Sunday, February 28, 2016

"Eddie the Eagle"

 3.5 / 5 

Eddie the Eagle is the best feel-good film of 1990, a defiantly anachronistic little movie that takes the structure of every sports underdog movie ever made and doesn't even try to update it, proving that movie plots are a bit like building foundations: If they work, they work, don't argue about it.

Of course, you can build an ugly, ramshackle building on a solid foundation, and for every Chariots of Fire, Cool Runnings or Rudy created atop this particular story slab there's also a Bad News Bears Go to Japan, Rocky V or D3: The Mighty Ducks.

Eddie the Eagle hasn't just learned a key lesson from those inferior films, though, its characters utter that lesson over and over: You have to take it all seriously, you can't be arrogant about what you're doing, but if you're too proud of yourself, others will snigger at you.  It takes effort, determination and persistence to make a movie as earnest and crowd-pleasing as Eddie the Eagle.

Eddie the Eagle is also a refreshing reminder of how satisfying a movie can be when it only wants to tell a great story.  Eddie the Eagle has no Cinematic Universe to try to fit into, no saga to further, no mythology to square away with, so it can just down to the business of its story, which it does by almost immediately giving us a rapid-fire montage backed by a jaunty synthesized score.  Eddie the Eagle might as well have been made in 1988, not just set there.

It begins with young Eddie Edwards, a working-class British boy with braces on his knees, who's relentlessly taunted by everyone.  Even his own father thinks Eddie is ridiculous, especially the boy's oft-stated ambition to become an Olympic athlete.  And yet, here's a kid that won't give up, won't even consider it, and certainly doesn't know how awful he is at pretty much everything.  The little montage that more or less opens the movie provides some of its biggest laughs and sets the tone for everything else.  Eddie the Eagle knows exactly how deluded Eddie is and has no worries about playing that earnestness for laughs.

In his early 20s, Eddie may be slow and dim-witted, but he's not entirely without self-awareness -- the summer games will never work.  Ah, but the Winter Olympics remain an option!   The little problem that Eddie lacks any winter-sports skills offers no deterrence, and Taron Egerton (who was the best, cleverest element of last year's odd Kingsman: The Secret Service) finds exactly the right balance between determination and desperation, always leaving us wondering whether Eddie, in spite of his considerable charms, needs some help.

Almost on a whim, he selects the ski jump as his sport -- and comes to find out that, in fact, Britain hasn't had an Olympic ski jumper in many year.  The Olympic selection committee doesn't want him, though -- after all, he's been ski jumping all of two weeks.  But rules are rules, and the British rules say that if a ski jumper his the qualification mark, he makes the team -- or, in Eddie's case, he'll be team.

Nothing is going to dissuade Eddie, even the fact that the totality of his ski-jumping experience is a matter of minutes.  He/s up against Finns and Swedes and Norwegians and Germans who had done this their entire lives, who have been training since they were six.  One-time ski-jumping bad boy Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman) sees Eddie's addle-brained insistence and hesitatingly begins to coach him.

When Eddie ascends the biggest jump he's ever attempted in his single-minded quest to qualify, Eddie the Eagle does something pretty impressive: It makes you forget the formula and doubt the outcome, makes you hold your breath and wonder how it will all turn out.  As Eddie's unlikely quest progresses, the movie sweetly but relentlessly strikes at every possible emotional defense until there is no way to resist.  Maybe the most cynical will refrain from being moved by the last 15 minutes, but it's hard to see how.

Through its perfectly pitched chemistry between Egerton and Jackman -- both of whom are at their most gregarious -- its neon-colored Eighties vibe,  and its odd and unexpected story, Eddie the Eagle is engineered to do nothing more than please its audience.  And that's precisely what it does.

Viewed Feb. 27, 2016 -- AMC Burbank 16


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Fearless Oscar Predictions Available Here - CHEAP! GOOD QUALITY!

Here we go again.

The Oscars are on Sunday, and this year the awards seem like something of an afterthought.  Maybe they've just gotten overwhelmed by the other set of blustery egos on display in the media.  Politics are much more interesting, any way you slice it, than this year's Academy Awards.

Or maybe the seemingly endless effort to discredit the Oscars for being racially exclusive is having an effect.

