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Movies (And Other Things)
By Shea Serrano
Illustrated by Arturo Torres
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Movies (And Other Things) is a book about, quite frankly, movies (and other things).
One of the chapters, for example, answers which race Kevin Costner was able to white savior the best, because did you know that he white saviors Mexicans in McFarland, USA, and white saviors Native Americans in Dances with Wolves, and white saviors Black people in Black or White, and white saviors the Cleveland Browns in Draft Day?
Another of the chapters, for a second example, answers what other high school movie characters would be in Regina George’s circle of friends if we opened up the Mean Girls universe to include other movies (Johnny Lawrence is temporarily in, Claire from The Breakfast Club is in, Ferris Bueller is out, Isis from Bring It On is out…). Another of the chapters, for a third example, creates a special version of the Academy Awards specifically for rom-coms, the most underrated movie genre of all. And another of the chapters, for a final example, is actually a triple chapter that serves as an NBA-style draft of the very best and most memorable moments in gangster movies.
Many, many things happen in Movies (And Other Things), some of which funny, others of which are sad, a few of which are insightful, and all of which are handled with the type of care and dedication to the smallest details and pockets of pop culture that only a book by Shea Serrano can provide.
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AN INTRODUCTION, BY WAY OF EIGHT QUESTIONS
1. What is this book?
It’s a book about movies, is what it is. I wrote it because I really like movies. They have been important to me since I was a child. They’ll probably be important to me all the way up until I’m dead. Or, at least until they stop making The Fast and the Furious movies. It’s a toss-up on which of those things happens first.
2. How does the book work?
It’s very simple. The book is 30 chapters long. Each chapter is a different movie question that needs to be answered. Sometimes the questions are silly. Other times, the questions are serious. But they’re always answered with (what I hope is) a clear amount of care and respect.
And you don’t have to read the book in order. You can go in whatever order you like. You don’t have to have read, say, chapter 13 (which is about action movies) to understand chapter 14 (which is about Selena).
Oh, also: There’s a lot of art in the book. I like including art with the stuff because it helps give everything a slightly firmer shape, and helps place the reader in the same kind of headspace that I was in whenever I was writing a thing. So, for example, there’s a chapter written as a press conference held by Michael Myers, the iconic movie monster from the Halloween franchise. And that’s, of course, a silly idea, but there’s a piece of art in there with Michael sitting at a conference table in front of a bunch of reporters and seeing that drawing helps turn it into something that feels a little more real, which helps it feel a little more substantial.
3. Didn’t you do a book like this before?
Yes. It was called Basketball (And Other Things). It came out in 2017.
4. Did you know that you were going to write Movies (And Other Things) back when you were writing Basketball (And Other Things)?
Yes. I knew I wanted to write Movies (And Other Things) as soon as I settled on the title for Basketball (And Other Things). But that’s not because we had any kind of grand plan in place to turn the (And Other Things) premise into an actual series or anything like that. Mostly it was because we realized that after Basketball (And Other Things) had proven itself to be successful you could put “(And Other Things)” behind basically anything and it sounded like a fine idea for a book. Basketball (And Other Things). Movies (And Other Things). Rap (And Other Things). Hot Dogs (And Other Things). Roofing (And Other Things). Crossbows (And Other Things). Literally Anything (And Other Things). I Can Do This All Day (And Other Things). You Get the Point (And Other Things).
5. Are there any guidelines or rules that you had in place when you were working on this book?
The closest thing to a guideline or a rule is that, generally speaking, I didn’t want to spend a ton of time or energy talking about movies that came out before the ‘80s. There just haven’t been a lot of times in my life where someone was like, “Hey, man. What’d you think of Tony Curtis in 1959’s Some Like It Hot,” you know what I mean? (In fact, the only reason I know that that’s actually a movie is because Cher mentions it in 1995’s Clueless.) So I just focused on movies that I liked from time periods that I liked. A few of them are from the ‘80s, and all the rest of them are from the ‘90s, 2000s, and 2010s.
6. Wait, I just realized that the reason you’re doing the introduction in a question and answer format is because the chapters in the book are all written in a question and answer format. Is that what’s going on here?
That’s a bingo.
