Friday, February 27, 2015

The List of Shame: '80s Classics I How Somehow Lived Without (Part One?)

The Quintessential ‘80s Childhood (That I Must Not Have Had)

There has been on-going series of entries ever since I started Playground of Doom.  (I like to throw in the title of my blog at the beginning of some of my entries…it helps fire up those engines.  You know,  in case someone should be so moved to Google “Playground of Doom.”)  

I started entitling them as the “Why Remember Anything?” musings.  The vast majority of them rotate around some obscure flick I had the (mis)fortune to still recall.  The question is right there in the title: How does the psyche choose what floats up to the surface of your hazy memory? 

Are you horribly lost?  You will notice that I have written another one of my cheeky headlines in the space above.  Yes, I grow up smack dab in the middle of the eighties…born in 1980 and I would assume that most of my earliest memories are in the first part of that decade.  I don’t want to write off my entire childhood as not being ‘80s enough.  I still owned a jean jacket, played “Simon,” saw the Star Wars movies multiple times, and had Billy Joel on my mom’s car radio. 

So what’s the problem?  There’s a bizarre empty hole in my movie viewing from that decade.  I recognize titles, know an embarrassing amount about things I never saw, and have a strong idea of what I should have seen as an ‘80s kid.  The issue is that I never did seem to see most of the flicks that my generation deems as “classic.” 

I wrote elsewhere about my lack of exposure to the John Hughes teen comedies.  The entire franchise of Nightmare on Elm Street is a foreign body to me.  (That’s not entirely true; I finally saw the original one when I was all of twenty two.  I had moved into my  “real apartment” as a full grown adult.  I decided to rent something I wasn’t allowed to watch a kid to celebrate.  By that time, I was seriously underwhelmed by Freddy and fell asleep on the couch.  I should have spent the money on booze and whores…but I don’t the $3 rental would have footed the bill).    I also have never witnessed a full “Friday the 13” flick, except for chunks on TV. 

Why is this?  Is it because my family didn’t have cable?  Is it because my parents were at least somewhat discerning about what I subjected my young mind to?  Is it because I was a complete fucking pariah and was never invited to anyone’s house for sleep-overs?  (No, never that…I was the height of schoolyard popularity!)    Look, I don’t know…

I like to pat myself on the back for my highly evolved filmic tastes.  (While you were watching Freddy and Jason, I was watching Psycho, motherfuckers…)  Still, I have to admit that curiosity and I yearn for lost time.  (Oh, we’re talking about movies, aren’t we?  Excuse me.)  

What am I getting at with all of this?  By happenstance, I have played “catch up” in the last few months.  What have I watched?  You impatient people…okay;  Beverly Hills Cop, Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, and the real humdinger Red Dawn. 

This is the inverse of my “Why Remember Anything?” series.  I am not coming to these films with the burden of nostalgia.  Instead, I am looking at these things in somewhat of an anthropological manner.  I’m digging up the history that I haven’t experienced and trying to figure out its context. 

As you know, I tend to be long winded…but some of these movies I just don’t have much to say about, really.   So why don’t we just get this done with? 

Beverly Hills Cop

Yes, I knew the name Axle Foley.  I had heard the theme song to this movie countless times.  I even knew about some of the best bits; mostly the bananas in the tail pipe gag. 

Still, I didn’t even know that the Eddie character was a “fish out of water.”  This is a classic comedy conceit, and it’s reasonably effective here.  If this were a Jackie Chan movie, that role of the outsider would be one of the only jokes.  (I don’t need to remind you of Shanghai Noon or its useless sequel.)  Eddie, from what I have read, improvised the vast majority of his dialogue.  (My favorite bit has to do with the quality of the LAPD Cop Car.  “This is the cleanest police car I’ve ever been in…”) 

I give the movie massive credit for actually having a dramatic core.  Why is Axel in LA?  Because he is investigating the murder of his friend…and both Eddie and the movie have that awareness.  The most interesting scenes (for me) happen when Eddie switches out of comedic mode and reminds us that he is out for some revenge.  There is a dramatic actor there, and that is an easy thing to forget about Eddie Murphy.  Thirty years later, he still hasn’t tapped into that potential as much as he could.  (His only Oscar nomination for Dreamgirls is for another primarily serious role.)  I suppose that is because he needs to go out and make the next flick in the Daddy Daycare franchise.  (Seriously, Eddie…)

Was it worth watching?  Yes.  Do I feel drastically altered by it?  No.

