Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Two Weeks from Today: Enter The House Between Returns! (9/13/2023)

My full-cast audio drama, Enter The House Between returns to end its first season run two short weeks from today, on Wednesday, September 13!

Our first episode back, "Temple of Immensity" kicks off a three-part season finale. 

Part 2 in the trilogy ("Old Skin") follows, and then we have our season-ender climax, "The Last Dream of My Soul."  It will be quite a ride!

It's going to be a thrill to have the show returning (on YouTube, Spotify, Audible, etc.), and this trilogy will bring to a conclusion our major story arc of th first season, which in the end will consist of nine episodes.  

For fans of the series, I can let you know that the second season has been recorded, so there is more adventuring in the Quantumsphere to come...

...So, where did we leave off? 

In "Dresden," Episode 6, the denizens revealed (intentionally and unintentionally) their darkest secrets after a mystery saboteur destroyed Bill's scanner. 

Some of these secrets had to do with Father, the dangerous cult-leader destroying realities in the Quantumsphere. 

Other secrets had to do with the personal relationships of the denizens, and somebody on the farm clandestinely subverting them.

Anyway, here is "Dresden," one more time to refresh your memories, before "Temple of Immensity" bows on the morning of September 13. Hold on tight!

YouTube:



Spotify:


 

Lastly, if you are jonesing for some more ETHB information in this interim, consider the links below:

You can visit our store to buy some swag (and your money helps to support the production of the show), at Cafe Press.

And you can listen to me talk about the show at Sci-Fi Pulse, and Kasterborous, and read the review of the first season so far at Sci-Fi Pulse.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Guest Post: Spider-Man Across the Spider-Verse (2023)




Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse Suffers from Middle Child Syndrome

 

By Jonas Schwartz-Owen

 

 

The original Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse from 2019 delighted in blowing audiences' minds. The animation was revolutionary for a major film studio, even if they borrowed from tried-and-true Asian tropes. So, it's not surprising that audiences went crazy for the second in the Spider-Verse trilogy, as the box office receipts of $663 million internationally in less than three months prove. Even though most critics had much to crow about, this critic (who was dazzled by the first film) found this one whiplash-inducing, with most of the animation an off-shoot of what was so magical the first time. Plotwise — a downside of some penultimates in a trilogy — the film takes too much time maneuvering all the characters into position for the upcoming climactic final episode: Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse.

 

Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) continues to navigate the life of a superhero, especially when his folks (Brian Tyree Henry and Luna Lauren Velez) are still in the dark. From another parallel world, Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) has joined a super society of Spideys, including Jessica Drew (Issa Rae) and leader Miguel O'Hara (Oscar Isaac). Miles has been purposely banned from the group, and Gwen has already broken rules by remaining in touch. Meanwhile, a casualty from a Miles escape in the first film has built his shame into a rage, and is now Miles' arch-nemesis, Spot (Jason Schwartzman), who has the power to slip in and out of parallel worlds and is becoming more and more formidable. 


 

New directors to the franchise, Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson, overload the screen with images and plot details. The end result appears to be one TikTok colliding into another for 140 minutes. Many of the visuals of the different Spider-Verses — which include a Studio Durga influenced world, a character based on Jamie Reid's punk graphics for the Sex pistols, pastel worlds, Lego worlds, etc. — are all inventive, but not as much after watching that concept already in the first film. 

 

Miles's story arc is compelling, and one wishes the filmmakers had given it time to breathe. Having your life mission stripped away, and your calling invalidated is so relatable, as is being faced with how your actions do destroy whole worlds (metaphorically in real life, literally here). Miles is such a well-drawn (sorry for the pun) character that the movie could have lost a few bells and whistles and worked much better. So much information is constantly being thrown at the audience to prep them for the third film, that one eventually uninvests to protect their brain. 

