Tag Archives: movies

Home Alone 2

A quick post: watching Home Alone 2 as a literacy scholar is a bit different than watching it as a child. Random points:

  • Kevin (McCauley Culkin’s character) has almost no personality, as far as I can tell. He generally walks around with an abnormally straight face, talking like an adult. Even when he’s overwhelmed with the huge toy store in Manhattan, he gapes a bit but doesn’t rush to grab anything, doesn’t play much, and tells the owner that it’s a “fine establishment” or something.
  • In fact, Kevin’s use of language seems to be almost entirely parroted from sources he’s heard–to the extent that I started wondering if the film is meant to be a commentary on how media shapes our ways of seeing and speaking in the world. He tells one character, “I’m 10 years old. TV is my life,” and it’s easy to believe. He finds the fancy hotel because of a commercial he saw, he constantly uses big words that surely come from watching bevies of adult dramas, and he mouths the words to the noir thriller along with the original speaker, erasing the distance between himself and the tommy-gun-toting murderer: “Merry Christmas, you filthy animal. [Shots] And a happy new year.”
  • His talkboy is a symbol of this need to repeat the world around him, and his inability to speak without audio recording and reproduction. We first hear Kevin speak when his mother is asking him if he’s all packed, and twice he answers a simple “Yes” by saying it into the talkboy and then playing back the recording for his mom, a mechanical echo of his voice that complicates the idea of Kevin’s “real voice,” whatever that is.
  • Issues of class are bizarrely alluded to and ignored. Kevin’s family is crazily well-off: for 2 years in a row, all 14 people fly away from their massive Chicago house to a “Destination Christmas” location, adults in first class, all on Kevin’s dad’s tab (as the uncle tells us in Home Alone 2). This sheltered, rich-kid life leads Kevin to initially be freaked out by the homeless folks he encounters in New York, though he eventually befriends a nameless, homeless bird woman, promising her that he’ll remember her forever, despite her hints that she’ll soon be forgotten (as seems likely). But then on Christmas day, Kevin sneaks away from the massive pile of free toys in their massive hotel room (both of which were comped) to find his homeless friend outside and offer her . . . a Christmas ornament. Not food, shelter, an offer to come inside, an offer to help her find her financial feet again, or to help her find a job (perhaps from his new friends at Duncan’s Toy’s?)–but a Christmas ornament. Apparently, Kevin’s new “class consciousness” doesn’t run very deep. Oops?
  • The violence against the crooks stressed me out more as an adult than I expected, and more than it did as a kid. Marv takes like 4 bricks in a row to the head, thrown from 3 stories up; surely one would knock him dead. And of course, that’s the beginning. We’re reminded that this is supposed to be cartoon violence by one of my favorite shots, Marv being electrocuted, with his hair getting bigger and bigger until finally they literally film a skeleton standing there screaming–a move that I read as a “Look, this is Road-Runner kind of violence, so don’t worry about it.” But still . . . those guys got really bashed up, and I admit I was a bit uncomfortable with it, in a way I can’t quite explain.

With all that said, I admit I loved rewatching this, snuggled up with some grown-up eggnog and laughing out loud more than once. Tim Curry was the most remarkable casting choice ever, and I always love a good Catherine O’Hara movie. And yes, that was the older Pete as one of the cousins!

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The Rhetoric of Fiction?

No, I haven’t read Wayne Booth’s The Rhetoric of Fiction, although it sits there on my office shelf looking at me, begging to be read.

(Random side-note: do books want to be read, or does it annoy them? Like, when I reach down and pick up Booth’s book, does it start silently squealing, “Yes, pick me! It fulfills my purpose to be read!” or is more of a, “I was sitting here, relaxing and enjoying myself, until YOU had to come along and start bending my spine, riffling my pages, all touchy and creepy”? And what about food–does it want to be eaten or left alone? Oh, I’m off-topic….)

In fact, I don’t really have a solid idea of what Booth’s book is about, exactly. But here’s an example of what his title makes me think about:

In my last post I brought up Jack McDevitt’s Time Travelers Never Die, which I’m listening to on my commutes to Tampa. I’m on CD 11 of 12, and I admit my excitement with it is rapidly dwindling. Here’s why:

I can’t figure out where McDevitt stands on any of it. Not that authorial intention/purpose is ultimately knowable or even to-be-searched-for in a text, I know. But on the level of tone, purpose, audience, I admit I’m confused about where he stands–what he wants to criticize, which characters’ actions and motives are ultimately laudable or laughable, where he hopes we’ll land on our (inevitable) judgments about how characters acted in given situations.

I bring up Booth because these seem like rhetorical issues to me. If McDevitt is trying to make points with this book, even the complex and ambiguous and undefinable points that abound in fiction and art, they’re largely not coming across to me. The communication that could be happening isn’t happening. And again, I’m not saying that I want every author to preach at me in crystal-clear terms, a la Robert Heinlein or something. But I’m not even quite sure what general areas I should contemplating.

The easiest example is the main characters themselves. Both of them are rather similar to each other, flattish guys in their 30s who are dissatisfied with life and hope to find it through adventure and women and money. I know I haven’t finished the book (which might force me to totally change my estimations here, I know), but I don’t have any grip at all on if there’s a general suggestion about the kinds of things that really do lead to satisfied lives, or if McDevitt agrees with the protagonists’ choices, or what.

