Saturday, May 19, 2012

Ten matinees


Wanderlust starts well, heaping misery on Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd at a good fast clip; then it slows down, and becomes the story of how the residents of a present-day commune, all played by sketch comedy veterans, make Jennifer Aniston feel welcome, and the movie becomes a movie about Jennifer Aniston being in the movie. She stopped by our clubhouse, and she was so normal! But really she’s too big for the clubhouse.

***

Goon, a comedy set in the world of minor-league hockey, suffered the fate of a limited release, wandering, goon-like, into few theaters, for a single week, right in the middle of one of our nation’s periodic epidemics of hand-wringing over violence in sports, which is ironic, considering that Goon is very sweet, and the worst thing that happens is someone loses a tooth; meanwhile, in 21 Jump Street, now playing everywhere, it’s supposed to be hilarious when someone loses his dick in a gunfight.

***

When you’re young, it’s easy to feel you might be good at anything that interests you. Boundaries are for old people. If you enjoy movies, and you think you have an artistic streak, you might have tried making one at some point; or at least harbored the notion that you could, with little or no training, if you chose to try.

In the good old days, you might have turned out to be Sam Raimi.

In the bad current day, you’ll more likely produce movies featuring your friends drinking in their bathtubs, with a twee original score performed on a Casiotone keyboard.

Proof that I’d become an old person arrived a few years back, when I tried to watch a few of these movies, which critics saddled with the genre-name “mumblecore.”

What makes young, no-budget filmmakers think the lives of underemployed young people make for better cinema than dirt-cheap splatter flicks?

I held out some hope for the Duplass brothers, who tried to double-down with their meta-slasher-mumblecore-opus, Baghead.

Jeff, Who Lives At Home is the second film they’ve made with recognizable actors. The first was Cyrus, in which lonely divorced John C. Reilly starts dating the poorly-conceived character played by Marisa Tomei, only to run afoul of Jonah Hill, her horrible, horrible son. In that film, their handheld, point-and-shoot-and-crash-zoom aesthetic worked; it seemed like a natural fit with the story of a mollycoddled “genius”—as if Jonah Hill’s sociopath had shot the film.

But in Jeff, Who Lives At Home, that same aesthetic, combined with a cast of familiar television-comedy actors, a lighter tone, and a brief running time, just left me feeling like I’d been had – lured to the cinema to watch Must See TV.

***

The Cabin in the Woods is a hoot.

***

The meet-cute scene can tell you a lot about the romantic comedy you’re about to watch.

In The Five-Year Engagement, Jason Segel and Emily Blunt meet at a costume party in San Francisco; she’s made up as Princess Di, he’s a giant pink bunny. In Lockout, Guy Pearce and Maggie Grace meet (in a maximum-security-prison space station orbiting the Earth) when he brings her back from the dead with a chemical injection to the brain by way of a hypodermic needle plunged straight into her eyeball.

Needless to say, that Princess Di business is kinda creepy.

***

Marvel’s The Avengers is probably the closest a gazillion-dollar production will get to reproducing on film my experience of reading a twenty-five cent comic book under a shade tree in 1974.

How much you enjoy the effort should depend heavily on whether or not you consider this progress.

***

Built in the ‘40s as a movie palace, the State Theater had been chopped into a two-story four-screener by the time I started hanging out in Ann Arbor, in the ‘80s. When I moved to Ann Arbor, in the ‘90s, only the second-story screens were still in business, the ground floor having been sold to a clothing store. And so it remains to this day: you enter a narrow street entrance with a box office that’s often unoccupied (tickets at the concession stand), climb a winding staircase, and walk in confusion through a second-floor lobby with the haphazard d├ęcor of a bed-and-breakfast, to sit in one or the other red-velvet half of the former balcony, at a strange angle to the screen, fighting off vertigo until the lights go down.

When I was in high school, it was an inconspicuous place to sober up, on a Saturday night, before driving home: at the late show, watching the cinematic efforts of disreputable types like Harry Reems, Bo Derek, and Mel Gibson. (“How many penises does Harry have? Just the one? I’m okay to drive now.”)

After I moved to Ann Arbor, a housemate took a job at the State, so I stopped by a couple nights a week and got waved in to Farewell, My Concubine and The Addams Family Values and A Perfect World and Larry Clark’s Kids – any damn thing, really. Free movies at the State turned me into a moviegoer, always looking forward to my next trip to the cinema (even after the free part evaporated), going every week – rather than waiting for a draw, as I had in the past.

After years of absence, I saw Damsels in Distress at the State. I didn’t know what to make of the idea of a Whit Stillman movie without Chris Eigeman in it; after seeing Damsels, I don’t know what to make of the reality of it, either.

Part of the great charm of Metropolitan, Barcelona, and The Last Days of Disco was their specificity. They were time-stamped, and openly class-conscious, in a way few movies ever are, more like novels in that regard; is there another English-language film set in Barcelona? They were plotted more like literary novels than films, too.

Damsels, though, takes place in Cloud Cuckoo Land. The cuckoos are still pretty charming, and I felt won over by the final third, but the afterglow hasn’t lasted.

(Where was Eigeman? Acting in Lena Dunham’s “Girls.” Do I have to get HBO now? Damn you, Eigeman.)

***

 With The Dictator, Sasha Baron Cohen has finally made something that will age well. In fact, it may prove timeless. See it right away, though, because it’s really fucking funny.

1 comment:

Joe said...

Note: I haven't seen Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and didn't think of it while writing the above. To answer my own question, there is at least one other English-language film set in Barcelona.