Top 20 Movie “Jaws.”

Everything started with the disappearance of a skinny-dipping blonde off the coast of Amity Island in coastal New England. Amity’s Chief of Police Martin Brody, played by Roy Scheider, had perhaps the second biggest boat for those whose careers were launched in the 15th movie on our Top 20 Movies in ranked order listing, Jaws (1975).

The movie Jaws offered perhaps the biggest career boost to highly influential producer, writer, director, and actor Steven Spielberg. At the time that Jaws was do to be made, Spielberg undoubtedly was on the rise. He was selected to direct the cinema worthy of the marketing buzz created for Peter Benchley’s 1974 book Jaws. As the Turner Classic Movie (TCM) telling informs us, producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown had acquired rights for producing a movie from Benchley’s book. Spielberg, who has earned much influence in the film industry, was their directorial choice.

We as the audience get to know Amity police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) best. Much of Jaws is told from Brody’s perspective, and we wind up rooting for him as the hero.

Brody is pitted against two primary antagonists.

The first and obvious antagonist is the main attraction…the Great White Shark that brought people to the movie theater. Perhaps the iconic quote of the movie comes when Jaws (the shark) is battling Brody and fellow protagonist, boat-owner, and seaman Quint (played by Robert Shaw). Brody spoke the quote to Quint:

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

I personally admire the popularity and resonance of the quote, in addition for the context that prompted it. Part of that context is the second main antagonist.  Amity Island’s money-obsessed, safety-last Mayor Larry Vaughn, played by Murray Hamilton, partially responds to outside pressure from the business community in advocating for maintaining an open beachfront around the lucrative Independence Day timeframe. After all, this middle-of-summer period is when people travel to the tourist town of Amity Island for sand, water, lodging, and tourism.

In the midst of this, and after the death of the skinny dipping lady to start the movie, a boy is attacked by the shark we know to be Jaws. Richard Dreyfuss plays Matt Hooper, an oceanographer fascinated with sharks who hired Quint to hunt and kill that shark that had staked a claim to Amity Island.

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The building tension and focus on the main story line of the killer shark, the reluctant mayor, and the struggle to kill a shark swimming around Amity Island is aided by a famous soundtrack created by renowned composer John Williams. In providing the compelling theme song to Jaws, Williams‘ music is as much of a character in the movie as the characters, the tension, and the shark.

In the heat of the fight to close the beach, the film Jaws and its director (Spielberg) are given a tip of the cap in the naming of Bryan Singer’s production company. Chief Brody responds to an elderly gentleman teasing Brody for not going in the water. As Mental Floss explains, the elderly man is Harry, he is wearing an ugly swimming cap, and the line itself is this:

“That’s some bad hat, Harry.”

Bad Hat Harry Productions goes on to produce House M.D. (2004-2012) and The Usual Suspects (1995).

Steven Spielberg has won Academy Awards for Best Director for Saving Private Ryan (1998) and Best Picture and Best Director for Schindler’s List (1993). He also won Best Director Golden Globes for both of those films.

As we are reminded by this Five Thirty Eight article, the opening of Jaws (1975) in June of that year is considered “the beginning of the era of the Hollywood summer blockbuster.” If you haven’t already seen this movie, you really should.

Matt – Friday, February 10, 2017

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Elie Wiesel’s “Night” is psychologically graphic and necessary

Elie Wiesel’s Night was an emotionally difficult book to read. The psychological torture of Wiesel’s experience, and so many others like him that had it as bad or worse (not sure what might be worse … American slavery seems at least similar in context and cruelty). That this happened during the lifetime of people I grew up loving brings this particular account and atrocity closer to home; that is likely about anchoring.

The legitimate nightmare and anguish of Elie Wiesel’s experience is psychologically graphic and horrifying. Descriptions including psychologically graphic and horrifying make this book both a necessary and compelling reading. It’s a bit disappointing that my seventh-grade class had us read Seth McEvoy’s Batteries Not Included. This isn’t to diminish McEvoy’s effort; my point is that seventh grade seems like a reasonable time to expose children to questions involving historical and emotional literacy.

For illuminating something for scrutiny that needs to be seen, this book earns 4.5-stars. That the brutality indicated by Wiesel in Night occurred really spells out the crime of what Erik Larson wrote about in his book In the Garden of Beasts.

Matt – Monday, February 6, 2017

Top 20 Movie “The Terminator.”

Canadian-born director, producer, and writer James Cameron has directed 13-movies to date with a total worldwide box office estimated at more than 6.2-billion United States Dollars by The Numbers, a website established to project and ultimately track movie sales and box office revenue in a systematic way. Cameron won Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Film Editing Oscars for Titanic (1997), a film that does not appear in the Matt Lynn Digital listing of Top 20 Movies.

