Taking the kids to the movies
Mark Harris has an article at GQ titled "The Day the Movies Died," in which he laments the state of American cinema. He blames Top Gun, in part, as well as the way that movies have to be brands now, instead of, like, you know, well-made stories.
Harris also points out the proliferation of movies aimed at youthful audiences, and I have to admit, part of that is my fault -- I love movies, but I have kids, so I don't have time to go the movies as much as I used to. That means that when there's a movie I can take the kids to, I will. Hollywood knows this is true of me and a gazillion other parents, so it takes full advantage. This is a good thing when I get to see a Shrek movie, or something by Pixar. This is a bad thing when I end up at, say, Alvin and the Chipmunks the Squeak-quel. (Shudder. You'll have to excuse the post-traumatic twitch I get when someone mentions that movie. I consider it the Car 54, Where Are You?* of animated movies.)
As a result, the two most recent movies I've seen at the theater are Gnomeo and Juliet (C+) and Rango (C+). Both were completely ordinary, basically harmess, reasonably enjoyable, largely forgettable. The kind of movie where you walk out going, "That was pretty cute," and then you don't think about it again for the rest of the day, or the rest of your life. There wasn't a scene in either one that hadn't been done before, nor a line of dialogue you hadn't heard in some other movie.
Gnomeo and Juliet gets points for making jokes about Shakespeare. Rango gets points for its cinematography, or whatever you call the animated version thereof -- its desolate dust bowl of an Old West setting is beautiful to look at. Far more interesting than the brighter animated worlds of movies like, say, Megamind.
Both movies are doing that thing movies do these days where they're half-ass committed to satirizing their genres -- love story and Western, in this case -- but they're too chickenshit to do a fullblown critique, so the whole thing ends up with this wink-wink take, aren't we all ironic these days, everyone's in on the joke, etc., etc., but when you get past the one-liners on the surface, there's no there there.
One thing I found odd about Rango was its relatively liberal use of the word "hell." Rango, the lead lizard, voiced rather oddly by Johnny Depp, refers to himself as a hellraiser and "the hell that's already been raised." The villainous Rattlesnake Jake threatens to send someone to hell. And "Go to hell" makes an appearance as a one-liner before a bad guy is dispatched. I guess the folks who make animated films these days are trying to push the language envelope? I can't quite decide how I feel about this. On the one hand, as a dad sitting in the theater between my 8-year-old and my 6-year-old, I cringed a little bit. On the other hand, I do get a little weary of every kids movie seeming all sanitized and whitewashed and relentlessly smiley-faced. But this felt a bit forced, and, well, gratuitous. Using the word "hell" a half-dozen times doesn't make your cheesy, predictable movie gritty, Hollywood people.
I've already spent more time writing about these movies than either of them really deserves, so I'll stop now. The good news? This is my spring break week, but the kids are in school. So we're going to see some movies intended for, like, grownups. Up first: The King's Speech. I've heard good things.
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* Car 54, Where Are You? remains my all-time standard for movie awfulness. One of three movies I've walked out on in my life. The other two: Vanya on 42nd Street, which we left because my wife HATED it, and it was Valentine's Day, so I figured I'd better keep her happy; and some movie I don't even remember that my brother, dad and I left when I was 12 or so. We left Car 54 with about 20 minutes left to go. One person in our group was asleep, and the rest of us were miserable. On our way out, we ran into someone coming back from the bathroom, and he asked hopefully, "Is it over?" When we said no, he was visibly disappointed. The Squeak-quel, which I did not leave early, is also that bad.