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I hate, hate, hate people who look at movies–especially older movies–as just a step in the line to the movies we have today.  It’s a slap in the face to life, by extension, and I will explain why. (Foswi, this is primarily for you.)

I am a staunch historian, and I thoroughly believe in the value of studying history.  If you do not, you might as well stop reading this blog.  We’ll just never get along.  To that extent, is it useless to study ancient warfare in a modern context?  Are there no pracitical applicable lessons to be learned from tactics that defy era, technology, or weaponry?  I think you out there in someplacewhereyou’restaringatacomputerscreen should be thinking to yourself, “No, there is value in knowing that stuff…”  Because  you’re right.

Or, let’s think of this in terms of books.  Does it make sense to stop reading  Hamlet, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, The Lord of the Rings, Black Boy, Brave New World, Romeo and Juliet, The Giver, etc. just because there are the Harry Potter series, the Twilight books, the Time Traveler’s Wife, and various James Patterson and Stephen King books topping the New York Times Bestseller list?  Should we leave the past behind and only allow only what is new and pretty and shiny to be let in?

I think not.

The problem is the genre of film allows this to easily happen.  And many people who watch movies (or passively read about movies) tend to think only the little that is said without thorough investigation into the actuality of history.

Point 1: Michael Bay is awesome…but not really.

The Island

Michael Bay, as many know, is the champion of all things pretty, and mind-numbingly explosive.  After all, you don’t make a name for yourself with blockbusters like Bad Boys, Bad Boys II, The Rock, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, The Island, Transformers, and Transformers II (directed all by Bay) without some level of skill.  I mean, seriously.  That’s an impressive list of movies, with impressive DVD sales, and everything.

But let us be honest.  The movies star nice looking people, blow a lot of things up, include heart-racing, adrenaline pumping, action and car chases (or meteorite destroying drill malfunctions, what have you), and fun technological advances.  They’re like James Bond films…just without James Bond.

These movies have made millions.  They have loyal fans of adults, teenagers, and children alike.  They’re fun to watch, made millions in the movie theaters.  But they suck.  They have no deeper meaning, make me thoughtful in no way, and generally make me dumber, because I actually could have been learning something while I was wasting time watching pretty people run around.

Point 2: There is more to history than just history.

Citizen Kane

A friend of mine (after reading a former post of mine) responded thusly:

I’ll disregard the opinion of anyone who thinks Citizen Kane is great for anything more than its innovative transitions and camera angles.

While said tongue-in-cheek, there is, I know, a part of him that believes this to be true.  And this is why I am angry.  I love Citizen Kane, in the same way I love Schindler’s List.  Sure it’s a little on the long side, but the story is great, the acting is believable, the direction is flawless, and the overall impact: unforgettable.

The ease with which Americans, modern people, I’m not sure who this list should (or actually does) include, forget the past when it comes to movies is disturbing.  Yes, movies are more entertaining today.  Movie from yore are a little boring.

Except that’s not true.  I defy anyone to watch The Apartment and not be complete enraptured.  Peeping Tom is one of the creepiest movies I’ve ever seen.  (If you have a Netflix account, I believe it is streaming live.   You should go watch it now.  Better than Drag Me To Hell.  Creepier.  Stranger.  More interesting.)  And you know what, It Happened One Night is the quintessential romance that cannot be improved upon in a modern way.  There are just old movies that age well, and have stayed good for a reason.  Citizen Kane is one of them.  Beyond the transitions and camera angles. (We’ve all heard the “Oh my gosh, there’s a ceiling” reaction.)  But let’s talk about the role the dining room table plays in the movie.  Did you ever think about that? Or how about the scene where Welles types out the rest of a horrible review of his wife’s disastrous operatic debut?  The acting is top notch, better than Sean Penn in Milk.

I am struck by many things.  Here’s a short list:

  • People today seem so averse to watching older, or just pain old, films.
  • People tend to devalue the impact of older movies because modern counterparts tends to be more engaging, which they equate with “better.”
  • People tend to devalue the fact that most older movies have a deeper theme than most modern movies, even modern movies based in classic stories.

This is why the market for older movies should be booming, not dying away.  This is why people should actually sit down and become their own movie reviewer.  If you take the time to watching a movie a week, you’ll watch AFI’s Top 100 movie list in less than two year.  Probably less than a year, considering you’ve seen a lot of them.

Why is it people are so ready to agree, or disagree with the statements of critics and film historians, but are so rarely willing to make their own original statements about the movies themselves.  People, you, staring at your own screen.  Say what’s on your mind.  Be willing to say Citizen Kane sucked, but don’t you dare say it’s boring without backing it up.  I’m not about opinion’s with no evidence.

