Bigger! Louder! Wake Me When It’s Over!

Jeffrey Cohen

It’s the summer movie season. I used to get so excited about this.

There was a time when I really cared about the movies that came out during the summer, thumbing my nose at the pretentious claptrap Hollywood released at Christmas to lure shiny gold statues and show how important it all was. I’d get there first, stand on line, sit in the center of the center row, hunker down with a box of Milk Duds and let it all wash all over me. Even the slide show before the movie (which wasn’t anywhere near as elaborate as the “pre-show” they do today) got me right where I lived. It was my time of year, and I was going to spend it all in a dark room with strangers.

Not anymore.

Maybe I’m indifferent to the summer movie fare offered these days because I’m older now, but I don’t think so. I still have a fine appreciation for things that are well-made nonsense. I still love stupid movies, when they’re intelligent stupid movies. I think the last honest-to-goodness comedy I saw in a theatre of my own volition (when my son, in particular, wasn’t making the programming choice for the day) was Galaxy Quest, a Tim Allen movie about a bunch of actors who save the, well, galaxy. I thought it was well written, well directed and well acted, and I wish I’d relished the experience, because it hasn’t been duplicated since. That was in 1999.

I think the problem is that while technology has undeniably improved in the moviemaking business, storytelling has fallen by the wayside. Most “action” scenes are edited to the attention span of a hummingbird on Ritalin, and half the time, you can’t tell what’s going on, but you’ve got to figure it’s really exciting. The writing (you wondered when I’d talk about writing, didn’t you?)? Well, that editing really is impressive, isn’t it?

So far this summer, I have attended, semi-willingly, three stupid popcorn movies, the kind that used to get my heart pumping weeks in advance. The first, Mission: Impossible 3 (and I’m not the first to tell you to beware movies whose last name is “3”) was a nifty little entertainment that shouted and sweated as if it were the opening bell in a new Renaissance of action. It wasn’t. It was Tom Cruise, frothing at the mouth (which is what we’re used to with Tom these days, alas) about how much in love with some woman or another he was, and how he’d do anything to save her. It’s been a number of years, I know, but wasn’t that what Mission: Impossible 2 was about? What happened to THAT woman?

Then, of course, came The Da Vinci Code, less a movie than an obligation. As the last person on the planet who hasn’t read the novel on which the movie was based, I can’t compare the two, but Tom Hanks is certainly a good actor, and Ian McKellen (sorry: Sir Ian McKellen), with his two canes, has such a good time there are pieces of scenery caught between his teeth by the end of the film, but didn’t it all sort of add up to not much? Couldn’t most of the big “surprises” be seen a mile away, wearing irridescent paint and waving their arms?

There is a certain hazard to being a mystery writer who attends action movies or reads mystery novels. We think like mystery writers while we’re watching the movie, and we often figure out the plot ahead of “civilians.” I nudged my wife 20 minutes into The Sixth Sense to ask if she’d caught on yet. She started talking to me again a couple of weeks later.

We have a story sense, because if we didn’t, we’d be in the plumbing and heating business, and actually making a living. So, when a story isn’t executed so well that we’re distracted from the mechanics of the writing, well, our story muscles are exercised. Don’t hate us because we can see the plot twists coming.

Yesterday, both the kids were determined to see X-Men: The Final Stand (whose last name was “3” before Ellis Island, I’m guessing), which despite the critical lambasting it has taken wasn’t all that bad. It actually includes a villain whose point of view is defensible, even if his tactics are not, and he’s played by Ian McKellen (pardon me: Sir Ian McKellen) in a very silly hat. Again, not an awful movie, but like each of the first two in the series, the details of this one will have entirely left my memory within a week of having seen it.

A large number of movies will open this summer. I’m sort of interested in seeing Superman Returns, as an old fan of the flying guy. But do I have to go the first weekend it’s open? Nah. I can wait. Others that I would have stood on line for in years past will have to wait until they’re available on Netflix. I’m not spending that $12.95 a month for nothing, you know.

I don’t even eat Milk Duds anymore. They helped make me the man I am today, particularly around the middle.

My daughter, however, is counting the days until the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie. She can barely wait. And her enthusiasm, finally, is something that I look forward to seeing.

7 thoughts on “Bigger! Louder! Wake Me When It’s Over!

  1. Tenbrooks

    Relieved to hear X-3 isn’t as bad as reported since various loyalties require me to see it.Pirates 2? If it’s terrible, I don’t know if I can go on….to other movies.

    Reply
  2. Pari

    Jeff,I don’t remember the last time I went to a movie just months after it came out.

    Frankly, there hasn’t been a movie that I’ve wanted to go to in a very, very long time.

    But I do like Milk Duds.

    Reply
  3. Allison Brennan

    I loved GALAXY QUEST. I’m also a closet Trekkie πŸ™‚ . . .

    There haven’t been that many GREAT movies out. I did enjoy LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. As a major STAR WARS fan, I was sorely disappointed in the prequels, particularly #3 because I didn’t feel Anakin’s turn to the dark side worked. I absolutely positively could not buy into him killing the young Jedis.

