“Avengers…assemble!”

  1. Robin Williams sees Amanda Plummer across a crowded train station and the entire scene becomes a hallucinatory ballroom dance. (The Fisher King)
  2. Charlie Chaplin attaches dinner rolls to the ends of two forks and then makes them dance. (The Gold Rush)
  3. Our heroes draw their guns and head out into the ambush. The final shot of the film is a freeze-frame on their approach, and a viewer is uncertain whether or not they live or die. (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)
  4. Lloyd Dobbler holds a boombox over his head and blares “In Your Eyes” as he stands in the driveway, hoping to get the attention of the love of his life. (Say Anything)
  5. Indiana Jones pulls a gun and shoots his adversary rather than waste time with a drawn-out battle by sword. (Raiders of the Lost Ark)

That was my list. My list of “Top 5 Single Moments in Any Movie Ever.” All iconic. All easily recognizable. All perfect representations of why I love those particular films in the first place. A lot of thought went into that list. It wasn’t an easy list to create.

But . . . on the afternoon of Saturday, April 27, 2019, I discovered another “moment”. And now I have to decide which of the five moments I just mentioned no longer holds a place on the list. Because this newly-discovered moment trumps everything else that I’ve already added. This moment, I gotta tell you, is a moment that I have been waiting to see for pretty much my entire life.

This is the point where I feel obligated to provide two warnings: a) I will be, from this sentence forward, discussing and spoiling plot points from The Avengers: Endgame. If you have not seen the movie yet, you may want to STOP READING NOW! b) I’m about to come across as the geekiest geeky geek that ever did geeky geek. I would apologize for that if there was anything that I could possibly do to help it. But my statement above– you know, the one about “waiting to see this moment for pretty much my entire life”?– is not hyperbolic in any way. It is, quite literally, the truth.

Avengers: Endgame Poster

I have been an avid reader and collector of comic books for almost my entire life. It started right around kindergarten with The Fantastic Four, a comic that was also read and enjoyed by my grandfather, a man I greatly admired. He had stacks of these comic books in a cardboard box next to a chair on a back porch that no one ever seemed to use. Then, it was The Amazing Spider-Man, a comic book mainstream enough that it was available at local libraries. And then . . . I was introduced to Captain America. A dear friend of mine had an obsession with Captain America comics because his father, who had served in the military, and his grandfather, who had seen combat in the Korean War, were both fans of the character. As opposed to my grandfather, who had a stack of about fifty assorted issues of Fantastic Four, my friend’s father and grandfather were collectors. They had almost every issue. They had been collecting them for years. For decades, even. They were in ratty condition from years of mishandling and abuse, but they had them. I must have read every single issue fifty times.

Jump ahead to middle school. I’m purchasing my own comics with my own allowance, so funds are tight. I can only afford to regularly buy maybe two titles a month. I get Fantastic Four and Daredevil. Another friend gets Amazing Spider-Man and The Punisher. A third friend gets The Avengers and X-Men. A fourth gets Captain America and The Incredible Hulk. You get the idea. We shared the comics amongst the group, I allowed them to read my comics in exchange for their comics, etcetera etcetera. We were able to keep up on story elements and new character introductions without having to purchase the comics ourselves. To wit: I wasn’t buying Captain America any longer, but I was still obsessed and still following the character religiously.

Jump ahead to adulthood. I still collect comics. Correction: I collect one comic. But technology being what it is, with advancements being what they are, I can still read all of the comics I used to read. The only difference is that I do it digitally on my laptop or smartphone. I currently have a digital collection that contains more comics than I can ever read in my lifetime. Don’t judge me.

At any rate . . . the point, right? I’m getting to it. All of this seemingly-endless backstory just to make clear that I love Captain America. And have since I was wee. It is not too far of a stretch to say that I learned to read in the first place with Captain America comics. It is a fiction character for which I harbor a love that is very, very real.

The afternoon of Saturday, April 27, 2019, I head to the theater to see Endgame. I post something on Facebook about how the movie starts in ten minutes. I make some snarky remark about needing a ride home if they kill Captain America because I will be too inconsolable to drive. I have my ginger ale, my popcorn. The trailers are beginning. A few minutes in, it occurs to me that I may have not turned off the ringer on my phone. I double check to make sure and see that I  have just received a text from Karen that says “message me when you get out!” Knowing that she had seen the movie the night before, I immediately know, deep in my heart, that Steve Rogers is going to die in this movie. Karen just wants to be the first say “I’m sorry for your loss”, knowing what this character means to me. Right?

Wrong.

As it turns out, Captain America does not die in this movie.

As opposed to Black Widow, who dies after a fight with Hawkeye over which one gets the right to sacrifice themselves. Or Tony Stark, who was the beginning of this franchise and has become its emotional core. But those two deaths didn’t make me cry. I was already crying by the time Tony Stark bites the dust, and I had been for about a half hour.

What made me start crying? Two words. Uttered by Captain America. “Avengers . . . assemble!” I started bawling. And that wasn’t even the part I had waited my whole life to see. That part was a few minutes earlier.

Thor is battling Thanos. Thor reaches out for Mjolnir, his trusted hammer. Mjolnir begins to stir and rise. Mjolnir sails across the screen . . . over Thor’s head . . . and lands IN CAPTAIN AMERICA’S HAND! I’ll repeat that: CAPTAIN AMERICA WIELDS THE HAMMER OF THOR! I don’t know what happens next because I lost my god damn mind. I did hear Thor shout: “I knew it!” I thought to myself: “I knew it, too!” And then I was just a melted puddle of nerdy goo, fourteen years old again, and I pretty much stayed that way until the end of the movie.

