We all have our “thing.” For my brother, it’s football. For one of my friends, it’s all about her son. For my kid, it’s dance. Me? Movies. This is about my love of movies and how it came, went, came back again, and where it now resides.
The first movie I can ever remember seeing in a theater was The Aristocats. Hey, give me a break. I was 8-years old. It wasn’t my choice. My older cousin took my sister and me (not I) to Radio City Music Hall for the premiere. We stood outside, Christmas Eve 1970, and waited hours for the next show before I was finally blown away by not just the first real theater but the first real movie I had ever seen. When I got home, I struggled to find the words necessary to explain to my mother what I had seen. She only needed to say, “I know what you mean.” That was the beginning of something special.
From then on, movies were the strength of a special and sparse bond between us. Up in the New York area, and likely other places, we had something called The ABC Sunday Night Movie. Few Sunday nights passed when my mother and I were not in front of the TV watching Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter, or Steve McQueen in The Great Escape. Few holidays passed when we were not watching Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments, Laurel and Hardy in March of the Wooden Soldiers, or Roy Scheider in Jaws. It was our thing. We didn’t really have much else. My father was a macho sports guy. I was a nerd. We didn’t get along. My older sister played softball and likely would have played football if the school had allowed it. My younger brothers played, well, everything. So while my father kind of hung with them, my mother and I watched movies – and not for a second would I have complained.
I remember very clearly my first date. To save her the embarrassment, I won’t mention her name, but we went to a movie: Raiders of the Lost Ark. To this day I doubt she realizes how lucky she was, not because of me but to have seen such a fabulous film. I also remember the night of my high school graduation. Despite the support my two favorite aunts, I failed to convince my father to give me the car. I just wanted to see The Empire Strikes Back, but he was convinced I was going to get drunk at a graduation party. When his final word was still “no,” I had a friend pick me up, and then I got drunk at a graduation party.
Right about then came the first of two miracles in the form of nine letters: HBO, VHS, VCR. First, a cable guy knocked on our door and offered movies 24/7. Then came a gift from the techno-gods so that we could buy or rent films on tape or record the movies shown too late at night. Unfortunately, just as film technology was bringing so many titles into our living room, she died. Dammit. Of course, the greatest tragedy was the death of a mother, my mother, who had not yet reached 50. Additionally sad, she was a great film fan and educator who just missed out on being able to enjoy pretty much any film at any time she wanted. Had she been alive today, my movie knowledge and appreciation would be even greater. Fortunately, she gave me a good head start. She gave me a path out, a means to escape, a way to find a better moment when the current moment might suck. We all need an occasional escape, but not all escapes are healthy. Not all escapes leave you with something good, something to learn from and take with you.
Fast forward to college, getting a real job, marriage, and kids. My interest in film softened because I moved far from home and friends. I was surrounded by unfamiliar people, and expectations were that I would grow up. Hmmpf. So, my movie interest, and writing interest, kind of faded.
At work, I met a guy named Bob. Cool guy with a great interest in movies. We had regular film discussions during lunch, and we were eventually called “Siskel & Ebert” by staff. Bob was built more like the late Roger Ebert, in case you were wondering. I was on my way to being as “shiny” as Gene Siskel. My film interest was returning.
I had learned that it’s not easy to be a film aficionado yourself. You need others, a give-and-take of thought and opinion. Bob and I had some great film arguments, most notably about Apocalypse, Now! Bob hated it, and I had to convince him it was a great film. When I learned that Bob was a Vietnam Vet, I realized why he hated it – it reminded him of his own, real war experience. A good/great film reaches inside you and gets an emotional and/or physical level. Even if you despise how you feel, the film still must have done something right. On the other hand, a bad film leaves you with nothing, no feeling at all that you wasted two hours and $12. Bob agreed that he needed to give Apocalypse, Now! another chance. He did, he agreed, and I won that debate. Years later came another miracle for film – the Internet.
At first, it wasn’t worth much other than static text and online conversation, including email and junk email. Roger Ebert, a big user of CompuServe (a predecessor to AOL), put it best back in 1996 when he wrote that too much time on the Internet “is devoted to undergraduates telling each other they suck.” Yet ten years after, while both the Internet and myself struggled through some growing pains, my love for movies and Mr. Ebert’s complaints about bandwidth usage caused both of us to collide.
I had toyed with blogging. Without much direction, I just wrote about whatever random things had come to me, such as hot dogs, ADD/ADHD, commercials, scientific studies on alcohol, just a potpourri of things that were stuck in my craw. One particular post was about Michael Jackson, specifically the incident in which his hair was burned off in an alleged accident while filming a Pepsi commercial. I contended that the whole thing was a hoax, and you can read about it here.