Most importantly, is it something I really felt like I missed out on?  Not really. 

The John Hughes Two-fer: Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles

I wrote elsewhere about an Oscar party I attended the year John Hughes died.  I don’t want to paraphrase that story too much, other to invoke its’ central question: “Who the fuck is Duckie?”  My friends, I can now answer that question to an embarrassing degree.  That, and Long Deck Dong, the Geek, and the placement of the line: “They forgot my fucking birthday.”  

I made a somewhat crucial mistake in the watching of the John Hughes flicks.  I watched Pretty in Pink before the more iconic (at least from what I’ve heard) Sixteen Candles.  The problem with that is that I fall into the somewhat perilous position of comparing the two.  Quite frankly, I like Pretty in Pink more.  Why?  Well, we will get to that…

Before we do, I have to say that I finally “get it” about John Hughes.  There’s a certain formula that he utilizes that I call “just insightful enough.”  There is enough “real” angst among the popcorn elements to guide a generation through adolescence without thoroughly depressing them.  You know that Molly Ringwald is going to end up with “the guy.”  You know that no one will get seriously hurt.  That said, Hughes doesn’t shortchange his audience on a realistic portrait of teenage dynamics.  (This is especially true of the scenes between Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall in Candles.) 

I also “get it” about Molly Ringwald.  The particular genius in casting a real sixteen year old in your movie is that you get to tap into that insecurity.  Her reactions and interactions to just about every other actor make her relatable.  

Now what about this comparison mumbo jumbo?  Hughes, for my money, makes a crucial misstep in the way he handles Candles.  There are too many digressions into slapstick, characters that don’t serve the story, and general silliness.  The “fucking birthday” story gets lost in the mishmash of underpants and racial stereotypes.  I would also note that there is no Ducky. 

Let’s handle the “Duckie” scenario first.  Duckie, is a fantastic display of teenage awkwardness and poignancy played by Jon Cryer.   You completely buy his unrequited crush on Ringwald (and his heartbreak).  You thrill to his horribly dorky bravado as he lip-synchs to Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness.”  He feels a lot less contrived than Hughes’ other characters because you can’t pigeon hole him into a high school role.  (He’s not a total nerd…he’s not a jock…he’s almost a hipster…but was there hipsters in the ‘80s?) 

I also feel like the Pretty in Pink script is tighter.  There are digressions, but they are in the service of character.  I’ll be honest; I never for a minute bought that Molly Ringwald and Harry Dean Stanton were “poor.”  Still, the class issue gives the romance with Andrew McCarthy an added sting.  I was also a big fan of Annie Potts as the record store manager/boss.  Her scenes with Molly Ringwald go somewhere, and are a good commentary on wisdom learned with age. 

The ending is horribly rushed, but what can you do? 

On a whole, I’m glad I watched these flicks.  Now I won’t have to pretend the next time they come up at a party.  

“Oh yeah, I love Long Deck Dong…me so love racist stereotypes!”   

Red Dawn

I promised to save the aforementioned “humdinger” for last, and so I have. 

What to make of John Milius’ Red Dawn?  Perhaps I should start with a confession; I thought I had seen this movie all the way through at least once.  I know all about shouting “Wolverines!” at the top of your lungs.  I could rattle off some of the cast members (most of them were also doing double duty as Outsiders.)   I also have been given the impression that it was morally and politically fascistic.  That said, I started watching it a few nights ago and nothing looked familiar.  

