Movies

How John saw the Matrix (RL249)

In March of 1999, John was walking down the streets of Downtown Seattle and was super-bummed after having just received the message that the drummer and bass player were to leave his band The Western State Hurricanes. All of a sudden, a car honked and the whole Death Cab for Cutie came along in their Scooby Doo van, a root beer brown 1980:s Ford van and all four of them were hanging out the windows, like they won't fit in the van because they have cartoon heads and drive with their heads out of the van. John told them that his band was about to break up and they invited him to join them and drove with him to Bellingham where they live. They all went to see The Matrix that night. John was 29 and they were all 22/23. The movie was great because there hadn't been anything like that before and John didn't have any foreshadowing. He still has a lot of sentimentality around the first Matrix movie and he can't separate it from whether or not it is a good movie. He suspects it doesn't acquit with his normal desire for movie narratives to line up. Merlin watched it recently and it still looks really good and feels really good for being as old as it is. It was one of those movies that started something new. It wasn't just the bullet time and everything being green screen had been going on for a while, but the two Wachowskis had been so audacious about how they present things and they were not above a superhero shot of the team coming out the door.

2017-June: Movie adaptations (RL249)

John asks Merlin about the Guardians of the Galaxy movie and they banter for a while about the film and about superhero movies in general. When John saw the first Guardians of the Galaxy, he had never even heard of them, because he does not participate in Marvel comics at all. He had thought that the characters were a discrete creation for that one movie and wasn't aware that they had pre-existed. The movie was a thrill ride for him because he didn't think there were people this smart and funny making movies.

When Guardians of the Galaxy 2 came out, John got spooked because he was certain Hollywood would screw this up. People had been standing in line for The Phantom Menace! Merlin's friend Dan Moren saw the film 3 times on the opening weekend and was just wondering "That was good, right? It can't be just me?"

John likes the movie The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, because it has everything! It has Sam Rockwell, the one Hollywood actor that John would enjoy to meet. Merlin has never seen the movie, but he loves the book and has read it with his daughter. John calls it a turd in a punchbowl because it is very heavy and there is no fun in it. They continue to talk about movie adaptations and the difficulty and pressure that comes with them. The problem is: If the movie works well, nobody notices why it was good, but if it doesn't work, all you can do is obsess what they should have done differently.

How movies from the 1970s hold up (RL258)

At some point in 2016, John had shown Close Encounters to his millennial girlfriend in order to get her up to speed on all the media she had missed out on. He successfully got her through The Godfather, but it took them 4 watches, which should have been an early warning sign. You don’t tilt at the windmill you want, but you tilt at the windmill you have. So as John was watching Close Encounters for the first time with someone for whom it wasn’t a touch down, he noticed that as with so many movies from the 1970s, pacing is a little slow and the movie is from the era where a married couple bickering angrily was made for laughs. John got very uncomfortable just by the tone of their marriage. It is played as a domestic comedy where she is a classic movie shrew who always just complains, is completely impatient and doesn’t listen while he is freaking out and making mash potato mountains in the living room while the kids are throwing their dirty diapers around. The whole tenor of that plot was not funny and didn’t feel realistic as it did at the time. The special effects are nothing you haven't seen much better elsewhere.

For the first half of the film, you just see lights in the clouds and it is very hard to explain to someone who didn’t have that experience how it was in the 1970s to talk about UFOs, Bigfoot and the Bermuda Triangle. Back then you had a certain feeling about unexplained mysteries and the mere mention of the Bermuda Triangle where planes would fly in and not fly out would send a chill up your back. Today all of it has been so broadly disseminated that there is no surprise left in it. We are talking about cryptozoology! When John was working at the news stand 20 years ago the nutcases who bought the cryptozoological magazines were standing with John at the counter talking about Chupacabras, but nowadays there is nothing interesting or spooky about those things anymore.

Halfway through the movie, John’s girlfriend fell asleep and he wasn’t going to finish watching it either because it wasn’t so great and he didn’t like any of the characters. There is no way you can turn somebody on to The Godfather if your context is that you have seen it 40 times. That movie has been around with John since he was a kid and when it initially came on TV in the mid-1970:s the message he got from grown-ups was that this wasn’t for him and he won’t understand it. John watched the shit out of it and every time it was on, he would cancel anything else and so did Paul Sabourin and so many other people! It was the time when they didn’t have a video cassette of everything. The fact that you could say any word from the movie and the other person would reply with the next line and then you reply with the following line is so funny, it is almost like a cult and you cannot introduce anybody into it, because it is very confusing. You can’t get to where John is after one viewing, but you have to watch it 16 times.

The Sopranos, The Wire, Game of Thrones, or The West Wing were - in their moment - described as the greatest television that had ever happened. It is great TV, but it would be hard to go back and watch it again and have it feel like the first time. Sex and the City is not as much fun as it used to be, the same is true for Garry Shandling’s Show, or Mr. Show which still holds up. Two nights ago John was doing his usual thing and wanted to see Rich Little on the Johnny Carson show in 1974 talking about the Nixon administration which was so fun! He really wanted to see the comedians of the day do their take on Watergate. Rich Little talking to Johnny Carson where they both are wearing big lapel jackets does now feel eternal or out of time. John spent a little time in that space, but somehow he ended up watching bloopers from Seinfeld. Is this really what the Internet has to offer you? You could use your time to instead educate yourself about the current government of Cambodia! That is when John looks up at the clock and it is 4am.

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