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Written by Rob Schultz (human).

#1,437: Lawrence of Arabia

Seems to me most flicks I see lately fall into one of three categories, and that they mainly break down by era of production. I'd say that it feels like the majority of films produced nowadays feel unsatisfying.  I suspect it's to do with trying to break from the formats and conventions that have come before, and I couldn't say whether the uncomfortable feeling comes from having the accepted norms broken or from the new breed of filmmaker still struggling to find the next thing, which perhaps hasn't quite hit yet.

The convention they're escaping seems especially prevalent in films from, say, the late 1960s through the late 1990s, a generation back.  These are movies with strong, well-defined three act structures, and beats you can absolutely feel adhering to the campbell-style hero's journey and whatnot.  

Perhaps the former group represent the democratization of film, the era in which I can have a video camera in my monitor here, while the latter are the film school generation.  And if so, then the generation they followed and broke with are the pioneers - the first generation of filmmakers to have access to film technology as we'd generally still think of it today.  

Or, we could probably follow the money and see a similar story.  Films today made by corporations that were previously made following an auteur model that followed the studio system.  In either case, I don't believe that the modern audience is dumber than it used to be.  If anything, it's more responsive to film on a technical level, more apt to catch shots that would have once been considered subliminal images, simply from being trained by modern TV / commercials.

And yet, even though it's a popular comment to make, I'd say it is very rare, the modern movie that is worthy of the claim that repeat viewings are necessary "to catch everything."  Even with the recent popularity of huge twist endings.  For my viewing dollar, it was those much earlier flicks that stand up to or even demand the repeat screenings.  Maybe there's something inherent to an age in which repeat viewings meant repeat trips to the cinema vs. the present day theatrical release as commercial for home video.  Maybe in a previous age when a studio owned itself and was in the business of making movies they were less afraid of subtlety than the present day conglomeratory edicts of synergy.  

Or maybe, since nearly all strata of movie are made in all eras of cinema, less of the previous generations' chaff is conveniently available and I happen to have been drawing a bunch of latter day losers.  Here's the recent rundown:

  • Young @ Heart - I highly recommend the trailer for this documentary.  As much as the movie itself, about a senior center choir that sings songs from soul to punk, adheres to the hero's journey formula, the trailer adheres to the tradition of including the only worthwhile and enticing parts of the film.
  • Blip Festival: Reformat the Planet - This was a slightly better music doc, about making music with (mainly) repurposed electronics, like original gameboys (which have a warmer sound).  Naturally, it's a pretty nerdy cast.
  • His Name Was Jason - Because the studios aren't quite ballsy enough yet to simply release a disc that features all the nudity and kills strung together.
  • Rocky III - Hulk Hogan!  Mr. T!  Mick!  Oh, and Rocky, too.  I didn't realize that the whole "I pity the fool" schtick actually came from a scripted line for a Clubber Lang.  I suspect I still haven't seen Rocky II, so this is the fulcrum on my Rocky movie scale.  And there's something to be said for the 80s model of making sequels that says you're actually supposed to deliver more of what people liked the last go 'round.
  • The Thing - I got to six of the items on this list because Hulu just lost a load of features for some reason.  I'd seen the Thing-like episode of a number of other sci-fi shows, especially the X-Files, but it's a pretty solid and suspenseful movie.  Even the monsters hold up pretty well.
  • Swimfan - This is pretty ridiculous.  Fatal Attraction set in high school.  I'm pretty sure it's not actually supposed to be a comedy, but it's really silly.   In brief: boy meets girl, boy has sex with girl behind girlfriend's back, girlfriend finds out and breaks up with boy whilst girl frames boy for a dozen felonies in the space of a week, boy is cleared of all charges and gets back together with girlfriend who seems to have forgotten the one thing he actually did do was cheat on her.
  • The Siege - Starring Denzel Washington as himself and Tony Shaloub as an arab.  What if New York City were the victim of a terrorist attack?  It's pretty simple, actually.  All you have to do is apprehend The Last Cell of terrorists and then terror will be over.  I'm surprised you didn't think of that.
  • Thunderbolt and Lightfoot - This was pretty great.  Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges and George Kennedy are going to rob a bank in the 1970s.  I'll admit though, I'm surprised more talk show hosts and such don't keep re-using clips from this movie of Bridges in drag.
  • The Final Curtain - Straight to video story of warring game show hosts, with Peter O'Toole and Adrian Lester, aka Hustle's Mickey Bricks.  Not, you know, very good, perhaps because they couldn't decide if they were making a mock-doc or not.
  • The Warriors - One gang gets framed for killing a member of another gang by another gang and then has to fight all these other gangs to just get away from the other gang on their way home, where they'll fight that first other gang?  This is one you hear about a lot, and it seems like the sort of thing you couldn't do anymore, even if they are apparently remaking it.  The comic book transitions seemed really modern though - I may have been watching the recent rerelease. Also: probably a/the inspiration for River City Ransom, if I had to guess.
  • Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home - The thing I usually dislike about Star Trek is the strict syndicated maintenance of the status quo.  Episodes end where they began so we can watch in any order.  I suppose there's a certain amount of story told across the various series as they grew and evolved, but I didn't realize how much the original film series was telling a continuous story (even though I saw part 6 in theaters for some reason), because this movie didn't make a lick of sense.  From the opening that chooses to not recap previous films for new viewers but instead to make sideways references to them as a nod to the fans, to somehow inventing an even lazier explanation for time travel than Superman: The Movie.  I did enjoy how this fits into the mold of 80s sequels as well, where other film series run out of ideas and eventually add "In Space!" to the title, this series about being in space goes down to earth!
  • Death Race - Statham.  Works as a pretty good video game movie, although not explicitly based on a video game.  Kind of in the Ultraviolet school of moviemaking.  But really, there was no reason whatsoever to have 'copilots.'  They don't help, can't do anything, and apparently the audience can't even see them.  (There's the line about how they bring in the chicks to entice viewers, but Statham doesn't have to wear the Frankenstein mask while he drives, so there're no cameras in the cars?)
  • Monsters Vs. Aliens - Thumbs down.  Too campy.  Animation just doesn't hold up the competition (everyone's crosseyed, lip sync is weird).  More overtly gimmicky than most of the recent spate of 3D releases.  (At least the animated movies.  Didn't see Bloody Valentine or Journey to the Center of the Earth).
  • Knowing - Something in this movie makes me not want to give it the thumbs down, but I can't tell what that something is.  The movie seemed very episodic, with each episode only barely having any bearing on episodes to come.  Oh, here are some fancy effects scenes.  Now back to the mystery.  Now let's be a horror movie for a few minutes.  Just too scattered.  Maybe the trouble is that we (that is, I) never have any particular reason to care about the characters?  Nic Cage's one expression isn't really suited to characters the audience needs to feel something about.
  • Lawrence of Arabia - Tremendous!  I would've gone right back into the theater and watched this again, if that'd been an option.  I think for all the movies on this list, it can be distilled down to 10% or less (per sturgeon's law, I suppose) that I'd actually recommend to someone, and this rises right into a spot on that part of the list.

So that's approximately 4/15 this round.  It makes me wonder if 'see everything' is really the right approach.  Sometimes, 'just see good things' sounds better.