 

The voice work is strong as always. Most of Miles' empathy with the audience is thanks to Moore's talent. Isaac is autocratic as the leader, while both Oscar winner Daniel Kaluuya, as the punk infused Hobie Brown, and Karan Soni, as the heroic Indian Spidey, have hilarious line readings.

 

Writers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, (this time with Dave Callaham as well) lend that spoofy energy they had to the first film and Tthe Lego Movie, which lends a breezy appeal.


 Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse is an accomplished film, with creative energy to spare, however, there's a chaos that doesn't vibe with the flow of the film, that left this reviewer drowning in graphics instead of being sucked into a story

Thursday, August 17, 2023

50 Years Ago: Westworld


In 1984, Arnold Schwarzenegger portrayed an emotionless, homicidal android in James Cameron's The Terminator...and an iconic movie villain was born.  

But in the decade before The Terminator arrived in theaters, there was another silver screen model for relentless android villains: Yul Brynner's 406 model "Gunslinger" from the 1973 Michael Crichton  (1942 - 2008) sci-fi/horror thriller Westworld.  

And like Schwarzenegger after him, Brynner returned to this iconic role for at least one theatrical sequel, 1976's Futureworld.  The Westworld franchise also spawned a TV incarnation years after the original film, 1980's short-lived Beyond Westworld, and the recent series from HBO.


Gazing back at the original Westworld today, it's not difficult to determine why audiences responded so enthusiastically to the film and its seemingly unstoppable, silver-eyed bogeyman. 

Indeed, the film still excels as a lean, efficient thriller, and the movie capitalizes ably on a  universal human fear (also marshaled in the Halloween films) of being pursued by a seemingly inhuman being that absolutely won't stop; no matter what.  

Like Michael Myers himself, you can shoot, stab or burn the Gunslinger android and it doesn't seem to phase him one bit. And again like The Shape, the Gunslinger wears a mask of sorts; an inexpressive "human" face that reveals nothing of his internal motivations, needs or desires. He's impossible to read, beyond the fact that he absolutely wants to kill you.

After the thrilling action elements of Westworld, there's also a fascinating science fiction premise operating here, one specifically involving modern human morality. In this regard, the film concerns an amusement park called Delos where rich patrons can pay 1,000 dollars a day to relive past epochs in "Western World," "Roman World" and "Medieval World."  

More than that, these patrons pay for the right to have sexual intercourse with subservient androids (with no consequences...) and even kill those androids (again with no consequences) in the various theme parks.  Clearly, there's a statement here about the activities that human beings consider entertaining. Is it okay to commit violence when the target of such violence is a machine? Is it okay to engage in casual sexual relations with a slave, too?  

Also, though it isn't heavy-handed about it, the film comments broadly on technology and the use we put it to. There's the suggestion here that the androids are beginning to develop some sense of awareness of themselves and their rights as intelligent beings.  

And their uprising in the film -- though terrifying -- seems justified given their cruel treatment at the hands of the wealthy elite. In many ways, Westworld forecasts Terminator and also the re-made Battlestar Galactica of the 2000s in exploring such a notion.  It's a science-run-amok Frankenstein story in which the technological children of man, perhaps rightly, turn on their biological parents.

Westworld received decidedly mixed reviews upon release in the mid-1970s. Newsweek's Paul D Zimmerman wanted the film to go further than it did, noting "What's the point of fantasy if it's rated PG?"  Meanwhile, Pauline Kael assessed the film "moderately entertaining."   Audiences were more enthusiastic, and today the film is considered a genre classic.

Uniquely, Crichton returned to the narrative template of Westworld while fashioning his most famous novel (later a movie), Jurassic Park.  In that instance, another high-tech amusement park also fell prey to a rebellion by its denizens: genetically-engineered dinosaurs.

"The best amusement park in the world...."


Westworld opens with a TV commercial that promotes the concept of the amusement park Delos to future clients.  

Here, in this world, you can escape complex reality and live another life all together.  

