Thursday, September 29, 2011

Surprise, surprise: Social media is ruining the surprise

One reason we watch movies is for the hook. Another is the characters. But let's face it: The most fun is the surprise.
It doesn't happen too often, though, does it? In fact, it hasn't happened at all for me in a few years. I don't know if it ever will again.
There's so much out there to spoil the surprise. Spoilers lurk in Twitter, Facebook and e-mail, let alone the office water cooler. Hell it was hard enough not to hear about any major shock BEFORE social media. Homer Simpson, after all, spoiled one of the best (see below), and that was in 1983, before cell phones were just a twinkle in your eye.
Those who make movies don't seem to care about the surprise. They care about shock value, sure, but that usually translates into getting to see someone's skin peeled off or something equally gruesome or maybe lots of fecal jokes.
Shock = money.
The reason I'm partly blaming social media is because pulling off a surprise is nearly impossible anyway. How many can you remember? I will list five below. I call them the five best, but to be honest they are the only five I recall. It takes brilliant, Breaking-Bad-type writing, sturdy plot building and incredible acting. It has to get an increasingly cynical public because we're mostly fed fast-food remakes and retread "thrillers" (I'm one of them if you couldn't tell) to completely buy into a plot, then shift it and come up with a twist so amazing it blows our minds.
So let's say a movie actually does this, against all odds, the kind Phil Collins sang about. Well, come on. Our hype machines are just begging for some grease given today's entertainment climate. We'd Tweet, Facebook and text it to death. And even if any of us didn't give it away, again, Against All Odds, the rest of us would go to the movie expecting a surprise. And when you're expecting a surprise, you're not nearly as surprised when it happens. Talk to M. Night Shyamalan about that one.

My top five movie surprises of all time. I doubt these will shock you. You see what I did there?
1. "The Empire Strikes Back" — Oh, come on, admit it, you gasped, and gasped HARD, when Darth Vader told Luke he was his father. I still remember the theater recoiling in horror. Even Dad, who could tell us what would happen at the end of a movie within the first five minutes, didn't sniff that one out. That surprise also kind of made every other Star Wars movie sucky, or at least not as good as "Empire," but man was that a fun one. The only problem? No way would it work today. Our cynicism wouldn't let us buy into it, and the surprise would last about five minutes after the movie came out.
2. "The Usual Suspects" — This doesn't come until the very end, but that just makes it one of the best endings, ever, to a movie. And it manages to pull off a fun surprise twice. You actually think someone else is Keyser Soze before you find out someone ELSE is Soze.
3. "The Sixth Sense" — I wonder if M. Night's career would have been better had he NOT made this movie. Granted it's probably one of the best movies ever made in the last 20 years, and wow did that ending throw me. You too. Admit it. No, you did NOT know Bruce Willis was really dead. But this movie haunted him throughout his career. He became the "surprise" guy, and that kind of magic only happens once in a director's life. By the time "The Village" came out the act had grown so tired that he seemed to just give up and made some horrible, horrible pictures after that.
4. "The Crying Game" — Hey, I thought he looked female, too, although I remember my mother whispering to me right before the twist "She doesn't have much of a chest." It's gotta be the only time a non-porno film had a shot of a penis be so central to the plot.
5. "Fight Club" — The thing I loved about this, just like "The Sixth Sense," is the surprise was like a delicious cherry on the sundae. We didn't need the surprise for it to be a terrific movie. Yet you add in the surprise and it's an absolute classic. One of the most underrated films of all the time.

Bonuses: Oh, how I wish I was in the theater when that creature popped out of the guy's stomach in "Alien." My uncle was and he said it was one of the biggest shocks of his life. And "Psycho" practically invented the surprise twist, although I saw it coming because of far too many references to Norman and his mother before I caught it on TV when I was 12.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The ridge

