Cinema Psycho

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Archive for November, 2011

Confessions of a Film Geek: Slow Weekends and B-Plus Guilty Pleasures

Posted by CinemaPsycho on November 19, 2011

I’m one of those rare people who likes to go to the movies every weekend. It’s become a habit over the years that I don’t really want to break. Usually there is at least one film coming out that interests me enough to get my ass to the local cineplex at some point during the weekend. However, because I don’t live in a large city, my options are often limited to the wide releases, and some weekends there’s just nothing out there for me. This weekend is one of those. The only wide releases are Happy Feet 2 and the latest Twilight movie. The problem with that is, I’m well over the age of 14. I’ve seen pretty much everything I’ve wanted to see from previous weeks, so there’s literally nothing showing here that I want to see. I’d love to see the new Almodovar film, or the new von Trier, or even well-publicized indies like Martha Marcy May Marlene and Like Crazy. But I can’t, because none of them are showing anywhere near me. Nothing I can do about that. I could complain about it, of course, but I’m sure it would fall on deaf ears, so why bother? Right now I’m counting the days until Scorsese’s Hugo comes out (I know, it’s for kids, but for Marty I’ll make an exception), but at this particular moment, there’s simply nothing for me to see. I actually liked the first Happy Feet movie, but it’s not something I would go see on my own as an adult, and my nephew is a little too old now for dancing penguins. And I hate that they excluded Brittany Murphy (who was still alive when they recorded the voice work). As for Twilight, well, let’s not even go there. I’ve seen exactly 2 1/2 of those movies on DVD (don’t ask why), and that was more than enough for me. Just not my thing.

But I’m not complaining (too much). Slow weekends just come with the territory as a film geek. I’m always glad when people are motivated to go to the movies, even if I may not understand the appeal of the films they watch. I am completely baffled at the idea that people actually pay to see movies like Jack & Jill and New Year’s Eve, but if they didn’t, the whole industry would probably grind to a halt. For better or for worse, those movies keep the studios in business, and the income from them helps get the kinds of movies I like made. It would be great if those crowds were drawn to quality films, of course, but let’s be realistic. On the other hand, I as a paying customer don’t see the need to support films I don’t like either. So, on weekends like this one, I find myself steering clear of the movie theater. It’s gotten to the point where I’ll email my film-loving friends and ask if they’ve seen anything good, hoping for a recommendation. The answer is usually, “no, not really.” Before anyone suggests that I move to a larger city, let me inform you that most people I know who do live in big cities have neither the time nor the money to see all of the movies they want to see; they have more options, but less free time and spending money to use them. Why bother to move to a bigger pond if you can’t afford to do the things you want to do there? Seems like a pointless effort to me.

So, I deal with the slow weekends as just a fact of life. It’s certainly not like anyone has to go to the theater to see a movie these days; I’ve got about 400 movies on Netflix streaming that are just waiting for my attention, not to mention DVDs, movies I’ve recorded off of cable, etc. I’ve got plenty to watch. But I still value the theatrical experience, even if there seem to be fewer and fewer movies playing in wide release that are actually worth the effort. I hate to play the nostalgia card, but I remember when I was a kid, there were always movies playing that I wanted to see – slow weekends didn’t seem to exist. Maybe it’s because I’ve gotten older, my tastes and interests have changed, etc. Or maybe the business has changed – instead of spending a little money on a lot of films, the studios are now spending a lot of money on a few films. And if those films don’t interest you, then you’re just shit out of luck.

This is kind of a weird segue, but I think there’s a certain lack of curiosity among moviegoers these days (and even hardcore movie geeks at times) that keeps them from seeing a lot of the more interesting films that come out, whether it’s theatrical or at home. Again, I remember when I was a kid, me and my friends would just watch movies, purely for the hell of it, and we almost didn’t even care what they were. We watched movies for the fun of watching movies, and if they were junk, then they were junk. If they were brilliant, so much the better. I’m not seeing a lot of that now. I see a lot of people playing the numbers game, limiting themselves only to films they’ve heard of or that are critically approved. Sites like Rotten Tomatoes only feed into that – I see people saying things like, “well, it only got a 47% rating, so it must not be worth watching.” The idea of watching a film simply because you’re interested in seeing it seems to have fallen by the wayside.

The problem with that is, movies aren’t math problems. They are not equations to be solved. They are experiences, and each one is personal. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t read critics or take their opinions seriously – of course they should. But what matters is how you respond to a film – and if you only watch films that are “approved” by some random percentage of know-it-alls, you’re denying yourself the experience of watching a film for yourself and forming your own opinion. I can’t count the number of times I’ve liked a film that critics hated, or hated a film that critics went nuts over. Let’s face it – a lot of critics like really boring shit that most people can’t even sit through without falling asleep. I’ve tried to watch those three-hour Iranian goat-herder films that critics like Roger Ebert and Jonathan Rosenbaum champion, and I’ve gotta tell you, I can’t fucking take it any more. I’d rather watch a marathon of Jerry Bruckheimer productions than a single minute of that nonsense. Look, if those films do something for you, great. Have at it. But I suspect that a lot of people watch them so they can consider themselves “highbrow” and “cultured”, and frankly I really don’t give a shit about that. So if you want to limit your cinematic experiences to that stuff, you’re entitled to do so. But sometimes a viewer just needs a really good, juicy hamburger.

