No, but I played one in St. Elmo’s Fire

I had to do a triple-take when I read this:

Actor-writer McCarthy named Travel Journalist of the Year

(Romenesko, Poynter Online, via Society of American Travel Writers)

Yes, Andrew McCarthy, Gen X sensitive-character actor who played a budding journalist secretly in love with pearl-necklace-wearing Ally Sheedy in St. Elmo’s Fire, has won the “2010 Travel Journalist of the Year in the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Competition.”

I know nothing of McCarthy’s writings, but as the overly super-sensitive guy in my formative years, of course I always connected with his characters (my favorite movie of his was 1985’s Heaven Help Us; nearly unashamedly, Weekend At Bernie’s takes place money on my Andrew McCarthy flick list).

Hokey religions and Star Wars Day are no match for Kung-Fu Kenobi at your side

You may find my lack of faith disturbing, but no amount of Jedi mind tricks is going to get me to buy into the concept of May 4 as “Star Wars Day,” as in, it’s “May the Fourth Be With You,” often closely followed by “Get it?” Charming, to the last. But let’s call that a pun too far, shall we?

No, if you really want to do it, Star Wars Day should be every year on the Wednesday before Memorial Day, which in 1977 was May 25: the day the original Star Wars was released and began to change the world for Hollywood, not to mention the worldview for millions of Generation X kids like me. (And, hey, no kidding, I looked up “Star Wars Day” on Wikipedia, and see that the Los Angeles City Council beat me to the punch by three years. And here all I knew from the L.A. City Council was from L.A. Confidential.)

(Aside I: It’s “Star Wars,” or if you’re picky, the “Original Star Wars.” None of this Episode IV or A New Hope crap needed for explanatory purposes — those are subtitles, and using them buys into George Lucas’ neverending, profit-mongering revisionism; see: Greedo shooting first; see, also: the computer-animated Clone Wars series, which further entrenches Anakin Skywalker as a good guy product line along with his annoying teenage girl sidekick. Like those jawas, I can’t abide those Clone Wars. Let’s see, Anakin’s good, but then he’s eventually the worst person in the galaxy, going from a sort of bratty John Wayne to a sort of galactic Hitler; good luck explaining that to a hero-worshipping 3½-year-old like mine, but I digress).

(Aside II: There’s a reason why experiencing the saga from episodes IV to VI, and then from I to III, works as a cohesive and satisfying narrative, and why I’m planning on having Icepick Jr. watch it that way (as best as I can control these sorts of things). Though in a bout of drinking inspiration one time, my friends and I thought it would be great to watch the entire saga Quentin Tarantino-style by shuffling the six DVDs and watching them in random order. I’m not sure we got very far with that concept that night, and I think I’ll stick with Quentin Tarantino’s Star Wars and Kung-Fu Kenobi’s Big Adventure for my Obi-Wan/Pulp Fiction mash-up fix, and yes, I am digressing again.)

I was a few months away from turning 5 when Star Wars came out, and I saw it in the theater multiple times over the next 2 years. It was re-released in 1978 and 1979, and, oh yes, I went in for repeat viewings; apart from the occasional commercial-filled and edited-for-TV broadcast of a film, that was virtually the only way you could see a movie again and again in those days before Betamax and VHS, before the cable TV boom, before the dark times, before the empire (OK, I’ll stop).

The 1979 re-release was in anticipation of The Empire Strikes Back coming out in 1980. I’m almost certain they tagged a sort-of trailer for Empire onto the ′79 Star Wars re-release (though, hell, I could be remembering this as a trailer tacked onto any other flick released in the months before Empire’s premiere).

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Oscars, John Hughes, and generations

Not much to say about Sunday’s Oscars show, though I thought did a fine job of capturing the generational divides on display during the televised ceremony. Troy Patterson, Slate’s TV critic, hit it right on the head in writing about the segment honoring the late John Hughes. Patterson writes:

In witnessing the canonization of The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, those of us who came of age in the ’80s (or were trying to, anyway) were watching the very soul of our collective adolescence pass into history. We’re getting old, and we must resolve to do so with more grace than the awful boomers, represented again last night by James Taylor and his tediously gentle guitar, which ruined the in memoriam segment.