Captain America has wielded the hammer many times in the comic throughout the years. The very notion that it was a possibility was teased in The Avengers: Age of Ultron. In that movie, the entire team are getting their drink on at a party. Thor’s hammer, or, rather, the attempt to lift it, becomes a party game of sorts. Captain America moves it, but only slightly. He doesn’t lift it. Just sort of nudges it back and forth. Thor reacts to this. Captain America lets go. It’s never mentioned again until Endgame. You know, in that scene where CAPTAIN AMERICA WIELDS THE HAMMER.

And he doesn’t just wield the hammer, either. He goes into battle with it. He twirls it like we’ve seen Thor do. He bangs it against his vibranium shield and creates lightning. He proves that he is worthy. He is the center of the single greatest moment in any movie that I have ever seen. A moment that, as we have already established, I have waited my entire life to see.

So . . . sorry. One of the five moments on the list I already made has to go.

I maybe ought to take a moment here to apologize to Karen. She never knew that I did it, but I really did assume that Steve Rogers was about to become a great super soldier in the sky because of her five-minutes-into-the-movie text. I have since discovered that what really happened in this situation is that Karen knows my own love for Captain America and had seen the movie the night before. She knew what moment was going to stick with me. She knew– had foretold the night before, in fact– that I was going to come completely and irrevocably fanboy unhinged. She was probably, truth told, grateful that I was seeing the movie on the second day so that she wouldn’t have to keep it secret for very long.

Captain America does not die in Endgame. He’s never been more alive.

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“Either they don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care about what’s going on in the hood”

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This month, we reflect on another artist gone too soon. Stories left untold, unseen, unheard, unimagined. Unfelt. He was only 51 years old, so imagine how much Art an artist the caliber of John Singleton had still to contribute. It hurts to think of what he still had to share with us. On this day, we can at least reflect on the work he has left behind.

In 1991, Singleton’s drama Boyz n the Hood was introduced to America in his own voice, from his own experiences in South Central LA. He was a kid when he shared the idea for the screenplay on his USC film-writing program application, was arguably still a kid when he wrote and directed it. At the age of only 23, he saw his own story come to life on the screen to both critical and audience acclaim.

It’s no exaggeration that black filmmakers still weren’t getting their due (or opportunities) in the early 90s when Boyz n the Hood was released. Spike Lee’s impactful Do the Right Thing had only been released a few years earlier, in 1989, to critical acclaim. When John Singleton was nominated for an Oscar for Best Director for his work on Boyz n the Hood, he was the first African American to ever be nominated for the award. In 63 years of Best Director nominations, he was the first (and the youngest).

63 years.

What John Singleton did was remarkable. Boyz n the Hood was his story to tell, and one to which many audiences could not relate. But instead of maintaining that separation, he connected. Through connection, he provided us with the gift of empathy, of understanding. His film’s successes motivated studios to think about diversity, inspired a generation of filmmakers, and promoted changes that are really only being fully realized now. Change has been so slow in coming that Singleton himself did not even get to fully take advantage of his well-earned success. Still, the legacy of work he left us, from Boyz n the Hood to Poetic Justice to Rosewood and many others, is a legacy worthy of celebration and respect.

In memory of John Singleton, we shared our personal thoughts on Boyz n the Hood below. Please join us in remembering.

Boyz n the Hood, 1991

In memory of John Singleton, 1968-2019

Aaron: I’ll be honest and shamefully admit that I did not see this movie when it first came out because it just didn’t appear to be anything that I could relate to in any way whatsoever. But, in college, I took a course called “Character-Centered Screenplays” and this was one of the first films they showed us. I was pretty well blown away by this movie, and was sort of upset at myself for being so close-minded to different experiences before that I had never given this film a proper chance. This movie really was something special. Over the Christmas break, I went to visit my sister and her boyfriend (who is African-American) and watched this film for the second time as they had not seen it yet (Incidentally, we also watched Do the Right Thing, another gem I discovered in that class). The conversation that ensued afterwards with my sister and my (now) brother-in-law was one of the first real conversations about race I had ever had. The shared experience of this movie– a film he could sympathize with, while I could only empathize– opened a door for me and him to talk openly about the differences in our race. He answered questions for me that I had not quite ever had the nerve to ask. He explained, patiently and compassionately, the differences between active and passive racism, and gave me a better understanding of how often I was an accidental perpetrator of the latter. He and I became very close that evening, understood each other a lot better. I’m not sure we could have had that as early in their relationship as we did without Boyz n the Hood.

Karen: I didn’t see the movie until VHS, probably in 1992. I remember its impact on me so much that the memory of watching it is fused to exact details of my surroundings: my friend’s living room carpet texture and color, bay window, angle of light, TV hutch, hallway leading out of the room. I only knew South Central LA from rap, and even then, I didn’t really know. How could I? I grew up in a sheltered childhood in a Mayberry-esque small town in Illinois. There’s no way I could ever relate. But therein lies the beauty of a film like Boyz n the Hood. Films which masterfully connect their audience to the subject matter allow for some level of understanding. And that is what I felt. On some level, understanding. Empathy. Anger. Sadness. Changed in some small way, and I carry that with me.