In Western World, Roman World (a place of "sensual, relaxed morality"), and Medieval World, visitors can indulge their most elaborate fantasies all while interacting with robots programmed to act, talk and even "bleed" just like humans.  You can kill, or fuck, for sport.

When the commercial's spokesmen interviews visitors to Delos, they enthuse about the amusement park, noting that it is "the realest" thing they have ever done.  One senior citizen raves about having played "sheriff" in Westworld for a week.  Another client, a woman, blushes at her memories of Roman World.

After the advert ends, and a hover craft lands at Delos, two visitors to the park, the macho John (James Brolin) and the neurotic Peter (Richard Benjamin) choose Western World as their "world of choice" and are shuttled by tram to a re-created town mimicking conditions in the American West of 1880.  

In short order the pair indulges in whoring and gunfights..and even murder.   On two successive occasions, Peter is confronted by a bald, dressed-in-black Gunslinger (Brynner), an android who seems to have it in for him.  And in both instances,  Peter bloodily guns the robot down.

While John and Peter enjoy their week in Westworld, the scientists tasked with overseeing the vast Delos grounds toil in subterranean environs to repair and service hundreds of androids.  A new concern soon arises.  Android breakdowns are on the rise, almost as though an infectious disease is passing from one android to another.  The scientists watch concerned as android behavior begins to turn...rebellious

Instead of shutting down the park, the scientists opt to continue observing.

This delay in decisive action proves to be a mistake, since the androids revolt and begin to murder the Delos guests.  In Westworld, the Gunslinger returns one last time, looking to even up the score.  He murders John in a shoot-out.  The machine then sets off on a relentless pursuit of Peter through Roman World and Medieval World.  

A desperate Peter now must utilize every survival instinct and weapon at his disposal (including hydrochloric acid and fire) to survive the machine's endless attacks.

"The realest thing I've ever done..."


The first thing to acknowledge about Westworld is that the  Michael Crichton has directed the low-budget picture with a real sense of competence...and most importantly, consistency.

For instance, all of the scenes set in the underground complex utilize lengthy camera pans.  These pans (of high-tech machinery, infirmary beds for the robots, whirring reel-to-reel computers, etc.) cover a tremendous amount of territory and successively give one the impression of Delos' massive control apparatus.  

We return to this underground complex several times in the film, and Crichton universally deploys these lengthy pans; not just to provide the setting a sense of scope, but also to keep things moving in the film.  

We're constantly aware, via these frequent panning shots, of the momentum necessary to keep Delos operational.  Underground, nothing ever stops.  And the nighttime "clean-up" scene in Westworld with vehicles and workmen gathering the "dead" androids for repairs likewise adds to the film's sense of reality; to the sense of a real-life park at an apex of activity.

Inside Westworld, Crichton adopts a different technique to film the "fake" cowboy moments; the moments that seem to be straight out of old Western films and TV shows.  In this case -- for bar fights and shoot-outs that aren't real -- he deploys slow motion photography so that immediately our minds seize on the concept of movie Westerns; and of a history of being entertained by them.  These heightened, almost exaggerated (and again, lengthy) sequences remind us that this world of Delos is all but  "play acting;" that the world Peter and John engage with in Delos is not real or authentic.  It's a game.

When things turn sour inside Westworld,  Crichton makes another pivot in terms of stylistic flourishes.  He does away with the artificiality of the slow motion photography and relies instead on staging and shooting tricks we most closely associate with the horror genre.  He thus adopts first person subjective shotstracking shots, and even stages a decent "jolt moment" as Peter backs up into terror.   All of these moments combine to ramp up the tension, and carry us through the film's exciting climax.  There's even a sting-in-the-tail/tale involving the (scorched) Gunslinger as he gets up for one last kill.

It isn't so much that any of this workmanship represents revolutionary or trail-blazing filmmaking; it's merely that Crichton's approach is economical and adroit; efficient and well-done. Without being show-offy, he almost universally finds the right shot for the right scene, and the result is that Westworld moves effortlessly from set-piece to set-piece with a bit of good visual grace to go alongside the film's subversive and extremely witty sense of humor.

