Dumb and Stupid Things

The original idea for this post was to review the last movie that I’ve seen, but when I sat down to write it, it occurred to me that the movie I’d seen most recently was the English dub of Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva. It’s not really a movie that lends itself to being reviewed, at least, not in a traditional sense. It’s a video game movie, and like all video game movies, it doesn’t really stand on its own too well, and the majority of its charm comes from its integration of the games’ set pieces into a film narrative structure. But to do that requires a suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience that will be a taxing demand for non-fans. Is it a good film? No. Will you like it if you’ve never played the games? Hell no. Do I like it anyway? You’re god damned right I do.

I have noticed, over the years, that my tastes in movies are extremely hard to define. I love movies that everyone else hates, and hate movies everyone else loves. But it’s not really a case of being deliberately contrarian or counter-culture, because all the favourites I can name are extremely popular and extremely well-liked (The Truman Show, The Shawshank Redemption, Wall-E). It’s also not really a case of the current trend of “ironically” enjoying bad things, though I’m certainly no stranger to that concept either (Shadow Warriors: Assault on Death Mountain remains one of the most satisfying moviegoing experiences of my life). There’s just something about dumb, stupid, honest things that really speaks to me, on a very strange level.

What do I mean by ‘honest’? I think the best illustration I can come up with comes from an episode of King of the Hill, in which Bobby starts a sketch comedy troupe whose material is based solely on jokes about propane and propane accessories. They find a receptive audience among propane retailers, but when they take the act on the road and perform in a shopping mall, they bomb horribly. Turns out, people who don’t sell propane for a living don’t see much humor in a Gas Cop arresting a homeowner for heating his house with butane. Hank, however, is just eating it up, and Bobby can hear his laughter from the back of the largely uninterested audience, so he keeps going. He knows he’s lost the audience, he knows the material’s no good, but his dad likes it, so by god he gives it his all anyway.

I’m not going to claim that this preference is exclusive to me, and me alone. On the contrary, I suspect that this type of honesty is recognized and appreciated by a lot of people. It’s the reason why Napoleon Dynamite was such a hit, whereas the director’s followup, Nacho Libre, was a flop. It’s the reason why Nicholas Cage has such a huge following in spite of almost all of his movies in the last decade being godawful. It’s why, among Arrested Development fans, everyone hates the episode S.O.B.’s, which was essentially a half-hour long fourth-wall gag about the show’s pending cancellation. People should hate these things, but they don’t, because of some intangible appeal that is intrinsically detectable.

I just wonder if, sometimes, I take it too far.

Here’s an example of a movie I like that everyone hates: Fantastic Four. The 2005 one with Jessica Alba. Now I’m not going to sit here straight-faced and tell you that it was a good movie. It’s not. Are you kidding me? It was terrible. The script was revolting, in service to a ridiculously contrived plot, and above all, it’s just not really good. But when I think about that movie, what I recall most of all is Michael Chiklis’ performance as The Thing. Chiklis read a lot of comics as a kid, and was a really big fan of the Fantastic Four in particular. As such, getting to play the Thing was a childhood dream come true, and you can tell from every aspect of his performance that he was having the time of his life in that role. This, from Michael Chiklis, an actor so intense and so intimidating that he managed to shake up a guy who once claimed (in jest, I know) to be the antichrist. Part of me likes to imagine that halfway through production, Fantastic Four’s producers knew they were sitting on a bomb and were ready to halt production, but not one of them had the heart to look Chiklis in the eye and tell him this movie was a stinker. Add to that the fact that Ioan Gruffudd was working his Welsh arse off to turn his accent American to play Mr. Fantastic, and you can tell that there was some genuine thought and talent put into the performances of a soundly poor film. And because of that, I really, really like this dumb, stupid movie.

Compare that with Juno, an Academy Award-winning film that I just thought was fake as hell. Presented as an indie flick, it stars such nobodies as Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, and JK Simmons, all of whom had established careers in Hollywood prior to Juno. You know, a bunch of real unknowns, perfect for an independent film. Ellen Page plays Juno, who is crass and quirky and different from everybody, but is also just like a real teenage girl (the stated intention of the writer) who does things like set up an entire living room suite in her friend’s front yard to tell him she’s pregnant with his child. You know, like all teenage girls do. All those other jokers play Boring People whose essential purpose in the film is to juxtapose just how crass and quirky and different Juno is from all of them. In the end (again, like all indie flicks), everyone gets exactly what they want to the surprise of no one. Wheee. Everything about this movie, from the stilted dialogue, to the intentionally muted performances from actors desperate to underplay Page, to the dreary soundtrack, to the indie presentation, is just. so. fake. At the end of the day, however, the biggest problem with this film is that all the non-Juno characters didn’t wear monocles so they could pop every time Juno did something crass and quirky and different, to the exclamation “My word!” in a posh accent.

The rules by which I love Fantastic Four and hate Juno are not universally applicable to my choices of entertainment. Spielberg’s War of the Worlds was chock-full of earnest performances from talented actors and haunting special effects, but the script was so sloppy that it took me right out of it. Most critics and fans agree that the Matrix sequels were unnecessary cash-ins on the Matrix brand that ultimately cheapened the original movie, but my appreciation for Reloaded and especially Revolutions has only increased over time, and it was pretty high to begin with.

So what’s the point I’m driving at with all of this? Is it the startling, groundbreaking revelation that “opinions are subjective”? Or is it an incredibly roundabout way of saying “I like the Professor Layton games and also the movie”? Is it setting the tone for future movie reviews (and I intend to write movie reviews in the future), a warning that I might give a glowing review to a turd, and a scathing review to a masterpiece? Or is it just me talking about weird things I like and don’t like?

It is all of those things. And it is none of them.

You just got Zen’d, mothafuckas.

~Joselyn

Advertisements