The sole James Cameron movie to break into the Top 20 listing is The Terminator (1984), a film that stars Arnold SchwarzeneggerMichael Biehn, and Linda Hamilton. As actors, each is known for this movie franchise more than any other, though Schwarzenegger had success before and after that eclipsed that of the other two. The Terminator also is the movie that brought Cameron the prominence that would allow for Avatar (2009)Titanic (1997), and Aliens (1986).

As articulated in the Internet Movie Database summary, The Terminator offers an original premise of time travel, a nebulous cause and effect premise that works for this film, and a science-fiction premise with intrigue that allowed an entry into a sequel that makes for a dynamic two-movie punch.

As pertains strictly to The Terminator, you get:

A seemingly indestructible humanoid cyborg is sent from 2029 to 1984 to assassinate a waitress, whose unborn son will lead humanity in a war against the machines, while a soldier from that war is sent to protect her at all costs.

As indicated above, the movie takes place mainly in 1984 … in the city of Los Angeles. Schwarzenegger is a cyborg assassin called a “Terminator,” and his mission is to prevent the birth of human resistance fighter John Connor from ever being born. His mission in accomplishing that outcome is to kill Sarah Connor (played by Linda Hamilton), though the Terminator does not know which Sarah Connor of Los Angeles will become John Connor’s mother.

Soon after The Terminator arrives, Kyle Reese (played by Michael Biehn) arrives to carry out a mission of his own on behalf of humanity. Reese gets to the ever important Sarah Connor moments before the cyborg intent on killing her, and a pursuit ensues that ultimately carries the viewer through 1-hour and 47-minutes of exciting movie.

The Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus tells us that The Terminator is an influence for both Science Fiction and Action movies alike:

With its impressive action sequences, taut economic direction, and relentlessly fast pace, it’s clear why The Terminator continues to be an influence on sci-fi and action flicks.

In 2008, The Terminator was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress in the National Film Registry. If action, loud noises, good pacing, and a pop-culture line to rival many a line isn’t enough for you, then maybe these reviews aren’t for you. However, there is a chance after this review that “[You’ll] be back.”

Matt – Monday, January 30, 2017

Top 20 Movie “Toy Story.”

CGI, or the use of Computer-Generated Imagery, offers us the technological breakthrough that brought a host of breakthroughs for the 17th-ranked movie on the listing of the Top 20 Movies ever made. As confirmed with the linked history of CGI story by Computer StoriesToy Story (1995) in part earns its place in this listing thanks to “being the first fully CGI animated movie.” The rest of the reasoning is the subject of this posting!

As summarized well in the review and summary by Roger Ebert on dating back to November 1995,

“Toy Story” creates a universe out of a couple of kid’s bedrooms, a gas station, and a stretch of suburban highway. Its heroes are toys, which come to life when nobody is watching. Its conflict is between an old-fashioned cowboy who has always been a little boy’s favorite toy, and the new space ranger who may replace him. The villain is the mean kid next door who takes toys apart and puts them back together again in macabre combinations. And the result is a visionary roller-coaster ride of a movie.

With music by Academy Award winner and Rock & Roll Hall-of-Famer Randy Newman, Toy Story starred Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear and Tom Hanks. With writing credits to Joss Whedon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1996-2003) fame and to Andrew Stanton of WALL·E (2008) and Finding Nemo (2003) fame, it is clear that this movie started with established industry acting veterans and up-and-coming writing talent.  Incidentally, Newman won Oscars for best original song in Disney / Pixar movies Monsters, Inc. (2001) and Toy Story 3 (2010).

Of course, there was the technology component that brought name recognition to Pixar Animation Studios, which reportedly had spun off from Lucasfilm (think Star Wars), and do to its tremendous success led to their acquisition by the Disney Corportation. It is my argument that Toy Story (1995), and the quality CGI films that are published yearly from a maturing of the CGI movie telling, has led to the Academy Award category for Best Animated Feature beginning in 2001. Again, this all traces back to Toy Story (1995).

The movie itself was cutting edge for its use of technology. In offering a buddy movie, you received things in this movie if you were a kid or an adult. Queueing Roger Ebert again,

For the kids in the audience, a movie like this will work because it tells a fun story, contains a lot of humor, and is exciting to watch. Older viewers may be even more absorbed, because “Toy Story,” the first feature made entirely by computer, achieves a three-dimensional reality and freedom of movement that is liberating and new. The more you know about how the movie was made, the more you respect it.