It reminds me of when we watched Hustle & Flow in Dr. Pamela Fox’s course “Class Fictions” at Georgetown. She said something like this: “The first time I watched the movie and saw the prostitute sing, ‘It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,’ I figured it must be ironic. I mean, here’s this woman who is being oppressed by this man, singing about how hard life is for him! But then I watched the DVD commentary, and the director was like, ‘This is the heart of the whole movie. Women need to get behind their men and support them, just like she’s singing here.'”

In other words, she read a certain rhetorical message in the scene that the director, it turns out, didn’t mean to be there. The communication event didn’t happen.

So when I actually get around to reading Booth, I hope he has something to say about this kind of non-communication, about the rhetorical expectations readers have when they come to fiction, and what happens when those expectations lead to confusion.

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Someone Else’s Review of Copyright Criminals

The Toronto Sun published a brief piece about PBS’s new documentary, Copyright Criminals. I like this review because the reviewer is both A) opposed to the copyleftist slant of the film, and B) interested enough in it that he reviews it anyway. I’d like to see more of that kind of open dialogue attitude.


When the creators and supporters of Copyright Criminals appeared at the Television Critics Association tour, it got a tad testy. And full disclosure, we were in the middle of the testiness, because we felt they were being marginally condescending. . . .

OK, just wait a second. We never said it was all wrong or all right. But people who do believe it’s “all wrong” to steal music samples without permission are not automatically too stupid to grasp the marvellous complexities. . . .

To say it was an argument would be overstating it, but it certainly was a tense exchange.

It’s a tough issue. And that’s why Copyright Criminals is a worthwhile documentary.

Article here.

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Second Day of Sharing: Scrooge

I just finished rCover of A Christmas Carol bookeading A Christmas Carol for the first time. It was worth it–especially because I enjoyed the skinny 1988 Aerie Books paperback that my buddy gave me a few months ago, with a teensy foreward and afterword by Jane Yolen and a scream-tastic cover (right; artist not credited).

Continuing the “share something every day until Christmas” challenge, today I want to share a film adaptation of A Christmas Carol that I started watching yesterday during lunch: Scrooge (1935), directed by Henry Edwards and starring Seymour Hicks, who also starred in the silent 1913 version.

The whole film is available for free at Archive.org, which points out that “This British import is notable for being the only adaptation of this story with an invisible Marley’s Ghost and its Expressionistic cinematography.” Beautiful and moody stuff–and especially fun when you’ve just breezed through the book, because so much of the dialogue is reproduced verbatim. I especially like the purposefully horrible trio of instrumentalists in the first scene who try admirably to get through “The First Noel” without hitting a wrong note. Edwards lets their screeching go on for long enough that I went from annoyed to charmed–exactly as I was supposed to.

Besides the fact that it’s cool, I’m sharing this film because I like film adaptations so much. I haven’t read much in the English sub-field of adaptations, though USF has a graduate class on them every once in a while. It seems like one more area of creating from found material, which I’m increasingly convinced is the way we create practically everything.

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Remix or Cover?

The Wizard (1989) was made for me. It’s a movie about an emotionally disturbed boy who turns out to be stellar at playing video games. I had just turned 9 when it came out, when my waking moments were mostly soaked with Nintendo games–and luckily for me, the movie was, in the words of its Wikipedia page, “little more than a 90-minute commercial for Nintendo games.” Sweet!

Part of the reason the film still holds up for me (despite a 31% on Rotten Tomatoes) is because of some beautiful, evocative montage scenes of the 3 kids hitchhiking from Utah to California with Real Life’s “Send me an Angel” pounding in the background. (Somehow, this feels similar to the important scene in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure when they accidentally warp to the future, and everything slows down and the audience soaks in the music and the reverence and it’s beautiful. Is that just me?) Here’s the scene from The Wizard:

I was singing along to this song last night in the car, and it made me think about Denison Marrs’ cover. (I can’t find one to stream, but the version on their 7″ far exceeds the deadened recording on their third LP.)

And that made me think about cover songs in general, and the question of what ways remixes and covers are similar and different. I could give technical answers about the differences, but I’m not sure they’re very satisfying: my impression is that cover songs are usually completely rerecorded, with no original sound information used in the new recording (which is why awesome folks at OverClocked ReMix say that the pieces over there are “more re-arrangements than remixes“), while remixes actually take parts of the original recording and mix their sound levels again, often with new musical information added. Rearrange it and record it from scratch: it’s a cover. Add a techno beat: it’s a remix.

But is that too tidy? Both practices involve composing from existing material; both put the remixer/cover-er in a similarly creative spot, imagining how best to adapt existing material for a new artistic or rhetorical purpose. Maybe all we need is the bigger category of “music from existing material.”

That feels dangerous, though; we really like our boundaries. And it implies that the remix is less creative than the so-called “original” works, even if the original piece was just a collection of existing chord progressions, drum beats, melodies, etc. If we start broadening categories, everything starts to sound like a remix. . . .

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