Tag Archives: movies

Obnoxious Sports, Pretentious Arts Enthusiasts Two Sides of Same Coin

By Jason Menard

To quote one of Canada’s finest bands, Sloan, “it’s not the band I hate, it’s their fans.” And though you’ll likely never get them to agree to it, supporters of sports and the arts are often two sides of the same obnoxious coin.

First, an admission of guilt. I was once an arts’ snob: I judged certain music, literature, and art forms as somehow less worthy than others. I was at the same time an obnoxious sporto, judging people by the teams they supported.

All that to say that I’m now reformed (almost. I still think you Toronto Maple Leafs’ fans need to go get help). Continue reading

California Gaming Law Puts Rules Squarely in Parents’ Hands

By Jason Menard

Free speech comes with a cost – personal responsibility. The repeal of a California law banning the sale and rental of violent games to minors puts the responsibility for parenting right where it should lie – with the parents.

Unfortunately for many kids that’s not exactly a comforting thought.  Continue reading

He’s Still There — So Why Doesn’t Anyone Care?

By Jason Menard

The truth has come out and, as many expected, Joaquin Phoenix’s bizarre behaviour over the past two years was nothing more than a piece of performance art for a mockumentary filmed by his long-time friend, and brother-in-law, Casey Affleck.

This revelation was prompted by less-than-stellar reviews of the film, I’m Still Here. It seems that audiences and critics alike haven’t been getting it — at least not the way the filmmakers intended — so Affleck has felt the need to explain the duo’s intentions behind making it. Continue reading

DVD Double-Dipping Plays on Fans’ Folly

By Jason Menard

The next time you have a party, you may want to cross those Hollywood movie moguls off of your invite list – they’re proving to be notorious double-dippers.

Earlier this week Francis Ford Coppola released Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier, calling it the definitive presentation of his legendary film. Well, definitive until the next opportunity to dip into fans’ pockets presents itself.

Looking over at my DVD collection I find my copy of Apocalypse Now: Redux, which in itself was – at the time – the definitive rendering of the film. You know, the movie the way the director intended it to be, before all those nasty Imperialistic Forces like society, studios, and financiers got in the way of Coppola’s vision.

So, in the end, the more committed fans of the film could find three versions of one film staring back at them from their shelves. That’s three times one person has shelled out for the same movie.

At least Coppola’s first and second releases were markedly different in presentation. And this third one combines both presentations, so for those still slowly replacing their old VHS tapes (or, shudder, BETA), this isn’t a bad release to start off with. But increasingly film studios are re-releasing films, with minor tweaks or extra additions, just because they can – and a gullible public will continue to buy their films.

No genre is immune from this cash grab. Good films and schlock alike will exist in multiple versions. Didn’t buy the 1996 release of Swingers? Fret not because you can still get the 2003 Collector’s Series edition. Liked Clerks? Well, you can pick up the original release of the film on DVD, but the true fan knows they’ve also got to have Clerk X – the 10 th anniversary edition. Hell, George Lucas has developed a cottage industry in releasing and re-releasing versions of the original Star Wars trilogy? And if the gazillion versions out there weren’t enough, there’s another one on the way, just in time for Christmas!

Remember The Lord of the Rings trilogy? Remember how fans breathless with anticipation could purchase an impressive DVD reproduction of the film – all the while knowing that a more robust version would be released the following November! And that doesn’t even count the special boxed versions with your collectable Gollum figurine.

Even Jennifer Garner’s star turn in 13 Going on 30, released on DVD in 2004 received a make-over with the release of the Fun ‘n’ Flirty edition less than two years later!!!! I mean, c’mon. It was a cute film and all, but was anyone’s life seriously lacking from the omission of the “pick the right 80’s outfit” or Rick Springfield’s Jessie’s Girl video?

While the movie studios will altruistically claim that they’re simply giving the fans what they want, and providing them with a greater film experience, the truth of the matter is that these re-releases and re-re-releases simply show the level of contempt that studios have for their viewing audience. They know that people, for whatever reason, get emotionally involved in these films, and by offering more film-centric experiences they’re able to tug at the fans’ heartstrings hard enough to make that wallet fly open.

The great fear was that our DVDs, like VHS and film reels before them, would become obsolete via the advent of the next great technology. The truth is that our DVDs will be made obsolete by the advent of the next great version of the film.