I think, though, that it's bigger than that.  Ten, twenty, forty years ago, the Oscars were a big event for the entire world.  They were one of the few times everyone gathered together to talk about something they knew very little about; it didn't matter if it was the guy in the office who went to three movies a week or the woman who hadn't been to a movie in three years.  Everyone could find something to like about the Oscars, and it felt like a special occasion.  Now, those occasions happen literally every day.  Our long-ago office-mates, college pals and high-school crushes are part of our virtual lives on a daily basis.  In the social-media age, gathering around an event like Oscar seems less exciting, less glamorous than it used to be.

Or maybe no one really cared about this year's movies.  That's possible, too.  I mean, did you actually see movies like The Big Short and Room?  Judging by their box-office grosses: nope.

It's all of those things, it's none of those things, but the show will go on this year, and there might be a few surprises.  (Though I'm beginning to doubt it.)  With that, here are my reasonably considered, marginally well-informed guesses about who I think will be sleeping with Oscar come Sunday night ... and who I hope will be.

 WILL WIN The Revenant Spotlight
 SHOULD WIN Bridge of Spies
 WHY?  For a long while now, it's been assumed that Spotlight would take Best Picture.  It's a well-acted ensemble piece that explores an issue ripped from the headlines, but it just hasn't appealed to voters in a visceral way.  It's a movie to be admired for its acting, its writing, its subject matter, but less for its passion for moviemaking.  The Revenant has that in spades, and since Hollywood loves to crown its own royalty, Sunday offers a chance to do exactly that, by giving a film by Alejandro González Iñárritu the top prize for the second year in a row, after last year's vastly overrated, overblown, overbaked, over-lauded, over-rhapsodized Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).  If that movie seemed the completely wrong choice for Best Picture last year, The Revenant would not at all be a bad choice this year -- it's a technically masterful film, a fine movie made by true artists and craftsmen, whose visual splendor almost outweighs its intense, overwhelming violence and lack of an interesting plot.  It is the kind of movie the Academy loves to reward.  Almost completely overlooked, however, is the best film of the eight nominated, Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies, the director's best movie since Jurassic Park and Schindler's List.  (And I'd even argue that, emotion aside, it's a better film than Schindler's List.) Fast, provocative, insightful and impeccably made, of the eight films selected for consideration, it's the one that felt like the most fulfilling, satisfying movie.  It is the work of a mature master of the medium, one of his major works that is both a gripping story and a superior example of expert filmmaking.  It would have received my vote, even if it wasn't my favorite movie of the year.

 WILL WIN : Alejandro González Iñárritu for "The Revenant"
 SHOULD WIN Lenny Abrahamson for "Room"
 WHY?  There's no doubting the accomplishments of Iñárritu and his film.  If measured solely on a technical level, Iñárritu deserves it.  And, as noted earlier, The Revenant is a far superior film to Birdman.  Still, The Revenant left me wholly unmoved, something I can't say about Room.  Abrahamson's challenges were enormous -- no, they didn't involve the elements and lugging expensive equipment up and down mountains.  They involved using a tiny space to convey a world, finding a way to see the most depressing place imaginable as holding everything a little boy could possibly need, and using the space to show us the bleak and horrifying despair of the little boy's Ma.  Abrahamson did extraordinary things in Room, but didn't need CG effects or $90 million budget to do it -- he needed creative vision, technical know-how, and the emotional heft of a director who could take an unknown young actor and have an entire film turn on his believability.  Room is a good movie, but Abrahamson is a spectacular director.

 WILL WIN : Sylvester Stallone for "Creed" (Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies)
 SHOULD WIN Mark Rylance for "Bridge of Spies"
 WHY?  Stallone has the nostalgia vote, for sure, and he does deliver a knock-out performance (sorry, couldn't resist) in Creed.  It's a different, battered, saddened vision of Rocky Balboa, but also one that regains the character's nobility and sense of purpose in a beautiful way.  The last thing I'd do is complain if Stallone does indeed win.  But Rylance: Wow.  He creates a character so unexpected, humorous, sympathetic and rich that is one of the reasons Bridge of Spies works so spectacularly well.  His vision of convicted Soviet spy Rudolf Abel stands in direct contrast to everything we've always been told spies are -- and yet, you never lose the sense that beneath his quiet exterior and humble civility, he could be dangerous.  Rylance's Abel is just a guy doing a job, trying to make a living like anyone else, and suffers the foolishness around him with a heaving sigh.  Rylance is at the very center of Bridge of Spies, he holds the movie together, and he's spectacularly good.

