Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Hook: Hated and Loved

Hook occupies this weird place with my generation.

When you look at movies "made for kids" there are generally two categories that they can be put in.  Category one is the movies that kids are supposed to love, but grownups are going to yawn or think about taxes and grown up stuff during it while the kids stay staring at the screen.  The second category is the movies that are entertaining enough for grownups to enjoy as well, and typically are liked on their own as a "movie" not just a "kids movie".

The categories are also appreciated differently by their fans over time.  With category one, usually when the kids grow up they lose appreciate for the film.  They see the movie without their rose colored glasses, and they say "wow, I don't remember this being this bad... but I bet my kids will love it one day".  Nostalgia can play a huge part in the appreciation, but they recognize that the actors were in it for the pay day or for making it for their kids, the critics rated it with the thought of kids in mind, and at the end of the day it is not taken seriously, given a "pass" and the movie lives on.  Usually the "fad" movies are in this category.  Movies that were created to take advantage of a fad at the time.  Examples include: Three Ninjas, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Rookie of the Year, Beethoven.  Movies you would probably only watch as an adult to get that nostalgia factor hit.

The second kind of movie are "kids" movies that stand the test of time.  The easy ones for my sister's generation are E.T., The Goonies, and The Neverending Story.  These films are remembered so fondly that children older than my sisters and children younger than I claim the in their childhood.  Its this whole huge bubble of everyone loving these movies.  The Critics too had lots of good, if not great, things to say about them.  These movies were held to standard, they were reviewed with critical eyes on the acting, but also on the directing, editing, writing, and technical aspects.  Movies in this category that I would consider part of my actual generation(I was the age it was meant for when it was released) include Home Alone, My Girl, Jumanji, Adams Family, Homeward Bound, Mrs. Doubtfire.

Hook has this place in a 3rd category that I do not think others are easily put there.  Hook, to much of my generation's surprise, is thought to be one of the biggest turds every shat out of the Hollywood machine.  It is reviled by critics, so much so that these said critics(that are still alive) deny it has a cult status.  There are a lot of things my generation has brought into mainstream America and made closer to "normal", but you can't talk about Hook being a great movie, you get shouted down.

Why is that?

Well I think there was a lot of hype surrounding the movie.  This is nothing special to people now, but do you remember when a movie was released and advertised on television and in restaurants for 6+ months?  This sort of thing really happened.  Now, if something is advertised or talked about for more than 2 weeks, it threatens to take the profit from the studio's next movie.  So things are generally talked up for a small amount of time and quickly asked to be forgotten(until the home versions come out).  Hook had HUGE names attached to it, names that were the biggest in successful movies and critically acclaimed movies as well.  Dennis Hoffman had just gotten an Oscar and was still living in its glow.  Bob Hoskins had just headlined the extremly successful "Who Frames Roger Rabbit".  Robin Williams was on the verge of being the hottest comedy actor in movies.  Stephen Spielberg had just made his come back to blockbuster elite after Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  Julia Roberts was on the verge of becoming America's sweetheart, every bit as destined to be as huge as Robin Williams was about to be.  Plus, there were cameos, OH MY GOD was there cameos for everyone over the age of 40 at the time.  Everyone from Woodstock performers, to Oscar nominated actors and actresses, and even Spielberg's friends George Lucas and Carrie Fischer.

The critics hated it.  I think they must have gotten the message that this movie was made for Baby Boomers instead of kids, I don't know.  The actors don't tend to have wonderful things to say about it in memory.  It was in a time before CGI sets(thankfully) and it was a pain to work on such elaborate sets back then.  Its a look and a style that I think are under appeciated, and a look that I think lasts, since we now see a lot of the late 90's and early 2000's CGI sets are garbage due to time and tech passing them.  Spielberg has said that he hopes one day he can watch it and like it, because right now he hasn't liked seeing it, all he sees are his failures in the movie.

People outside my generation seems to have hated it as well.  Most of the really younger crowd, under 10 years my junior, don't seem to have an appreciation for it either.  I think they may rely on the internet for their proto-opinions where as my generation only really had viewing to formulate our thoughts on film rankings.  The younger crowd get told its trash before they get to appreciate it.  Unlike the Goonies, which you are bombarded with left and right about how great that movie is.

