Thursday, August 25, 2005

The 40-Year Old Virgin -- Theology of the Body as R-rated sex comedy

I never would have believed that The 40-Year Old Virgin would end the way it did, or that it's message would be so clear about love and sex. I expected another American Pie sex-crazed movie that would smother us with messages about how special sex can be when you do it with someone you love (though not necessarily someone you're married to), but instead I got a hilarious (and filthy) movie that affirms chastity and marriage as the means to a happy and successful relationship. And Hair-inspired musical numbers.

Should we even bother teaching Literature in schools?

I ask because I plan to spend the rest of my professional life doing just that, and I wonder if it's a useless vocation. I have a pretty large extended family, with lots of cousins and uncles who are men, and not one of my male relatives reads. I don't mean they're illiterate, I mean they never read anything more than the sports page of the Free Press. Young, old, really old -- if they crack open a book it's either The Purpose Driven Life or a biography of Secretariat or guitar tabs for Who songs (actually, this last statement's a little unfair; my brother reads Harry Potter, and I have a cousin who I have recently tried to corrupt with comic books). But they've all taken English classes in school, and read some of the "Classics," and yet none of them seems to have developed a love for literature, or a curiosity about Dostoevsky, Dante, or Shakespeare.

My grandpa likes to chalk this up to the fact that girls like English and boys like math and science, and that's just the way it is. But if men don't like to read, then why are there so many men who write? William, Ernest, and J.R.R. are not girls names, you know. And what about the men who do read literature on a regular basis, why are they so different from the trend?

I've been wondering lately if the teaching of literature in school ends up ruining good books for kids (and boys in particular). Even in my own experience (as a bookworm), being forced to read certain books (*cough*OldManInTheSea*cough*) damaged my view of what great "Literature" is, made me question and suspect those books that were said to be classics. Luckily, I've read enough now to know what I like and don't like, and that James Joyce really is a bit of a bore when compared to Shakespeare and Malory and Dickens.

What I fear, though, is the day when I teach Le Morte D'Arthur to my class and they find it just as boring as I once found John Steinbeck, and I've contributed to the ruin of literature in their minds. Sometimes I wonder if it would be better if we just let children discover great books on their own and not make it a part of school or obligation. But then I remember that in today's world with its video games and ipods and 500 channels, books aren't exactly a medium most 14-year-old boys will be picking up any time soon.

And what I fear most of all is turning into Robin Williams from Dead Poets Society. Teaching English lit is hard. *pout*

He's good-bad, but he's not evil

That pretty much sums up my opinion of Snape. I want to write something about Harry Potter, the sixth book, what I expect to see in Book 7, etc. but why should I, really, when Janet at Quoth The Maven has covered all things Harry better than I ever could? Read her posts about What happens next, Snape, How to destroy a Horcrux, Peter Pettigrew and the Life Debt, "Stoppered Death," and more.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Extreme (Re)Make-Over

Sean Collins has mentioned a remake that he's dreading: the new Neil LaBute Wicker Man. I've known about this film for awhile and I share Sean's apprehension. I watched The Wicker Man about three months ago for the first time and it was pretty frellin' awesome. I'm coming from a slightly different point of view (being one of those horribly repressed Christians myself) than the one Sean mentions here, so I was always on the side of Sgt. Howie (even if he was a bit of a drip), but the film does an incredible job of not revealing "what's up" until the very end. Terrifying and brilliant.

The new Wicker Man, however, looks LAME in just about every single way. The name, in the context of the new film, makes no sense whatsoever. If you've read Caesar's Gallic Wars then you understand the significance of a wicker man; it makes absolutely no sense in an American context. I'm not even sure why they're using the name, because it's not like the original film was so widely known that they can bank on making money with name recognition (I only came in contact with the original movie because my Latin professor mentioned it while we were translating the relevant passage in Caesar).

I've been thinking about why this remake bothers me so much (besides the fact that I think it will be a terrible movie). Vince Vaughn Psycho was stupid, but it didn't really bother me besides in the normal, this-is-sacrilege-to-the-god-like-name-of-Hitchcock kinda way. I knew the film would flop, and that people would forget it, and that Hitch's film would endure. I think my disgust about this new Wicker Man stems from the fact that the original is a cult movie, not widely known, and therefore not protected from near-oblivion if this new movie is a success. Sure, sure -- the diehard horror people will always know and love the original. But average joe and jane will think Nic Cage and New England neo-paganism when they think "Wicker Man" and that bugs. I'm reminded of how William Wyler's Ben Hur is remembered and esteemed while Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ languishes in the silent-movies-are-weird-and-boring file. My only hope is that the original film gets recognized as the superior film that it is and more people hear about it. Somehow, I doubt this will happen.