 WILL WIN Kate Winslet for "Steve Jobs" (Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl)
 SHOULD WIN Rooney Mara for "Carol"
 WHY?  Winslet provides the only identifiably human presence in Steve Jobs, a movie that I have a suspicion the Academy is eager to reward somehow.  She's good in the role, despite an accent that seems to come and go.  Winslet is the name on the ballot that likely seems irresistible to voters, and a win wouldn't be completely undeserved -- but it would come at the expense of the tremulous, touching, achingly real performance by Rooney Mara in Carol.  Mara has always felt like something of a shadow on screen, never quite coming fully into her own, even when playing a role like Lisbeth Salander.  It's been hard to figure out exactly who she is.  That evasiveness becomes a strong point in Carol, as she plays a character who seems certain that her whole life could just disappear at any moment, so quiveringly unsure of herself that she comes to represent much more than a lesbian woman in love in the 1950s -- she comes to represent the aching emotional vulnerability of anyone in love, ever.  Hers is an elegant, exquisite performance, and maybe just a bit too genteel, a bit too lacking in flash, to generate the support it deserves.

 WILL WIN : Leonardo DiCaprio for "The Revenant"
 SHOULD WIN : Matt Damon for "The Martian"
 WHY?  Sadly, this is one of the least intriguing set of performances selected by the Academy in a long time, but there were surprisingly few truly standout male performances overall.  DiCaprio has the edge for the sheer physical intensity of and commitment to his role.  Trouble is, there's not much character to play.  The Academy will have a hard time resisting DiCaprio this time around, especially since it overlooked him twice for roles that were more deserving: Howard Hughes in The Aviator and Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street.  In an Oscar year with few absolute certainties, this is one them.  But the more nuanced and complex performance among this group belongs, in my mind, to Matt Damon, who brought a sunny optimism to The Martian -- and had to find a way to sustain that happy sense of self while frequently being the only person on screen.  His version of Mark Watney was heroic -- and simple heroism, not of the super- kind, is rare in movies these days -- but also physically demanding and emotionally intense.  Damon took an incredibly difficult part and made it look astonishingly easy.  Maybe too easy for the Academy.

 WILL WIN Brie Larson for "Room"
 SHOULD WIN Saoirse Ronan for "Brooklyn"
 WHY?  Here's a tough one: Brie Larson was extraordinary in Room -- almost as extraordinary as her co-star, the not-nominated Jacob Tremblay.  She found depth, humanity and beauty in the role, while bringing the same sort of "looks-easy-but-isn't" approach to it as Damon did in The Martian.  In any other year, she deserves the Oscar and more for her incredible work.  But Soairse Ronan in Brooklyn reminded us that it's still possible for an actress to be a movie star, for a single personality to carry not simply the film -- but the heart.  Ronan creates an old-fashioned movie heroine and anchors a sweeping melodrama that's almost impossibly entertaining.  Eilis Lacey becomes, to my mind, one of the screen's truly great female characters by the end of Brooklyn.  In Room, Larson creates a performance to deeply admire; in Brooklyn, Ronan creates a performance to fall in love with.

 WILL WIN The Big Short
 WHY?  The Big Short is the Academy's opportunity to prove it's relevant -- and this year, more than ever, the Academy needs to feel relevant.  I know lots of people who loved The Big Short, but I wasn't one of them. I enjoyed it, but the screenplay became muddled and confusing just when it needed to be most clear, and I thought it better as a fictionalized lesson in modern economics than as a drama.  Carol is a movie, a grand and glorious movie, unashamed of its old-fashioned squareness -- and proud of blending that with its modern sensibilities and perspectives.  It's a rare movie, one that is both elegant and heartfelt, and its circular construction emphasizes its emotion.  It's not flashy and wordy and clever like The Big Short; it uses its words sparingly, emphasizes action over exposition, and reveals its characters beautifully.

 WILL WIN  Spotlight
 SHOULD WIN Ex Machina
 WHY?  Again, headlines will trump art, as frequently happens at the Oscars.  Spotlight went into Oscar season as the movie to beat, but it's lost a tremendous amount of traction.  It's hard to justify its solid workmanship as one of the year's truly great achievements, but words on a page -- the very thing that Spotlight impressively glorifies -- will be the area the Academy can't overlook.  Still, for true originality, for a movie unlike any other, Ex Machina does things most films never even attempt: It creates a vision of a reality not far removed from ours, grounds that reality in its own rules, and creates a cat-and-mouse thriller so intriguing that viewing it multiple times only begins to unravel some of its mysteries.  It's a stunning achievement in originality, and the most intriguing, if not the best, screenplay of the year.

