Thursday, August 30, 2018

Week Two: The Effect of a Personal Cinematic Landscape

As we discussed last week, everyone has their own personal cinematic landscape that alters how they view future movies and changes the way they think. The films that make up each of our personal landscapes aren’t necessarily the best movies we’ve ever seen (though they can be), but they have changed us and the way we appreciate movies as a whole.

In this post we’ll be continuing on our journey through my cinematic landscape. The films I talk about are personal to me and don’t reflect anyone else’s view of them. You’re likely to not agree with everything I say, but it would be weird if you did. We’re all affected differently by different things.

What does your cinematic landscape look like?

For the full introduction, please refer to last week’sarticle


29 – Book Adaptations

Before I even discuss book adaptations, it’s important for me to tell you exactly what I want when I watch a film that was based on a book.

Personally, I don’t need a word-by-word retelling.

I know a lot of literature fans would disagree, but I think it’s unrealistic and, quite frankly, unnecessary. I read the book. I know the story. Tell me something I don’t know about these characters. Show me the things I couldn’t imagine while I was reading. Give me more information. I’m not watching the movie to see what you imagined the exact story as, I’ve already imagined the story on a pretty in-depth level in the days it took to read through it. I’m so much more interested in seeing another side of things so that I understand the characters a little better.

Of course, I also believe that some things can’t be left out either. There needs to be a balance.

The Harry Potter (2001-2011) films were amazing as an adaptation. They might have gone at the top of this list, except that third film ruined everything.

There were parts of the story that were incredibly important to future aspects of the plot that were just left out of Prisoner of Azkaban (2004). Just as an example, the patronus charm was made to look like a burst of shielding that protected Harry, so when the stag showed up to save him and Sirius from the dementors, how was anyone who didn’t read the books supposed to know that it was a patronus? Never mind that they never go into what the actual meaning of the stag is, which takes Snape and Dumbledore’s subsequent conversation completely out of context.

Aside from that third film, the feel of the movies stayed true to the story and gave us enough information to fill in gaps, while removing less important details so that we weren’t watching 19 hour films… though some of us might have sit through those anyway.

The Hunger Games (2012-2015) films, however, stayed super close to the books while still giving us more to think about in the way Jennifer Lawrence (Red Sparrow, Joy, Serena) played out Katniss. Looks-wise, she didn’t fully fit the character, but her acting more than made up for it in my mind. She told the story in her actions and built things up so that it added another dimension to the books.

Josh Hutcherson (Future Man, The Disaster Artist, In Dubious Battle) was no slouch, either. When Peeta was battling that insanity in the third film, Hutcherson brought the battle to life in a way that the books just couldn’t give us.

Also, since the books were told completely from the viewpoint of Katniss, the movies gave us a chance to see other perspectives.

Of course, the films left a lot out… but the way the project runners closed up those holes helped elevate the story. I was able to excuse those cuts pretty easily.

The adaptation that hit me the hardest and helped me learn how to judge all others in the category, however, was definitely The Princess Bride (1987).

The movie isn’t a full-on retelling of the book, but it feels like a puzzle piece that snaps into the original story perfectly. It gives us plenty of new outlooks on things while not completely altering the plot. That’s what I want in an adaptation. A new perspective on an old favorite.

28 – Musical

I know musicals are seen as films that aren’t for everyone, but I can’t really agree with that. It’s such a broad genre that anything can be a part of it. You can have classic musicals, like the ones made by Disney, but you can also have horror, thrillers, mysteries, fantasies. It’s my opinion that anyone who doesn’t like any musical, definitely just hasn’t seen the one for them yet.

On the more classic side of musicals, My Fair Lady (1964) and Grease (1978) both stick out in my mind as huge influences on how I feel about the genre.

The songs in both of them are catchy and earworm deep into my brain so that I’m singing them for weeks after I’ve watched the films. Still, they’re both pretty much what people think about when they thing of the musical genre. They’re romance stories dressed up with songs and light-hearted story telling.

By the end of the film, the love interests are together.

A film that affected me more than both of those put together was A Chorus Line (1985).

A Chorus Line is a lot more meta than the other two films. Although there’s a minor romance story involved, it takes a back seat to the more generic idea of the chorus in a Broadway play. It’s as if the movie itself is trying to show the audience that the main story would be nothing without those interesting branches that go off on tangents.

When I watch a musical, I expect the story to matter the way this one did to me. All the songs made sense, there wasn’t even one that seemed out of place for what was happening – like there sometimes can be.

By far, the musical that really affected me the most was Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975).

Before Rocky Horror, all the musical I’d seen were love stories or dramas. I had no idea that a horror kind of story would work in the genre and it absolutely blew my mind. Never mind how good the actual film is, the concept of it was what threw me for a loop and opened me up to how phenomenal the mixed genre of horror and music could be.

27 – Cult

Cult films are interesting because there’s really no telling what is going to make a film break into that category. Generally, they’re movies that aren’t all that successful (or less successful than projected) at their release, but build up a huge following later on. It could be that the bad opening is because of an unfortunte critical review, other times it’s just a matter of people not knowing it exists because there’s a lack of advertising. Sometimes, it’s just because the film is made by a new writer/director and stars no one of note, but as people get more popular later on the project develops a following of hardcore fans.

Yet, still other cult films were always well received, but built up an incredibly passionate, and occasionally hard to deal with, fan-base over time.

One of the first films I realized had a cult following was Cry-Baby (1990).

It’s such a cute movie, one that I adore a great deal, and I thought it had to just generally be popular. The more I tried to talk about it, though, the more I realized that people just didn’t know what I was talking about, and I was stunned.

It stars Johnny Depp (Murder on the Orient Express, Yoga Hosers, Into the Woods), but EARLY Johnny Depp. I mean, it came out before Edward Scissorhands (1990).

Now-a-days, there’s a lot more of a fan-base for this film than there was when I first saw it. Still, it’s not as nutsy of a base as some cult films can get.

