Monday, January 26, 2015
The only thing I really recalled about Gremlins before watching it as an adult was big-eared, big-eyed little fluffy Gizmo -- or Giz -- behind the wheel of a hot pink toy sports car. Directed by Joe Dante, written by Chris Columbus, and produced by Stephen Spielberg, Gremlins came out in 1984. I was a year old. The sequel, The New Batch, wouldn't come out until 1990. Who knows when or how I saw the movie, but I grew up in a culture where Gremlins was more a product than a movie. There were gas station cups with a cutesy Gizmo on them, dolls, t-shirts, actual Gizmo's in actual pink sports cars. Thanks to cultural osmosis, I knew about the characters and premise, but the violence and gore of the original movie (the tipping point that resulted in the PG-13 rating, by the way) had been rendered out.
The first half of Gremlins is perfect for a product line. The inventor father who underhandedly picks up the trilling mogwai from a Chinese curio shop goes as far as to remark that every kid in America will want one. And most kids wound up getting one. The cuddly mogwai toy was as ubiquitous in the 80s as plush ETs and Ewoks. The idea that this creature represented something that, if handled incorrectly, would turn into a monster ready to kill you, did not survive into franchising. This commercial for Gremlins breakfast cereal doesn't even make a joke about food's connection to the disastrous transformation. In some ways, Gremlins didn't heed its own warning. The glut of products that spawned from this weird little movie are maybe the real monsters. The movie itself might even agree with me there.
As with a surprising amount of Stephen Spielberg's projects in the 80s, there's a little brook of antiquated Orientalism running through Gremlins. The sentiment reaches near racism in the voice of the drunk veteran next door neighbour who bemoans America's obsession with foreign products. "You gotta watch out for them foreigners because they plant gremlins in their machinery... They put them in cars, they put them in your TV. They them in stereos and those little radios you stick in your ears. They even put them in watches! They have teeny gremlins for our watches!" Ostensibly, the mogwai is just such a foreign product. As the cute mogwai transforms, turning into rampaging, mindless gremlins that tear apart a nice little American town, it's hard not to see Gremlins as pretty xenophobic.
But after the day's been saved -- the town's been destroyed, but probably nothing that can't be cleaned up in time for Kingston Hills to becomes Hill Valley (both movies take place on the same Universal Studios backlot -- the wizened grandpa from the curio shop returns to take back Gizmo and scold the Peltzer family. "You do with mogwai what your society has done with all of nature's gifts. You do not understand. You are not ready." He's especially upset that the white Americans have taught the mogwai to watch television, a concern that's reiterated and emphasized in the 1990 sequel. The foreign gremlins wreck mindless havoc, but in an American way. They gobble junk food, they guzzle booze, they smoke, and they fire off guns. Until they're all destroyed -- while watching a Disney movie -- they're living the unchecked American dream.
Is Gremlins saying that culture, like the mogwai, is something that one needs to be delicate with or else destroy/be destroyed by? And is the way that American cultural excess has spread throughout the world indicative that we've been irresponsible? Or is it about how America is being destroyed by foreign influence? Or is it just a kids movie?
Really, who cares when Gizmo's that cute?
Monday, January 12, 2015
Advance Tickets to the Thurs Jan 22, 6:45pm screening of Still Alice are now available for sale in the bookstore.
All Tickets are $15.00 for this Sneak Preview, with proceeds going to the Guelph office of the Waterloo Wellington Alzheimer Society.
The Greenroom will be open for dinner (Reservations recommended - 519.821..3311 x155) with advance seating privileges available, But the special Dinner & and Movie pricing WILL NOT APPLY for this FUNDRAISING SCREENING.
I've been up there in the projection booth for a few showings of Foxcatcher, was in the audience for one. When I'm in the booth, it's not uncommon that I'll be doing work, my back to the screen, oftentimes the soundtrack dialed low. I always know when Fotcatcher is getting close to the end when I feel the booth shake. Every time the film reaches its climax, the whole theatre jumps, rattling the room.
Based on the real-life relationship between a pair of wrestling brothers and a wealthy eccentric, the ending of Foxcatcher is no secret. Most press about the movie mentions the cold facts of the film's ending. But I won't say a word because I've been shushed, had the air in front of my mouth swatted at if even I begin to speak about something that is public and historic knowledge. A few times I've received the scold, "No spoilers."
Gillian Flynn's novel Gone Girl, about the disappearance of a wife and the suspicion of her husband, was ravenously read in 2012. Its twist is Hitchcockian. Exposed to open air for 3 years, I should be able to talk openly about the winding road the story takes, but I wouldn't dare. There's not a tall enough tree in Guelph to string me up from if I dared reveal even an iota of the plot. David Fincher's film of Flynn's adaptation of her own book was widely anticipated and widely seen. This long after The Empire Strikes Back, everyone knew Darth Vader was Luke's father.
I didn't read Flynn's novel, but word of the story made it to me before seeing the adaptation. Even knowing the story, none of the suspense was lost when I saw Gone Girl. Fincher manages a sort of memory wipe, a hermetic experience that's indicative of a sturdy movie. If a good movie can suspend our disbelief, it can likewise suspend our intelligence.