 WILL WIN Inside Out
 SHOULD WIN Anomalisa
 WHY?  How can you deny Joy, Sadness, Anger and their pals?  How can you consider any animated film other than Inside Out as the best of the year?  Don't get me wrong: It's a lovely movie, and a lot of fun.  But you've never seen an animated movie like Anomalisa.  Very possibly, you never may again.  It's a potent, spectacular reminder that any cinematic medium -- animation, live-action, 3-D -- only provides a base from which to work.  What filmmakers do from that base varies wildly, and while there have been many admirable attempts to create a genuinely adult-oriented animated film in the past, none has been as downright perfect as Anomalisa, a movie that actually expands the definition of the entire medium of animation, making us reconsider what we know if its possibilities.  Both as a technical achievement and an emotional one, Anomalisa is one of the very best movies of the year, and the only one I saw that actively, aggressively takes filmmaking into a new direction.


Best Foreign Language Film: Son of Saul

Best Documentary FeatureAmy

Best Documentary Short Subject A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness

Best Costume DesignCarol (Winner: Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Film EditingMad Max: Fury Road

Best Cinematography The Revenant

Best Makeup/Hair Styling Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Original ScoreEnnio Morricone, The Hateful Eight

Best Original Song: "Till It Happens to You" "Writing's on the Wall"

Best Sound Editing Sicario Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Sound MixingThe Revenant Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Visual EffectsStar Wars: The Force Awakens Ex Machina

Best Production Design Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Animated Short Film Sanjay's Super Team Bear Story

Best Live Action Short Film: Everything Will Be OK ("Alles Wird Gut") Stutterer

So, let's see on Sunday night how I do.  I'm hoping I do much better than last yera's woeful 58% accuracy rate.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Catching Up: "Crimson Peak"

 1.5 / 5 

Neither scary enough to be terrifying nor brooding enough to be gothic, Crimson Peak can't be faulted for having its sights set too low.  Director Guillermo del Toro is trying to do a lot, beginning with reviving an entire genre, but good intentions aside, it's a remarkable failure on most levels.

Flashback a few years: My mother, who at the time was in her late 70s, could barely be pried away from her computer during a holiday visit.  The source of her obsession was a video game called Return to Ravenhearst, in which players wander around a large and spooky haunted house and gather clues to the mystery of the murder that happened in the mansion so many years ago.

The object of the game was to look for hidden objects, like a computer-age version of the old Highlights for Children puzzles.  When you found them all, you'd unlock a puzzle that would give you another piece of the clue.  The game took hours and hours to play, and every once in a while there would be a scratchy "vintage" recording or an eerie "antique" photo that revealed more of the mystery.  You'd find a locked trunk and need to search for the key, and inside there would be a letter written years ago that helped get to the truth of the terrible, dark secrets lurking in the mansion.

Crimson Peak is not, to the best of my knowledge, based in any way on Return to Ravenhearst, the game that so enthralled my senior-citizen mother, but it might as well be.  And the movie would be a lot better if at key points you had to walk up to the screen and find some hidden objects before moving on to the next scene -- at least the activity would keep you awake and act as an antidote to the movie's deadly dull pacing, impossibly stilted dialect and wooden acting.

Much of its first hour is endless exposition, with characters explaining their roles, their functions, their relations to each other.  One of them is named Edith Cushing (aha! an in-joke!), an aspiring young author in an age when women are not encouraged to write.  Edith (Mia Wasikowska) meets Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), a pasty-faced-but-swoonable Brit who is visiting America with his sister, Mrs. Danvers-- er, I mean, Lucille (Jessica Chastain, proving that, no, she actually can't play every role convincingly).  Thomas wants money.  Edith's father has lots of it but won't give it to him.  A private investigator uncovers a dark secret.  Edith's father throws the baggage out.

But, in the film's one hideously unsettling scene of ultra-graphic violence -- so shocking it doesn't fit anything else in the film -- Esther's father is murdered.  She is the sole heir.  Thomas wants to marry her and take her back to England.