Film is not the only medium that is guilty of turning to its loyal fan base for a cash grab. Some video game producers do this annually! One of the most popular video game franchises, the Madden football series, enjoys the financial windfall of annual revisions. And while in the past some revisions have only been minor tweaks to game play, that hasn’t prevented the game developer from charging full price for essentially the same game, only with a new cover and another year added to the title.

Of course, video games have also used the power of re-releases for good. Greatest Hits designations involve a reissuing of popular games, at a much lower price, thereby increasing the penetration to a less-affluent segment of the game-buying public. Unfortunately, there is no correlating drop-off in price for films entering their second edition.

It’s only the most avid film buff that will even benefit from many of the additions that re-released versions include. I own a substantial number of DVDs and I can count on one hand those on which I’ve actually explored the special features. I’ve yet to watch a film with the director’s or the actor’s commentary overlapping. In fact, I quite enjoy the film just as it is, thank you very much.

And perhaps that attitude will be my salvation. As I look at my collection, I can say that there are no duplicates of films. Although there may be those bearing the Special Edition, Collectors Edition, or even the Awesome! Totally Awesome Edition (in the case of Fast Times at Ridgemont High), they were chosen because I liked the film and that’s the version I found – not for any desire to expand my experience through DVD-ROM games or exclusive interviews with the costume designer.

Films in themselves are an experience. We fans get attached to our favourite authors, directors, and production, but that doesn’t mean we have to be slaves to their every whim. And if movie companies really want to respect their fans and give them what they want, why not get it right the first time? Cram everything you have in the first release – don’t dole it out piecemeal, reserving the juicier bits for subsequent releases.

Of course, that would show that the movie studios respect their fans more than the mighty dollar – and as much as I love a good comedy, I’m not prepared to suspend my disbelief that much.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Opportunity Knocks in the Form of Tom Hanks

By Jason Menard

Batten down the hatches! Shield your children’s ears. The day of the Apocalypse is upon us! Verily, the very foundations upon which Western society has been built are set to crumble.

And the culprit? For years rumours have abounded that the Anti-Christ walks among us and now we have seen his face. The one to send humanity to its fire and brimstone end? Tom Hanks.

With the release of the DaVinci Code movie, defenders of the Christian faith are wringing their hands nervously at the allegations and potentially devastating revelations that were first popularized in Dan Brown’s novel and now have made the big screen in an easy-to-digest, two-hour format. And Tom Hanks, with his everyman appeal and Midas Touch at the box office is a perfect vessel from which evil can pour forth.

Think about it. What if the Holy Grail isn’t a chalice or the living bloodline of Christ through a marriage to Mary Magdalene, as the DaVinci Code claims? What if the elusive Grail is actually a hidden item that inexplicably allows people to reach unheard of levels of fame despite not doing too much?

I mean, the evidence is there. Hanks has made a career being Hanks. Save for his performance in Philadelphia, he’s never really done anything that’s beyond the everyman, pleasant guy. SplashBig? Even Forrest Gump was a pleasant Everyguy with some developmental challenges. Cast Away? Everyguy on a beach with a volleyball. That Thing You DoThe LadykillersRoad to Perdition? Everyguy in period dress.

Hell – no pun intended – for someone as pleasantly bland as Hanks is there must be something that he’s drawing upon to unleash the forces necessary to survive bombs like Joe Versus the Volcano and Turner and Hooch. Maybe the grail is shared amongst Hollywood glitterati – which would explain why I know Zsa Zsa Gabor’s name and why I can’t walk past a newsstand without seeing her next-gen copy Paris Hilton – allowing people to be famous just for being famous.

No, Hanks is just Nice Guy on Screen with an Impressive Rolodex (or compromising pictures of Ron Howard.) Which is why it’s so intriguing to see Christians losing their minds over something as innocuous as a movie. Yes, the issues are challenging and appear to be unflattering to the Church as an institution. But in their zeal to repress discussion of the book, its contents, and Hanks’ performance (which may not be a bad idea…) the Church has ignored the greatest opportunity of all. And that is the chance to be relevant.

The DaVinci Code was not the first source for these Grail theories. Nor are alternative versions of the life of Christ or Christianity in general restricted to the here and now. But people are talking. Religion is relevant. For a Church that’s been hemorrhaging parishioners for years, instead of boarding up the doors with dogma, the Church should be engaging these newly interested people in discussions about religion.

Having faith does not preclude having curiosity. Questioning one’s religion does not constitute a crisis of faith. It is a factor in what makes us human.

I am not religious. I am spiritual. I suppose it’s a factor of not being able to drink the whole glass of Kool-Aid for any one religion. However, I also believe that if God is going to punish me for being a good person, being respectful of others, raising my kids and loving my wife to the best of my ability, and for thirsting for knowledge, then that’s a deity that I’m just ready to get down with.

