Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Like most people, I love movies. Nathan and I have gone to several over the last two years, including most of the "blockbuster" movies. 

Honestly, in many cases, the thrill has just been gone lately. As my friend Keith says, the question all movies must answer first and foremost:  Does it ENTERTAIN?  The whole point of movies is to entertain; movies that fail to entertain are failures.

There is a group of moviegoers (sorry if this steps on toes) who are into “CINEMA” (the same group who go to Cannes, apparently).  While I can occasionally do “cinema” myself, I don’t try to make a steady diet of it.  For example, while I watched “Citizen Kane” once, and agree it is very well made and intelligent, it is far from one of my “favourite” movies.  I’d rather see “popular” (meaning not obtuse exercises in filmmaking “craft”) movies from the same era, “Casablanca”, “The Maltese Falcon”, “Red River”, “The Wizard of Oz”, “Gone With the Wind”.  Critics sniff at some of these (although I think almost everybody agrees on “Casablanca”); they’re not “cerebral” enough.

Several “cerebral” films have come out recently.

“No Country for Old Men”---one of Nathan’s fraternity brothers raved about this one; he’d seen it about 10 times already when we went.  While this movie featured one of the best movie-villain performances in my memory (Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh, absolutely chilling and brilliantly portrayed), and featured some excellent acting jobs by some of the best players of the day, it was also a 2 hour exercise in depression.  I’m not saying every movie should be “The Sound of Music”, but GEEZ, I was ready to commit suicide when I left the theater.  I thought maybe it was just me, but Nathan was even more unhappy.  We all walked out and Bret breathed, “Wasn’t that just the greatest movie of all time?”  I think if we had said, “Yeah, let’s go see it again tonight”, he’d have done it.  If you’ve not seen the movie, here’s my synopsis:  life is futile, violent, pointless, and everybody dies horribly.  Gee, thanks, I needed a lift….

Then there are the “blockbusters”….

I Am Legend:  This is the third movie treatment of Robert Matheson’s book of the same name; star power provided by the redoubtable Will Smith, who I generally like.  The last version of this show was “The Omega Man” with Charlton Heston, who I generally DISlike (William Shatner must’ve studied every Heston movie for inspiration); I liked that particular movie, even if it WAS 1968-cheesy.  In the current movie, though, you get to the end (very quickly) and wonder, “Why do I care about these people?’

See, that’s the thing:  in many, many of these modern movies, there is NO plot, NO character development, NO sympathy---we don’t know who these people are, what they are doing, why they are doing it, or why we should care about them.  It’s all very “arty”, and it’s very “cool” in intellectually fashionable circles to like this sort of thing.


OR it’s all very vacuous.  Do we really care much about the characters in “Monsters vs. Aliens”?  Um, probably not. 

Kung Fu Panda?  Please….


OR there are really nice movies that somehow leave you feeling a little let down---like, “Where’s the beef?” or “Is that all there is?”  A lot of movies are like this; mildly entertaining, but there is no “there” there.  “Leatherheads”, “Australia”, “W.”---all mildly entertaining, in a “lite” sort of way.  You feel like there just ought to be more to it….


All of the foregoing to set the stage for this:

We went to see "State of Play" last night, the new-ish effort from Kevin MacDonald, featuring Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, and Helen Mirren.

Both Nathan and I had the same thought at almost the same time; I thought, “Wow, this is a REAL MOVIE, with, like, MOVIE STARS and PLOT and ACTING and DRAMA!” and Nathan turned to me and whispered, “It’s so great to see a real MOVIE for a change!”

“State of Play” would have been at home in the earlier era of moviemaking, when plot, character, and action MATTERED. 

I didn’t “get it” until almost the end (Nathan reports he didn’t either), they had me fooled.  I’m not easy to fool and I’m not very helpful to the moviemaker---I look for things to criticize.  Obvious plot errors, continuity errors (in “War of the Worlds”, Tom Cruise comes out of a building that has basically been blown to pieces---but after the explosion, he’s in there and all the furniture is still in place, dust, no debris---wow, what happened to the rest of the building?)---I’m good at picking these out.

I couldn’t find any errors in this movie.  It was taut, suspenseful, and had lots of twists, turns, and blind alleys/red herrings.  Couple of things:  you have wrap your brain around the idea that scruffy Russell Crowe and ultra-prep Ben Affleck were college roommates, and the romance between Affleck’s wife and Crowe seems out of place and unnecessary—doesn’t really contribute to the plot.

But, this movie kept me on the edge of my seat, guessing (incorrectly) “whodunit”.  I love it when that happens.  It is called, “being entertained”.  I was engaged from the beginning of the film to the closing credits.  You have to keep up, too (another of my favourite things); you can’t sit there and half-sleep and still follow the movie. 

It’s a GREAT show and I recommend it heartily.  Can’t wait for it to come out on DVD so I can watch it again in my den.