Greg: This one hit me, and hit me hard. Seeing it, I mean. We’ll get to the creator’s passing in a minute. As y’all know, I (we) grew up in a town that was closed off to what went on in the world on the other side of those corn fields. In fact, there wasn’t much world to speak of outside our school, our coffee shop, our Main Street, our boulevard, our football games, our Rock’n’Roll McDonald’s, our local grocery store, our two VHS video stores, our hardware store, our radio station, our soybean processing plant, our parents, our chores, homework, and our ignorance. When I saw this movie, I thought to myself, “No way. This isn’t true.” Then I started paying more attention to the news in my adolescence to realize that yes, in fact, it was. “Home is where everyone feels safest,” I believed. Until I realized how lucky I was. I never fully realized how closed my eyes were to “the rest of the world” until I really started getting into movies during my adolescence, and realizing that many of them were trying to prove a point or convey an important message. I’m not now, nor was I then, ever naive enough to believe that what I saw in the movies and on TV is (was) true, but I feel like I’ve definitely been curious enough to try and learn more about what I see and hear in the media and on TV and on the big screen to do my own homework and figure out the syntax between the lines of what I am and have always been fed when I flip that knob on the box to ON. Boyz n the Hood hit me hard, fast, and forever. In the early 90’s, I didn’t have to look too far in the news to decide that this movie was not an exaggeration or a dramatization as much as it was a depiction of a day in the life of people far way from the safety of the cornfields, grocery stores, schools, and brick roads of Central Illinois. The film made me angry and sad at once. But, more importantly, it alerted me to a world, a world full of problems, that existed outside the sanctity of my own little village. And when John passed the other day, I was instantly transported to a time when my ignorance (innocence) was in full force, only to replaced by a much more important, and mature, awareness. Movies like Singleton’s are the ones I cherish the most. Not for their bleak morbidity. But for their eye-popping honesty and sledgehammer-to-the-face wake up call they offer audiences willing to step outside the confines of their own safe havens.

“We come in peace! We come in peace!”

Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. Batman. Beetlejuice. Batman Returns.

All movies that I love. All movies that I have a fond nostalgia for. All movies that I can pretty much tell you where I was and who I was with when I saw them for the first time.  All movies directed by Tim Burton.

I really love Tim Burton. And, as a child, I doubt that I was cognizant enough of such matters to connect that all of these movies that I loved and was religiously rewatching were made by the same director. I connected those dots later, probably sometime after seeing and falling irrevocably in love with The Nightmare Before Christmas (which Burton did not direct, but created and produced). But I was in high school then and actually cared by that point about what movies were made by certain directors and what movies by directors whose work I enjoyed I was still yet to see.

In 1994, Tim Burton made a film called Ed Wood that was nothing at all like anything else he had ever done before. It had the director’s trademark whimsy, sure, but it was lacking in the director’s trademark vision. Even as amusing as it is, this is a film that the director obviously intended for a viewer to take seriously. Filmed entirely in black and white, Ed Wood was a bio-pic of a real person, a film director who, more than likely, was of considerable inspiration to Tim Burton. Ed Wood, the real one, was an independent filmmaker in the 1950’s whose work is marked for all time as evidence that the filmmaker didn’t have a lick of talent for the art of filmmaking. His most famous film, an almost-unwatchable 78 minutes of D-grade schlock called Plan 9 From Outer Space, tops many internet lists as possibly being the worst film ever made. Anyone with this movie on their list has a position easy to defend.

But hold on . . . this article is not about Plan 9 From Outer Space. It’s not even about Ed Wood. It’s about the movie Tim Burton released after doing Ed Wood. It’s called Mars Attacks! and it’s awful. One has to wonder why Tim Burton would follow up (probably) his best movie with a ridiculous dumpster fire of a movie that, forty years prior, would only have been made by . . . Ed Wood.

Mars Attacks! Poster

Released in 1996, Mars Attacks! is a not-very-funny comedy about an invasion of Earth by hyper-intelligent beings from Mars. When the Martians arrive on Earth, they confuse a dove, released at the meet-and-greet by a hippie, as a sign of Earth’s hostility and all hell breaks loose. The President of France is assassinated by alien invaders. Congress is destroyed . Millions of people are decimated. People are kidnapped by vicious aliens, dismembered, and left to survive as disembodied sentient heads in jars. Jack Nicholson plays two roles (including the most ineffectual world leader possibly ever depicted on film). Vegas lounge singer Tom Jones is instrumental in the future of humanity. Slim Whitman’s song “Indian Love Call” is used as a weapon of mass destruction. It’s all pretty terrible.

And I loved every second of it.

 

 

Image result for mars attacks trading cards 1962Let’s back up a second . . . I have to explain that I had an interest in this movie beyond my love for the director. Mars Attacks! is based on a set of trading cards. That’s right. Trading cards. From a company called Topps, which most people would recognize as a company that makes and distributes baseball cards. The original cards were very innovative for their use of using individual cards to tell a single story, with each card serving as one panel of an ongoing comic book. Collect all the cards and you’ve collected the entire story. 

The original cards told a ground-breaking science-fiction saga about Martians discovering that Mars is about to explode due to internal pressure in the planet’s core. They invade Earth in attempt to colonize and move their civilization. The cards were petty graphic, depicting futuristic battle scenes, recognizable Earth landmarks being decimated, and bizarre methods of human torture and slaughter. The original cards were drawn by artists Wally Wood and Norman Saunders.

