Penny Marshall, Awakenings and Living Your Life

A lot of people remember her as the Golden Globe Award winning actress from Laverne & Shirley, one of the most beloved sitcoms of the 70’s and early 80’s. I watched Big all the time when I was a kid, so I remember her as the director who turned a small boy into Tom Hanks. Others may recall her witty cameo from Hocus Pocus (possibly without even realizing it was her), who as “The Master’s Wife” cracked wise and told those witches to get the hell out of her house. Thanks to A League of Their Own, I always wait for Tom Hanks to show up and chastise someone for crying in baseball whenever I see a person crying in baseball.

Whatever your memories of the indelible Penny Marshall are, either her career as an actress, her collaborations with Hanks or anything in between, there is no disputing the impact that she had on both television and film. A trailblazer if there ever was one, an entertainer with a rather underrated body of work and whom unbeknownst to me was also a major sports fan, even possessing season tickets to both the Lakers and Clippers. I’ve been watching basketball for years and never knew, but it was likely both her intention to stay out of the spotlight during those games and the camera only cutting to Jack Nicholson at courtside that caused me to miss that.

Marshall’s desire to avoid that kind of attention while still endearing herself to those around her encapsulates her career as a director rather well. When I heard she had sadly passed away just a few weeks ago, I made a mental note to rewatch Awakenings because I view it as the ultimate Penny Marshall film.

My reasoning is simple: it’s likely the greatest movie that you have never seen.

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The Problem with Bird Box and Comparisons

Humans are obsessed with control. This is a big issue because life is pure chaos. And yet this fact does little to dissuade us. We still create rules, search for meaning, and do our best to increase our chance of survival on a day-to-day basis. We also make comparisons. We try to put things into neat boxes as a way to organize and understand the world. This can be good. It can lead to discovering new things you might enjoy. Hey, you like the band Led Zeppelin? Check out Greta Van Fleet! Did you grow up playing Monopoly? Give Settlers of Catan a go! Enjoyed the eerie, engrossing, and tightly paced movie A Quiet Place? Check out the cheesy, predictable, and scattered film Bird Box on Netflix right now! Wait a minute…

Comparisons don’t always work. In fact, they can make you feel ripped off. Like when your friend tells you to check out the new Netflix original movie Bird Box starring Sandra Bullock because it’s *just* like 2018’s critically acclaimed movie A Quiet Place except with the danger being vision not sound! Great, I thought, John Krasinki’s brilliant directorial debut is having a quick and important impact on modern horror films! What could go wrong? Bird Box, that went wrong.

A Quiet Place was deliberate, with moment-to-moment tension. Each moment had a purpose and a chilling threat that something could go wrong at a literal drop of a dime. It also had the advantage of a more cinematic human sense, sound, being stripped away from it’s characters. The film could, and did, mute the sounds in key scenes to let you see the world from Regan’s deaf point of view. In addition, they spent very little time digging into the character’s lives and back stories. Typically ignoring this side of your characters would drag a movie down. In this case it forced the viewers to feel more empathy, and therefore fear, for this family. All the audience knew was this was a family, stripped down to straight survival.

Meanwhile, Bird Box opens up with a family, on a river, blind folded. There’s a mother and two children. They are surrounded by an eerie and cold fog. It’s gripping and intense. The mother is scolding the children like a military leader. Ruthless, annoyed, but it is clear what she is saying is important and their only chance of survival. Who are these people? How did they get here? It doesn’t matter, all the audience needs to know is they are on a river in a small boat without sight and they need to survive. I’m all in.

And then? Flashback to five years earlier. We see the mom, she’s pregnant, the news is reporting a strange wave of mass suicides, she goes to the doctor, on her way home the thing that was on the news is happening around her, people are dying, she needs to find shelter, she gets trapped with an eclectic group of diverse strangers, what will they *ever* do to survive? Yawn.

This is the difference between these two thriller movies. A Quiet Place hardly ever lets up for the audience. Bird Box endlessly jumps back between a standard grade, B-movie, apocalypse story (without any songs this time!) and a thrilling, minimalist survival movie on a roaring river without sight! This is two movies plopped together with the former, less enticing, story taking the majority of the film time while the latter follows along wishing it could take the spotlight on it’s own.

While I was left frustrated, I feel like I should be fair and admit it’s mostly due to the lazy comparisons to a movie I loved. Bird Box is worth checking out for Sandra Bullock’s performance and for the cinematic river scenes. Oh and the memes. ALL. OF. THE. MEMES! Plus the sub-text is fun to dissect, is it about motherhood? Or maybe racism? Maybe both?

And yet, despite Bird Box reportedly being the most viewed original movie in it’s first week, when you strip away the memes and the comparisons and you imagine a different, less-heralded actress in the starring role, it’s plain to see that Bird Box is nothing but a standard apocalypse movie that takes the worst things about The Walking Dead (too many characters, awkward acting, the endless hope of sanctuaries) and puts a blind fold over the camera sometimes.

Anna and the Apocalypse

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone, do one thing that scares you every day, live for today cause you might be dead come tomorrow. These are the #lifequotes that drive me to live my life to the fullest every day. Which is why I enjoy engaging in risky behavior such as, seeing a movie in a theater without watching a single trailer or reading a review. I know, insert shocked emoji here, am I right?

Sometimes this risk pays off in a big way, like A Quiet Place. Other times it leads to me sitting through an entire musical-zombie-Christmas movie (Yes, apparently that’s a thing), somehow too mortified to stay and yet too embarrassed to leave. And to think, I was shocked when I walked into a completely empty movie theater. That should have been my first sign.

It’s clear what Anna and the Apocalypse wants to be: “What would happen if we took the main character from Lady Bird put her in Scotland to sing and dance like La La Land? Except there’s zombies! Not like, 28 Days Later zombies, but like, Shaun of the Dead zombies! Oh and make it Christmas-y!”. In reality it ends up being a Christmas special of High School Musical with zombies. It feels like a movie studio playing Dr. Frankenstein and ends up echoing Jurassic Park, “just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.” The movie, much like the zombies it depicts, is not natural and should have been mercy killed from the beginning.

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What Makes a Christmas Movie?

There’s been a lot of debate regarding the classification of Die Hard as a Christmas movie. John McTiernan’s 1988 action smash-hit is an iconic film, but is it a holly jolly one? Does it belong on your watchlist during the holiday season? Or should it be far removed from more family friendly entertainment that doesn’t feature gunfights, drugs and yippie ki-yay, mothe… well, you know the rest.

That’s a question that people have been asking for 30 years now, and there are plenty of articles out there that try to answer it. My purpose here is to instead list all the qualities that a Christmas movie should have, and if it turns out that Die Hard possesses all of them? Well, then I guess you are allowed to put it on after It’s a Wonderful Life.

Let’s get to it!

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Mockingbird is a Flawed, Beloved Classic

I was flipping through the channels on my TV the other day and ultimately decided on a couple episodes of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. Yes, I’m one of those weirdos who still pays for cable. I also love dad jokes, prefer a night in over a night out and often find myself wide awake by seven in the morning. In other words, I’m old.

The reason the Daily Show caught my attention that day was because of the guests who were on it. First up was Dwyane Wade, who was reflecting on playing his last season in the NBA and his plans for his post-playing career. This did nothing to make me feel any younger and I think I fell into a small but brief depression. The next guest was Andrew Gillum, the Democratic Candidate in the recent Florida Gubernatorial election.

Gillum wound up losing that race, but he inspired a lot of people during his campaign and something he said to Noah in the interview caught my attention: “My grandmother used to have this saying, ‘Never, ever, ever wrestle with pigs,’ she said, ‘because you both get dirty, but the pig actually likes it.’”

I was reminded of a key scene in To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus Finch is at Tom Robinson’s home to inform Tom’s wife of her husband’s death. As he is trying to console her, Bob Ewell arrives to confront Atticus. Mr. Ewell is just a bit peeved at Atticus for defending Tom after the latter was accused of raping Ewell’s daughter, Mayella, and he sure is hell is going to make it known. Even though Tom was clearly innocent and convicted anyway, it makes no difference. When Atticus comes outside, Ewell spits in his face. Instead of retaliating or simply objecting, as most people would’ve done, Atticus wipes off the spit, gets in his car where his son Jem is waiting and drives home.

If Gregory Peck ever faced that scenario in his real life, I’d imagine that he would’ve resolved it virtually the same way. As Harper Lee put it: “Atticus Finch gave him an opportunity to play himself.”

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Sorry to Bother You

Sorry to Bother You, the directorial debut of Boots Riley starring the infectious Lakeith Stanfield, is that strange reoccurring dream you have had your whole life. You know the one, maybe it starts with that darkly lit bathroom or those shadowy figures you never fully see or some room from your childhood that you have memorized by small detail. The one that has that feeling of something amiss despite everything around you seeming normal. That dream that you try to tell other people about but you can’t quite piece the details together. Actually you can. Because you’ve had the dream countless times. You know exactly what happened but it’s too weird to say out loud, in front of your coworkers or your loved ones. Lest you be judged for whatever your subconscious is capable of cooking up.

This is one of those movies that sticks. You walk into the theater, sit in your seat, silently observe for a few hours, stand up, leave. You say bye to your friends and maybe you get in your car, or maybe you start walking home. It’s dark out and you notice the silence. You feel the air and you sense something is different. You notice but you try not to. You want this feeling to wash over you and to never leave. It’s calming and spooky and freeing and all encompassing. Much like your reoccurring dream you feel desperate to wake up but oddly content with never leaving.

And the thing is, you aren’t thinking about the movie necessarily. Because you can’t. You are unable to, or maybe unwilling, because you hate it. No you actually love it. You try to just forget about it because the truth might reveal something about you to yourself. You also notice you can’t stop it from infecting what you’re feeling. You want to tell everyone about what you saw and you also want to lock it away like a secret, lest you be judged for admitting that your conscious self actually enjoyed something so…

That’s how the movie makes you feel. Nothing and everything. Depressed, happy, lonely, loved, contradictory. It unabashedly subverts what you think a movie should be or what you want it to be. It doesn’t say anything important. Or maybe it does, maybe it embodies the saying “the years are short but the days are long” and gives it a modern spin and turns it into, “the news cycle is quick but the effects are long”. Maybe it somehow takes the apathy of the modern world and makes you feel it. But you’re not quite sure because it’s a realistic unreal reality, it’s batshit crazy. And just when you’re in a dreamlike, depressed state of mind the movie completely…

The words don’t come. Not for days anyway. Because the film is stuck in your brain, marinating. It’s spinning around and around. You’re convinced it has all the makings of a cult classic. Then you realize it was all bullshit and you shouldn’t waste anyone’s time talking about it. But then you remember that scene where Cassius is starting to fall asleep after a long day of work but he is longing for a joint he just lit up while ignoring his artist girlfriend after the premiere of her art show.

The scene is innocuous and yet it’s stuck, no that’s not right, it’s jammed in your brain. It speaks to your exhaustion of balancing your job and your family and your friends. You feel the pressures of capitalism that force you to do things that you truly don’t want to. The force that drains you and distracts you and pulls you in even though you hate it and you want to escape.  Except maybe you love it because it empowers you and gives you more than you could ever dream. But it also takes from you, your time, your energy, your willpower, your motivation, your attention. It gives, it takes, you hate it and love it because you, like this movie, are an emotional pit of contradicting feelings.

You can’t prepare yourself for the experience that Sorry to Bother You is. It’s splendid and dumb. It’s beautiful and harrowing. It’s a cult classic or it’s stupid. Your experience will vary but it’s nothing you will soon forget.

What’s in a Name?

Hi friends, we need to have a chat. Don’t worry this is a safe place. Why don’t you have a seat right over there, alright? Take it easy, this isn’t an intervention. Well actually it is, but not for you! It’s for our blog.

You see my good friend Jesse and I started Pegboards five years ago with the idea of creating a place for us (and our friends) to come and write about anything we wanted. The thought was that a real pegboard can hold a variety of tools, so we would provide a place that could hold a variety of voices. While the thought was nice, we soon realized our dream space turned into a dumping ground of unfocused themes with inconsistent posts. We wanted our sports fans to come to the same place as our movie fans. We wanted it to be all encompassing but it has turned into something confusing and without an identity.

Our attempt speaks to how we live our own lives. We both have many hobbies and interests and we both want to share them with as many people as possible. However in doing so we realize we are not being very effective. We feel scattered and without a purpose, which leads to little motivation to stick to a schedule. Hence why we are having this intervention. Something needs to change.

With that, I would like to announce a new focus, a new name, and a new identity for Pegboards. We are officially rebranding and will henceforth be known as the Flimsy Film Critics, where we will offer mostly bad reviews for mostly good movies. The name is an attempt at self-depreciating our own talents so that we can present reviews, analysis, lists, and discussions about truly talented film makers that we respect. It allows us to write in a manner that celebrates how the movies we love make us feel.

The best part of the rebrand is our renewed commitment to a regular posting schedule. To start off we are committing to posting at least one blog a week. We plan on visiting old movies that helped shape our personal tastes while also reviewing the newest releases. We also plan on launching a more official “Let’s Talk” series where Jesse and I have a conversation on the latest movie news or discuss a nerdy movie trope or argue about why Spider-Man will always be the best superhero.

And much like Spidey, we are peeling back our mask to reveal our true identity: amateur movie critics and professional movie lovers. Thank you for following us throughout the years and I hope you stick around. We believe our best years are still ahead of us.