If you want a film that has an incredibly passionate fan-base now that came out to a whisper, that would be Night of the Living Dead (1968).

Believe it or not, there are people old enough to remember a time when zombies were not mainstream, and this film was one of the few zombie movies that existed in its time. I wish I could say I watched it before I knew about the fan-base but, alas, I watched it just to learn where my zombie-fan-people were born. It taught me about how originality can bring a cult into effect by simply not being as appreciated as it should have been.

Moving on, the education I received about the kind of cult that could be born from a smaller, less-known, ‘film’ came from a mini-series that is often shown in film-format.

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A Long Blog (2008) included all the necessities for a cult success. Actors and show-runners with passionate followings, a unique idea, and some wicked music bits. There’s nothing really out there like it, and it was the first ‘film’ I watched where it looked like the cast was genuinely having fun and not just there for a paycheck.

The cult film that altered my take on all other films in the category, though, was Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010).

I absolutely adored that damn movie and when I found out that so many people really hated it, I could NOT understand it. I mean, not liking it – sure, no accounting for taste. But actively hating it? It destroyed my perception and I watched the film over and over again just trying to find out WHY.

The more I watched the film and connected with other rabid fans, the more I learned about cult films as a whole.

In the end, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World has a VERY small demographic when compared to successful films in the same type of comedy/action genre. It’s geared toward gamers and manga fans. So, where it seems like a giant of a film in geek culture, someone not familiar with that kind of stuff is going to watch it and have no idea what’s going on. It’s just noise to them. A mish-mash of chaos.

Sure, there are some people in the geek culture who aren’t going to like the film either, but they’re the demographic that’s most likely to develop a love for it.

26 – Sequels

Don’t groan. Even though the majority of sequels don’t live up to the original film doesn’t mean you’re not going to be affected by them. There are going to be those movies that came second that you’re going to expect other sequels to either take inspiration, or just as likely, take a warning from.

In this case, we’re trying to consider movies that I look at as a good example of what to do.

My choices in this one are so wildly out there, that I very much expect that people will disagree. Emphatically.

I’ll go obvious first. Spider-Man 2 (2004) was a great sequel. I’m talking about the Tobey Maguire (Seabiscuit, Tropic Thunder, Wonder Boys) version. It continued to look at the story of Spider-Man without having to lean on his origin, it also kept some of the cast while introducing some great new characters/actors.

The plot itself is so good that the film can stand on its own. Spider-Man himself is such a well-known character that you don’t need to watch the first movie in the series to appreciate a dose of Doc-Oc.

Moving on, I could talk about Men in Black II. This one definitely goes into much more ‘personal’ territory. It’s not widely agreed upon. Still, I love it. They managed to continue the story with most of the same characters, though they replaced the female main character with another – I much prefer Rosario Dawson (Luke Cage, Sorry to Bother You, Top Five) anyway.

The idea of the character working the morgue brought up way too many questions that the first film wasn’t prepared to answer. Using a character that works at a pizza place was much more believable for what they wanted. (As believable as an alien-heavy film can get, anyway.)

In Men in Black II (2002), we get an expansion of – not just the universe, but the characters that we are already familiar with. Where J was the focus of the first film, we got to follow more of K’s origin story. Learning K’s motivations put more of the first film in perspective.

Now, here’s where I go completely off the tracks for some people – but Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012) was one of my favorite sequels ever.

I’ll admit that the movie is deeply flawed. It’s overly corny and ridiculous – and I don’t care. In its relation to the original film, Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008), it’s just a better movie in general.

As much as I like old Brendan Fraser (Breakout, Stand Off, The Nut Job) projects, there’s never a single day when I wouldn’t prefer Dwayne Johnson (Ballers, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Moana). I found myself relating to Josh Hutcherson’s (Future Man, The Disaster Artist, The Hunger Games) character more, as well. He goes from a curious kid trying to figure out what happened to his dad to a teenager trying to deal with not having his dad anymore at all and learning to live with his mom’s new husband. On the same note, the person they attempt to find goes from being played by someone that’s not really even necessary to mention to someone of great note like Michael Caine (Kingsman: The Secret Service, The Dark Knight Rises, Inception).

The comedy is just on a higher level, as well. The banter between Johnson and Luis Guzman (Code Black, Keanu, Turbo) could get a rock to at least offer a tiny grin. (No pun intended.)

I enjoyed the first film, but the second was just better – and that’s what I want to see from a sequel when the original wasn’t as great as it could have been.

But that kind of sequel isn’t the one to worry about. If a sequel comes out to a film that was not all that well received, there’s no issue. If it sucks, there’s no harm – no foul. It’s when you have a phenomenal film, or a cult film, and then a sequel comes along, that it winds up being an issue. In many cases, fans will hate whatever is done to the story, whether it’s good or bad. There’s one movie that comes to mind that I can immediately consider a successful sequel in that case.

Dawn of the Dead (1978) was the best possible sequel for Night of the Living Dead (1968).

George A. Romero (Creepshow, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead) is the king of all things zombie-related these days, but back then he was new on the movie scene – and he’d never done a sequel before.

In the case of Dawn of the Dead, he didn’t have any of the original characters left to follow. That meant making all new characters with all new stories. Sure, he could have just picked up from the end of the first film and maybe followed the cops – but what would that really have given us.

That’s what I think makes Dawn of the Dead such a great sequel. Romero didn’t try to stuff tons from the first movie into it. He trusted his viewers to either have seen it already, or be prepared for a whole new film. So, instead, we get an update on the world as a whole. That’s really the character we wind up following, the Earth. It’s a character we’re all completely familiar with. He doesn’t need to remind us about the norms associated with it, because we live those norms and we can tell immediately how off everything is.

And, you know what? It was the first horror film I saw – maybe the only one – where the female character isn’t the one screaming her head off as the slightest jump. In fact, Gaylen Ross (Creepshow, Caris’ Peace, Time for Art) never screams during the film. She thought it wasn’t right for her character and Romero decided to trust her. He gets way too little credit for that. But, I digress.