I would also point out that fact nothing (and I mean nothing) seems to be literal.  That is to say that I don’t believe the inherent reality of the movie…and we’ll get to if that is intentional or not.
  • These are, however, the flaws that I see on the surface:
  • ·      There is next to no character development among the teenage heroes.  The one notable exception is the brother relationship between C. Thomas Howell and Patrick Swayze.  They have a couple of good scenes together, and Swayze even manages to pull off a “real” performance.  (Check out his solemn “man cry” in the snowy woods towards the end of the movie).  Because you don’t really get to know these kids, it makes it impossible to grieve their losses as they happen. 
  • ·      On that note: this is made by the man who wrote the immortal line: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”  Didn’t he know how flat his script was? 
  • ·      The chronology of this movie is completely screwed up; in one scene there is summer, and in the next there is winter.  Milius abandons his monthly captions (as in “January, February,” etc.) in the last half hour.  That causes everything to feel non-linear…once again, is that intentional?
  • ·      The movie starts out as good old-fashioned propaganda.  Get those Ruskies out of the U.S. of A!  The movie pushes past propaganda into outright pornography when the teenagers are mercilessly blown to bits.  That just seemed uncalled for me to, and I was upset by it. 
  • ·      The “explanation” for the way the world has become at the beginning is rushed and becomes forgettable.  I didn’t know who was supposed to be on what side. 
  • ·      How do the boys go from inexperienced with shotguns to experts in handling rocket launchers?  Where did they learn military strategy so abruptly?  I am talking about before they meet the Powers Booth character. 
  • ·      One last question that summates all my points: How the hell could anyone take this seriously? 

Now that I have deconstructed the movie, let me try and reassemble it.  This feels like a wildly imaginative adolescent daydream to me.  This is a daydream that places adolescent heroes at the forefront of the story.  This is the direct inverse of Lord of the Flies in which children resort to brutality without the adults.  These kids don’t need the gosh darned grown ups, anyhow!  They have camping equipment and cheap riffles and ammo…take that Ruskies…”Wolverines!” 

As a psychology student, I can hypothesize that this kind of thing is highly flattering to the teenage ego.  This is the sort of delusion that a bored thirteen year old would entertain in study hall.  If you saw this movie growing up, I assume it was daydream fuel. 

There is a fascinating parallel to me as an adult viewer between this movie and traditional fairy tales.  In many fairy tales, children are devoured at the hands of wicked witches and monsters.  That is what gives them the cautionary kick in the pants for the frightened child.  Is heroically sacrificing Patrick Swayze and C. Thomas Howell not a different of the same thing? 

What about the ending in which a boy and girl escape into the promised land of “free America?”  How could you not think of Adam and Eve? 

None of this is to say that I think Red Dawn is “good.”  In fact, I think it’s pretty shitty.  However, I can’t help but wonder if this is supposed to be a fairy tale.   Am I looking too deeply? 

Well, now, this is a surprise…

I really didn’t intend to write this much about any of these movies.

I even smell a sequel coming on; Friday the 13, Conan the Barbarian, maybe even The Monster Squad.  (Although there was a kid in third grade I knew who recited the entire movie on a daily basis.  So…perhaps, not.)  

Thanks for reading…all two of you. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Evolution of a Film Snob: Guide for the Film Fanatic

Part One: The Creation of a Monster

This is going to be a rather mammoth entry about something that is (possibly) of no interest to anyone but yours truly.  Just remember; it’s never too late to ditch out.  Still here? 

Okay, this is a long rambling about how I discovered one of my passions in life. 

This Is What a Counseling Degree Does to You

This is a bit of a personal digression; in January of last year I started a counseling degree.  This is a bizarre process that entitles (obligates?) you to reflect on your life in a very grueling way.  I’m not going into the hours of therapy I have had to have, or the papers that I have plugged away at.  This is not what I am going to write about…but you wouldn’t happen to have any tissues, do you? 

What happens when you spend all your time gazing into your navel?  You start going way back and examining why certain things are valuable to you.  Writing and film has always been the emotional nexus of my life. 

But how did this all begin?  Let me lay down on the couch…is the clock going?  How much time do we have?  Hmmm….

The “Story” About How I Became a Film Nut

There isn’t one…really…

I wanted desperately to begin this entry with a fanciful tale about why I became so fascinated with the world of film. 

Was I abducted by aliens and forced to watch 8 ½ on the way to Jupiter?  No. 