Let’s back up again . . . I’ve been a comic book collector for most of my life. My favorite comic book among all of the ones I’ve read and enjoyed over the years is a Marvel comic called Daredevil. I’m sure you’re familiar with Daredevil, if not from the recent stellar Netflix series, from the less-than-good 2003 movie starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner. Marvel first started printing Daredevil in 1964. When it started, Daredevil looked like this:
Image result for daredevil 1964 yellow suit
The comic struggled in sales for the first several months and was near cancellation until issue 7 when Daredevil started to look like this:
Image result for daredevil 1964 red suit wally wood
New design, new character concept, and the book began to sell again. The artist responsible for this character design, and perhaps the revitalization of a comic book that has now existed for fifty-five years, was very popular at the time. That artist was none other than . . . Wally Wood.

Okay. We’re essentially caught up. I’m a fan of Wally Wood (who is also well-known for his work in Mad Magazine). I’m a fan of the trading cards. I’m a fan of Tim Burton. This movie was high up on my list of movies I needed to see in 1996.

I saw it on opening night, and left the movie theater pondering why I was contemplating going back to see a movie that I didn’t find very funny and kinda bored me. I thought to myself that maybe I just didn’t get it. But what’s there to get? The movie is broadly-acted. The special effects (with a few exceptions) are not very good. An excellent all-star cast (including Pierce Brosnan, Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Natalie Portman, Michael J. Fox, Martin Short, and Danny Devito) is pretty much wasted with little screen time or nothing of note to do. The plot is incomprehensible. The violence is cartoonish and senseless. The laughs are juvenile and not very funny. There didn’t seem to be much here to get. This is clearly not a very good movie. Why oh why, do I want to go see this piece of trash again?

It took me quite a few years and, yes, repeated viewings to realize that I answered the question I started this entry with simply by asking the question. Why would Tim Burton follow up a brilliant, introspective, thought-provoking, Oscar-winning film (Ed Wood won two Academy Awards– one for make-up and one for Martin Landau, Best Supporting Actor for his career-defining depiction of frustrated Plan 9 From Outer Space star, Bela Lugosi) with mindless trash that looks like it might have been made by Ed Wood himself? Because Mars Attacks! looks like it might have been made by Ed Wood himself.

Mars Attacks! isn’t supposed to be any good. It was never intended to be any good. It was intended to be schlock late-night drive-in movie garbage. It was intended, in short, to be an homage to the director that inspired Tim Burton enough to make the well-received film that pretty much put him on the map in the first place. Burton was popular before Ed Wood, to be sure. But he wasn’t horribly credible. Not really taken seriously. Not really seen as a director that should be taken seriously. Certainly not an Oscar winner. Ed Wood gave movie snobs that would never deign to recommend Beetlejuice (if they ever even watched it in the first place) a reason to take notice of his work, of his visionary approach to storytelling. It gave them reason to excitedly wonder what this weird, gothic little man might be up to next. The joke’s on them because what he was up to next was Mars Attacks!

If you accept Mars Attacks! as an homage to Ed Wood, then it really works. It’s not even an homage so much as it is an imitation. For this reason, it might just be the most brilliant film in the entire Tim Burton canon.

I really do have a soft spot for Tim Burton. He’s only made one movie that I haven’t watched repeatedly (2001’s Planet of the Apes was a pointless and idiotic remake of a movie that I hold very dear to my heart). And I agree that not all of his movies are good (not a tremendous fan of either Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Alice in Wonderland either– but I blame Depp for that more than I do Burton). Mars Attacks!, as I’ve stated, is also not very good. But it’s heart is in the right place.

Ed Wood would have loved it. And I think that’s the point.

 

“No matter what, Edward will always be special.”

Last month, we mined upcoming releases for inspiration in choosing our Movie of the Month. We decided to do the same in April.

Greg is especially handy in this regard. He manages a movie theater for a living and can probably rattle off release dates without using Google to cheat. He had three movies coming out in April that forced us to consider our selection this month. The obvious one is The Avengers: Endgame but we used a Marvel Cinematic Universe film for ideas last month. Pet Sematary is also coming out, but Aaron thinks it looks awful and Karen doesn’t run to see horror films. It appears that only 2 out of 3 Nerds will be seeing this one!

Ultimately, the release we chose will have opened by the time you read this, but we were inspired all the same.

Dumbo Poster

A live-action remake of Walt Disney’s 1941 classic has come to theaters! And it’s directed by Tim Burton.

For April, Greg and Aaron are going to take some time to talk about their favorite films in the Tim Burton filmography. And to start things off, we picked as our Movie of the Month a movie somewhat regarded as one of his best.

Edward Scissorhands Poster

Three Nerds’ selection, April 2019: Edward Scissorhands
Who Directed It: Tim Burton
Who Wrote It: Caroline Thompson
Who’s In It: Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest, Anthony Michael Hall, and Vincent Price
What does everyone else say about it: Rotten Tomatoes score: 90% (critics), 91% (audience), IMDB user rating: 7.9 (out of 10)
Where you can see it: DVD/Blu-Ray and numerous streaming services (Fandango Now, Redbox, Google Play, Vudu, Amazon Prime). This one is actually part of the collection on Hulu!

