Regular Life

Regular Life

In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on. – Robert Frost

Here We Are Now, Entertain Us

I have been fairly easy to entertain all my life.

These days, however, it isn’t so simple. Books still do a pretty good job of earning my thumbs-up, but movies aren’t faring as well. Television, while it has the potential to take the viewer far deeper than a movie can, isn’t doing as well as it should. Is this because quality has dropped, or just that I’m pickier than I used to be?

I’m sure there are plenty of reasons, but today I’m blaming it on age. As we get older, we’ve heard and seen more things, in real life and in fiction, that make it hard to find material that is both original and compelling.

Books do better because they allow so much more time to develop the characters rather than focusing so heavily on the plot. Even if we’ve seen the basic story before, the author has room to create characters that make us want to keep reading.

Movies, on the other hand, don’t have the luxury of nearly unlimited time and space to develop the characters. Films based on books suffer the most because they must cut important chunks from the story and/or the character development just to maintain a reasonable running time. That leaves them with little more than the story, hampering their ability to be original.

While Disturbia was entertaining, it failed to blow me away because it was essentially a re-hash of Rear Window. I can understand how viewers who haven’t seen the Hitchock classic could find Disturbia to be a refreshing piece of filmmaking. For me, unfortunately, a few suspenseful scenes aren’t enough to keep the whole thing from smacking of copy rather than homage.

Why does Hollywood get away with using the same ideas over and over? Sometimes it’s a case of the masses not being smart enough to realize they’ve seen a movie before, if under a different name. Another possibility, however, is that new generations of movie-goers haven’t seen the originals, or the re-makes that followed, so they can’t be blamed for enjoying something that’s new to them.

For me and my generation, there will never be another Pulp Fiction. Although it’s hard to imagine, there will be future generations who never see it, and so when a copy comes along they will be amazed. (I’m sure someone older than I can explain why Pulp Fiction wasn’t original, either. For some reason, Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch comes to mind here.)

Guess this film: a young man returns to his hometown for a major event, has a career most of the townspeople only dream exists, joins back up with his old buddies and engages in shenanigans, meets a girl, and falls in love. Sound familiar? If you said, Beautiful Girls (1996), then you’re right. The judges also would have accepted Garden State (2004). Bonus points if you can name which one introduced us to the inventor of silent Velcro.

Although television has more time to flesh out personalities than do movies, it sometimes fails to cover for its re-hashing.

Even though I watched several seasons of “ER” (but only one or two beyond when Dr. Mark Green left the show), I sit down and watch “Grey’s Anatomy” with my wife, and I laugh at the funny parts and even find myself slightly touched at some of the more moving parts. On the other hand, the worn-out method of teaching the characters a lesson has grown tiresome. Numerous doctor shows before it have done this, and I wish it would stop. A young doctor has a fight with a sibling. Then a patient comes in and when it’s time to call the family, nobody wants to come. Young doctor thinks, “Oh, no, that could be me when I’m old if I don’t mend my ways,” and makes some clumsy effort to kiss and makeup. Please. This manipulative use of coincidences gets old, especially to those of us who have seen it many times before.

Sidenote relevant to Grey’s: Is anyone else repulsed by Hollywood’s tendency to glorify adultery?

Admittedly, part of my problem is that most of the time I prefer entertainment with strong dialog and thought-provoking themes to that with lots of explosions and cheesy romance. If it has a heart, too, then all the better. Still, I think that age and experience whittle down the number of things we find entertaining, because eventually we end up saying, “Sure, but I’ve seen this before.”

10 Responses to Here We Are Now, Entertain Us

  1. Mark,

    They really HAVE run out of ideas for new movies!

    My bud Dave and I counted one Friday night when we went out to the movies, out of 16 movies being shown, 12 were sequels, and 3 were remakes.

    Just look at “I am Legend” with Will Smith. It’s a remake of The Omega Man with Charlton Heston.
    Here’s a quote about The Omega Man from IMDB: “Charlton Heston found his definitive role here, as the last man on earth, a scientist fighting a single handed battle against hundreds of mutant creatures of the night. ”
    Sound familiar?

    One of my favorite, not been done before movies, was The Hunt for Red October. It even did the book justice.
    (plus, Alec Baldwin made a MUCH better Jack Ryan than Harrison Ford)

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  2. In regards to your first question, Mark (quality vs. pickier), I will put forth the premise that both are true. As you age your tastes become more well defined and it takes more to truly entertain you (or me). Could YOU sit in front of Finding Nemo for five consecutive viewings? Me neither. My boys would jump at the chance.

