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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Movies: You GOTTA See... 

For someone who aspires to be a true movie buff, there are plenty of so-called classics that I've never seen. Lawrence of Arabia? Nope. On the Waterfront? Sorry. Casablanca? I made it halfway through a few months ago.

At some point I intend to see many of these fils. The latter two, in fact, are in my current Netflix queue. They just have trouble rising to its top. You see, I seem to get burned everytime I watch an old movie. People hype them to me and they almost always disappoint. I watched Citizen Kane a few months ago for the first time and wondered why -- save for film snobbery -- people consider it the best movie of all time. North By Northwest, though pretty good, was nowhere near the greatest movie ever as my friend Robert described it. And after an hour I stopped paying attention to Scarface, cinema's most overhyped and not-so-greatest gangster picture, altogether.

So cut me some slack when I hesitate to rush out and watch the movies that my friends tell me I should be ashamed for not having seen. On occasion these do turn out pretty good. I enjoyed Top Gun when I finally saw it last fall, though if you asked me whether or not I would consider it a classic, I'd resoundly answer: no. And despite my affinity for all things mafiaso (see: blog name), I only saw The Godfather I and II a few years back, when I instantly fell in love with them.

By and large, though, "You GOTTA see..." movies are an invitation to disappoint. The only real joy I have in seeing them is that after someone has rolled their eyes and dramatically chastised me for not having seen X film, I get the opportunity to go back and berate them for imploring me to see a piece of crap.

Take for instance, Tombstone. Here's a film I have heard people praise for more than a decade. Last night I popped in the Wyatt Earp biopic, expecting a classic western. Unfortunately it wasn't a classic western, nor was it even really a biopic. It was two hours of muddled awkwardness. I was expecting The Man with No Name from the spaghetti westerns and I got Marty McFly from Back to the Future III. Okay, maybe I'm speaking a bit too hyperbolically, especially since I like the concluding chapter of the classic Zemeckis trilogy. But despite a few flashes of tough-guy brilliance, Kurt Russell's Earp fell flat.

I won't denigrate the greatness of Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday or the very underrated -- and as far as Tombstone was concerned, underutilized -- Sam Elliot as Virgil Earp, but the rest of the movie failed to dazzle. A plethora of boring bad guys didn't help Wyatt's cause. How are you supposed to care about the hero when his enemies resemble bumbling oafs? Maybe I'm too harsh on Russell for having to work with a poor script. The point is just that Tombstone wasn't at all what I expected it to be, though based on the referrals I often get, perhaps it's exactly what I should have expected.

Why is that? Often the movies that spawn harrassment are ones from childhood or a time long since past, and the harrassing party hasn't even seen the film in question in years. That's a recipe for disaster, as not all movies age well. Top Gun , for instance, really didn't. The synthesizer soundtrack and cheesy 80s dialogue makes its comedy more unintentional than not. What was cool ten or twenty years ago doesn't necessarily have the shelf life to maintain its hipness over time. It's the Fonzie Factor. The white t-shirt and leather jacket doesn't hold up when the competition switches to bell bottoms and leisure suits.

Then there's the Technology Factor. Star Wars and Citizen Kane fall prey to this. Don't get me wrong -- I love Star Wars. But part of its allure in 1979 were the effects. Spaceships zipped through the cosmos, firing energy beams and blowing things up. Models and puppets sprang to life and seemed real. Now your average schlockbuster features effects that make Star Wars look like a college film class project. With Citizen Kane the non-linear storytelling and unique camera angles made it the groundbreaking winder that it was. B-movies use those techniques now.

Lastly there are some movies that are just bad. Call that the Crap Factor. That's Scarface in a nutshell. That pile of crap didn't age well, but it doesn't matter because at its heart it's awful. Tony Montana is more parody than crime boss, and the Cuban underground consisted of a lot of white people sporting horrible accents. There's not a shred of redeemable quality in the entire film.

No matter which factor a "classic" falls into, I think I'm done with "You GOTTA see..." recommendations, except for the few people who I know don't still live in 1983. As a general rule for you harrassing types out there, though, do your friends a favor and ease up on the referrals. If you do insist on badgering them, though, at least watch a movie again before you pimp it. The rest of us thank you in advance.


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