Did angels float down from Heaven one day and whisper: “You love movies…”?  As a lifelong atheist, I can’t proclaim to have those kind of intense religious examples. 

I always envy people who have magical stories about stumbling into a movie theater one rainy day.  They (seemingly at random) watch some art film, and then rush into the streets at the end and yell: “Film shall be my life.”  I don’t have that story, either. 

My story is mundane; I walked into a public library and yanked a book off the shelf.  There wasn’t even a shaft of light that fell on the book that was Guide for the Film Fanatic by Danny Peary. 

I had never seen a book like this one before.  Every conceivable genre was included the same book as “essential viewing.”  Peary states at the very that watching every movie in the book (including slashers, pornos, and plenty of obscure B-movies) will serve to make you a “film fanatic.”  This, my friends, became a bit of a crusade for me at that time in my life.  
  • “The game” of becoming a “film fanatic” is relatively simple:
  • ·      You identify an obscure B-movie, slasher, or porno that you absolutely can’t live without seeing.  After that, you put a little box next to the title.  What happens after that? 
  • ·      Dear reader, you have to understand that this was “the ‘90s.”  A decade that the popular conscience is now obsessed with sentimentalizing.  I survived the decade, and I’m here to tell you it wasn’t that fucking great.  If you are one of my younger readers, imagine a time without the magic of cheap ITunes downloads and affordable streaming services.  There wasn’t even the choice to dial up some cinematic oddity on YouTube.  This meant that I was reduced to spending thousands of hours in video stores…often watching “prints” (as they say) with seriously subpar quality to fill in those boxes. 
  • ·      What happened when I filled out one of those boxes?  Most of the time, I was drastically disappointed with what I watched.  (We will touch on why that is in a minute.) 
  • ·      The biggest let down was most of the movies I read about I would never be able to find.  (Remember…the ‘90s.)   

This was one of those times in my life when I badly needed a project.  Why?  Indulge me while I venture into the personal. 

A Little Story about the Year I Didn’t Exist

There are typical stories about high school losers.  You see countless examples of this every time you flip o the TV.  There are cultural paradigms that we seem particularly obsessed as a nation.  The first one is the “nerd who makes good,” the guy who was perpetually ignored until he found his real gift in his parents’ garage.  The other archetype we love has to do with the “loner who goes over the edge.”  This is the bullied kid who (seemingly) out of nowhere explodes and riddles the hallways with bullets and makes national news.

Which one was I?  Neither.

Both of these roles required one thing I didn’t have much of: initiative!  This was something that I sorely lacked at that time in my life.  I had manipulated my mother into convincing her I needed a stint of “homeschooling.”  I was yanked out, and got to spend a plethora of time on my own.  (This is where I cultivated my absolutly stunning social skills.  I also decided a strange fixation with Country Music Television…when I could get away with watching it during the day.  Sorry, Mom…)

This lead to me getting sent back to back into public school for my “senior year.”  I reentered the public school nightmare at the biggest learning facility in town.  I didn’t know a single person, student or teacher, and wasn’t about to change that on my own.  My grades plummeted, my confidence crashed, and I slept all of two hours a night.  (I had an easier time when I stumbled around the school like a zombie all day.) 

The general consensus was that I was someone to be completely ignored.  (In retrospect, I thought I was “enjoying” this experience much more than I actually was.  There is nothing all that enjoyable about being written off by your peers and teachers).    

I suppose I could go on with tales of woe.  That’s not the point; Mr. Peary had provided me with the secret mission of being a “film fanatic.”  This entitled me to feel secretly superior to the “stars of track and field” that I was sharing the halls with at school.  I would stole away at my lunch table with my library copy of the book.  After that, I would take it home with me and stay up all night reading the thing. 

This lead to a variety of odd habits; excuse me, I mean the work of “becoming a film fanatic.” 

This lead to a gathering of utterly bizarre behaviors that got me through being “invisible.” 

The Odd Habits of a Film Fanatic

Bad Habit #1:

I mentioned previously that this was in the glory days before I could get on the Internet.  There was also very few used bookstores around my area; fewer still that would carry a copy of Guide for the Film Fanatic. 