Just have an opinion, and make it your own.

A lot of people consider The Usual Suspects to be a great movie.  I don’t even consider it good.  Here’s why:

Imagine you were watching a movie (not hard to imagine), and in the vein of Citizen Kane, there is a question that keeps getting asked over and over and over again (E.g. What is rosebud?  Why Rosebud?).  That one’s a little more difficult.  Better yet, think about it in terms of a mystery–Who is the serial stalker?–and people keep asking “Who did it?” over and over and over again.  You expect that from some movies.  In the case of mystery movies, it really drives the plot, it’s the essential question that motivates why the story movies along and what goal the investigator has.

In a more complicated (not that most mystery movies aren’t complicated), movie like Citizen Kane where you have a guy at the beginning of the movie calling out “Rosebud!  Rosebud!” and people wonder what it is, the essential question works  a little differently.  In Citizen Kane, it was a starter to the almost epic biography of a man, his life, and what he most valued, which it turns out is Rosebud–this isn’t answered until the end of the movie, as a big reveal to explain what he really valued in life even though he couldn’t have it.

The Usual Suspects

The Usual Suspects

Then there’s The Usual Suspects, which operates like a high class caper film.  It’s like a mystery, a mystery with the driving question: “Who is Kaiser Soze?”  (And, if you’re familiar with the restaurant Moe’s, which I love, then you’ll know the movie was popular enough for them to make a ‘Who is Kaiser Salsa’ salsa flavor after the movie.  That’s some pretty big stuff.  You know a movie has real popular weight when it’s satirized in restaurant food names.)  And, if you know the tricks of mystery capers, the solution will be one of three.

  1. Kaiser Soze will be a character we know, possibly the character we know the best in the film. (E.g. Fight Club)
  2. Kaizer Soze will be a minor character introduced at the beginning of the film with a small motive that is referenced at the end of the film with a big reveal.
  3. Kaiser Soze will be a character we don’t see until the last scene of the movie, a reveal that gives satisfaction to a something like a real life chase. (E.g. Zodiac)

But we know the answer before we start the film because the film was directed by Bryan Singer.  And Bryan Singer is a film nerd.  He’s actually a nerd in many senses (e.g. comic book) but he’s a film nerd.  He probably knows movie history in and out, has seen all the film noirs like Laura, The Big Sleep, and The Maltese Falcon that defined The Usual Suspects.  So he knows which way the pendulum must fall.  The greatest, and most personally pleasing solution for directors like Bryan Singer (please note any movie by M. Night Shayamalan).  The most pleasing solution is to have the answer in front of you the entire time.  He will always choose option one.  No questions asked.

This makes the movie, plotwise, almost boring to watch because we’re only introduced to one main character that plays through the entire movie–Verbal.  So the answer is staring (literally, staring) at us right from the beginning. Also, the plot doesn’t make much sense.  We are told a story from the beginning through Verbal, but I couldn’t not really keep track of the story.  At once we were in California, then New York, and characters saying things that should mean something but meant nothing.  They decided to kill someone.  I knew not who the person was or what their importance was.  I was bored.

Thank goodness Singer is an excellent filmmaker.  Because technically, the movie is quite creative and interesting to watch.  He sets his film shots up very well, does a lot with color, tone, and mood in his scenes, and though unevenly edited, has a good overall flow to his film.  He made a great film noir, in the tradition of The Big Sleep, and for that I can fault him nothing.  The Big Sleep is so twisted with its own plot complications that the movie itself doesn’t actually make sense–this is a pretty well known fact in the film community.

But, let me say this.  I think the movie is pretty good–if only for the knowledge that it does well what a filmi noir is supposed to do.  That being, confuse, confound, confirm the dearth of life, and potentially have an interesting reveal at the end.  But the plot isn’t there, and it should be there.  A movie is in essence a story in pictures first.  And if I like the pictures, but don’t really get the story, why should I care?

At least The Big Sleep flowed.  A movie I consider to be only a step below The Usual Suspects is The Black Dahlia, which is a pretty awful movie in its own right–a film noir like The Usual Suspects, with too much plot for an audience to care.  Usual Suspects is a far cry from the much more carefully laid out, and classier film noir, LA Confidential.   It does not, cannot compete.  So, while The Usual Suspects may have its thousands of die-hard fans, this guy here isn’t, and there’s a reason why: it’s just not interesting enough to be good, let alone great.

You judge for yourself.  6/10.