5 Quick Reviews from November (Catch-up Edition part 2)

The movies of November weren’t a lot better than those in October. But there was a bunch of science fiction, fantasy, action and adventure. And you know how I like that.

Automata Movie 1

“Let us pray to the god of ones and zeroes that Mel likes our movie.”

This month we have six DVDs. A couple of dystopian dramas. A couple of classic dark fantasy reworks. And a couple of good old fashion thrillers with sci-fi elements.

Angelina Jolie

“No more talk.”

November was a good month for Sci-fi/Fantasy.

To the list…

First up…

The Giver (The Weinstein Company)

The Giver

Directed by Phillip Noyce

Written by Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide  Based on The Giver by Lois Lowry

Starring Jeff BridgesMeryl StreepBrenton ThwaitesCameron MonaghanOdeya RushAlexander SkarsgårdKatie Holmes & Taylor Swift

The Giver 2

Have you ever gotten an audio clip stuck in your head? Have you ever had a few seconds from a television ad so embedded in your brain that you repeat it over and over out of context and out of nowhere at anytime?

The Giver Jeff Bridges

There was an early ad for The Giver that ended with the voice of Jeff Bridges saying in his Jeff Bridges-y way, “I’m the Giver.” and I can’t get that shit out of my mind. “I’m the Giver.” Every so often I just say it in an impersonation of his voice and it cracks me up.

The Giver Cameron Monaghan Odeya Rush Brenton Thwaites

“I’m the Giver.” The audio seemed out of place even in the commercial. And it was cheesy sounding. Jeff Bridges announcing on the ad, “I’m the Giver.” (Every time I type that I say it out loud) But here’s the sad fact. That line is not in the movie. They recorded that just for the early ads then quickly pulled it because it was so cheesy but not before it was lodged in my subconscious forever… “I’m the Giver.”

The Giver Jonas Asher Fiona

But anyway, the story is a great idea badly executed. I’m sure the book is awesome just judging by the story. And I guess the movie is as good as you can make it. Some books just don’t translate. The cast is good. The theme is very interesting but they blow it with leaps of fantasy and plot holes. Oh, the massive plot holes. Spontaneous universal emotional memory… whatever.

The Giver coloration

But really. The kid turns to Jeff Bridges and asks, “If I’m the receiver then what does that make you?” (I got really excited. I was ready. This was the moment for which I was waiting) and Jeff turns slowly toward him, thinking hard about his answer and says. ‘I guess that makes me the Giver.”

The Giver Katie Holmes Alexander Skarsgard

NO! It’s I’m the Giver. I’m the Giver. Say it like on the television. What sort of madness is this? But he didn’t. He didn’t say it like on the TV. It was all a lie. And to be perfectly honest. I was too distraught to even try to enjoy the rest of the film after that. The Giver is boring. The idea of removing creativity through chemicals is one thing but returning them through osmosis is dumb. Sorry The Giver fans. The movie is not worth having Jeff Bridges stuck in my head.

Skip it

Next up…

The November Man (Relativity Media)

November Man Poster

Directed by Roger Donaldson

Written by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek  Based on There Are No Spies by Bill Granger

Starring Pierce BrosnanLuke BraceyOlga KurylenkoEliza TaylorCaterina ScorsoneBill Smitrovich & Will Patton

The November Man

November Man is an international psychological spy thriller that doesn’t break any new ground but delivers in all the international psychological spy thriller ways. Sex, violence, car chases, explosions and guns. Lots of guns.

Pierce and Olga

Pierce Brosnan is good. But, honestly, he’s good in everything. The mystery is gripping and not too easy to figure out like some of these movies can be. The November Man isn’t a dumb thriller. It has layers and surprises. But in answer to your question, yes. The good guy and the bad guy do talk on the phone a lot.

November Man

At one point in the movie you don’t even know who to root for and I love movies that do that; Movies that blur the lines between the good guy and the bad guy.

THE NOVEMBER MAN

I enjoyed The November Man very much and I recommend it. It’s an exceptionally good, by-the-numbers, international psychological spy thriller. And Pierce Brosnan is still very hot. That is one good looking man.

Rent it

Next up…

Automata (Millennium Entertainment [USA], A Contracorrientes Films [Spain])

Automata Poster

Directed by Gabe Ibáñez

Written by Gabe Ibáñez, Igor Legaretta Gomez and Javier Sanchez Donate

Starring Antonio BanderasBirgitte Hjort SørensenDylan McDermottRobert ForsterTim McInnerny & Melanie Griffith

Automata is a great story. Not the most exciting movie but a great story about Artificial Intelligence in a dystopian future. It’s also about the birth of a new species. It is very cool.

Automata Movie 3

I love the idea of robots making robots. And how dangerous that would be. Automata is like a cross between Blade Runner and I Robot with a little Children of Men thrown in for good measure. Don’t expect action packed. It’s a slow drip. But it’s… it’s espresso.