Did I mention, perhaps, that years ago the ghoulish-looking ghost of Edith's mother visited her and left her with three words: "Beware Crimson Peak"?  Oh, yeah, well, that happened.  But the ghosts in these movies are generally terrible communicators, they say and do nothing helpful, and their cryptic messages look more like bad performance art.

Esther goes off to live with Thomas and Lucille in their manor.  Seems odd Thomas forgot to mention a few things to Edith, like the fact that their grand mansion doesn't have a roof, so the leaves and snow just fall right in; or that it's on top of a deposit of blood-red clay; or that if she finds the bird, the frog, the trumpet and the pocket-watch hidden in the next picture she can take a key off of Lucille's key ring and go open the door to the room downstairs.  OK, that last part doesn't  happen, but it should -- anything to move the plot along.

Let me just tell you a few other things that happen in Crimson Peak: Lucille is always trying to warm up Edith by giving her some tea from a particular container.  Edith starts to cough up blood. Edith finds the aforementioned trunk.  Edith discovers some wax recording cylinders.  Elsewhere, she finds a device to play them on (how convenient!) Edith catches her husband doing something rather unsavory.  Edith sees ghosts, who mostly point their fingers at different areas of the house for no particular reason.

Somewhere in all of this, there's also (allegedly) a love story, but it's as weak as the rest of the plot.  Will Edith escape?  Will she learn the truth of Crimson Peak?  Will the ghosts ever just say something?

None of it really much matters.  It moves at such a glacial pace and with such stilted dialogue, overwrought acting and lavish costuming that, on the practical level, you have to wonder who the filmmakers thought would want to see this movie.

Older adults, who might remember similar movies like Gaslight and Rebecca have no interest in lavish visual effects and extreme violence.  Del Toro's core fan base likes to see his splendidly designed monsters and his singular visions, but both of those are muted here.  Horror fans will be turned off by the endless exposition and turn of the century manners.

Devoid of humor, lacking a strong narrative, and empty of visual majesty,  Del Toro's intention to create a firecracker of a melodrama just sits there and refuses to go off.  Crimson Peak is a dud. If only it had some of those hidden pictures.

Viewed Feb. 15, 2016 -- VOD


 4 / 5 

What a weird, wonderful little #humblebrag of a movie Deadpool is.  It wants to pretend it isn't trying so damn hard to please us, and hopes it's coming across as anarchic and subversive -- but, in fact, once you get past the graphic sexual references and even more graphic violence, Deadpool embodies the zippy sense of fun and lighthearted silliness that is missing from the recent wave of big, bloated superhero movies.

Yes, Deadpool is sometimes big and bloated itself, particularly in a final showdown whose purpose and setting mostly mystified me, but I didn't much care by that point; Deadpool had won me over with its casual tone and its flippant attitude.

After the endless and mindless attacks on every possible sense that have come with the slew of Marvel and DC movies, Deadpool harkens back to what made the granddaddy of all modern superhero movies, Richard Donner's 1978 Superman: The Movie.  Like that film, everything rides on the buff shoulders of its star, in this case Ryan Reynolds, who has apparently learned well from his previous foray into comic-books stuff.

For a large part of the movie, Reynolds plays Deadpool behind a mask, a liability that he turns into a pliable, expressive and expressive part of his performance.  It's the sort of acting that never earns awards, but probably should, Deadpool manages to generate a wider range of honest emotions than most awards contenders.

Bear in mind, this is coming from someone who finds little to enjoy about superhero movies and has come to deplore on-screen violence; to find so much to enjoy in an ultra-violent superhero movie is a complete surprise, but Deadpool works because it follows the most basic rules of moviemaking -- it puts rich, memorable characters into a solid story. (Plus, it's not in 3-D, so extra points for that.)

Following that story is a bit tricky at first, since Deadpool begins midway through its plot.  My fear that it would assume the audience knew all there was to know about its main character -- the biggest liability of the labyrinthine, confusing Avengers movies -- proved unfounded.  Deadpool starts where it does because it's the best and most interesting place to begin, then moves back and forth through its story in ways that show off its central character best.

Deadpool is, of course, an origin story; then again, what good movie isn't?  In general (though not specifically), it begins at the beginning, starting us off in the fictional world where the X-Men are superheroes.  "Oh, no," I thought as I watched, "it's a spin-off."  No worries.  It is and it isn't.  If you don't know what X-Men are, why did you choose to see Deadpool anyway?