In sparing many of those details, I will say that there are better animated films in the Disney Pixar stable than Toy Story (1995)Toy Story 3 (2010) is a close contender, and WALL·E (2008) might slightly exceed it. It is hard to surpass the original film in the film that launched the genre and giving us all something truly new, appreciated, and certainly well received by world audiences.

While this review, and my gushing over the technology, groundbreaking quality, and acclaim of some of those involved with Toy Story (1995) may have given short shrift to the actual story, my recommendation is that you see the movie. You will enjoy it.

Matt – Sunday, January 29, 2017

Salute to Mary Tyler Moore

Mary Tyler Moore was a comedic actress in such programs as The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966) and the self-titled show Mary Tyler Moore (1970-1977). Moore won two leading actress Emmy Awards for her role as Laura Petrie. She added another four for her role as Mary Richards. Those that know of Moore as an actress are likely to point mostly to these two leading roles as a largely comedic actress. To do so is appropriate to a notable degree.

Before moving on to my larger point, let us not forget two significant contributions. First, Mary Tyler Moore also won a Golden Globe for best actress in a drama for her role as Beth Jarrett in the Robert Redford film Ordinary People (1980). Redford said the following in the Los Angeles Times:

Mary’s energy, spirit and talent created a new bright spot in the television landscape and she will be very much missed. The courage she displayed in taking on a role,(‘Ordinary People’), darker than anything she had ever done, was brave and enormously powerful.

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Second, Moore’s production company, MTM Productions, produced popular and influential television. Among those shows include spinoffs to Mary Tyler Moore (1970-1977), including the comedies Rhoda (1974-1978) and Phyllis (1975-1977) and the drama Lou Grant (1977-1982).

In original content, MTM Productions gave us The Bob Newhart Show (1972-1978)WKRP in Cincinnati (1978-1982)Hill Street Blues (1981-1987)St. Elsewhere (1982-1988), and Newhart (1982-1990). As a distribution company with CBS, Mary Tyler Moore’s MTM Productions gave us Evening Shade (1990-1994) and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman (1993-1998).

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People Magazine helped give us feedback from celebrities to the passing of Mary Tyler Moore on January 25th, 2017. Contemporary comedy legend Carol Burnett said that Moore “was a pioneer on television and also one of the sweetest, nicest people I ever knew.” Co-star Ed Asner indicated Moore was “a great lady I loved and owe so much to. I will miss her. I will never be able to repay her for the blessings that she gave me.” Ellen DeGeneres said Moore “changed the world for all women. I send my love to her family.”

Comedians and serious actors alike offer praise to Mary Tyler Moore as an influence to their careers. Other woman comedians that do not cite Moore as an influence do emphasize a significantly less morals-based humor than did Moore. Go to YouTube for footage of Mary Tyler Moore on The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966) or the self-titled show Mary Tyler Moore (1970-1977). Compare that to humor by Amy Schumer, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Silverman, or Whitney Cummings.

Women and Hollywood points out a much more provocative sensibility in women’s humor than in the days of Mary Tyler Moore. For example,

Schumer and Kaling represent a subtle shift from Cummings and Silverman, who seem hell-bent on out-boying the boys club that comedy is. These new voices
don’t shy away from indelicate topics like sex or body humor — because most modern women are a few steps beyond Jane Austen-style manners. But they don’t
try to beat the guys at their own game, either.

Kaling showed with her Fox sitcom The Mindy Project this season that she can do a killer awkward-shower-sex scene and poke elaborate fun
at women’s love-hate relationship with romance. Schumer’s show, which just wrapped its first season, gave us a sketch on “porn from a female point of
view,” which shows mostly how ridiculous (and occasionally gross) sex is for women, all hairy chests coming at them and being slammed repeatedly from
behind. This stands in stark contrast to those “porn for women” send-ups that show men with waxed chests doing housework. Because, ha ha, women have no
desires beyond a clean house! Schumer acknowledges both female desire and the silliness of what we must endure to fulfill it. And don’t even get
me started on the sketch about a women’s magazine brainstorming those horrible sex tips they always have. Just watch it.

I am not a modern woman writing this salute to Mary Tyler Moore; I am commenting on women’s comedy as a man. Clean humor can still get laughs. I invite you, again, to seek out clips of Mary Tyler Moore offering you that humor. As Women and Hollywood suggests, checkout clips and see. Here is one clip each from Mary Tyler Moore (1970-1977) and The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966).

Matt – Friday, January 27, 2017

Pranked by James Joyce’s Ulysses

Is James Joyce‘s Ulysses a work of genius or a piece of work? That is the maddeningly germane question, as the book clearly strives to for genius of heroism in echoing Odysseus’ return to Ithaca after winning the Trojan War in The Odyssey. The attempt Joyce made was to echo that in Dublin with a turn-of-the-twentieth-century Dublin / Irish sensibility. The absence of any sense of heroism in Joyce’s telling was a disappointment for me.

