Friday, August 01, 2008

The Frugal Cineaste



So here we are, poised at the boiling-hot, ass hole end of summer (the “Ring of Fire” – to quote the late, great Johnny Cash entirely out-of-context) and not only have I had no vacation to speak of, but I’ve barely even seen any of this summer’s ubiquitous crop of blockbuster movies.

Oh, sure, I caught “Mutt Williams and the Over Long Moniker of Awkwardness”, which was, on the whole, pretty lame (except of course for the cameo appearance by Harrison Ford as none other than – SPOILER ALERT! – Mutt William’s DAD! Shhhh!) and a couple of weeks ago, while my folks had the kids, the wife and I got to see “Iron Man”. Which – undeniably, unequivocally - rocked cock. Iron Man packed in enough gee-whiz factor to not only pay for it’s OWN its own ticket price – but made up for the 8 bucks that I shelled out for each episode of the prequel trilogy. (And the teaser at the end of the credits, with Sam Jackson as one-eyed superspy Nick Fury, made up for what I paid to see Super-Dead-Beat-Dad Returns)









“The way they make shows is, they make one show. That show's called a pilot. Then they show that show to the people who make shows, and on the strength of that one show they decide if they're going to make more shows. Some pilots get picked and become television programs. Some don't, and become nothing.

I starred in one of the ones that became nothing.”




There’s a lot of poppy, whiz-bag genre entertainment out there nowadays; the sort that I would have salivated-over, inhaled, then regurgitated and continually obsessed about when I was younger. On TV, shows like Lost, and Heroes, and Battlestar Galactica are not only hits, but they’re garnering reviews that were unheard of back when “Star Trek” was on the air. Entire religions have grown up around dudes like Joss Whedon (whose acolytes will no doubt turn up on my doorstep any minute now - dressed like Jon Bon Jovi in the “Blaze of Glory” video, “Serenity” DVD in hand - when they read that I’ve never seen a single episode of either “Buffy” or “Firefly”)

It’s not like I don’t have ANY free time on my hands. I’m not out there teaching indigenous cultures to grow wheat or anything. But I do have a limited amount of time to invest in following the labyrinthine mythology of these shows, and “Phantom Menace” all those years ago taught me a cruel, cruel lesson about investing too much anticipation into such things. On top of that, my first-run movie going budget is often earmarked for those bastards at Pixar, who insist on coming out with a new movie EVERY DAMN YEAR. Yes, yes, “sincerity”. Yes, yes, “built from the ground up”, “genius”, “heart-felt”, “heart-warning”, yada yada. But really, with those computer-animated movies I feel kinda like my mom, circa 1982, after watching “Tron”. It hurts my eyes. I’m all about the big, flashy, garish entertainment, I just like it when it has, you know, real flesh and blood actors, and real world locations and stunts. (Yes, George Lucas, I’m looking at you. Again.)

Beyond that, do I really want to spend the remainder of my entertainment dollars on something that isn’t tried and true? I can just stay home and watch the “Eliminators” VHS I picked up last year for a buck. Because it’s hard to beat a movie that features time-travelling, ninjas, “man-droids”, and the always sexually ambiguous Tasha Yar of “Next Generation” fame.




All right, all right, I admit it: it’s neither a lack of time, nor the law of diminishing returns in the “Star Wars” franchise; I’m a chronic cheapskate. I own one pair of jeans, one pair of work slacks (Target and Goodwill, respectively) and I seriously can’t enjoy anything that I didn’t get one heck of a deal on. Luckily for me, I’ve recently re-discovered the $1 movie. Or, more succinctly, the 1.25 movies at Tiffany Plaza 6. Last week, Number One Son and I caught a matinee of “Speed Racer”, and I can tell you the bargain basement price tag greatly increased my enjoyment of said film.

I’m working on an algorithm that will compute one’s pleasure-threshold for dollar movies. “Sturgeon’s Law” (attributed to science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon) states that “90 percent of everything is crap”. He was speaking specifically of literature, but it’s intuitively true for precisely everything: music, books, movies, people living on the planet today, etc.

Now, $1.25 is one-eighth (12.5 %) of the average movie ticket price of 10 bones; meaning, for every 10 movies you see first run, in a cozy, stadium-style seat, you’ve spent 90 dollars on crap, versus the 11.25 spent on crap seeing 10 movies a circa 1979 style dollar-plex. That’s a difference of $78.75.

Now, because we’re talking about crap, we are of course starting from a negative – so I use completely arbitrary means to divide that number by two, to get (roughly) $39.35. Now, that number is (again, roughly) 34 % of the $90 spent on first-run crap.

What that means, then, is if you go to the dollar theater to see Speed Racer, which received a “36%” from Rotten Tomatoes critic-meter, the grade is automatically raised 34%, for a total of 80%!! I hereby declare Siskel and Ebert’s “Thumbs Up / Thumbs Down” movie rating system obsolete!

So, the movie itself… what do you want, anyway? The lead character/film’s namesake is played by an innocuous Emile Hirsch, who looks a little like Corey Feldman, but without the gawkward snarl that was later perfected by Christian Slater. Like the Watchowski Brothers, he can think of nothing but Mach-a-go-go-go! Other than that, there’s not too much point in mentioning the cast; if you’re looking for Oscar caliber performances, you’re in the wrong theater. But do you like “chubby-kid and monkey” humor? Spritle and Chim Chim have got you covered! Seriously, any delusions I may ever have had about being a thoughtful, intelligent movie-goer were destroyed when I caught myself laughing – loudly - at Chim Chim’s Paul Frank-style “boy” pajamas.

Even better than the physics-defying car races are the ridiculous fight scenes, which were manic and frenetic, just like the scenes from Speed Racer that were exorcised for delicate American audiences. Like the chop-socky in “The Matrix”, but without all the “iconic” fetish-wear modeling.

The only real problem with the movie (assuming you’re the type of person who can sit back and enjoy mindless entertainment) was the length. The movie’s villain, nowhere NEAR the final act (as the cliché would dictate) describes his plan to Speed, and explains how car racing has been a crooked sport since the beginning of time. I’m guessing maybe there’s some level of historical truth the filmmakers were alluding to, there. And if the average NASCAR fan found that particularly unwieldy pile of exposition to be interesting, good on them; but jeez, did it make the movie sag.

Of course, there’s all the subjective criteria which go in to grading, not just the film itself, but the film-going experience. Hungover, custody-sharing dad asleep next to his daughter? Minus 6%. Not listening to your spouse calling out from the computer-room “you rented what?!” ? Plus 10%. Fossilized catsup stains at the condiment stand, and busted hand driers in the restroom? Minus 7 %. Skinny version of Christina Ricci as Trixie? Minus 5%. The nearly-always brilliant John Goodman as “Pops” Racer? Plus 10 %. The fact that John Goodman starred in “The Flintstones”? Minus 5%.


But sitting in an icy-cold movie theater with your car-crazy 8 year-old, while the weather outside melts the polar ice caps? PRICELESS.

This weekend – THE INCREDIBLE HULK! Roar!

1 comment:

the wife said...

your ADD meds have kicked in!! I am impressed with the equation you used to judge a $1.25 movies worth. I think since they are getting rid of ebert and roeper you should propose your own show. The Hulk is all you and #1 son (which, by the way, since we have a son and a daughter, wouldn't he just be 'son')
The Dark Knight is our next fullpriced venture....hopefully this weekend.