, dumb comedy for teenagers!” It’s not a good goal to play dumb and you don’t deserve praise for achieving it. The goals you begin with should be worthwhile to both yourself and your audience.

This brings me back to the Mat Whitehead’s post. Sister Act 2 may have merits that critics did not acknowledge and may fulfill each of the three qualities listed above. But Mat doesn’t try to do to examine the film at all. It’s a statement about how this movie MUST be good because it’s supposedly better than universally loathed films like The Room but has a lower Rotten Tomatoes score.

Films are not math problems. It’s not about finding what quantity is larger than the other. It also shows Mat doesn’t know how averages work. There are 194 reviews of Catwoman compared to 28 reviews for Sister Act 2. Catwoman has far more negative reviews than Sister Act 2 but the fact that there are more reviews means that its average score is likely to be higher. But anyway, if you are going to examine a film, you need to examine the qualities the film has and the goals it sets out to achieve.

From all appearances, Sister Act 2 was an unnecessary sequel that was not made for artistic reasons but made to cash in on what the studio hoped to be a new franchise right before Whoopi Goldberg’s status as a leading lady sadly and suddenly vanished. It was a cash grab. The bar was already set low and there doesn’t appear to be a great need to examine it. Again, I haven’t seen it, but Mat’s post isn’t the sort of glowing recommendation that’s going to make me seek it out.

Now look at something like The Room, which Whitehead mentioned. That film was ineptly made; it has terrible performances, appalling production design, and a script seemingly written by an eight year old who had been left alone in the woods with nothing to eat but a jar of paste. And yet, it is so demented that it becomes an accidental commentary on Oscar bait dramas. The performances are bad and the plot is garbage. But I could say the same thing about a lot of Best Picture winners. (Looking in your direction, Crash.) That’s a worthwhile goal and it even created the appropriate emotional response. I sit there watching the film and I feel the actor’s pain as they are forced to march through another of shooting this incoherent nonsense. It’s a feeling I’ll be unable to capture any other way. Had Tommy Wiseau set out to deliberately make The Room in that way, it would be a comedic masterpiece.

It is possible to find merit in a bad film. And I haven’t even gotten into how much “fun” I think it is to watch The Room or how good a time I had with my friends when I showed it to them for the first time. That’s a personal experience, one that cannot be rated.  And that’s the difference.

So, Mr. Whitehead, if you’re going to launch into a diatribe about how misunderstood a film is, come to the table with something more than pictures of a young Jennifer Love Hewitt. Those are easy to find and add nothing to an article.


On a final note, I know it’s been forever since I wrote a review of a new release. I’m really, truly sorry about that and will correct that next week when Black Mass gets released.

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Retro Review – The Lost Boys

Before Joel Schumacher took his rightful place as the most disgusting creature history has ever produced, he was famous for two things. The first thing was his apparent addiction for directing films based on John Grisham novels. Much like the author, Schumacher’s adaptations were neither good or aggressively awful. They just sort of exist as a way to measure how much time has passed in your life. (One Grisham = the length of one U.S. domestic flight.)

The second was for The Lost Boys. It was a cult 80’s teenage film that everyone insisted was not that bad. Sure, it’s a direct lift of the plot to that OTHER (and better) cult 80’s teenage film Near Dark, but it still was a sort of calling card for Schumacher and got him all sorts of work. Andrew Lloyd Webber, for example, was impressed enough with the film’s “use of music” that he hand picked Schumacher to direct the Phantom of the Opera musical adaptation.

Everything about that last sentence makes me want to throw up in retrospect. But still, was there anything to Schumacher before we all learned that he really, really wanted to see Batman’s nipples and was willing to make us all suffer for it?

Well, the answer is, “almost.”

I include the opening scene to show the amazing promise The Lost Boys has. In fact, I almost see what Andrew Lloyd Webber saw in the “use of music.” The film is a wonderfully stylized work that actually uses vampires for symbolic purposes.

Vampires, like all monsters, are a symbolic representation of something deep inside man. Ever since Dracula’s brides and his preying on Mina Harker, the underlying point of vampires was about how sex and sexuality can change people. And no matter the benefits, sometimes the cost is too much.

That’s the case with Michael (Jason Patric) who is lured into becoming a vampire by David (Keifer Sutherland) and Star (Jami Gertz). He is a “new kid” who is offered a chance to belong with a group. Star entices him to join her, only for him to later realize what he’s getting into.

You may recognize this as the plot of Kathryn Bigelow’s classic Near Dark. That’s true, but Schumacher is able to create his own style around these characters. Plus, exploring homosexual themes in an ’80s blockbuster was still incredibly taboo.

David, for example, is obviously a gay character who is obsessed with Michael. He’s also profoundly upset when one of his male vampire cohorts is killed. Finally, the only reason Michael became a vampire was because he (accidentally) drank David’s blood – a stand in for an alternate fluid.

The symbolism is obvious, in the way all vampire symbolism is obvious. Michael is experimenting with David and Star and and is not sure what he prefers. That sounds mawkish, but The Lost Boys makes it seems fresh. I liked those moments in the film. It’s what horror is meant to be at it’s core – a revelation of the human experience.

But what if I told you that this is not a film about puberty or sexual experimentation, but rather another slapstick vehicle for the two Coreys? And that the main plot involves them trying to thwart a man’s attempts to date their mother because they believe he’s a vampire? You would think that I’m lying, but there’s so much screen time given to those two that the fact they aren’t in front of Keifer Sutherland on the poster is a form of false advertising.