The overall effort gets higher marks than the book The Tin Drum by Gunther Grass for being marginally more high brow and significantly more structured in the echoing of the narrative structure of The Odyssey. The echo of Homer was fully present in format, though the hyper-sexualized dullness of Joyce in trying too hard to be clever and demonstrative of being well-read proved tedious in a telling that felt like a prank on pompous intellectuals that teach literature at universities. (The well-read quality merited higher marks; the boorishness knocked the tale down in my estimation).

I was quite satisfied when the story finally moved past the wandering / odyssey phase of the tale. Ulysses and The Odyssey share this quality in common; I wanted both to get on with the resolution. The point-of-view of Molly at the end, in finally revealing that this long, strange, amoral, ugly, rambling, and incoherent statements of feeling adding up to realizations of yes, I’ll still love my filthy, hyper-sexual husband because ultimately I’ll get mine is what 600+ pages of text over a single day finally got around to sharing.

Thank goodness this nonsense is over; no thanks for keeping the selfishness real, incapable of uplift, and ultimately offering no nuggets of truth that I want to use in my life. That the long, dull ramble revealed what is truth for some is, in essence, where there is genius, if any exists, in this bloated tale. Goodness, I want some of that time back. Am I the reader that’s been pranked?

Like Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, I rate this book 3-stars-out-of-5.

Matt – Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Top 20 Movie “The Shining.”

Stephen King has a solid history with his writings making a transition from book to television mini-series, cinematic movie, and a little more tenuously stage production. The second movie to make a transition from novel to the big screen is the 1980 Stanley Kubrick produced, directed, and written (as a screenplay) movie The Shining. King’s novel was first published in hardcover by Doubleday in 1977, coming in at 659-pages (per the novel’s Wikipedia page).

The Shining was a fortuitous marriage of some of Hollywood’s more commercially successful stakeholders. There was the novelist King, the producer, screenwriter and director Kubrik, and the starring actor Jack Nicholson. These three brought something special and awesome together.

King gave us The Shawshank Redemption (1994)The Green Mile (1999)Stand By Me (1986), and Misery (1990)Kubrik gave us 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)Spartacus (1960)A Clockwork Orange (1971), and Full Metal Jacket (1987)Nicholson gave us Chinatown (1974),  One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)A Few Good Men (1992)As Good As It Gets (1997), and The Departed (2006).

Beyond bringing together the above three all-stars with their commercial success and influence, the story is a masterful examination of falling into madness in a place of isolation meant to force the confrontation of it. Jack Torrance (Nicholson), his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and their son Danny (Danny Lloyd) give us a convincing glimpse into three characters with questionable grasps on reality. The narrative question that the viewer confronts with the Torrances is “are any of these three reliably sane?” At what point are we losing a grasp with reality? Is this person already descended into madness (mental health is a clear narrative device)?

The truth is that these questions elevate to the storytelling itself. Is the narrative itself reliable?  From the beginning scene where Jack Torrance is interviewing to be the caretaker for a snowbound hotel, Torrance is told that a former caretaker murdered his family and committed suicide. Something is clearly off, even then, when Jack brushes this off with the note that his wife enjoys ghost stories and horror films. Nothing in the Wendy’s character confirms this is true, though the frame of the story as a possible ghost story (it isn’t) and a definite horror film is set right from the start.

One might wonder where the notion of “shining” or “the shining” even comes into the storytelling of The Shining. That notion comes in with the character of Danny, who has the gift of “shining,” which is the psychic gift seeing things from the past and future while also reading minds. In this image here, you get an echo of the opening tale shared with Jack Torrance regarding the murders of the previous family, as we remember from that beginning tale that the first murderous caretaker took the lives of his two daughters.the-shining-2

That the notion of reliable characters is part of that scene comes up when Wendy Torrance doesn’t know to believe the “shining” of Danny, because it is completely reasonable to suspect that the Tony that Danny speaks of might simply be an imaginary friend. The growing drama that leads us to understand the meaning of Danny’s singing “redrum” is part of the genius of the larger tale of The Shining.

The content and tension of this movie, The Shining, is one that I recommend wholeheartedly to those with the temperament to enjoy. Psychological horror stories, as the Wikipedia page for the book tells us is true for the novel, are not for everyone. As such, Lynn of Matt Lynn Digital would neither watch nor enjoy this 18th ranked film on the Matt Lynn Digital blog. On the other hand, I do recommend that you watch.

Matt – Saturday, January 21, 2017