July 2013

A Line In The Sand: July 2013

Author: Frank Dunne Jr. & Courtney Hampson | Photographer: Photography by Anne

My Favorite Movie
By Frank Dunne, Jr.
Let me start by saying that you won’t find anybody anywhere who wants to see a great Superman movie more than I do. So much so that from time to time, when it airs on TV, I’ll tune in to that tragedy known as Superman Returns and try to convince myself that it doesn’t suck. It never works. So you can imagine my excitement when I saw the first trailer for Man of Steel almost a year before its release. My hopes for a super Superman movie soared with knowledge that Christopher Nolan, who gave us the phenomenal Dark Knight Batman trilogy worked on the script and would produce the film.

Well, I saw Man of Steel a few days before settling down to write this “Sand” installment…and I hated it. I hated it enough to hurl my 3-D specs at the screen in disgust with about 10 minutes to go. Yeah. That bad. So what if I had to watch the last 10 minutes blurry? Garbage in 3-D is still garbage.

The Superman story is simple. Last son of Krypton sent to earth to fight for truth, justice, and the American way. Yes, he’s conflicted, because he’s an alien in a strange world, but he learns humanity by his salt-of-the-earth adopted parents, John and Martha Kent, and his love for intrepid reporter Lois Lane. With that in his tank, he can go out and kick the snot out of the bad guys with a sense of purpose.

How do you screw that up in film? With too many special effects, too many explosions, basically too many distractions from the basic storyline. That’s what happened with Man of Steel. Contrast that to my all-time favorite movie, Rocky. I’m talking about the first one…the only one that matters. I don’t know if it’s the best movie ever, but it always rises to the top of my list. In the interest of full disclosure, having lived a few years in Philadelphia, there’s a personal, emotional connection for me. I love that in one scene Rocky Balboa is seen eating—my favorite—a Pat’s cheesesteak, and in another he walks past my college sweetheart’s house in South Philly. Little things like that go a long way in making a film endearing, but they don’t necessarily make it good film. The thing is that Rocky could have been set in, oh, let’s say Pittsburgh or St. Louis, two cities that have no meaning to me whatsoever, and I would probably still love it.

Simplicity is what makes Rocky a great movie. I’m tuned in to this stuff because I happen to be working on a screenplay and have spent some time reading about and studying the art of screenwriting. It’s very simple: three acts to achieve five basic components to the story. In Act I, introduce the hero and set up his challenge or “dramatic need.” In Act II he faces up to the challenge. That’s called the first turning point. Then you get the second turning point where new obstacles appear. This is where you begin to doubt whether or not the hero will overcome his challenge. Act III is climax and resolution…dramatic need achieved or failed.

Let’s cut to the chase and go right to Rocky’s Act III. The climax was an epic 15-round bout with the world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed. Rocky lost the fight in a split decision. The resolution? An aging underachieving amateur goes the distance with the best in the world and loses, but all he could think about was…Adrian! The film ends with a battered and bloody Rocky holding her in his arms. “I love YOU,” as only Sly Stallone could deliver the line. Dramatic need achieved or failed? You decide, but I know where I stand. I get all wobbly just thinking about it, which is why I never watch the film with other people around. Too embarrassing.

Here’s my point. The story of Rocky Balboa was so simple. The script followed the formula. Stallone, relatively unknown at the time, wrote it from the heart, picturing himself as the Rocky character. He received a lot of offers, but the studios wanted a big star to play Rocky. He refused every one until somebody agreed to let him play the leading role. The result speaks for itself. The budget wasn’t huge. There were no big-name stars, but the characters they played were resplendent. There were no special effects or elaborate sets, just dirty, gritty 1970s era Philadelphia. A great script, well executed—a classic.

