This is usually my good movie season, when all of the atsry movies flood theaters to gain attention before the Academy Awards. Not sure if I’ve just been in some funk, but I think it’s the movies, not me, that has been funky lately.
Wednesday afternoon, with the day off, I decided to catch a matinee of King Kong. With its three hour running time, I have been trying to catch that as a matinee since that will be when my bladder is at its most agreeable to a movie of that length (and, surprisingly, I only bailed once for a restroom run). I guess I can’t say I was disappointed with King Kong, but rather that every hesitation I had about going proved to be accurate. First and foremost, I hated Lord of the Rings. If I had to choose between going to the dentist and seeing one of the LOTR movies, I would choose the dentist because while both are painful, only one choice is necessary.
So, going in not convinced about the storytelling ability of the writer/director based on his last writing/directing was strike one. And, much like LOTR, the movie seemed chunky. Entire segments could be excised and nothing would matter, which was also true of LOTR.
My hesitation about the movie was that… even if everything was done well, the story still kind of sucks. I am not sure why it is a classic, considering it is sort of a bad story. They go to shoot a movie, there’s a big ape, he falls for the girl, they capture the ape, bring him back to the city, he drags the girl up a huge building in NYC, and (spoiler alert) Kong falls and dies.
Even if this was done perfectly, it would still just be a mediocre story told very well. And that is what I got. I did have some LOTR flashbacks during some of the effects sections and, unlike everyone else, I chose the beginning of an action scene for my restroom run, whereas everyone else tended to go as soon as one ended.
But picking on Kong would be too easy when in fact movies I expect a lot more out of have also disappointed lately.
Munich is the new thriller from Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner. That’s what all the magazines are saying: thriller. Many go out of their way to say that beyond the politics and the message and everything else, it’s a great political thriller. Unless I’m wrong and we all agreed to change the definition of thriller a while back, don’t thrillers have to be sort of, oh I don’t know, thrilling? You know, keep you on the edge of your seat, can’t wait to see what happens next, all that?
Well, that wasn’t what I saw. Everything Spielberg is getting credit for is evident in the movie (both sides are treated like humans fighting for a just cause, there are parallels to the current quagmire we’re facing in Iraq and elsewhere due to the war on terror, etc.). But seeing this movie, I sort of felt like someone took a 900-page novel and, in the interest of serving the novel, refused to whittle down the narrative and the audience is left with this faithful yet muddled end result that only makes sense to everyone who read the book.
While this was based on real events and Spielberg and crew interviewed the real guy whose identity is still not public, much of it seems needless, whether it is true or not. The only reason I felt so apathetic about the movie is that there was no one empathetic in the movie. While the movie follows the Israel side of the equation, they had just as little justification for their actions as the Palestinians, save for revenge. There’s probably an equivalent movie that could be made following the Palestinians whereby we would see their perspective just as clearly.
Maybe the point of the movie is to raise these questions: how people can win if both sides are "right" and unable to change their viewpoints, why killing terrorists is useful when by killing them you inspire even more people to fill those vacant positions and join the other side’s ranks, and what is the human cost of vengeance to the people who do these acts even while believing they are right. All of that is in this movie, but it still didn’t come off as very compelling to me. Not to mention the lack of thrills.
The day before I saw Munich, I had to see Memoirs of a Geisha. I wasn’t really planning to see this, but Munich was sold out and I was there. I had trepidations about Geisha in advance, mainly because of my ongoing mirror/window debate. I prefer to see movies that teach me something about my life (mirror), not just something that shows me a segment of someone else’s life (window). Now, I do not find this practice restrictive. In fact, I think window movies with a touch of mirror are really when the level of artistic merit raises significantly.
But Geisha is pure window. And, beyond that, it’s a boring window. Again, I read about things in advance and find that what I read differs wildly from what I see on the screen. Many media reviews have gone out of their way to point out that geishas are not prostitutes, as is often thought here in the West. So, I go in with this new education, and figure this guy directed Chicago successfully as a film experience and not just filming a stage production (See: Rent and The Producers, both of which I adored, but they never rose above their origins), so I’ll give him a chance.
I think it was Roger Ebert who pointed out the absurdity of the narration in Geisha, although that was on his TV show and not his print review, so I can’t quote it verbatim. The gist is that it all sounds good, but is largely meaningless tripe. Something like: "My story is a story which should never be told," without explaining why it should never be told, not to mention… if it shouldn’t be told, shut up about it, no?
Anyway, this was just the first of my torturous long, tedious movies of late where nothing much happens, but it sure takes time to get there. And here’s the kicker: (spoiler alert) the big deal at the climax of the movie basically comes down to a bunch of Japanese businessmen bidding on who gets to deflower the lead Geisha. Now, call me old-fashioned and overly strict, but when people pay for sex… don’t we call that prostitution?
Another recent borefest was Syriana. I go in with hesitation, because it was written by the guy who wrote Traffic, which won a ton of awards and I found boring as all hell. (It was also overly obvious: the daughter of the president’s new drug czar (wait for it) uses drugs! Brilliant!) Critics praised Syriana as using his storytelling "technique" (taking three stories that would be boring on their own and cutting them together to make them seem more interesting, which is still better than taking boring movies and splicing them together out of sequence or backwards (See: Memento, 28 Grams)) to tackle the issue of oil.
Now, I hate the oil companies. Or rather, I am opposed to the rampant consumption of oil that has no regard for the global issues that result (the current war), the environmental impact, global trade issues (Walmart able to make things in China and ship them here cheaper than making them here), the rise of the suburbs (which require cheap oil to exist), and the list goes on. This is a huge important topic and one I would like to see an important movie tackle (a good documentary is The End of Suburbia). Instead, I get Syriana.
Syriana, like Traffic, has this amazing ability to make you think you are seeing something better than you are. That the movie is smart and riveting and important and if you aren’t understanding it, it is clearly you, not the movie, that has the problem. Well, at the risk of being wrong here and it really is me that is the dumb part of this equation, I am going on the record that this movie was boring and uninteresting while tackling the biggest political, environmental, and social issue facing us today. And, in keeping with the theme, it took a long time for it to say nothing. Is there some belef in Hollywood that the Academy doesn’t take you seriously unless you push the two hour and thirty minute barrier?
I feel like the world had a meeting and I slept in late or something. Geishas aren’t prostitutes, they make their life an art of learning to be perfect companions and hosts… and then have sex for money. Spielberg’s movie is a thriller, save for nothing thrilling happening in a slightly-glacial two hours and forty minutes (I almost waited for the end credits to see if he let Gus Van Sant cut it). Syriana is an important movie about the global impact of oil, except the stories are all boring. It’s no wonder that the same media can cover the Bush White House, there really is no reality anymore, is there?
Because I saw Geisha on the weekend and was charged the insane new "weekend rate" for movies here ($10.50), I was forced against my will (but in accordance with my rules to not pay over $10 to see a movie) to follow up the slow, tedious Geisha with a double feature, just to bring my movie cost under six bucks. I chose The Ringer, where Johnny Knoxville pretends to be retarded to win at the Special Olympics. The movie was predictable, stupid, obvious, needless, and a waste of time.
For once, I got the exact movie I expected and the one critics promised. In a strange way, I felt satisfied.
(Just to show that I don’t hate every movie, some recent films that are just amazing are: The Squid and the Whale, Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Good Night and Good Luck, and The Family Stone (one notch down from the others in this list, though) And I can’t wait to see Match Point, the new Woody Allen, who is spotty but seems to have delivered this time around)