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Fantastic Four Fiasco

You could just tell by the first trailer.

Neither the numbers nor the reviews are pretty, unless you mean pretty awful.

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Entire World of Disney

Dad by Disney

RDG Stout

They say that you get three turns of the wheel: your childhood, your kids’ childhood, and your grandkids’ childhood. On my first spin I fell into Generation X.2, which put me right in the sweet spot for both the silver screen’s Disney Renaissance and the small screen’s Disney Afternoon. Kids my age knew the theme songs for Gummi Bears, Rescue Rangers, and Talespin. By sixth grade we were all certain that Ariel was the greatest possible tribute to Alyssa Milano, right up until Guardians of the Galaxy.

But the Disney of the 1990s wasn’t all Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast. Soon came Hercules. And Atlantis. And (shudder) Home on the Range. Yeah, that happened; someone at Disney thought it would be a great idea to have a slapstick Wild West cartoon starring Roseanne Barr, Dame Judy Dench, and the Bride of Chucky as musical cows. There were some smallish diamonds in the rough, however. Lilo and Stitch touched on powerful family issues, and my college roommate and I could recite the entirety of The Emperor’s New Groove by heart. Maybe we still can. But Meet the Robinsons? Chicken Little? Man, the Disney Renaissance of my childhood was well and truly dead.

Then I had kids. And Disney met Pixar.

Peculiarly, the collaboration of these two studios seemed to keep coinciding with major events in my life. When our son was little, he loved cars and trains and tractors, and so the movie Cars, with all its overabundant merchandising, was like toddler crack to him. This was also back when he was an only child, so we had little compunction about showering him with toy vehicles. I found myself developing an oddly emotional connection with the Cars film, however, and when I stopped to examine why, I could only come up with two reasons: (1) My son adored it, and I was seeing it through his eyes; and (2) Cars is the story about a cocky, self-centered city guy who unexpectedly finds love, peace, and meaning out in the country. At first he views this transition as an agonizing exile, but soon comes to realize just how empty his old life was.

Did I mention that we were watching this shortly after I fell in love with a Minnesota girl and moved from the urban East Coast to the rural Midwest? Go figure.

Like most little boys, our son soon transitioned from machines to animals. He especially loved whales, sharks, and sea creatures in general. Well, there’s a kids’ movie for that too: Finding Nemo. It was love at first sight for him. Before long everything was Nemo this and Nemo that. Again I found myself oddly invested in my son’s favorite movie, and for similar reasons. I loved it because he loved it, and with a degree in biology this was an interest we easily shared. But Finding Nemo is also the story of a dad with a vulnerable child, who is forced to confront his own terror of losing the son he so deeply loves.

Did I mention that our son was born with a rare heart defect that required $300,000 of open heart surgery, and that it was two weeks before we could even hold him? Yeah. I still have trouble visiting the NICU. And this is why I found myself tearing up every time we watched that bloody movie together. Every dang time, right when the seagull tells the story that makes Nemo proud of his dad. Gah.

Meanwhile, the quality of non-Pixar Disney films demonstrated some improvement. Bolt wasn’t terrible. The Princess and the Frog was really pretty decent. (I automatically give any story set in New Orleans an extra star.) But Tangled was something special.

We became parents again with a pair of daughters, nearly Irish twins. And while our girls do enjoy werewolves and broadswords and crossbows, they also love their princesses and frilly dresses. Tangled was their gateway drug. The middle child especially has since branched out into the classics—Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty—but Rapunzel was our household’s first Disney princess. And if the girls like it, Daddy likes it. (This was followed by Wreck-It Ralph, a love letter to every child of the 80s, which culminates in the line, “If that little kid likes me, how bad can I be?” Should you happen to be a father of little girls, that sucker will get you right in the feels.)

Then came The Big One. Of course, we didn’t know that at the time. Brave had come out a few years after Tangled, and though it definitely improved upon later repeat viewing, I hadn’t been impressed in the theater. So when we heard about Disney’s latest, something called Frozen, I thought the best it had going for it was that it looked an awful lot like Tangled. On Thanksgiving I took my son and two nieces to the cinema to see Frozen, and as it happened we had to make a potty break right at the film’s showpiece song. Yes, we missed “Let It Go.” My initial judgment was that it was a good movie, and obviously destined for Broadway, but I still preferred Rapunzel.

