Old Man on the Back Porch

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve watched a shitload of movies that I’ve slowly accumulated via 100% legal, non-piratical means — a heady combination of movies I’ve always wanted to see, movies I feel like I have to see despite a lack of interest (e.g., Up in the Air, An Education), and movies I’m revisiting after many years (like, for instance, 2001: A Space Odyssey — not a big Kubrick fan, but I saw the movie when I was eleven and hated it; maybe I’ll like, or at least appreciate, it now).

As an initiative for my reader novel, I’ve been flirting with the idea of including an appendix of Script to Screen-style articles, posing my initial thoughts upon reading a script versus the final product. A requirement of that, naturally, is to watch some of the movies that I’ve covered that have been released. I’ve already seen a handful for the aforementioned Script to Screen, but plenty of them have infinitely more dubious fates than a January theatrical release — plenty of them have either gone DTV in the U.S. or haven’t seen release here at all. That’s not necessarily indicative of anything, quality-wise, but it’s certainly not the best sign when major stars and Oscar-winning actors show up in movies that can’t even get released in their native country.

So when I say I watched a shitload of movies, I really mean I watched the first 15-60 minutes of a lot of movies before deciding they aren’t worth finishing. Lamentably, one of my favorite scripts, The Big Bang by Erik Jendresen, turned out to be a pretty shitty movie that ended up on the “not worth finishing” pile. It’s a brilliant neo-noir detective script ruined by two things: director Tony Krantz (who teamed with Jendresen to make the better-than-average Otis) using more colored lights and dutch angles than Battlefield Earth to no dramatic effect, and Antonio Banderas’s natural Spanish accent not meshing well with the ratatat noir dialogue. When I heard Banderas would star, I was excited — he has the perfect wry tough-guy sensibility for a noir hero, but the musical lilt of his speech pattern simply doesn’t fit the rhythm of what’s written. It’s like playing Black Sabbath on flute.

Really, though, the strangest thing about all these movies is that the only three that really resonated — the only three worth recommending to others and worth rewatching — were three films with similar protagonists — cantankerous men of a certain age struggling to deal with the changes of the world around them: Gran Torino, Up, and Hardcore. I hadn’t seen any of them, didn’t have much interest in any of them, but felt I needed to in order to keep up with the pop-culture Joneses (besides, after sitting through Cruising, I felt I should reward myself with the good film about depraved ’70s culture’s negative effects on squares).

All three of them blew me away for different reasons, but the common thread between them kind of bothers me. Have I, at the tender age of 29, become the cantankerous old man struggling to adjust to the changing world around him? I can’t relate to anyone unless they’re similarly dyspeptic, and I find myself simultaneously alienating and drifting away from people who say things like, I dunno, “Iron Man 2 wasn’t that bad” or “Hey, have you read the Game of Thrones books?” Because they give me funny looks when I suggest that Iron Man 2 may not have been that bad but could have easily been significantly better, or that I’d much rather read Charles Dickens than George “J.J.” Walker — sorry, R.R. Martin. It’s not that I have no contemporary sensibility — Albert Brooks’s brand new novel is at the top of my to-read list, and I’d rather like to see Bridesmaids if I, you know, left the house to see movies instead of sending a bunch of AVIs to the TiVo — but there’s just a lot of shit that’s, well, shitty, and I don’t think sighing and saying, “It’s not so bad” is helping anything. It all just seems like a waste of time to me.

But maybe that’s because every time I read an in-depth news article about anything, I assume it means we’re all doomed, so time is becoming increasingly precious to me. I’d rather spend time reveling in greatness than justifying the merits of mediocrity. I’m looking at you, inexplicably praised Up in the Air.

Maybe I’m misreading all of it, though. Aside from the three mentioned above, the only other movie I got all the way through was a little gem called Choose. Don’t get me wrong — it’s a laughably stupid movie, and very much on the terrible end of the cinematic spectrum. But it’s eminently watchable in spite of itself — paced briskly enough to be peppy instead of leaden, dopey enough to be laughable instead of frustrating, but not reaching the point of intentional camp. Everyone in the film is surprisingly committed, from the filmmakers to an impressively dignified Kevin Pollak in arguably the film’s silliest role. I’d much rather watch Choose on a lazy Saturday than sit through The Dark Knight again. While also laughably dopey, The Dark Knight — aside from some really great car chases and a wonderful first hour — suffers from superleaded syndrome. It’s just misguided — thinks it’s important — so it’s full of the gravity and gravitas of a significantly less ridiculous film. Yeah, I shit on The Dark Knight in favor of a sublimely stupid horror flick — and I’ll do it again!

I choo-choo-choose Choose (and, incidentally, they changed the frustratingly stupid ending found in my coverage into something merely laughably stupid — kudos, Choose team!). Also, I didn’t particularly like The Dirty Dozen despite the presence of Lee Marvin, the most cantankerous old man who ever lived, and a young Charles Bronson, who would age into a cranky badass wishing death upon anyone under the age of 50 (plus John Cassavetes, who was no slouch when it came to cranky old age — his Love Streams is a masterpiece of alcoholic rage and sadness).

So, after all that, am I the one with the problem? Am I a cranky old racist repressed aviation-obsessed Korean War vet widower who’s so out of touch? As Seymour Skinner once said: “No, it’s the children who are wrong.”

(It should also be noted that I abandoned the appendix idea. Life’s too short to sit through shit I know will be terrible just so I can register modest surprise if it approaches mediocrity.)

Posted by D. B. Bates on May 31, 2011 1:50 PM