I grew tired of not being able to track my progress as a fanatic.  This led me to doing something at least marginally illegal.  (Hopefully the statute of limitations is up on what I am about to confess.)  I started to write in the library book!  I put Danny Peary’s suggested “check boxes” next to various pieces of junk I wanted to (eventually) get to.  I would mark a few more off the list every time I brought the book home. 

Bad Habit #2:

Danny Peary was from a time when this twenty first century notion of “spoilers” simply didn’t exist.  The man would succinctly tell you the entire story of a film before offering his critical analysis.  I never felt cheated by this particular practice; in fact, quite the opposite happens. 

I would start to interpret Peary’s summaries with my own imagine.  The movies I had no way of tracking down would become vivid daydreams.  I would drift off and think about them in class or when I couldn’t sleep.  This would lead to an inevitable let down when I finally did manage to find a worn out VHS tape. 

Bad Habit #3:

I developed a bizarre, obsessive relationship with the local TV page.  (Will someone write in and tell me if such a thing still exists?)  I had absolutely no interest in catching a rerun of Family Ties. 

No, instead I will flip to the back and study the “Movies” section.  I would, of course, be scanning the rags for familiar sounding titles.  I would mostly find them at the off hours; the dark of night, the early morning, or when I was supposed to be at school. 

I got my own TV at some point during this miserable “senior year.”   I remember setting my clock radio to watch Cornel Wilde’s brutal, primitive feeling nightmare The Naked Prey.   (A film that contains sequences more terrifying than any horror flick; including a man being encased in dried mud and fed to ants.) 

This led to more zombie walking, sleep deprivation, and an over all apathetic indifference towards anyone living. 

But, damn it, I was one step closer to being a “film fanatic.” 

All of this did lead to one formative experience that I will never forget. 

The Time Five Easy Pieces Got Stuck in My VCR

I had done a thorough job cycling through the schlock that Peary lists.  There was, however, one review that I read repeatedly for a film I had never even heard of before.  This is Bob Rafelson’s immortal 1970 classic Five Easy Pieces. 

For those of you not in the know; this movie stars Jack Nicholson as the “black sheep” in a rich family.  He has left a career as a classical pianist to work in the oil industry.

By this time in my youth, Jack Nicholson had become: “Jack!”  I didn’t know the man could legitimately act his heart out, and make you cry as he confronts his vegetable father in a wheel chair.  I didn’t know that movies where you could be coerced into rooting for a hapless loser were a thing.  (The term “anti-hero” hadn’t come up in my “outside of school” activities) 

Five Easy Pieces affected me in a very deep way that I didn’t quite understand.  The movie wouldn’t leave my head; and the tape got lodged in my VCR.  I spent about three hours trying to dislodge the damned thing by ejecting and reinserting it.  While I was doing that, I would watch sections of it over and over again.  This was actually an exercise in honing my critical skills, but I didn’t know that at the time. 

Part Two: The Boy Becomes a Man, or the Emergence of the “Inner Snob.”

Life has a bizarre way of imposing transitions on you (even if you don’t ask for them). 

I wasn’t going to languish in high school forever…instead; I could move on and languish at a higher educational level.  This meant the state college, which welcomed me in a manner resembling a factory assembly line.  Have you ever watched a car being assembled?  Scrap parts are assembled into a functional car without much thought or art to the process.  I felt the same way about college; you were shuffled out with a stamp that read “Graduate.” 

The library copy of Guide for the Film Fanatic that I had horribly mangled was finally returned.  I did go back and look for it once in my sophomore year, and found it in the same place.  This time I didn’t have as many spare hours to obsess about it. 

This wasn’t all glum, because I started to take film classes in the false belief they would be “easy As.”  I couldn’t have been more wrong, as Intro to Film was one of the hardest classes I ever took.

Remember my story about Five Easy Pieces stuck in the VCR?  These classes were like being encouraged to jam your VCR all the time.  We would watch one film, and then we would go back and study individual scenes an infinite amount of times.  I learned fancy words like “Mise en scene” and “Kuleshov effect.” 

