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Rants and raves…

I’m OK, You Suck: Why People Are Allowed to Like Different Things Than You

Posted by CinemaPsycho on March 17, 2013

There seems to be a virus going around. I call it a “virus” because I think that’s the best way to describe it: it gets inside you and once you’ve got it, it’s a bitch to get rid of. It’s also contagious and potentially harmful to one’s general well-being. I call it the “I’m OK, You Suck” virus (named after the famous psychotherapy book “I’m OK, You’re OK”, if you didn’t get the reference), in which people seem to think that their taste and only their taste is valid, and no one else is allowed to have different taste than theirs. This is a virus that’s been going around for a long, long time now, and some professional critics have had it for decades and still haven’t kicked it. But it’s gone even beyond that now, to the point where people are questioning why certain genres even exist, and berating audiences for enjoying them. This is something I don’t understand, and I’m trying to figure out the mentality behind it. Where does this come from? Why can’t people just, you know… ignore things they don’t like?

I first encountered a strain of this particular virus in film school in the early 90’s, where I was informed by the film snobs that I wasn’t allowed to like movies like Die Hard. Really. That just wasn’t cool. OK, I get that John McTiernan isn’t exactly considered an auteur, and I get the whole anti-Hollywood thing. But I always figured, when Hollywood actually does something right, why not reward them for it? Nope, unacceptable. Never mind that I also liked Woody Allen, Wim Wenders and Pedro Almodovar. I just liked good movies, period, and I did not give a damn where they came from. But it seems if you like this thing, you can’t possibly like anything else. Never understood that kind of thinking. Some people never got where I was coming from. Some people came around, and we’re still friends to this day. But I never understood the virus. (Never mind that the new Die Hard sequel is barely even a Die Hard movie at all; that’s a separate issue, and one not even worth discussing.)bd0a1a272a8edd801c096158410f6a522cedb846b182e37e748fa8d0.jpg

But some people have to make a statement all the time; they can’t just like what they like, and let others like what they like. For some reason, that’s difficult for them. I don’t feel guilty about my guilty pleasures, and I see no reason why I should. Should I feel ashamed that I have Clueless in my DVD collection? I don’t see why. It’s a funny movie. I enjoy watching it. If you can resist the charms of Alicia Silverstone, that’s your problem, buddy. I own the “Whatever!” Edition, and I feel no shame. Look, I never had any grand illusions (or delusions) about bringing down the system. The system’s still there, last time I checked. I never thought it would be otherwise. If you refuse to watch anything made by Hollywood, you’re going to miss out on a lot of great stuff. And there are just as many awful indie and foreign films as there are awful Hollywood films. I know, because I’ve seen them. The great irony is, when you really get to know the film snobs, you find out they grew up on Spielberg and Lucas just like everybody else in the world. And they cried at the end of E.T. too. I just wasn’t bullshitting anybody about it.

This new strain of the virus is even more insidious, because some people apparently don’t even know they have it. But they’re exhibiting symptoms nonetheless. It’s gotten to the point where people aren’t just criticizing individual films any more, they’re actually questioning the existence of entire genres and asking, “why does Hollywood keep making these films?” In other words, why do these movies exist? Well, if you’re going to get all existential and whatnot, you could ask why anything exists. I’m not a philosophy professor, so I really can’t help you with that. But in general, genre movies exist because people like them. Therefore, they keep buying tickets, therefore the studios make money, therefore more genre movies are made. Seems pretty obvious to me. If you don’t understand that, I don’t know what to tell you. Like any other business, Hollywood makes a product that people buy. Variations on a theme. If something works, they keep doing it. If there’s an audience for something, they keep serving that audience, because that’s how they make money. What don’t you understand?

Here’s the basic comment I keep reading over and over again: I don’t know why they keep making movies like this and I think you people are stupid for watching them over and over again and I’m so tired of these movies and you people suck for watching them and you must be idiots for paying to see them and Hollywood sucks for making them and blah blah blah…

Well, I’ve got an easy solution for you, buddy… stop watching them.

That’s right. It’s that simple. No one is forcing you to watch anything. Where is this proverbial “gun to your head” that is forcing you to watch any movie? It doesn’t exist. It is your choice to watch something. No one is strapping you to a chair and prying your eyes open like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange. That doesn’t happen. When you watch a movie, you are making a choice and making an effort to watch that movie. Whether it’s in a theater, at home, wherever, nothing is being forced in front of your eyes. So if you don’t want to watch something, just ignore it and move on with your life.

That’s all you have to do. If you don’t like horror films, don’t watch them. That’s all. You don’t have to berate others for watching them. That’s their choice. Worry about your own choices, not other people’s choices. Move on with your life. If you’re tired of superhero movies, stop seeing them. No one is forcing you to see them. Do what you want, and let other people do what they want. If you don’t like raunchy comedies, you don’t have to see them. Just DON’T GO. There’s no gun to your head. Know your own taste and watch what you like to watch. Or watch nothing at all. I don’t care. No one cares. NO ONE IS FORCING YOU TO BUY A TICKET.

