Most of the time, I view my job as a blend of entertainment and consumer advocacy. I want to make you laugh, make you mad, or save you some money.
I don't delve into social issues, though I could probably make a case that movie criticism is a sort of commentary on the state of society, as art is a reflection of those who create it.
If that's true, then we're a society of shit, of useless, trivial nonsense, and we're holding hands with the grim reaper while driving mother earth to an early grave. Furthermore, we're so high on our stuff, we can't be bothered to give a damn and do anything about it. Ours is a people of apathy.
I wonder if most of us really care who gets elected president. And it's not that we don't care about the issues. We all have things on both sides of the argument we could be passionate about.
What we've lost is our ability to believe that it's ever going to change.
The last time there was sweeping social change in this country, I hadn't been born yet. In fact, I'm going to go out on a pretty sturdy limb and say I've never experienced social change.
Status quo. The rich stay rich, the poor get poorer, and the middle class become more and more powerless and marginalized.
In the past, people would've done something about that.
Not now. We've got our plasma TVs and mortgages to worry about. And what's that? Heroes is on?!
Do I even have the right to talk about something headier than a stupid movie in this space? Would you listen to me if I did, or would you equate me to an actor speaking out on a political issue when he has absolutely no experience in it to be doing so?
I read something this week that suggested you just might be paying attention after all.
The past president of the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle forwarded those of us in the group an article from Advertising Age. That article opened with this: "Having spent the last several years marginalizing film reviewers either by making 'critic-proof' blockbusters or by refusing to screen certain films for critics at all, Hollywood has suddenly presented itself with an awkward Christmas gift: a year-end glut of expensive, hard-to-market films whose success depends on critics."
Furthermore, the article quoted the co-president of Sony Pictures Classics as saying that the industry is "f@#ked," noting that there have been declines in attendance in major "specialized" film markets (code for "major cities").
Furthermore, the dude attributes that to the departures of film critics in those cities.
Still quoting from the same article, the exec said, "It's the consistent relationship [with a critic] that gets people to go to these movies. [Editors] felt they should get critics that connect to that younger audience that's getting its news online, but they're not looking at how the box office is affected when the critic changes."
People in my "profession" are quitting because movies are crap? Say it ain't so. I do like hearing that people like me are having an impact on a film's box office take in our hometown, however.
Maybe this isn't Sisyphean.
This week, we'll find out. Two documentaries. I left the Hollywood stuff for the new kid.
The two films represent things I just don't think exist anymore. First, idealism and motivation to change. Second, rationality. The flicks were Religulous and Gonzo.
I'm going to start with Gonzo because it's not the better film, not that there's anything wrong with it.
The Good Doctor
I've wanted to see Gonzo pretty much since I heard about it. When I was in school, Hunter S. Thompson, the subject of the film, was one of my idols. Not because I wanted to become a drug-crazed writing psychopath, but because I wanted to write like him. I wanted his political insight. I wanted his comedic timing. I wanted his turns of phrase.
There's this misconception that anyone can write. I've actually heard my day job boss say, "But who was that guy? He was just a writer. It's not like he's a doctor or a lawyer or something important." That was said to me, while sitting at his desk. Uh, hello.
Writing isn't just one word after another and proper subject/verb agreement, and the difference between good and bad writing isn't subjective.
Thompson was one of the most gifted journalists of the 20th century, and while his writing style, "gonzo," has been oft imitated, no one's ever pulled it off like he did. He had style and substance.
Thompson took his life in 2005. Gonzo is his retrospective. It's packed full of interviews with his subjects, friends, family and victims. It has an abundance of Johnny Depp reading the good Dr.'s writing. Most of that is run of the mill, however, and Thompson was anything but.
What the film does well is put Thompson into context.
Why should you care who Hunter S. Thompson was? Because he was the poet-laureate of his generation. At one time, he was the most popular writer in America.
This was all before my time, of course. Going back to that social change I've never seen... Thompson believed in change. He believed he had the power to initiate change, to change people's minds. He believed in the power of his words.
Like I said, an idealist. We could use some motivated idealists about now.
Most people, if they know who he is at all, remember him for his drug-addled book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. That narrative centered around Thompson's quest to find the American dream. I'm thinking that was the quest of his entire life.
Gonzo is also a tragedy. Though he talked of suicide probably his entire adult life, I'll never buy the term "justified" suicide for an otherwise healthy person. As the Jimmy Buffet says in the closing minutes of the film, we could've used the good doctor in these trying times.
Then again, that's Buffett believing change is possible. I'm not sure I believe that, but it sure felt good to see that Thompson did.
Check out Gonzo while you can at the Circle. It's not one of those films large enough to warrant sticking around for more than a week or so.
Religulous (religion + ridiculous = religulous) won't be a popular film around these parts.
Or that's what I thought, anyway. When I hit the Circle last Friday night, I expected to be watching the film more or less alone.
Instead, the place was sold out. In fact, I was too late to even get tickets, but hearing that I'd driven an hour just to see the film, one of the good people at the Circle took pity on Steph and me and hauled in some chairs for us.
That's why I love the Circle. Had that happened at one of the corporate cineplexes, we'd have just been s.o.l.
So, right. Sold out. What? There are more people like me here? Say it ain't so again!
Religulous is pretty simple to describe. Bill Maher, of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher, travels the world and asks people pointed questions about their religious beliefs. Pointed is probably putting it mildly. Bill knows the subject and isn't afraid to ask people uncomfortable questions or call them on their misinformation. I assume he had a giant bodyguard with him most the time.
I'm sure some of you are already taking umbrage with the fact this film even exists, worried that he's skewered your religion. Well, don't worry. Yours isn't alone. He gets pretty much all of them.
But then again, Maher isn't out to skewer anyone. He's lets them do that on their own.
The film is hilarious, but probably only if you're either very secure in your faith or you don't have any. If you're touchy about it, you're going to probably walk out and demand your money back.
Religulous isn't about bashing religion. That's not what Maher does. He just asks questions and doesn't take non-answers for answers.
In the end, Maher's objective is to motivate the 16 percent of Americans who profess to be either agnostic or atheist to come out of the closet and stand up for their beliefs. It's also a cautionary tale about ingesting scripture literally.
Though the film is funny, or funny to me anyway, it's also scary, and I can't really give examples of either of those things without pissing off some of you.
But why should I be concerned with pissing you off when I don't feel as though I have the freedom in my own country to state my beliefs? Why am I worried about offending you when you're not worried about offending me?
Why can I not stand on the corner or go door-to-door and say, "Yeah, it just doesn't make sense?" and not become the neighborhood pariah?
One of my legitimate concerns is that if parents of children in my daughter's class found out my wife and I don't observe religion, our child might be ostracized. Someone might not let their kid play with mine because I don't buy into their religion?
That's insane, which incidentally is the kind of thing Religulous aims to point out. The film's message is actually one of tolerance and acceptance of beliefs not your own.
It's one of those films everyone needs to see. It's an important movie. I get that you won't, but you should.
I'll leave you with this: the audience applauded when the film ended. And not just polite golf gallery sort of clapping, but the "we've just been moved" sort of clapping.
I came out of the theater giddy and raved about it to Steph for the better part of two hours. I'm buying it when it comes out on DVD, and I feel like writing Maher a thank you letter.
See you next week with the standard Hollywood fare. Thanks for stopping by.
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