Moviegoing in the Thirties

Hot FuzzA friend of mine who teaches film told me once not to misinterpret how often I went to the movies in my twenties as a sign of how frequently I’d be seeing them in the decades to come. Rather, the frequency of my moviegoing in my early thirties would be a more useful indicator, because it’s at that age when people start to form habits around whatever particular balance of responsibility and recreation suits them.

That advice is bearing itself out. Where I once saw, at a minimum, one or two movies a week, now at age thirty-five I can barely make it to the movie theaters more than once or twice a month. (I also currently happen to have two rentals from Netflix that have made themselves at home on my coffee table for more than two weeks now, unwatched, but that’s a digression.) The equilibrium I’ve achieved between responsibility and recreation tends to favor the former, and I find myself too busy to sit still for the hundred minutes or more required to properly view a film.

Theater Happy

That’s sad, because I still have a real affection for the whole moviegoing experience. The formality of setting aside a more or less uninterruptible block of one’s time to physically travel to a location where one sits in the dark among strangers to consume mass media — the most public kind of private recreation I can think of — is something that’s special to me. If moviegoing is ultimately defeated by home entertainment and it turns out that, in the course of human history, it’s a phenomenon that only ever persisted for about a century, I’ll be glad I lived through at least a part of those hundred years.

That said, in the past several weeks, I’ve found myself with an unexpectedly numerous set of opportunities to go to the movies. To be sure, I didn’t seize those opportunities in the most culturally redeeming ways; my choices were invariably along the lines of ‘sensation candy’ rather than brain food. But I had fun, and that’s what counts, right? Here are a few quick recaps.

“Hot Fuzz”

If your expectations for “Hot Fuzz” are based at all on the stellar job this British creative team did for the 2004 horror satire “Shaun of the Dead,” you’re likely to be disappointed. This send up of the genre of brutal action movies most often associated with the likes of Jerry Bruckheimer and Joel Silver has got a heart, for sure. It’s a kind of a sweet action flick — as in tender sweet. But it’s much more of an action film than a comedy, and there are more explosions than laughs. Unfortunately.


I more or less had to vow to set aside the time to see Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s extravagant double-feature “Grindhouse” before it left the theaters, and somehow I pulled it off. At over three hours, it’s truly a fully fledged double-feature experience, even with all its stagey reproductions of antiquated B-movie conventions. It’s worth seeing though, because there’s going to be nothing else like it in theaters this year; it’s an absolutely total immersion in the artifice of these two directors’ imaginations, executed almost completely without regard for what anyone could possibly say about it.

Grindhouse Movie Poster

Of the two features, I was surprisingly much fonder of Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror,” which so satisfyingly recaptures the John Carpenter school of thrills and chills that I’d gladly watch it again and again. Unfortunately, in fact of how brilliant I think all of Tarantino’s previous movies are (that is, I think they’re genius) I found his garrulous, sometimes plodding and over-written “Death Proof” to be a wearying indulgence at times. Once the plot took off, I admit that it really took off, but it takes a long time and a lot of aimless talk to get there.

As an aside: regardless of the quality of the actual product, the graphical promotion for this movie has been nothing short of brilliant. Its posters and collateral, like this one and this one are fantastically assured and engrossing examples of vernacular design.

“Blades of Glory”

When Will Ferrell starred in the serviceably agreeable “Stranger Than Fiction,” I was sure he’d gone down the path of Robin Williams, turning a moderately interesting career in insightful comedy into a never-ending string of sentimental cheap shots. That might still turn out to be the case, but “Blades of Glory” is a convincing counter-argument. It’s silly and stupid as hell, and it’s absolutely not worth a minute of anyone’s time while there’s hunger to be relieved, war to be stopped and elephants to be saved. Nevertheless, it’s a really freakin’ hilarious movie that I enjoyed a hell of a lot, and I laughed with tremendous delight the whole way through.

