Remember how y’all might find it odd that it was my mother who recommended the raunchy sex comedy Heartbreakers to me? Well one year before that, I was recommended a famous horror film about birds attacking humans. Same source. But in all seriousness, I can look back on the year I turned thirteen as a very fond time. That was when my love of films and filmmaking really took off. It was then that I was first introduced to many of the classics – Alien, Jaws, Psycho, Halloween and of course The Birds. I first became aware of this one from reading a Sabrina the Teenage Witch novelisation of all things; Sabrina gets sent back in time to 1940s Hollywood and ends up with a job on an Alfred Hitchcock set. It’s the set of Spellbound, not The Birds, but the idea of a horror film about birds sounded very intriguing. I had it hyped up for me for ages and didn’t get to see it until it happened to be on TV (this being the days before video-on-demand and good quality pirating). Ten years removed from that viewing and it’s still one of my favourite horror films. Interestingly enough, despite being terrified of dogs and spiders, this one has not made me fear birds in the slightest.
What teenager hasn’t had their music phase? I mean the phase where you get your hands on an instrument, take a few lessons and become convinced you’re going to be a rock star one day. Okay, I’m guessing quite a few. And the ones that actually keep on with music usually had already started playing it when they were children. I myself learned keyboard back home when I was six. Then when we moved, they didn’t teach it anymore and so I lost it. The keyboard is still there in the house though. I did go through another music phase when I was thirteen though. I bought an instrument, got some lessons from a nifty music channel on the TV, and was convinced I was going to join a band for all of eight months. The reason? Well of course it’s the 2003 love letter to classic rock music – and a hallmark of many childhoods in the early 2000s. I only recently found out that its director was Richard Linklater – some ten years before his Oscar-winning Boyhood was released. Everyone knows this story and everyone loves it, so let’s go right on in.
Y’know, age is something that doesn’t have as much weight as it used to. There are endless problems with society these days, but a big plus is that there is considerably less ageism than there used to be. At least in Hollywood. I’m being serious. Think about it; Robert De Niro is still headlining films in his 70s and there are still plenty of good roles out there for him to play – without being reduced to cameoing as ‘the hero’s grandfather’. Dame Helen Mirren likewise recently headlined one of the best films of 2016 in a killer role. To a lesser extent, many of Hollywood’s top stars are in their 40s and 50s. And they’re not stuck playing the same roles they did twenty years ago. As they have aged, Hollywood offers them different roles to accommodate it rather than hide it. Obviously it’s not the case for everyone, and there are plenty for whom roles dried up as soon as they hit middle age. But growing older isn’t as much of a death knell for an actor as it used to be. Back in the Golden Age, Hollywood would often try to do what it could to fight the very nature of time. They lied about Shirley Temple’s age to keep her playing child roles just a little longer. Mary Pickford didn’t stop playing Ingénues until her mid-30s. But once it was clear they couldn’t hide their changing age, they were either chucked out onto the reject pile – or else had to find a way to reinvent themselves. And here is one rather extreme way that two of Hollywood’s fading leading ladies went about it.
Ah…video game movies. They don’t have much of a good reputation, do they? Ever since video games became a thing in the 80s and 90s, movie studios have seen another potential medium to farm ideas from. Much like adapting from plays, musicals, books, comics, radio dramas etc. – basing a movie on a video game is always a tricky deal. Not a lot of video games have plots that lend themselves well to films. Fighting games or shooting games for example tend to only have the bare necessities of a plot – and the main draw is the gameplay rather than the story. And once you take away the player’s control, you’re left with a shallow story that no one wants to see. The flipside is to adapt a role playing game, which usually will have a deeper story – but that can have too much plot to cram into two hours. And we haven’t yet got to the stage where you can stretch a video game’s story across an entire franchise of films (though this year’s War Craft certainly seems to be trying). I don’t agree with the sentiment that all video game movies are terrible. Don’t hang me, but I think the first Resident Evil movie and both Tekken adaptations are quite decent – and I enjoyed War Craft more than I was expecting to. But you’ve probably guessed by now what my favourite video game movie actually is. If not, the title can clue you in.
The lyrics ending a song called ‘Sexhibition’ on Janet Jackson’s Damita Jo, the first album she released after the infamous Super Bowl controversy. Vilified because the world got a brief glimpse of her nipple on live TV, Janet seemed to be telling America something. She wasn’t the first victim of such controversy and she sure wouldn’t be the last. Female sexuality has always been a touchy subject among the general public. It seems as if there’s an impossible line somewhere, between complaints about objectification and straight-up slut shaming. Sigmund Freud was the one who coined the ‘Madonna-Whore Complex’ (or ‘Virgin-Whore Complex’ if you like) – where he noted that men were more aroused by prostitutes and mistresses than their wives. The reason? They respected their wives too much to think of them in sexual ways, thereby pigeonholing their wives into the ‘Madonna’ category – a female who is pure, chaste and virginal, and therefore a perfect mate. Girls who were too sexual got pigeonholed into the role of the ‘Whore’ – there to be ogled and arousing, and nothing else. To put it bluntly, good girls are chaste and bad girls are sexual. There have been countless works challenging this notion – notably the ballet Swan Lake, the novel Les Miserables and Christina Aguilera’s second album Stripped. But the one I’m interested in is the 1993 drama Sirens.
Cheesy blockbusters, who doesn’t love them? Critics usually. There’s guaranteed to be one film each year that leaves critics crying and pulling out their hair, while the Box Office numbers go right up. The Transformers movies are probably the shining example of this, while stuff like Fifty Shades of Grey is proof that female-oriented fare isn’t immune to this. Critics were actually rather kind to this particular piece. Roger Ebert in particular gave it a high rating – purely because of how fun it was. And that’s really all this movie was intended to be. It’s a loose remake of a 1932 horror film about a mummy being resurrected. But it has more in common with the likes of Raiders of the Lost Ark or the Tomb Raider video games. Essentially it’s running entirely on how much fun its audience is supposed to be having. I can remember quite vividly how I first saw it. The Mummy might be the only film on this list to have been first watched by me on a rainy day in a holiday complex in Spain – with a bunch of children crowded around a TV set. At the time we all thought we were so grown-up for getting to watch it (it had a 15-rating in the UK) – since the trailers had advertised it as a straight horror movie. Naturally there was much bragging about how we didn’t find it scary at all.
We have a film here that is based on one of the most notoriously sappy children’s books of all time. When I did my research and discovered that Disney adapted it, I rolled my eyes and went ‘of course.’ It was a similar reaction to the ones that critics had at the time. The book had a notorious reputation by the early 60s when it was put into production. And one critic said that in the hands of “the master of schmaltz”, it had the potential to be positively unbearable. But we really should not forget that – while plenty may condemn the man’s sentimental nature – Walt Disney was still a master storyteller. Although he did not direct or write this film, he still had a heavy involvement in it. He developed a special fondness for Pollyanna, and fell so in love with the final film that he refused to let any of the scenes be cut. At least according to word of mouth anyway. Despite low Box Office numbers, a few critics held this up as Disney’s best live action film yet. You can also thank this film for giving us child star Hayley Mills – who went on to star in the iconic The Parent Trap. So let’s get ready to play the Glad Game once again.