Why don’t people understand this? I really don’t know. Look, it’s one thing to criticize an individual movie that you’ve watched as being bad. Everyone has the right to do that, of course (provided you can back it up with actual criticism). It’s another thing to take an entire genre as a whole and say, “this has no right to exist”. Bullshit. Of course it does. Even if it’s something I don’t particularly like myself, it still has the right to exist. There’s no argument there. I might think a genre is total bullshit, and I might not want to watch films of that genre. But it still has the right to exist. I would never point to any filmmaker and say, “the films you make should not exist.” Except for child porn. Obviously. What about hardcore porn, amongst consenting adults? Yep. You may not like it or watch it, but I can’t say it has no right to exist. If adults consented to do it, that’s their choice. It’s not my place to say they have no right to do it. If you don’t want to watch A Serbian Film, then don’t watch it. But you don’t have to be upset that it exists. Just don’t watch it. But don’t try to take away other people’s right to watch it, as long as they’re adults. Why is this so difficult to understand?

Believe it or not, it’s even possible to criticize individual films within a genre without hating the entire genre as a whole. For example, I think the Final Destination movies are basically just mean-spirited death porn without point or purpose. But I don’t write off the entire horror genre because of them. Do you see the difference? I’m not stupid enough to say, “I don’t like those movies, therefore I hate all horror movies.” But lots of people seem to think that way. Even some so-called critics. You have to be smart enough to look at films as individual pieces of work, made by different people with different intentions. If you look at an entire genre as being one thing and one thing only, then you are missing the various individual films within that genre and how they differ from each other. That goes for horror films, action films, spaghetti Westerns, 60’s biker films, pretty much any genre you want to put in there. It’s like saying Flash Gordon and Solaris are the same film because they’re both science fiction. Obviously they are not the same film. But some people seem to paint with those kind of broad strokes. Are Love and Death and Fletch the same film? No, of course not. They’re both comedies, but they’re extremely different films. I happen to really enjoy both of them. I imagine you get my point by now?

I keep telling people – get Netflix. You can choose from thousands of movies on streaming and DVD. You no longer have to rely on what your local cineplex is playing. If you want Tarkovsky and Bela Tarr, you can have that. If you want Strippers vs. Werewolves, you can have that too. Or you can have both, and everything in between. Netflix doesn’t judge. You can choose what you want to watch, when you want to watch it. You don’t have to care what other people are watching. If there’s nothing playing at your local theaters that you want to see, you don’t have to go. You don’t have to see Michael Bay’s Giant Shiny Metal Boxes Fight Each Other Part 5: This Time It’s Personal just because it’s the only thing playing. You’re allowed to stay home. No one is forcing you to see anything you don’t want to see. Watch something you like instead. It’s like, I don’t listen to Justin Bieber because I’m not a 12-year-old girl. But I’m not bothered by the existence of Justin Bieber. I just listen to the music that I like, and I move on with my life. Why waste my time hating something that I can’t do anything about? What other people listen to is not my business, and it’s not something I have any control over. I just spend my time enjoying the music that I love. That’s what makes me happy. If I went around lecturing people about their taste all the time, that would just be a wasted effort and everyone would think I was an asshole. What’s the point?

If I’ve learned anything in my time on this planet, I’ve learned that people are going to like what they want to like. And you have to accept that. And you should accept that. Stop worrying about what other people are doing. Worry about what you are doing. Believe in your own taste and love the things you love. I always encourage people to try new things, to go outside their boxes and sample whatever might interest them, whatever genre or subject matter it may happen to be in. Expand your own tastes and experiences with cinema. I still do that all the time, and I’m often surprised in what I end up liking. But the truth is, we all have our own comfort foods and guilty pleasures, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We wouldn’t want people judging us for the movies we love, so why judge others for the movies they love? Just acknowledge, accept and move on.

And remember what I always say – your least favorite film is someone else’s all-time favorite film. It sounds crazy, but it’s true. Someone out there loves that piece of shit. Don’t bother to ask why. They just do.

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Oscars 2013: The Year of the Shrug

Posted by CinemaPsycho on February 25, 2013

Maybe it’s just me, but does it seem to anyone else like no one really cared about the Oscars this year? Am I the only one who got that impression? Maybe it’s because I’ve been sick lately and I’ve been preoccupied with that, so I haven’t been paying the kind of attention that I normally would be. But usually it seems like there’s months and months of Oscar hype before the event, and this year I didn’t see much of that. Even on the internet. Maybe I just didn’t go to the right places. I didn’t see much argument or discussion about it, except for the usual “the whole thing is bullshit” ranting from certain corners. I don’t know, maybe I was the only one who paid attention all along and I never realized it until now. Hey, guess what, your life is a Twilight Zone episode. Didn’t you know?