The thing about Disney films, though, is that the good ones really do grow on you. We took the kids to see Frozen again about a month later, with a negative 47 degree wind chill. Weather be damned, that theater was packed. Minnesotans took an immediate shine to the story. Stave churches, rosemaling, ice, snow, Minnesota accents, friendly wild creatures, whispers of trolls, Lutheran bishops, saunas, Hans Christian Andersen references—good heavens, Disney had made a movie about us! And don’t even get me started on the religious imagery. I’ve taught classes on the spiritual symbolism hidden away in Frozen. The kids started listening to the soundtrack in the car.

That February my wife and I had planned a belated honeymoon trip to Egypt with Zahi Hawass. It was a once-in-a-lifetime sort of deal. But then Egypt came down with a bad case of civil war, and that was the end of that, deposit and all. My wife, however, was bound and determined for us to take some time off together, and so she signed us up for something we’d never done before: a short Caribbean cruise. A Disney Caribbean Cruise. I wasn’t particularly enthused about the idea—the Caribbean over Egypt?—but hot snot, once we were there, it was like paradise on earth. I can’t even describe. We spent four days, together, without kids, for the first time in seven years. It was glorious. Ends up we’re still quite fond of each other. Who knew?

In addition to live theater every night, the ship had this crazy 3-D surround-sound cinema which outdid pretty much every other 3-D surround-sound cinema I’ve ever seen outside of Captain EO. (Yes, I’m old enough to remember Captain EO.) And what were they showing? Why, Frozen, of course: the story of a beautiful Norwegian girl who introduces viewers to a magical world of ice. Rather like my wife. And that’s what did it—that was the tipping point. We now began to understand those friends and family who were obsessed with Disney not just as an entertainment provider but almost as a worldview.

So today I don’t mind that Disney has metastasized all over our home. I don’t mind that our daughters want to wear their Elsa dresses and play with their Elsa dolls and read the latest Elsa books while sitting on their Elsa bedspreads. We pretty much drank the Kool-Aid. And as it so happens, we did end up finding an appropriate replacement for that Egyptian honeymoon. When Disney announced new cruises inspired by Frozen, spanning Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and Scotland, I sold my grand prize Harley Davidson (won in an undertaker’s raffle two years earlier), giving one third of the value to charity and putting two thirds towards a Viking-themed Disney Cruise with my Viking-themed wife. I wouldn’t recommend waiting a year and a half between vacations, but this summer it’s going to be just me, her, and the lands of the Prose Edda. And I have the Queen of Arendelle to thank for that.

Well, her and a certain Mouse.

RDG Stout was born and raised amongst the Pennsylvania Deutsch but has spent the last decade as a country preacher in the windswept wilds of Niflheim, a.k.a. rural Minnesota. He lives in a mead hall with his Viking wife, three kids, and a bizarre assortment of stories. His musings may be found here and at Grimly Optimistic.

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‘Boyhood’ and Other Films I’ll Only Watch Once

Nathan Key

This isn’t a review of the film Boyhood – there are other articles that can give you a full play-by-play. I watched it a few weeks ago on the evening  it won the Golden Globe for Best Film, but it wasn’t planned out that way. My wife and I share an unwritten rule that we try to start whichever movie is delivered to our home as soon as possible so that our Netflix subscription doesn’t go to waste.  The strategy doesn’t always payoff, but it did with this movie:  Boyhood is an excellent feat of filmmaking that everyone should see. It was incredible for a few reasons; the acting was wonderful, the story was satisfying, and the plot moved organically, striking a nice pace that felt neither rushed nor drug out – even at a whopping 165 minutes. I will highly recommend it. It was a great film, and, as it ended, we agreed that we never needed to see it again.

Let me explain.

We all know that there are certain films that are so terrible (e.g. Troll 2 and Evil Dead) that people want to watch them over and over again, somehow making them into fond friends. I find the opposite is true as well, that there are certain films so good that to re-watch would be to ruin. For me, Boyhood is one of those films. Saving Private Ryan and Memento are One-timers, too. These are all great films that I really enjoyed watching, but I don’t want multiple visits. Multiple views diminish the effect and ruin an otherwise good experience because there is a sense of wonder and otherness in these films that is so powerful in the moment but lost on a second or third time through. Have you ever watched the Sixth Sense a second time? It’s a powerful movie during the first view and a waste of time on the second; the entire mystery and anticipation are gone and the twist ending is ruined by knowing. It might not be at the same level of greatness as some of the other films that I consider One-timers, but you get the point.