And it’s about as dumb as you think. I don’t need a dinner scene in which the kids try to force feed a suspected vampire garlic or spill water on him for the sake cinematic shenanigans. It’s not even that funny or that exciting. You know that none of the boy’s techniques will work and he’ll just end up embarrassing his mom. These scenes don’t work and are just a distraction from the more interesting elements. But of course the film decides the two Corey’s subplot is the climax to ensure that the prudes are not offended. It’s such a weird cop out for what had been an interesting horror film.

Part of me wants to unequivocally praise The Lost Boys. It has the air of a director who started off strong but ended up corrupted by the studio system. At least it demonstrates Schumacher knew what he was doing in the 1980s. It wasn’t until Phone Booth that he made a good movie, and even that had no personal experience involved in its viewpoints. The Lost Boys could have been a stepping stone for a gay horror auteur. Too bad both the film and Schumacher’s career went wrong.

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Goodbye to Jon Stewart

On August 6, legendary The Daily Show host Jon Stewart will step down from the show that made him an American icon.

This shouldn’t be a big event. People retire all the time, leaving behind holes that may never be properly filled. It’s happened on TV shows, it’s happened in bands, it’s happened at your job.

But Stewart wasn’t just that receptionist that got transferred to a new department. Since 1999, Stewart had been the yard stick by which our greatest cultural and historical moments were measured. His voice came through our TV screens, condemning politicians and celebrities for their deaf ear to the world. This seems like nothing revolutionary now – every talk show includes segments about political figures who are so hopelessly out of touch that they may as well be living on a different planet.

But Stewart was the first person to really give a sense of desperation to that humor. He was not just content to point and laugh at the politicians who insisted that God hates gay people. He was pointing to us as a society to allow such a person to be placed in the seat of power. Stewart, along with the rest of us, watched as the nation went mad and became increasingly obsessed with trivial matters and was one of the few who could make you feel just as worried as he always was.

I don’t remember the first time I saw Stewart. I think it was around the time Ohio congressman James Traficant was expelled from the House of Representatives. (Thanks to Comedy Central’s extensive archives, you can see a clip here) Most people probably don’t remember who Traficant was or why that expulsion mattered.

I didn’t really know the full extent of Traficant’s corruption either. But Stewart managed to make me care in three minutes. It was so simple and depended on such basic sound bites. (Of course, a Congressman from Youngstown, Ohio will offer you a lot of bizarre sound bites.) But it was also such an indictment of a man who should not have been wandering the halls of Congress. He did it without words. Look at Stewart’s gestures as he becomes increasingly befuddled by Traficant. Listen to his tone in that clip. Watch Stewart’s gestures as he tries to find something to compliment the disgraced Congressman.

That was the core of what made The Daily Show work. There was spoken comedy there, but it was almost overshadowed by what Stewart wasn’t saying. He was crying out for help in the middle of a storm. And, despite what his critics at Fox News say, it was a storm that reached both sides. Stewart was equally willing to criticize Democrats when he felt they were in the wrong.

He could also be a sober voice of reason who knew when not to make jokes. The best example is this speech that needs no introduction.

Many people are surprised that Stewart was sometimes informally voted the most trusted news person in America.  I’m really not. I grew up in an age where news seemingly didn’t matter as much as punditry. It didn’t matter if people spouted facts. It mattered if they sounded good doing it. Take a look at Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, and Rachel Maddow. They are people who have built multimillion dollar empires without ever being honest with their audience. Stewart was both honest and had material to back up what he was saying. He wasn’t some huge talking head. He was like a funny dinner guest who had bothered to read the news before spouting off about the day’s events. I always had the feeling he was honest His protegé Stephen Colbert came close, but was always stuck behind a mask. Colbert the character overshadowed Colbert the man. Stewart was always himself, never bothering to hide behind a character to make his point.

Stewart was an important man for people my age. He was our nightly voice of reason, whose bug-eyed, silent gestures spoke volumes in ways that other talking heads could not equal. Stewart was our voice of reason, the man who would always be there to try to make sense of our world. I sound like I’m eulogizing the man. That’s not fair. Stewart will hopefully return with a new movie he’s directed or a cameo that he will make on some sitcom or on some other talk show. Maybe he will return to stand up and continue to entertain smaller audiences with his unique insight. I’m sure he will have no trouble finding something he wants to do. But it won’t be quite the same for the millions of people who used Stewart as the barometer for their own sanity. In an age where cultural experience has been hopelessly divided, Stewart was one of the few uniting forces left. I’m not sure if there will ever be anyone who can replace him as a cultural icon. Maybe that’s as it should be. There was only one Johnny Carson and, for the people who laughed at his antics while depending on him to say what they could never articulate, there will only ever be one Jon Stewart.

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A Review of Wet Hot American Summer

We’re deep in the middle of summer, which means everyone’s staying inside watching Netflix to beat the heat. Which means, to respond to the increased demand, Netflix is launching new shows.

One unusual pick for development is a revival of Wet Hot American Summer. The film is gaining a Lebowski-esque cult following but is still a risky gamble for anyone to resurrect. The film was critically savaged and bombed. The creators (Michael Showalter and David Wain) are veterans of The State, an amazingly funny 90s sketch show. However, follow ups to that film have ranged from spectacularly funny hits (Reno 911) to the quickly cancelled TV oddities (Stella and Michael and Michael Have Issues) to unfunny messes (Balls of Fury, aka that dumb ping-pong movie that had Christopher Walken).

Maybe Netflix sees something in Wet Hot that demonstrates a revival? Whatever it is, it’s not something I saw rewatching the original film.

Now, the film was a lot funnier than I remembered. I don’t understand why it was roundly dismissed as completely unfunny, especially when grotesque sex comedies like Van Wilder were all the rage. But don’t expect me to join the cult.