"There are no rules..."


If Crichton proves deft as a film director, it's fair to make the same case for him as the film's screenwriter.  

Even though Westworld features a fairly straight-forward narrative that devolves into a last-act chase sequence, Crichton has nonetheless layered on social commentary in a way that proves both appealing and funny.  These touches earn the film a serious appraisal in terms of the genre and what it can accomplish.

Specifically, Westworld ponders the human race and its unlucky creation, the androids of Delos.  First let's consider the humans.  

These are creatures who pay an exorbitant fee to escape from reality into a more primitive, less comfortable past.  That fact alone says something about us, doesn't it?  Specifically, it says that we've built ourselves an uncomfortable modern world in which the only outlet or escape is a fantasy that looks to the past; to "less complicated" times.  Ironically, we romanticize that past and yearn for the "simplicity of it" instead of making the present more tolerable and liveable.  

As Star Trek's Mr. Spock would say...highly illogical.

In this more primitive past, the vacationing guests at Delos can indulge sexual and violent fantasy, all without feeling the slightest bit of guilt or remorse about the behavior because the target of these fantasies is a machine...and we don't consider machines to be life-forms. Again, this is a statement about us as a species.  We find killing...fun.  And we consider machines to be subservient; not our equals.

Intriguingly, Delos also makes it possible for people lacking in any real survival skills or abilities (like Dick Van Patten's character) to buff up their egos and feel like larger-than-life heroes.

Yet  those feelings of heroism and bravery stem from killing machines who are programmed to be slow on the draw; or by bedding female androids who are not entitled "to refuse a guest's seduction."   

In other words, it's a stacked deck.  

There's no danger here and no real adversity either.  And where there's no adversity, there's no growth and no learning.  Again, it's all just a game, a delusion to make a guest feel "special" when in fact the androids have no choice but to die on cue or submit to sexual advances.  As a species, we're easily fooled into believing we're pretty terrific, aren't we?

And that's where Peter (Benjamin) proves an interesting character.  He's a neurotic, insecure lawyer still hung up on his ex-wife (who took him to the cleaners during their divorce).  He's the stereotypical modern "sissy" man, and he feels "big" about himself for bedding an android, and for shooting down an android gunslinger.   

He thus mistakes the world of Delos for one that really matters. This error becomes plain to him when the androids malfunction and commit murder.  Suddenly, Peter is thrown into a situation that is all-too-real, and he must use his wits, imagination, constitution and other human gifts to survive the day.   His previous (and short-lived) confidence was based on a sham.

But at the end of the film, a battered, sweating, exhausted Peter realizes the truth.  That he survived something "real" and that it wasn't at all a game.  Rather, it was terrifying.  The last shot of the film is a close-shot of Peter recognizing human folly.  He recognizes his own folly (in treating the game like it mattered) and the Delos creator's folly: in believing that nothing here could ever possibly go wrong.

In terms of the androids, the film hints (and just barely so...) the idea that the machines are gaining an awareness of how badly they are being used by the human guests.  In Brynner's case, one gets the sense that the android is tired of losing to a sissy human who he knows he could beat in any fair fight.  The androids here are "sex models" and gunfighters, and every single day they have to die or put out so that men like Dick Van Patten or Richard Benjamin can feel better about themselves.  Men like the character played by James Brolin are not much better: macho thugs who see people simply as receptacles for their urges and appetites, both sexual and violent.

It's an unflattering portrait of modern man.

In this scenario, as in films like Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, audience loyalties become increasingly divided. It's not right to enslave any creature, and yet nor do we wish to see humanity subjugated before an enemy. Westworld offers a very interesting take on all this, and I agree with reviewer Zimmerman that the film would have been even better had it been R-rated; so that we could understand even better the plight of these machines who suddenly realize it isn't so pleasant to be cast as the villain (or the prize...) in another creature's fairy tale.

