Eating Crow at Warp Speed

I don’t ordinarily go to Hollywood movies, an accidental abstinence born of a fortuitous blend of good old fashioned liberal elitism, cheapness, and bitter experience.  There is nothing more annoying than leaving a theater, fingers still slightly greasy from an overpriced bucket of popcorn I ate despite knowing better, and having also wasted twenty bucks on something even less enjoyable than, say, two hours of FOX News.  I watch trailers more as warning than temptation, and read reviews mostly to convince myself I was better off throwing my money in the street than forking it over for something that will only again reinforce my already unappealing tendency toward cultural smugness.

When I visit my friend in LA, though, I’m always persuaded, like Charlie Brown with the football, to try it just one more time.  My meek acquiescence has led in the past to such galling horrors as sitting through “Vanilla Sky” wanting to throttle Tom Cruise, contemplating suicide during “Solaris,” and praying the bombing would finally start in “Pearl Harbor.”  With such an unbroken string of “I told you so’s” lined up, it was with equal parts reluctance and morbid curiosity that I resignedly agreed to go to “2012″ at the same Marina Del Rey multiplex where so many other stinkers had sent me fleeing for the exit wanting to tear out my eyeballs.

The movie began predictably enough, with laughably implausible pseudo-science, absurdly fake accents, and typically hackneyed dialogue, but unlike the others of its type, little time was wasted on the plot setup, with the cartoonish characters introduced at dizzying speed and the first portentous earth tremor barely ten minutes into the movie.  And things only sped up from there.  It turned out there was a reason for that; 2012 is really a half dozen disaster movies, several comedies, and the entire roster of Warner Bros. cartoons, all rolled into one, and in the minutes available, it has a lot of ground to, well, cover.  The roller coaster of doom moves so fast that Los Angeles is laid flat and heading, unlamented, for Davey Jones locker in under an hour, during which time more spectacular and varied demolitions are packed into one comically harrowing escape scene than earlier specimens of the genre would have attempted in a trilogy. Collapsing skyscrapers, freeways, and houses chase the beleaguered protagonists so closely that each stunning absurdity deftly outdoes the last, and ordinary suspension of disbelief becomes a sort of giddy mania for more, and more there is.  Much more.

Indeed, despite the astonishing special effects that no doubt provide the initial drawing power of the movie, its particular genius lies in its success as comedy in the classical sense of the term.  As Oscar Wilde wrote, “The good end well, and the bad end badly.  That’s why they call it fiction.”  Once one has watched many of the world’s greatest cities gloriously dispatched in rapid succession even as the film’s seemingly hapless and unprepared protagonists suddenly morph into expert pilots, intrepid divers, wonky technicians, cultural ambassadors, and canny detectives, often all at once and invariably in the nick of time, one has pretty given up worrying about their fates, as Armageddon helplessly plays Wile E. Coyote to their Road Runner.  The suspense lies not in whether the ten year old boy will save a substantial portion of Earth’s remaining population by swimming underwater and heroically helping his estranged father locate and remove the errant cable jamming the gears, but when.

Even the characters seem swept into their inevitable happy ending as the annoying second husband is handily squished and The Poseidon Adventure becomes, to no one’s surprise, The Parent Trap.

Earlier in the day, as I languidly contemplated sitting through another bloated and pointless waste of celluloid, I happened across a scathing review of the movie, which bemoaned its predictable cheesiness as well as its inevitable commercial success.  I think the reviewer missed the point entirely, and leaving the theater hours later,  I found myself sheepishly thanking my friend for dragging me, kicking and screaming, to see it.  Who’d have thought the end of the world could be such fun?

It was nice while it lasted....

It was nice while it lasted....

9 Comments

  1. retzilian says:

    I have only recently seen “Vanilla Sky” and “Solaris”, and I can’t see the point in seeing either on the big screen, or at all, really. I did see “Pearl Harbor” in a second-run theater for $1 or something cheap, but I was bored stiff, like you. Vanilla Sky was too weird for me, although I did sit through it. I turned Solaris off after about an hour. I just didn’t give a chit about anyone in that movie.