Automata Movie 2

My main problem with the film, maybe my only problem with the film, is Antonio Banderas, who is asked to carry it in a very dramatic role and is just not up to the task. And I know the movie probably doesn’t get made without Banderas attached to it but I contend that it would be a much better film without him. However, he doesn’t ruin it.

Antonio Banderas

There is really nothing else wrong with the movie but him. It is well-written, well-directed with good effects and one of those themes that leaves you thinking after the credits.

Automata Movie

Automata is worth watching for sci-fi fans who love a good AI story. I love a good AI story. Robots gone rogue. It’s a really good story. It just needed a better star.

Rent it

Next up…

Maleficent (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Maleficent Poster

Directed by Robert Stromberg

Written by Linda Woolverton  Based on Disney‘s Sleeping Beauty and La Belle au bois dormant by Charles Perrault

Starring Angelina JolieSharlto CopleyElle FanningSam RileyImelda StauntonJuno TempleLesley ManvilleBrenton ThwaitesHannah New & Kenneth Cranham

Sleeping Beauty

Maleficent is a creative re-working of the Disney villain from Sleeping Beauty.

Maleficent Faeries

Maleficent is a gorgeous film with spectacular effects and creatures and a heartbreaking story of the blurred lines between love & hate and good & evil.

Angelina Jolie as Maleficent

Angelina Jolie is fantastic as always. I’m going to have to start comparing her to Tom Cruise. In that, she brings her A game to every performance. She never phones it in.

Maleficent Angelina Jolie

I really enjoyed Maleficent and recommend it highly.

Rent it

Next up…

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (20th Century Fox)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Poster

Directed by Matt Reeves

Written by Mark BombackRick Jaffa and Amanda Silver

Starring Andy SerkisJason ClarkeGary OldmanKeri RussellToby Kebbell & Kodi Smit-McPhee

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

“It worked for the robots.”

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the third movie in the Apes franchise reboot is a very good movie. I really enjoyed the way the apes were the stars of the movie. The motion captured performances of the ape actors took center stage. The director got some great performances from the ape actors. I want to see them do Shakespeare next.

First Ape Blog

“Do you monkeys even read my blog?”

I liked this one even better than Rise and I enjoyed that one very much. I read a few people online who said it was anti-human. It is not anti-human. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a fantastic movie that shows good and bad on both sides of the Ape vs Human debate. Can’t we all just get along?

Apes

Dawn is very exciting and incredibly emotionally charged. It is impressive the way they’ve relaunched this franchise with motion capture technology and I’m looking forward to the next one. Keep going, guys. You’re on a roll

Keri Russell

One day soon there will be an Academy Awards category for best motion capture performance and they will call it the Andy Serkis award. I kid you not. But of course Benedict Cumberbatch will win the first one.

Andy Serkis

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is amazing. They are not monkeying around.

Rent it

And lastly…

Lucy (EuropaCorp Distribution [France], Universal Pictures [International])

Lucy Poster

Written & Directed by Luc Besson

Starring  Scarlett JohanssonMorgan FreemanAmr Waked & Choi Min-sik

Scarlett Johansson is Lucy

Scarlett Johanson is Lucy; a woman who is given an overdose of a prenatal drug that allows her to use higher and higher percentages of her brain. It’s a great idea for a story but Luc Besson, who writes and directs, does a piss poor job of bringing it to the screen.

Morgan Freeman

Lucy’s development is much too fast. She goes from not very bright to a superhero in a few seconds. I would have preferred a little more of a performance from Scarlett who becomes a machine too quickly. And yet she is fun to watch when she’s being a bad-ass

Lucy

The plot is decent. As is the acting and the effects.

Lucy Movie

I liked the script. Even though the direction makes it seem like the movie is talking down to its audience. The narration is annoying. And for such an intelligent premise, it deserved a smarter execution.

Lucy Scarlett Johansson

And I really like Luc Besson. His movies can be campy but also fantastic. Fifth Element is one of my all-time favorite films. I think maybe if Lucy were set in the future, a few of the choices wouldn’t have seemed so condescending. The movie is condescending. And it ain’t smart enough to be that. Plus this mistaken idea that emotions erode with intelligence is garbage. Stop it. Smart people aren’t inherently evil. Stop it right now.

Lucy with a gun

Lucy is a great story, and a movie with a good script, it just needed to be taken more seriously by its director. And I could have done without the cartoonishly silly history lessons and the percentage increase play by play. Lucy is a good story badly directed. And since Luc Besson is responsible for both, I’m only mad at half of him.

Skip it

So to recap…

There were two films about the creation of a new dominant species: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Automata, Both of them smart, interesting and enjoyable. But only the Apes bring the action. The robots do a lot of sitting around.

