Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

The Incredible Nerd

Posted: March 20, 2012 by Bill Gauthier in Childhood, Comics, Movies, TV
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The television series The Incredible Hulk, starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno was woven into the fabric of my childhood. Yet, I realized recently that I had never seen the entirety of the very first episode, the pilot movie. So I called it up on Netflix Instant Streaming and watched it last night. Watching it made me realize what has been wrong with the more recent film versions of the Hulk.

I enjoyed 2003’s Hulk, starring Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly, and directed by Ang Lee quite a bit. I want to get that out of the way because I know many people consider this movie a failure. I don’t. I liked the story, I liked the acting, and I liked the Hulk. He was massive, he emoted, and he was fun to watch. Still, though I liked it a lot, there was still something about that didn’t quite feel right to me.

2008’s The Incredible Hulk is notable only because it’s tying in with this summer’s The Avengers. Tony Stark makes an appearance, there may clues to other Marvel movies, the nerds align and cheer with glee. Except it’s dumb.

The 2003 film is an intelligently crafted movie with a real concept behind it. The 2008 movie is an excuse for a brawl in the streets of a major American city (I’ve forgotten which one, mainly because it doesn’t matter) and to tie into The Avengers. Both are missing something that made the 1977-1981 television series the classic it remains to this day: pathos.

The older I got as I watched the TV show’s reruns, the more David Banner’s plight seemed more important–and more interesting. This is a man who wants to do good, who wants to love, yet keeps losing the people closest to him, first by happenstance, then because of his self-inflicted curse. Bill Bixby’s portrayal of Banner is great. Caring, careful, and empathetic, you can’t not watch him onscreen. He portrays Banner as an intelligent, caring, yet flawed man who must reconcile his sins every time the monster comes and disappears. He Dr. Jekyll. He is Dr. Frankenstein. He is Dr. Richard Kimball. But you care about him. And if Lou Ferrigno’s Hulk now seems quaint and silly (and he does, oh man, he does!), then it’s forgivable because of Bill Bixby’s performance.

Eric Bana’s situation in Hulk also provides pathos, yet not in the same way as Bill Bixby’s. Because Bixby’s Banner radiated himself trying to solve a problem brought on by his wife’s death in a car accident, you already care about and understand why he blasts himself with the gamma rays even while you’re hoping he won’t do it. The audience is seeing a tragedy in the making, brought on by raw emotion. Bana’s gamma blast is more like the comic book’s version, where Banner is helping someone else who is in danger of being blasted. The added empathy that helps the story immensely is that Banner’s father, played by Nick Nolte, has already been messing around with his DNA. The creature is essentially already there, just in need of a little push out. But, by my money, it’s just not the same. Yes, Bana’s Banner is more a victim and should be in need of more empathy, yet it doesn’t work out that way. I still feel more for Bixby’s Banner than Bana’s Banner.

In The Incredible Hulk, Edward Norton also plays Bruce Banner. This isn’t a sequel to Hulk, yet in many ways feels like it is. It also feels a little like a sequel to the TV series, including the musical cue Bixby gets at the end of each episode. I’ll be honest here, I had to look at Wikipedia to even know how this Banner becomes the Hulk. I still don’t remember. It doesn’t matter, because this is the least sympathetic Hulk by far. Norton’s Banner tries to get into our hearts but never quite gets there. What time is there with all the running away from, being chased he’s doing? At least the comic book feel of Bana’s Banner left the viewer feeling something, Norton’s Banner is just sort of there. Yes, Norton is a physically perfect Banner, and yes, he can be a good actor, but in this…eh.

Overall, I think that the 2003 and 2008 movie suffers from their closeness to the comic books. They’re not adapted enough. Kenneth Johnson’s adaptation of the Hulk is akin to Christopher Nolan’s adaptation of Batman: it’s set in our world. Yes, there’s a fantastic element to it, yes, there are unbelievable–even silly–things that happen, yet, for the time it takes to watch (the the very least) the pilot movie, I was left rooting for Bixby’s Banner and feeling sad when he loses his second chance at love. And while the visual representations of Bana’s Banner and Norton’s Banner might be more spectacular (yes, I am one the people who actually prefer CGI Hulk to Lou Ferrigno Hulk) the pathos just isn’t there, and we the audience inevitably don’t care.