When I see a sequel to a good movie, I know that I can expect more than for a director to sprinkle in a few recognizable characters and nostalgic pokes at the first film – and that’s because of Romero’s second look into the Night of the Living Dead’s story.

25 – Remake/Reboot

This is another category with a poor reputation and, I get it. 9 out of 10 times, I’d rather watch an original story – even in sequel format. In a lot of cases, remakes and reboots are handled incredibly poorly, but they do have their place in the cinematic landscape.

I believe remakes and reboots have their place for several reasons. First of all, it opens amazing stories up to new generations. Sure, there are some movies that have their origin stories rebooted every three years or so, and I think that’s kind of ridiculous (in most cases). But, frankly put, there are a lot of films lost to time that may never be remembered by younger generations just because silent or black and white cinematography turns them off.

Outside of film students, there are very few younger people who call back to films like Casablanca (1942). To older generations, it’s known as the quintessential romance film – but there’s never been an update. Even people my age are unlikely to have seen it, let alone teenagers who will be shaping our future general entertainment landscapes.

Opening old films to the new generations is not a bad idea, if it’s handled properly.

There’s also the issue of good stories being made into bad films. The clear winner of this situation is the Fantastic Four (2005/2015). If you read the comics, they’re just as good as the majority of other superhero stories… but they’re handled so poorly that it’s difficult to take them seriously. Imagine what it would be like if they got a GOOD reboot. Actors that love the comics, a director that cares, producers who get the hell out of the way, and a writer that takes directly from the original stories could make the series amazing.

That said, let’s talk about some reboots and remakes that built up the category in my landscape.

Evil Dead (2013) is the first one I’m going to talk about here.

A lot of people had some significant issues with the reboot of The Evil Dead (1981). They had issues with the main character being a female, or that the effects were upgraded to look less campy. I get the latter complaint, especially being a cult fan of the first film… but the former is just stupid. The original story was meant for Ash to be female anyway, so – in a way – the reboot is showing a purer version of that first imagining.

Despite the fact that the creators worked to take the film out of the ‘campy’ category, it still feels like a great call back to the Sam Raimi (Army of Darkness, Spider-Man, Drag Me to Hell) original. It’s just got a bigger budget, and it still credits Raimi and Bruce Campbell (Ash vs Evil Dead, Burn Notice, Army of Darkness) as producers on the film – so you know the movie was held up as much as possible.

Now, people of a younger generation, as well as horror fans that aren’t into camp, can enjoy the same story as the rest of us.

Red Dawn (2012) was also more on the controversial side. On the surface, it’s a remake of the 1984 version, but it’s really a reboot. It stays very faithful to the original in many ways – including using scenes taken directly from the it – but it has its own reimagining of the story.

I think a reboot needs that. It needs to not just update the story to fit the era it’s released in (Soviet forces are replaced by North Korean forces in this case), but it needs to tell the audience something new. It needs to offer something more, a surprise that keeps the audience on their toes. In this case, the ending is entirely different. Although it definitely has the same dark-note as the first, there’s more hope involved. It seems less likely that the invaded country will just simply lose. A lot of people saw that as a cop-out, but I think it offered the audience a choice of which ending to believe. Does everyone die, like they did in 1984, or are some people left to carry on fighting?

I can’t watch the 2012 version without wanting to follow it with the 1984 film. Every time I watch either film I change which ending I accept more, and I think that makes the reboot successful.

On a better note, Little Shop of Horrors (1986) was an amazing reboot. Again, it’s definitely a reboot because the ending is different – making it a reimagining instead of a fully faithful retelling.

I saw the reboot LONG before I even knew there was an original to see.

In this case, I think the 1986 version is just a much better movie in general than the 1960 version. It’s got updated effects (for the time), better actors – including Rick Moranis (Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Little Giants, Brother Bear), who I’ve already told you is always a check in the awesome column for me, and a better ending. The original film is good, but it feels like a basic episode of the Twilight Zone (1959-1964). It almost doesn’t seem like it can stand on its own… but the 1986 version will rarely leave anyone feeling like they wanted something different.

In this case, the reboot not only brought the film to a new generation, but it became a better film all on its own.

My pick for the remake/reboot that affects my perspective the most is Dredd (2012).

I’ll be honest here, I have no idea if Dredd is considered a remake or a reboot, because I can’t fully compare it to Judge Dredd (1995). I hated Judge Dredd so much, that I was never able to finish the film. I’d get grumpy or bored half-way through and turn it off or fall asleep. With Dredd, that was never an issue.

Karl Urban (Almost Human, Riddick, Star Trek) brings the character to life in a way that Sylvester Stallone (Creed, The Expendables, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) just doesn’t. The story is more interesting, the rest of the actors are more bad ass, the effects are all incredible… it just feels more like a real win of a film.

Dredd took a badly received film and not only upgraded it to a new era, but fixed the issues with it so that people just generally liked it more. It is one of the best examples of that kind of remake/reboot that I can think of.

24 – Thrillers

The thriller genre is a bit of a difficult genre to discuss. So many thriller films can easily be considered horror instead… and psychological thriller can often come off as drama. It’s very rare to find a thriller that’s JUST a thriller… and most of my picks for this genre show up in other categories and couldn’t be mentioned here.

The first film I feel I have to mention is Rear Window (1954).

There’s absolutely no doubt that most people my age will have at least one film from – or influence by – Alfred Hitchcock (Psycho, Vertigo, The Birds) on their landscape list for thrillers. He’s really the king of suspense and suspense is that big main ingredient for a thriller. In my opinion, Rear Window is one of his best and most influential thrillers (though I can only say that based on the movies I’ve actually seen). The only reason I even saw it was because I kept seeing films inspired by it and I was dying to see that original.

It’s the original ‘did he do it?’ film. It’s filled with a simple, but effective, brand of suspense that leave you feeling it long after the movie is over.