The Nerds Weigh In
Aaron: I’ll just throw it out there in the beginning– I am unapologetically a huge fan of Tim Burton. I have a soft spot for his creative vision and can find something to like about even the movies that are considered “not-so-good”. With that said, my first viewing of Edward Scissorhands was back when the movie first came out. I was in high school. And I was left a little cold by it. I think my adoration for Tim Burton set the bar a tad too high, and I left this film fairly disappointed. However, in college, I frequented a movie club that used to spend entire weekends showing the collected library of well-known directors. The administrators of this particular club were pretty excited about the recent Oscar wins for Ed Wood. To celebrate, they showed, back-to-back, all four feature films that Burton had so-far directed as well as a handful of his better-known short films. It was here that I saw Edward Scissorhands for the second time. With an audience reacting to the movie’s considerable whimsy, I saw the movie in a whole new light. I also discovered that I could relate to the main character’s feelings of isolation. Subsequent viewings have turned a movie that I was so-so about into one of my favorite Tim Burton films. I generally watch this movie once or twice a year. (P.S. I am about to lose my mind over a Burton-directed remake of Dumbo.)

Greg: Saw this one at the drive-in, of the Harvest Moon variety. I was old enough to understand and chuckle at the oddity of it, but too young to appreciate the importance of it. Years later, after repeat viewings, the idea of Edward being a freak was slowly replaced, in my mind, with the notion that Edward was simply Edward. He was made that way. And because Edward was Edward, Edward was special. And, after more viewings, the movie helped me realize that we all are special in our own ways. Whether others see us as such or not. And then, even after more viewings than that, after years of watching once or twice a year, as Aaron does, a new revelation occurred to me. A new dream, actually. A dream consisting of a group of people in a basement bar, not unlike the one in which Alan Arkin introduces Edward Scissorhands to whiskey. Each person in the bar is undeniably distinguishable from the next, but all are accepting of the peccadillos of the others, not judging those next to them. Instead of pointing to me (I mean Edward) and saying, “that dude is all kinds of goofy,” they say, “That’s Edward, and that’s who he is.” And everyone in that shag carpeted basement raises a glass before moving the conversation along to something else.

Lil Bit O Trivia – Edward Scissorhands

1. Can you imagine anyone else playing Edward Scissorhands? Neither can we. But it turns out that both Jim Carrey and Robert Downey, Jr. were in the running to play the role. Tom Hanks apparently came pretty close as well. Gary Oldman was offered the part, but eventually turned it down. As was Tom Cruise, who turned it down because he thought the ending was too dark and bad for his image at the time. John Cusack expressed interest. William Hurt. In addition to those big names . . . and this is a rumor that we have found on multiple internet sites, but are unable to confirm . . . pop singer Michael Jackson was apparently interested in the role. It is rumored that he pestered Tim Burton with repeated phone calls that were never returned.

Vincent Price Picture

2. As big a fan of horror films and gothic entertainment that Tim Burton seems to be, it comes as no surprise that he is a fan of iconic horror-film actor Vincent Price. In fact, Vincent Price’s role in this film was tailor-made and written specifically for him. Unfortunately, Vincent Price was very ill during filming and his performance had to be cut considerably to accommodate his struggles with emphysema and Parkinson’s disease. Mr. Price passed away three years after the release of this film. Edward Scissorhands was his final screen performance.

3. This role was not an easy one for Johnny Depp. All accounts of the process of filming this movie claim that Depp went above and beyond the call of duty to perfect it. It is reported that he lost 25 pounds to prepare, but probably lost more than that throughout the process. The movie was filmed in Florida. It was hot. But Depp refused cooling agents in the skin-tight leather outfit. This caused him to pass out occasionally. Once, he threw up. Actually, he threw up twice while filming: Depp actually consumed all of the different foods and appetizers that the neighbors shove in his mouth during the barbeque sequence. His make-up for the role took almost two hours daily to apply. Why did Depp put in this much work to the detriment of his own health? Because producers were concerned that Depp’s pretty-boy 21 Jump Street image would hurt the film’s believability.

4. The wondrous menagerie of bushes that Edward Scissorhand’s masterfully creates while trimming the shrubbery in the film were actually meticulously-built wire frames. The frames were covered with real and artificial plants and flowers intricately woven around the sculptures. If you really like those sculptures, you can visit them. Some of them are on permanent display at Tavern on the Green, an upscale restaurant in New York City.

sk-2017_04_article_main_mobile~25. This image is a rendering of the actual fossil of an extinct primitive arthropod discovered in 2013 by paleontologist David Legg in Kootenay National Park in Canada. In Legg’s own words: “When I first saw the pair of isolated claws in the fossil records of this species I could not help but think of Edward Scissorhands.” The fossil was named kootenichela deppi in an obvious reference to the actor. Again, quoting Legg: ” . . . I am also a bit of a Depp fan and so what better way to honour the man than to immortalise him as an ancient creature that once roamed the sea?”

Well, that’s probably enough for this month, friends. Be sure to check back in throughout the month for more discussion about the filmography of Tim Burton. Aaron will start us off next week with the defense of a film in the library that is not one of Burton’s most popular. Can you guess which one it is?

 

Life Is A Highway

The search to find strong women in film can, for most, come to an abrupt yet refreshing end when the opening credits to Thelma and Louise first appear on the screen. This Ridley Scott ode to women, women’s lib, inner strength, and camaraderie, set against the backdrop of the ever-popular road trip genre, embodies the very definition of strong women in film.

First, there’s Thelma, who is a submissive housewife, burdened by an overbearing, absent husband, and who is afraid to stand up for herself in any, way, shape, or form; she cowers at the very thought of leaving the house for the weekend by herself. Second, there is Louise, who is hardened by life’s misfortunes, jaded to the world, shut off to outside influence, watching her life move past her from the hazy, smoky diner in which she finds herself waiting tables every day.

