Monday, October 25, 2004


Since signing up for Netflix I've rented a bunch of movies in a category best named Films I Should Be Seen To Have Seen. Arty stuff of good reputation, canonical stuff. And, just as I sort of suspected as I clicked them into my rental queue, they've been disappointments.

Take Last Tango In Paris. I rented Bertolucci's The Dreamers, which was pretty good. Not great, but pretty good. So I figured I should check out Last Tango, since it starred Marlon "greatest actor in modern history" Brando and was generally conceded to be a masterpiece.

I lasted half an hour.

Not only was the sexual interaction sub-porn in its insipidity, the dialogue was even dumber. It was a hash of free love pseudo-philosophy as muttered by a middle-aged guy preying on a young girl who was there for no reason I could divine in the time I wasted watching the thing. The whole Brando-Schneider relationship reminded me of Dick Cheney trying to pick up Mandy Moore.

Brando's terminally overrated anyway. I liked him in Apocalypse Now, and he was acceptable in On The Waterfront, but Lee Marvin ate his lunch for him in The Wild One, and in Last Tango he tries so hard to look like he's not trying that watching him gave me a headache. If you haven't seen this movie, spare yourself.

So, fresh from that disappointment, I rented the first season of The Office. This is another case where something's been canonized, and I've heard/read it hyped to the heavens by pretty much every single person I know. So I knew it was going to disappoint me, because these days it seems like nothing is as good as people say it is.

I think it's a culture-wide movement - it's no longer enough to say something is "tolerable" or "acceptable." It must always be a work of genius, otherwise the opinionator feels like rendering a verdict isn't worth his/her time, or something.

The Office is good, but it's not that good. I've watched the first four episodes of the first (six-episode-long) season so far, and there have been quite a few laughs, but did I weep with joy? No. Did I weep with the bitter realization of my own worthless existence - as I, too, work in an office? No. Was I overwhelmed by the brilliance of the characterizations and the performances? No. I laughed a few times. End of story.

I think it's me, though. I like crap.

Because, you see, in the same batch of mail that offered The Office, I got The Day After Tomorrow, the eco-apocalypse thriller, and I liked that a whole lot. Not just because it had CGI footage of Manhattan being destroyed, and not just because most of the action took place mere blocks from my job, but because it had such a brilliant ending. Sure, Dennis Quaid is reunited with his semi-but-not-really estranged son, and that's supposed to leave us (the viewers) feeling good. But the world has still tumbled into an ice age! So how is this a happy ending? "Gee, Dad, sure is good to see you again. Let's trundle through the snowy wasteland that was once Manhattan, talking about my childhood. You know, before mankind destroyed the environment and rendered 2/3 of the planet uninhabitable. C'mon." [Cue Andy Griffith Show-esque whistling.]

That's what's great about The Day After Tomorrow - it doesn't end with an ironic wisecrack, the way an 80s action movie would. It just presents this tableau of family bonding, deadpan. Brilliant, I tell you.

This week, I've got a documentary on Derrida, and Van Helsing, coming. I can't wait.

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