The Purge (2013) also helped me evaluate what I want from a thriller.

I know people can go back and forth on the basic quality of The Purge, but I’m not talking about the overall quality of the film – I’m just going into the ‘thrill’ capacity. As much as this movie is considered a horror/thriller, I don’t see as much of the horror in it as most do. I watch it for the suspense.

There’s something that draws me really quickly to a claustrophobic story. That choking feeling of not being able to get away from the evil that’s out to get the main characters is always intense, even in a bad film (which I don’t actually consider the Purge). In this case, you know it’s coming. Ethan Hawke’s (The Magnificent Seven, Boyhood, Blaze) character got rich protecting people from something much of the country seems to find as necessary. There’s bound to be jealousy from the neighbors, and the fact that he winds up taking in a stray that is looking for protection from others heightens that danger – even though it’s not voluntary.

It’s the depth of hatred from both expected and unexpected sources in the film that really makes the audience’s heart skip a beat. Small slights suddenly being worthy of a death sentence are terrifying… especially when it’s fully sanctioned by the government.

On a more recent note, there’s Split (2016). Although there are a few horror aspects to Split, especially near the end, I’d generally put it fully into the ‘thriller’ category.

The audience watches the main character shift between personalities while having to wonder just how realistic his plans of sacrifice for his captives really are. You know the girls are in trouble, but you’re never quite sure what kind of danger it is – right up until the end. And, quite frankly, with M. Night Shyamalan’s (The Happening, Signs, The Last Airbender) name attached to it, you suspect the big ‘danger’ at the end is going to be twisted into nothing anyway – or something utterly unbelievable.

When the danger finally unmasks itself, the thrills are still outstanding as you watch him hunt down Anya Taylor-Joy’s (Thoroughbreds, Atlantis, The Witch) character. It’s just very solid as a thriller film and it brings up the idea that not every movie needs that twist to keep the audience on guard.

The thriller that has affected me the most, however, is even newer than that one. There are plenty of older thrillers that are absolutely amazing, but nothing is as successful as imbuing the audience with suspense – while using an intensely unique story – as Get Out (2017).

I heard a lot of hype about Get Out and I thought that it couldn’t possibly be as good as people were giving it credit for. After all, it’s a horror/thriller written by an amazing comedic writer. Jordan Peele (Keanu, Key and Peele, Childrens Hospital) is phenomenal with comedy, so it was hard for me to move my perception of him to another – much different – genre. I am definitely ashamed of that knee-jerk reaction.

The movie, aside from some soundtrack issues I had, was outstanding. I knew what to expect plot-wise, because I had seen several YouTube videos going into it – and it still managed to keep me on my toes. That’s a hell of a feat for a thriller film. Normally, once you see the ending, there’s nothing to really shock you anymore – but Get Out has incredible re-watchability. The actors and Peele’s writing make everything hit just as hard the second and third time as it does the first.

The thriller genre in general can learn a lot from Get Out.

23 – Inspirational

Inspiration can be found in pretty much any film from any genre. In fact, most films tend to have some kind of moral to their story or lesson to be learned somewhere in them. As a result, I won’t be discussing my runners up the way I have been in the other categories.

When I think of inspirational films, there’s really only one movie that comes to mind where I put the inspiration above the other aspects – including genre. That film is Good Will Hunting (1997).

As amazing as the movie is in general, there’s an inspirational tale in almost ever story the characters tell. From Will’s climb toward learning his own self-worth, to Skylar’s rise to her potential, to Sean’s attempts to help Will and even in his story about experiencing grief for his late wife.

No matter how many times I watch Good Will Hunting, I’m touched by Sean’s story about his wife’s sleep habits and how quickly he pinpointed Will’s depth of pain. I fall in love with Skylar all over again.

Ben Affleck’s (Justice League, Gone Girl, Argo) accent still sounds like ass – but nothing’s perfect.

22 – Comedy

We all know that comedy comes in a ton of forms. Everything from a dry sardonic flavor to a slapstick-cringe factor can shape a person’s taste in comedy. I contemplated separating comedy into various categories, but I really felt I didn’t need to.

Although some of the films that have shaped my perspective on the genre could also fit into other categories, it’s the actual humor that both drew me to the films and altered how I looked at movies.

The first film I need to mention is the first of the four that I saw. The supernatural humor in Ghostbusters (1984) had me laughing at a very young age. In fact, it was the first really quotable film I’d ever seen. As I got older, the movie seemed to morph from one kind of humor to another, as well. Where the funniest part when I was eight was probably the giant marshmallow man that Ray dreams up, but my tastes eventually brought me to the sarcastic humor of Venkman.

I actually sometimes wonder if my amusement of Bill Murray’s (Isle of Dogs, The Jungle Book, Rock the Kasbah) dialogue in the film shaped my actual sense of humor later on in life.

There’s no way we’re getting through a comedy category without me bringing up some kind of Monty Python film. In this case, it would be Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975).

Holy Grail was the first Monty Python film I ever saw and it was my Uncle Steven’s fault. He was a huge fan of all things Python and he thought I would be amused by it. I was.

Even at a young age I loved role-playing games and Monty Python and the Holy Grail pretty much feels like a role-playing game where the DM has trouble keeping the player’s attention and gives up half-way through. I’ve absolutely judge films by this one, and I undoubtedly will again.

The Birdcage (1996) was another story.

Robin Williams (The Crazy Ones, Happy Feet, Old Dogs) was always one of my favorites and I expected The Birdcage to be funny when I saw it – but there was more to that. It was one of the first films I saw that showed me it was ok to joke about things that shouldn’t be funny – especially when it was joking done to lighten the load of an important lesson.

The film was about a guy wanting to introduce his family to the family of his fiancé. The big issue he faced was that his dad was gay, living with another man, and her parents were incredibly conservative and unaccepting. Very easily, that storyline could be worked into a drama – but the comedy is done brilliantly, while still making a point.

My biggest comedic inspiration for judging other films is Clerks (1994).