Many others are like me. They are fed up of religions that choose to dictate to their followers as opposed to engaging them in the discussion. Many religions employ a top-down model of faith, wherein a select few are in the know while the followers must swear blind allegiance.

Why can’t we question our faith? Does a belief in a deity preclude curiosity? Does it eliminate free thought? Or can religion not open itself up and engage those who are interested in thoughtful debate and discussion. Not everything has to be black and white – there’s room for metaphor and there’s room for leaps of faith – but shutting people out of the discussion process is counterproductive.

For the first time in years, religious discussion is cool. But instead of embracing the opportunity that Pop Religion books, movies, and texts are presenting, the Church is boarding up the doors and hoping to ride out the swirling winds of questions and interest. Too bad they aren’t realizing that these questions are an invitation to engage in discussion and teaching, not just a challenge to the Church’s authority.

In the end Tom Hanks, Dan Brown, or any other anthropologist, writer, or historian isn’t the Anti-Christ. In fact, if used properly to stimulate an open debate and inclusionary nature in the Church, they could in fact be part of Christianity’s salvation. And after all, we all know the position of Anti-Christ has already been filled – by Chuck Woolery.

Opportunity is knocking. But will the Church finally answer its call or keep the door barred?

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Film Can Be Memorable For all the Right Reasons

By Jason Menard

While some will dismiss the arrival of the film Karla as just another sign of Hollywood profiteering and sensationalism, the fact of the matter is that films of this ilk can actually serve a positive role by forcing us to remember society’s ill – and vow to never let them be repeated.

For many, June 20, 2006 will be a day to be regretted. There will be those who denounce the film in full throat without viewing it first. There will be those who argue that the topic of this film should mandate its immediate banning from screens in this country. But those people are missing the opportunity that a film of this nature can provide.

If done responsibly, and by that I’m not referring to the Tori Spelling Movie-of-the-Week treatment that many of these sensational films undergo, films of this nature can make us remember the human tragedy behind the headlines. They can force us to understand that lives were impacted, real people like us were involved, and they can leave an indelible imprint on our hearts and souls.

The announced release date of Karla closely follows the DVD release of the Quebecois filmAurore, which is a heart-wrenching remake based on the true story of a young girl who was systemically tortured and eventually beaten to death by her step-mother. The movie, without being gratuitous, conveys the horror of these events while allowing us to look at the people involved. We are able to see how this tragedy was allowed to unfold and we, as viewers, are left with the burning desire to do our part to ensure that this never happens again.

And that’s where film, and its little sibling television, can assert their dominance as the most effective story-tellers in modern society. A sensitive portrayal by a team of writers, directors, and actors can make a tragedy relevant to viewers from all walks of life. They move the principals from the realm of quaint stereotypes to living, breathing humans like all of us. Instead of archetypes of evil and good, they become flawed, realistic entities to whom we can better relate.

We are presented with tragedy each and every day of our lives. The 24-hour news networks provide us with an ever-changing – and never-ending – reel of the worst that humanity has to offer. But, as a coping mechanism, we are able to dehumanize the principals involved in the situation and turn it from a slice of reality into a spectacle at which we can alternately sympathize with and marvel at. Today’s tsunami turns into tomorrow Hurricane devastation. And we move on to the next tragedy as the previous horror finds itself back to the recesses of our minds.

What film can do is bring a slice of history back to the fore. If done with empathy and skill, they can leave a feeling and message that will resonate long into the future for the viewer.

It’s the human story that brings us closer. For many, the Holocaust is a tragedy beyond the scope of our comprehension. There comes a time when we fail to be able to adequately process the idea of so much death and wanton destruction. But for many of us the face of the Holocaust tragedy belongs to one little girl, Anne Frank, whose life is revealed to us through her diary until its abrupt end – offering an ellipsis wherein we fill in the tragic ending. Reading a textbook of the Holocaust tragedy can provide us with the essential facts and statistics. Reading the personal stories at the Wiesenthal Center provides us with the soul. Through the commitment of the individual’s stories to methods that will ensure their posterity, we will be able to put a human face on the tragedy for generations to come. Instead of being reduced to numbers, the victims of this horror will always remain human – and that’s the greatest way to ensure that we remain vigilant in ensuring that this tragedy does not get repeated.