The biggest problem with the film is that it never finds the appropriate tone or style of humor. It’s ostensibly a parody of Meatballs (which, excluding Bill Murray, was a much worse movie than this one) but seems to have anticipated the sweeter, gentler comedies that Judd Apatow would start making four years later.

This is where the film is at its funniest. One scene has Michael Ian Black walking into the booth where the child is delivering the morning announcements on the last day of summer camp. (The film takes place over the course of one day during the summer of 1981.) He orders the kid, repeatedly, to take a shower.  It’s a scene with two lines, but the delivery makes it hilarious. Black is increasingly aggravated by the kid as he repeatedly promises to bathe himself. It’s obvious that this tension has been going on for a while and what’s unsaid makes it work.

That’s the sort of humor I liked in Red Hot American Summer. It’s simple but also honest about the sort of people who went to summer camp in the 1980s – or, these days, about the kids who are watching Ernest Goes to Camp while their middle-aged parents remember their sexual escapades from 1981.

The film, as it must, explores the fact that getting teenagers together in such close proximity is bound to lead to all sorts of sexual tension and soap opera like declarations of love. I don’t fault the dumb dialogue during the scenes where counselor Coop (Showalter) declares his love for Katie (Marguerite Moreau). It leads to a great payoff where Katie declared she’d rather be with the hot guy than with the love struck loser. This was such an obvious joke that I’m surprised it had never been made before.

I also admires that the film never devolved into a T & A affair that was less interested in exploring adolescence and more interested in bikini tops and the taking off of same. In a movie that is meant to satirize those teens movies that hire nubile stars just so we can see their breasts, that would have ruined the joke. There are plenty of counselors who are at the camp to make out, but they’re the object of mockery. Elizabeth Banks’ Lindsay was my favorite. She was a character so desperate to make out with Paul Rudd she didn’t care about the fact that her face was covered in barbecue sauce. She also doesn’t seem to notice that two young campers manage to take a motorboat while she’s on the dock with Rudd.

So, where exactly does the film go wrong?

The biggest problem was that there was no straight character to play off. In a camp where everyone is independently weird, there is no one to ground the audience.

The camp director Beth (played by the insufferable Jeanne Garofolo) comes the closest to being a voice of reason.  But she’s just as obsessed with a crush as any of her teenaged employees. She breathlessly follows the professor (the far funnier David Hyde Pierce) on whatever nonsense he spouts. What’s odd is that she repeats it with the slight whiff of sarcasm, as though she wants to point out how insane he is. One scene late in the film involves the professor trying to save the camp from a crashing Skylab. It’s as nonsensical as it sounds. But Beth still follows him to see it through.

She’s an inconsistent character, but at least she’s developed as a character. Several of the more interesting characters are not even given names. The kids suffer the most, which is bad for a movie about summer camp. One kid, introduced at the beginning as a huge Dungeons & Dragons fan, but he’s only listed as ” boy with cape” in the credits. Doesn’t he have something he wants from the camp? Does he get tired of living in a fantasy world? The movie never says anything about most of its characters.

Also, the comedy changes on a dime when the scene requires it, especially in the third act. The Skylab plot point is a good example. It could be a nice isolated moment of comedy and drama. The whole point seemed to be to give the misfits of the camp something to do. But the thing is, they’re correct and Skylab nearly DOES destroy the camp.

It doesn’t work as comedy because it feels far too fantastical compared to what came earlier. There is a way to make it work, of course. It could be a hoax that brings the misfit kids together, and the end could be that their friendship is more important than their being duped. That would fit in the “stupid teen movie trope” parody the film was going for, especially if the kids decide they hate each other after all.

It also makes no sense for one kid to create a hurricane at the climactic talent show. Equally nonsensical is the talent show’s emcee, who tells bad jokes and gets huge laughs. Is that meant to be the joke? I hope not because that’s pathetically stupid. The film started off doing so much right but ended up doing wrong.

Wet Hot American Summer is neither the unfunny mess it was labelled upon its release nor the spectacular gem that many cult fans would have you believe. It exists somewhere in between as a film that would be fine to fill time on Comedy Central but not something necessarily worth celebrating. Still, there are some good ideas here and maybe the Netflix revival will focus on those and ignore Skylab.

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A Review of Terminator 2: Judgement Day

It’s strange.

Even with a new Terminator film released, no one seems to care. It’s not like Jurassic World, which despite being the cinematic equivalent of a reheated Lean Cuisine has grossed almost $1 billion so far. No one seems to be clamoring for a new Terminator film. Genysis is being trashed critically and the studio had so little faith that anyone would actually see it that they spoiled the big plot twist in their marketing campaign. Even those who like it clarify their reviews with, “it’s not as bad as it could have been,” which really isn’t praise. A near fatal car accident isn’t quite as bad as a fatal car accident, but neither is something that should be experienced.

What’s also strange is that, despite Genysis being wholly dependent on nostalgia, there has been no usual re-examination of the first two Terminator films. No blogs written, no home video re-release, nothing. Part of the reason is the fact that it’s unnecessary. Genysis seems to recreate all the big moments of the first Terminator and Terminator 2.

But it needs to be reexamined. Terminator 2 was among the most popular films of its time – and all time for a while. It seemed to be the last real gasp of the ’80s style of filmmaking, where auteur directors were given an opportunity to make large budget blockbusters based on their unusual premises. (Jurassic Park may be the very last example.) Now, most auteurs settle to scrape together funds for personal projects while big budgeted directors are forced to follow specific formulas. 

Terminator 2 is a sequel that does nothing you would expect.

Taken without any knowledge of the plot, everything about it is a surprise. It’s not even the same genre as the previous entry. While The Terminator was a horror/slasher film, Terminator 2 is a cyberpunk western featuring the traditional white hats, black hats, and the normal townspeople caught up in the game.

