There are certain things you’ll almost never get a film critic to admit to, chief among them being that Robert Altman was overrated. Slightly below that, though, is that they (the critic) has any level of specific bias toward the material he’s asked to review.
I’m not talking about big biases like “I don’t like French movies” or “this or that actor cut me off in traffic once.” I’m talking about little stuff – minor turn-ons and turn-offs that might lead one to be overly kind (or unkind) to something because some minor element rubbed him the right way. Most people cop to this stuff without a second thought: “Yeah, I liked it, but then I like movies about cars generally.” Critics, though, are supposed to be wholly-reactive paragons of objectivity. We aren’t, of course, but we’re supposed to be.
So I figured it might be fun and instructive to compile a quick list of my own personal “happy thoughts” elements of movie-watching: The moments, types and recurring themes that I’m almost always happy to see turn up in a movie and – more often than not – may have earned this or that film an extra point here and there on Escape to The Movies.
So, in no particular order…
I love monkeys. Don’t you? How can anyone not love monkeys? They come in all flavors from “funny” (chimps) to “badass” (King Kong) and they’re just human enough to be great characters without requiring a tremendous amount of extraneous motivation. In fact, that’s part of why I’m always so glad to see a monkey turn up in a movie: It means that instead of a (usually) lame comic-relief human, someone realized that you can get all the good basic stuff without the iffy prospect of depth – nobody needs the monkey to be deep. Plus, they make the doing of mundane things fun just by doing them. Hero visits a fruit stand? Boring. Hero visits a fruit stand run by a monkey? Awesome.
Dogs are awesome, in general. But dogs in movies are awesome because, well… think of the stuff that makes a great movie hero: Strong, loyal, friendly but also capable of badassery when needed. That’s a dog!
I realize this is a very “guy” thing to put on what’s already a very “guy” list, but it’s true: I like almost all dog movies. Sad Old Yeller dog movies, Lassie movies, even some of those movies where dogs play sports. Take any movie, add a dog in a major role, and that movie gets better. In the (awesome) Hills Have Eyes remake a few years back, they actually gave the “ass-kicking sidekick” role to the dog, and it rocked! I think the dog actually kills the second most bad guys of anyone else in the movie, and the opening-night audience went nuts every time he did. (And this is a movie where bad guys get stabbed in the face with miniature American flags, so the “crowd goes wild” bar is already pretty damn high.)
Wanna win me over, movie? Bring out a monster. Any monster. Even a bigger-than-normal animal will do. Monsters are great because they allow you to have an obstacle (or even just action scene generator) that can act like a force of nature but has a specific persona of its own – in other words, a monster is an earthquake that the hero can punch in the face. Plus, the presence of the monstrous in otherwise “real” settings does a great job of implying a larger and more unusual world without having to cut away and show it.
See above, but bigger. Bob loves Godzilla. Also covered under this section: dinosaurs. Everything needs more dinosaurs.
Oh don’t gimme that look. Mainly, this is a simple matter of visual mathematics for me: one beautiful actress in a… “situation” is good, two beautiful actresses in a… “situation” together is double good. For me, the history of movie love scenes is the history of perfectly good scenery being ruined by the presence of some guy. The male body repulses me. No, really. All of them, without exception. 300, for me, might as well be two hours of misshapen bipedal yams fighting on a beach. Yegh! In all honesty, when I discovered the concept of female/female romantic relationships around middle school or so (nevermind in what context), I figured that was the end of the line as far as my prospective future with the opposite sex was concerned… If they can be “with” each other now (yes, “now,” as far as a sixth grader knew this was a brand new invention) what the hell will they want with us? As if I needed to be more insecure. To this day, I don’t really grasp why any woman sleeps with any man, period. So, in that respect, movie lesbians are an ever-compelling visual.
On a more serious note, though, over the years I’ve found that such coupling – from a story perspective – makes for great improvement in terms of dramatic relatability. Melodrama, especially, works better with two women in my opinion. I can never buy all the poetic histrionics required of melodramatic romance spilling out of male characters (see: Twilight.) Female characters, on the other hand? Call it a gender stereotype if you must, but it just seems to work better. Think how much better Titanic would’ve been if Leonardo DiCaprio had been played by, I dunno, pick a circa-1997 20s-something actress. Gina Gershon, maybe? And I don’t just mean visually.
…but yeah, mainly because it’s “HAWT.” So sue me.
Metal, from where I stand, is the most innately cinematic of all modern musical genres, if for no other reason than its versatility: driving and rhythmic for action, soaring and operatic for drama, ominous for tension, pounding for suspense. It’s also the only genre outside of actual opera where you can use lyrics about things like the eternal battle between darkness and light – which, admittedly, is the subject of a lot of movies – and be completely unironic about it. What’s better than a great final battle? A great final battle over the guitar solo from a song about great final battles.
There are certain things that don’t look good in real life. Fighting is one of them. In real life, fights are short, messy and chaotic, which makes for dull spectactorship. I have no idea why watching ultimate fighting is supposed to be so interesting – all I ever see is two slabs of beef falling over on the mat for a minute or so. So when it comes to movie fights, realism can take a hike. Give me an epic ballet of implausibly-accurate special moves from the Hong Kong fightmasters over a jittery Jason Bourne slapfight any day.
Heroes Who Are Jerks
True story: My mother’s two favorite TV genres are hospital and detective show, but for some reason it took me two years to get her to check out House. One night I stop in and she’s finally watching it, and this is what I get: “You’re right, I like this!” Followed by: “You like this because it’s a show about an opinionated asshole who everyone just has to shut up and deal with because he’s always right and just that good.”
Mom, of course, was right. I love the “jerk hero” because I’m vicariously thrilled at the exploits of guys who don’t need to apologize for their bad behavior because we need them. Wolverine is probably my generation’s default exemplar of this, but it goes back even as far as Sherlock Holmes. I think this is how I and most of my fellow socially inept uber-geeks see ourselves. Though, on the down side, I’m pretty sure this is how George W. Bush saw himself, too.
I love the asthetic of the 1950s – the cars, the clothes, early American rock ‘n’ roll, leather jackets, poodle skirts, broad Cold War paranoia and the unbridled enthusiasm that science and technology were going to save the world – or end it. It’s one of the last periods where youth rebellion still had to have a touch of class – sorry, but Beatniks are waaaay cooler than hippies. Set a movie in or around the 50s and I’m already halfway to “liked it.”
See above. This works for movies made in the 80s and also movies just set there. The 80s were basically the 50s again, except now we had Star Wars and Nintendo. In other words, MovieBob Nirvana. (Oh, we also had all those drugs our parents’ generation didn’t finish from the 60s and 70s, but I wouldn’t know anything about that.)
Fighting With Honor
I know lots of people who hate this one, but not me. I’m always glad to see it, partially because it’s so ridiculous.
There’s approximately one great scene in the Doom, movie: The good guy and the bad guy, both juiced up on magical Martian monster powers, find themselves facing off, each with only one shot left in their respective guns. They exchange some manly nods, then take turns emptying their weapons into the surrounding area so they can “finish this like men.”
I love the whole “code of honor” thing because it works as a great shortcut to making the movie more awesome. You want a great final fight scene but the story up to that point dictates they’d more likely just shoot each other? No big whoop: “Honor dictates we finish this with only knives!” Problem solved!
And there you have it: The cinematic path to MovieBob’s heart in eleven simple steps. Now keep an eye out the next time an “iffy” movie comes out – if there’s a monkey in Transformers 3, maybe that means Michael Bay reads this column (or has it read to him).
Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you’ve heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.