Louise, through some convincing, manages to pull Thelma from her non-peaceful home for a weekend of camping and fishing in the mountains. On the way, the two stop for some drinks and dancing, and find themselves in a dangerous situation that results in a high-speed exit for the two ladies who were just out for a good time. They ditch their plans for camping in the mountains to instead make for Mexico in an attempt to avoid being seen by any police.

And it is at this point at which their journey truly begins. Not a geographical journey, per se, but a spiritual one; an awakening, if you will.

Thelma and Louise, while on the road to salvation, find in each other an inner strength to cope with the world that neither knew the other had. Thelma, who only days before agreeing to go on the camping trip in the first place, begins to see all the world has to offer for her outside the confines of a dreary, drab house controlled by a chauvinistic pig of a human being. And Louise sees in Thelma the cloudy memories Louise has of the joys of living life to its fullest, and she starts to rise from her rock bottom, opening herself up again to the world to which she so many years ago shut herself out.

As the two women carry on, through more trials and tribulations than they can count, they learn something else about themselves: they don’t need to take any shit from anybody. By the film’s climax, they’ve decided collectively that anything coming in between them and their liberation, particularly anything that even remotely resembles facets of their former, caged, unfulfilling lives, well . . . it ain’t gonna stand in their way for very long.

And so, Thelma and her road trip with her best bud, Louise, compose on the big screen what many women the world over had been waiting to see: an anthem for strong, independent, willful women everywhere and anywhere who don’t yet know the strength waiting inside of them, just itching to get out and make a mark in the world. And this anthem reminds those women that sometimes that little push they are waiting for to get started actually comes from within. Or, from a pal who forces them to go on a vacation.

“Cheer up. The world’s gonna end in ten minutes anyway.”

When we decided to spend the month focusing our attentions on “women who kick ass”, I knew immediately what movie I wanted to write about. It’s a personal favorite of mine, and has been since I first saw it in 1995. But as discussion continued, I thought of more heroines that deserved attention (Leeloo in The Fifth Element, Lola in Run, Lola, Run, Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgement Day). I was beginning to talk myself out of writing about one of my favorite movies. But I rewatched the movie, and while I find it problematic as a recommendation (I’ll get to that in a moment), I discovered a snippet of trivia that made it the pitch-perfect choice as a movie that features a kick-ass female protagonist.

The movie is directed by Kathryn Bigelow. You would know her for her memorable action films (including 1991’s Point Break). She did an impressive independent vampire film in 1987 called Near Dark. But in 2008, she did a movie called The Hurt Locker and won an Oscar for Best Direction for her efforts. This Oscar win was a milestone in that it made Kathryn Bigelow the first woman to ever win this particular award. Actually, she is the only woman in the history of the Academy Awards (almost 90 years!) to take home a statuette for Best Director.

How’s that for women who kick ass?

Image result for strange days

Strange Days was released in 1995.  I had never seen anything like it.

I still haven’t.

(Consider this your warning that this article will contain SPOILERS!)

The film takes place on the final day of 1999 as Los Angeles prepares for the possibility that “the millennium bug” or “Y2K” is going to ignite the end of the world by the end of the night. The hot drug on the streets is “Playback”, a cyber-drug that allows the user to get high on another person’s experiences with a retro-fitted CD Discman, a machine called a Super-conducting Quantum Interference Device (or SQUID). The SQUID allows a wearer to record experiences through their own eyes. The tapes of those experiences can be played back by another user. Do you want to have sex with a beautiful blonde? Do you want to feel the adrenalin rush of robbing a bank? Do you want to know what it feels like to die? If you want it, you can probably find it on “Playback.”

Image result for ralph fiennes strange days

The movie stars Ralph Fiennes as Lenny Nero. Lenny used to be a Los Angeles police officer. Now, he’s a street hustler, dealing in “Playback” tapes. I don’t think Ralph Fiennes has ever played a character as pathetic as Lenny Nero. Unkempt and sweaty, Lenny is addicted to his own product, specifically to tapes from his personal collection, recordings of his time with Faith (played by Juliette Lewis), an up-and-coming rock singer that has left him, a direct result of Nero’s increasing paranoia.

The film is co-written by James Cameron, so I don’t think I have to tell you that the film continually winds back in on itself as the plot gets progressively more and more complicated. And it does get complicated. What starts out as Lenny receiving a secret “playback” clip that shows a woman being raped and murdered turns into Lenny receiving a “playback” clip that shows Los Angeles police executing a well-known African-American hip hop artist and revolutionary. This, naturally, turns into Lenny needing constant protection as he is hunted down by the two offending officers (played by Vincent D’Onofrio and William Fichtner).

Protection for Lenny comes in the form of Mace. She’s a limo driver, and Lenny’s best friend and bodyguard. Played by Angela Bassett, she is, for me, the heart and soul of this film.

We don’t get a lot of back story on Mace, but we see in flashbacks that her ex-husband was a loser and that Lenny was the police officer that read stories to her child while the other officers arrested him. She is protective of Lenny and very obviously loves him.

Bassett’s performance is very nuanced. Is Mace protecting  Lenny because she has to, or because she needs to? Is protecting Lenny her job, or her mission?  Consider this exchange:

LENNY: Have you ever been in love with someone who didn’t return that love?
MACE: Yeah, Lenny, I have.
LENNY: It didn’t stop you from loving them, right? Or being able to understand them or forgive them?
MACE: I guess.

I think there’s a little bit of both. Suffice it to say that, by the end of this film, Mace will have saved Lenny in every way imaginable. She fights bad guys for him. She almost drowns for him. She reminds him that friendship is “more than one person constantly doing favors for another.” She helps him love himself.