This time, one of the most fearsome villains in cinema is the stoic John Wayne character. He can only speak in short sentences and, in what becomes a plot point, does not shoot to kill. The new terminator is an even more fearsome creature who more easily blends into a crowd than a hulking Austrian. The T-1000 talks even less than his counterpart and moves like a bird of prey. He’s the sort of character Lee Van Cleef would have played. 

The T-1000 has traveled back in time to assassinate ten year old John Connor (Edward Furlong) the future leader of the human resistance against the machines. Arnold Schwarzenegger (do you care what his character name is?) has been sent to protect him. John uses Arnold to rescue his mother Sarah (Linda Hamilton) from a mental institution and to try to stop the end of the world and the rise of the machines.

Right away, we see the change in scale for this film. Director James Cameron, for once, was not content with repeating old stories. He expanded his scope, first with his effects, and then with his story. 

I’m usually very bored with special effects. They don’t do anything in relation to the story. Terminator 2 is one of the few films where the effects are not only necessary, but awe inspiring. The T-1000 is a creature that could not exist without CGI, and this is a film that still heavily relies on practical effects.

What’s also fantastic is just how I feel like the intense action matters. It’s not because we get to see clean up crews putting out fires caused by Arnold. It’s also because I feel for the people as they are harmed by the carnage around them. 

This increases the stakes for me, on both fronts. It’s not only about watching Arnold mow down police cars with a minigun. (Although this is a great image.) I need to care about the protagonists and what they’re doing. I was tense as I heard Sarah talk about how “she was bleeding, bad” and understand why John would teach Arnold not to kill people. 

It reminded me again of the great revisionist westerns of the past. The characters were more morally ambiguous, but that meant their decisions to be the hero meant something for them. Arnold didn’t have a choice, but John and Sarah did in whether or not they would risk their lives, knowing that another killing machine (not to mention the cops) were after them. 

Also, I admire the changes in scope to the story. It is not just a retread of the slasher tropes that built The Terminator. Terminator 2 takes the Blade Runner approach towards machines and androids. But unlike Blade Runner, the machines actually seemed more mechanical. Could Arnold actually learn to be human? In the theatrical version, this is haphazardly handled as a natural progression in his character. (One line has Arnold saying that he learns naturally, and that’s it.) The vastly superior director’s cut adds even more Phillip K Dick to the film, in which the decision to become more human is a conscious choice made by Arnold. Even the ending is reminiscent of the final speech by Roy Batty. But Arnold does it with only two sentences, saying far more about his programming and his perception of the world as he realizes he (and other machines) can’t feel sadness over the loss of someone they know. 

It’s a fantastic moment of acting and writing from the last place I expect. And it was something that was not possible in the first film. Terminator 2 is full of moments like that. I didn’t expect this to actually be skillful, subtle filmmaking using a huge nonactor and one of the largest budgets in history. 

But there are two huge problems with the film that prevent it from being one of the greatest blockbusters ever made.

The first is Edward Furlong’s John Connor. Put simply, he’s an annoying little SOB who makes me root for the machines to destroy us all. He acts like an entitled ten year old who is obnoxiously grounded in early 90s slang. (The film actually takes place in 1995, but you wouldn’t know it from how the characters looks and talk.)

I don’t blame Furlong for this. Newt from Cameron’s Aliens was equally insufferable – he was likely just doing what Cameron told him to do. But Cameron has set up this character to be the most important human being in history. Do I have to listen to him explain the linguistic usage of “no problemo?” I don’t think that someone like, say, Winston Churchill talked like Bart Simpson when he was younger.

What’s also strange is how the theatrical version of the film eliminates the great character arc moments. One of the best scenes is when John prevent Sarah from smashing Arnold’s CPU. It’s the time that she realizes that he needs to be the leader of men and he realizes that it is possible to convince people of his point of view. It’s an important scene and its absence means that John remains an average ten year old delinquent who is insufferable to listen to.

The second is how many plot holes are introduced in the third act with the attempts to destroy the machines and prevent humanity’s extinction. By preventing judgement day, John Connor is negating his own existence. No one will come back from the future to father him. Of course, if that doesn’t happen, that also means that no one will prevent the world from getting destroyed. Which means Connor will still exist, but the still won’t get destroyed.

And so on and so on.

How does time travel work in this universe? Terminator 2 doesn’t say. Now, this wasn’t an important question in the first film. In fact, the bizarre nature of cause and effect was just one of the clever touches The Terminator had. Terminator 2 introduces the possibility of an alternate future, which also introduces all these paradoxes. I’m also receptive to any explanation the creators may have about this. But, in Terminator 2, there were no explanations.

Of course, no one cares about the moments when that internal logic screws up. For example, late in the film Arnold’s arm is crushed in a steel factory. He removes it to keep on going. This is EXACTLY the piece of the first Terminator that was left behind in the first place and inspired the creation of Skynet. But no one notices. No one also cares about the fact that there is now a photographic record and witnesses of the Terminator (do you think that psychiatric hospital didn’t have security cameras?) that could also inspire all sorts of computer scientists. Heck, considering what Cyberdyne is involved in, maybe they already had a prototype of the liquid metal?

Maybe that was their way of setting up the film for another sequel in which Sarah and John realize that their destiny is inevitable and they will have to fight the machines after all. Otherwise, the film makes no sense. But this is the exact opposite of what everyone says in this film, which eliminates any impact it may have.