In dribs and drabs, Deadpool weaves back and forth through the story of Wade Wilson, a former soldier who leads a pathetic, bitter life as a sort of hitman for people who can't afford hit men -- he doesn't kill his victims, just their self-esteem.  Before he turns into Deadpool, Wade knows he's a big loser in a dead-end life and adopts a cynical, pop-culture-heavy patter that he continues when he dresses in the leotard.  His bitter humor is the guiding force of the movie, and yet it never comes cross as angry or mean, just appropriately sardonic.

Wilson falls in love with a woman who doesn't mind at all that he's sort of a loser.  Then ... well, look, the plot points are as incidental to the movie as they were to Superman.  It's a film rich with story but not heavy with it like the other super hero movies, and the most interesting thing is that the best parts of the plot are the ones where people are actually talking to each other.  How many superhero movies can you say that about?

It does, of course, all lead to a scientific experiment gone horribly wrong, one that results not only in Wilson becoming tragically disfigured, donning a suit and naming himself Deadpool, but also introduces the arch-villain, a guy whose name is known to most comic-book fans, I guess, but was such a ticklish surprise to me throughout the movie that I don't want to spoil it.

But all of Deadpool was that kind of a surprise, so much so that I was willing to forgive its overstuffed climax and the murky motives of its bad guy and instead focus on its spirit.  Sure, it's needlessly violent, obsessed with sex, and so cocky that there are moments when you want to reach out and slap it -- but that's exactly what Deadpool would want you to do, so instead you just smile, shrug and go along with it.

Viewed Feb. 15, 2016 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks


Monday, February 8, 2016

Favorite Films: "The Black Hole"

What would the Right Honorable the Lord Alfred Tennyson made of Disney's 1979 sci-fi extravaganza The Black Hole?

It was Tennyson, after all, who wrote: "'Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all."  And if you were a boy of anywhere from, say, 5 to 25, in the summer of 1979, you were hopelessly in love with the promise of The Black Hole.

Disney's first PG-rated movie!  (Back when "PG" meant you had to ask mom and dad first.)

Disney's version of Star Wars!

Robots and spaceships and "a journey that begins where everything ends"!

No, this wasn't love.  It was lust.  It was the closest any of us (probably even the guys in their 20s) had come to feeling that sort of physical need to see a movie, to learn everything there was to know about it.  We waited by the mailbox for our next copy of Starlog, where more of its secrets would be revealed.  My father, a Disney shareholder, offered to take me to the 1977 annual meeting specifically so I could learn more about The Black Hole (and, incidentally, EPCOT Center).

Looking back, there were some warning signs.  The story was never reported the same way twice.  Concept art seemed to differ from month to month.  Long articles from people who went to the set were filled with lots of technical details -- but nothing about the plot itself.  Never mind.  It was all going to be made right.  After all, in the hearts of those of us who had grown up on Disney, it was Disney, not that George Lucas guy, who should have made Star Wars.  That was a Disney movie, like Treasure Island or In Search of the Castaways, an adventure movie through and through, set in space.  So, if Disney were to try to out-do Star Wars, well, there was every reason to believe they could do it!  Disney could do anything!

Except, that is, make good movies, as Charley and the Angel and The North Avenue Irregulars and No Deposit, No Return and One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing proved. Those were the movies Disney was making.  And then there was The Black Hole.

The Black Hole was going to erase all of those old memories!  Disney movies would no longer be just the ones at the 75-cent kiddie matinees ... Disney movies would play at real movie theaters where real grown-ups went.  And three weeks before it opened, I begged by father to please stop at the Fashion Valley 4 theaters and pick up tickets for opening night.  My friend John Cooley and I wanted to go.  My dad could even go with us, if he wanted!  But I was sure the movie would sell out, and I had to be there opening night.

To alleviate some of the pre-opening tension, I made a presentation to the class about what The Black Hole was going to be.  If Disney marketing had used my presentation, they would have had a hit on their hands.  I sold every seventh-grader at Emerald Jr. High School on seeing The Black Hole.  Or at least the ones in Miss Ostermeyer's English class.

We got to the theater on Friday, Dec. 21.  Two weeks earlier, Star Trek: The Motion Picture had opened, and it had the area's biggest 70mm single-screen auditorium all booked up.  We had a 150-seat theater converted into a multiplex.  It was one of those ultra narrow shoeboxes that weirdly angled up toward the front.  The Black Hole had, in a nutshell, been booked into the crappiest movie theater in the area.

