I learned the lesson so long ago that video rental stores were still a thing. Sometimes the most interesting movies are the ones that sit — one lonely copy — forlornly on the rental shelves. They’re almost lost among the popular movies with their dozens of copies. (Let alone the Big Hits taking up entire shelf sections.)
Movies imitate real life in many ways. The content versus popularity equation is no exception. Often, popular means shallow and bland — by definition inoffensive. (Almost always, greater appeal means less flavor or spice. No surprises.)
But that lonely outlier can be an unexpected and delicious meal!
[Note: This is another from my Drafts section. I began it well over a year ago intending to flesh it out with more detail before publishing. But at this point memory has faded too much for that, so faced with either deleting the post or subjecting you to it… well, I hate throwing things away. The rant about superhero movies is new, though.]
This lesson about the smaller, more interesting movies goes back to when video rental stores not only still existed in mass numbers, but they rented mostly VHS tapes! (Some readers may have to ask their parents about those historic times.)
I’ve also learned, in the last decade or so, that Roger Ebert was right (or that I’ve come to agree with him): most of today’s action thriller movies have gotten really, really dull.
The X-Men and Wolverine movies have managed to be “not bad” but, for example, I watched the second Spiderman (rebooted) movie the other night and I want those 141 minutes of my life back. I found myself constantly squirming with disinterest, often fast forwarding through the lifeless “love” scenes (the actor playing Peter Parker is completely without charisma or charm to me).
Long time readers know how much I hated the latest Superman movie (and the one before that — Kevin Spacey as Lex Luther is almost as awful as Samuel Jackson in a Star Wars movie). Those same readers may also remember me railing against the last Batman movie.
Crap such as Pacific Rim and those Transformers movies are just off-the-charts unadulterated mindless idiocy for blank minds. If you actually liked any of those you’d best never ever tell me.
All that energy and motion and color and sound on the screen… and yet they somehow manage to be boring. It’s the same mindless explosions, lava battles, crashing vehicles, destroyed buildings and 100,000-round gun battles over and over (and over and over).
It’s not that shallow eye-candy movies are any great offense against the storytelling gods — they aren’t. It’s just that they are junk food.
The trick is not making a steady diet of empty crap. So long as your meals usually have some substance, no harm will come from an occasional indulgence.
One of the outlier movies I want to tell you about gave me a great quote:
“Do not pass the oasis without stopping to drink.”
That’s a nice metaphor.
Life can be a desert (without dessert), but with any luck you will encounter the occasional oasis. Always stop to enjoy the cool shade and sweet water.
And on that note, let’s get to three interesting meals, three small oases in a desert of content-parched films, a sexy, tasty triple dessert.
First up, The Sessions (2012), which is based on an article by Mark O’Brien, a poet-journalist paralyzed by polio (he died in 1999). The article tells the story of his hiring a sex surrogate so that he could lose his virginity. The film garnered some press due to star Helen Hunt‘s full frontal nudity.
It’s a powerful and inspirational story. It’s also touching and engaging. The sex scenes are painted with such matter-of-fact tones that they don’t feel at all prurient. Still, I was a big fan of the wonderful Mad About You, and it was just plain weird seeing Jamie Buchman naked. (I suppose all those young fans who used to refer to her as “a goddess” back then must have been on cloud nine!)
I wondered at some points how realistic it was. Does a man dependent on an iron lung really live alone without power backups? (Granted, the movie is set in 1988, and people often take risks.) The Wiki article does suggest the situation was a great deal more complicated than shown.
But regardless, this is a movie well worth seeing, and for all that it is significant and important and a message movie, it’s still really engaging. One mark of a good movie is that it passes in a kind of timeless way like a conversation with a good friend.
A Dangerous Method
The second member of our trio is A Dangerous Method (2011) a film about Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. One might think a movie about the psychoanalytical method wouldn’t be very interesting, but when you start with David Cronenberg directing and then toss in Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen (Freud) and Michael Fassbender (Jung), you end up with something very engrossing!
The quote above comes from this film. Unfortunately for events that follow it comes from a patient of Jung’s urging him to go ahead and have that affair with his patient (Knightley).
The movie also raises the interesting irony that sex — which is so much fun — is also the source of so much angst. Sex is one of those things that is so simple in the abstract (just about every animal on Earth is in on the fun), but which humans make extremely complicated (as we so often do with the simplest things in life).
I think it was the National Lampoon that pointed out another irony about sex: Everyone thinks they’re good at it, but no one thinks they need study or practice. Meanwhile, most people are much worse at it than they realize (due to the lack of study or practice). This is very similar to how most regard their driving skills.
Given how big a deal sex seems to be, a better comparison would be to flying a plane. No one in their right mind would dream of flying a plane without proper training and practice!
In any event, this is one of those movies that you read about and think, that sounds like a movie I really ought to watch. One of these days. When I have the time. And I’m in the right mood. But definitely really ought to watch it. One of these days…
And — in particular — historical accounts don’t generally appeal to me. History was always a subject that had low appeal. Looking backwards doesn’t interest me anywhere nearly as much as looking around or forward. There seems so much to see in those directions who has the time to look backwards?
But again, the movie was engaging and interesting and the time passed like a great conversation with an interesting friend. (And Knightley or Mortensen (depending on your preference) are very easy on the eyes!)
At that time, women were sometimes diagnosed with a condition called “hysteria,” the cure for which was to have their genitals manually manipulated by their doctor with the ultimate result of a bout of tension-relieving “paroxysmal convulsions.”
Hugh Dancy plays a doctor of the era who is very good at these medical massages and constantly has a waiting room packed with “hysterical” women. But his hand doesn’t have the stamina to keep up with the demand, and he is eventually fired.
Then the vibrations of a new-fangled electric feather-duster invented by a friend gives him an idea…
It’s basically a romantic comedy set in Victorian England. Gyllenhaal, as you might imagine, is worth the price of admission.
The film is also more-or-less basically sort of historically accurate. All three films have some roots in history or fact. So in addition to being a sexy trio, they’re also a trio with some connection to reality or history.
If you like that sort of thing.