 

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I got home about half an hour ago, my clothes damp with sweat. I wish I could say I just came back from working out, from performing with my rock band, or even that I just got back from a stand-up comedy gig, with those bright, hot lights, the grateful audience, and the rest of those clichés. But I didn’t. I got home from work. I am a teacher.

Yes, that's my teacher look.

I call teaching The Day Job because I’ve been a writer longer than I’ve been a teacher, and I’ve wanted to write for a helluva lot longer than I’ve wanted to teach. As a matter of fact, if I can tell you the truth (and what’s the purpose of writing if I can’t tell you the truth?), I’ve never necessarily wanted to be a teacher. I fell into it nearly by accident. The good news is that I enjoy teaching nearly as much as I enjoy writing, and while I’m certainly not paid what I believe teachers should be paid, it has paid me a lot more than writing has, and it is fulfilling. If I look back though, it shouldn’t be a surprise to me that I teach. As a matter of fact, I think it was more of a surprise to those who know me that it took as long as it did for me to become a teacher. Since it’s the time of year when the kiddies (and many others) are returning to school, I figured, let’s look at some of the teachers from the movies and TV shows that I watched growing up. This isn’t going to be a definitive list of teachers from the media, I’ll let some other list making website deal with that, but I will talk about the ones I think have an effect on me.

I was in my teens when I was flipping through the channels one day and happened on The Dead Poets Society (1989). The movie got a lot of buzz when it came out and I love Robin Williams, but I hadn’t seen it. Part of it was that I was young when it came out (11/12) and part was that my mother’s co-worker had been dragged to see it by his wife and had reported that it was boring, so my mother didn’t want to watch it. I’d wanted to watch it when it came to cable but just never had until the afternoon, I believe I was 16 or 17, that I was flipping through the channels and there it was, just beginning. I loved it. The piece of the movie I remember the best from that first viewing, and the thing I carry with me in the back of my mind in my Badass Book of Teaching is when Robin Williams instructs the students to tear out pages from the textbook. The tight-ass prep school boys have trouble believing that they’re to follow him at first, but eventually do so in a scene that is both beautiful and inspiring.

There’s nothing really beautiful about Carl Reiner’s Summer School (1987) except for Courtney Thorne Smith, but when I saw it at the age of 10 or 11, I loved it. The thing I remember from that, that I still kind of carry with me now, is that Mark Harmon’s Mr. Shoop is lax, miserable, but treats the students as people. He is the typical 1980s hero in that he has a very I-Don’t-Give-a-Fuck attitude about him but he reaches the students. It may not be by accepted (and these days, he’d be fired without a second thought), but he reaches them and the class mostly succeeds. The other thing that stuck with me, but that has nothing to do with teaching, are the boys who love horror movies, Dave and Chainsaw. The viewing of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in class, as well as the gory horror-movie-type prank (check out about halfway down the page) that the kids play on a substitute after Shoop’s fired, I think helped guide me into my love of horror movies (though the date of the movie’s release, July 1987, leads me to believe that I’d already seen the three A Nightmare on Elm Street movies that had been released by then).

Oh, how this scene had an effect on me.

Mr. Miyagi from 1984’s The Karate Kid wasn’t the typical teacher, yet he was a teacher that I could dig. I was probably about eight when I first saw The Karate Kid on HBO or Cinemax, and it was a story that I loved. Though my days of being bullied were to begin in the following years, I already felt like an outsider and the story of Daniel LaRusso’s warm welcome to Cailfornia from New Jersey struck home. Plus, he learned to kick ass, which seemed really cool. But as cool as Daniel seemed to me at eight, nine, and ten (when The Karate Kid Part II came out), Mr. Miyagi was the coolest person in the movie. Wise and comical, blue collar and elitist, difficult taskmaster and best friend, Mr. Miyagi was the friend all boys wanted back then. A father figure who wasn’t your father and who could teach you to defend yourself, but would still play jokes on you. Forget that he’s an Asian stereotype, Pat Morita brought a pathos to Miyagi that Jackie Chan did not in the boring, lame 2010 remake. Mr. Miyagi wasn’t a schoolteacher, but he was one of the best teachers of my childhood and there have been moments in my 5-year-old career that have definitely been influenced by him.

None of MY teachers did this for me.

And that was one of the problems with the 1980s. The punk rock, MTV movement had seeped into the popular culture so much that everyone sort of became the anti-hero, even teachers. Many of them were mean to the kids, or clueless, and being a little boy in the 80s meant I missed some of the good teachers, such as Mr. Hand, played by the venerable Ray Walston, in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, a movie I only saw for the first time in the last few years. Most of the teachers in the John Hughes movies, especially The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off were shown as boring, mean, and inept. Of course you had Morgan Freeman taking on a tough, inner-city school in Lean On Me, or James Belushi doing an action movie version of same in The Principal. I recently saw Teachers with Nick Nolte and while he proved to be a caring, even good, teacher at the end, he was pretty much the anti-hero teacher, which is why Mr. Miyagi and the last few important teachers of my childhood in Pop Culture 101 were so important.

Indiana Jones was a hero to me, and probably every other boy born in the 1970s and early 1980s. And the strangest thing about him, to the seven-year-old Billy who first saw him, was that he was a teacher. At seven, you pretty much believe that your teachers live at school, or something like that. To think that they have lives, that they go grocery shopping or have spouses and children of their own is ridiculous. They can’t because they’re your teacher, damnit! And yet, here was a guy who not only was so cool that the girls painted I love you on they eyelids, but he went around, collecting treasures, fighting bad guys, and otherwise being a badass. And he taught you something, too! I don’t know how many fights I got out of by running like Indiana Jones does at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Oh, and there’s the whole Nazi and Biblical history thing, too.

"I strongly urge you to turn in your homework, or I'll kick your ass."

Ben “Obi-Wan” Kenobi, played by Sir Alec Guinness was probably the first onscreen teacher I saw that had me listening. He taught Luke some valuable lessons like, “Your eyes can deceive you, don’t trust them,” and outcooled Han Solo with, “Who is more foolish: the fool or the one who follows him?” Of course the most important piece of advice from the first Star Wars was “Use the Force.” Yoda also taught about the Force. Never had a green puppet (not even Kermit the Frog) taught me so much at that age. What the hell was the Force? Yeah, yeah, a mystical field that surrounds all life because midichlorians and whatever. It’s magic. Or, as I saw it growing up, it’s the inner power we all have that gives us faith in ourselves. There is nothing more important than faith in yourself. Go back, read that sentence again. I’ll wait.

Teachers should have patience. Some have to deal with two generations of whiners.

Done? Good, let’s continue.

Faith in yourself gives you the ability to make the first step toward whatever goal or dream you wish to achieve. It also happens to be the most important thing that a teacher can pass along to a student.

There are so many other teachers in movies, on TV, and in books, plays, songs, etc. that I haven’t even come close to mentioning. I chose mainly to focus on the teachers I watched in the first dozen or so years of my life, and I’m sure I’m missing some, but those were, for me, the ones that seemed to leave a lasting impression. The only one I’d like to add, from my early twenties, is Richard Dreyfuss’s Academy Award-nominated performance in Mr. Holland’s Opus, which is a bit schmaltzy at times, but is still a movie that I enjoyed quite a bit when I first saw it. He wasn’t a part of my childhood, but I’ve thought about that movie a few times since I began teaching back in the fall of 2007.

"We're going to need a bigger band."

In the end, all the teachers listed above were rule-breakers and taught their students how to fend for themselves, with love, with compassion, and with knowledge. We could all use a little of that in our lives, and we should do our best to use those traits, as well.

***

So, do you think I missed a teacher? Is there a pop culture teacher who deeply affected you? Let’s discuss it!