Seriously though, people can argue about the importance and relevance of the Oscars until kingdom come, but the bottom line is, Hollywood is a business. Without the Oscars, they have no motivation to focus on quality. Period. Without these awards, mainstream filmmaking becomes all about money and making drivel for the lowest common denominator. It becomes about making crap like Battleship and nothing but crap like Battleship. Maybe there’s some idiot out there who wants that, but I don’t. That’s what matters, not who wins and who loses. It’s the big picture that matters. Maybe people like Ethan Hawke don’t understand that, but some of us do.

Oscars-2013-Wallpaper.jpgAs for last night’s show… ugh. I find no fault whatsoever with the winners, and I sincerely congratulate them all. I was particularly happy to see Jennifer Lawrence and Christoph Waltz win, as they gave two of my personal favorite performances of the year. Lawrence seemed incredibly shocked to have won, and I think she was the only person on Earth who didn’t know she was going to win. Anyone who thinks she didn’t earn it with that performance can go fuck themselves, as far as I’m concerned. Ang Lee winning Best Director was a nice surprise. While Life of Pi didn’t make my Top 10, I did like the film and I thought it was very well directed. I am an Ang Lee fan in general (going way back), so it was nice to see him recognized. I still haven’t seen Les Miserables, but everyone seems unanimous that Anne Hathaway is fantastic in the film (whatever its faults may be), so I can’t argue with that one. I wasn’t a huge fan of Lincoln as a film, but I can’t argue that Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance wasn’t great, nor would I be foolish enough to attempt to do so. Not me, brother.

The show itself, however, I thought was a giant disaster from start to finish. It’s almost like they were trying to do the worst possible show they could, full of gaffes and mistakes and really bad jokes. It made me nostalgic for Whoopi Goldberg as host. I thought from the beginning that Seth McFarlane was a terrible choice for host, and last night sadly confirmed it. I don’t hate the guy (though I don’t like his shows), he seems smart and funny in interviews, but his sense of humor was all wrong for the Oscars. The Academy Awards are supposed to be a classy event. The classiest. McFarlane crossed the bad-taste line early on and never looked back. The Oscars are not the place for comedy routines you can research on Mr. Skin. And the whole “we did it, but we didn’t really do it” thing is a bullshit cop-out. The Lincoln joke had to be the all-time low point in the history of the Oscars. And yes, I saw the Rob Lowe/Snow White dance number. Just awful. What’s in store for us next year Seth, dead baby jokes? Oh right, there’s not going to be a next year for you.

What bothers me most about the show is how little attention was paid to what they’re supposed to be they’re for – the movies. Remember them? “We’re celebrating music this year” – WHY?? If you want to celebrate music, watch the Grammys. This is supposed to be an event that celebrates movies. What happened to that? Why was so little of the show spent celebrating the year’s best movies and the people who made them? Why do we need so many useless songs and musical numbers? I’ve really grown to despise the whole “red carpet fashion show” aspect of the pre-show. It’s useless and idiotic. If they would actually do it in a way that’s glamorous and cool, that would be different. But no, they do it in the most visually drab and boring way possible. I can’t imagine anyone sitting at home going, “wow, Amanda Seyfried looks really fucking hot in that dress!” Even if she does. Because they shoot it in the most boring possible way. Why can’t they actually get some photographers on the red carpet who know how to shoot these people properly? Just walking up to them and saying, “what are you wearing?” is boring and stupid. Nobody cares what they’re wearing, it’s what they look like that matters, you nimrods.

But what I really, really hate the most is when they play people off before they finish their speeches. They did that last night to Bill Westenhofer, Life of Pi’s Visual Effects Supervisor, after he spoke for a whole 43 seconds. I’m sorry, that’s fucking bullshit. The whole point of the show is to celebrate these people and the work they have done. This is THEIR NIGHT. This is THEIR MOMENT. Let them finish their speeches, you apes. Give them a goddamn minute.

I don’t really care that the show goes long. I just wish they would focus on what matters, or at least what’s supposed to matter about this event. I’ve said it many times before and I’ll say it again: if you really want to fix the Oscars, here’s what you do. Hire a host with class who gives a shit about movies. Then start the show at 8:00. An hour is long enough for the fashion show. Do the opening monologue and dance number at 8:00. Then spend the rest of the show focusing on what matters – the nominations, the awards, the MOVIES. Give the winners 3 minutes each to speak. Only do songs and musical numbers that relate to this year’s nominated movies. Get the presenters to actually rehearse. Then you’ll finish by 11:30 and everybody’s happy.

And for God’s sake, remember, the show is about the MOVIES. Nothing else. Forget that at your peril.

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My 2012 Pre-Ramble; I Ain’t Jokin’, I Got to Ramble

Posted by CinemaPsycho on January 20, 2013

Greetings and salutations, everybody! This is not my annual Top 10 list; that will be coming in a couple of weeks. This is my annual pre-Top 10 pre-ramble, in which I explain the nature of how my Top 10 list works (as it differs from most people’s in some important ways) and basically sum up the year in movies generally. This year, the ramble is going to be a little different, but I’ll get to that later. I separate the pre-ramble from the Top 10 list because putting the two together equals one fucking long article that takes forever to read and write, and no one wants that. Let’s start with explaining how my Top 10 list differs from other critic/bloggers and go from there.