Now, don’t confuse the One-timer with the Despised. We usually don’t make it through the Despised and, if we do, we never want to see it again, either, but for completely different reasons. I learned this lesson while watching The Tailor of Panama in its entirety, hopefully expecting some sort of O. Henry twist that would make me fall in love with the story and the characters. It was such a mundane and predictable movie that I was sure at any moment something must be about to happen that would flip things on their head and make sense of the boredom. That twist never came and I was left wondering why I had wasted that much of my life with a film that was not enjoyable and not even interesting. I didn’t care what happened to them in the end. No, the Despised have a shelf of their own – hidden in the back of our minds like an embarrassing little episode we hope our friends will never discover.

One-timers, by comparison, do not contain anything close to mundane. These are films that fill us with excitement and talk. They are so near the actual feeling of life that we want to cherish them like an actual memory rather than dilute them through re-watch. They are a once in a lifetime safari or that week at summer camp when we fell in love. We remember fondly and enjoy relating our experience to others, comparing notes and discussing the events in detail, knowing that we’ll never have anything quite like it again, even if we went back. I visited the town I grew up in a few months ago. I was with my wife and my kids, none of them had never been there before. It was a trip down memory lane – me pointing out my elementary school and the street I grew up on. In some ways it was all the same as when I left it and in other was remarkably different.  “You can never go back again”  lingered on every street. Even if I moved back, I’d never go back to my boyhood. I can’t go back and experience my own boyhood again, no matter where I live. The beauty of Boyhood the movie is that we get a chance to experience something dangerously close. Out of respect for the moment, I don’t want to go back to it either, as easy as it might be. Better to let it drift into memory in the way my own has.

Saving Private Ryan is one on the most powerful movies I’ve ever seen, but I never want to see it again, either. Before he died, my Grandfather saw the film and was shaken by it. “Nathan,” he said, “I’m sorry you had to see that. Your other grandfather and I fought that war so that you would never have to experience that. And now they’ve gone and put it on film. I don’t want to stand on the shores of Normandy ever again – even as experienced through film.” Well said, Grandfather.

Boyhood was recently nominated for a number of Academy Awards including Best Picture and a few best actor/actress nominations and I’m rooting for it to sweep all of its categories. But I’ll never see it again. You may have your own list of movies that made you say – “Wow, that was great, but never again.” Leave your picks in the comments and let the debate begin.

 

Related:  Movies That Make You Put Down the Remote (And Stay Up Way Too Late)

 

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The Problem with The Fantastic Four Trailer

Christopher Cocca

The Fantastic Four teaser trailer has been released by 20th Century Fox/Marvel, and there are problems.  First and foremost, it mimics the gravity of the Man of Steel promos (a tone that translated well to the film) unconvincingly.  The Richards family may be superdom’s “First Family” and represent an important moment in the history of comics (which, are, of course, an abiding part of American folklore, just as Brian Wilson is our greatest folk musician), but you don’t get that feeling from the teaser.  Comparisons to Superman don’t help.  There’s even the classic car shot from the Star Trek reboot, making all of this feel re-tread.

Reed’s outsider-genius status will always evoke a certain pathos, but the downright absurdity of his acquired powers sort of ruins everything.  Using IN CINEMAS SUMMER 2015 instead of simply SUMMER 2015 is another stab at unearned weight, and the most egregious.

Yes, this is just a teaser reel, but the best thing about it is the way the title is rendered at the end.

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The Pen, Then the Sword: John Brownee Defends the New Lightsaber, Is Totally Right

Christopher Cocca

If you don’t read Fast Company, you’re missing a lot.  Look at the way senior writer John Brownlee deconstructs a few seconds of footage and comes up with basically everything we need to know about Star Wars VII’s new Sith.  Even if you don’t like Star Wars (click around Rad Infinitum for tons of Batman), anyone interested in story-telling should read this excellent piece. It’s about crafting far more than an elegant weapon for a more civilized age.