The Movie Club

Wait, This Is What It Sounds Like When Doves Cry?
Critic vs. critic.
Jan. 4 2008 5:37 PM

The Movie Club

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Scott, you're 29? You're from Tampa? You don't own devices? I feel so much closer to you right now than I have in all these years, especially since you raised Le Crux du Moment. To which I wonder: Hmmm. The question of moviegoing. Having watched films on laptops, iThings, and TVs thinner than Keira Knightley (baby, I love you, but here, take my sandwich), I, too, prefer going to the movies—the actual movies. But I'm this close to becoming Dr. Will Smith and locking my black ass away from all the freaks.

There are soooo many things wrong with the moviegoing experience in this country. For one thing, I hate some of the people I have to sit near, like the nail-filer at Atonement or the hoagie man at Why Did I Get Married? (Sir, why did you get your sub wrapped in that much paper and plastic?). I won't even mention the cell-phone lights that flicker on and off like cheap, fallen stars. That degraded constellation is a fact of life in the dark now.

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I attend movies all over the place but mostly in Boston, where I live. And there are days when it's bliss. There are also days when I can't believe the picture is so deeply out of focus. The underpaid managers and ushers are attentive (like my man Aaron and my man Paul at the Boston Common), but I shouldn't have to leave my seat and go a quarter-mile to ask someone to radio up to the projection booth and have the sound in house 64 turned up. There should be a dedicated, unionized projectionist up there, not some switch-flipper.

Solving the megaplex moviegoing crisis (it's a crisis to me) is not terribly unlike solving the crisis in our public schools in that we all know there's a problem but no one can seem to do anything about it. (What about charter movie houses?!) A few years back, I watched Ocean's 12 with some friends at a sold-out late show in Chicago, and right before the Julia-does-Julia sequence, the print melted. (I know what you're thinking and you're wrong; that's a great sequence.) Anyway, the house lights came up, but it took a good five minutes for an employee to tell us what was going on. In the meantime, the audience had grown, well, indignant. They wanted their money back.

This seemed to punish the innocent. So I stood up and started telling people, "This isn't Steven Soderbergh's fault. If you want justice, demand a refund from the concession stand, not the box office." As a lot of us but not nearly enough of us know: nachos, etc., are a theater's bread and butter-flavored topping.

I see things a little differently now. If the film studios are going to continue to place a premium on theatrical distribution (and I hope they do), they should want to know how their films are exhibited or whether the folks who've come out to see them are satisfied with the exhibition. There should be someone from the studio—and not the regional publicists, either; their jobs are hard enough as it is—someone from Sony and 20th Century Fox and Universal and on and on should come and see what I see when I go to a movie on Friday night. (And I've got it pretty good in Boston. Go to suburban Philadelphia or Atlanta.) See the dirty, holey screens, the bad projecting equipment, the managerial indifference, the commercials. Fuck it, bring the filmmakers, too—bring Scott Rudin and Zach Snyder and Judd Apatow. (By the way, Judd, you really are the shit. I know this because each of the three movies you put out in 2007 were crappily projected in the different cities I saw them and 2¼ of them still made me laugh.)

It just seems crazy for studio executives to pull out their hair over flat theatrical attendance last year and not be more openly disappointed/concerned about how your product is displayed. This goes for art-plexes, too. I know I've had a few unfortunate experiences in cappuccinoville. Maybe I'm missing something. Maybe I'm naive from the standpoint of basic business sense, and leaning on the exhibitors to improve the theater conditions may not have anything to do with increasing attendance or goosing your bottom lines. But many millions of us show up every week for your movies. So humor me. Even if you're doing your best, we deserve a little a better. Make it tougher for me to want to stay home and watch The Wire.

Now that that's done, I'm supposed to confess a sin of omission. I missed Lady Chatterley, which I should be ashamed of since more than one Cahiers du cinema editor has sung its praises right into my ear. (Jean-Michel, I'll watch it this weekend.) What else? Waitress;Lust, Caution, which, Nathan, you made me not want to see in Toronto. I missed National Treasure, and while I'm positive I'm not missing anything, its popularity amazes me. My friend Mark says it's simple: There's nothing else, and people are OK with watered-down Indiana Jones. Plus: Helen Mirren? What? I'm going to watch Lake of Fire tomorrow.

Oh, and there's this: Forgive me, Oscar, for I almost sinned. I only just saw Into the Wild, the newish movie from Sir Sean Penn (some small island near the Golden Gate Bridge has knighted him, right?) And I'm glad I caught it, since it explained to me what life would be like if Jeff Spicoli had died and gone to Trader Joe's.

For about an hour, the movie actually made me sick of slow-motion shots of gulls, close-ups of actors, voice-over narration, "improvisation." I was sick of gorgeous photography and Thoreau and Emerson, sick of secretly self-pitying earnest 21-year-olds being mistaken for wise because Mommy and Daddy fought—all the time. (Wait, this is what it sounds like when doves cry?) I was sick of wheat and snow and the salt of the earth and "the murder of everyday truth." I was sick, sick, sick of Eddie Vedder's voice.

All I wanted to do in the middle of that movie was run home and turn on all my appliances, get my driver's license, buy six cars, fill them full of gas, and drive them all at the same time. Watching it was like eating whatever Emile Hirsh eats at the end.

And yet—and yet —the minute I scribbled that down in my notepad was the minute I felt some bizarre connection to the deluded purity Chris McCandless and Sean Penn were going for. Catherine Keener's not-that-good performance turned piercing. And Hal Holbrook's tears near the end were pretty much my own. I wanted to get closer to the grass, to Alaska, to a lonely old man. The eloquence of Penn's overblown naivety had won. Suddenly, I had a heart, and it was shaped a lot like a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck.

Which I now am going to drink.

Abrazos y besos,

Wesley

Wesley Morris is a staff writer at Grantland.

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