There were two films about a great man passing the torch to a younger generation: The November Man and The Giver, One of them thrilling, suspenseful and explosive and the other one… not those things.

And there were two films about powerfully misunderstood women who are not to be trifled with: Lucy and Maleficent, And while both were exciting, only the one based on the cartoon didn’t talk down to its audience.

No more movies…

Until December.

Which is like what? In two days?

But if you haven’t seen The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema and The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology and you’re a massive movie fan like I am, I recommend them highly. The narrator is kinda creepy, hence the titles, but he delves deep into cinematic psychology and the classics. They are both really good movies about movies in spite of the titles. And for intense movie fans, they are a must watch.

Until next time…

See you guys at the movies,

– Mel

5 Quick Reviews from October (Catch-up Edition part 1)

It’s almost December and I haven’t posted a 5 Quick Reviews for October or November. So here are two posts back to back. One for each month.

First up: 5 Quick Reviews of 5 New DVDs from October

Sin City 2

This installment includes two of my favorite movies from 2014 and also two of the worse. Throw in a film that isn’t actually about abortion but centers around an unplanned pregnancy and you have the DVDs of October.

To the list…

First up…

Obvious Child (A24 [USA], The Exchange [International])

Obvious-Child

Directed by Gillian Robespierre

Written by Gillian Robespierre and Karen Maine & Elisabeth Holm  Based on Obvious Child written by Anna Bean, Karen Maine and Gillian Robespierre

Starring Jenny SlateJake LacyGaby Hoffmann, Gabe Liedman & David Cross

Abortion movies are polarizing. They are either pro-choice or very pro-life. While Obvious child doesn’t take a political side in the debate, here’s a hint: Planned Parenthood loved this movie. It is the story of a young woman, her unplanned pregnancy and her choices.

Jenny Slate and Jake Lacy

“Why are you in a box?” “I’m afraid Mel is going to start talking about abortion and… well… he has a penis. So I kinda wish he wouldn’t. I’m hiding, alright?.”

This is my abortion paragraph. It is more than okay to skip it: As far as being pro-life or pro-choice, I am staunchly pro-birth-control and anti-rape. I would love to live in a world where there was no such thing as unplanned pregnancy. And I believe with early and comprehensive education, effective birth control and early rape prevention measures that take care of the problem at its source, there would be no need for it. And all the politicians that raise money from the issue would have to…. oh yeah that’s right… nothing will change as long as the issue is a massive revenue builder for both sides. Never mind… but there is this very cute movie.

Jenny Rulz

“That wasn’t too bad.”

Obvious Child is based on the 2009 short film of the same name from the same director. In the film, the main character, played by Jenny Slate, a comedienne who works days in a bookstore, becomes pregnant from a one night stand and has a decision. But the story is not about the decision but about the girl. Her professional evolution. Her relationships. And about a one night stand that produces a pregnancy.

Jenny Slate

“Then he spent a whole paragraph talking about abortion. Why do men do that? I know i said it didn’t bother me but… I’m a little drunk now, so fuck his opinion.”

Obvious Child is a good movie with a great performance by Jenny Slate. She is perfect as the young comedian that finds her voice when her life is tipped on its side. I really liked this cute twist on the romantic comedy. However I know that abortion is a trigger for some.

Jenny Slate and David Cross

“Talk to me about the box.” “Um… I’d rather not.”

I hate being preached at in film especially about abortion. Again, this movie does not do that. It is not about abortion. And the decision doesn’t affect the plot even as it is the central focus of the film and yet it isn’t. It is a smart film. Funny, sweet, very real, very good, well-written, well-directed and Jenny Slate is outstanding. Nice work.

Rent it

Next up…

Edge of Tomorrow (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Edge of Tomorrow

Directed by Doug Liman

Written by Dante HarperJoby HaroldChristopher McQuarrieJez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth  Based on All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

Starring Tom CruiseEmily BluntBill Paxton & Brendan Gleeson

Tom Cruise Edge of Tomorrow

I make this look good.

Edge of Tomorrow is a great movie. One of my favorite films from this year.

"Come and find me when you wake up."

Come and find me when you wake up.

It holds up well on disc. As long as you have good speakers. Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise turn in great performances in an action-packed sci-fi adventure.

Edge of Tomorrow Jump

Didn’t Mel already review this one when it was in the theaters?

Now… will somebody please write me a damn sequel.

Edge of Tomorrow Tom Cruise

If you haven’t seen it, rent it or just buy it. It’s that good.

Buy it

Next up…

X-Men: Days of Future Past (20th Century Fox)

x-men days of future past

Directed by Bryan Singer

Written by Simon Kinberg and Matthew Vaughn & Jane Goldman  Based on “Days of Future Past” by Chris Claremont & John Byrne

Starring Hugh JackmanJames McAvoyMichael FassbenderJennifer LawrenceHalle BerryAnna PaquinEllen PagePeter DinklageIan McKellen & Patrick Stewart

Wolverine before adamantium

Days of Future Past is another great movie in the X-Men franchise. One of my favorite films from 2014. Maybe even my favorite.

Days of Future Past

I love the prequel casting. McAvoy, Fassbender & Jennifer Lawrence are superb.

Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique

And the original trilogy cast too. Stewart, McKellen, Jackman, (Halle, Anna, Ellen)

Magneto

X-Men was my favorite title growing up because I identified with the misfits and outcasts.

xmen-days-of-future-past

So combining the two casts together for the best X-Men story was outstanding.

Magneto and Quicksilver

I love this movie. I will own it. (Hell, one day I hope to marry it)

Buy it

And now the bad…

Life After Beth (A24)

life-after-beth

Written & Directed by Jeff Baena

Starring Aubrey PlazaDane DeHaanMolly ShannonCheryl HinesPaul ReiserMatthew Gray GublerAnna Kendrick & John C. Reilly

Life After Beth

Life After Beth is an exceptionally bad zombie romance but it is also a bad horror film, a bad comedy and a total waste of time. This is a one joke movie. And that one joke isn’t very funny. (Hey dude your girlfriend is back from the dead). Badly directed and poorly written, I laughed once through the entire film and I think I was laughing at how bad it was.

Aubrey Plaza

Romantic zombie stories have been done so much better in films like Warm Bodies and TV shows like In The Flesh. Life After Beth is the story of a young man whose recently deceased girlfriend comes back from the dead. The premise is promising. The casting is good. And that’s it. The characters are bland and two-dimensional. There’s an older brother character that is idiotic and parents (both his and hers) that are useless. Even their relationship, the central theme of the movie, is pointless and weak.

The big brother

The dialogue is awful. The plot is stupid. There is nothing about this movie that I liked. I’m hoping these actors, that I enjoyed in other things, did this movie as a favor to someone because it’s really bad, there is no script and the director has no vision.

life after beth 2

Life After Beth is a bad movie in every single way.

Skip it

and lastly…

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (Dimension Films)

A Dame to KIll for

Directed by Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller

Written by Frank Miller  Based on Sin City by Frank Miller

Starring Mickey RourkeJessica AlbaJosh BrolinJoseph Gordon-LevittRosario DawsonBruce WillisEva GreenPowers BootheDennis HaysbertRay LiottaJaime KingChristopher LloydJamie ChungJeremy PivenChristopher Meloni & Juno Temple

Speaking of sensationally bad movies. This Sin City sequel does something rarely seen from bad sequels. It actually makes the first movie worse. The story is okay… I guess. But you can’t tell because they never let a story play out before switching to another one with a new narrator. I like Frank Miller but he can’t direct.

Marv

There are too many voice-overs from too many different characters. Instead of showing one story at a time, the stories are edited together so that the different narrators of each tale are practically talking over each other.

Jessica Alba and Bruce Willis

A Dame to Kill For plays more like an audio book. An audio graphic novel with moving images. It is visually annoying. That black and white with splashes of color thing was cool in the first one but this movie does it so badly it makes me think the first one sucked too. this is not a good movie at all. Frank Miller is still a god in my eyes for his comics & graphic novels (Daredevil, Batman) but he shouldn’t direct movies. He is really bad at it.

Sin City A Dame in Color

Telling a visual story in comics and telling a visual story in cinema are two separate disciplines. The two main differences that Mr. Miller fail to reconcile are camera movement and visual continuity. A Dame to Kill For is stupendously bad directing.

Eva Green - the dame in question

And I know Robert Rodriguez also has his name on it as director but I have a hard time believing that Mr. Rodriguez got this bad at his craft this quickly. This is all Frank Miller. This is someone who doesn’t know what the fuck they’re doing.

Skip it

So to recap…

There were two movies in which the main character couldn’t be killed despite everyone’s best efforts: Life After Beth and The Edge of Tomorrow. One of the best and one of the worse movies I have seen all year.

There were two movies with bad titular colon subtitles based on comics penned by two of my favorite comic book writers: X-Men: Days of Future Past and Sin City: A Dame to Kill for. One is directed by someone who should stick to comic books. The other brilliant.

And there was a romantic comedy that was well-written, well-directed and with a great performance but an uncomfortable theme that may turn some people off; Obvious Child. And that’s sad because it’s a really good movie and it may not get the recognition it deserves or make the money it deserves.

That was October

November coming right up…

– Mel

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Teaser Trailer)

I was watching this one minute teaser trailer for the new Star Wars movie and suddenly I heard someone yell out “Hell fucking yeah!” at the top of his voice.

It was me.

I cannot contain my excitement.

(Google Chrome spell corrected excitement to excrement… you know me so well Google)

Stormtroopers, Landspeeders, X-Wing Fighters, The Millennium Falcon…

I have to go change my pants.

– Mel

7 Times A Movie Saved My Life

Under the heading of Things That Make Me Happy:

On this blog I like to talk about movies, list the things that I like, and talk about myself & my life in embarrassing detail. This is one of those posts.

Typewriter

I was thinking about movies that represented important times in my life. That not just reminded me of those times, but that affected, informed, reflected and transformed those times into some of my life’s most important moments.

These are movies that (figuratively) saved my life.

To the list…

Raider of the Lost Ark (1981)

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Firstly, the movies were an escape:

To escape.

I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark EVERY DAY for several months. Two, sometimes three times a night. After school, instead of going home, I stayed at the movie theater and watched Indiana Jones take on the Nazis over and over again. Sometimes I paid, sometimes I didn’t pay at all. Those days you could hang out near the exit and walk in as people walked out. But I wasn’t about to go home.

Where doesn't it hurt?

“Dammit, Mel where doesn’t it hurt?”

I knew every word.

I hid at the theater, the way Indy hides on that cargo ship.

“There’s a place for you in the hold. Go my friend. Go.”

Indy

Fear is a horrible thing.

“WHAT ABOUT JONES?”

“Jones is dead. I killed him. Herr Colonel, that cargo you’ve taken, if it’s your gold, go in peace with it but leave us the girl. She will reduce our loss on this trip.”

“Savages! We will take what we want and then decide whether or not to blow your ship from the water.”

Top Men

We’re just gonna store this one away and forget about it.

Seriously though, I know every word, every sound, every note. Raiders of the Lost Ark is my happy place. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Top Secret (1984)

Top Secret

To get over a bad break-up.

Val Kilmer in an over-the-top Airplane style comedy. Several jokes per second. Pure silliness. Insanely funny. But more than that. My first break-up.

Sun Tan

This one’s simple. I was 17. I’d just broken up with my first real girlfriend. I’d never felt such pain in my life. No, wait. That’s not true. I had felt pain like that. But it was when I was a kid. I didn’t know what caused it. Non-physical pain hardly really registers with children. Because there’s nothing physical to blame. No fall. No sprain. I couldn’t blame anything for that heavy, empty feeling in my heart. That crushing feeling is a mystery pain to a child.

So, with the first girl, the first hand, the first time someone reached into my chest, pulled my heart out and broke it in front of me, it wasn’t just that very pain. And that very cause. It wasn’t just her. No. Getting my heart-broken finally helped me to realize that it had been feeling like that all along. It was the rejection. That’s what that was. The feeling you get when someone you love treats you like something they scraped off the bottom of their shoes. Finally I was able to identify the feeling I was feeling.

Hello

It was a lot to put on one girl. I should have thanked her for opening my mind to the realization of all the pain I’ve ever felt. I didn’t realize I’d been in pain the entire time. And it destroyed my image of the world like the crumpled photograph of the forgotten lover. I couldn’t breathe and a part of me didn’t want to anymore.

So, as I do, I went walking.

This is a recurring theme. I walk when I’m in pain. Like running away from my problems but slower. I’m a walker. This one time I walked to the multiplex – a theater with six or more tiny theaters contained within – and I bought a ticket for Top Secret. I loved Airplane and The Kentucky Fried Movie. I love that silly stuff. I sat there in the theater crying through the coming attractions… in the dark.

Boots

By the middle of the film I was crying on the floor with laughter. Laughing my ass off so hard my sides hurt more than my heart. It is one of the silliest movies ever made. So many visual jokes. So much zany. So much funny.

There’s a point during pain when you think it may never cease. No matter how many times pain has come and gone away. THIS time… This time it’s moving in for good. But then a movie (or a song) just blows that theory out of the water. You’re singing. You’re dancing. You’re still inside the pain but the laughter has shoved it over to the side and made room for pleasure. Room to smile again.

How Silly

I can’t say Top Secret is one of my favorite movies but it is a movie that saved my life.

“How silly can you get?”

Barton Fink (1991)

Barton Fink

To make the writey things BLAH

Speaking of things that feel like they will never end. Writer’s block is one of those “Oh my god. This isn’t going away” type things. One of my worst bouts was after getting notes from a severely demanding “producer” (I use that term loosely) and then getting to a point where I couldn’t see the words. They weren’t even words. They were just shapes on a page. Have you ever felt like that? Like words aren’t words just letters. And it’s all just shapes on a page that make no sense. That these so called words are in a language that you do not understand. Only to come to the realization that you also think in that stupid language. Your thoughts are also in that same alien gibberish that you don’t understand. And communication no good think fuck words… WALK.

The Fink Feel

So I walk. I find myself on the street. Walking it out. Walking it out. I lived down in the village at this time. I use the term lived loosely. I went through several homeless phases in my life. From homeless teen to homeless artist to homeless drug addict to chronic homeless to homeless mental patient. This was the artist phase. (I use that term loosely) They put me up in a hotel with a typewriter and nothing else. And I drank. And I wrote.

I made something I was proud of until… More producers. More notes. More changes. More stress. I walked. I walked past the Cinema Village Theater; an artsy multiplex on 11th or 12th street. I said to myself, “I will see the next movie starting.”

Barton

It was Barton Fink. I wouldn’t lie to you. I didn’t even know what that was. Didn’t know the Coen Brothers. I’d seen Raising Arizona but that’s it. At least with Top Secret I knew what I was getting into. I loved Airplane. I knew it was a comedy. I knew that it was just what I needed. But this one, I walked into blind. I didn’t know a damn thing about it. Nothing.

And it too was just what I needed. Barton Fink is a movie about writer’s block. The main character suffers from it. Everyone in his world has a debilitating frustration with communication… and it is marvelous. You have to love the universe’s sense of humor.

Barton Fink Hotel Room

Some turn to drink. Some turn to murder. Some put their names on other people’s work. Each character deals with it a different way. Not being able to find the right words is maddening. And not just for writers but salespeople, professionals, professors, executives, executors, etc., etc.

Fink

Barton Fink was the first time I saw the genius of the Coen Brothers. A film written by two of my favorite screenwriters when they were blocked while writing another of my favorite films; Miller’s Crossing. They used it as a way to work out of their… their own… what’s the word? (the word is BLAH).

I do this thing now that I’m pretty pleased with. When I can’t find the word I’m looking for in a reasonable amount of time, I put BLAH (all caps) in its place and move on. I don’t even think about it. When I go over what I’ve written an hour or two later, the word I wanted is immediately apparent. It hasn’t failed me yet. (Now that I’ve said that, I’m going to reopen a file and it’s going to read blah blah blah, blah blah, blah blah. Serves me right for jinxing it)

Life of the mind

Barton Fink is one of my all-time favorite movies. Not just because it helped me out of a sticky situation and I left that theater and went back to my tiny hotel room and re-wrote the best thing I’d ever re-written in my life into something barely recognizable as my own. But I still pull that movie off the shelf when I’m having trouble with the letter thingies. The little letter thingies. Because it’s also a really good movie. Really really really really good.

“I’ll show you the life of the mind!”

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Reservoir Dogs

To work out my post-incarceration aggression

It was the first thing I did when I got out of jail. I went to the movies. It’s what I do. I couldn’t walk. I was too angry. I had to rest my sore leg on the back of the seat in front of me. The theater was crowded but nobody said shit to me. Reservoir Dogs was playing. And I laughed through the entire thing. Especially the torture scene (think De Niro in Cape Fear). It was exactly what I needed. Exactly. what. I. needed.

"You're welcome."

“You’re welcome.”

During one of my homeless stints, I carried my belongings in a backpack. This time out it was mostly books. But I had one of those packs that distributed the weight from your shoulders to your waist. It was still quite a workout. I read books on writing. Books on Buddhism. Books I loved. I would read them and I would sell them. During the day I would go to the illegal flea market and set up a store to sell my books while I played my guitar.

Mr Blonde

It was not illegal to sell books (something to do with the first amendment). So whenever the cops would come and close us down, I would calmly pack up my books and leave. But for some reason, this last time, an officer decided to walk over to my “store” and stand on top of my books so that I couldn’t pick them up. I tried to work around his boots until; finally I said politely, “Excuse me sir you’re standing on my books?”

Well that did it. How dare I be polite. He grabbed me and slammed me to the pavement. Yelling at me to stop struggling (I wasn’t). To stop fighting him ( I wasn’t) Soon there were five officers on my back. Twisting my arms. My neck. But the last one; A female officer who was standing and watching and being admonished for not joining into the abuse. She had to prove herself I suppose. She grabbed one of my legs and twisted it until my patella snapped and I screamed bloody murder. And they all laughed. They had destroyed my knee. Two surgeries later, it has never fully healed. And they laughed. And arrested me.

Tortore Scene

I was complying. I was leaving. Selling books isn’t illegal. And I asked the officer politely to not stand on my books so that I could remove them. Judge said that when I called them MY books it was an admission of guilt. Guilty of what you might ask? Guilty of placing books on the sidewalk. They beat me. Destroyed my knee. Arrested me. And stole my beautiful backpack… basically my home. They handed me back my books in a plastic bag after a weekend in jail. They treated me like I was subhuman and I could do nothing.

I got out of jail and went to a theater. What else? I went to see Reservoir Dogs.

Harvey Keitel

“You shoot anybody?”
“Just cops.”
“So, no REAL people?”

It was cathartic. Even the torture scene. I left the theater singing…

“Don’t know why I came here tonight.”

I know exactly why.

I had never been more in the mood for violence. It was dangerous. Reservoir Dogs helped me through that. Sometimes you just have to see cops being tortured and shot to feel like a human being again after being treated like an animal.

Cop

I don’t hate cops. I hate the way that when one of them is a menace, and shouldn’t be wearing a badge, the others have to join in with the abuse of authority because that’s their code. I don’t hate the woman who destroyed my knee. I wish she were stronger and more able to resist her peer’s pressure. Or at least I wish she would have stopped before… before the crunch. She was aiming for that crunch by the way. She had set out to do what she did. Destroy my knee. She was trying to impress her peers. “You think you can abuse this guy. I’m gonna make him limp for the rest of his life.” I don’t even hate the cop who walked on my books… not much anyway. He probably got shot in the head years ago… after having his ear cut off and doused in lighter fluid (a fella can dream, can’t he?).

Stuck in the middle with you

“Yes I’m… stuck in the middle with you.”

Raging Bull (1980)

Raging Bull

To confront my violent temper.

Don’t be alarmed. I’m still going in chronological order. When I saw Raging Bull for the first time it was in re-release. Sometime in the nineties. There was a girl that I worked with. Not really, but I worked with her boyfriend. He was a fucktard (in the traditional sense). He would verbally abuse her in public. And she was the sweetest little waif. Pretty. Smart. Completely out of his league. And he knew it. But he kept up this steady stream of abuse.

Raging Jake

Once I saw her flinch when he raised his hand. Something I had seen first hand… second-hand… third hand. I’ve been a bully and I’ve been bullied and I’ve seen people I care about be bullied. And this was an angel. I was secretly in love with her and this… fucktard was frightening and belittling her. But like I said, I am in no position to judge.

She once said in passing that she didn’t need anyone to fight her battles for her. That the thought that she needed saving was a sexist one. She wasn’t talking about herself when she said this. But I knew she was talking about herself. We both knew. But I had never thought about it that way. I had always believed that when a woman had a problem the right thing to do was to solve it. To play the hero. But if I’m the hero, what does that make her? Why can’t she be the hero of her own story? I can be the side kick, The wise teacher. Comic relief. As long as I’m in the fucking movie I’m good. Changed my whole way of thinking. I love it when people do that.

Raging Bull De Niro

I would chat with her while she waited for him. (we worked long nights at a book store uptown) and it was she that recommended I go see Raging Bull. I was a movie fan. I was a Marty fan. I had never seen Raging Bull. I think she saw the way I looked at her. Admiration, Lust, Pity. She knew about my anger issues and that me and her boyfriend had bumped heads a few times. (I could have easily pummeled him into the ground if I didn’t already know that wasn’t what she wanted). There was a little art house theater that I’d never been. And for the record, she wasn’t asking me out. She was just telling me to go see Raging Bull. And I am nothing if not good at following orders.

Robert De Niro

I went on my day off. And I saw, not a bio pic about an aging fighter, but a movie about a slave to violence. About an aging bully. I saw people I’ve known in Scorsese & De Niro’s Jake Lamotta. I saw my tormentors in him. Bullies and Stepmonsters. But worse, I saw myself in him and I was disgusted and ashamed. (I’ve broken my pinkie punching a wall so often that my other fingers have disowned it). But all I could really think about was her. As I cried at the end and as the credits rolled, I looked over to my right and there she was. Across the aisle a couple rows back. I didn’t even know she was there. I didn’t say anything to her. Her face was soaked. She must have been crying the entire time as well.

We sat there in silence during the credits… separately. We left at the same time… separately. She never said a word to me so I never said a word to her. I just knew I didn’t want to be a slave to my anger anymore. I didn’t want to be that guy. And I wanted to thank her for the movie even while it hurt so much to see an angel cry.

Cathy Moriarty

I heard she broke up with that fucktard soon after. Or maybe it was even that night. Weeks later he told the bosses that I was stealing and that the address I had given them wasn’t a real one. (It was a church that let me pick up my mail there). So, only the second part of his complaint was true. But that was enough for them to fire me.

I never saw her again.

Henry V (1989)

Henry V

To finally declare war on my addiction

When I battled drug addiction (It was crack and cocaine) I would promise myself that I was quit the very moment the drugs and the money ran out… it was over. I was done. Then I would forget my promise as soon as I could afford to. I would regularly check into Detox. And the entire time, while most of the addicts were having sex (yes, Detox is a mad fuck fest), I would be plotting the course from the front door to the drug spot. And by the time my time was up, I knew the route by heart. I would head from the hospital to the dealer. I wouldn’t even bother to remove the tags.

"You disgusts me."

“You disgust me.”

Tell me about it.