Three’s Company…

Three movies in less than three weeks is something of an accomplishment for me, of late. It’s certainly out of the ordinary. But seeing these in such rapid succession, I was reminded of one drawback in such frequent moviegoing: one tends to see the same movie trailers, again and again. And, almost as a matter of course, one of these trailers was for this summer’s highly anticipated, can’t-miss blockbuster “Spider-Man 3.” I was burned by the first two entries in this franchise — I found them tedious and overly rendered where they should have been light and loose — and so I have very little enthusiasm for this most recent outing… and this even in spite of my already established affinity for anything comic book-related. Still, I want to know just one thing: does every comic book movie have to feature about a zillion super-villians in it? Why can’t they just have one super-villian, instead?

  1. Being an old comic book fan myself, I have to see comic book movies even if they are bad. Although I didn’t bother with catwomen.

    I’ve noticed with comic book movies the villains tend to equal the movie number. The first comic book movie has 1 villain, the second 2, the third three. (cf. Batman)

    I don’t know why they do this. They could have a much richer plot and interaction between characters if they just had one. I guess they want more bang for their special effects buck.

  2. I think your summary of Hot Fuzz is probably more to do with the fact that as a comedy it seems to work more here in the UK than probably travels well across other countries. The comedy factor in that film is very “british” based and I think over here it did extremely well and was praised as a comedy simply becuase some of the jokes were very much the Brits joking about themselves. I am not so sure how many of those you guys might pick up on not to insult anyone I just know some of the jokes were so subtle if it was a comment on American lifestyles etc I wouldn’t pick up on them either.

  3. I would agree with Ray there. I thought SotD was a better movie because it hung together really well, but Hot Fuzz had more jokes in it than SotD. But many of the jokes where very location based and very British (or taking the piss of traditional British environments, tv shows, social scenes etc). Only after living here for near on 10 years did I get most of them, and plenty went over my head.

  4. Man, I’m not from the UK, but when we went to see Hot Fuzz last week, we laughed our asses off the entire time. I was actually achy afterwards from laughing so much. Someone needs to check your pulse, Mr. Vinh 😀

    I’m right there with you on your assessment of Grindhouse. I went in thinking I would probably like Tarantino’s film more, no small contribution from Kurt Russell, but the opposite ended up being true.

  5. I saw Grindhouse opening night. I took the day off of work just to go see it and I loved it. Unfortunately, since it didn’t do well, we won’t be seeing many more films of this variety.

    At this point, I’m just hoping Transformers doesn’t completely suck.

  6. Wow, I’m 23 and I never get to the movies. It’s not necessarily that I’m too busy but it seems like seeing movies in NYC is such a pain in the ass and it’s so tough to coordinate after work!

  7. Hot Fuzz is hilarious! As with the above, you need to come over and spend some time in a typical English (preferably South Western) village to appreciate all the humour.

  8. @Khoi – I don’t care if Joel Schumacher directs it, I mark out every time I see the trailer.

    Okay, maybe we should keep Schumacher away from any other beloved childhood heroes of mine.

  9. I was totally with you until you wrote this:

    …this summer’s highly anticipated, can’t-miss blockbuster “Spider-Man 3.” I was burned by the first two entries in this franchise — I found them tedious and overly rendered where they should have been light and loose.

    Sorry, but…huh, what? I’d be curious to know what you found tedious. IMHO, Sam Raimi was able to capture the pathos of Peter Parker in a way that should be a model for anyone else taking on a comic book flick. He certainly paved the way for Chris Nolan’s undertaking of a renewed Batman where characters are more important than the action. I can’t wait to see 3 and discover how the characters evolve; how Peter wrestles (as we all do) with his own demons of responsibility, power, and desire for revenge.

    Or did that just come out as a raving fan-boy obsessed commentary? BTW, my hopes are high (but expectations low) for the next Fantastic Four flick merely because it brings the Surfer to us.

  10. Same boat. A few years ago, it was back to back opening night Friday’s for whatever was coming out week after week. Now, I can’t even remember the last film I saw in a theater. I think it was “Little Miss Sunshine”.