My Favorite Movie
By Courtney Hampson
It’s Sunday afternoon. Looks like the rain is coming, so I’m in bed with my laptop debating myself (before I debate Frank) as to what the best movie of all time is. Because I love a good distraction and any excuse for procrastination (three stories due tomorrow and I am just getting started), I turn on the tube. And, wouldn’t you know it, Bring it On is on. A ridiculous teen drama, starring Kirsten Dunst (Jersey girl, but don’t hold it against us), about competitive high school cheerleading. And I know every word. Heck, I can even perform the “Brrr, it’s cold in here” routine for you, if you’re interested. Definitely not the best movie ever but one I’ll watch every time it’s on. And if teen angst set amid aerobic activity is what your into, might I recommend Center Stage, Save the Last Dance, and of course The Cutting Edge (oh yes, drama on ice skates!).

If I’m looking for a laugh, it’s Old School or Dodgeball. All day long. It doesn’t matter if there are only five minutes left, or it just started, I’m tuning in. Frankly, a day doesn’t go by that I don’t quote one of them. (Heck, I just quoted Dodgeball in my Tourist Trap story that you can read elsewhere in this issue!). And, we named our new dog, Blue, partly because in the personality color-spectrum, blue is calming and chill, but mainly because who doesn’t want to yell out, “You’re my boy, Blue,” with good cause?

Speaking of dogs, I love the underdog, so most sports-related films hit the right note with me. I watch Fever Pitch every spring in preparation for opening day, and in tribute to the Sox (it is totally their year)! Moneyball—could baseball really be based solely on stats? If Jonah Hill (whom I fell in love with in Super Bad) says so, I’m a believer. Now Sandra Bullock usually drives me crazy, but Tim McGraw makes all that go away in The Blind Side, the story about Michael “Big Mike” Ohr. Oh, what about The Rookie? Dennis Quaid is a 30-something high school science teacher and baseball coach; he loses a bet to his players and has to try out for the Major Leagues, and he makes it! And, he’s wearing tight pants for the better part of two hours. Do you believe in miracles? I do! In Miracle, the 1980 U.S. hockey team beats Russia for the first time, and I cry every stinking time.

Okay, I’ve named a dozen films and still haven’t nabbed my favorite. So much pressure.

Shawshank Redemption is definitely in my top three. Heck, TNT shows it almost every day, slightly less than Law & Order re-runs (has that become a movie yet?). I love the storyline of a friendship developed in the most unlikely of places. Hopefully, when I am in prison one day, I will meet my Morgan Freeman. (Just making sure you’re still paying attention. I totally don’t plan to go to jail.)

Sliding Doors is an indie film that I absolutely love (and no one else has ever seen), because it tackles the topic of everything happening for a reason, which is one of my favorite debates. Frank, what say you?

I am running out of room here, so let me just get it on the record that anything with Hugh Grant or a British accent (see Sliding Doors entry above) makes my list. Bridget Jones’s Diary is laugh-out-loud funny every stinking time, no matter how many times you’ve seen it. Listen we’ve all chased a guy out into the street, in the snow, in our underwear, so it just clicks.

I’m also not one to turn down an Irish brogue, so while P.S. I Love You should be an obvious choice, I am going to go with the little known Matchmaker (Jeanine Garofolo and Dennis Leary star) in my number two spot. A hilarious Ireland-set flick about a U.S. Senator searching for his Irish roots a la Kennedy, who sends his chief of staff on a wild goose chase. Either you get it or you don’t. If you don’t, you are dead to me.
Alright, I think I’ve got it. Yes, I’ve decided. Frank, I’ll see your Rocky (Rocky II was the best of the series by the way), and raise you one Home for the Holidays. I watch it only once a year, on Thanksgiving Eve, and I watch it credit to credit. It is that special. I don’t want to give away the pure joy that this movie brings, but just as the hectic holiday season heats up, Home for the Holidays brings to life the annual hellish ritual of eating, drinking, and arguing with family, which we all endure. It’s all the stuff (and by stuff I mostly mean Holly Hunter and Robert Downey, Jr.) in between that actually makes this gem worthy of its special place in my heart and my holidays.
And now I’m craving turkey. Thanks a lot Frank.

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