This entire movie is worth the watch for Angela Bassett alone.

Image result for juliette lewis strange daysWith that said, since I am recommending that this film get a second look so highly, I feel obligated to mention that the film is problematic in more than one regard. For one thing, the film is incredibly dated. Since we all know that the world didn’t end on December 3, 1999, the movie loses some of its impact. But that isn’t nearly as problematic as the film’s treatment of women. Despite a female director, despite how effectively drawn and nuanced the character of Mace is, the rest of the film has a pretty uncomfortable outlook on women. There are two other (admittedly, strong) female characters in this film. The first, Iris, is brutally murdered and raped before the film is halfway finished, and the second, Faith (played by Juliette Lewis) spends a good portion of the film nude. It should be said, though, that Juliette Lewis’s performance in this film is very strong. And there are two sequences of Faith in concert, where all the vocals and musicianship are recreated by Lewis herself. If I have a crush on Juliette Lewis (and I do), it’s because of this performance in this film. 

The film itself is also very frenetic, though. It’s almost a sadistic onslaught to your senses. The music is loud. The violence is brutal. The shots are edited in quick succession. And the long point-of-view sequences that depict “playback” are jumpy and may require dramamine. In direct defense of the latter, though, the camera equipment used to film these sequences was invented for use in this film and required more than a year’s worth of work before filming could even begin. That’s one more thing about this film that has been criminally overlooked.

Strange Days is nothing if it isn’t flawed. But there is a great irony in a movie that deals so effectively with memory being so difficult to forget. If you’ve seen this movie, let’s discuss it. If you haven’t, I promise you’ll want to discuss it if you do.

 

“This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off.”

Today is March 7, 2019. This means that we here at Three Nerds and A Movie only have to wait one more day before we can head to the theater and see Captain Marvel (unless we’re Karen, who got her tickets for tonight months ago).
captain marvel
We’re all pretty excited about this one. And not only because it’s the next installment in the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe (a franchise that we’re all three pretty fond of). But because it isn’t very often that we get to see quality action-packed films that have a female as the lead protagonist.

Is it a coincidence that Captain Marvel is being released on International Women’s Day? We don’t think so.

To celebrate the release of Captain Marvel, not only are the three of us going to be putting a spotlight on our favorite movies that feature a woman who kicks ass, but we’ve selected a Movie of the Month that also features a strong female protagonist. It’s a science-fiction film. It’s a terrifying horror film. It’s the genesis of a pretty major film franchise all on its own.

It’s also one of the greatest movies ever made.

alienThree Nerds’ selection, March 2019: Alien
Who Directed It: Ridley Scott
Who Wrote It: Dan O’Bannon
Who’s In It: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, John Hurt, Harry Dean Stanton, Ian Holm, and Yaphet Kotto
What does everyone else say about it: Rotten Tomatoes score: 97% (critics), 94% (audience), IMDB user rating: 8.5 (out of 10)
Where you can see it: DVD/Blu-Ray and four streaming services (Fandango Now, Google Play, Vudu, and Prime Video).

The Nerds Weigh In
Aaron: In seventh grade, some friends and I became obsessed with Aliens, James Cameron’s 1986 sequel to Alien. We had a VHS of the film dubbed off of HBO that got passed around and watched repeatedly. By myself, I might have watched the movie thirty times, and that doesn’t include the partial viewings or the times it was viewed with other people. My circle of friends really, really, really loved this movie, but were, admittedly, somewhat oblivious to the fact that it was a sequel. I finally saw the original in high school (mostly because I had become enamored of the work of Ridley Scott). It gave me nightmares. I’m not kidding. Alien scared the everloving hell out of me. Now, two decades later, there are things about Cameron’s sequel that I much prefer to the original. I think the special effects are better. I think the characters are more endearing. I think the seeds planted for the over-arching franchise plot are incredibly intriguing. But none of the subsequent films have frightened me. For that reason, the original gets the edge.

Karen: I didn’t watch Alien until I was older – later in high school, I think. At this point, my kinship with sci-fi was firmly rooted and I was voraciously reading and watching as much as I could. But I was never really jazzed about watching Alien. There was a cardboard cutout at the local video store for years (the upstairs part) and I always walked past it with mutual feelings of both indifference and unease. When I finally got around to watching it, I thought I knew what was coming. Like with most things to which humans assign expectations, I was wrong. I anticipated action and gore, which it obviously has in spades. But that really isn’t the point of Alien. Like all good sci-fi, it presents the viewer with insight about current reality through imagined fantasy, and it does it impactfully. I didn’t fully comprehend that on the scope that I do now, but I got a sense of it then and look back on it now with admiration and sincere respect for Scott’s masterpiece.

