Saturday, May 31, 2008


With no Friday night double features at WHC I have to fend for myself. I’m trying to adjust, reading more, resuming old habits like the "4 films for 4 nights" deal at Best Video that got me through my daughter’s high school years, but there’s still something missing. Which means I’ve come to realize how much I began to rely on pre-selected movies and the big screen. To see a movie on the big screen, without WHC, means ... seeing a movie made in 2008, yeah, or going to NYC to see something at Film Forum or Anthology. I even did that, saw two Godard movies, but I think I’m just not cinéiste enough for that. Pilgrimages to the Big City to see Classic Movies seems a bit of an indulgence. So what I’m faced with, bereft of WHC, is a process often referred to as “dumbing down.” And that’s because watching movies on DVD is primarily for entertainment purposes, so I have a hard time working up the attention span for the kinds of movies WHC would show. Godard being a good case in point: I made those trips to NYC expressly to see those movies largely because of the fact that they’re dead on the little screen. Or, to put it more tellingly, as send-ups of le cinéma they must be viewed au cinéma.

So far the only 2008 movies I’ve seen in the theater were 1) The Spiderwick Chronicles, a kid’s movie I saw with kids, one of whom got more than a little scared (he was scared of the big CGI thing; I was scared of Nick Nolte). 2) Iron Man, which answers that deep need, introjected at the age I first learned to read, to see comicbook heroes on the big screen.

The film, the first made by Marvel Comics own production company, sets a standard that perhaps the other Marvel Comics-to-movie franchises will follow, which is to say: it’s essentially like reading the comic book. The Spiderman series has moments that comply with that formula (particularly in the first one) but the problem they’ve encountered is extremely ham-fisted writers creating the "romantic interest." In the comics, you could skip those panels if, like me, you were about eight years old and girls were basically somebody else’s problem (and women, with like breasts and stuff, were kind of embarrassing). But in the film, you have to sit through Kirsten Dunst’s earnest efforts to inhabit a vision of Mary Jane that has nothing to do with the snappy, sassy, guy’s gal that Marvel created. It’s woesomely bad, in other words. Iron Man fares better with Gwyneth Paltrow as the gal Friday that even guy’s guys (who had moms too) realize that even heroes might need, and if she’s got to pine, at least let her pine prettily (and snappily). That’s pretty much it. Robert Downey Jr. is a man who, whatever his failings may be, understands that the point of being on screen is to be entertaining. And he does that well. And Jeff Bridges is sleazy and nasty and uses one helluva voice.

Will I see Ed Norton assay Bruce Banner? Who knows, as a kid I easily tired of The Hulk’s “me Hulk, you human” antics so it’s not like I’m eager for the treat. It’s typical of American tastes in general (which I seem to be always on the outs with, even when I dumb down to the easily consumable popular stuff) that there will be two films of the musclebound numbskull before even one bona fide effort to give us Cap Am . . . or Thor. Do Thor right, I dare ya, I double dare ya. The after-the-credits ending of Iron Man gives us a glimpse of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury (which is just a fun idea), and supposedly we will eventually get The Avengers, in some incarnation that might include Cap and Thor, and of course Iron Man, so, we’ll see.

But this, like the amazing quality of toy action figures since the ‘90s at least, is all more than a bit “too little too late” for this wizened ol’ superhero fancier. I can take heart that my grandkids will have it better, I suppose. But will they really? I remember how wondrous it was to walk into a news stand selling comic books -- there was a store in Wilmington that had all the comics in slots filling an entire wall. I wouldn’t trade the rapt wonder of standing in front of that wall for the first time with much, certainly not with sitting in a movie house to see whatever version of those heroes Hollywood, in its infinite effort to pursue the ersatz, makes available to the ticket-buying millions.

3) Son of Rambow, a Brit movie about kids making movies which should have been better than it was -- it went for treacly when it could’ve gone for sharp (when’s the last time we had a true child visionary, other than that kid that sees dead people?), and 4) Then She Found Me -- one of those female midlife crisis movies, via Helen Hunt, boasting a surprisingly effective Bette Midler (boasting the kind of “work done” that Hunt obviously eschews) and a good dramatic outburst from Colin Firth as a harried single dad, and which, in the end, makes the viewer want to go out and adopt a Chinese baby girl . . . anyway.

What else? I saw Amy Heckerling’s female midlife crisis movie, I Could Never Be Your Woman (2008), which must’ve gone straight to DVD (IMDB says yes -- no theatrical release in the U.S.), but which made me laugh harder than I have at a film in quite some time. Heckerling, who memorably skewered the CA Valley Girl way of life (while making it seem sweetly quaint, no easy feat), in Clueless (1995) while riffing on Jane Austen (if that ain’t walkin’ the walk in terms of “chick flics” what is?), delivers a similar wallop to the moms of the teen shopamatics that inhabited Clueless -- the credits sequence shows footage of face-lifts. Oh yes, this film has bite. Maybe a bit too much -- at times it comes off as a little shrill and frustrated (though Tracey Ullman as a phantasmal Mother Nature playing superego to Michelle Pfeiffer’s aging TV sitcom producer hits the right note with most of her diatribes). The film does aim at the Baby Boomers as the most indulgent of all generations thus far, but also suggests, bravely for such a less-than-brave new world, that growing old gracefully means being willing to hand it over to the new generation . . . and maybe thinking about being responsible for whether or not there’s a world worth handing over. Which is to say -- something I was thinking about, watching all these kiddie entertainments -- that we pretty much do what we do hoping to interest our kiddies in the world we’ve made, but that sooner or later one has to ask why they keep buying into it. Gullible little jerks.

When I was just a little boy
I threw away all of my action toys
while I became obsessed with Operation
With hearts and minds and certain glands
you gotta learn to keep a steady hand
and thus began my morbid fascination
–Andrew Bird, “Dark Matter” (2007)

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