Finally, I just have to comment on Yul Brynner's famous performance.  He gives new meaning to the term "steely eyed," and brings an intense sense of physicality to the role of the android gunslinger.  He moves with a strange but purposeful carriage (even while riding a horse) and successfully evokes the feeling of something that is more than human.  Although his face rarely shows expression of any type, there is also something in Brynner's gait and stance that implicitly suggests an under-the-surface malevolence.  Even though he is an emotionless machine, he's clearly a bad ass.   

This is a really accomplished performance, and Brynner isn't just portraying a machine...he's portraying a machine with a (data?) chip on his shoulder.  He's a lot of fun to watch in this movie.

When I wrote Horror Films of the 1970s back in the years 1999-2000, I finished off a review of Westworld with the thought that "what man has forged to serve him will dominate him unless stopped, or conversely, treated with common decency."  Today that conclusion still seems apt.

Someone organize those androids at Delos a union...before it's too late.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Sci-Fi Pulse Radio Appearance: Enter The House Between, and Horror Decade Books



This week, I'm a guest on Sci-Fi Pulse Radio with co-hosts Ian Cullen and Marx Pyle to discuss Enter The House Between's first season (to wrap up beginning September 13, 2023), as well as my latest Horror Films decades book from McFarland, Horror Films 2000 -2009.  

We also discussed the Strange New Worlds' musical episode (which I loved), and some slasher movie remakes.

Give it a listen!





Tuesday, August 01, 2023

Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (1985)


In memory of Paul Reubens --  Pee Wee Herman --  who passed away yesterday.

This nearly forty year old comedy remains a deft and amusing collaboration between Tim Burton and Paul Reubens, a comedian who, in the early 1980s, created the character of Pee Wee Herman and saw that persona rise to national fame.  

If you're unfamiliar with Pee Wee Herman, he's essentially a big-hearted but emotionally-stunted man-child dressed in a suit. Pee Wee is both charmingly innocent in nature and yet diabolically aggressive when he doesn't get his way.  


In other words, Pee Wee Herman is the Peter Pan Syndrome personified, or -- as Ralph Emerson described the mercurial child -- a "curly, dimpled lunatic."    

Although the Pee Wee Herman persona was originally aimed at adult audiences, the character increasingly became popular with children over the years, eventually starring in an Award-winning Saturday morning TV series, Pee Wee's Playhouse.   

Pee Wee Herman's Big Adventure retains the character's spiky edges, and in doing so acknowledges the difficulties of the adult world at the same time that it reveals Pee Wee's essentially good -- with some lapses -- childish nature.

To one extent or another, all of Tim Burton's films involve quirky misfits or oddballs, and perhaps there is no protagonist in the canon more quirky, or more oddball than Reuben's Pee Wee Herman. 

He's desperately afraid of girls, holds down no job, and focuses all of his obsessive  love upon a single, perfect object or toy: his bicycle. Pee Wee thrives in a bubble of self-indulgent childhood and play, and when he looks outside that bubble, gazes enviously at those who may appear "cooler" than he does.

In the course of Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Pee Wee meets hostility from the "real" (adult) world in the form of an escaped criminal, a biker gang, the jealous boyfriend of an acquaintance, and not least of all, Francis Buxton.  Francis is a rich, indulged man-child, a kind of dark reflection of Pee Wee.  In all cases, except for Francis -- who is truly incorrigible and thus irredeemable -- Pee Wee works his child's magic upon his enemies, transforming them into friends and supporters.

The inference is obvious: unless you're a monster (like Francis...) you just can't hate Pee Wee for long. Whatever his failings in terms of fitting in, Pee Wee is indomitable, and people around him pick-up on that admirable quality.