    Also, I do think that TV, generally, sucks more than it used to. I’d love to cancel our cable at home and just use our TVs for movies, but that wouldn’t go over so well with my darling wife or the wee spawn.

    A fella can be much more selective with books than with TV (speaking from a non-Tivo perspective here). And in all fairness, there’s plenty of crap to be had on bookstore shelves that I’ve walked past with barely a glance of recognition. TV’s just so much more in-your-face that it seems harder to winnow the wheat from the chaff there. And the past years’ of “reality” inundating the air-waves certainly seem to have diluted the quality.

    I’m most of the way through my copy of Sensible Flying Shoes right now, and can’t think of a better way to spend my evenings than with a good book. (At least, no better way that doesn’t involve nudity and edible massage oil.)

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  3. I think it’s a combination of a lot of the issues you brought up. On one hand, TV is getting insultingly bad with it’s countless “reality” shows and such. But, even though I don’t watch alot of what’s on…I have to say it’s probably better than what we grew up watching. Audience expectations for TV has rasied the bar, I think.

    Movies, on the other hand seem to have slid the other way. And I (in a testiment to my advancing age) blame the teenagers. Hollywood has realized what a financial powerhouse the youngsters are and have aimed their products at them. Dumb down the issues, feel free to rehash anything older than 10 years old since they haven’t seen it, and stuff the cast full of teen heart-throbs that may or may not be able to act. A few gems still sneak out, but overall Hollywood has stopped speaking to me.

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  4. What a good post. And very true. While I’m not very familiar with many originals of anything, I’m still very unimpressed with most movies and TV shows in the past 5 or so years. (I’m 27, it shouldn’t be that hard to entertain me!). I’ve been without TV for a few years, and I don’t miss it one bit! When I heard of the writers strike in Hollywood I actually got a little excited. Maybe we can get them all out of there and start getting some fresh stuff in.

    In regards to your Q “Is anyone else repulsed by Hollywood’s tendency to glorify adultery?” YES, yes yes and yes. I am repulsed by it. I’m also repulsed by the fact that they refuse to have a normal and healthy family on a TV show. Why is it, there isn’t anyone who can have a healthy marraige at all – tv is all about divorced, seperated, and/or single & sleeping around. But Americans aren’t like that. Most Americans don’t want divorce to be so mainstream, at least I don’t.

    Phew!

    Happy Thursday ;-)

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  5. I am a movie and tv junkie….maybe it is my age. I am not sure.

    I still long for a good movie at least once a week. And there are certain tv shows that I LOVE (I know that sounds crazy)….

    That being said, I have a very hard time with the sleeze factor in Hollywood….especially since Sadie is almost 15 and I have a lot of explaining to do with her! There are TONS of movies that would be wonderful for her to see except they have that ONE completely inappropriate scene (usually lasting just a minute or two) and it ruins the entire movie. So I wont even let her see it. Actually that makes her not want to see it either.

    I am so glad for her discernment so far….

    OK, I have been rambling! Sorry.

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  6. I just realized that my email was wrong on your site.
    I fixed it.

    I saw your comment at Mike’s blog….I am increasingly anxious about my daughter driving. Thankfully she is not going to be doing right away! It amazes me that you have to 18 to drink but 16 to drive a weapon.

    Scary.

    Have a good night!

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  7. Dave — Yes, The Hunt for Red October did the book justice, and yes, Baldwin did a fine job in that role.

    Simon – I agree it’s a combination of the two, but I guess the knowing that I can never go back is kind of sad for me. A few songs still really do it for my, and of course the book Hyperion did, too, but the fresh, newness of entertainment is too rarely found these days.

    Moksha – TV definitely has some bright spots on the air. There’s some pretty good stuff, but I never make time to watch it. I guess priorities shift as we mature.

    Frigga and Anna – I start to understand now why a friend of mine’s father once said, “Wind it up, son,” after a certain scene in a movie we had rented. It was a VHS tape (you all remember those, right?), so “wind it up” made sense. There are some things our kids just shouldn’t see while they have no way to judge or process what they’re seeing. Come to think of it, there are some things I should see! I don’t want to see a liposuction on the Health network (or whatever it’s called). Yuck!!