And the sequels we’ve received a limp mush. Terminator 3 is basically a remake of 2, with a female terminator and an adult John. Salvation, which takes place entirely in the future, is a train wreck of story telling. Genysis, which I admittedly haven’t seen, looks like a way to somehow reboot whatever life is left in this franchise. But even that looks disastrous, with Schwarzenegger showing up and John Connor being recast as the villain of the piece. It also further messes up the timeline. Is there even cause and effect in this universe? How does point out A lead to point B? Is it all just a bunch of wibbly wobbley, timey wimey stuff? It’s been 24 years and we still don’t have answers to these question.

There has been one good continuation of the Terminator franchise and that’s Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Airing on FOX for two seasons, the TV show answered a lot of questions and closed a lot of plot holes. First, it’s the only story where they acknowledge a time machine exists. Skynet didn’t just make two attempts to save the future – it sent back numerous Terminators to kill John Connor and help stock pile supplies and ensure things happen they way they’re supposed to. It acknowledges some version of alternate timelines, where two people from the same future have different memories of events. Finally, it really explored the familial relationship between John and Sarah. They have moments where they act like mother and son. They also have moments where they secretly grow frustrated with each other and wish to cast of the shackles both are placing on each other. It was a fantastic drama series that was the proper continuation the franchise deserved.

So of course it got cancelled after thirty episodes, just as we entered a future where no one has ever heard of John Connor.

I guess the ultimate lesson of Terminator 2 is that, no matter how good your film is, its going to look bad if you try to start a franchise. Terminator 2 is filled with spectacular moments, but some pretty big plot points collapse if you put too much thought into them. (Especially if you’re not watching the director’s cut.) The film needed a sequel to fix numerous plot holes that were created in the story. There have now been three film sequels. One was a mediocre rehash, one was abysmal, and one I haven’t seen but which does not look the least bit encouraging. The one time we got a good continuation to the story was so wonderfully received that it was barely watched and cancelled on a cliffhanger. It’s obvious that creating a long running franchise from this material was impossible. Maybe it should have just ended after the second film.

Or maybe we should have ended with Sarah Connor’s drive into the sunset, letting the fans speculate instead of having Hollywood producers spend hundreds of millions of dollars to show us nothing.

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A Review of Jurassic World

The original Jurassic Park, 22 years later, is now an official cinema classic. Not only is it a superior thriller with lots of great action sequences and special effects the revolutionized the summer blockbuster,  it contains a lot of unexpected commentary about the folly of man and what happens when they try to play God.

Jurassic Park was mostly built around character arcs. It was not a film about a T Rex eating people. It was about John Hammond watching his lifelong dreams turn to dust. I’ve made jokes about how incompetent inGen is not to perform background checks against a guy heavily in debt with access to their system, but that’s part of the point. inGen didn’t know what it was doing and innocent people paid the price.

It’s also about Dr. Alan Grant realizing just how foolish it is to be stuck in the past. He was obsessed with his fossils and discovering what these animals were like. It was to the exclusion of all else, to the point where he was unable to really relate to Dr. Sattler, hated children, and unable to use the technology that was revolutionizing his field. Once he found out that dinosaurs were alive again, he began to explore more options and was finally able to realize that the living people around him were the most important things in life.

That’s why the film works – because the characters actually have arcs. “Well, obviously,” you’re saying. “All great stories do.”

Someone should have told that to the creators of Jurassic World.

Absolutely none of the characters undergo any sort of change based on what they experience. They are convinced that either they were entirely right or the dinosaur attacks were not their fault. They have no new bond with anyone else and no new insight into the world around them.

The creators do try to introduce concepts that may be used to help characters develop, but even then nothing is ever done correctly. If I were to ask you how a Jurassic Park sequel would open, you would probably guess there would be some little teaser about a civilian seeing a dinosaur or being attacked by one. Jurassic World opens with a Christmas song playing as two kids prepare to go on vacation. The kids – who are so memorable and noteworthy that I’ve completely forgotten their names – are the nephews of Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) who are going to Jurassic World. Claire is a workaholic inGen executive at the park who meets with investors so the facilities can open (I swear this is true) a Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville restaurant along main thoroughfare of the park. The whole point is that Claire would discover that work is not everything in the world and would bond with the two kids and discover her love of family. This doesn’t work because a) the first Jurassic Park already explored that theme and b) it’s the same problem with Aliens in the fact that it suggests women are only fulfilling their roles in society when they bond with children. Claire seems like she has a great career to me and nothing that happens in the film actually is her fault. Besides, she never actually does bond with those kids in any meaningful way. The most we get is a scene of her taking off her business suit top to venture into the jungle to save them, but still runs around in heels during the entire movie.

How does the other big star, Chris Pratt, fit into the film? He plays a game warden named Owen who seems to have discovered a way to train the velociraptors to obey commands. He also is tasked with using his training technique on a new species of dinosaur, which inGen created in order to help boost visitor interest in the park – some sort of cross between a T Rex and several lizard species. Of course the specimen escapes and wrecks havoc, killing many park staff members and trapping those aforementioned children in the jungle after they don’t follow the specified tour route. Owen and Claire do team up to go find the kids, but that’s not really any sort of great character change on his part. How does he feel about the dinosaurs being alive and his employer for thinking they can control them? I honestly don’t know. He has many one liners about how what they’re doing is wrong, but I’m never convinced Owen actually feels that way. Mostly he exists so that the film can show Chris Pratt in a leather vest carrying a Winchester rifle around. He certainly doesn’t undergo any deep revelations about the park or humanity playing God.

So what we’re left with is a movie that’s mostly about the attractions at a theme park turning a dream vacation into a nightmare. It’s a sound idea – showing Jurassic Park as a fully functional amusement park with all of the state of the art technology to give the 20,000 visitors to the island a once in a lifetime experience that quickly turns into a nightmare could lead to all sorts of wonderful moments. But it never does. By the time we get to the second act, the film almost becomes a parody of itself, with elaborate death sequences that undermine the tragedy of what’s happening and bad action one liners. While watch the pterodactyls attack park guests, I kept thinking about how much overtime the inGen lawyers would have to put in to settle the lawsuits. That’s not a good a sign.