I understand the spoiler embargo. Knowing no backstory makes for a special experience of discovery with film or literature or television. But I'm not fond of the opinion that the culture of No Spoilers creates. It turns art, or entertainment, or however you want to classify the books, movies, or TV you're gobbling, into mere plots, a moving point form list of things that happen. It treats the destination as more important than the journey, if you will.
Maybe one the most famous No Spoilers campaign came from the aforementioned Alfred Hitchcock for the release of Psycho. From the outset, Hitchcock went so far as to buy up as many copies of Robert Bloch's original novel as he could, trying to scorch that earth. Upon the film's release, viewers were urged not share the reveals -- SPOILERS: Marion Crane dies halfway through the movie, Norman Bates is Mother -- but of course I saw the film 35 years after the twists were public knowledge and the effect wasn't diminished. Because Hitchcock's classic is greater than its secrets. It envelops us in such a way that our innocence is somewhat restored.
And take Sunset Boulevard, which opens with struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis floating dead in a pool. From the the getgo, we know how the movie will end. Narrating, Gillis tells us outright that he will die. He shows us the bobbing proof. Does this spoiler corrupt the experience? No. We hang on not to find out how the film ends, but to understand why it ends. I went into Foxcatcher knowing what would happen, and still I jumped, signalling to the projectionist that night that the film was about to end again.
Like a good Christmas dinner, Guelph Movie Club is serving up our most delicious leftovers. Every month, when we choose a movie, there are always four losers, four movies that didn’t make the cut. Some of those movies – well – they lose a lot. That doesn’t seem right to us. So, we’re rolling out our most-loved, most-failed movie: Gremlins.
On Thursday January 29th at 9:00 p.m., join us, won’t you? If you do, just remember the following rules about your fellow movie clubbers:
1. Keep them out of the light
2. Don't give them any water, not even to drink
3. The most important rule, the rule you can never forget, no matter how much they cry, no matter how much they beg, never feed them after midnight
Oh, and another thing if you’re new around these parts: we need your help. You see, the way we pick the movies ‘round these parts is real democratic like. We’re sticking with the theme of “also rans”. Cast your vote to help us choose which Oscar loser we watch in February.
Which Oscar-Loser Do You Want Watch In February?
Gremlins represents the start of the third year of my hosting Guelph Movie Club. It has been, and remains, a real treat for me to share a movie a month with you for the last two years. I hope you’ll consider helping me spread the word, spread the love, and fill the Cinema to the brim.
'Til then, see you at the movies!
Monday, January 5, 2015
The job of a theatre manager involves mostly looking forward, either at the films being released a year from now, or those that'll fill up the next month's calendar, but the manager of the Bookshelf Cinema took the time to glance back at 2014.
(some films were considered 2013 releases –marked *- for award eligibility, but didn’t reach our screen until 2013.)
A swirling cinematic joy ride (that admittedly, dropped a few feathers along the way) through show biz, Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is full of ego, nueroses, and the pains involved in the act of artistic creation.
With rough and raunchy dark comedy, Calvary tackled some of the scandals haunting the Catholic Church while exposing one priest’s commitment to God and the true spirit of his religion. Forget the Oscars, give Brendan Gleeson a halo.
Another dark comedy, I loved Force Majeure for its insightful dissection of the balance (and imbalances) of the roles played within a marriage. I was reminded of the works of Buñuel, Hitchcock, French New Wave directors, and the late works of Ingmar Bergman. Yea, wow!
Like a bath in warm milk and a rinse with champagne, The Great Beauty* (La Grand Bellezza) was cinema that captured the sensuous decandence of Roma’s high life. Grazie Paolo.
Simple, stark and barren. Complex, complicated and layered. Looking like it could have been made in 1940 or 2014, Ida reminds us of the timeless qualities of great cinema.
A young filmmaker proves his talent is real with Mommy. Unforgettable performances.
Omar and Bethlehem were two films that gave human faces to the larger political strife in the conflicted world of Israelis and Palestinians.
Oops. Out of indifference, more than anything else, I avoided all the summer sequels with superheroes in spandex and am woefully ignorant as a result. And I conveniently forgot about any films that we were prevented from showing 2014. I’ll mention any worthwhile afterthoughts when we play them in 2015.
A powerful doc with so much to reveal about the need for charity, forgiveness and compassion. As well, The Overnighters is a brilliant expose of the human cost of the oil industry in North America.
Who else could have delivered the lines, “I sleep with all my friends darling.” Or, “Take your hands off my Lobby Boy!” with such casual aplomb as Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel? Brilliant. He gave the film an elegant spine.
Still Alice screened at TIFF 2014, but technically a 2015 title for us. From a bestselling book, about a disease that touches so many lives, and perhaps, the best performance yet in the illustrious career of Julianne Moore. And the Oscar goes to…
Here’s to another great year in 2015.
See you in the dark,