The price of gas. I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked, “When are you going to write something about the price of gas?” To which I have been answering for months now, “I believe I’ve seen something about that in the papers.” Heavy sarcasm that is usually lost on those who, presumably, think I can do anything about it or even say something new. I don’t drive. I can, but the DMV pulled my license after a “cardiac event” — not a heart attack, but a kind of seizure in April of 2003. I could appeal it, I suppose, but I notice that my daily level of stress is much reduced this way. Occasionally it’s very inconvenient, and both taxis and buses bring the stress and financial pains neck-and-neck with the consequences of daily road rage, or in my case, road annoyance.
With weekend road trips becoming less of an option, I figure more of us are doing what I do almost every weekend, which is rent movies. I can hear the Specialist, my dear friend and frequent lovely assistant, groaning right now. “You’re not going to write another column about you watching movies, are you?” Yeah. When I first began this column almost ten years ago and asked people how they spent their Friday nights and/or weekends, the most common answer I received was, “Renting videos.” Far and away this was the number-one answer. I’m not terribly different, and besides, I haven’t done one of these for years, I don’t think.
Everyone is a critic, and again I’m no exception. When it comes to movies, this is especially true; and while I’m probably far too easily entertained if I’m determined to be so, I can, on occasion, be a disgruntled malcontent. Lacking the energy or inclination to precisely delineate why I don’t like a movie, I’ll pretty much dismiss Adam Sandler’s entire body of work, for example, with the laser-like pinioning that, “It, you know, sucks.”
I enjoy well-written literary criticism mostly, but secondly, film criticism, done well, is a real pleasure to read: Vincent Canby, Pauline Kael, Andrew Sarris are examples. These very pages host one of the country’s better practitioners of it (and let’s see if I’ll be allowed that bit of auto applause). I’ve never done it personally, formally, but I’ve written critically on fiction and music and, like certain vital body parts, everyone has an opinion.
So, locked into a June heat wave and no escape from Hillcrest other than public transport, I’m watching more movies for the reason I did so many times during Chicago summers of childhood: air-conditioning. I’ve got it. A fleeting background gag on a Simpsons episode was a movie marquee that read only, “MOVIE with air-conditioning.” So, have I seen anything good lately? You might well ask.
I walked over to the Hillcrest Landmark the other day and took a blind stab at a foreign film. Spanish? I think. The Taj Mahal was one location, but this was not a product of Bollywood. The movie was The Fall. Visually arresting! And here, with the voice of that baritone-flipping-to tenor guy who did so many voice-overs for trailers: A stunning dreamscape of a motion picture! A depressive suicide and a little girl share an Arabian Nights–style adventure from a hospital bed in Los Angeles.
Beautiful, yes, but it makes little narrative sense outside of the broadest strokes. Luckily, I had just come from a week at Mercy looped on morphine and so was able to appreciate much of the pretty non sequiturs parading by on the screen, many of them certainly meant to portray that very kind of opiate-induced and febrile fantasy. The suicidal narrator downs a bottle of morphine sulfate which…ah, but I’ve said too much. Still, if your priorities in movie-viewing include anything like tight plotting, you’ll want to pass on this, I would think. The closest I could get to explaining the title to myself had to do with innocence and its end with the awareness of mortality. You may bring more to it than I did.
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, with John C. Reilly, a comedy about a rock star that embodies characteristics of every interchangeable bio-pic in the genre, is dumb and genuinely funny at regular enough intervals to keep watching. One could successfully have this on in the background during a party and it could actually be part of the festivities. Some of the funniest caps on Brian Wilson I’ve ever seen outside of Alec Baldwin doing him on SNL are here, as well as dumb Beatles gags (Jack Black is Paul McCartney), and a brief glimpse of Johnny Cash as a punk rocker. Consistently dumb but funny.
Finally, re-viewing River’s Edge — with Crispin Glover as an uncanny re-creation of one of my best high school friends and the keyboardist in one of my early rock bands — was rewarding. Not unlike so many women who found themselves watching the summer release of Sex and the City: The Movie, I found myself watching Keanu Reeves and company and saying to myself, “These are the people I grew up with. It’s like a camera was following me around.” A newly transplanted San Diegan, an old high school chum of mine, Jon Venn, said that very thing when he rented it for me. In turn, I almost had the gratifying pleasure of leaning across the counter at Kensington Video and smarmily telling one of the very cool employees there, “And I’ll take care of the gentleman’s Happiness.” When I recommended that movie (with Philip Seymour Hoffman among other bankable names) to Dr. Venn, I was a little too slow on the draw with my wallet, though. Happiness comes highly recommended by me. The odds are even, however, that as many who might thank me for it are as likely to gag at certain bits and hit eject.
Two others, quickly. I thoroughly enjoyed 1980s releases Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho. You may not.
There you have my summer observations to date. Join me, won’t you, for the next installment of Summer Celluloid coming soon to a newsstand near you.