Though, Dana Stevens, Slate’s movie critic, and herself a fellow Gen Xer (I believe), had a good line, too:

“When you grow up, your heart dies,” Ally says in a clip from The Breakfast Club. Whether you hear that line as one that ironizes adolescent self-pity or lionizes it, to scan the faces of those middle-aged actors was to confirm that when you grow up, your collagen tissue dies and takes with it your roseate bloom of precocious gawkiness.

Ouch, but a good shot, nonetheless.

For me, the best part of the Oscars show was seeing that John Hughes segment. Ironically, Hughes, hardly an Oscar-type director, received his due from the Academy after his passing with this presentation. Though it was a little unsettling to see the aging stars from my generation up on stage (and even more unsettling with the death this week of Corey Haim at age 38), what they said on stage — about Hughes, about growing up, and, by extension, what that all says about our generations — still rings true.

“His genius was taking the pain of growing up and relating it to everyone,” Ringwald said on stage.

Yes, of course, we weren’t the first generation to grow up and to feel awkward and unsure as teenagers. Nor were we the first to have films or mass media aimed at us at that age — Hughes didn’t invent the teen flick.

But John Hughes’ films spoke to us in our place in time and history with comedy, sentimentality, pathos, and most importantly, understanding. Simply put, those films were ours.

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I hate the ESPN ‘Ball Track’

Memo to ESPN: Thanks for ruining the annual Home Run Derby with your annoying, distracting, execrable and stupid Ball Track graphic.

For those of you who care about such things (all two of you), ESPN introduced a fiery line that follows the path of batted balls during the annual homer tournament. Remember the glowing tail that Fox used to follow the course of the puck during hockey coverage about a decade or more ago, presumably because they thought fans were too dimwitted and slow (or so their message seemed)? ESPN has brought the technology back to crap on its fans tonight.

Hey Bristol Braintrust — Josh Hamilton blasting 28 home runs is exciting, thrilling and made great television. Your Ball Track? Not so much. In fact, quite the opposite. The Home Run Derby is simplistic, perfect television at its best. It’s not complicated, it’s strictly for the fans, and it showcases exactly one aspect of an extremely complex, thinking-person’s sport. So what? It’s July. It’s hot. It’s fun.

The Ball Track? It celebrates the triumph of ESPN.

I’m turning your broadcast off, now. Thanks. Alienation was just what I was looking for to begin my week.

Is this what British and Spanish fans have to look forward to next year when the Bristol Galactus takes over part of the Premier League and La Liga coverage? Oooo. A line that follows the course of a ball, because we think our viewers are too stupid to follow it. Nice. Thanks for condescending.

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Bad-child movies and Gen X

Slate has a great article on the “bad-child” movie genre: “Why are we so fascinated with horror movies about homicidal children?”

Recalling my reading of Strauss & Howe, I had always thought the bad-child movie trend peaked in the late Sixties and throughout the Seventies, when my generation was being birthed to the soundtrack of screams from The Omen, The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby (family rumor long has it that my mother went into labor with me while watching this last one on TV Correction: Mama Icepick tells me it was a viewing of 1963’s Children of the Damned on TV that sent her into labor with me; somehow, that seems to explain a lot, but I digress).

Strauss & Howe describe parenting in those years as hardly as celebrated as it later became — parental attitudes toward kids and young adults (more than they had been before or after, in recent times) were that they were inconvenient and unruly, if they were thought of at all, a somewhat lost generation that would grow into teen-agers and young adults as “an army of aging Bart Simpsons, possibly armed and dangerous. … wandering through a suburban wasteland of drugs and anomie in Bret Easton Ellis’s 1985 novel ‘Less Than Zero.’ Instead of Woodstock, they had MTV,” in the dated words (from 1990) of a nevertheless historically relevant New York Times piece (quotation h/t Strauss & Howe’s Generations, p. 317). So a generation of latchkey kids was born (with a nod to my fellow blogger, Wek) in the Sixties and  Seventies. “Devil-child” movies were popular in those decades. If I remember it correctly, Strauss & Howe pointedly noted that Roe v. Wade was decided in the midst of this worldview of children and parenting, while parental divorce hit many of our childhoods with full force.