    Anna – That doesn’t sound crazy at all. I definitely have a couple of favorites I wouldn’t miss (they’re just not on right now!!!).

    And, on your point about driving — I agree. It’s kind of scary to remember some of the risky driving I did as a teenager.

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  8. Welby…although maybe a bit cynical, I agree for the most part. I guess my view is a little tainted, because I love all of the additional sports coverage that modern TV offers. There’s not a sitcom that I watch anymore other than the occasional Seinfeld re-run. OK…I admit that I watch American Idol, but that’s more about my love for music than anything else.

    But…I think in the case of Hollywood and the current movies, it’s more about volume and not quality. There are just SO MANY more movies being realeased now, that the overall quality is watered down. There are still some gems, and those gems are what seemed to be the norm in years past, because the studios weren’t releasing anything and everything hoping that something would hit.

    So…when you go see “The Bucket List,” which you should, you will get to see a movie that hasn’t been done before. Well…at least that I can remember in my lifetime. It’s about character development, and although a bit dark, it is unique. The dialogue is great, and let’s face it….we won’t get to see Nicholson and Freeman that many more times before one of them really does kick the bucket.

    Plus…you get to hear who I consider to be the world’s best narrator…Morgan Freeman. That’s worth $8 right there… :-)

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  9. I have to agree. Age and experience has changed my perspective about TV. When I was younger, I had trouble wanting to watch a new show or a special–that was back in the days before owning a VCR. Later on with a VCR, I sometimes could not stay away from TV even if I taped a show.

    In the early 1990s, my Dad made a comment about the sitcoms that were on at the time. Even at that time, he said, “They make the kids act like spoiled brats on those shows. The kids are talking back at their parents.” At the time, it made me think. I quit watching the sitcoms because some of them were getting really bad with the attitude issue with kids. I thought, “If this is what it is like to have kids around–I used to be one, what kind of message are some of these shows saying to old and young alike?” I quit watching most sitcoms including Seinfeld when it was on.

    By the mid-1990s, when I was in graduate school, I had very little time for TV. I would watch the news, some sports, and The Weather Channel. My dorm room during my graduate school years had very few cable channels unless I paid extra to get the extra channels.

    Even when I returned home, I gradually lost interest in most prime-time programs except shows like Cops, America’s Most Wanted, or some of the news magazines. Even now, I rarely watch that much of the newsmagazines.

    It has been a couple of years since I have rented a DVD and even more since a VHS tape. I have not taped anything off TV in more than a year.

    The last movie that I watched on DVD was “The Chronicles of Narnia” because my fiancee played it. This next Christmas there will be two films that I will want to see: “Prince Caspian” and the new “Star Trek” film.

    As Mark knows, I recently moved. I do not have cable or satellite right now. I cannot justify the cost since I might not have time to watch any of it. I read stuff on the Internet, read books, and watch video clips from sites like YouTube. The stuff on YouTube is much more entertaining that what one could find on TV.

    The reality shows that are on these days are terrible. “The Apprentice” is a good example of a bad show. That show encourages “knifing people in the back” to get ahead. Who wants to sit around each week to know that “someone is going to get canned?” I have been through similar circumstances. That is not fun!

    American Idol” is nothing more than Simon telling people they are “dreadful” at singing. I would hate to have that told to me.

    The new show that FOX is promoting “Moment of Truth” in promos, is one of the worst ideas. Who would enjoy watching a contestant connected a lie-detector machine to truthfully give answers to “loaded questions” in order to get to a $1 million prize? Some of the new games like “1 vs. 100” and some of the other mega-million shows where one wrong answer results in “getting nothing” is not fun to me. Maybe I am a sore loser kind of guy–which I can be at times–but these games lack any FUN. Even “The Price is Right” has lost its luster. Even if Bob stayed on longer and even though Drew Carey took over, “The Price is Right” is not fun as it was when I was a kid. Even some of the new games they added in the last few years have not had the magic that the old games had. Even those game have lost their luster too.

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  10. I’m still bitter because when American Idol auditioned here (Dallas) last year, I was all set to go… until I found out that I was seven years too old, according to their new standards.

    But yeah, there’s just not much on that isn’t either (a) unoriginal or (b) beneath my dignity to watch. We have satellite for Noggin and Discovery/HGTV/Travel, but that’s about it (though I’m not ashamed to admit that I do enjoy Doctor Who on BBC America).

    That concludes this ramble.

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