My generation, kids that were 8-11 when this movie came out, love the hell out of the movie.  We see characters like Rufio as alternative heros.  He is the hero we're not supposed to have liked, but he was the hero we had, and he did not seem to conform to anything.  He was the 90's version of Peter Pan, and his character was perfect for the analogy.  Critics found him obnoxious, overplayed, and heavy handed... and that was PERFECT, they should have.  If that kind of kid wasn't annoying enough to grown ups, he would have pushed the boundaries until he was.

The other stuff, the imagination needed to eat, the food fight, and the kids playground scenes were right up there with the best scenes of unfettered kid joy in all the 90's.  The closest to it was the Foot headquarters in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but that one went over the top because of the cigarettes and beer all the teenagers got.  The Lost Boy's camp was the perfect mix of mischief, freedom, and light hearted fun.

I'm not saying there wasn't flaws, because there are many.   But what I'm saying is that unlike category 1 movies, my generation seems to keep enjoying the movie as time goes by and their ages advance.  Unlike Category 2, later generations seem to dislike it as much as the older generations.  Unlike Goonies or E. T., Hook will never have its time in the sun as a great cult classic.  But that's ok, because you know what?  That kind of gives us our little gem.  I think some of the closest analogies is the movie "Singles" to people that were that age in the early 90's.  If you weren't there, you don't really "get" that movie, or have an attachment to it beyond the music.  That's not a perfect analogy because that's like saying "you don't understand Hook unless you were a lost boy at the time".  Which admittedly has a nice double meaning to the phrase, but is not accurate in what I meant.

Anyways, to me and a lot of people my age, there is no Captain Hook unless it is Hoffman's Hook.  Even the old Peter Pan Disney movie, with its Hook extending into many other shows, is not the Hook we love.  The recently departed, and inspiration for this post, Bob Hoskins is the Smee we hear, and not the delightful voice of Bill Thompson(we do remember him for other things though).  We willfully claim our movie, even as others throw it away.  The old critics, and the old haters are dying out, but we are showing it to our children.  It is sure to live beyond its reputation that it currently has, and I think deserves another look by the detractors.  I can take off my rose tinted glasses, can you throw away your pre-conceived notions, your "I've been told to hate this film or my opinions aren't sophisticated enough" mentality?  I think we would both come out with a sense that it was a well done movie with more than a few miss steps, but then what movie is not?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Yojiro Takita's "Departures"

Departures was released in 2008, and won the Japanese Oscar and Foreign Film Oscar for its year.  Takita won praise for the earlier samurai period piece "When the Last Sword is Drawn".  An interesting turn of events, as Takita began his career as a porn director.  In the past decade though, there are few Japanese directors more lauded in the native land as Takita.

To understand Departures, you have to understand a bit of Japanese traditional culture.  In Japan, only the lowliest of those on the social ladder dealt with death.  One of the biggest taboos of Japan is the touching of a dead body.  This is juxtaposed with the tradition that a body must be washed, properly dressed, and ritually prepared before it is cremated.  In Japan, one must trust the last rite of their loved ones to the lowest of society.  For many it was a thankless job that meant they would be shunned.

This happens to the main character in this movie.  A musician, Daigo, learns that he will not be able to continue his life as a paid musician and must look for a new job.  He is attracted to a job because of its high pay, and before he knows it, he's presented with the choice of being a mortician by and aging man that will soon not be able to perform his duties.  With no one to pass his skills down to, the traditional death rites will soon be forgotten, and the impersonal, modern way of dealing with the dead will take over.   Daigo must make the choice between not only being shunned and money, but also keeping this deeply personal practice alive in the modern world.

The movie is powerful, emotional, and at time funny.  Takita is heralded as a champion of traditional ideas in the modern world, and this movie makes a good, sentimental case for why keeping some traditions are important.  Do not expect action, adventure and kung-fu in this foreign film, this is a story about loss, love, and human dignity.  Its uplifting and inspiring, and is one of my favorite films of all time.  Japan is doing the kind of heartfelt movies that Hollywood will not touch anymore.  Takita's directing is amazing, he is the master in understating, and not telling the viewer everything that is happening on screen; the view must watch and look to read emotions on faces to understand the context of scenes.  If you have seen When the Last Sword is Drawn, then you will see his hand in this as well.