During the early ‘90s as the entire world began to obsess about the music that was flooding out of the Northwest, a band called the Gits was poised to make a move to a major label after working out an album released by C/Z Records.
Back in 2004 when Zach Braff's writing/directing debut Garden State quietly slid into theaters, I caught it at a single-screen independent cinema having no idea what it was. Like a lot of people who wandered into this sleeper hit, I really enjoyed it upon the first viewing. However much it affected me in Summer 2004, the film really didn't hold up upon repeat viewings. But it's not so simple as enjoying a movie because of how and when one sees it. Something about Garden State plugged into that part of my brain that only lights up when I see a truly good film. For all of its problems, I've spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about why Garden State is special. That's why I'd like to apply something of a revisionist's bent to it today.
Darren Aronofsky is a rare species in the film industry. He's a director who has never made a mainstream film, yet has somehow found a way to coax multimillion dollar budgets out of producers and grab a stunning array of actors to star in his left-field projects. Aronofsky's work is certainly an acquired taste, but I'll contend that much of the ill will surrounding his films is thanks to bad luck, negligent marketing and a distinct authorial voice that, when it chooses a moral stance, presents its case in jarring visuals rather than simple exposition. His gorgeous twice-over flop The Fountain, of all of his films, deserves a reevaluation.
That being said, John Singleton has to rank up there with Spike Lee as one of the most popular, if not important (black) directors of his generation. Of course, that sentiment is based largely on his 1991 debut. But even lesser fair like the re-do of Shaft, which was a bummer if I ever saw one, or BAADASSSS! carries with it a cultural import that moves well beyond whether or not the flick was a success artistically or financially.
I will contest that the majority of entertainment media is made up of various kinds of geekery. When we think about the stuff that would be considered mostly mainstream, it usually doesn't key into genre fare or other acquired tastes. Most of non-geek cinema falls into broad categories like romantic comedy (which is as old as theater itself) or straight drama that revolves around whatever the modern conception of "normal" happens to be. Everything else is for niche audiences, those people who like things for inexplicable reasons and who don't mind not being able to share those preferences with most of the other people around them. We want to like things that most folks don't like. It makes it special, it makes it ours. That's why disco died but Rocky Horror refuses to go out of circulation. Taken through the lens of geekery, the lopsided success of Paul McGuigan's 2006 flop Lucky Number Slevin not only makes sense, it actually makes the film more endearing.
Before I close out, there are a couple more small problems worth noting, but not really worth spending time on. No one notices that Padme is pregnant? Really? Not even Anakin when he picks her up and holds her close to his body upon his return to Coruscant at the beginning of Revenge of the Sith? He doesn’t notice that she looks skinny but has a giant bulge where her uterus would be if it were full of baby? Because in one of the very next scenes that baby bump is clearly visible. And they have crazy technology like light sabers and hyperspace drives, but Padme doesn’t know she’s having twins? Really? But most of all, Obi-Wan decided to “hide” Luke by letting him retain his last name and giving him to the Anakin Skywalker’s family on Tatooine, Anakin’s home?
So now I’ll get to the last set of complaints. These almost solely center on Lucas’s decision making skills as writer/producer/director. Again, these aren’t simple inconsistencies that one would expect as a result of a 20 to 25 year vacation from one particular story. These are inconsistencies and problems that have occurred as a direct result of Lucas not paying the attention he needs to detail. Either that, or he just plain didn’t care.
So far I’ve tried to stick with problems in the films that were avoidable even taking into account the change in technology between the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy. And that’s how I want to keep it. In this next section I’ll discuss places where Lucas just cold punched holes in the plot of his own movies. As I was pulling this section together, I realized that all but one of the following gripes somehow involved my favorite character from all of the movies, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Of course, a good chunk of the story does follow Obi-Wan, so I can’t be too surprised. I suppose I should do the prudent thing and let you, dear reader, decide what this all means.
For whatever reason, the holiday season always makes me want to watch epic films. Correction: it always makes me want to watch an epic film series. This is most likely the result of having been in school as a student or as a teacher for the majority of my life. When it’s time to take a break, you want to do something as useless as possible. What better way to waste your time than by watching an entire television series, or a movie trilogy, or quadrilogy, or pentilogy, or proctologist, or whatever.
By 1991 John Goodman was a rather well known actor having landed a spot as Dan Connor on the (somehow) omni-popular Roseanne. The show’s first few years were met with an odd cultural urgency. Roseanne Barr, the show’s namesake, worked to adroitly represent the lower-middle class of American society while injecting some of these travails with comedy. It worked.
With Judge’s jump to feature films with 1999’s Office Space, subsequent to Beavis and Butthead hitting the big screen, fans were able to locate some of the same insights from the cartoon being dispatched by live human beings. And while a number of the characters from Office Space were nothing other than hilarious mock ups of stereotypes, the film was nothing less than a late night cable hit after it flopped in theaters. And no, no one understands why Jennifer Aniston was in the movie, but she looked ok with all of that flare.
When we see a great film, especially when it's a popcorn genre movie, it's practically guaranteed that a sequel will come down the pike in a year or two. Sometimes those extra installments maintain the spirit of the original, delivering another entertaining cinema experience. Others seem hell-bent on running a good idea into the ground, cashing in on an otherwise respectable project or even making the original seem like a waste in itself. While I'll gladly go see the next in Peter Jackson's Tolkien adaptations and there will always be room in my life for more James Bond, the following are a few sequels that never should have seen the light of day.