Even the references to the original Park fall flat  Mr. DNA, the animated character from the original who famously pronounced the name “dinosaurs” as “dihno-sahrers” does make a brief appearance in one of the exhibits and there is a bronze statue of John Hammond shown in the main visitors’ center of the new park. Dr. Henry Wu shows up again to give the lecture about how it’s wrong to turn nature into a commodity. (He goes on at length about how splicing DNA can lead to unexpected mutations – even though he was completely ignorant about this fact in the first film.) And inGen’s lack of corporate morality is still a plot point. Vincent D’onofrio plays a man named Hoskins who is convinced the raptors could be used as weapons for the military. But this never leads to anything worthwhile (unless you count raptors going on a “hunt” in the jungle) and just demonstrates inGen shares a board of directors with Weyland Yutani.

By the time the film ended, I was not sure what I had experienced. The pacing was very unusual and I could not think of a great sequence that stuck out for me. Still, the film is not aggressively bad. The special effects are decent – there’s a fairly good scene with Owen comforting a dying Apatosaurus that is filmed with an animatronic figure. And I did like the product placement at the park. I talked about Margaritaville showing up – and it’s played as a deliberate joke that reflects the overpriced themed restaurants at any number of amusement parks. I also liked the Sea World – esque sequence in which a shark is fed to a giant aquatic dinosaur. But these sequences were too small and don’t compare to, say, the T Rex attack or the first scene where we see an apatosaurus in the original film.

It really looks as though the artistic success of the first Jurassic Park will never be replicated. It is a much better film than Jurassic Park III, but that’s not saying much. World feels like a missed opportunity. It is a sequel content to hit the same notes as the original film and didn’t seem to care about its characters. The film could have been worse, but I wanted more. I know many are probably excited to watch it, but if you want me advice, just rewatch Park and know that filmmakers still don’t understand what makes that one good.

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A Review of Mad Max: Fury Road

The Mad Max franchise has achieved that rarest of all things. It’s a series of films that not only pleases whatever crowd watches it and has been cited as one of the best film series of all times. In the same way John Ford invented a genre while pleasing a mass audience, Mad Max director George Miller created a slew of imitators all based on a simple idea about the open roads and fast cars.

Miller’s been trying to make Fury Road for almost 15 years. By all accounts, the production was a disaster, suffering from budgetary overruns to reshoots to recasts. This is normally an indication of an epic disappointment in the making. Disregarding those problems, there was no artistic reason for a Mad Max sequel. The films have been imitated so many times that everyone would assume a new Max film is part of worn out genre.

But Fury Road is incredible.

It is one of the few films that creates an entire self-contained world with only the simplest of ideas. Fury Road has one question – what would actually happen if the entire world collapsed and the only people left were a group of Jodorowsky-esque creatures who are trying to find some sort of hope? There is no attempt to reconstruct what is lost and there is no attempt for anyone to be morally good. Despite its bizarre characters and over the top set pieces, Fury Road comes across as incredibly realistic. I have a feeling that, if human society were to collapse and we found ourselves slowly returning to nature, the “might makes right” attitude of the characters in Fury Road would be exactly what humanity would face.

And the action sequences are exciting and exhilarating.

That idea is used as a subversion for every trope about post-apocalyptic fiction, even in the way that Max (Tom Hardy, replacing series mainstay Mel Gibson) is characterized. He is not a typical postmodern hero that has to have a quip about his situations in order to lessen the impact on the audience. He’s not even a hero, really. As he explains, his existence is based only on his own survival.

At the beginning of the film, Max is captured by the tribe of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), an old man who has drilled down into the earth to bring the increasingly rare water to his people. They worship him as a god and his warriors, including Nux (Nicholas Hoult) dream of dying for him so they can go to Valhalla. He also keeps female slaves to bear him children.

So, does Max see these women in peril and spring into action? No. That falls upon Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who is the true main character in the film. She’s the one who steals a truck to take the brides to “the green place.” Max, as usual, is an ancillary character to the proceedings. He spends the first act as Nux’s blood bag (tied to the front of Nux’s car with his blood being fed into Nux’s veins) and is only introduced to these characters when he tries to shoot one in the leg and steal their truck for his own getaway.

What’s interesting is how Miller changed the characterization of Max. This is not really a sequel to the second or third film, but wants to take Max back to the beginning. He’s haunted by very abstract images of his dead family, but doesn’t fight for them. He’s running from them and doesn’t care about anything that could remind him of his past. Max doesn’t even like saying his name. That obsession with the world as it was before (as Furiosa demonstrates) is more insane than grabbing a gun and hoping you can kill the warrior tribe before they kill you. Even the wives, at times, are desperate to turn around and beg forgiveness from Joe rather than keep going into the unknown. It’s all handled quite well because the actors make it believable.

But that’s not what makes Fury Road so incredible. The characters are almost ancillary to the breathless action sequences. I said that, after Furious 7, Fury Road had a lot to live up to. I was completely wrong to assume that Miller wasn’t up to the challenge.

Miller creates an entire world using his action sequences, from Joe’s war rig that includes drummers and a guitarist to play his war cries and the acrobatic drivers who use trapeze style maneuvers to yank people from moving vehicles. I’ve already mentioned the fact that Max is used as a blood bag for a warrior. This is because everyone seems to be suffering from a deadly illness, including Nux and Joe. A lot of the drama and tension comes from the necessity to cool engines and use winches.