So what audiences get here is, basically, a very funny commentary on childhood; or perhaps upon society's view of children.  What makes the film so unrelentingly funny, however is that Pee Wee is most definitely not all sunshine and roses, and, certainly, neither are kids in real life.  Like any child, Pee Wee can be abundantly vindictive, capricious, out-of-control, and even ego maniacal.  The film often attains the pinnacle of silliness when Pee Wee -- in pursuit of his perfect bike -- must call upon his juvenile "id" to attain his goal.

It has been widely suggested by critics that Pee Wee Herman is an acquired taste, or that one's "mileage" for the character may vary. Yet to some extent, Pee Wee Herman's Big Adventure thrives even beyond one's appreciation or approval for the central character because of the wild, visual flights of fancy evident here. Even if Pee Wee fails to impress as a character or a comedic concept, his dazzling fantasy world of Rube Goldberg-esque inventions and colorful, strange misfits proves eminently memorable.  With Pee Wee Herman's Big Adventure, you get just not Pee Wee himself to enjoy, but access to Pee Wee's world.  In the final analysis, it's a pretty wild and imaginative place to visit.

Specifically, Burton executes a number of  clever visual jokes that reveal the essence of the unusual lead character and his world view.  In other words, Burton finds way to express with the camera the inner workings of Pee Wee's childish but ultimately admirable psyche.  To some degree, this practice makes the inscrutable, juvenile Pee Wee more sympathetic and heroic.  

And, of course, that's the point.

"Life can be so unfair."


Pee Wee Herman (Paul Reubens) sets out on one lovely day to pick up a new horn for his beloved bike at Chuck's Bike-o-rama.  

Unfortunately, Herman's nasty nemesis, Francis Buxton (Mark Holton) hires someone to steal his  bike.  But when Herman goes on the radio to detail his campaign to get the stolen bike back, Buxton re-hires his underling to get rid of it so he won't get into trouble with his Dad.

After visiting a fortune teller, Herman learns that the missing bike may be "in the basement of the Alamo," and sets off for Texas.  Along the way, he meets an escaped criminal, a waitress who longs to see Paris, a ghost named "Large Marge," a hobo on a train and even a biker gang.  Through it all, Pee Wee admirably keeps his focus on his bike...and makes friends in the process.

Finally, when he learns that a famous child star, Kevin Morton (Jason Hervey) has possession of the bicycle, Pee Wee goes to Hollywood and sneaks onto the Warner Bros. lot to get it back.  Pee Wee recovers his stolen treasure, and after a lengthy chase, becomes a star in his own right.  

As it turns out, a studio exec at Warners think that Pee Wee's big adventure would make a hell of a movie, especially if it starred James Brolin and Morgan Fairchild...

"Everyone has a big "but"..."


Pee Wee Herman's Big Adventure
 works so well as a comedy because Tim Burton unabashedly forgoes any sense of realism, and instead allows the audience to feel (Heaven forbid...) what it would be like to live in Pee Wee's world for ninety minutes.

For instance, as Pee Wee learns of the criminal and shocking theft of his bike, the camera goes cockeyed, Danny Elfman's score turns portentous, and we get extreme close-ups of a sinister-appearing robot Clown.  The bike had been chained to that clown, but now the clown seems to mock Pee Wee with it's very presence.  It's an evil Leviathan, passing judgment; mocking him.

In almost the very next scene, Pee Wee grows despondent over his loss of the bike, and once again, we seem to peek directly into his fevered brain.  Suddenly, everybody (even a mime...) rides by on wheels, implicitly mocking Pee Wee's lack of conveyance.  This is a particularly funny scene, as Pee Wee can't look anywhere without being reminded of the amazing treasure he has lost.  And we absolutely know that bike is amazing, because Pee Wee is practically blinded by the bike's radiance on the first occasion it is depicted in the film.

Soon, Pee Wee's unhappiness turns him into something of a monster, a fact we see expressed visually during a sequence set in a rain-swept alley.  Pee Wee enters the scene first as a shadow, as a giant, hunched over monster.  This image reveals how (an unfair) loss has informed the character's view of the world.  Again and again, Burton's exaggerated use of mise-en-scene tells us something critical about the emotional context of Pee Wee's world and his thoughts.