7. Why did you ask John Leguizamo to write the foreword?
Well, there are two reasons why. For one, I asked him to write the foreword because it made sense because this is a book about movies and he is a movie star who has been in a number of films that I enjoy a great deal (he was brilliant as the uncontrollable hothead Benny Blanco in Carlito’s Way; he was brilliant as the venomous Tybalt in Romeo + Juliet; he was brilliant as the charming chop shop owner Aurelio in John Wick; etc.).
But that’s just a part of it. And not even the most important part of it, really. Because the main reason that I asked him to write the foreword is I have looked up to him and admired him and respected him since back when I was in high school and watched Freak, his first one-man Broadway show that ran on HBO.
I thought he was incredible in it. I thought he was smart and I thought he was funny and I thought he was cool and I thought he was talented, and all of those feelings were multiplied by about a billion percent because he, like me, had dark brown hair and dark brown eyes and a last name that ended in a vowel. And I’d for sure seen him in movies and on TV before then (two of the three movies I mentioned above came out before his Freak special, as had The Pest and Spawn and Executive Decision and several others). But it was watching him up on stage in Freak, carrying the entirety of evening on his shoulders, being a total and complete powerhouse, that made me say to myself, “Wow. I… I don’t know who this guy is, but I know he’s going to be someone who will be in my brain for a long time.”
8. Why did you ask Don Cheadle to write the afterword?
Same as with Leguizamo, there are two reasons why. First, because he’s fucking Don Cheadle, is why. He was Basher in the Ocean’s movies. He was Miles Davis in Miles Ahead. He was Mouse Alexander in Devil Wears a Blue Dress. He was War Machine in the Marvel movies. He was Montel in Traffic. He was Buck Swope in Boogie Nights. He was Rocket in Colors. He was Earl “The Goat” Manigault in Rebound. He was Paul Rusesabagina in Hotel Rwanda. On and on and on.
Second, BECAUSE HE’S FUCKING DON CHEADLE, one of the four or five coolest people on the planet. I actually asked him about exactly that when we spoke ahead of time for the afterword. I mentioned the cameo he had in the “D.N.A.” short video that Kendrick Lamar made and asked him what it felt like to exist every day as someone who was universally recognized as cool, and of course he gave an answer about how he definitely did not see himself that way, but he did so in the coolest way possible, which was incredible. It was like watching Steph Curry tell you he’s not good at basketball as he’s in the middle of making 45 threes in a row.
A TRICKY THING TO DEAL WITH when writing a book about movies is knowing how much time should be spent recapping the plot of a movie (or movies) that is (or are) central to a given chapter. For example, this chapter heavily features 2007’s I Am Legend, 2014’s The Drop, and 2014’s John Wick. And I like those three movies very much and enjoy talking about them and writing about them and thinking about them. As such, it would be more than easy to spend, say, two thousand words simply going over what those movies are about and the arcs that each of the main characters travel. But I don’t want to do that here. Because I don’t think it’s necessary here. Because this chapter is less a discussion of each of the actual movies and more a discussion of a broad (but significant) similarity that stretches across them.
Robert Neville is the main character in I Am Legend. He is a tough guy. And he comes to own a dog he was not expecting to own. Bob Saginowski is the main character in The Drop. He is a tough guy. And he comes to own a dog that he was not expecting to own. And John Wick is the main character in John Wick. He is a tough guy. And he comes to own a dog he was not expecting to own.1 Certainly these are not the only movie tough guys who have owned dogs,2 but they are the three that I’d like to start this book off with. And so here is the question that this chapter is going to answer: Who was the better tough guy movie dog owner? Was it the military virologist Robert Neville, the brooding bartender Bob Saginowski, or the forced-out-of-retirement iconic assassin John Wick?
There are six different categories one needs to consider when determining who is the better tough guy movie dog owner. They are: (1) What dog is the better breed? (2) What relationship origin story is the most emotional and compelling? (3) Which of the three dog owners was the best at protecting his dog? (4) Which dog was trained the best? (5) Which pairing had the stronger bond? And (6) Which guy looked better holding his dog?
So let’s handle it this way: Let’s go category by category, pick a winner for each, then add up the scores at the end. Whoever has the most category victories is the winner. That’s who the better tough guy movie dog owner is.3
WHAT DOG IS THE BETTER BREED? John Wick’s puppy was a beagle named Daisy. Bob Saginowski’s puppy was a pit bull named Rocco. Robert Neville’s puppy was a German shepherd named Sam. I’m not sure the best way to rank dogs by breed. Best I can tell, they all seem pretty great. And even if we take a wider view of the situation and consider each dog in relation to each owner, things end up still mostly even, what with (a) a beagle being a good pick for John Wick because of the irony, (b) a pit bull being a good pick for Bob Saginowski because of the symbolism,4 and (c) a German shepherd being a good pick for Robert Neville because of the pragmatism.5 This category feels a lot like a stalemate.
