On Poor Taste: A Cinephile Grapples With Lowbrow Likes

(A version of the following first appeared in INsite Boston in 2005. Please forgive the dated references. The overall content is still relevant!)

There’s a golden rule in courtship that says, “Never talk business on a first date” — ditto politics and religion — likely because, for most people, that’s a fast pass to Snoresville. But what if your business is entertainment?

Someone recently had the bright idea to take me DVD shopping as a “get to know you” exercise on a first date — what better way to get familiar with a film major than to see what movies he likes? I knew I was doomed when my date held up a copy of a certain Nicole Kidman film in which she may or may not have been a robot and said, “Wasn’t this great?”

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‘Galaxy’ Jest: Marvel Trades Amazement For Amusement

guardians-of-the-galaxy-zoe-saldana-chris-prattA few years back, Joss Whedon surprised us by releasing a superhero movie that satisfied all the mega-blockbuster mega-requirements and still found room for a little of the Buffy creator’s trademark meta-wit.

Since then, Marvel movies have all included a Whedon-esque gem or two. They certainly don’t take themselves as seriously as Christopher Nolan’s broodier comic book films — nor should they. But they haven’t exactly been laugh riots, either. Even when the stories would seem to make plenty of room for hilarious hijinks — like when brawny god Thor has to contend with 21st century mankind on Earth, or Captain America must adjust to having slept through the past few dozen decades — the Marvel movies never manage to elicit more than a chuckle or two at their heroes’ expense. Maybe the men who direct them are not well-suited for comedy, or maybe Marvel executives have been too leery to get too funny, lest their superheroes lose some of their machismo appeal. Even The Avengers opened with a bloated and largely humorless opening act that felt like it was written and directed by someone who was not Joss Whedon.

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Boo, Hiss!: A B-Movie Slithers Into Hollywood’s Mile-High Club

Snakes-on-a-Plane(Flashback Friday: This month marks the eight-year anniversary of this slithery thriller. So here’s a look back at a curious moment in film history; an examination of movies of the “so bad it’s good” variety, and one of the few that was actually aiming for that mantle. While certainly not notable for its innovative content — or anemic box office performance — this movie proved an interesting lesson to Hollywood nonetheless. First published in INsite Boston in August 2006.)

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Boy’s Life: Adolescence Unfolds Before Our Eyes In ‘Boyhood’

boyhood-ellar-coltrane-teenMovies entertain in different ways. Many are meant as mere diversions; some aim to bemuse, fewer aim to bewitch. One typically considers independent films less ambitious than their studio-made counterparts, at least on a technical level. But that’s not always the case.

Take Boyhood for example — it’s the latest film from Richard Linklater, director of the Before Sunrise series, though its inception actually pre-dates the latest two films in that series. While there are no obvious CGI effects, expensive sets, or massive scenes with thousands of extras in Boyhood, one can hardly imagine a more ambitious cinematic undertaking than this. It’s hard to imagine a blockbuster director like the ADD-addled Michael Bay being up to the challenge. But Linklater, perhaps moreso than any other working filmmaker, has displayed a cinematic virtue so many of his peers are sorely lacking: patience.

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Roger & Us: The Critic Becomes The Star In ‘Life Itself’

roger-ebert-life-itselfThe story of Roger Ebert is a curious one. The man didn’t set out to be a film critic, but he ended up being the film critic. He’s still best known as the owner of one of two fateful thumbs from his days on TV, and if you know him only as the crotchety critic who so often sparred with Siskel, you don’t really know him at all.

On TV, it was always obvious that Ebert was a smart guy, and obviously passionate about movies, but what never came through there was his soul. Roger Ebert was an extremely gifted writer and an incredibly observant man; he had as much to say about life itself as he did about movies, and that’s perhaps why the fact that he titled his memoir Life Itself didn’t feel even slightly pretentious coming from a man who spent most of his working years debating the merits of Anaconda and Cop And A Half.

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