    I loved THE INCREDIBLES, but I’m a big fan of Pixar Animation and as a mother of five, rated G and PG movies are a hit in our house. I’m looking forward to CARS (well, my 5 year old son is REALLY looking forward to it).

    I don’t know how old your daughter is, but I loved the first PIRATES movie and can hardly wait for the sequel. My oldest daughter, 12, is also excited.

    And Superman? Yep, I’m all over that. I mean, I grew up with him πŸ™‚ (Though said daughter above is a Smallville fan. I rented the Superman movie and she wanted to know when the action started . . . have our kids become so needy for action up front that they can’t enjoy a little backstory in a movie?)

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  4. Robin Burcell

    It’s like this: The day Pirates II comes out, I will be so waiting at the front door of the theater. I wore out one DVD of the original, and I’m working on number two. Truthfully, Allison could’ve been writing about me, except I only have three kids, and I’m not a closet Trekkie. I am a full-fledged Trekkie that just doesn’t own any costumes or ears, and I’ll admit it to anyone, anywhere. Unless they’re talking about the last version, which was just plain stupid. The one with the Scott Bakula guy who used to be in that other sci-fi series about leaping into black holes or quantum somethings (which I liked much better than his Star Trek version, which, thankfully didn’t last more than a season or two, and was painful to watch. Nor did I particularly care for that Star Trek version about the space station. I mean, isn’t the whole purpose of Star Trek to “go where no man has gone before?” And, really, on a space station, the only place you can go where no man has gone before would be to redesign the men’s room, and put it in … well, clearly I digress.

    My point, and I *think* I had one, was that I love Galaxy Quest. I love Pirates. I love Men in Black, and MIB II. I have DVDs and I’m not afraid to watch them over and over–even when they show up on TV with commercials. But as a mystery writer, I did not get the Sixth Sense until the end. Looking back, I think it had more to do with being a cop, and being so pissed off that he’d do something so stupid to get shot in the first place, and really, what is 9-1-1 all about if you don’t pick up a phone and use it? (And that is precisely what I was yelling to the screen when my husband told me to shut up.)

    Oh, and one more thing, Jeff, was to say that I thought I was the last person *not* to have read TDC. Or would the initials be TDVC? Because, really, isn’t it “of Vinci” when you get right down to the literal translation? Now that would be something to argue about, rather than the stupid “facts” of a work of fiction, for anyone from the Vatican who might be interested in responding. Then again, I only speak one language, and sometimes not even fluently, if you listen to my editor.

    What was the question again?

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  5. toni mcgee causey

    I, too, loved Galaxy Quest. Funniest line was by Sigourney Weaver about the writers of the show needing to be killed because of how they wrote the big choppy thingie scene. (Woo, look at my technical explanation there and marvel.) I loved Pirates I, and will be first in line for II, but like you, thought the exact same thing about MI:III… what happened to the last woman he was so in love with, he’d do anything for her, including quitting, etc. Kinda hard to buy the whole true love thing. I mean, he didn’t even jump around on a couch. (I know, I’m evil.)

    As for the writing, I feel compelled to point out (as a former screenwriter), that so much of the writing ends up out of the hands of the writers. For one thing, it’s very rare that one writer stays on any project all of the way through — once the studio has bought the script, they own the copyright (a stupid thing the WGAw gave away), and they can fire the original writer and hire as many as they want. Secondly, there’s almost nothing to stop the director from rewriting as he sees fit, particularly if he has any clout at all. Most producers hope for the best at that point because if he or she (so few “shes”) is a well-known enough director, then they had a large part in (a) getting the greenlight / funding and (b) getting the stars on board, that to rock the boat too much and try to keep the director from rewriting is too scary for most producers and so they generally back off. Also, stars often rewrite (uncredited) because they want certain lines or characteristics empahsized — either because they think it’ll help their career, it’ll play to what they know their fans like about them (even if it goes against the character of the story), or… they think chewing the scenery will get them a statuette or a bigger, better job. A screenwriter is at the mercy of all of those things, fighting for the story, usually losing.

    One interesting tidbit — I think (I don’t have the stats handy) that the great majority of all Oscar winning films have been the films with only one writer at the helm. You’d think this would have been noticed or cared about, wouldn’t you?

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  6. Allison Brennan

    Toni, I took my older girls to STICK IT (dumb, but they loved it because it’s about gymnastics . . . though it had an okay message which could have been further explored . . . ) anyway, we saw an AWESOME preview of PIRATES II and I can’t wait to see the movie. I’ll be there opening weekend with the girls (my husband is ambivilent . . . he liked it but didn’t LOVE it, what’s with that?) . . . I’ve never taken the girls to an opening weekend anything (hate lines) but it’ll be worth it and with the excitement in the theater — like the first prequel of STAR WARS. Or when I saw RETURN OF THE JEDI the opening weekend.

    Sometimes, lines and packed theaters are worth it πŸ™‚

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