More importantly, I discovered it wasn’t as painful to sit through movies like Citizen Kane and Antoinia’s Line as previously thought.  In fact, “artier” movies could lead to more intellectually and emotionally rewarding experiences. 

How disgustingly mature of me, right? 

Part Three: The Roundabout Experience

In my late twenties, I somehow scrambled together an actual film crew together and made a movie.  Making a film is like having that first “free sample” of chocolate at the Sam’s Club.  All you can do is think about ways to replicate that experience, even you know (realistically) that it might never happen again. 

I wanted to fill that void by continuing to study movies.  This led to me looking for my “old friend” on Amazon, and finding it for a very low price.  (We are talking in the range of a couple of dollars for a very used copy.) 

The book arrived, and it was a “same but different” experience. 
  • Here is what I discovered: 
  • ·      The “artier” fare that I had somewhat of an aversion to watching was always listed in the book.  I just didn’t pay attention in my days of youthful apathy. 
  • ·      I disagree with Mr. Peary on a few different titles that he accuses of being “boring.”  One example: he calls My Dinner with Andre “boring” and makes it sound self-indulgent.  I finally watched that movie last year, and had a real “nothing will ever be the same for me” experience with it.  I found the format of “two guys blabbing on philosophically” challenging and invigorating. 
  • ·      I still have that bizarre, (possibly false) sense of achievement when I check off a title.  This happened just this week when I sat through the generic and not very good ‘80s comedy Down and Out in Beverly Hills.  I didn’t laugh once (outside of a polite chuckle), and kept checking my phone for e-mails.  However, I didn’t feel like it was a waste of time because Danny Peary said I should watch it.    

What I Am Really Getting At?  (Or “Back to Counseling School”)

I have a habit of watching my “word count” as I write these entries.  This particular “word count” is upsettingly huge and unwieldy.  That said, I still don’t know what the hell I am talking about here.  (Or do I?  How should go deeper with this sense of incoherence?  Hmmmm….)

What really happened when I yanked that library off the shelf?  I don’t know, really. 

I can jabber on about “formative experiences,” or wonder about mere happenstance.  Right now, I just know that it was the beginning of an interest.  Staying up all night to watch some obscure flick led to me wanting to use my writing skills to document that.  This all made me (to use a horrible cliché that I hate) the “person I am today.”  I am still writing, and still watching movies.  I will be doing this until it’s the ordained (or completely random) time for me to croak.  The fact that I now realize I won’t be Roger Ebert or Robert Altman when I grow up hasn’t deterred me. 

As I write this, I realize that you just don’t know where and when these kinds of moments will happen.  The random discovery of a neglected book can lead a person off in a new direction in life.  How does that happen?  I wish I had a concrete answer to that. 

All right, this particular entry is toast.  I am going back to studying about how to diagnose mental illness and affects of antidepressants.   

After I do that, I have Blindman (1971) queued up as a “study reward.”  This is apparently a riff on Zatioichi and has Ringo Starr playing the central villain. 

Sounds horrible, right?  Yes, this is one more open box for me to fill in…

Friday, February 13, 2015

Interview with Nicolas Caicoya



For many people, film school is overrated and expensive without much experiential pay-off.  Nicolas Caicoya (or “Nico” for short) is a filmmaker who has decided to get his hands dirty.  Caicoya has a truly impressive reel that includes commercials for big companies and personal projects.  His stylistic imprint is apparent on all of them; heavily influenced by the mainstream ‘80s Hollywood aesthetic that he grow up loving. 
Caicoya is currently making the rounds with his short Hyena’s Blood.   This is a short that is influenced by Sam Peckinpah and Jim Thompson, as well as Nico’s deep love for Mexico. 

Caicoya took some time off from his busy schedule to answer some questions for us. 

Dusty: What are your formative film experiences?

Nico:  Watching movies and working on commercials. I left my University pretty early on.  I learn more from doing than speculating about why a director did this or that.  My school was too intellectual, on the wrong side of being intellectual, of course. I am bored of directors who feel they have to say something important on each frame or that they shot.  Or that they are special just because they hold a camera...

Movies you grow up watching?