Longtime readers already know this, but for any new people (nice to have you on board, by the way), let me explain how this works. Because I don’t live in a major city, I don’t always get to see a lot of the best films as they’re released. Some films don’t open wide until January of the next year, after the Oscar nominations come out. As most film fans know, a lot of films open in limited release initially and only play in major cities, so one has to catch up with them later on DVD or streaming. So I give myself an extra month to catch up on the films I really want to see, films that I think might have a chance of making my list. Often my list changes quite a bit because I made that effort to see those films. I’m still watching films from 2012 and my list is still changing from day to day. If I made my list on December 31st, it would be a completely different list, and probably not a very good one. My only criteria is that a film must have had some kind of theatrical release to the general public in the year 2012. No film festival bullshit – an average person has to have been able to go to their local theater and buy a ticket. So if it played in one theater in Iowa for a week, that still counts as a theatrical release. As long as some company put it out there for regular moviegoers to see, and you didn’t have to be some kind of “special person” to see it, it counts. My list, my rules. I feel that’s a more accurate representation of what’s actually out there in theaters for people to see. You may disagree, and that’s your right. But when I see someone’s Top 10 list and there’s a film that hasn’t actually been released yet on it, it invalidates the list for me. That’s how I feel personally. I’m anal about shit like that. I don’t do a Worst List because I try not to see that many films that suck that badly. I can’t claim to have seen everything, and I don’t make that claim. But I make an effort to see as much as I can.

Now, why do I even make a Top 10 list? Am I getting paid for it? No. I do it because I love movies. I do it because I want to celebrate the movies that I loved the most in the past year, and I hope that you will see the movies on my list that you have not seen. Obviously I cannot make you do so, but I hope that my recommendation will inspire you to check out a film or two that you might not have. That’s why I do it – because I love these movies. Because they contributed something positive and worthwhile to my life, because they were time well spent, because they knocked me flat on my ass. I hope they will do they same for you. Let’s face it, there is so much mediocrity out there, not to mention so much utter garbage that people waste their time on, and I do not understand why. When there are 10 films of pure excellence out there, why settle for less? Not only that, but the internet is so full of negativity and hatefulness and pure bullshit, and I hate that. This is my attempt to contribute something positive and useful. I may not be able to make a great film, but I can point you in the direction of 10 of them. It’s not about my ego or the order of the films or what films get left off or any of that. It’s about celebrating the films that I loved this past year. It’s about saying, “this movie kicked my ass, and here’s why.” If you can’t get down with that, then you might as well not read it.

Does this mean that the list is a list of personal favorites? Absolutely. Every Top 10 list is a list of personal favorites. Don’t let any critic tell you otherwise. Any “Best of the Year” list is made up of their personal opinion. Nothing else. I just don’t hide that. They are telling you what they think were the best movies, albums, books, TV shows, whatever of the year. It’s all opinion. What the “best movies” were is all subjective. Each individual will give you a completely different list. I’m giving you mine and saying, “these are the films I loved the most” because I’m not egotistical enough to think that my opinion stands for anything more than what it is. OK? In fact, I encourage everyone to make up their own list. Everyone’s a critic these days anyway, so go ahead and have fun with it. Or, just make a list of the films you loved without numbers or rankings. Whatever you like. I just do 10 because to me, 10 is a good round number. If you make that list, you’ve achieved something. There were a lot of films that I liked and really liked this year, but to make the Top 10, you have to make me love that film. You see the difference? Making the Top 10 means you made a fucking great movie. Listing runners-up and all that, to me that dilutes the whole point of it. But you can do your list any way you want. That’s up to you.

OK, that’s enough of that. Let’s talk about 2012. This is normally where I would make broad generalizations about the year’s movies, because that’s what people like me do at this time of year. I’m not going to do that this year. Because when I think of 2012 right now, the two words that come to mind are tragedy and controversy. This was one of those years, when some truly horrible and awful things happened, and some people chose to blame it on the movies. Even intelligent people who really should know better by now. And look, part of me understands it on some level. When truly horrible, gut-wrenching things happen, it’s only human to look for someone or something to blame. I get that. I am the last person to diminish or make light of such tragedies, believe me. Things like Aurora and Sandy Hook are no joke to me. I am an adult (all evidence to the contrary) and these things sadden and enrage and sicken me just like they do everyone else. I am not immune to those feelings, and even now I am still feeling them. I’m as sad and pissed off as anyone about it.