None of this is really explained by anyone. These are characters who have been inhabiting their world for decades. (Furiosa mentions being away from home for 7,000 days.) And the sequences themselves are handled very well. The editing is rapid, but that’s an artistic point rather than a standard. There are beautiful shots of the vehicles as they pursue their prey. And above all, there is a sense that the heroes may not survive. It stirs the imagination as you see warriors descending from vehicles on long poles and snatching someone. Who are these people and how did they arrive at this point?

It’s exactly what made The Road Warrior so unique. That film ended with a fifteen minute car chase filled with a great deal of bizarre characters who were fighting out of duty and their beliefs.  Fury Road is almost nothing but car chases – and it finds something new and unique to do each time. There are so many moments that stay in the imagination that I have a feeling I’ll need to re watch it in order to capture everything.

Fury Road, like The Road Warrior, is one of those films that no one would expect to set off a revolution. It’s an energetic ride that takes the simplest ideas and uses them to create something new. Miller could have easily just remade The Road Warrior and made fans complacent. But Miller wanted to show a new generation WHY The Road Warrior was so widely beloved and why imitators still pop up. It’s about showing the same passion you had about the films that inspired you. That’s a lesson that Kurosawa knew, that Spielberg knows, and that Miller demonstrates perfectly with Fury Road.

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A Review of Avengers: Age of Ultron

The first Avengers wrote the current Marvel movie formula. It’s something they’ve stuck to very carefully since then. From a monetary standpoint, it’s been highly successful.

But from an artistic standpoint, it’s been a case of diminishing returns. The new Avengers movie shows why. Marvel and Disney seem so stuck in the formula that they’re unable to break it using the very series that should break the rules, no matter how many talented people they hire.

I want to emphasize that I didn’t find Avengers: Age of Ultron to be an outright disaster. It’s well-directed (particularly the opening scene) not badly written (although some of the jokes, such as the one involving Captain America scolding Iron Man for bad language, isn’t funny the first time and goes downhill from there) and does have a few good moments with its characters. But it’s not as good as the first one and it seems rather disinterested in explaining itself.

I’ll tell you what I mean. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr once again) and Ultron (James Spader). In Iron Man 3, Stark destroyed all of his suits and renounced his identity. But he still appears here in his Iron Man role with no explanation in the context of the film.

They do try to explain more of Tony’s motivations with the creation of Ultron. Ultron started out as a program Tony designed so the Avengers could retire and the world would still have protectors. Stark finally cracks the secret of this new program when the Avengers recover Loki’s staff at the start of the film. Of course, within ten seconds of going online, Ultron decides that humanity must be destroyed and that the Avengers are the true enemies of the world, based mostly on their recent actions in the fictional country of Sovokia (where Loki’s staff was being held) that harmed many civilians. That would definitely be an interesting dynamic and, indeed, many superhero stories discuss how the heroes attract the villains and may be causing more harm than good to society.

It is not handled well in Ultron because Ultron remains a cypher. We never understand HOW he came to this conclusion or whether this is a choice he’s making or some sort of suicide desire that Stark secretly had. It would be great if he had more scenes with Stark alone to explain what’s happening. The most we get is Ultron singing “I’ve Got No Strings” from Pinocchio. In addition, nobody on the Avengers team seems to care that it was Stark who unleashed this entity that may destroy the world. Even his attempts to fix the problem (I will say no more to avoid spoilers) don’t address this failing. All of the Avengers yell at Stark, it still gets done, and then everyone forgets that Stark once again went behind their backs.

I’ve often singled out Stark as  my favorite character in these films, but this time I found myself drawn more toward Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) who is slowly falling in love with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). It’s the sort of dichotomy that made The Hulk such a popular character. Hulk himself even gets a few moments of humanity when he sees the people who are afraid of him after his rampage. Banner wants to feel love but knows that such a relationship could prove dangerous to the world. I also liked Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) victims of violence in Sovokia who realize that the Avengers may still be the heroes after all. I wanted to know more about their past and more about their relationship.

It would have been more interesting to focus on one character and see what motivates them and how they overcome their own demons. But Avengers once again tries to shoe horn as many characters in as possible. This means that no character is given prominence – everyone is given equal time. It’s a shame because some of the Avengers are boring. Captain America (Chris Evans) once again is obsessed with the past and the fact that he outlived the love of his life. (Agent Carter, of the vastly superior ABC tv show, makes a small cameo). Thor is stuck doing nothing while Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) reveals his secret family. It’s just too much for an action film. I found myself distracted trying to keep up with everything to the point I was unable to get emotionally invested in anyone.

Are there good things here? Of course. I liked the scene when, as a party game, each Avenger tries to lift Thor’s hammer. The opening action sequence is well done and I also liked the Hulk/Iron Man fight from a technical standpoint. There’s nothing about The Avengers that really feels incompetent and I can see why a mass audience who wants a brief distraction or brief entertainment will like it. But I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I’ve seen everything the film had to offer before and in this age of sequels, I’m tired of properties unable to take risks. You laugh, but the first Avengers was a huge risk. I wanted that feeling back.

I said in my review of Guardians of the Galaxy that Marvel could find itself in real trouble down the line if it doesn’t change. I see that trouble brewing with Age of Ultron. There’s no longer any thrill in this sort of film – we know what the ending will be, we know that the characters are not in any danger, and we’ve seen everything the actors can do with the characters. I will not say that Avengers is poorly made, but frankly I’m bored. Daredevil just got a show on Netflix that’s an absolute joy. Avengers, no matter how well made it is, just feels limp.


Postscript: Normally I would not address something like this, but one aspect of the film has attracted some attention from those annoying “social justice warriors.” For some reason, they feel Black Widow’s kidnapping in the film is “degrading to women” and demonstrates Whedon (who created one of the strongest modern female superheroes in Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is a “sexist pig.” This is absolute nonsense in terms of the plot and in terms of the character.