I grew up in the 80s:  The Goonies, Ghostbusters, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Explorers, E.T., Back to the Future, Gremlins, Ferris Bueller ́s Day Off, Poltergeist, Terminator, Aliens... If you see some of my commercials, you can definitely see the influence.

Was there an “a- ha” moment that made you want to be a filmmaker?

I grew up in a non-T. V. Family, so the first time I went to see a movie I almost died.  It was E.T.  I wanted to control that magic. I was so non T.V. that the first time I watched Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video I couldn’t ́t sleep for one week. It was too real for me. And for the other kids of my age thought it was fun! FUN? I am just starting now to watch horror films, 30 years after that day...

Tell us a bit about your background and education?

I came from a family that is the opposite of film business. No interest, no contact with it. My parents are both surgeons and I also prepped myself to become a doctor when I was younger.  I was making films by myself and with my friends. I also was used to go to ER with my father to do his operation videos so he could share them at his University classes. I loved it there but I thought movies where more challenging.  I know that if I studied hard enough I could become a doctor.  But I was still intrigued by the “unknown” of the movie world.  That said, I would still love to become a doctor. 

You have a lengthy and impressive “commercial reel” having done several spots for companies such as Nestle and McDonald’s. How did you transition into commercial work?

Actually, coming from where I was coming it was not easy to find a place where to start learning or just make contact into the business. Spain is not such a big country as the USA and.  It does not have a proper movie business. That’s why my first contact was with a commercial production company.  I learned there, as we all learn, doing everything they asked me to do! After a few years, I directed a fake commercial and the company started “repping” me. I was pretty young when I started, around 23... That’s why I have so much work! Commercials are the best school ever.  At least for a person like me that feels alive when shooting. I always tried to move on to a feature but it is not easy, considering what are the standards of my short...You can imagine the features I have in mind!

Tell us about your short Hyena’s Blood. What was the process of making it like?

It took many years because I produced it entirely by myself.  So I had to save a lot of money. I wanted it to look the way I wanted. First time I did a commercial in México, I felt in love.  So I created a story happening there. The crews are fantastic, their actors amazing. And when I read that the drug problem in México was provoked by the need of morphine during World War II I said to myself: “There is a story here!”

How do you balance commercial work with personal projects?

Easy answer! When I have money enough to do personal projects, I do them. Right now I am bankrupted after Hyena ́s, so I focus on commercials.

Do you have thoughts on the importance of “visual storytelling”?

Everything is visual, the right movement of an eye will tell you more than one written page...

Additionally, how much time do you spend storyboarding?

I always storyboard. In the 80s there was no more super 8 film, editing was easy and fun with film. My generation grew up with the new digital 8, but editing suites where totally out of price for kids.  So I learned to shoot and edit at the same time. I had my disc man while shooting.  I stopped the camera on the sound bite I wanted...I remember doing a sword fight in an old castle and wanted to do it from inside the castle and from outside in a parallel edit...We ran a lot that day! Storyboarding for me is an editing concept that makes me feel secure. If I understand the story I understand the film. And once I have it I feel free to improvise! It’s good to have it to change it while shooting.

What’s next? Any dream projects that you have in mind?

A lot... And I hope Hyena ́s will help me to contact the right people!

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Friday, February 6, 2015

The Playground Gets Ponderous: The Mash Up Part 2 (Guardians of the Galaxy Vs. Battle Beyond the Stars)

This is Part Two of a Multi-Part Series:

My original question was this: Have I “aged out” of the blockbuster?  If I had seen Guardians of the Galaxy or Dawn of the Planet of the Apes younger, what would my reaction be?  (If you’re really lost, feel free to go back to my earlier entry.  In fact, please do; I’m trying to boost my stats and increase my self-worth.  Through blogging?  Yeah…I know.)  I also introduced the “mash up” style of these reviews…comparing one movie to an older one.  

Guardians of the Galaxy Vs. Battle Beyond the Stars

I would like to start out with a bit of a digression.