Greg: Alien was played on HBO and was rented on VHS in our house once or twice when I was a kid; maybe not so much when I was a small, shorter-than-I-am-now boy, but certainly when its sequel, Aliens, was introduced to audiences somewhere around the time when I was not the tallest person in my classroom, but somewhere, in height, between the otherwise tallest kid and the teachers. When Aliens came out, I do remember the film being the rave. And, since those I knew doing the raving were my older siblings who, at the time Aliens‘ predecessor, Alien, was released, were either too young to have seen the first in this series, or were unaware that a first in this series existed. Anyway, ’twas the mid-80’s when Alien was making its rounds around my family, and every time I tried to force my way into the room to join the crowd, I was always greeted with the “you’re too young to watch this” response. So, I did what any determined “too-young” movie lover would have done: I watched it anyway. Let me say simply this: “grown-ups know better.” At first, I was bored out of my mind. To a kid waiting for something exciting to happen, nothing does. And then it does . . . and then it does some more . . . and then you can’t un-see what you’ve seen . . . and then the swirling yellow alarm lights, and the fog, and then the alien-that-doesn’t-really-look-like-a-guy-in-a-suit-but-kinda-looks-like-a-guy-in-a-suit haunts dreams for a long time to come. Anyway, as I eventually grew into my teen years, I appreciated the film for its nuanced genre-mashing send up of a helluva great story. And those first minutes when nothing happens and I was bored out of my mind? Heck, I ending up loving those moments the best because they taught me the value of suspense before I ever learned to appreciate the word “Hitchcock.” And then, as I grew even older, I came to respect Sigourney Weaver not just as a dog-possessed, Pete-Venkman-loving/hating, Marshmallow-Man-soaked, gate-keeping resident of Central Park West, but also as a bad ass, alien-killing, controlling, dominant force of nature to be reckoned with. In Alien she is, at all times, even when she is scared, strong, confident, domineering, a pain in the ass, un-flinching, and indefatigable hero of all heroes. I was excited that this is our theme movie of the month. I am looking forward to a few weeks from now when I get to talk about not one, but two strong women movie characters who, when ya’ get down to it, take us all for a ride down a spiritual highway of growth and strength. And were it not for the strong woman in Alien (and the film’s director, who consequently also directed the film serving as my entry for this month) we would not have had, well, my entry for the month. Personal question: do you guys, when you reach the end of my posts say to yourself, “Jesus, that was a long post,” the same way I do when I proof it real quick after writing it?

Lil Bit O Trivia – Alien
1. The script for Alien  went through many revisions before it became the script that would eventually be shot. In the original script the characters names were all different and Ash did not exist. The script had a clause included stating that all characters were unisex and that it did not matter if they were cast as male or female. Over the years, there have been many rumors circulating about elements of the script that were written and never filmed, including a sex scene between Ripley and Dallas, a lesbian relationship between Lambert and Ripley, and a much darker ending. Reportedly, Ridley Scott had conceived of an ending where the Alien stows itself on an escape shuttle, eventually bites off Ripley’s head, and then mimics her voice to make a final log entry for her superiors.

bolaji2. Ridley Scott originally wanted to use animatronics to portray the Alien, but special effects at the time were not sophisticated enough for what Scott had in mind. This was a dilemma that could have potentially killed the film, but the casting director stumbled upon a Nigerian graphic designer named Bolaji Badejo in a pub. Badejo stood over seven feet tall and was incredibly thin. Believing that Badejo had the potential to make the Alien look more insect-like than humanoid, Ridley Scott consented to his casting. Never having acted before, Badejo was provided with Tai Chi classes and mime training to slow down his movements.  But he was also forbidden by Scott to fraternize with his co-stars, as Scott wanted them to be naturally terrified of him. Badejo spent fourteen very lonely weeks on the set of Alien. In a costume that was so cumbersome that a specially-constructed hoist had to be used since the tail of the Alien suit prevented him from sitting in a chair. Alien is the only film Badejo ever appeared in.

john hurt3. According to Sir John Hurt in a DVD commentary, he was considered to play Kane from the very beginning, but was forced to decline as he was already committed to a movie that was being filmed in South Africa. Jon Finch was given the role of Kane instead. Two separate incidents occurred, though, that eventually got Hurt the role. First: the government of South Africa banned Hurt from entering the country as they mistook him for an actor named John Heard, who was a very vocal opponent of apartheid. By this point, Finch was forced to drop out of Alien because he became seriously ill from diabetes on the first day of shooting. Ridley Scott immediately contacted Hurt, pitched him the script over a weekend, and Sir John Hurt arrived on set the following Monday morning.

4.  Dan O’Bannon’s idea for the screenplay was inspired by work on two previous projects. He had worked as a writer and special effects supervisor on Dark Star, a 1974 science-fiction comedy directed by John Carpenter. Dan O’Bannon decided halfway through filming that his initial premise worked better as a horror film so he began work on a script entitled Star Beast. Dark Star was a major failure commercially, but it had been seen by Chilean-French director Alejandro Jodorowsky, who had recently acquired the rights to Frank Herbert’s classic science-fiction novel Dune. Jodorowsky hired O’Bannon to help him with the book’s adaptation, causing Dan O’Bannon to sell all of his belongings so that he could move to France. While working on this ill-fated film, Dan O’Bannon met and worked with a series of influential artists, including H. R. Giger, the artist who designed the look of the Alien. When Dune eventually halted production due to lack of funding, Dan O’Bannon took the creative team to work on Star Beast, which was now titled Alien, using many of the designs that had already been created for Dune.

5. Over time, Alien would become one of the biggest franchises in science-fiction, spawning three sequels, two prequels, several comic book series, more than a dozen original novels, a digital web series, toys, and numerous games (video, roleplaying, and tabletop). The Alien franchise has also crossed over to the Predator franchise. This crossover has spawned comic books, video games, two films, and several original novels. Ridley Scott, in a recent interview, confirmed that not only do both franchises exist in the same created universe, but that his own classic Blade Runner (1982) also exists in that shared universe. Yeah, that doesn’t make any sense to us, either.

Well, that’s enough for this month, friends. Be sure to check back next week. Aaron wants to tell you about a science-fiction film that definitely deserves more love.