Score: Robert Neville: 0 / Bob Saginowski: 0 / John Wick: 0
WHAT RELATIONSHIP ORIGIN STORY IS THE MOST EMOTIONAL AND COMPELLING? Bob Saginowski meets his dog while walking home late one evening. He’s walking all alone and just sort of minding his business and, as he passes a house, he hears whimpering. He stops, listens for the sound again, hears it, then realizes it’s coming from a trash can. He opens up the trash can and sees a puppy inside of it. He takes the puppy out and notices that it’s been beaten into a bloodied mess. The woman who lives in the house happens to be outside on a back patio smoking a cigarette. She watches Bob pull the dog out of the trash. They take the puppy inside, clean him up, then agree that Bob can take a day or two to decide if he wants to become the puppy’s full-time owner.
John Wick meets his puppy via a courier service. It was sent to him from beyond the grave by the woman he loved (she’d recently passed away because of an unnamed terminal illness). She sent it to John because she knew he was going to need something new to love, which is what she explains in the note that arrives with the puppy.
Robert Neville’s dog actually started out as a family dog. It was him, his wife, his daughter, and their puppy, and they were, best we can tell, living a happy and regular life. But then a genetically reengineered version of the measles that was supposed to work as the cure for cancer turned lethal, killing nearly everyone on Earth and transforming many of the people who didn’t immediately die into zombie-vampire things.6 During a flashback, we see that as New York City was being evacuated, Robert’s wife and daughter were being sent away on a helicopter for safekeeping (Robert is a high-ranking member of the military, which is how he was able to secure seats on the escape helicopter for his wife and daughter). Right before they left, Robert’s daughter handed him the puppy she was holding. The helicopter exploded when it was slammed into by another helicopter, killing everyone on board. Robert kept the puppy because it was all he had left after the crash and after the virus outbreak.
If we’re looking at all three of those backstories side by side by side, it’s clear that there are two prominent themes. Bob Saginowski’s puppy serves as the impetus for a new relationship, and for new hope.7 With John Wick and his dog and Robert Neville and his dog, they sit way on the other side of the spectrum. Each dog in those two relationships represent all that remains of each owner’s broken and destroyed attempts at love. Each dog is a reminder of the unyielding loneliness and heartache consuming each guy.
So that’s what we’re looking at. And as strong as the storyline is of Bob potentially finding a proper place for himself in the world, there’s just no way that he can win this category. Which means it’s a toss-up between a guy who gets mailed a dog by his dead wife and a guy who gets handed a dog by his daughter right before she’s killed alongside her mom in a helicopter crash. I vote Wick here. And I understand that Neville lost his wife and his daughter, but that all happened during an apocalypse that would eventually go on to claim literally billions of lives. There’s something a little more poignant, a little more tragic, a little more gripping about a tragedy that feels like it’s singled you out.
Winner: John Wick, though it hardly feels accurate to describe him as a “winner” here.
Score: Robert Neville: 0 / Bob Saginowski: 0 / John Wick: 1
WHICH OF THE THREE DOG OWNERS IS THE BEST AT PROTECTING HIS DOG? Well, I mean, this is really a results-based category. Daisy gets killed within the first fifteen minutes of John Wick. Robert Neville ends up having to kill Sam himself after she starts to turn into a zombie-vampire in the back half of the movie because she got bitten while trying to save Neville’s life. And The Drop ends with Bob Saginowski and Rocco waiting to go on a date with a woman that Bob has a crush on the day after Bob has murdered the guy who originally beat Rocco and put him in that trash can.
Robert Neville was certainly a more natural dog owner, and John Wick was the most skilled of all three with regards to avenging, but Bob was the best at protecting his puppy.
Winner: Bob Saginowski
Score: Robert Neville: 0 / Bob Saginowski: 1 / John Wick: 1
WHICH DOG WAS TRAINED THE BEST? When I was in college, I had a dog named Tyson that I loved a great, great deal. One night during my junior year, I was playing cards at a friend’s house. There were, I think, something like eight other people there. One of them was this guy named Jaime.
