Friday, December 16, 2005

‘Tis the season to avoid the multiplex!

Okay, my movie-going friends, the holiday movie season is upon us and with it comes a huge number of winter blockbusters mixed in with a whole whack of Oscar-bait offerings. You’ve been inundated with ads and commercials and merchandising tie-ins for giant gorillas and noble lions and wacky families, and – sometime between December 19th and January 3rd – you’re likely going to find yourself tempted to head to a theater to see what all the fuss has been about.

I’m here with a caveat, dear film lover: don’t. If you love movies and relish the experience of sitting in a darkened theater as magical images unspool before your eyes, stay home. Seriously. Your trip to the local multiplex will, I promise you, be more stressful, irritating and infuriating than humanly tolerable right now. Why? Because this is the prime time of year for everyone and their ill-mannered cousin to pack the kids into the minivan and lumber to the movies with their boorish behavior in tow.

I don’t know why, but it seems that this time of year always brings out the worst in the movie-going public. Or, perhaps, brings out the worst members of the movie-going public. These are the people who see films at theaters only once a year, or who (it seems) have never actually been in public with other people before. How else to explain the stupid things they say and do, and how wildly inappropriate they become once they’ve paid for their tickets and bought their trough-load of concession snacks?

You’re going to get the BFFs. Not the “best friends forever,” the Big Fat Families. You know the ones. It’s usually mom and dad and about four (or more) children ranging in age from 12 down to the newborn who will, without question, scream and cry throughout the film despite its parents’ assurances that their angelic infant always sleeps through everything. They’re the ones where said children are inevitably horribly behaved – and that horrible behavior quickly escalates once the parents decide to leave the kids alone at Harry Potter while they go see something else. The BFFs can be counted upon to engage in ridiculously complex snack-distribution rituals once the movie has actually started. This usually involves assorted rugrats arguing over popcorn and candy while mom and dad try to figure out a diplomatic way to make sure everyone gets his or her fair share. All of this, and much more, will take place in the row directly in front of, or behind, you…guaranteeing that your blood pressure will rise in direct proportion to how moronic the BFFs are. Good luck.

Failing the BFFs are the PALS – the Perpetually Audibly Limited Seniors. They’re the select members of the over-65 crowd whose hearing difficulties result in them talking, loudly, throughout the film in order to get clarification (on character, plot, dialogue, whatever) or voice opinions or complain about how the hard seats are aggravating their bursitis. They usually flock to the theaters at this time of year, either with the kids and grandkids or as an outing with other PALS, and you’re likely to find them at The Serious Oscar Contender films. While not nearly as problematic as the BFFs, you may want to steer clear of the PALS if you encounter them at movies like Brokeback Mountain. Trust me.

In addition to the rest of the usual suspects who can get one’s blood boiling at any time of the year – like the ASKs (Annoying Seat Kickers), LUGs (Large Unruly Groups), ESPs (Extremely Smelly People) and the always exasperating CPUs (Cell Phone Users) – you’ll find no group more hated or more prolific than the FCCs (F**king Chatty Cathies). They’re the ones who talk. A lot. Before the movie starts. During the trailers. During the credits. And then all through the movie. Members of this repellent species are evidently under the assumption that they’re not actually out at a movie, but that they’re really sitting in their massive, 300-seat living room. Alone. So they can talk and talk and talk and talk all they want at completely unacceptable volume levels. Sure, you’ll politely ask them to please keep it down…or to please be quiet…or to please, for the love of humanity, shut their freakin’ pieholes, but it won’t work. And, even if it does, the FCCs are like roaches – where there’s one, there’s many. So you might stomp out a few when you go see The Chronicles of Narnia, but a dozen more will spring up at King Kong or The Family Stone or Rumor Has It.

And, really, God help you if you’re going to see Cheaper By the Dozen 2, where you’re likely to suffer through not only a mediocre movie, but also every single one of the groups listed above.

So, my advice to you? Rent some DVDs. Or, if you really must go to a theater, avoid anything that was released after December 2nd. Check out “smaller” movies – foreign films or stuff you’ve never heard of. Let the uninformed masses queue up for Fun With Dick and Jane while you wander into, say, Down to the Bone or Transamerica or Good Night and Good Luck. Hell, even a matinee of the little-seen Aeon Flux will be emptier, more civilized and more enjoyable than 10 minutes of fighting for peace and quiet at Memoirs of a Geisha.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Narnia, Penguins, and the Christian Right

Going in to see The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I had some lingering hesitations. The Christian Right, with more than a little help from the media, reminded us all over and over that this movie was probably the most Christian thing since wafers, wine, and The Passion of the Christ. Praise be! Churches are buying out the multiplexes! It is Family Approved! Narnia, before anyone even saw it, had been endorsed by God himself! (At least his self-proclaimed mouthpieces.)

Having the Christian Right endorse something is just about the best way to get me to run the other direction, but I'll admit I was curious. Heck, Tilda Swinton was in it, playing the White Witch!

You see, in my mind, there is a big difference between Narnia and The Passion. One is about kids, a big kitty, and a fantasy world of good and evil. The Passion is about, well, Jesus Christ. Now I know that C.S. Lewis made it no secret that his story was a Christian parable, but it is also an interpretation. I don't remember the talking beavers in the Bible. I could argue just as much about The Matrix (Neo is the chosen one, he had a "virgin" test tube birth, he has been expected by his followers, he dies and comes back more powerful than ever before to lead his people). Heck, I'd almost say that The Matrix is more obviously Christian (despite the black pleather and machine guns) than Narnia.

I have to admit I love it best when the Christian Right bellows something to the masses that doesn't quite make as much sense as they'd hoped. For instance, I had heard that the Christian Right took full credit for the success of the recent crowd-pleasing documentary hit March of the Penguins. "That there penguin movie is a good example of Family Values!" they crowed, encouraging the masses to go see it. After I finally saw the film (and enjoyed it), I was pleased to find that they had endorsed a movie where the dad penguin stays home to birth the baby, mom leave immediately to go and eat non-stop for three months, the parents are monogamous (for a year, then go their separate ways), and sometimes there is carnage where desperate childless penguins try to steal or kill the babies of others. And did you hear the recently revived story about the monogamous gay penguins, Roy and Silo, at the Central Park Zoo? ( They've stuck it out longer than many of their "straight" penguin pals.

Though I hardly ever agree with them, and constantly find them bafflingly infuriating, pushy, bigoted, and small-minded, I have to admit the Christian Right can be unintentionally entertaining. And, because of that, I say to the Christian Right: God Bless 'em! (even if they don't say the same about me).