On the Contrary: Stop Complaining About the Bad Movies in Theaters. Aug11

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On the Contrary: Stop Complaining About the Bad Movies in Theaters.


a blogumn by Joe Rusin

Seriously. Stop. Every where I go this summer, when the conversation turns to the subject of movies, people always are whining, “There’s just nothing to see. It’s a terrible summer for movies.”

I don’t necessarily disagree. With a few exceptions (notably an INCEPTION) this summer has given us a lot of bad movies. But every summer does that. Sure, last year gave us THE HANGOVER, UP, THE HURT LOCKER, DISTRICT 9, and INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, but it also delivered the forgotten flops YEAR ONE and LAND OF THE LOST, the boring PUBLIC ENEMIES, and a TRANSFORMERS sequel that was so bad that it went past good and back to bad again. But it’s summer. Shouldn’t we be out doing something other than going to the movies?

I understand that last question is a bit heretical to cinephiles like myself, but we should know by now that summer is the time for tent pole films that try to make their money in a weekend or two. They’re really just concerned with making a movie with enough trailer moments to get people into the theaters fast. Playability is not much of an issue, since there will be another giant movie coming out the next week that will take away most of the attention and the business anyway. If a movie doesn’t find its audience immediately, it goes the way of the A-TEAM (wait, did that come out yet?).

The truth is, summer movie going is kind of tiring. There is a sense of obligation to get out to the multiplex every weekend to see the new big release just to keep up with everyone else. I’m often not very enthusiastic about the movie before I see it, and many tent poles do nothing to change that feeling after I’ve seen them. So I look at this summer as something of a relief. I can don’t have to see 2-3 movies a week. Sometimes I don’t even see one.

Beside, it’s not like there is a lack of quality entertainment out there for those of us who need to escape reality.  Here are four alternatives for those who feel cheated by the multiplex.

1. Go to your Art house theater.

If going to the movie theater is so important to you (and it is to me), stop just looking at the big releases playing at the Mall. Every summer there are at least a few fantastic smaller movies that slip through your local Art house theater. You know, that theater in town with no parking and the old-fashioned marquee sign. Don’t be afraid. It’s air-conditioned just like the multiplex, it sells popcorn and candy (often with a better selection of treats), and it won’t be as crowded. This summer I’ve seen several great films in such a theater—WINTER’S BONE and LIFE DURING WARTIME were both better than most of what I’ve seen in the big theaters.

I realize that not everyone has the access to the limited release art house theaters that those of us who live in Los Angeles or New York have. I’ve been there (I grew up in a place so rural that my school district didn’t have a single stoplight within its borders). However, usually you’re not more than an hour or so drive away from a city that would have a theater that gets independent movies, and its worth the trip. If you’re not within an hour or two of a city, my heart goes out to you, and you should skip this suggestion and check below.

2. Check your backlog.

Here’s a revelation—we are overwhelmed with media these days. As a matter of fact, as I write this column, I’m simultaneously sending emails, streaming a past episode of FUTURAMA on Netflix, reading Amy Brown’s Book Simple F&N column on THE AMERICAN WIFE , and listening to the great early R.E.M. album “Reckoning.” Now that’s multitasking!

The point is, we have easy access to so much entertainment at our fingertips that it seems a bit shortsighted to complain that there is nothing good coming out. “Reckoning” was released in 1984, but I missed it then (I was 2). I’ve found it now, and I love it. I’ve seen a lot of movies, and there are still hundreds of great ones that I have yet to see. For most people, there are plenty of fantastic movies waiting on their On Demand cable box or through Netflix. And if you haven’t seen it before, it’s as good as new to you.

3. Turn on your TV

I was listening to a pledge drive on public radio this morning, and the host made the old argument that “We have thousands of channels on our cable TV and literally nothing worth watching.” Excuse me? We’re in a golden age of television right now. MAD MEN is off to a fantastic start in its 4th season. FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS just finished on NBC. BREAKING BAD (the best show on TV) ended its best season yet in June. People seem to love TRUE BLOOD on HBO (I just watch it for the gore and nudity). There are probably many more shows I’m not naming because I haven’t discovered them yet. But I hope I do. In a summer where the theatrical releases aren’t up to snuff, television is more than filling the gap.

And there’s only a month until regular season football starts.

4. Turn on the radio or Podcast.

There are a number of great radio shows (also available in Podcast form) that are every bit as enthralling as any movie. Plus, you can listen to them while you do something else, whether its creeping along in rush hour traffic or cleaning up the mess your roommate left you in the bathroom. I like to play them and go for long walks or hikes—exercise and entertainment rolled up together. Of course if exercise is a dirty word, you can also listen to them while you sit in the sun or float around the pool. Just make sure your iPod case is waterproof.  There are tons of shows out there, but in particular I recommend FRESH AIR, THIS AMERICAN LIFE, THE MOTH, and RADIO LAB. Right there you have about five hours a week of programming as good or better than anything on TV or in the theater.

We’re spoiled. Never before in history have so many people had so much easy access to such variety and quantity of quality entertainment. We have every great movie, book, TV show, and album that has already been produced, plus new material being released hourly. So frankly it’s a little arrogant and ignorant to complain there’s not enough good movies to entertain you. Look around. There is more than enough media out there to keep your mind safely removed from the real world.

And I didn’t even bring up videogames.