However. I honestly believe that “violent movies” are not to blame. I believe that if Hollywood suddenly stopped making “violent movies” and “violent shows” tomorrow, absolutely nothing would change. Let me explain why. A friend of mine recently gave me some information that I was not aware of. He sent me a link to a list of school shootings in America, the entire recorded history of them. It turns out there have always been school shootings in America, going back to the early 1800s and every single decade since then. Don’t believe me? Look it up. It didn’t start with Columbine – as long as there have been schools and guns in this country, there have been shootings in schools. Long before movies were even invented, long before video games and TV and even radio, there were school shootings. The only difference is that the guns are more efficient now and they kill more people in these events. The truth is, violent people do violent things. Crazy people do crazy things. Period. Adam Lanza’s problem wasn’t that he saw too many fucking Tarantino movies. Can we agree on that, at least?

Look, I am not here to argue about guns. That’s not my job, and this is not the place for it. I consider it a waste of time. Go to a political site and argue about that all day if you want to waste your time. Let the politicians work that shit out. I’m here to talk about movies. I can tell you that I have seen a lot of movies with gun violence in them. Probably more than the average person. I grew up in the 80’s, when even the romantic comedies had guns in them. I’ve seen films ranging from 48 Hrs. to John Woo and practically everything in between. Some of them several times over. Guns in movies are just something I take for granted. But I have never picked up a gun in my entire life. Never even touched one. Never felt the need or inclination to be a gun person. Just not my thing. And I grew up in a redneck town, so I’m well aware of gun people. I grew up with kids sitting around the cafeteria talking about their favorite guns like they were hot chicks or something. Never rubbed off on me. Seeing guns in movies doesn’t bother me, nor does it make me want to go out and get one for myself. I wasn’t raised to be paranoid of the government. I didn’t watch Death Wish and go, “ooooh, THAT looks like fun!” I’d be more worried about shooting myself in the fucking foot if I had one, because that would be my luck.

So what does this mean? Does it mean that maybe there’s no connection between screen violence and real violence? I don’t know. Maybe it means that intelligent people watch movies differently than people who are stupid and impressionable? Could that be the case? Because if a person is stupid and impressionable, well, they’re going to see just about everything differently, aren’t they? You can’t blame a movie for that. That’s their problem. I’ve always understood that there’s a difference between what I see on the screen and what happens in real life. Even when I was a dumb kid. I’ve always understood that you can’t make a realistic movie about cops, criminals, soldiers, gangsters, cowboys (yes, old people, Westerns are violent), and so on without including guns at some point, because that’s what they use. What do you want the actors to do, point their fingers at each other and yell, “Bang Bang!”?? Give me a fucking break. Are there some movies that fetishise guns? Sure (looking at you, Expendables). And that could be toned down a bit, granted. But in general, guns are used in movies out of necessity, to tell a story realistically. Hollywood can’t pretend that they don’t exist, or they wouldn’t be able to tell any stories about anything.

This is the problem that we seem to have now, that people don’t seem to just accept movies as movies any more – as filmed (or digitized, I guess) stories about subjects with characters who do things we might not do in real life. Apparently movies are just supposed to be direct lines into the director’s brain now. Kathryn Bigelow shows torture in her movie, so she must love torture! She must be a crazy torture-loving asshole! Never mind that she herself says the movie doesn’t endorse torture – she shows it, so that’s enough to condemn her, right? IT’S A MOVIE. Quentin Tarantino shows violence in his movies, so he must be a violent person who loves violence in real life. IT’S A MOVIE ABOUT VIOLENT PEOPLE. Can we really not see the difference any more? Can we not separate the film from the filmmaker? Is it that difficult to separate movies from real life? Jesus Christ people, have we all gone fucking nuts? Just because someone shows something in a movie doesn’t mean that’s what they’re telling you to behave like in real life! That’s like saying Silence of the Lambs is an endorsement of cannibalism. “Jonathan Demme says cannibalism is cool!” What about Psycho? “Alfred Hitchcock tells the audience to kill their mothers!” How about Scarface? “Brian De Palma says cocaine is A-OK!” Yes, these are all absurd arguments. That’s my point.

OK, you want to know what I’ve learned from a lifetime of watching “violent movies”? Here goes: I’ve learned that shooting at the police is never a good idea. I’ve learned that violent people usually wind up dead or in jail (neither option sounds good to me). Unless you’re the Zodiac Killer. I’ve learned that guys get raped in prison. A lot. I’ve learned that if you commit murder or rape, even if by some small chance you get away with it, there’s usually someone who wants to get revenge on your ass. I’ve learned you don’t fuck with any woman in a James Cameron film. I’ve learned that joining the Mafia or any criminal organization usually ends in your death or imprisonment. I’ve learned that you do not try to outrun or outdrive the police (I knew someone who tried the latter once; it did not end well). I’ve learned that no matter how many guns you have, the authorities have more than you do. I’ve learned that bullets only bounce off Superman and robots (and sometimes Jason), but they will definitely kill you. I’ve learned that the good guys are much better shots than the bad guys. And most of all, I’ve learned that, whatever you do in life, do not piss off Mel Gibson. Seriously.

Even if half of that shit isn’t true, I still learned it from watching “violent movies”. What I did not learn was to pick up a gun and go shoot random people in public. Of all the hundreds, maybe thousands of movies I’ve seen in my life, I’ve never seen any movie like that. I don’t think that movie exists. If it does, I don’t want to see it. That doesn’t reflect the movies I have watched. We definitely have problems in society, but telling made-up stories is not one of them.

