Contrary to Expectations: A Day at the Cinema [On the Contrary] May18

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Contrary to Expectations: A Day at the Cinema [On the Contrary]

It can be a difficult (and exhausting) prospect to take contrarian stances on everything. I’m not someone who actually looks to be against things (not consciously at least). I’m just skeptical of popular notions and how they affect our feelings toward things before we even have the opportunity to have our own honest, personal reactions to events, the arts, and culture. Nowhere do prevailing feelings come into play more than in the choices we make when venturing to the movie theater. Politics is the only other arena where you can find people willing to make so many broad assumptions about material they have no first- hand knowledge about. Through reviews, trailers, even posters we tend to decide what the quality of a film is without ever seeing it. Obviously, we have to make these assumptions sometimes because we can’t see everything, and the greatest part of the time these assumptions turn out to be true to what our actual reaction to the film is.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a chance every once in a while. This past Saturday, I took three (with the help of a little peer pressure) in an orgy of movie going overindulgence, and found that contrary to my expectations, I had something to learn from each.


DIE WALKÜRE – Opera can be fun in a movie theater.

If you have ever gone to one of the larger movie theater chains and taken your seat early, you’ve probably sat through a lot of commercials. Amongst them are often ads for upcoming “live in theater events” put on by distributors like Fathom Events. These are usually live concerts, sporting events, or opera performances. I can honestly say whenever these came on, I always tuned out. I usually have no interest in what they are selling, especially the opera.

However, I have always been curious about Wagner’s Ring Cycle. It’s influenced so many things I like, it feels like one of those works you have to see at least once for your own edification. The Met is in the midst of producing a Ring cycle now, and simulcasting them into theaters around the world. This seemed like the safest (and cheapest) way to assure seeing the Ring in its entirety (since I would never be able to discipline myself to watch a recorded version at home or justify the expense of paying for good tickets when a production happens near me).

While I’m sure opera purists will chastise me for this, I think opera works best in a movie theater. The seats are much more comfortable than an opera house, snacks are acceptable, and the subtitles are right there on the screen. The sound is great, the theater gets much darker than the live space, and the nuances of the performances can be appreciated in close-ups. Also, during some of the lulls in the 5 plus hours of the show, a little nap goes less noticed by the people around you.

Speaking of those people, they afforded another benefit. Going to one of these opera simulcasts is one of the few moments a person in his late twenties can find himself the youngest person in the room. Scanning the theater, the median age was probably over 60. (This lead to the one con—flatulence can be more of a problem when dealing with a theater full of seniors, though presumably not any more than attending a live opera performance).

I’m not saying that I would want to make a habit of seeing opera, but for those who dismissed the idea of seeing a live stage show broadcast in a movie theater, it’s worth reevaluating. It’s actually kind of wonderful.

THOR – It’s a bad movie, but not if you’re 8.

As a dessert to follow Wagner’s brooding, psychologically complex Norse Gods, we left one theater for another, but stayed in Valhalla as we sat down to Kenneth Branagh’s take on Marvel Comics’ THOR. It’s actually difficult to comment on the film, since it is utterly forgettable. Its generally positive reviews (77% on Rotten Tomatoes) come from somewhere, however. One thing I will say for it is that it moved, never managing to drag down the story with any trivial matters like logical character development or emotional investment.

As the inanity of the action sequence piled up, I started thinking. THOR is a comic book about a Norse god becoming a super hero. Why should I evaluate it on character development and emotional depth? If I were 8 years old, I would LOVE this stuff! The story has the logic and complexity of an action figure battle on the floor of a little boy’s room, even down to the obligatory romance between Thor and Natalie Portman. That romance remains at a pre-adolescent level in the movie, except for the one scene where Natalie magically grows a foot taller to put her at mouth level with the Thunder God, enabling a smooch on the big guy’s lips. Even the kiss feels fairly chaste (just a minimum of cooties were exchanged in the shooting of the film).

THOR is not a movie for me, or really a movie for adults at all. It’s odd that this should be a realization for a movie from a comic book, but it’s a reminder that Hollywood currently makes its most expensive movies for children and hopes that adults will see them anyway. Criticizing THOR for not being a complex, mature cinematic experience seems wrongheaded and, well, childish.

BRIDESMAIDS – Guys can like Chick Flicks, too.

If you’ve ever pulled an all-nighter working, partying, or whatever, you know that point of the night when you decide that bed is no longer worth it. This point usually falls between three and five a.m. A similar experience can happen during a movie binge. Sometimes it’s just easier to see everything at once and get them out of the way. You’re already at the theater, anyway, and the rest of the day is shot. In such a state I was persuaded after THOR to jump right into BRIDESMAIDS.

I’m glad we did. The trailers, the talent involved, and the glowing reviews all made me very interested in seeing BRIDESMAIDS. However, the general consensus seems to be that because it is about women, it is therefore a “chick flick,” and thus not something a young heterosexual male should have much interest in. Here’s the truth though—if it’s a good movie, a lot of us guys want to see it. Sure, there are plenty fellas out there who are only interested in FAST FIVE and its ilk, but for those of us interested in character comedies, we want to see human stories, not guy or gal stories. If a really good comedy is made, we want to see it no matter the gender of its main character. LITTLE MR. SUNSHINE would not have done any better than LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE.

BRIDESMAIDS actually attracted a diverse audience, with groups of girlfriends, dates, and even a few groups of guys (though everyone seemed several decades younger than the crowd for DIE WALKÜRE). The movie itself is wonderfully written, performed, and emotionally involving (a nice chaser to THOR). Most importantly, though, it never felt to be exclusively about women. It’s a comedy about people, and most of them just happen to be women.

So for the men out there, be confident enough in your masculinity to enjoy movies like BRIDESMAIDS, and ladies, don’t make fun of us for liking it. Save your ridicule for those men who are TWILIGHT fans.

What’s the point to all of this? I’m not sure, but maybe it’s about being more aware of our preconceptions about things (in this case movies), and accepting that our initial reactions can be wrong. It’s always a good exercise periodically to try to watch a popular show we think we wouldn’t like, or read a book that wouldn’t normally be at the top of our lists. In this age where we can tailor our entertainment consumption so exactly to our interests, forcing ourselves to see something outside of the box is a good way to make possible pleasant surprises. And if we don’t like what we see, we can always enjoy the rush of self-satisfaction that one gets from being right.