We watched the movie.  Even as a kid, I knew the lips weren't matching the words, a problem I learned much later related to a process called Automated Dialogue Replacement, or "looping."  The actors were supposed to recite the lines they read on set, but they did it sloppily.  They did it without any sense of urgency or nuance in their voices.

I could see the strings on V.I.N.Cent and Old BOB.  I couldn't figure out what purpose V.I.N.Cent was meant to serve (other than "to educate" Charlie Pizer).  The story almost immediately launched into how the space crew used ESP to communicate to robots, which seemed entirely unreliable and stupid to me even then.

The visual effects ran hot and cold.  In one key scene, the heroes of the story are sent to the bridge of the mad scientist, and they see his drone soldiers painting some pretty-colored orbs.  But ... why?  It's been thirty-seven years, it's about damn time someone told me what these are!

The scientist wants to keep the exploring astronauts aboard his ship, which is parked on the edge of a gigantic black hole, even though parking a ship on the edge of a gigantic black hole is, I'm guessing, stretching the limits of even cinematic credulity.

They try to escape.  The mad scientist won't let them.  He gets his robot soldiers working for him.  If Star Wars stormtroopers were sleek, exciting, militarized, The Black Hole's metal guards were more like some newfangled gas-station attendants.  They're slow, awkward ASIMO before ASIMO was invented.  In the movie, they don't do anything and they're terrible shots.  Based solely on their gunslinging ability, I would say the entire model should be retired.

Then a meteor comes and hits the ship, which suddenly appears to be made out of fabric.  It's a cool scene, but why is the metal girding on the ship billowing?  The good guys get away.  But the ship they're using to leave has been pre-programmed by the mad scientist to to into the black hole.  "In.  Through.  And beyond," as Capt. Reinhardt (Maximilian Schell) says, in one of the most halting line readings in history.  By the time he gets to "and beyond," it's hard to know if he remembered what he started saying.

They all end up going through the black hole.  Guess where it leads?  Heaven!  They die!  Or, for the bad guys, hell!  They die!  Yes, the great mystery of what's behind The Black Hole seems to be, "death," but a very highly production-designed death, half of which looks like a football commercial for antacid, half of which looks like a commercial for hair spray that promises a heavenly look.

The movie still manages to set things up for a sequel.  I think we'll be waiting a very long time.

This movie stinks.  It's a terrible film.  There is no way to possible recommend it in any sort of objective way.

And yet ... you never stop loving your first love.

You never forget just why your first love made you swoon in such a specific way.  You never forget the promise of a life together.

Inherent in The Black Hole, in every single frame of this movie, those promises still exist.  I watch it three or four times a year and expect every single time that somehow it will be a better movie, as if just by letting it sit and rest, it might have taken on the flavors and spices of all of its better ingredients.

It doesn't.  And The Black Hole remains a most decidedly awful (or at least thuddingly dull) film.

Yet it belongs on this list.  To this very day, 36 years and two months later, I see it now only as I saw it then -- rife with the promise of taking me to this incredible place on the edge of a black hole. I see those computer-generated grid-lines in the credits, hear John Barry's haunting minor-key orchestral score, look at the amazing computer-font opening credits and ... I once again enter my eternal state of optimism, the state of hope around The Black Hole that will never die, all evidence to the contrary.

So, I must speak now directly to the film.  After all these years, I have some things I need to say.

The Black Hole, you are a great film. You are one of my favorite films.  I swear you are.

Quit letting me down!

Let me live with your memory.

It's there in that memory that you take on the best possible version of yourself, the one that I can still imagine.  Within your actual celluloid walls, you offer astonishing vistas, unparalleled design, remarkable ideas.  And despite what you actually are, you've also left me with a Black Hole Rubik's cube -- I can shape and reshape you in any way I want, but I can never solve  you.  I can take your best and worst elements and I can warp and reorder them into an unlimited number of possibilities.  One of them, one day, might even be exactly the movie I wish you actually were.

You are a terrible film, The Black Hole.  You were the movie I loved and lost.

And you also hold a place in the exalted ranks of the greats.  Even if you hold that place only for me.

Thank you, The Black Hole, for being so terribly wonderful.