Saturday, June 21, 2008

You know who should get some of my hard-earned money? The obscenely wealthy!

I spent a large portion of the last two weeks gazing at the sky, looking for the all-seeing puppeteer/ventriloquist who had been employed by Steven Spielberg. Okay, I'm being a dick. However, in conversation with five people who don't know each other (including two people I don't know who I was chatting with at a friend's party) in the last two weeks, I heard these two almost identical sentences. It freaked me out. Here are the sentences:
"I went to the new Indiana Jones movie. It wasn't very good, but I went in with low expectations."
"I'm seeing the new Indiana Jones movie this weekend, but I'm going in with low expectations."
I don't know if I'm still being overly sensitive from dealing with the deaths of two of my favorite relatives a few months ago, but I do know that life always gets shorter, never longer. If you have low expectations, and you're under no obligations, DON'T FUCKING BOTHER!!!!!
Rent Raiders of the Lost Ark if you need some Indiana Jones in your life that badly. Otherwise, do something you actually want to do. Read a good book, listen to Motorhead, have sex with the wife, go for a stroll in the neighborhood, call an old friend, eat a hoagie, challenge a street tough to a best-of-three-falls no-rules bare-knuckled brawl, savor a delightful pastry. Life is short. And if you're looking forward to the movie, by all means go see it. We all deserve as much pleasure and as little pain as we can rustle up in this horribly unfair life. Why willingly invite dissatisfaction and boredom? I don't understand it at all.

This seems related, but I don't know how to relate it. I'm taking a summer class right now called Overcoming Reading Difficulties that teaches us strategies to get poor readers, kids with reading disorders, and kids who just hate to read engaged with texts. For the last two Fridays, instead of class, I met up with my "reading circle" group and we discussed a novel. I liked everybody in my group, and I enjoyed our conversations. However, one member of my group is also a Radio, Television, and Film major, and her descriptions of required classes made my head explode with rage. She said that in her Intro to Narrative class, the professor told the (impressionable) students that Citizen Kane was the only Orson Welles film worth seeing (though they never watched it in class) and that he declined after that. Then the professor spent three weeks "deconstructing The Matrix." I'm glad she didn't mention the professor's name, because I would have egged his house (I originally wrote this as "I would have carved his obituary on his chest" but I should really be more honest). He's certainly entitled to his incredibly shitty opinion, but his attempt to pass it off as fact to a bunch of 19-year-olds without offering them any evidence, and then spending a ridiculous amount of class time on an entertaining but not very important Hollywood trifle, points out the destructive effect of most university film programs. This doesn't happen in any other discipline. English professors (even shitty English professors) never say, "I'm not going to teach it, but The Naked and the Dead is the only valid Norman Mailer text. For the next three weeks, please open your Anne Rice books to page 12." Or try this one out: "Pythagoras was a one-trick pony. Now for some astrology." Hey, Professor Moron, here are some Orson Welles films to check out during your next sabbatical: The Magnificent Ambersons, Touch of Evil, The Trial, Chimes at Midnight, The Lady from Shanghai, Mr. Arkadin. I could keep going, or you could consult the 98% of film scholars who think that at least one of these films is vitally important to film history. But you're probably watching Speed Racer. Fuck.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The TV show, the movie, the review, the blog post

I'm always a little bummed out when people complain that a particular magazine's or newspaper's critics are bad because they don't like the same movies as the complainer or they don't supply reliable recommendations. Critics should be read for the quality of their ideas and their writing, not for their particular tastes and opinions. I think this used to be the case almost exclusively, until forty years of critics on TV, blurbs, star and number rating systems, weekly box office tabulations, hyperbole, fanboy pantswetting, infotainment, the uniquely American sense of entitlement, the capitalistic demand for the victory of the majority consensus opinion, aggressive advertising hype, the intermingling of advertising and journalism, overpaid stars, the dumbing down of nearly everything, and a consumerist approach to filmgoing turned most American criticism into an offshoot of Consumer Reports. Every film, from the latest McIndiana Jones Mcfranchise to the latest from Bela Tarr, is written about the same way. Comparisons to recognizable brands (or real artists reduced to brands), plot descriptions (careful not to reveal any spoilers), a brief sentence about how good or bad so-and-so was in the lead performance, and a recommendation of whether you should spend your money or wait until it comes out on video. 3 1/2 out of 4 stars. 8 out of 10. 13 screeching owls out of 15. 9 Jon Benet Ramseys out of 10. And don't forget some clever puns! ("Bee Movie" is an A!) Or hyperbole (The best, and only, film I've seen since brunch. I don't think I will see a better film for the rest of the day, though I will be visiting my aunt Judy so I probably won't see any other films today anyway. 75 thumbs up.)
I like to read critics who are good writers, know a lot about their subject, have some interesting ideas, and focus on a variety of films, not just the overhyped business as usual. I usually read their reviews after I see the movie, not before. I don't particularly care whether they share my opinion or not. In conclusion, my way is the best, and the other way is ridiculous. (Not to disavow the importance of a recommendation from somebody who shares your sensibilities, however. That's a little different from 50 critics telling you about a movie you've already heard about 50 times. Still, it's the least important part of a good critic's job, in my arrogant opinion.)

I meant to write about something completely different and got sidetracked on an only slightly related rant. I'm thoroughly enjoying reading some of my favorite critics write and talk about a movie I have no intention of ever seeing, Sex and the City. In fact, two interesting posts are by critics who also have no intention of seeing it. Jim Emerson contemplates the film's popularity and its reviews at this link. Glenn Kenny, who was recently fired from his editing and writing job at Premiere and the blog he wrote on its site called "In the Company of Glenn," wrote a quick, little post on his new blog saying that a perk of unemployment was not having to care about the Sarah Jessica Parker et al. summer juggernaut. He got a pretty heated response to a tossed-off comment and wrote a great post about it here. A couple people who did see the movie and have a lot to say about it are the Real Geezers. I'm always pleased to watch a new Real Geezers review. I worry about one or both of them kicking the bucket since they are well into their eighties. They should have a weekly TV series. Here is their Sex and the City review:

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