The film's first scene, in fact, is a pretty terrific reflection of Pee Wee's universe and psyche.  It's a dream sequence in which Pee Wee envisions himself racing in the tour de France.  

As the movie and scene commence, Pee Wee -- on his beloved bike -- passes the other racers effortlessly.  At first, he does so with that trademark little giggle of his.  Then, as he increases speed and vanquishes all of his opponents, the giggle turns to a cackle of ego maniacal glee.  There's something driving and a little out-of-control about this desire to win the race, to be the best, and the escalating insanity of Pee Wee's laughter reveals that.

He wins the race, but as Pee Wee is about to be crowned victorious, his alarm clock rings, exposing the scene as a dream. Instead of ending abruptly, however, the dream continues to unfold, and the gathered attendees just sort of wander away and disperse, a moment which reveals how "deflating" an awakening from fantasy can be.  And indeed, Pee Wee's whole world is fantasy.  When he awakens from it -- as is the case with the bike theft -- it's devastating to him.  Without making Pee Wee's Big Adventure sound like deep social commentary, there's clearly something here about a child's first experience countenancing the world. Witness Pee Wee's disappointment upon learning that the Alamo doesn't actually have a basement.  Why don't they tell kids thing like that, he practically asks.

As I wrote above, Pee Wee's Big Adventure seems to work at its apex of humor when the character's dark side is allowed free rein.  Pee Wee tackles Francis in a pool, and nearly drowns the cad, for instance.  At another point, Pee Wee is debauched when other bicycle riders in the park perform riding tricks, and he can't match them. Suddenly, he sets about to do so.  And when he fails rather clumsily, he nonetheless triumphantly opines "I meant to do that."

The idea here is of a child's id unloosed in a man's body and it is the very thing that makes Pee Wee's Big Adventure so funny.  We all possess an inner child making demands on us, and yet we can't act on those demands or impulses if we wish to be taken seriously.  When confronted with a name-calling bully, we can't just say "I know you are, but what am I?"  No, we must act like adults, even when we are challenged and insulted. The funny thing about Pee Wee Herman is that he possesses no such restraints.  Perhaps, Pee Wee's persona, in some way, is based on wish-fulfilment.


Sometimes, the childish id we carry inside is just about being recognized; about being the center of attention.  With that idea in mind, witness the wondrous and very funny moment in which Pee Wee -- playing a hotel clerk in a movie of his life -- almost unconsciously inches his way to center screen, upstaging "stars" James Brolin and Morgan Fairchild.

Pee Wee is not making this attention-grabbing move out of malice.  Rather it's as if the gravity of his own unquenchable ego pulls him towards the camera, demanding he take center stage.  Aren't we all like that, some days?  

Perhaps most of all, Pee Wee's Big Adventure is a delight because of the whimsical world Burton creates for Pee Wee to inhabit.  Hollywood is littered with instances of successful comedians trying to make a go of it in the movie business and failing (think Tom Green, or Andrew Dice Clay).   In such instances, the comedians transplanted themselves to the silver screen, but did not provide a compelling world to alongside their popular "characters."  

In the case of the late, great Paul Reubens, the comedian was clever to collaborate with Burton, a man who could build a cinematic world from the ground up, and more that, assure that it would work in conjunction with Pee Wee's essential nature.  

It's pretty clear Tim Burton "gets" Pee Wee, or at least understands the concept of being different from the rest of the world.  That act of sympathy -- as well as a sense of daring visual imagination -- underlines all of Pee Wee's Big Adventure and it is also the quality, that, in some circles, earn this movie the descriptor of "classic."

The Road Warrior (1982)

I first viewed  The Road Warrior  on a double bill with  Superman III  at the Castle Theater in Irvington, New Jersey. I was thirteen or fou...