How could it not be Clerks? That movie was just so relatable. Everyone involved was a flawed character, but none of the comedy was really all that slapstick-y. I mean, knocking over the casket, sure… but that was such a small part. For the most part, the film relied heavily on banter and touched on dark subject matters. I had never seen a movie that was anything like it.

Quite frankly, I have doubts I ever will.

21 – Family Films (Live-Action)

I do talk about animated films in next week’s post, but I think it’s important to consider live-action family films in its own category. As great as Pixar and Disney are with making engaging and colorful animated movies, there’s something to be said about a more realistic setting – especially in a film geared toward children.

As kids grow older they may find it easier to relate to the live-action movies of their past (with exceptions, of course). In general, the big problem can be that they don’t hold up as well as the animated variety as time goes on. That’s why I have trouble comparing animated films with live-action, they operate on two separate levels.

When I think of non-animated family films, the first one I think of is The Sandlot (1993).

As a child, I LOVED this movie, and I still do, though parts of it don’t fully hold up. It delves into a lot of subjects that kids deal with, without having too much of an adult’s perspective injected into it. The main character starts off moving to a new area, making new friends, and having to deal with a new step-dad that can’t really relate to him.

The film shows how perspectives can change while also offering the lesson to not pre-judge people based on what they look like – as the kids did with the big dog and its owner. The Sandlot teaches all those lessons and still manages to just be a lot of fun. There’s baseball and hijinks and campfire-type stories. It’s even quotable.

Along other lines, you have films like Mary Poppins (1964) and Annie (1982). I’m aware that Mary Poppins has some minimal animation in it, but it’s primarily a live-action film, so I say it counts.

Both of those movies are musicals that have much deeper stories. They appeal to kids because there’s a sing-a long aspect and a decent amount of silliness, but they also attract adults because of those deeper plot lines and the charismatic nature of the actors themselves – regardless of whether or not their character can be considered ‘good’.

In the end, people forget that ‘family’ films are meant to be for the entire family – and that means the adults, too. Movies like Annie and Mary Poppins have a re-watchability that includes adults. They’re films that kids and their parents can bond over.

By far, the family film that I think about the most when I watch other movies is A Little Princess (1995). The highly involved plot line is likely due to it having been a book first, but I’m looking at it as a stand-alone movie for the time being.

The main character of this film is a young orphaned girl who escapes her loneliness at a boarding school by creating and retelling intense and imaginative stories to the other girls. She introduces them to the mystical nature of legends from India – where she lived with her father before he went off to war. The stark contrast of the highly colorful imagination scenes with the drab and dark scenes of real life is amazing. It gives kids a taste of what their own imagination can do for them, while the thread of real story line and a heart-rending ending speaks loudly to adults.

Where live-action films are concerned, A Little Princess is the best example of what production companies should be doing for the family genre.

20 – Period Piece

It’s very likely that I could break the period piece category down into various actual periods, but I’ve never really gone out actively seeking for a period piece. It’s more likely that any movie I watch is one I’m seeking out for the specific story, a specific actor/actress, or the plot/basic genre.

Never-the-less, there are films that I’ve watched that have given me cause to use them as a basis for how I judge other period pieces.

The first one I’ll talk about is The Secret Garden (1993).

Growing up, I think I read the book about five or six times. It was one of my favorites. When I did get to see the movie, a lot of my perceptions about the setting in the book changed.

Keeping in mind that I was very young when I was first introduced to the story, I had no idea what the early 1900s would have looked like. So, I had a more modern imagining going on in my head whenever I read the story. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the film so I certainly can’t speak to the accuracy of the period representation, but I remember it being the first time I understood why it was a good thing to not modernize every single story. I learned a lot about what the feel of that time was – if not the specifics.

Although most people might discuss Titanic (1997) in a romance capacity, I’m not one of them. I hate the romance story woven into the disaster. If it was acknowledged that Rose was attaching herself to Jack as a way to handle her depression and get away from her fiancé’s abuse – instead of that epic ‘what if’ the film made it into – I would have liked it a lot more.

That said, it was an interesting look into what 1912 would have been like – not just for one class of people, either. Seeing the difference in lifestyle between the rich and the poor was fascinating. I’ve since learned that there were discrepancies in the historical accuracies (such as the fact that upper-class women didn’t wear that much make up except in certain extreme circumstances), but it was still interesting to see the vast difference between the treatment of the castes.

One of my favorite period pieces is definitely Gangs of New York (2002).

Gangs of New York was a gritty and dark film set in 1863. As good as it was, it’s not exactly historically accurate in the least – that said, I’m not adding it to this list because of its historical characters.

The settings are the important part of this film. In this case, it goes into the treatment of immigrants and the way voting was run. The gangs themselves might have just been political clubs, but they were still on a very similar backdrop of distrust for immigrants and use of violence in political manipulation. Although I’d known about the immigrant issue before-hand, seeing the scenes involving the polls and gangs trying to force people to vote twice or vote for their specific party were a whole new world for me. It made me want to read more about it, which is something I think a successful period piece does – it fills you with historical curiosity.

The period piece that really caused me to first have any interest in reading up on the historical accuracy of a movie, though, was The King and I (1956).

Whether or not the story is really based in reality is highly disputed. It was based on a book written by Anna Leonowens in 1944. The King of Siam indicated that she used her imagination to alter a lot of the facts and historians argue over her date of birth and where she was born – claiming it’s not the same as the information she offered in her book, but I’m still not all that concerned with those facts.

The King and I is set in 1862, and it takes a look at two very different cultures from the time. You get the backdrop of 1860s Siam while a governess from England attempts to fit in. You see not only how the two separate cultures affect the people who naturally belong to them, but how characters out of their comfort zone react. Just learning about basic comfort zones of people in the 1860s, alone, is fascinating. When you add in the gloriously colorful and exotic setting of Siam, it’s a tough movie to forget.