I haven’t watched the original Star Wars trilogy in close to twenty years now.  Why?  Perhaps, to elaborate on my current theme, I have an inherent sense that I would not enjoy them anymore.  I know all about how George Lucas cribbed from both Kurosawa and Joseph Campbell to hash out his idea.  I also have a painful awareness that the films are basically hyped up “B-movies” with A-Level budgets.  (From my memory, though, at least Star Wars owns its schlock and doesn’t ironically distance itself from it.) 

More specifically, I have the nagging suspicion that I would just be too old to love them.    Star Wars hits that magical niche in every geeky six to twelve years’ heart that truly believes the universe can be saved by a rag tag band of outsiders. 

Guardians of the Galaxy takes a gamble on the same formula, and it mostly succeeds.  Oddly enough, though, I wasn’t thinking about Star Wars at all as I sat in the air-conditioned theater. 


This is a roundabout answer to that question.  Months before, I had been trying to get to sleep in front of Netflix.  I stumbled onto Battle of Beyond the Stars, a movie that I knew about mostly by reputation.  One of my favorite filmmakers is John Sayles; a man I know has paid more than a few bills by writing for hire.  This was one of his paycheck projects for Roger Corman. 

This is not a film that you would immediately compare to Guardians of the Galaxy. 

What are the surface similarities? 
  • ·      Both films have above average scripts that take the material seriously, while still incorporating a “winking” sense of humor.
  • ·      They both incorporate “outsiders saving the universe” motifs to seduce a young audience.  Battle (borrowing a trick from The Magnificent Seven) spends a far amount of time on its protagonist (Richard “John Boy” Thompson) gathering his eccentric team.  (The “Guardians” come together somewhat haphazardly because of the classic plot device of a “bounty” on the hero’s head.) 
  • ·      For the most part, you are dealing with two “good hearted” films that are aiming only to entertain. 

I’m not in the business of saying which movie is “better” than another one.  

Which one did I enjoy more?  In the grand tradition of rooting for the underdog, I am going to declare Battle the champion. 


I will start with the most arbitrary of facts: the running time.  Battle (at 1hr. 44 minutes) is a full sixteen minutes shorter than Guardians (at 2 hrs. and 1 minute).  I have an inherent hunch that Guardians is a tad too long.  I feel like it is almost best to just get in and out without lingering too much on “cleverness.”  (Example: A Footloose reference is mildly amusing, but it doesn’t need to drag on for ten minutes).   I was able to finish watching Battle without losing my focus and still get to bed at a reasonable hour. 

“No Money” VS “Lots of Money”: Battle is a very self-aware cheap movie, while Guardians looks as if no expense was spared.  We are bordering on my discussion about CGI again.  Everything in Guardians looks a bit too “air brushed” and “animated” for my taste.  The sets and aliens in Battle have a charming “bad high school play” quality.  The result (perhaps unintentionally) is everything feels a bit less polished and more “human.” 

The final note (and this has a very minor spoiler): Battle has a much darker and sadder ending than Guardians would even imagine.  Most of the major characters are sacrificed for the greater good, and there’s an unrepentantly emotional pay off.  If you’ve seen the movie, you know that at least one of the “Guardians” doesn’t make it.  For added poignancy, though, you just can’t beat almost everyone biting the dust.  (Except John Boy, of course...)

Am I answering my question about being “too old?” I will attempt to answer that with a leading analogy.  If I had the choice between rooting for the awkward fat kid (Battle), or the good-looking jock (Guardians)…well, what would my choice be?  The awkward fat kid is whom I will instinctively side with in this particular case.  The fat kid is not self-impressed; something that I find the over bloated Guardians to be. 

Did I Really Answer the Question?  

I stated up front that this whole mess had something to do with being “too old” for the summer blockbuster.  

Did I answer that question?  Perhaps I hit a bit of a traffic stop on the way to the big finish.  

What do I think?  I will say that the answer to the question is more or less a “Yes.”  My own cynicism and over education has taken me straight out of the audience for these two movies.  This is an indirect by product of the mysterious process we know as “aging.” 

I remember a very distinct thought that came in my head while I was watching Guardians.  The one, incidentally, that I would love to leave you with. 

“This would be my favorite movie ever…if I was fourteen.”