Now let me explain why this is important. Shortly before I had written that post, I had discovered Roger Ebert.com on which, of course, was an unequivocal catalogue of film reviews, interviews, and commentary. Additionally, he also had a blog on which he too wrote essays about random things that piqued his curiosity. I read feverishly to catch up on his posts from early 2008 up to, at that point, late in 2009. I left occasional comments and questions not just on his film reviews but also his essays, specifically those that questioned the origins of the Universe and the debate of Creationism.
Here’s where it gets good.
In September of 2009 Ebert wrote about what he reads on the Internet in a post called The Blogs of My Blog. I was quite surprised that in a group of about ten writers, I was one of them. You can’t imagine, or maybe you can, how thrilled I was that my stupid blog about random nothing was selected by Ebert as one of ten interesting places on the vastness of the Internet. Specifically, it was my post about Michael Jackson that caught his attention and provoked him to re-think MJ’s claims of how his hair disappeared. Some things just work out that way.
As a kid, I waited each week to hear Siskel & Ebert talk about movies. Thirty years later, I find that Ebert had come around to read what I was writing about – anything. That brought me back to movies again. In doing so, I found a very cool blog called Andy Watches Movies. Andy was in the process of watching and reviewing 300 movies during 2012. I offered my opinions of his chosen films, and for the first time in a long time I had recaptured the fun in taking about movies. So between Ebert and Andy, and with my own love of film and my passion for writing, I thought, “Why aren’t I writing film reviews?” That gave my blog a new dimension.
Shortly after finding Andy’s film reviews, it was time for Ebertfest, Roger Ebert’s annual film festival for what he believed were films that had not gotten the attention they deserved. The first film on the first day of the festival was Joe Versus the Volcano, with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. It was also my first film review. Not a very good one, but we all have to start somewhere. Eventually, with Andy’s help and Ebert’s encouragement, I watched and wrote more and more about film. Then Andy left a comment about a friend named Nick who was starting a website about films, reviews, and other things. He added that Nick was looking for writers to join his site and that I should check it out. Thanks to Andy, I found The Cinematic Katzenjammer. I also rediscovered movie fun.
The CK is not just reporting on film. It’s got attitude. As I have stressed to other writers, anyone can claim a movie is good or bad – but not anyone can say why, and that’s what bugs me about most film reviews. If you’re going to tell me that the director or actor did a great job, you better tell me why. Tell me what you saw, why it was significant, and then prove it. This is partly why I like the feature called Reasons Why, because it makes a claim and backs it up.
On the CK, you’ll find the Trailer Park, in which you’re teased about up-coming films, stars, and projects in the works. Pick Six is a short list of the best or worst of certain categories, such as war films, Tom Hanks films, remakes, horror films, and much more.
There’s the DVD Court, which offers thoughts about whether to Buy, Rent, Skip, or Burn certain new DVD releases. On the Wall takes a critical look at movie posters. Hey, there’s no doubt that movie posters count as art. Some are better than others, but all are a warning shot, advanced notice of what’s coming, and one of the first steps towards a film’s success.
Katz Corner asks questions of you. How do you watch movies? Theater? Netflix? DVD? What do you think of certain actors, 3D, or IMAX? News is just that. News about casting choices, films getting – or not getting – sequels, who has signed on with – or off of – projects in development, and what’s going on in the rumor mill.
Of course, the guts of the CK can be found in the reviews, which are handled by various writers. Nick provides the most consistent, straight-forward delivery of what works and doesn’t work in most new releases. He’s seen more films that anyone I know, and he knows what he’s talking about. Good luck challenging him. Vivek is a big fan of all things super. Superhero, that is. I seriously think he believes Ironman is a better film than Citizen Kane. And don’t get him started on Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit. Well, on second thought, go right ahead and get him started. The problem will be stopping him. If you ask his opinion of Superman, it will take him four paragraphs to say “great.”
Also among the other reviewers is – me. I don’t write there often, but that’s because I’m not a young, dashing, single guy who can run out to the theater on a whim. My thing is more about older films that you might have missed from many years back. There are other writers, and I encourage you to read a little bit from everyone.
My point in all these 2,000 words is that there are not many qualified websites or people who can have an educated conversation about movies, but not many means there are some. And of the some, the best one is The Cinematic Katzenjammer. Go there. Browse around. The extensive reviews are only surpassed by the extensive rambling of opinions, but that’s a good thing. There are enough writers with enough variety in their backgrounds, likes, and dislikes that you’ll always find both a sympathetic ear and a provocative bite.
Go there. Read things. Leave your opinions, especially your disagreements because as I always say, we don’t learn anything from agreement. Disagreement means there’s a chance that one of us will change his or her opinion and learn something new.
And that’s a good thing.