19 – Fantasy

Fantasy is one of my favorite genres of all entertainment. I think that’s mainly because there’s no real limit to fantasy. Writers aren’t bound by the laws of the real world and entirely new theories of life in general can be created. My favorite fantasies always take some of the real world and mingle those facts with the rules of the new world… it makes it feel more like that fantasy could have been our reality.

In a reality that can get undoubtedly dark… sometimes it’s nice to be able to believe there’s something mystical out there.

Now, the original Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) trilogy doesn’t technically take place in our world at all, but there’s no way I can pass over it for the fantasy genre. It’s classic fantasy. Elves, orcs, ghosts, magical items… it’s basically the quintessential fantasy story. It’s based on the writings of a giant in the industry and there was no way I could have grown up without being affected by those films.

Sure, I joke around that it’s three movies about walking – but the entire quest involved is one of the greatest fantastical adventures out there. There’s no aspect of those movies that don’t beg for the audience to ensure their imagination is working well that day.

One of the first fantasy films I remember watching was The Wizard of Oz (1939).

That’s just another super classic fantasy. Who hasn’t quoted the phrase “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore,” at least once in their lives? The story and script, the songs… they’re all iconic. And it’s incredibly meta. A fantasy within a fantasy – depending on how you want to look at it. That yellow brick road will remain a part of my consciousness for the rest of my life.

Then there’s the more modern-world version of fantasy that you see in The Mask (1994).

Fantasy is not usually the first genre that comes to mind when someone thinks of The Mask, but it does for me. The way the story is told puts a heavy lean on comedy… but there’s so much that delves into the ‘fantastic’ that there’s no way it can be considered anything else. It was one of the first fantasy films I saw where the ‘fantasy’ aspect came secondary to the primary genre.

My biggest film fantasy inspiration is one that connects the real world to a different world in ways that feel special to me. It promotes reading and makes the audience more important than the main characters. Of course, I’m talking about The NeverEnding Story (1984).

When Bastian opens that book and loses himself in the story within… that’s something I’ve related to all my life. I’ve always been a heavy reader and that’s just exactly what it feels like when I lose myself in a book; like I’ve transported myself to a completely different world.

Aside from that, The NeverEnding Story was the first movie I ever watched that brought the fantasy out of the screen and made it seem interactive. By require Bastian to name the princess, the movie was telling us – the audience – that we have power in all our fantasies. We have say in the way movies and books go. That writers are telling their stories with us in mind… and that’s a powerful prospect.

The NeverEnding Story is a fantasy that teaches us how to use our imagination on a much grander scale.

18 – Sci-Fi

I HATE that science fiction and fantasy are linked into one genre for the majority of the time. Quite frankly, I think the way entertainment lumps them together may be part of what’s to blame for the people in this world getting dumb about science.

Fantasy is just that, it’s pure imagination. You might occasionally see it rooted in reality, but it doesn’t have to be at all. Science fiction is not the same thing. Science fiction is rooted in science. Sure, it can easily be mixed into fantasy – a couple of the picks I talk about are – but the important part is that sci-fi gets its inspiration from actual scientific rules. If the physics seem off, they’re almost always based off a theory that’s out there somewhere. The story is full fiction, but it involves possibilities – not just day dreams.

One of the films that affected me on a sci-fi level would be The Fifth Element (1997).

Admittedly, most of the Fifth Element seems like pure fantasy to me. The inclusion of aliens in the past to explain the pyramids, among other things, looks more like magic and fantasy than sci-fi. That said, the idea of aliens is almost always based in possibility rather than pure imagination.

An infinite universe does not say, “you are alone,” to me.

The film also takes some ideas from ancient philosophy. Specifically from theories that indicate there are five geometrically [] represented elements.

The aforementioned theory proposes that the elements of earth, air, fire, and water can be described by Platonic solids. There’s a fifth element, though, made up of the other four – that element is ‘universe’ or ‘life’. Plato made the theory more well-known and introduced more proof to back it up, but it actually comes from philosophers that lived up to 2000 years before him.

There are mathematics in place to prove at least part of the theory, but I’ll be damned if I can understand them.

The Fifth Element represents the elements by the immobile stones that Korben pulls from the opera singer – which he can only remove after she loses her life. The stones then need the living fifth element, in order to do what they are needed to do. It’s an interesting take on the subject.

Where sci-fi is concerned, I do tend to lean more toward alien stories than anything else but, I do have one robot-type story on my list.

How could I not consider The Matrix (1999).

In this case, there may be very little based in science throughout the Matrix series (though I’m specifically concerned with the first film instead of the entire trilogy). However, based in science theory? That’s a different story.

There have been philosophers and scientists throughout time that have argued the possibilities that we are all a manner of artificial intelligences trapped in a simulation. Even the highly respected scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson [] has admitted to considering the idea.

Is it likely that we’re all plugged into a battery to fuel our robot overlords? That’s a little more arguable, but the theory, itself, is not unheard of.

Alien (1979) needs a lot less explanation. Really, there are few people who wouldn’t expect to see it on this list. The only real scientific theory people need to know to put this film into perspective is that we’re not alone in the universe and it’s possible that not all the aliens are friendly.

Everything about the film has always felt like a dark, less campy, episode of Star Trek (1966-). Maybe like a prequel. You have the basic ship out there with a priority on making contact with other species and with its own mission objectives. Sure, there are plenty of differences, but I’m entitled to my head-canon.

The sci-fi movie that affected me the most, and I want to reiterate that I’m not saying it’s the best of the movies, is Independence Day (1996). That anxiety of the possibly hostile aliens attacking us where we live – with no way to negotiate peace… it’s one of my favorite things about films like this.

A lot of people give flack to the idea that a simple computer virus could have been their undoing – but I never had a problem with it. We’re a highly evolved species and we can still die from ingestion of a piece of rotten food. Sometimes the smallest answer can be the best one.

Besides, that Bill Pullman (Trouble, Walking Out, Battle of the Sexes) speech never fails to give me chills.