Let me leave you with this thought. It’s also about a made-up story. I recently read a Stephen King story called “Big Driver” (from the Full Dark, No Stars collection of novellas). It’s basically about a rape victim who eventually gets revenge on her attacker. With a gun. It’s more complicated than that, of course, but that is the gist of it. It’s a very dark, violent and vivid story, and not for all tastes. It’s also extremely well-written and powerful. I liked and admired this story quite a bit. What I admire most about it is that King doesn’t tell the reader how to feel about it. He simply tells the story from the victim-turned-avenger’s point of view, and lets the reader sort out the morality of the situation for themselves. In other words, he lets you decide for yourselves if what she is doing is right or wrong. He doesn’t stop in the middle of the story to remind us, “now children, shooting people is BAD, mmkay?” or even “two wrongs don’t make a right, you know.” The story simply is what it is, and it’s up to you to decide whether you agree with her actions or you disagree, or if you are neutral. Maybe you understand why she does what she does, maybe you don’t. Either way, I imagine that millions of people have read this story by now (King being a bestselling author and all) and I haven’t heard of anyone protesting “Big Driver” or anyone committing murder because of it. People seem to just accept the story for what it is, and feel however they feel about it without wanting to string up Mr. King by his ankles.

Wouldn’t it be nice if people responded to movies in the same way?

So that about covers it. My Top 10 list will be up in a couple of weeks. Thanks for reading, and if anything I’ve written here upsets you, please try to refrain from shooting me. I’d appreciate it. Thanks.

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Watched at Random: Teens Sail the Seventies in The Dove (1974)

Posted by CinemaPsycho on December 2, 2012

deborah-raffin-the-dove-1974-poster2.jpgEvery now and then, I happen to watch an old movie that I know nothing about and the results fascinate me because they are so far out of my wheelhouse. Such is the case with 1974’s The Dove, a film released by Paramount, produced by none other than Gregory Peck (who sadly not does appear) and directed by Charles Jarrott, best known for British costume dramas like Mary, Queen of Scots. The Dove is a sailing movie, a subgenre I’ve always found interesting because I have no understanding of or interest in the activity itself whatsoever, and have always wondered why anyone would want to do that. I still haven’t seen a sailing movie that communicates the appeal of it to me, but then I have never understood why people risk their lives climbing really tall mountains either. “Because it’s there” doesn’t really do it when you’re suffering from frostbite.

Anyway, those of us who were children in the ’70’s remember a time that seems to have been forgotten by mainstream chroniclers of the decade like That 70’s Show. It wasn’t all punk rock, Star Wars and Zeppelin – there was a weird leftover hippie vibe typified by smiley faces, “Keep on Truckin'” stickers, Free to Be You and Me, The Electric Company and other strange effluvia. If you remember any of this, chances are you will enjoy The Dove, because it’s all about being a free spirit and love and doing your own thing, man. Groovy. We even get a warbly Joni Mitchell sound-alike on the soundtrack encouraging our hero to be a song on the wind or something like that (oh, if only Christopher Cross’ “Sailing” had been recorded by then).

The Dove is based on the true story on Robin Lee Graham, a 17-year-old American boy (played by Joseph Bottoms) who sails around the world. And that’s pretty much the plot, so if you expect much more than that, you’re out of luck. Wikipedia tells me this happened between 1965 and 1970, but the film version seems to take place very much in the loosey-goosey 70’s. Robin even has a Leif Garrett-style hairdo. I guess he avoided that whole Vietnam thing somehow, but let’s not get into that. I would’ve liked to have been a fly on the wall during that conversation with his parents – “Mom and Dad, instead of going to college or getting a job, I’d really like to spend the next five years sailing around the world by myself.” I know, different times. But the movie doesn’t even show us that conversation. The possible safety hazards involved don’t even seem to be an issue with Robin’s Dad whenever he pops up, so I guess young Robin must have been an excellent sailor already. Anyway, we don’t get much of a sense of the passage of time in the film itself, so for all we know it takes place within a few months. I know, that’s probably not possible, but most of the people watching the movie are not experienced sailors.

Along the way, Robin meets Patti Ratteree (Deborah Raffin, who sadly died recently at the age of 59), a lithe young beauty who is only two years older than him but fancies herself a sophisticate. Patti is also traveling around the world, and the explanation of how she talked her parents into giving her the money they would have spent on her last two years of college so that she can “educate herself” in this manner is quite hilarious in its youthful narcissism. At first Patti kind of annoys Robin (who is bummed about losing his cat – he has bizarrely bad luck with cats on this voyage), then Robin kind of becomes her stalker for awhile (but of course she finds it “charming”), then eventually, just when the audience can’t take much more of this, they somehow decide to fall in love. Never mind that they have nothing in common and don’t really know each other that well – they’re young and they’re in love, OK? It’s the 70’s, man!