I find it ironic that such individuals seem to promote minority viewpoints but cease looking at characters like Black Widow once they find she’s a woman. To them, her womanhood is all they need to see. There’s no need for nuance and no need for strength or figuring out what she does in the story. They see her in mild peril and decide that it’s degrading just because her character happens to be a woman. That’s unfair and, if I may be blunt, dumb.

The scene involves Black Widow being kidnapped by Ultron as she is trying to recover something for the team. (Again, avoiding spoilers here.) Ultron wants to use her as leverage against the Avengers.

Sounds like a “damsel in distress” scenario where Black Widow waits for the menfolk to come rescue her. But it doesn’t play out that way at all. First, the kidnapping is a random event that could have easily happened to another character. She was not targeted for being a woman. Second, it makes sense to target her; she doesn’t really have any superpowers and thus would not put up as much of a fight against Ultron. And she doesn’t just sit back and wait – she uses the limited resources to engineer her own escape and absolutely does not act helpless. It’s also not a major plot point and is resolved in five minutes or so. This is not a depiction of a woman in peril. This is something that happens to a character to further the plot and get the team to where Ultron wants them to be. That’s it – no theme about the subjugation of women, nothing that take’s Black Widow’s strength away, nothing. It was a narrative choice using a character that made the most sense. Think about it this way – do you think The Hulk is someone who could be kidnapped?

There are a lot of real issues facing the world today about violence against women. Stop trying to win your moral credits and pretending like you’re helping people by being offended by a five-minute scene in a movie that you are either unable or unwilling to examine in its proper context.

You’re not helping your cause.

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A Review of Orson Welles’s Last Movie: The Making of The Other Side of the Wind

Most people are probably going to spend the weekend talking about The Avengers.

But I’d rather talk about something nearer and dearer to my heart – The Other Side of the Wind. I’ve never seen it, and neither have you. But it still occupies an important place in cinematic history for those increasing few that like to keep track of that sort of thing.

The Other Side of the Wind was supposed to be what finally revived Orson Welles. In the decades after Citizen Kane, Welles was viewed as a one hit wonder who took whatever project he could as long as the check could clear. He still directed other films. Some of theme are amazing. But none of them were completed in a manner Welles approved of. They were recut, redone, redubbed, and failed to find an audience.

Welles tried to take control of his work by financing everything on his own. The Other Side of the Wind was shot over the course of five years and was never released, owing to legal issues related to the Iranian revolution (Yes. Really.) and Welles inability to pay anyone involved. Producers promised money and rescinded at the last possible moment. The negative is locked up in a Parisian vault. To date, only two scenes from it can be seen – they’re available on the documentary Orson Welles: One Man Band. Others have been leaked, but are buried just as quickly.

Last year, the New York Times announced that the film would finally be released in May 2015, to coincide with Welles’ 100th birthday. As I write this on May 1st, and I have not seen anything from The Other Side of the Wind. No release date, no premiere, no trailer, no new stills, nothing. It will probably remain lost in the wind, the same way Welles’ career has been outside of people who love to imitate The Brain.

But still, in April, Josh Karp’s exposè on this lost masterpiece was released. It’s the first “making of” book about The Other Side of the Wind in existence. Karp, who previously wrote a book about National Lampoon its effect comedy, seemed well versed to expose forgotten pieces of pop culture. I read it with great anticipation, hoping to get new insight onto the work – perhaps even new footage or descriptions of new scenes.

It doesn’t. If you search The Other Side of the Wind on Wikipedia, you’ll find out everything the book reveals about Wind’s production. There is nothing really revealing about the content of the work. Nor is there anything revealing about how Welles tried to find money to finish it, sneaking onto backlots with crews posing as amateurs.

This was an incredible disappointment to me. I know most of what happened during Wind. I also know about Welles’ money troubles and how he loved to lend his voice to whatever he can. I also know how Welles was inspired to make it and why he felt it would revive his career.

But Karp lends an incredible voice to the proceedings. There’s a sense of urgency about Welles and how much hinged on this film. There’s also an emphasis on how inadvertently original the making of Wind was. At the time Welles was shooting, there was no such thing as “independent film making.”  Welles (along with John Cassavetes), inadvertently created a revolution. Karp’s work gives a sense of that accomplishment – and helps us lament the loss of how sad Welles’ situation has become.

There are numerous descriptions about how Welles was being given life time awards – which were meant as an insult. It confirmed that Welles deliberately didn’t attend the Oscar ceremony and the only reason he attended the AFI ceremony was to raise funds for his films. But Karp offers a unique perspective about how Welles still inhabited that larger than life figure. It was the classic Norma Desmond syndrome – Welles is big, as he called up his crew at 7 in the morning after four hours sleep and lived with Peter Bogdanovich. It’s the pictures that got small.

Because of this, the book is never boring. Karp frames the book as a Orson Welles work, including the opening death scene (I take it that Welles’ death in 1985 won’t come as a surprise to anyone) and the italicized opening narration that Karp invites us to imagine in Welles’ voice. The third act is a little clunky and has no resolution, but that’s only because the story of The Other Side of the Wind remains incomplete and unreleased. Still, we do hear about how the film evaporated as money disappeared and Welles alienated those he was working with. His sad death is described as the sort of Shakespearean tragedy that would have appealed to Welles.

But, overall, Karp’s work is just another brick in the gigantic The Other Side of the Wind road. There will be no end to that road until the film is finally released. Until then, we are stuck with glimpses like this. The film may very well exceed all expectations, but if this scant information is all someone like Karp has to work with, then maybe The Other Side of the Wind is doomed to remain a footnote.

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