17 – Sports

I’m not the biggest fan of sports in general. I have some minor interest in baseball and I enjoy soccer, but that’s pretty much where it ends for me. At least when it comes to watching it, I still enjoy playing sports occasionally. Never-the-less, there are sports films that have affected how I watch others in the genre. It’s not a genre I actively avoid.

When I was a child, I liked sports films a lot more than I do now, and there are two films from that era that I still think back to when I’m watching others. Little Giants (1994) and The Mighty Ducks (1992).

The former caught my eye as a child because it was one of the first sports films I saw where the best player was a female teenager.

When I was young, before I played soccer, baseball was my go-to sport. The problem was, no one would let me on a baseball team because they wanted me to play softball which I was always highly offended by – because I was GOOD. I could smack a baseball straight out of the school yard even when I was 9-years-old. Still, whenever I tried to try out for a team, I heard the same thing: “try softball.”

Eventually, I found a little league that let me try out, and then play. It was an all-boys league and it took me a couple of games to prove myself, but it felt amazing when I’d go up to bat. The other team would make fun and my team-mates would laugh at them. The look of confusion was phenomenal.

Little Giants was football, but the idea was pretty much the same. The female lead kept wanting to try out and kept being told that she should try cheerleading. It affected her confidence and mentality, but she was still GOOD at the game. I always related to it.

The Mighty Ducks was a more solid sports film – at least where kids come in. Really, I loved all the films in the series, but the first one is definitely the best of them. It gives you the look into hockey that you’d expect from a sports movie – with all that confidence-building as a lesson at the end of it.

Thinking back, it may be that I’m as competitive as I am because of all the sports films I used to watch as a child. Hm.

Most of the sports films that I remember fondest – even those not mentioned on this list – are from the 80s and 90s. That said, there’s one from this millennium that has left its mark on me.

Bend it Like Beckham (2002) is not just good as a sports film, but as a drama as well. It was the first sports movie that concentrated more on the drama caused than by the actual sport it represented (soccer in this case). Instead of focusing on the idea of people needing confidence to succeed, this film actually works on the idea that people need to be able to stand up for themselves and what they want in order to succeed – be their own person, no matter what anyone says.

It’s an interesting way to tell the sports story. Since I first saw it, it’s stuck very close to me. I can’t think of sports in Hollywood without thinking of Bend it Like Beckham.

The sports film that stuck with me the most, though, was The Karate Kid (1984).

It’s easy to argue that The Karate Kid isn’t really a sports movie, but I’ll never buy that. Karate is just as active as any of the other sports mentioned here and there’s just as much practice time and competition that goes into it. And The Karate Kid has all the lessons and tropes that you’d expect from a film in the genre – the only difference is that it made most of the tropes.

The message of mercy in the movie is one of the things that really sets it apart, however.

Whenever I watch a film that has the same type of sports competition in it, I always think back to The Karate Kid and how it must have influenced that film. I compare it to the quality and, if it doesn’t stack up, I have a less positive view of it.

I enjoy the entirety of the Karate Kid series, even the films other people hate, but that first film is the one that really has my heart.

16 – Anthology

Anthology films are a little complicated. Hollywood seems to think certain films are anthologies and I just don’t agree with them. In my opinion, regardless of framing device, an anthology includes several completely separate stories. If the stories all converge at the end, then I don’t see it as an anthology at all. In that case, it’s not really separate stories – it’s the same story from separate angles. An example of that kind of film would be The Rules of Attraction (2002). I simply don’t see that kind of film as showing completely different stories. All the characters entangle in some way or another.

Framing devices don’t count, those just set up the world that the stories fit into.

That said, there are some anthologies out there that have affected me very deeply.

The first one that affected me did not affect me in a good way. I hated it. I still hate it. I want to bleach the entire film and its sequel from my brain. Unfortunately, it’s always there, popping up when I don’t want it to.

You’re probably expecting this one if you been on Trust the Dice for very long, we’ve reviewed two of them here and both Cat and I wish it could be scrubbed from existence.

The ABCs of Death (2012) is one of the weirdest, most out-there films I’ve ever seen… and I’ve seen a LOT of weird-ass movies. It’s a 26-chapter anthology that tells one horror story for each letter of the alphabet, each story handled by a completely different team.

As much as I despise the film, it’s one of the best examples of how an anthology should be done.

Each chapter is handled completely different than the last. There are different methods of story-telling, different characters, different subjects… yet they are all distinctly connected by the underlying theme of horror, insanity, and the alphabet. Some of the stories are better than the others, some more disturbing than others, some aren’t even in the primary language of the film. Chances are, even if you hate the film in general, you’re going to be able to remember one or two of the chapters with fondness.

They’re short stories, no different than reading an anthology book.

I still wouldn’t watch this film ever again unless someone paid me a great deal of money… but I’ll give credit where credit is due.

The first anthology movie that affected me on any real level was If These Walls Could Talk 2 (2000). I saw the film on TV and was entranced by it the entire time.

At the time I saw it, I had been out as a bisexual for just a couple of years and I was still struggling with a lot of the perceptions people had about me. The movie covers the lives of three different lesbian couples in three different eras. It shows the struggles they face and how they overcome them – or don’t. It was the first film I ever saw that gave the kind of perspectives it gave. I saw things from three different angles I hadn’t been offered before. I made my mom watch it, too.

Films like that are usually trying to act as a persuasive device to show people the struggles they don’t have to face in their own lives. And doing it anthology-style gives the movie more chance to succeed at finding an angle that might get their message across to more people.

As I mentioned earlier, I was a big fan of The Matrix. When the series ended, I still wanted more – especially since the movies kind of went down in quality over time. I wanted more information, but I wanted it to be good information.

That’s when I got my hands on The Animatrix (2003).

The Animatrix featured nine different stories that didn’t stick to one specific time in the human uprising. There were stories from before it fully started, stories from the middle, near the end… pretty much anything you would want. You get insight on ideas and settings from the films, side characters you only saw once or twice… it’s a great look into the world without actually putting out a whole other film in the series.