Jaime was, to that point, probably the third or fourth sweetest guy I’d ever met in my life. He was also, as it turns out, the third or fourth doofiest as well.8 But so while we were all sitting there playing cards, Jaime got up and walked to the kitchen and picked up a piece of pizza and started eating it. Tyson, a well-known pizza enthusiast, walked over and sat in front of Jaime and stared at him while he ate. A guy sitting at the table said, “How much do you wanna bet that Tyson is about to outsmart Jaime and get that pizza from him?” I don’t know why I thought that was so funny, but let me tell you: I thought that shit was so fucking funny. I’ve had that memory in my head for the past fifteen years and will have it in there for another fifteen years, I’m sure. I love Tyson and I love Jaime and I love pizza.
At any rate, Jaime with Tyson is the same way I think about Bob with Rocco. Bob was kind of a dunce in The Drop. The only real time we see him trying to train Rocco, it’s when they’re at a dog park one morning and he’s trying to get Rocco to sit, which Rocco does not do. I have no doubt that Rocco will grow up in a household full of love and respect, but I also have no doubt that Rocco, like Bob, is going to grow up and be a bit of a blockhead.9 So Bob and Rocco are out.
Robert Neville had Sam pretty well trained, but I can’t get past Sam accidentally running into a building that ended up being a zombie-vampire nest. That’s just too big of a mistake to make in that situation. And Sam is already a fully grown dog by that point. She’s really only ever known a world with zombie-vampires in it, which means she’s only ever known a world where running into a dark building is, by most accounts, a death sentence. So those two are out as well.
The winner here is John Wick and Daisy, because consider this: John Wick receives Daisy one evening. By bedtime, he’s already gotten her house-trained (we see Daisy wait until the next morning before she sprints outside to use the restroom). It only took him a few hours to train a puppy not to pee or poop in the house. That’s incredible. I have a French bulldog that is over three years old that still poops in the house on occasion. There’s probably poop somewhere in my house at this exact moment.
Winner: John Wick
Score: Robert Neville: 0 / Bob Saginowski: 1 / John Wick: 2
Sidebar: More evidence that John Wick is a master dog trainer: John ends up rescuing a new dog from a kill shelter at the end of John Wick. When he takes the dog home, the dog is on a leash and kind of all over the place. John Wick: Chapter 2 takes place just four days after the original. And we see that John has already trained the new dog to walk perfectly by his side without needing a leash at all.
WHICH GUY LOOKED BETTER HOLDING HIS DOG? John Wick is a very handsome man.10 As is Robert Neville.11 But Bob Saginowski, all quiet and weathered, with that five-o’clock shadow that frames his perfect face like a work of art and with that hunkered-in posture that turns the muscles between his shoulders and his neck into a mountain range—that’s a special level of attractive. It’s a generational level of attractive. If somebody in heaven was like, “Excuse me, God. I’ve always wondered this: Where did you get the idea for erections?” God would say something back like, “Oh, man. I just… I don’t know. I was sitting there one day and I pictured Tom Hardy holding a puppy sitting next to a heating oil tank in a basement and the next thing I knew: malibooyah. Erections.” That’s what we’re dealing with here. John and Robert never stood a chance. Bob wins this category.
Winner: Bob Saginowski
Score: Robert Neville: 0 / Bob Saginowski: 2 / John Wick: 2
WHICH PAIRING HAD THE STRONGER BOND? This one feels tricky to measure. Bob Saginowski loved Rocco so much that he was willing to pay Eric Deeds $10,000 for him once Deeds started pressing Bob about it. (Eric Deeds was Rocco’s original owner. He started leaning on Bob for money after he figured out that Bob loved Rocco.) That’s a lot of money. You can go on Craigslist right now and buy a pit bull puppy for, like, $200. Bob could’ve given Rocco back to Eric, gone on Craigslist, bought forty new pit bulls, and still had $2,000 left over. And that’s not even addressing that Bob eventually murdered Eric because he felt like Eric was going to be a continued threat to Rocco.12
Robert Neville loved Sam so much that after she died he had a breakdown so severe he (a) started crying when a mannequin wouldn’t talk to him, and (b) tried to commit suicide by driving his car into a bunch of zombie-vampires at night. (He’d have died if he didn’t get rescued by a woman who just so happened to be out looking for him because she’d heard a radio distress signal that he would put out each day.)