The generational authors contrast the bad-child movies of the Gen X birth years with the “good-child” movies of the Eighties as the next-generation Millennials were being born: the execrable Look Who’s Talking series and the equally execrable Three Men and a Baby were big hits in those years (curiously, I think Strauss & Howe left out the Chucky/Childs’Play and Problem Child series of the Eighties, and 1984’s Children of the Corn, but perhaps they were weighing these films based on popularity, box-office receipts and the effect they had on those times, but I digress).

The rise of the then-ubiquitous “Baby on Board” signs fit in with the culture of the Eighties, Strauss & Howe wrote. Those would have been greatly out of place in the two decades prior. But it’s a trend that’s continued on to the present day, with an attitude of protective parenting perhaps even stronger now than it was in the Eighties (and even with some needed corrective push-back; witness Lenore Skenazy’s great Free-Range Kids blog).

Anyway, the Slate article does a good job of tracing the bad-baby genre to the Baby Boom years of 1956’s The Bad Seed, so there you have it, late-Boomers. And while Hollywood still loves it’s bad-seed flicks (from remakes like 2006’s The Omen to this summer’s Orphan, which provides the entrée to the Slate article), it seems to me that none of them had the cultural impact of the demon-child movies of my generation’s introduction into the world.

Star Trek for the Next Generation

OK, I get it. Optimism, team-building, we’re-all-in-this-togetherness. I’ve been wrong before, but even I am looking forward to the new Star Trek flick, which is already getting positive reviews.

It seems a perfect film for the rising generation of Millennials (Generation Y to the unimaginative mainstream media; Generation Un-ironic, if we’re scoring at home), with all its “making optimism cool again” of director J.J. Abrams.

“Not your father’s Star Trek” (to quote the TV ads), indeed.

And even if we’re still far from coming out of the economic woods (or light years away from the utopia of Sixties Star Trek), we could all use a little more hope and optimistic fantasy. I know that might sound strange coming from this cynic, but even I’m ready for some hope in my popcorn movies to go along with the hope in the White House.

I know I’m putting the cart before the horse on this (especially since the movie hasn’t officially come out yet), but it will be interesting to see if this becomes one of the Millennials’ touchstone action/SciFi flicks. That it’s directed by Gen X’er Abrams (born 1966) merely helps it fit the pattern. How many of us Gen X’ers were huge fans of Indiana Jones, E.T., Jaws and so on from the 1970s and ’80s canon of the 1946-born Steven Spielberg, himself the prototypical Boomer? I was a huge Star Wars guy, which was the product of another Baby Boomer, 1944-born (yes, that year counts) George Lucas (never mind that he killed the franchise starting in 1999 with its awful prequels, or that for the last 15 years has resembled — to quote a friend — a big, stoned Ewok).

And of course JFK, the iconic president of the Boomers’ youth, was naturally a member of an earlier generation — the G.I./Greatest Generation — much like the new president, who has been most enthusiastically supported by the Millenials, is our first Gen X president.

Meanwhile, could Star Trek and it’s über-cool optimism (and Apple store-inspired Enterprise bridge) spell the end of the brooding, dour action hero? It might have reached its height (both critically, culturally and commercially) with last year’s The Dark Knight, perhaps the best film this decade. But the days of the brooding superhero may be numbered.

Spider-Man 3 was criticized for its emo side, and angst-ridden Wolverine’s movie also received so-so reviews (even if it opened to great box office numbers last weekend). Perhaps the clearest case in point was the commercial flop of the nihilistic Watchmen earlier this year, which even I (as a fan of the graphic novel) felt was overdone and over-violent.

Strange as it sounds that this cynic may be mellowing, but I’m ready for some optimism in movies and pop culture. Maybe it’s the spring and the start of baseball season (hope springs eternal, on opening day, anyway), maybe it’s raising Icepick Jr. Whatever. I’m ready for optimism to be cool again. A little bit.

Little Watchmen

As I previously mentioned, the Watchmen movie is bound to be a commercial, if not critical success (of course, I failed to factor in today’s economy — duh — is it too late to hedge my bets?)

But assuming it makes Warner Bros./Fox/Paramount/whomever else can claim box-office rights a boatload of money, it is never too early to turn toward the inevitable sequel — this is Hollywood, baby, where a follow-up to a commercial superhero success is inevitable, no matter how ludicrous.

So sequelly speaking, Warners/Fox/Paramount is lucky to already have half the cast of Little Children involved in its film. Because the only way to go forward is to go backwards — we’re talking prequel.


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