Let’s Go To The Movies

Posted: August 4, 2011 by Bill Gauthier in Movies

When I was a kid growing up in a lower-middle class neighborhood in New Bedford, Massachusetts, there was no greater thrill for me than Going To The Movies. I think that’s how I thought of it, too, without knowing it at the time, caps on every word. It was a big deal. I wasn’t a kid who was into sports, and while I loved the library, it never really gave me a huge thrill. But The Movies? Ho-lee mackerel! Did I love me The Movies! It was like television, only better. Much better.

Even now, Going to The Movies is more than just a night out, or a diversion, for me. I can’t help it. There have been times, only recently, where it’s been more casual but usually it’s still a big deal to me. And being the nerdy (and somewhat sensitive) person I am, I even have rules that I lay down to friends before going to The Movies:

  1. We must arrive to the theater before the previews start. There have been a few occasions when I’ve let this rule slip, but usually I stand by it. I have skipped seeing a 1:00 show for a 4:00 one, or have even driven an extra half hour to a 1:45 show at a different theater, to abide by this rule. There are several reasons for this: a) It’s dark once the previews begin and I hate having to try to find a seat in the dark; b) I like the previews (though I dislike commenting on the previews; I don’t care if you or the person in front of me or behind me or three rows down wants to see this movie when it comes out). I like to see a really good trailer that gets me jazzed to see a movie and to know what’s happening; c) It’s part of the ritual.
  2. There is to be little-or-no-talking to me during the movie. I was raised that Thou shalt not speak during the movie and, goddamnit, I intend to abide by that rule! Every now and then something happens that calls out for a comment, and usually it’s okay, but read the situation. If I look enthralled, please, leave me be.
  3. I stay through the credits, or at least most of the credits. Again, I have several reasons for this: a) I don’t like crowds. If it’s a busy movie with a lot of people, I don’t want to be stuck with the schmucks around me. I don’t trust them, I don’t like them. They’re sticky and gross. We can wait; b) Respect for the craftspersons who made the movie. They devoted who knows how much time to provide the entertainment that I just sat through, the least I can do is wait for their names to pass; c) I don’t want to hear what those other sticky and gross people have to say about the movie I have just seen on their way out. I don’t want to hear “That was great!” or “That sucked” or any other comment. It can upset me and, really, I just don’t care. I care about your opinion, because we’re friends and we just saw a movie together, but:
  4. Do not talk to me about the movie we have just seen until I bring it up. This is probably the strangest rule I have, and it connects the last item on the above rule. I hate overhearing other people talking about the movie on the way out of the theater. It’s an oddity with me. Some of it is probably ego, some of it is antisocial, but it’s one of those things. If a movie is really good and I’m really jazzed by it, the rule may be tossed out. I never know what movie will do that. Both of the Christopher Nolan Batman movies were exempt from this rule. The horror movie Identity was exempt. The first Iron Man, I believe, was exempt. Mostly, though, I need time to process it. Also, I don’t want others who I don’t care about to hear what I have to say until I’m ready for them to, via a blog or status update or Tweet.

Seriously. Shut the fuck up.

I know, those are strange, and you can see why I purposely never went on first (or second, or third…) dates to the movies. Movies are something I go to only if I’m comfortable with a person. Going to The Movies is almost a holy experience for me, and I treat it as such.

I don’t remember my first movie, though I know it was a Disney cartoon rerelease and was probably around 1980. This was before VCRs were everywhere and movies would often take tours around the country. I know I saw Cinderella, Bambi, Peter Pan, and I may have seen a few others. I went with my mother and the woman down the street and her kids. Mom didn’t drive but her friend did, and her friend had two boys, one a year older than me and the other a year younger. My mother also loved movies (she still does) and hated being embarrassed in public, so the rule was simple: No talking during the movie. Done. End of story. Like I said before, I still live by that rule.

Nope. This won't screw a kid up.