On the other hand, I can’t see myself going too lowbrow either. I find it equally difficult to watch Troma films or micro-budget gross-out comedies; there’s a limit to the level of incompetence I’m willing to suffer through. As bored as I am by the extremely highbrow stuff, I’m equally disinterested in the likes of Jack & Jill and Bucky Larson. I can’t force myself to watch something that looks like it was made for frat-boy morons just on the off chance that there might be a decent laugh or two in it. I used to be able to do that, at least at home on cable, but there are only so many Rob Schneider movies one can sit through before one stars to hate oneself. I guess my taste is right in the middle, where I suspect most film fans are; not too high, not too low, but just right. And within that range, I’m willing to watch just about anything that even vaguely interests me.

Not that I don’t have my guilty pleasures, like everyone else. The difference being that I’m aware they are guilty pleasures, and I treat them as such. While I watch more than my share of indies, foreign films and documentaries, there are times when I crave a little junk food. A slice of cinematic pizza that I know is bad for me, but man, it tastes so good. So I’ll make a bit of a confession here, and hope none of the highbrows will hold it against me.

I’ve developed a serious taste for B-movies. Not even the “respectable” ones like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but the kind that generally go straight to video and don’t even get covered by most critics. I call these “B-plus movies”, as they often feature well-known actors who, for whatever reason, aren’t on the A-list anymore but still have to eat. This is not a new practice in the B-movie world, of course, but it seems to have flourished in the last dozen years or so. I’m talking about small films starring actors like Dennis Hopper (before he died, obviously), Harvey Keitel, Val Kilmer, Ray Liotta, Rutger Hauer, Lance Henriksen, Andy Garcia, Tom Berenger, Jeffrey Combs, Tony Todd, Bruce Campbell, MIchael Biehn, Ving Rhames, Eric Roberts, Danny Trejo, Ron Perlman, Christian Slater, Peter Weller, the list goes on. Michael Madsen used to be on this list, but the guy cranks out like a dozen of these movies a year now, and even I can’t keep up with that. Now, I don’t see every movie these guys put out (I’m not that crazy), but if one or more of them is in a film I’ve never heard of, it’s in a genre I like and it doesn’t look like a total piece of crap, I’m usually willing to give it a shot.

Needless to say, it’s simply not logical to think that a movie will be good just because a certain actor you like is in it (or even two or three actors you like). I realize that. And truthfully, most of these movies turn out to be not very good – some are even completely awful. Yes, most of these are paycheck jobs, and I recognize that going in. But I like these actors, and I enjoy watching them, so I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt more often than not. Even if the movies themselves are bad, usually these actors are good in them, so that’s something. And every once in a while, you find a real gem in that pile and that almost makes it all worth it. So yes, I’ve watched terrible movies like Streets of Blood (police corruption is a good thing, kids!) and The Devil’s Tomb (Ron Perlman appears for 5 whole minutes on a computer screen!), but I’ve also seen some awesome B-movie gems like The Tournament (Ving Rhames, Robert Carlyle), which turned out to be surprisingly well-made and super fun. If I didn’t have that curiosity, I would’ve missed movies like that one. And that would suck for me!

I think part of the appeal of these films for me is that they remind me of a different time, a time in which a half-decent genre flick with a couple of names could actually play in theaters. Given that the B-plus movies are generally about 20 years behind the times (and I don’t mean that as an insult), they remind me of the way movies used to be made – before CGI, before Michael Bay-style editing, before the remake craze, before “tween” sensibilities took over everything. As difficult as it may be to believe now, there was a time when movies were just movies. They didn’t have to appeal to 12-year-olds or make $200 million to be considered a success. They just had to come out and make a decent profit. Now it seems like the video market is the only place to find genre films for adults for the most part, and the really good ones are few and far between. But who knows, that Val Kilmer movie might be a classic just waiting to be discovered… or not.

My point is, too many people let the critics and the culture decide what they watch instead of making an effort to find out for themselves. If you’re iffy about seeing a film, then sure, a negative review might dissuade you. That’s perfectly fine. But if you really want to see something, don’t let freakin’ Rotten Tomatoes stand in your way. For instance, last weekend I went to see Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar, despite the fact that most of the reviews were so-so at best. And it turned out those reviews were mostly right. But I don’t regret going to see it – it’s a film that I was interested in, and I’m glad I had the experience for myself and formed my own opinion of it. That’s what it’s all about. The important thing is not what any critic thinks – the important thing is what you think. What’s your reaction to it? How was your experience with it? That’s what too many people are missing now – they’re denying themselves the chance to make up their own minds. That’s unfortunate. It’s ironic that at a time when people are voicing their opinions about films more than ever, they’re also perfectly willing to let others do their thinking for them.

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