My name is Pokerpeaker. My screen name. Anyway, I'm an addict.
I just can't completely give up ridges.
I have written about the line I walk between being a father and being a mountaineer many times, and quite frankly, you're sick of hearing about it. Hey, me too. But it's on my mind every summer, especially when my friends start talking about their adventures.
One friend who I've taken under my wing started them this year, just like she did last year. If I once pushed her to tackle all the 14ers, she's the one who now pushes me to keep climbing.
I saw this ridge last year, she told me over noodles. You would love it.
I probably would, I said.
It's only Class 3, she said, and my ears perked up. It looked solid. It also looked FUN.
Truth be told, she had me at "ridge."
The conclusion I've reached whenever I ponder something like whether I should be climbing again is that I can still climb. I can't, or I won't, your choice, give up my time in the peaks completely. I've reduced it, sure, no doubt, but even if I get out and do one wild, fun thing, I know I'm still me. It's probably much like the dad who goes out to Vegas with his friends once a year. 
Since I was 15, alpine climbing, not just simple hiking, was what fascinated me. My time spent above treeline was always my favorite part of the day. Those hikes through the forest? Boring. Walking on tundra to a summit? Eh. Scrambling over boulders and exposed terrain on a ridge? Yeah, that's the ticket. 
Just last week, I had the opportunity to climb Ice Mountain with that same friend. It's something I've wanted to do for years. I already attempted it once but the damn lightning got in the way. It's honestly something I WOULD have knocked off years ago if it wasn't for those meddlin' kids.
But I cancelled the trip. Snow came a little early this year to the peaks, although September is always a crapshoot anyway. And I can't climb a Class 3 route with ice and snow on it.
A proper balance means taking educated, necessary and filtered risks to climb a tough route, and not doing it very often. It does not mean being even remotely reckless. I probably could have climbed Ice Mountain anyway, and I probably would have eight years ago. I can't any longer.
So this year I'm left with thoughts of balancing along a ridge to Father Dyer Peak, a high 13er near Breckenridge. We scrambled, walked across ledges where a slip would mean certain death and sniffed the blue sky many times. 
We did it on a clear day, on a clean, solid route, and when it wasn't clear any longer, we went down, forgoing a third peak in the process.
It was safe.
It wasn't reckless.
But I can see why addicts keep doing what they do. Because, man, it was FUN.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Moonlight Sonata

It's been a strange 9/11 for me this year. I've written today about what many others were doing to mark the anniversary. I really had no idea what to do myself.
I found it hard to mark the day because to me it represents everything that's gone wrong since the attacks. Rather than use the opportunity to come together as a country, we're further apart. We are more paranoid, angrier and poorer. We are in two wars that don't look to have any kind of an end. Sept. 11 was a horrible day, and we are far worse as a country as a result. Why would anyone want to mark that?
This resonated with me in many ways, and so I do not want to repeat any of it, even though I already have. I can't help it.
Yet 9/11 IS a big part of our history, like it or not, and I can't forget it. I would have to mark it somehow.
I thought of a way early this evening.
There are so many, many things I do not like about our country. I hate our squirming politics, our selfish health care, our arrogance, our pandering to the rich, our refusal to even look at what needs to be fixed and our overindulgence.
But there is one thing I love, and that is our ability to be ourselves.
Individuality is not only allowed, it's encouraged, even celebrated. Politicians who appear fresh and free-thinking are the ones who are celebrated, at least initially, which explains why the crazier candidates get a foothold before (usually) saner minds prevail. We wear costumes to running races. Innovators like Steve Jobs are treated like Jesus when they are close to death.
You could argue the opposite of course. Airport security makes us take off our clothes before we can board a plane, and the entertainment business prefers movies that are reheated rather than created, and bands and blogs and tweets all seem to run together. But come on. The fact that we HAVE all these things, even the chance to go anywhere we want on a plane, is proof enough.
I'm many things, a writer, a father, a musician and a lover of words, movies, creativity, dogs and cats, music (especially the hard stuff), and most of all, I'm an active person. Climbing, hiking, biking, taking risks and, of course, running are all a big part of my life.
There was a full moon Sunday night.
It was probably risky to run in the park, on a trail, in the dark, with only the silver light of the moon to guide my footsteps. It was also magic.
Five miles about did it. I thought about those who died and those who had died since to protect our country.
I ran tired, a little worn out from my 14-miler the day before. But I also fast. I ran hard. Most of all, I ran free.