I remember the excitement about Going To The Movies at that young age. We’re talking about three years old. The excitement of going into this room with all those seats and a huge TV, although I was a little scared that the TV–called a screen, I learned–might come crashing down on me. It was an entry point to another world, one that was magical to a young child with an already-growing imagination. If I could see the adventures of superheroes or the Fonz or the Muppets at home, the promise of the movie theater was simply amazing.

Still, I hardly remember the Disney movies. Though it was during the previews for Bambi (I think) that I saw the only preview I remember from that time. It was a preview for a rerelease of Star Wars. Based on my research, this must have been 1982, but may have been 1981. A little boy from Argentina name Sebastian lived next door to me at the time and had Star Wars action figures that I thought were super cool, yet I had no idea what they were. Seeing the trailer for Star Wars, and being a precocious four-year-old, I realized the characters I saw on the screen were the toys that Sebastian had. I told my mother, breaking the 1st Law Of Movies, that I wanted to see it. What was Bambi compared to that?

One night after supper, my kid sister (who turned 30 this past March!) was still in her high chair, my father told me to get my shoes and jacket on, we were going out. Now this was A Big Deal. First off, with the exception of when my mother was in the hospital having my sister, my father and I hardly ever went out places just the two of us at that time. Second, we never went out after supper. Or at least we hardly ever went out anywhere after supper. So off we went. We pulled into the parking lot of one of the local movie theaters that were in the Greater New Bedford area at the time (or at least the two I know of from back then), Cinema 140. I remember that there were teenagers in the lobby with 3D glasses, which was weird. Dad bought me popcorn and a soda. Popcorn was a major part of the ritual for most of my life. We went into the theater. I don’t remember the previews, but I remember the opening of Star Wars, recognizing the yellow letters from the trailer. I remember the introductory crawl, though I’m sure Dad had to read it to me. And, of course, I remember the Imperial Star Destroyer chasing the Rebel Blockade Runner. It was so massive and it went on for miles and miles. I had never seen anything like it.

I was hooked. Not only to stories from that galaxy from a long time ago and far, far away, but also to the ritual of Going To The Movies.

In 1992, after seeing Batman Returns for the first time, I kept the movie stub. Nothing special, just put it in a Tupperware bowl I kept spare change in. As time passed and I saw movies–never as often as I’d like–I’d just toss the stub in that bowl. Sometime around 1995, while cleaning, I realized I had a ticket stub for every movie I’d seen since Batman Returns. This was when I began to consciously “collect” my stubs. Sometime around 2000, I bought some business card holder sheets and began keeping my ticket stubs in a binder. The few that were lost along the way I have scrap paper to remind me. On the back of the stubs I write the name of the movie, the date I saw it, and whom I saw it with. The first two are usually printed on the stubs, but I’ve noticed that many stubs fade over time.

Here is my movie ticket stub book. TOY STORY 2 is the 1st movie I took my daughter to. PAN'S LABYRINTH is the 1st movie I saw with my wife, Pamela. You see can see my notation on the back.

I still love the movies though the experience in recent years has changed. I know others have complained about this, too. A sign of the times, I guess. It probably started with my generation, the first generation raised entirely with TV in our lives. The ability to talk in front of the TV have made another generation of people who will often talk throughout a movie. And cell phones and smart phones have made the movie experience even worse. There are many people who can’t leave the devices in their pockets or purses through the movie and it’s annoying as hell. Not to mention that the quality of the experience has been corrupted by the various ads and “bonus” features that come before the previews now. And on a personal note, I can’t really eat popcorn anymore. It fucks with my acid reflux and can make for an unpleasant moviegoing experience.

Oh, you cruel, cruel temptress.

Despite those negatives, Going To The Movies still is an important ritual for me. I love the pre-show excitement I feel. I love the walk to the theater with all the movie posters and standees and other assorted gimmicks to get you interested in a movie coming up down the road. A good movie can still bring tears to my eyes just by being good. When I realize that I am totally engulfed by the movie, I can’t help but become emotional. That is what being a storyteller is about, and it reminds me of why I now tell stories as an adult.

This time, I AM interested in what you have to say. Please leave a comment and let me know about YOUR movie rules, experiences, and such.