Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Jaws or: The importance of showings kids classic old movies at a young age

Will there ever be a more iconic poster?

I took the kids to an outdoor screening of Jaws the other night (hey, they’ve gotta be traumatized by sharks at some point, right?) and it was a big hit with them. They played around before the movie (someone had brought beach balls to set the mood) but once the film started they sat still and watched it intently, even the slow scenes, until about halfway through. We had to leave at that point because my son got too tired (why does it have to get dark so late?) but they asked to watch the rest of it on bluray first thing the next morning.

I was worried the film might be too intense for them in parts, but they were fine. They got really excited whenever we saw an underwater shot or heard John Williams’ theme because they knew that meant “the shark was coming to eat them all up!” The only part that really made them jump was the scene where Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) discovers Ben Gardner’s boat. You know the shot I’m taking about and it still works as a great scare. In fact, it’s amazing, nearly forty years later, how well the film holds up, fake shark and all.

Spielberg was already at the top of his game when he made this at just 28 years old. It’s probably still one of the five best directed popcorn movies ever made. Every shark attack is brilliantly shot and edited and it’s amazing that Spielberg manages to make the audience feel genuine terror and empathy even for characters that we don’t really know anything about (such as the bozos on the pier who have a narrow escape when they try and catch the great white with a hunk of meat tied to a tire). Most blockbusters these days have trouble coming up with even one well-developed protagonist, but Jaws has three of them, all interesting and likeable in their own way. Brody fits the classic “everyman” role that Spielberg loves so much, but is never boring and Hooper provides a great foil for him. The famous Indianapolis speech given by Quint late in the movie is exactly the sort of scene that would be cut in a modern blockbuster because it “slows down the pace”.

Jaws may have started the event movie trend, but it remains leagues ahead of most of its followers. If they ever remake it (please no) they may be able to give us a more convincing shark, but nothing else in the movie could be improved upon.

So anyway, being the film snob I am, this got me thinking about how depressing it is that so many young people have no knowledge of any classic movies made before they were born. It’s like kids who have never heard of The Beatles! I feel that it’s my responsibility to introduce my kids to as many great old movies as possible. I’m not counting Disney movies, since it’s easy to get most kids to watch them no matter how long ago the movie was made. Other movies require a little longer attention spans and a little more communication with your kids about what is actually happening on screen.

Here’s a list of classic movies (more than 20 years old) I’ve shown one or both of my kids that they’ve seemed to enjoy for the most part. Note that many of them aren’t typical kids movies and I know some parents may not be comfortable with their children seeing films that have violent or scary scenes. I think most kids are pretty good at letting you know if they’re not ready for a movie, though, and I always try to have a discussion with them about any negative behavior characters display and why it’s not a good idea to emulate that.

Bride of Frankenstein
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Edward Scissorhands
Fantastic Planet
Jason and the Argonauts
King Kong (1933)
Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure
The Plague Dogs
The Princess Bride
Raiders of the Lost Ark
The Secret of NIMH
The Sound of Music
Star Wars
Superman: The Movie
Time Bandits
2001: A Space Odyssey
Watership Down
The Wizard of Oz
Yellow Submarine

There are many more movies I’d like to show them, but have held off on some of them because they’re either too complicated, graphic or have negative portrayals of women and minorities. Not that the last point is just a problem in older movies – I’m looking in your direction Michael Bay’s Transformers. I don’t think kids should be protected from dark stories, but I try to use common sense before showing them something that may give them nightmares.

Of course, you may ask why kids need to watch old movies at all when there are so many new films being released for them. The reason (apart from the slightly selfish one of wanting to talk with them about movies I loved growing up) is that I think it's good for this generation to see how moviemaking has evolved over the years and that you don't need to make a fast-paced film overloaded with special effects to tell a good story. Whether they grow up to be filmmakers or just film fans, being able to enjoy old movies is a worthwhile pursuit.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Days of Future Past

Caught the seventh (!) X-Men movie this weekend. It was probably my favourite yet, or at least a close tie with First Class. The time travel plot is a great way to bring together both the new and the old cast, though it also raises a whole bunch of plot holes (such as, how the hell can Kitty Pride suddenly send people back in time?). It’s fun to see the future versions of the original X-Men (and some cool new characters) and while some may moan about Wolverine being the center of the story yet again, Hugh Jackman once more demonstrates why he’s perfect for the role (and will be very hard to replace when they eventually reboot the series).

Once we get back to 1973 the film teases us by slowly reintroducing the First Class characters (at least the ones that people actually care about – the others are killed offscreen or never mentioned). It’s nice to see that at least some of the story ideas cooked up by Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman survived after they left the project, such as Magneto being involved in the JFK assassination. While a few of the character twists are a little silly (young Professor X gets to walk again thanks to magic heroin that fixes his spine and saps his mental powers) most of the returning characters get some decent character development, and I hope the producers stick with this cast for at least a couple more movies.

Of the new characters, Quicksilver is the undoubted highlight. Evan Peters and Bryan Singer throw down the gauntlet to Joss Whedon by creating a fun character with a visually stunning power, though he exits the movie too soon. There’s even a throwaway joke hinting at his mutant father. Peter Dinklage makes for a good villain (amazing, there’s no little people jokes), though it would have been nice to have some more motivation for why he’s so against mutants. The mutant hunting sentinels are an impressive creation, generating a real threat for our heroes.

The 70’s era is faithfully recreated (even Nixon shows up) though the design isn’t as fun as the James Bond inspired look of First Class. The special effects are pretty much flawless.

The slambang ending wraps things up pretty neatly while also handily changing the continuity of the series to render the crappy X-Men movies pretty much obsolete. You even get blink and you’ll miss ‘em cameos from a few X-people they didn’t have room for in the main plot. If Bryan Singer doesn’t return for the next one (for obvious reasons) at least this completes his trilogy of X-Men films on a high note. X-Men: Apocalypse looks intriguing (there’s a teaser at the end of the credits that won’t mean anything to people who haven’t read the comics) and the series seems in good hands with Fox, at least for now. I actually hope that the rights don’t go back to Marvel in the future, since mutant hatred makes no sense in a word with beloved heroes that turn into raging green giants.