And whether the new Wicker Man flops or breaks records, it's still going to end up in Blockbuster eventually. Meanwhile, I had to search ten rental stores and four libraries to find my dear old Edward Woodward.

Do I sound like a snooty film snob? Good.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Not very much of a review of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

It seems like you either really love or really hate Johnny Depp's performance in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Roger Ebert wrote that Depp reminded him of Michael Jackson, and honestly, I would have never made that connection without it being introduced by Ebert first. And frankly, though I can understand why some would, I just don't think of Michael Jackson at all when I see Depp's performance (and I've seen the film twice).

Depp aside (since, as I've said, you either love or hate him in this movie), I think Burton's remake is fantastic and an improvement in nearly every way from the original film, with the exception of the Willy Wonka character. Overall I like what Burton and Depp have done (especially in creating the backstory and father/family issues for Willy), but Gene Wilder is still incredible in the earlier film, and it will be his performance alone which will compel me to watch the original.

Now, in general I come down on the side of "why remake a good movie?!" and I think Hollywood should spend more time trying to remake bad movies -- movies that often had good premises but were botched in the execution -- than in trying to recapture the "magic" of a great film (look no further than the remake of Psycho). But I've never felt Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was a great movie, so I've never had a problem with the idea of a remake. I liked the old movie well enough, and it was great to laugh at the parody/tribute shows that Futurama and Family Guy did a while ago, and occasionally I would do my Veruca Salt impression ("Daddy, I want an Oompa-Loompa"), but Willy Wonka was never a sacred cow for me (unlike Cheaper By the Dozen, one of my all-time favorites, whose remake I have yet to see, on principal).

Talking with my sister-in-law, she liked the new film well enough, but she still much prefers the Wilder version. She didn't care for the new Veruca Salt, thought the new songs were okay (but nothing to the "Oompa-loompa, doopity doo" ditty), and thought Johnny Depp was "really weird" (and not in a good way). For her, the old film was just better, though I suspect it's not a case of the older film actually being better but of having been there first. For my part, I understand this tendency. It's the "movies/t.v./comics/music/life was better back then" tendency that seems to afflict us all, especially as we get older and try to impart our tastes onto a younger generation.

The funny thing is, though, that some eras really were/are better than others when it comes to cultural stuff, and it's not always the stuff from the past that's better. Jon Hastings has a couple of good posts dealing with the fallacy that films today are rubbish compared with past decades, and for myself, I would argue that one-hour television dramas have never been better than they are now, thanks in large part to The Sopranos and old-school ER (my theory being that the Golden Age of the Situation Comedy was the late 50s/early 60s, while the Golden Age of Drama is right now). And the quality/variety of animated shows available today on basic cable is unprecedented. I wouldn't want to go back to the days of G.I. Joe and Transformers and Jem for the world, though I, like all good Gen-Xers, hold a special place in my heart for them. It's a good time for animation lovers, and also for those of us who enjoy spectacle at the movies. Technology has made it possible to see things we could have never seen thirty, forty, fifty years ago (though bless you Ray Harryhausen for trying).

Which brings me back to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I think all of the children are improved in Burton's film (yes, even Veruca), I think the Willy Wonka father/family issues help set the film apart (in a good way) from its 70s counterpart (how does the original even end, anyway? what was it suppossed to be about, thematically? honestly, I can't even remember), and I love Freddie Highmore as Charlie. But what I love most about the film is the spectacle. Story, characters, themes -- those things are okay. But for me, one of cinema's greatest qualities is its ability to create spectacle -- a combination of images and sound, color and movement, that dazzles the audience and immerses them in something they've never experienced before. Burton's film does this (heck, this is the one thing Burton always does well) and for two hours I'd rather see his swooping, weirdly delicious world than the horribly outdated, everything-seems-to-be-dipped-in-orangeness that spills over the edges of the Wilder film like all relics from the hippy-dippy 1970s era.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Blog. . . blog. . . yes, I think I've heard the name before. . .

The weather has been so utterly fantastic for the past couple of weeks that I've not really been inside long enough to blog. So, here's me saying "sorry" to all (three) of my readers -- I have not forgotten you!

Have read the new Harry Potter, and I might write something, and I might not. So many others on the web have already written brilliantly about it that I'm not sure I would add anything other than, "yeah, me too!"

Finally, I'm working on a series of forthcoming posts that deal with teaching literature in grade school (and how reading literature in school "ruins" The Classics for most kids), why boys (in general) don't like to read, and how I can avoid at all costs being the "cool" English teacher that spouts lame Carpe Diem, discussing-our-problems-in-a-giant-circle-is-better-than-taking-tests crap that seems to infect a lot of my high school English teacher brethren.

Also, I'm thinking of a way to defend the new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie (which I've seen twice and love) that doesn't involve an argument based mainly on my undying love for all things Johnny Depp.