The really strange thing about The Dove is that Robin himself seems to have serious doubts about his own journey, quitting several times along the way before deciding to pick it back up again. At one point he decides to quit sailing and become a construction worker in Australia. At another point he and Patti decide to get married, despite the fact that they have none of the documents they would need to get married in a foreign country. Oh, those wonderful naive youth! Never mind that Robin’s parents invested a ton of money in his boat, he has a contract with a magazine for a photo layout, and he’s a celebrity and an inspiration to people around the world. It’s all about him and what he wants to do at that moment, you see? The most hysterical scene in the movie comes about 3/4 of the way in, when Robin has decided once and for all not to finish the voyage. He’s found a buyer for the boat and he’s going to hang it up once and for all. Then suddenly he comes to a realization: “I NEED TO FINISH IT FOR ME!!!”

Wow. OK then.

deborah-raffin-plays-guitar-in-the-dove-1974.jpgI don’t want it to sound like I didn’t enjoy The Dove. I actually did like it quite a bit despite my sarcastic tone. It’s very much a movie of its time, and I accept it as that. That’s exactly why I find it so fascinating. I’m sure I would have viewed it a lot differently had I seen it at a younger age. It’s not a great film by any means, and I doubt anyone in 1974 saw it as such. But viewed nearly 40 years later, it’s kind of an amazing little curio. I’m sure any decent shrink would see it as a celebration of young narcissism, and they wouldn’t be entirely wrong. But I think The Dove is basically a movie about every kid who only saw their own tunnel-vision dream and wanted to live it, the rest of the world be damned. Who didn’t want that at 17? Who didn’t want to be a song on the wind, or whatever the hell that song said? I feel sorry for anyone who didn’t.

Note: I have no doubt that the real Robin Lee Graham learned quite a lot on his voyage. You just wouldn’t know it from watching this movie.

The Dove is available to watch on Netflix streaming. Groovy.

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Start Making Sense (Again); Why Cinema Narrative Still Matters (And Always Will)

Posted by CinemaPsycho on November 4, 2012

A few weeks ago, my 15-year-old nephew and I were watching Reefer Madness on Netflix streaming. He had heard of its reputation as a cult film and was curious about it, so naturally I encouraged him to watch it. I didn’t tell him much about it beforehand, only that it was an anti-marijuana propaganda film. Even though the film was made in 1936, it wasn’t difficult for him to follow the story and “get the joke” fairly quickly. While the narrative of Reefer Madness is a relatively clumsy one, relying mainly on coincidence and exaggeration to get its point across, the narrative is still there nonetheless, so that even a teenage boy can understand its inherent ridiculousness 75-plus years later. Almost a century after its release, Reefer Madness is still Reefer Madness.

Now let’s imagine that Reefer Madness was a series of random images chosen without rhyme or reason, with maybe some inappropriately chosen music playing on its soundtrack. Let’s throw in some flashing lights and clicking sounds at random intervals. No plot, no characters, no actors, no message, no point. Would it still be Reefer Madness? Of course not. Would people still be watching it 75 years later? I seriously doubt it. Yet that kind of thing is what some people insist is the future of cinema. Really.

There seems to be a serious anti-narrative movement going on in some circles, spurred on in part by the advent of digital and 3D cinema, and in part by certain lazy filmmakers who seemingly can no longer be bothered to actually write scripts that make logical sense. I don’t buy for a second that this is what audiences actually want movies to be like, but I’ll get to that later. What blows my mind is that some critics are actually supporting this anti-narrative, anti-logic, anti-sense movement as if it’s a good thing, as if cinema wasn’t founded on professionalism and the establishment of narrative language. Yes, cinema is a visual medium and always will be; but if you don’t make people care, they have no reason to buy a ticket. It’s gotten to the point where even well-known filmmakers like the Wachowskis declared in a recent interview that “narrative is not the future of cinema”. Yeah, I beg to differ with that. Strongly. I think we’ve all seen the audience response to Cloud Atlas, so if that’s the future, no one in the present seems to want it.

I think people still want a good story and always will. Whatever the current technology is, people still say, let’s go to a movie. No one says, let’s go see a 3D digital hologram. And what are they saying when they say, let’s go to a movie? They’re saying, tell me a story. Entertain me. Give me a satisfying experience. Make me feel something. What they’re not saying is, Confuse me. Baffle me. Make me wonder why I wasted my time and money. Give me a shitty ending that doesn’t make any fucking sense. Don’t bother to explain anything that’s going on. Make me never want to watch another movie you ever make. Unfortunately, too many films lately are provoking the latter reactions rather than the former. I can’t tell you how many movies I’ve watched lately (mainly indie and horror films, sadly) that just don’t make any damn sense. I’m not talking about the usual “plot holes”, I’m talking about plot gaps, like the filmmakers just couldn’t be bothered to fill in any details that would explain what the hell’s happening on screen. You shouldn’t have to read a goddamn dissertation to understand a fucking movie.