    I think 2012 sounds like something I’ll see on DVD or for free when I get it out of the li-barry. I have been watching about one movie a day on average since May and I haven’t paid for one yet.

    • cocktailhag says:

      That’s the way to do it…. Watch for free with your finger over the remote, ready to switch to “I Love Lucy” reruns at the drop of a hat. “Vanilla Sky” was supposedly based on a Spanish film that was purportedly better. It lost something in translation, evidently. You turned off “Solaris” just in time; it got considerably dumber and stinkier toward the end…. The key to enjoying 2012 is in seeing it for the comedy it is. (Disturbingly, we were the only ones in our immediate vicinity laughing.)

  2. retzilian says:

    Well, movie recommendations are cheap, of course, but I don’t make them lightly because I see so FEW movies I think are any damn good. I did really enjoy a few that you could probably find at the li-barry or online somewhere:

    “The Prestige” (a movie about magicians), and along those lines, one with Edward Norton that is also clever: The Illusionist

    “Every Little Step” is about kids auditioning for the revival of A Chorus Line. I cried through the whole thing.

    “Insomnia” with Al Pacino and Robin Williams. It’s a true-crime mystery that takes place in a part of Alaska that is in all-daylight at the time. Very good, if you like murder mysteries. Pacino is absolutely ragged in this and Williams plays a totally different character than usual.

    “The Brothers Bloom” – This is actually quite hilarious and fun in a totally entertaining, escapist way.

  3. timothy3 says:

    retzilian, about “Insomnia,” after having seen that I learned that it was a remake of a Swedish movie (same title) starring Stellan Skarsgaard. He’s an excellent actor, I think.
    The last interesting movie I rented was “Der Untergang” with Bruno Ganz on Hitler’s final days. There were some outstanding supporting performances in that movie and it must’ve been exceptionally difficult for those actors.

  4. retzilian says:

    Hey Timothy! I saw “Der Untertang” recently and it was really well done. I actually understood some of the German after awhile, but I still read the subtitles just in case. I spent some time in Germany years ago and saw some of the famous places portrayed in this film. Compared to the idiotic “Valkyrie”, which was a great story made into a very poor movie, “Der Untertang” was far, far better.

    In that vein, “The Reader” is quite a movie; disturbing and sad and well done, if you are interested in a little microcosm of Germany during and after the war.

    • The Heel says:

      Der Untergang is really the best “war movie” I ever saw. Very realistic and much more of a documentary than a novel. I think it is the ugly voyeur in us, enjoying people in extreme situations. Of course that always is a lot more fun with a bucket of popcorn in front of you….

      What helped was that they interviewed Hitler’s secretary, while she was still alive. It also helped that 6 decades had passed, so a much more neutral, objective perspective was possible.

  5. retzilian says:

    Oh, and speaking of Nazi movies, “Inglorious Basterds” was not at all what I expected. The first half hour was signature Tarantino – gratuitous violence and scattered plots, but then it got really interesting. I was pleasantly surprised. Recommended.

  6. mikeinportc says:

    CH, re Vanilla Sky, I liked Abres les Ojos (the original – rented for $1). After reading some reviews of VS, I didn’t watch it, so as not to spoil (the memory) of AlO. Apparently, most who’ve seen both agree. (at link)

    I don’t generally go forthe big Hollywood movies, because they are usually dumbed down, simplistic,too neatly ended, and/or predictable. If you want a funny Hollywood-bashing parody, try Eric Idle’s faux documentary, Burn, Hollywood, Burn. :)

  7. mikeinportc says:

    ps , timothy, the original, Norwegian version of Insomnia is better . I saw both, because by the time the American version came along, I’d forgotten that I’d already seen it. Not bad, but not as good as the original .