John Wick loved Daisy so much that he was willing to go to war with an entire arm of the Russian mob just to be able to kill the guy that was responsible for Daisy’s death, and, so, I mean, if a good way to measure how much you love something is by counting how many of another thing you’re willing to kill for it, then John Wick is way the fuck up there, you know what I’m saying? HOWEVER, there’s a scene late in the movie where a man asks Wick why he’s going so insane about a dead dog and Wick explains that it wasn’t just that the dog was taken away from him, but also he had taken from him the opportunity to grieve the loss of his wife. That, to me, makes it clear that the killing spree was due more to the gigantic hole he had blown through his heart when his wife died than the killing of Daisy.
Robert wins this category.
Winner: Robert Neville
Score: Robert Neville: 1 / Bob Saginowski: 2 / John Wick: 2
Given that this has ended in a tie between between Bob Saginowski and John Wick, and given that I do not want to start this book with a question that does not have a proper answer, let’s very quickly revisit that first category that ended up getting scored a stalemate and modify it a bit. Let’s make it so that rather than looking only at each dog’s breed, what we’re doing is looking at which dog breed works the best as a philosophical avatar for its owner. If we do that, I think we can, by the tiniest of snouts, nudge this thing in Bob Saginowski’s direction. Because those two, when you step back and really look at all the parts and pieces, just seem more cosmically aligned than John Wick and Daisy.
So there it is.
Bob’s the winner of this category, so Bob’s the winner of the whole thing.
Bob Saginowski is the better tough guy movie dog owner.
THE QUESTION “WHO GETS IT THE WORST IN KILL BILL?” isn’t entirely accurate. At least, not within the construct of this chapter, anyway. Because that’s not really what I want to ask. What I really want to ask is, “Who gets it the second worst in the Kill Bill movie franchise?” That’s different in two ways. First, it’s different because the phrase “the Kill Bill movie franchise” makes it clear that both Kill Bill: Volume 1 and Kill Bill: Volume 2 are going to be talked about, not just Kill Bill: Volume 1. Second, it’s different because it establishes that we’re looking to figure out who got it the second worst in those movies, not who got it the first worst, because the first worst is too easy.
And so that’s the real question here: Who gets it the second worst in the Kill Bill movie franchise?
And I hope that it’s obvious here that the entire reason for the meta nature of this chapter intro is that it is a reflection of the way that Quentin Tarantino makes his movies.1 I also hope it’s obvious here that pointing out exactly what I’m doing is also a reflection of the Quentin Tarantino process, because the only thing he seems to like more than making movies that fold over onto themselves is explaining to people in those movies that he’s making movies that are folding over onto themselves.2
The plot mechanics of the Kill Bill movies are simple: A woman decides that she no longer wants to be part of a world-class assassination team. She disappears into the wind. The leader (and also her boyfriend) thinks that she was killed on her last mission, and so he sets out to hunt down her killer(s). Alas, he finds her in El Paso, Texas, living under a fake name and preparing to get married, and so he and the other members of the world-class assassination squad kill her, and they kill the man she’s about to marry, and they also kill everyone else who happens to be in the room (the woman and her soon-to-be husband were having a wedding rehearsal when the assassins showed up).
Except here’s the trick: The woman didn’t die in the attack. It looks a lot like she does, and certainly no fault can be placed at the feet of the man or the assassins because they do shoot her square in the head, which is typically a thing that causes people to no longer be alive. But she doesn’t. The bullet in her brain sends her into a coma for four years. When she wakes up, she (rightfully) decides that everyone involved in the attack has to die. And so, the two movies follow her as she attempts to kill each person who played a part in the massacre, one by one, in various forms and fashions.
There are dozens of characters in the Kill Bill universe, but the principal characters are as such:
- "Paging through Serrano's MOVIES (AND OTHER THINGS) is like taking a long drive at night with a friend; there's that warmth and familiarity where the chat is more important than the fastest route from Point A to Point B. [MOVIES] is like a textbook gone right; your attention couldn't wander if it tried. With a foreword by John Leguizamo and afterword by Don Cheadle, movie buffs have no excuse not to lose themselves in this oddball book."—The New York Times
- PREVIOUS PRAISE FOR SHEA SERRANO
- On Sale
- Oct 8, 2019
- Page Count
- 256 pages