Currently the continent of Africa is being decimated by the twin demons of genocide and AIDS. But we are unable to adequately empathize with the depth of the tragedy because there is no singular human face. There are millions of stories on the continent, but not one has been told to the degree where we feel moved to rally behind the issue.

Film can tear down the protective wall with which we distance ourselves from these nightmares. Film can make us accountable to our souls and compel us to do whatever we can do. Instead of desensitizing us to violence and aggression, a well-done piece can actually make us more sensitive to the issues at hand and drive us to be more vigilant when it comes to taking a stand against their existence in our society.

When it comes to the Karla film, we’ll have to wait to see if the parties involved chose to make a quick buck by profiting on a dynamic story, or if they lived up to the potential that the medium has to make a difference in our lives.

While time heals all wounds – even revulsion — humanizing a tragedy through film may help ensure that those young women who lost their lives remain a rallying point for society to ensure that history does not repeat itself.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Hands Off My Memories, Molly Ringwald!

June 9, 2005 — Really, I don’t know about you, but I know I’ve been sleeping better this week knowing that one of life’s great, unsolved mysteries has come to a close. No, I’m not talking about Mark Felt finally revealing himself to be Deep Throat – I’m talking about the eternal mystery of what ever happened to Samantha Baker!

The uncertainties that have plagued the masses will finally come to an end. Now we will be able to answer those important life questions such as: What every happened to Long Duc Dong? Did Sam pick Jake Ryan or Blaine McDonnagh? Did Farmer Ted and Duckie ever find love?

Or am I getting my John Hughes/Molly Ringwald movies mixed up?

Recent wire reports have shown that Ringwald – now 37 – would like to reprise the role of Samantha Baker in a sequel to the 1984 film Sixteen Candles. She claims that there’s been interest in the past, but it was only recently that she read a script that met her satisfaction and she wanted to star in the movie.

”I’ve turned it down for years. I couldn’t see how it would work,” she said. “Now, it seems right.”

Maybe it’s the cynic in me, but why do I read that quote and see, “OK, I’m so far out of the public eye that I’ve got a standing offer for a spot on the Surreal Life, and my bank account is dwindling rapidly – can I please get a paycheque??”

How often do we see these actors, who are desperately clinging to past glories, decide to sell their souls for one more kick at the can. And why do we, as the buying public, allow our pleasant childhood memories to be ruined by actors pillaging their past in search of the almighty dollar?

Ringwald, and her “Where Are They Now?” compatriots always pay lip service to spending time at home, doing theatre, or whatever other occupation they can come up with to justify their time out of the spotlight. But, despite these high-minded pursuits, they’re seemingly always willing to shed their pretentious airs (almost as fast as whatever scraps of dignity they hold on to) the second a shot at the big time comes around again.

And we, the viewers, are left with the empty feeling and tarnished memories.

Whether you liked John Hughes or not, his movie-making prowess cut a rather wide swath over the popular culture scene in the 80s. Beyond the aforementioned Ringwald star vehicles, Hughes brought Ferris Bueller, the Breakfast Club, and Some Kind of Wonderful to the silver screen. His ability in visualizing a common voice for 80’s youth is almost enough to give him a pass for infesting the world with not one, not two, not three, not four – but five, count ‘em, five Beethoven movies. Almost.

But the thought of revisiting Pretty in Pink would seem to signify a career nadir for all involved — after all, those are pretty shallow waters in which to be fishing for inspiration. People who grew up with these movies are generally polarized in their opinions of them. You either loved Molly growing up you didn’t – and I certainly fell into the latter.

However, I AM a child of the ‘80s. In retrospect, those movies – whether I liked them or not – are part of the fabric from which my popular culture reference is woven. And what those movies — and others like them from that time period – stand up on is not outstanding acting, rich writing, or complicated plots, but rather they are propped up by fond memories, nostalgia, and our general romanticizing of our past.

How often have you held a fond remembrance for a show in your heart, only to have its memory tainted upon a viewing several years later? I used to love TV’s The Greatest American Hero and V – until I saw them again recently. The reality couldn’t stand up to my memories, and a part of my youthful enjoyment was lost.

You would think that we’d have come up with a cure for Sequelitis, but we keep getting afflicted with the disease time after time, bad remake after bad remake. Instead of heeding the once-bitten, twice-shy adage, we desperately cling to the hope that this time, truly, Hollywood will be able to recapture the magic.

But it’s an impossible dream. That magic is borne of a combination of our youth, our memories, and the mollifying effect of time. No matter what strides and advances movie making has made over the years, they’ll never be able to harness the power of our memories.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved