I recently included War Games in my list of great movie computers. Wired Magazine has a fascinating salute to the movie’s 25th anniversary and the way it influenced a generation of proto-geeks in the current issue, featuring interviews with the screenwriters (and the legendary hackers they consulted) about developing a script centering on this still-exotic technology. And they actually considered casting John Lennon as the designer of the computer program! Even more astonishing was the impact the film had on one very powerful viewer, the President of the United States.
Days after the screening, wrote Washington Post reporter Lou Cannon, Reagan held a closed-door briefing with some moderate members of Congress, wherein he sidetracked discussion of the MX ballistic missile program by bringing up “WarGames.” Had any of them seen the film? he asked, then launched into an animated account of the plot. “Don’t tell the ending,” cautioned one of the lawmakers.
The Defense Department was so taken with the display system created for the movie that they designed one like it. But if the movie raised the consciousness of those creating defense systems, it also made them warier of those who might try to hack into them. Kevin Mitnick, who served five years in prison for hacking says,
That movie had a significant effect on my treatment by the federal government. I was held in solitary confinement for nearly a year because a prosecutor told a judge that if I got near a phone, I could dial up Norad and launch a nuclear missile. I never hacked into Norad. And when the prosecutor said that, I laughed — in open court. I thought, “This guy just burned all his credibility.” But the court believed it. I think the movie convinced people that this stuff was real. They tried to make me into a fictional character.
Thanks to my friend Bob Elisberg for directing me to Ebert’s farewell to the 33-year movie review television show he shared with Gene Siskel and then Richard Roeper. That show, “just two guys talking about the movies,” made them into national figures and changed the way people think about movies and movie critics. Be sure to check out the acerbic outtake clips of Ebert and Siskel making promotional spots and setting off the kind of sparks that made the show so much fun. (WARNING: Some very politically incorrect joking and some very strong language — this clip would be rated R)
I often say that when movies are good, critics are very, very good, but when movies are bad, they’re better. It is a challenge sometimes to write an interesting, meaningful review of a dumb comedy like Step Brothers. One of my favorite critics, Cynthia Fuchs, did just that with her review. She did not ask the film to be more than it aspired to be but respected what it was enough to engage with its aspirations and implications within its own terms. Unable to intervene, ever-pert Nancy (Mary Steenburgen) is, in fact, this spectacle’s ideal audience, the girl who can’t fathom the anti-nuances of masculine ritual. Watching her man-children clobber each other to sweaty, gasping pulps, she’s reduced to abject impropriety… Apparently the only possible punchline for this going-nowhere-slowly scene, Nancy’s exclamation also makes clear the fundamental logic of Step Brothers. Demonstrating (and occasionally exaggerating) the lewd, brutal routines that make up the lengthy, much celebrated transition from boy to man in U.S. consumer culture, the movie has plenty of ground to cover. The fact that it’s ground often traversed in Ferrell’s movies and more recently, in co-producer Judd Apatow’s movies, doesn’t dampen anyone’s enthusiasm or inanity. Rather, the repetition seems to up the ante: how much more can be said, showed, or countenanced? How low can it go?
I love the way she says that films like this “simultaneously to ridicule and celebrate masculinity” and her comment on the role that the female characters play helped me to understand my own reaction: While they surely ensure that the boys, for all their homoerotic/homophobic rites, are emphatically heterosexual, the women also provide the film’s necessary internal audience. Appalled by manifestations of male insecurities and aggressions, they embody those social, domesticating judgments that make such manifestations seem so wild and crazy. That is, the boys are most plainly appalling when the girls are appalled.
Alan Menken Plays His Hits [iframe width="416" height="234" src="http://abc.go.com/embed/VDKA0_i2msn1gc" frameborder="0"]
Alan Menken, currently composing the songs for "Galavant," here sings some of his greatest hits, including songs from "Beauty and the Beast," "Aladdin," "The Little Mermaid," "Enchanted," "Pocahontas,"
Despite the big names behind it, including George Lucas, who came up with the story and produced, it feels like a straight-to-DVD, about the level of Disney's Tinkerbell series. It's bright,
Bad Movies Inspire Great Critics: Mortdecai Johnny Depp's "Mortdecai" is sure of a place of dishonor on the end of the year worst lists. Business Insider and Huffington Post have some choice quotes from some of the movie's best bad reviews, and I've found some good ones, too, including:
David Edelstein, New York Magazine
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