Sunday, March 11, 2012

Movies I don't want to see

(originally published in The Outreach Connection in July 2006)

I’ve had the same conversation with two different people at work. They said they don’t want to see A Prairie Home Companion because they don’t want to watch a movie with Lindsay Lohan in it. This, obviously, is nuts – it’s nuts to such an extent that I don’t even know how to respond to it. You’re saying you’re going to sit there and the wonderful work of Robert Altman and Garrison Keillor and Meryl Streep and so on will be neutralized because, every once in a while, Lindsay Lohan pops up on screen. Not to mention, by the way, that she’s just fine in the film.

I’ve also heard several people say they don’t want to watch Tom Cruise any more because they can’t get past all the weird stuff they’ve read about him (based on the diminished box office returns for Mission Impossible III, this may be a widespread aversion). I can’t understand any of this. I just don’t sit there looking at actors and compulsively running the tabloid record through my head. As I hope you may have noticed, I try not to even write that much about the actors when I review movies. But maybe it’s a losing battle. So I give up. Because much as I try to suppress them, I have my own aversions too. And I’m letting them all out right here.

Nacho Libre

Napoleon Dynamite was cute, but I have no idea why it took off as it did – certainly not because of actor Jon Heder, who was the lamest Saturday Night Live host of the last year (yeah, I still watch SNL – or actually, I tape it and watch it the next day with my finger poised on fast forward – usually makes for a solid half hour show). So now the director Jared Hess makes his follow-up, and it’s something about a Mexican wrestler. Sounds to me like a movie no one would want to make, other than as a stale, calculated attempt to appear fresh and uncalculating.

And then he puts Jack Black in it. Black has always grated on me – he’s loud, pushy, a camera hog. At best you might have him around the edges of a film, like the casting equivalent of a spicy dip. Putting Black at the middle of a film is like putting a cement mixer on an opera house stage (I just came up with that). Just get a few drinks into Peter Jackson and ask him how he thinks it worked out on King Kong. And then in Nacho Libre it looks like he spends a lot of the time exposing bits of his pudgy body. I saw a few seconds of it on some TV show and felt like I wanted to head right for the gym. I don’t want to sit through this film at all.


For years now people have told me how Shrek and The Incredibles and all those others aren’t really kid movies – that if you listen to the dialogue it’s written “for adults.” I just want to ask those people if they have any idea what “adult” cinema can be. If Finding Nemo is for adults, then who is Ingmar Bergman for? Deities, I guess. No wonder he never found a mainstream audience. But this tells us that adult entertainment is all about consolidating known territory rather than occupying a new one. You recognize a reference to some popular TV show or whatnot, so that scores you a point. Are you further ahead in any worthwhile scheme of things? Nope.

I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy those movies I mentioned, but I watch around seven movies a week (from all sources), so I figure I can afford the odd softball. Most people watch maybe one or two movies a week, which, if you ask me, means that none of these cartoons would ever make the cut. And need I point out that even by Hollywood standards, these things are utterly contrived – the nature of the process precludes spontaneity and minimizes the scope for those happy accidents that may present themselves as gifts to live action films (if the directors are smart enough to allow it). It’s like sticking your head inside that same cement mixer, although not necessarily on the stage of the opera house.

The premise of Cars is talking cars, which is just stupid. The plot sounds deadly dull. Apparently the movie has some finesse in evoking car mythology, so that this too may in fact be for adults. It all makes me think I should get my oil changed. It has the voice of Paul Newman, whom I revere, but that’s not enough either. You think he’d be spending time on this if people sent him some proper scripts?

The Lake House

See, my Jack Black thing aside, I think I have a generous spirit. I don’t like to pile on the usual targets. If it was up to me, Tom and Katie and Angelina and Brad would be left alone to get on with things…although if it was really up to me, I guess they might still be waiting on tables. Obsessing about that stuff is the lowest form of conversation, except for when it’s done in that faux-ironic, above-it-all tone, which to me ranks even lower (ask me some time what I think of the Sunday Star). So I’ve got nothing against Keanu Reeves and nothing against Sandra Bullock. But what’s the deal here? Two lonely people separated in time, sending messages through a magic mailbox. It’s romantic, and then afterwards you can have a lively debate about the plausibility of the time travel angle. Great, but how would I know my brain hadn’t died on me?

The Lady in the Water

Now despite everything, I may go to see this one, because I may get suckered again by M. Night Shyamalan. I’m only human after all. But let’s review the record. The Sixth Sense was pretty good, conceded. Unbreakable was mind-blowingly silly. Signs was simply the most horrible pious self-regarding thing imaginable (as an aside, I don’t want to see any more Mel Gibson movies either). The Village was probably the dumbest of all, because it purported to be set in the real world, with no supernatural infiltration. At that point I felt a bit sorry for Shyamalan. But by all accounts he’s a colossal ego who can take care of himself. Anyway, the latest imminent fiasco stars Paul Giamatti as a janitor who finds a mermaid in a swimming pool, or something like that. If Giamatti were the ordinary unassuming guy he always claims, he’d never come close to this script (the only actor I can think of offhand who’s stuck to his principles and never seemed to chase the pay cheque is Daniel Day-Lewis). The trailer calls it a “bedtime story.” Just skip the movie and go straight to the nap.

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