I think that big universes could benefit from this kind of story telling after that last film comes out. Fans build up their love for that kind of in-depth world and they always seem to want more when the story’s over. An anthology of short stories that give them a last look at various aspects of the world they love can offer some extra closure and more subjects to keep them talking about it for years to come.

The anthology that I always find myself looking back on to judge others is definitely New York, I Love You (2008).

I acknowledge that the anthology love letter to New York may have affected me on a deeper level simply because I’m from New York and I could really immerse myself in the truth of the setting behind the stories.

The film has 10 different stories that focus on life and love in the Big Apple. Despite the fact that it does concentrate on romance, I’ve known a great many people who’ve enjoyed it – even without being a fan of the romance genre.

New York, I Love You has a cast of A-listers that treat their various subjects with great reverence. It also had a relatively interesting, kind of meta, framing device. Instead of just being separate stories, it was based on a videographer that was recording them all. The stories remained completely separate, but they were connected by this videographer. It makes the entire film feel less disjointed, while still keeping it an anthology – a collection of short stories.

There’s no part of me that doesn’t look back on New York, I Love You fondly.

15 – Drama

I’ve mentioned numerous times that I’m not the biggest fan of drama. Still, there’s at least one drama that’s affected me much deeper than in just my cinematic preferences. We’ll get to that later.

First, let’s talk about The Rules of Attraction.

As I mentioned before, I don’t consider The Rules of Attraction an anthology. As a drama, however, it has always stood out in my mind. You get to see the story of the Camden College students through several different perspectives and you begin to understand how communication issues can occur. You note people thinking things they don’t say, saying things they don’t mean… you watch their emotions get the best of them, watch them misinterpret other people’s actions – it’s very relatable.

All of it seems so very close to reality, too. There are real consequences for the character’s mistakes and the stories converge in intriguing, and sometimes heartbreaking, ways.

One of the earliest dramas that affected my perceptions was My Girl (1991).

The initial plot of the film is so much more in depth and grown-up than most family films were when I was young. It covers some very dark subjects, and I liked that nothing was really candy coated for me, even back then. A lot of my childhood was dark and seeing things take dark turns for another teenager helped me feel not-quite so alone.

My Girl was the first film to make me ugly cry. It was the first family film that showed me real mortality. Sure, Bambi’s mother dying in Bambi (1942) touched on the subject… but she was animated. It was easier to remove myself. Thomas was played by real-life Macaulay Culkin (Home Alone, The Good Son, Party Monster) and watching him die, watching Anna Chlumsky’s (Veep, The End of the Tour, The Pill) Vada react to it… was one of the most heartbreaking things I witnessed on screen as a child.

Later in life I saw Where the Heart Is (2000). I understand that it’s also a book, but I’ve never read it so I can only speak for the film.

The movie follows a young woman that’s pregnant when she’s abandoned by her baby’s father and she winds up having to live in a Walmart until her baby is born. Even after her rescue she is affected by a huge amount of trials. Her mother steals her money and disappears. The woman that gives her and her baby a place to live dies in a tornado. When she gets her own place, her best friend and some of her best friend’s kids are brutally attacked… at the same time, you get to watch the man who abandoned her face his own life.

This was the first film that really imparted the idea of karma into me. As bad as Novalee’s life seems at first, in the end she winds up happy, with her own family, following her dream of being a photographer. Her life is filled with good friends and good family – the kind that can only be gain through significant darkness.

On the other hand, her baby’s father, Willy Jack, seems to have everything going for him at some points, only to have it inevitably stripped from him. By the end of the film he’s been imprisoned, hit by a train, and lost his legs. When Novalee sees him again, he’s had his wheel chair stolen.

Where the Heart Is has a powerful message about karma and how one’s own outlook and actions affects it.

The drama that affected me most, didn’t just affect me on a cinematic level. It didn’t teach me just a lesson or two, either. It helped me shape myself as a person.

SLC Punk! (1998) was a force of revelation to me.

I’d just started getting in to punk music when I saw it. I was listening to things like Bad Religion and Black Flag, getting into the social aspects of the scene, in general. It all felt so angry, and I could relate to it… but it gave me better things to be angry about than the shit that was already affecting me. Believe it or not, the punk scene is filled with concern for a bigger group of people than most teens can usually relate to. If you listen to the big names in punk (real punk, not pop-punk), they’re talking about serious social issues such as overpopulation, hunger, racism, politics, etc.

The music itself was starting to introduce me to social issues I’d never considered before, but SLC Punk! took it a step further.

The film introduced me to character living the punk life-style. It introduced different viewpoints on what the punks in the film stood for and widened my own perspective of the scene and its ideas.

I never looked like a typical punk. I mean, I had my hair dyed, but I didn’t have money for the kind of styles appreciated in the scene – especially in New York. Do you have any idea what a proper leather jacket costs?

One of the perspectives offered by SLC Punk! is that the ideas and soul of the lifestyle are pretty much all internal and the fashion is just a ‘uniform’. The way the movie explains that kind of perspective really gave me the confidence to tell people who rolled their eyes at me to go fuck themselves. Whatever you wear or look like, if you’ve got something in your heart – it’s there. You don’t need the uniform because you have nothing to prove.

The dramatic aspects range from subjects that are super out there and really only relatable to people who are part of certain counter-cultures to just generally everyone. Heroin Bob’s death is still one of the most sudden and painful deaths I’ve ever seen in any film ever. Part of that is because of how Matthew Lillard (Problem Child, Home Run Showdown, Fat Kid Rules the World) acted out finding the body.

Lillard absolutely rocked that part, he became the personification of the punk mindset to me. It’s because of SLC Punk! that I see him as one of my favorites – even now.

SLC Punk! isn’t just the drama film that affected me the most, it’s my favorite move of all time – my number one. I never get sick of it.

Next week, we’ll continue on with the another 14 categories that make up my cinematic landscape.

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