But the very last time I went through detox, instead of heading to the drug spot, I took a walk down to my favorite theater. The good old Cinema Village Theater: Revivals, First-runs, Cult Classics. I swear to you, every single movie they play there is amazing. I said to myself, I said, “Mel, you’re going to see the next movie playing and it’s going to help you out of this cycle.” It was Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V. Again I knew nothing about it. I had the Complete Works of William Shakespeare growing up. A book I could not read when I was 7 but by the time I was 12 I had read cover to cover. No that’s a lie. I had read the Comedies and the Tragedies. I hate to admit this, but I skipped the Histories altogether.

Kenneth Branagh

So I entered the theater knowing nothing about the play or the movie or the history for that matter. Needless to say, it was just what I needed. Cinema Village comes through again.

This fight was going to be an epic battle. I was completely outgunned, a superior force that had taken down better men than me, better men, was mocking me with little affordable vials of extremely addictive crap. But I would learn to outsmart it. I was determined to win.

War

They like to tell addicts to “take it one day at a time” but that was never working for me. I was always a few steps ahead myself. So what I was going to have to do was take on my addiction – the NEXT day at a time. I would do everything I could TODAY, anything and everything I could think to do THAT DAY, in order to make sure that I would not and could not do drugs TOMORROW.

For me it was money and access. (It’s different for everyone) For me I was always able to stop when the money ran out. For a lot of folks, that does not stop them. And the other thing is that I could never truly claim victory. Because as soon as I started feeling proud of myself, that was the moment when I let down my guard.

Henry V

“You’re doing it, boy. You did it. You beat it. Good job.” “You, sir, are the man. Now how about we go celebrate with some crack? You’ve earned it.”

I mean, the only way to claim true victory is to die never having done it again. Which is why certain folks can’t visit me on my deathbed. (I’m looking at you, crack dealer)

But when I feel like I’m going to let myself down I start humming the tune from the movie. “Dominay. Do-minay. Dom-in-ay. Oh, Dominay. Domi-i-naaaay.”

That’s my battle song, baby.

Better Men Than Me

And I can tell you this with complete honesty and confidence; I will not be smoking crack tomorrow. And after more than a decade & a half totally crack and cocaine free, that’s the most I will allow myself to say. Because for all you people who think addiction isn’t real, even after all this time, I still wake up some nights sucking air. Trying to get that hit. The one from my dream. It’s an awful feeling.

Better men than me…

Spider-man (2002)

Spider-Man Poster

To stop running away from my demons and move back to New York

“I am so high, I can hear heaven.”

You know, this one was not so much about the movie but the song from the movie. It’s a Nickleback song (I know) or more accurately a Chad Kroeger song (same thing I suppose). I was living on the road back then. Travelling from city to city. Either sleeping in my car or on a friend’s couch. It was the best way for me to stay ahead of my addiction. Never staying in one place long enough to know where the drug spot was. Plus I got to see a lot of the country that way. Never got all the way to Seattle but I wanted to.

Mary Jane and Spidey

From 98 to 02, I was just running. I’d stop in a city. Get a job. Stay there for about a year or until I found out where the drugs were and started thinking about them. And then I was back on the road. Then this song comes on the radio.

“…and they say that a hero will save us…”

You know, the one from Spider-man. The first one with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. From the first trilogy. The Sam Raimi one. The good one.

Peter Parker

It wasn’t really the song but the ad for the movie. And I’ve always loved Spider-man. Spider-man reminds me of when I was a kid. When I had dreams. When I had promise. When I had confidence coming out of my ass. I was gonna see the movie anyway. But listening to that song made me realize that the only place to see it was back home.

“I’m not gonna stand here and waaaaaaaa-it…”

The Hero

I sang that song the entire way. I didn’t own the single. I didn’t even know the words. I just sang the part from the commercial and from the trailer. I pulled into Manhattan after driving for hours and hours cross-country. I drove directly to the movie theater, parked my car with all of my belongings and walked in to see the movie.

Mary J and Spidey

Just wanting to see the movie at home was all the motivation I needed to stop running. I’ve been back in New York ever since.

Dorothy was right.

There’s no place like it.

“I’ll hold on to the wings of the eagles. And watch as we all fly away….”

… And that’s my list of 7 movies that saved my life.

There are other films that I throw on when I need them: Casablanca, Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters, and New York Stories (particularly Scorsese’s Life Lessons) are my go to break up movies. Each with its own way of making me feel better about how bad I am at relationships.

And when I need inspiration there are a bunch of action films that get me pumped. I’ve mentioned most of them. They are all over my blog.

But as for when I need a laugh? There was a time when I would throw on some Monty Python or Mel Brooks, (Flying Circus, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein) but these days I can just go to social media and in a few moments I’m laughing hysterically.

Social Media

You people make me happy.

These days, it’s almost too easy.

– Mel