Friday, June 17, 2005

Slate on Summer Movies

I enjoyed some of Slate's "Summer Movie" features this week--especially this piece on the folly of starting a film festival by Grady Hendrix, one of the founders of the New York Asian Film Festival (probably my fave film fest--it starts today: check it out)--but most of them struck me as being kind of bizarre.

For example, this piece, by Rebecca Onion, asks the question, "Why haven't there been any good shark attack movies since Jaws?" Which is sort of like asking the question, "Why haven't there been any good melancholy aging-rodeo-star movies since Junior Bonner?" I.e., the "Shark Attack" genre is pretty limited to begin with and Steven Spielberg really covered all the bases, so what else do you want? I do think Ms. Onion is a little too harsh on Renny Harlin's "smart shark" thriller, Deep Blue Sea, which, despite being an incredibly stupid movie, is fairly enjoyable and does have one classic scene.

A better question, keeping to Slate's recurring Spielberg vs. Lucas motif, might be, "Why haven't there been any good space operas since Star Wars?" (One answer might be: there has been, but it took a while, and it's on TV.)

And then there's this piece on The Bad News Bears by Charles Taylor, which starts off pretty well, arguing that the disreputable Bears is a good antidote for those inspirational sports movies that lay it on so, so thick. This is certainly true, but Taylor isn't content to just talk about what makes The Bad News Bears so great, he needs a villain--someone responsible for the death of the lowdown, anti-sentimental sports movie. A Mr. Big, if you will. And he finds one in the third paragraph: the Gipper, himself--Ronald Reagan.

Huh, what? Yes, Charles Taylor blames Ronald Reagan for movies like Seabiscuit, Cinderella Man, and his personal least favorite, Field of Dreams. He writes:

The nadir of schmaltz came the year after Ronald Reagan left office, with Field of Dreams, in which '60s veterans sure did regret all that trouble they caused by rocking the boat, and baseball was held up as the one thing that could make America great again.


Now, Field of Dreams is a sappy, goofy, new-agey movie, but attacking it because it doesn't toe-the-line politically is a little much. Taylor seems to misread the movie as well: if I'm remembering correctly, Ray Kinsella's issue isn't that he regrets the "trouble" he caused in the '60s, but rather that his father died when there was still bad blood between them.

But even if Taylor is right about Field of Dreams, his overall argument--that Ronald Reagan ushered in an era when sentimental, inspiration sports movies replaced down-and-dirty disreputable sports movies--is belied by the facts on the ground. The highest grossing sports movies tend to be goofy parodies of inspirational sports films, like Adam Sandler's The Waterboy and Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.

And the best sports movies have been made in the years since The Bad News Bears. One of my personal favorite, Ron Shelton's White Men Can't Jump, came out in 1992. And the year before Field of Dreams Ron Shelton gave us Bull Durham, arguably the best baseball movie of all time. Bull Durham isn't sappy or schmaltzy, although it is a little sentimental. And that's because a lot of folks who love sports (including Ron Shelton) do get sentimental about them. Folks who don't like sports might find this sentimentality silly, but its actual, real world existence is a more likely cause of all the sentimental, inspirational sports movies than Ronald Reagan is.

The rest of the Slate pieces are pretty wonky.

Matt Feeney's "reconsideration" of Steve McQueen reads like it was translated from Film School-ese:

McQueen cultivated his own mythology through a strenuously aloof style of acting that is not without its critics. David Thomson, for one, observes a certain "dullness" about McQueen. Perhaps, but it was an especially radiant sort of dullness. With McQueen, it's hard to decide whether you hardly notice him, or you hardly notice that you never take your eyes off of him.


I think I will always treasure the phrase "an especially radiant sort of dullness."

And Christopher Kelly seems to think there's something wrong with independent filmmakers who want to make movies that actually appeal to audiences.

I do recommend Tom Shone's gossipy piece on Speilberg and Lucas's friendship, which reminds me that I should blog about the time I hung out with George Lucas in the VIP section of a NASCAR race.

Finally, Slate was promising a "debate" between David Edlestein and Joe Morgenstern over whether or not Steven Spielberg and George Lucas destroyed the "Golden Age of American film." However, Morgenstern has yet to show up and answer Edelstein's thoughtful opening remarks.

2 comments:

Dave Intermittent said...

W/r/t Deep Blue Sea, the classic scene is, I assume, Samuel Jackson's?

Jon Hastings said...

Dave,

Yes. I haven't seen Deep Blue Sea in years, but I can still remember that scene perfectly.