Sure, there will always be people who are attracted to the flashy and superficial in movies (just as they are in other things in life), but I think there are just as many people who want something that feels solid and substantial and real. Even more than actor, director and even genre, I think a lot of moviegoers are attracted by subject matter. What’s it about? That’s the first question that a lot of people ask. Why do people love Looper so much (myself included)? Is it any more technologically advanced than any other movie out there? No, they love it because it’s a great story that’s incredibly well told. All of your questions are answered by the time the end credits roll. “Oh, he did that because…” “Ohhh, that’s why…” It’s incredibly well-directed and well-written by Rian Johnson. Why is Argo doing so well at the boxoffice? Is it because people just love Ben Affleck that much? I don’t think so. It’s because, again, it’s a great story that people are interested in seeing. Great stories generate word-of-mouth. No matter how technology advances, no matter how things change, people always want a great story. A great story doesn’t have to be in 3D or digital or what the fuck ever to get people to see it. It just has to be a great story that satisfies the audience.

“But dude, wait a second”, I can hear people saying. “You like films by David Lynch and David Cronenberg and Terry Gilliam and people like that, and they make weird-ass films that mainstream audiences hate. Aren’t you being hypocritical?” That’s a fair question, actually. But here’s the thing:


I never said that movies couldn’t be weird. Good god, no. I’m not Robert McKee. I just said they had to be satisfying and make sense. That’s a

different issue. Movies like Blue Velvet and Videodrome make perfect sense to me. No, really! By the time the end credits roll, we know what happened, we know who did what to whom, and we know why. What’s not to understand? I’m not even saying that events have to take place in chronological order – look at Tarantino’s work, for example. He certainly plays with narrative structure – but the narrative itself is still there. Sometimes he even gives us more details than we really need, but I’m all for that, because the more details we have, the more we buy into the worlds he creates. No one said you can’t play around with structure, as long as there is still a narrative. (And by the way, getting back on David Lynch, if you’re not David Lynch, you’re not David Lynch. Only David Lynch is David Lynch. If you’re not David Lynch, tell the fuckin’ story properly.)

So here are some tips for all you young filmmakers out there, coming from the perspective of an audience member. Hopefully you will get some idea as to why story and narrative are still important:

Details are important. Details are what help the audience “buy into” the world you’re creating. The more details we process, the more we believe what we’re seeing. If we are not given consistent details about the story, the characters or the world we are watching, we are pulled out of the film and we do not buy into it. We become too aware that we are “watching a movie” and cannot buy into the reality of what you are presenting. Plot details are especially important. We need to know what is going on and why. Don’t just pull stuff out of your collective asses either. Consistency is necessary.

Endings are crucial. Have you ever read a novel you were really enjoying, and then the ending just totally blew it? The same principle applies with movies. No matter what, you gotta stick the landing or the plane crashes. And again, don’t just pull something out of your asses. Know where you’re going before you get there. An abrupt cut to black is not an ending. It’s surrender. It’s saying to the audience, “we don’t know how to end this, so we’re just going to stop.” It’s horseshit, and you know it. If you don’t have an ending, you don’t have a movie.

Bad twists do not work. We’ve all come to expect the “twist ending” by now. It’s become a cliche, and it’s gotten to the point that filmmakers are just throwing it in there whether or not it makes sense. Stop it already. You can’t just say, “OK, so-and-so is the bad guy now, surprise, thanks for coming” or “guess what, the guy’s wife was in on it the whole time!” and expect us to just buy it without some consistent character development leading up to that point. It feels like you’re just making shit up as you go along, because, well, you are. Knock if off. If a twist doesn’t make any logical sense, don’t use it. Unless you actually want the audience reaction to be, “wait a minute, whaaaaat?” And that’s not the reaction you want. Trust me.

Are we really supposed to believe that at some point in the future, film lovers are just going to abandon cinema history and start watching mind-numbing, random bullshit? We’re all going to stop watching Hitchcock, Chaplin, Keaton, Hawks, Sturges, Ford, Wilder, Ray, Lumet, Frankenheimer, Scorsese, Coppola, DePalma, Spielberg, Tarantino, the endless list of great narrative directors, and we’re all going to start watching the equivalent of multimedia art projects?? I don’t think so. I don’t ever, ever, ever see that happening. Not now, not 100 years from now. That’s not cinema. That’s fucking YouTube. Yes, cinema narrative has evolved and changed over the years, as it should be. It is certainly different now than it was in the silent film era. But I don’t believe it will ever disappear. People will always want a great story. I believe that with all my heart and soul. You know what my nephew did last week? Raided my DVD collection. Never mind that DVDs are supposedly useless now. Here’s what he borrowed: The Godfather I & II, the LOTR trilogy, the Bourne trilogy, JFK, Slumdog Millionaire, RoboCop and Inglorious Bastards. That’s just what he could carry out of my apartment.

Are you going to tell that kid that storytelling is dead? I’m pretty sure he’d laugh in your face. And rightfully so. Long live narrative, you silly bastards.

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