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11 July 2007

Movie Limbo

Over the past few years, two things have conspired against my formerly eager appetite for watching movies or their more ambitious cousins, films. One has been parenthood, and the other has been Hollywood. The former involves the practical matter of time, and the latter involves the 9/1 ratio of movies that make me groan or yawn to movies that were actually worthwhile. Much to Wyfe's dismay, I tend to only enjoy movies/films that aim for at least a minimum of artistic merit (this includes comedies), which leaves out the usual mindless summer fare. For instance, I absolutely refuse to see another super hero flick except maybe the follow-up to Batman Begins, which I enjoyed. Wyfe still pays in grief for dragging me to both the Superman and Pirates of the Carribean disasters last summer (to be fair, we would not have tried Superman if Pirates had not been sold out the first time). But then the trouble with so-called artistic, more serious, films is that they are usually neither, but instead are either morally-bankrupt and lifeless, or bloated vehicles that further promote already trite and boring modern-day political/social orthodoxies. So, I don't see many movies, and frankly find myself not missing them, something I never would have believed ten years ago.

And, as Wyfe pointed out last year, Netflix-type services paradoxically encourage us to be less interested in watching movies, even while we are paying to rent them.

However, I still tilt at the Netflix windmills in hopes of finding the good stuff from time to time, especially during the summer. The other night I watched The Squid and the Whale after reading about it quite by accident a few weeks ago.

Overall, I'm going to give it a B+, which is encouraging, though I have a few reservations, in particular about a couple of "ick" scenes that seemed to me unnecessary distractions (we could find out about the sexually-related cries for help of the twelve year-old without seeing actual body fluids smeared on lockers or library books). But I don't think the film was trying to glory in the dissolution of the American family the way I thought, for instance, American Beauty did. There was no sense of preachiness from the director (apparently this was at least semi-biographical), but instead just a sense of what it is like for an adolescent to slowly, painfully put together what his parents have visited upon him, and what he has in turn, already, been visiting upon himself and others.

I already know, by the way, I will enjoy the next thing in the queue . It is a true rarity - something I not only went to the theatre to see, but also loved.


mcbaker said...

Hello! I'm what you might call a lurker--I've been reading your blog for about a year but never commented. Your mention of The Squid and the Whale, though, inspired me! I just watched it last week after it slowly moved up my Netflix queue, so I can't help but comment, since no one else in my immediate group has seen it.
I thought it was heartbreaking, which is in opposition to what almost every other critic said--everyone seems to have found it detached. My parents divorced when I was 12, and this movie precisely captured the feelings of a family going through that hell. I thought it was an excellent, honest portrayal of the pain of divorce. While the bodily-fluids scenes were a little disturbing, I liked the frankness of it...there was no hiding the way that the boy was being affected by his family's breakup.
Anyways, those are my two cents...and I love your blog, by the way!

School Master P said...

Thanks for the comment and the kid words, Mcbaker - isn't that weird that we happened along the same movie at the same time?

Watching the parents in the movie reminded me of something I realized when I first started teaching. There are so many parents from divorced families that seem more concerned with their own personal lives/goals than they ever are with their own children. Especially in a divorce situation, where the kids are already in a much more vulnerable postion, shouldn't this always be the opposite situation?

Brad K. said...

I saw Squid and the Whale in the theaters, and ended up buying the DVD, which says something considering I only buy a few a year.

Your comments were right in line with mine--I was really impressed with everyone's performances, and couldn't help wonder what the real Baumbach family thought of the movie. I was impressed that the writer so honestly betrayed himself as a pretentious twit. Loved the ending. A good ending is hard to find these days.

You make a great point comparing it to American Beauty. In this way it reminded me of Whit Stillman's stuff. His characters want some model to follow, and struggle because there are so few.

Most parents I see either are obsessed with their kids' lives and education, or act like having kids should in no way affect how they choose to follow their bliss. I realize it must be a tough balancing act, and not having kids, I hesitate to judge.

School Master P said...

I love the Whit Stillman movies. Haven't thought about them in a long while, so maybe I'll do some revisiting.

Belle said...

The Royal Tennenbaums in particular, yes?

The bodily fluids issue has ruined many a movie for me, and I actually love them in real life...should have been a nurse or hospital orderly or something.

But I think that Jeff Daniels is way underappreciated. And Laura Linney is dreamy.

School Master P said...

I actually found out about the movie from reading something about Jeff Daniels, and a critic's argument that he's worked his way into the upper echelon of fine actors.

I've only seen Laura Linney in about five things, and thought she was awesome in all of them. And darned cute, too.

dhanson said...

I'll take the escapist movies. Movies that are "important" and "serious" and try to teach us things almost always want to teach us that the world is a terrible place and human beings are capable of inflicting great pain on each other and themselves. And there isn't much (or any) hope of that situation improving.

I already understand how negative the world can be and don't need to pay for tickets (or a rental) to be reminded.

From time to time I listen to the recommendations of others who find this important stuff less depressing than I do, and I go to these movies or rent them. Ninety percent of the time I'm sorry I wasted my time and my rickety faith in humanity on them.

I'd rather get away from the nasty side of humanity for a couple of hours instead of wallowing in it at the latest critic's darling.

School Master P said...

dhanson - As I said in my original post, most of what the "film establishment" sees as a serious film really does come across as either pointless wallowing or p.c.-preaching. In such cases, I actually wouldn't consider them serious films (we could easily broaden this judgment to many novels, plays, music, and painting). Your 90% number doesn't sound off to me (hence my lack of movie-watching) - but what do you think when you see one of the other 10%? Those at least keep my hope alive.

By serious, I don't necessarily mean not fun, but true to an artistic vision that has some kind of moral purpose to it. Such a film works because it actually works on you (in a positive way) after you've seen it - at least a little. This doesn't mean it can't be fun (randomly, I'll mention "The Incredibles"), or that you can't leave the movie with a smile on your face - some of the best comedies, or dramas that are stocked with funny scenes, can still accomplish this.