    That said, I’m looking forward to Hot Fuzz and want to see Grindhouse but no desire for Blades of Glory.

    A lot of the independent films have been showing up to be of real interest to me which seem to outnumber mainstream films in plots and such more more. I just need to find the time to go see them.

  11. I agree that Will Ferrel of late had been going a bit south, but Blades of Glory was hilarious. I cried with laughter at a number of different parts.

    I agree to an extent on the whole too many villains thing when it comes to comic book renditions. That’s one reason in particular why I thought The Punisher was so well done. When it comes to some move re-creations though, I can understand as comic books generally move from villain to villain, and since movies are considered somewhat of “life with the boring parts cut out” I could see this unfortunately taking its tolll on comic book reproductions.

    I’d hold out for Spider-Man 3 though, if for nothing but Venom.

  12. Grindhouse: I liked Death Proof a lot more than Planet Terror; the whole hook w/PT was the chick w/the machine gun leg and they showed everything w/that in the previews. Death Proof was much more to my liking, a little less dialog w/the first group of ladies and it would have been perfect.

    Spidey3: 3 villains is too many and I wish they weren’t doing the Green Goblin; they just aren’t being faithful enough to the comic.

    FF: I thing they did a good job, exception being the bad music (wish they would use orchestration and not pop/metal music), w/the first one and expect similar goodness w/the 2nd. FF was always fairly light weight and campy and they captured that.

  13. Why Multiple Evil dudes?

    This has to do with a principle my friend called “bad guy rescaling” and it’s been a convention of most sci-fi horror sequels since the beginning of the genre ( say, as we know it, roughly “Alien” ).

    In movie 1 you have a hero who fights a horribly bad dude ( or dudette ). He barely escapes with his life and *just but barely* manages to survive.

    Now, the question is, what do you do in the sequel.

    You’ve established this bad dude, and this bad dude was really bad. He was so bad that you thought he *just might* prevail in the first one.

    Aaaand you’ve established that your hero can trump him.

    How can you get the audience to feel that same level of terror?

    Oh what? What’s that you say, there’s a whole planet / matrix / island full of these bad dudes? Ohhhh crapfest. Our hero *might* be in danger against n>1 bad dudes!

    See, without that you just blow it off.

    Alien / Alien(s)
    Matrix / Matrix II ( Smiths )
    Predator / Movies with Predators
    Superman / Superman II


    It’s lazy screenwriting, mostly.

  14. I hardly ever get to the real movies anymore, but I rationalize it for ‘art direction’ reasons … and two that did not disappoint on that front were Children of Men and 300 — which I’m guessing you’ve seen, no? I thought 300 was the best ‘comic book’ movie I’ve seen.

  15. As people have said Hot Fuzz probably does work better if you’re from the UK.

    I preferred it hugely to SoftD, but mainly because it was more like Spaced – the comedy sitcom which made the team’s name over here. (Pegg, Frost and Wright)

    If you haven’t seen any of them I highly recommend checking them out as the series (seasons) of that easily best both films.

    Hot Fuzz is much more like Spaced, and all the better for it.

  16. Oh man, if you didn’t like Spider-Man 2, you aren’t going to like 3. Black Suit Spider-Man was kind of amusing, and I really liked Topher Grace, but other than that it could’ve been the same movie as 2, only with poorly-written dialog, unlikable characters, and plot twists that make no sense at all.

    I’ve never read many comic books, but apparently in those, Spider-Man is more of a wiseass, and less of a whiny kid. I could’ve gone for that, but this is just too weepy for the likes of me.

  17. Well. I for one think Hot Fuzz was very funny and the fun was well balanced throughout the movie. Its bloody great, and I also think its a couple notches up from Shaun of the Dead.

  18. “I can’t wait to see 3 and discover how the characters evolve; how Peter wrestles (as we all do) with his own demons of responsibility, power, and desire for revenge.”

    Well, your in for a treat: Peter Parker goes emo, and wrestle with his cheesy, annoying-self.

    The movie was really bad. Really.

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