May 12, 2010
Mine was the first family on our street to own a VCR.I’d walk the neighborhood kids in and show them the buttons on the player the size of an industrial microwave oven.“We can record stuff on T.V.,” I’d explain, head cocked back with the smugness of a Scorcese gangster, “and play it back.”The irony being we had nothing to record, although we had found an airing of Nighthawks on a Saturday matinee.We were the first with a VCR, but the very last with cable.Dad was holding out on principle.“Pay for television?Only a fool would pay for something that you should get for free,” he’d say before queuing up Nighthawks.Again.
Radio Shack was the only place we could rent movies after an extensive application process that delved back three generations and required your home, wrist watch, and teeth fillings as collateral.It wasn’t long before we’d gone through all ten titles in stock, half of which starred Don Knotts.
“All right,” dad said one afternoon as the near-useless VCR sat, staring back at him, big-buttoned in silent mockery.“We’ll do it.”And he didn’t mean we’d be getting cable.
Back we went to Radio Shack where he planned to shell out the $100 required for buying a movie on VHS.One we could keep forever and shove under the noses of the neighborhood kids!Except mom and dad bought the Jane Fonda Workout.I dragged my hand all the way down the banister to the parking lot in protest and accidentally cut my finger on a rusty nail.I had to get a tetanus shot because of Jane Fonda.
At any given moment in my house for months, you could walk through my living room and find someone doing butt squeezes with Jane in her belted leotard.And I’ll tell you something no one outside of my family has ever known.My dad owned silver tights for the purpose.(I mean really, dad, one-hundred bucks on Jane Fonda when Cannonball Run was sitting right there on the shelf next to it?)
A college friend once told me how her parents saved dried-up Bic pens in emptied Velveeta boxes.The pens might somehow be of use again, she explained, and the Velveeta boxes already served a renewed purpose in storing the pens.They’d learned by the depravity of their youth to salvage.That’s what depravity does.It helps you regard certain things with a heightened sense of preciousness.My certain thing, thanks to the oppressive early days of home-movie viewing, is the two-at-a-time movie selections my Netflix account now affords me. One has to make the absolute best of such luxuries.Thus, I took serious offense to The Gamer as I slid it out of the envelope in my mailbox nearly thirty years after the Jane Fonda debacle.
“What … is this,” I asked Joe as he busied himself playing Texas Hold ‘Em on Facebook under the guise of our ventriloquist dummy named Gene for whom we’d created an account.Gene sat slumped to the right in his profile photo, revealing a straight flush.
Joe paused to read the title on the DVD in my hands.“Yeah.I thought that looked good.”
“You thought this looked good?”
“Yes,” he said without looking up.With a few clicks of the mouse, Gene folded his next hand with a flash of his constipated smirk.
“Well.You have been duped,” I said, followed by my usual diatribe on wasting our two-at-a-time-movie choices on bad films.“Now we’ll have to wait another three days for a better one!”It was Jane Fonda all over again.I could even feel the sting of the shot in my ass.
I’d waited until after we’d watched The Gamer before penning my “Guidelines for the Movie-Trailer Illiterate Hereafter Referred to as ‘Joe’”:
“My dear husband Joe, who has no less than three times decoded my Netflix password to sneak bad movies onto my Netflix queue, it is high time I educate you in the art of movie selection.Please note that bringing up Con Air at a time like this does not help your case in the least.And you must stop it with the Nicholas Cage ‘drop the bun-nay’ impersonation, because every time you do that you just prove my whole point without even realizing it … which is doubly embarrassing.Last week it was Year One, and this week it was The Gamer.Trust me.You haven’t a leg to stand on here.So listen closely.
The movie trailer is pretty much all you have to go on.Of course, The Gamer ‘looked good.’All trailers are meant to look good.They’re ads, desperate to sell you something.You have to show more savvy than this.For one, The Gamer stars Gerard Butler.Enough said.And please get this straight:Gerard Butler and Eric Bana are two different people.I don’t know how many times I’ve had to explain this, but knowing the difference between them is crucial to your education.They are two different people from two completely different countries, even.If you see that Eric Bana is in a film, there’s about a 60% chance that film will be a good film.Butler, 5%.Got it?
I think people can change.I really do.I think there might be a day when I log onto Netflix and see that you’ve added something like the Constant Gardener or Memento.I see a world in which you stop laughing at fart jokes.So, I’ve taken the liberty of writing some guidelines to help you get to this happy place.Please note that it is a bad movie if:
1. Gerard Butler stars in a movie that was clearly meant for Clive Owen.If even Clive Owen said ‘no,’ well, then …..
2.The preview uses the musical score from Dragonheart (i.e. that score you hear in trailers over and over again and always ask me where it’s from).Dragonheart reeked like a festival port-a-potty in the baking sun, and it’s score tried to make up for the fact.This is the sole job of that score.Making up for extreme reekage.
3.All of the action shots shown are in slow motion.(See note on Gerard Butler)
4.The trailer begins with ‘brought to you by the producer’s of (insert title of much more awesome film here).’For one thing, anyone with money can produce a movie.Like that guy with the pork-chop sideburns and the fanny pack who won the lottery last week.Secondly, they’re only telling you this so you might, just might, second-guess the bad feeling you’re having about the film already. ‘Oh really?The producer of that more awesome film paid for this one too?Hmm.Obviously it must possess some hidden awesomeness I’m just not seeing right now.’It does not.
5.The trailer is one gut-busting punch line after another.Don’t fool yourself.Repeat after me.There are no more gut-busting punch lines to be had.This is all they’ve got.And it took up all of two minutes.Not good.
6.The trailer has no laughs at all.And it’s a comedy.No, they aren’t, as you like to argue, saving the laughs for the movie.There are no laughs here because there aren’t any laughs at all.You will rent this movie for me, and we will not laugh together.
7.Airbrushed musculature is involved. (Gerard Butler)
8.Veins are bulging in the neck of a high-caliber actor in a minor role.They are not bulging because he’s trying with every fiber of his being to persuade the president to let the people fight for their own lives.They are bulging because he is being squashed under the weight of a dreadful movie he regrets signing up for because not even he can save this clinker.But he can try, damnit!
9.The camera angle points up the nose, goes fish-eye, strobes, or jostles like a washing machine with a lopsided load.This is not film-making.This is the maid of honor wresting the video camera out of Great Uncle Philbert’s hands on the dance floor after her tenth mambo taxi.Forget straight to DVD.This movie goes straight to hangover. Yes, this means no more Crank.
10.Someone is walking away from an explosion, and this someone is Gerard Butler.”
After I read this to Joe I had to explain why it was “not funny at all,” and I also had to explain why Gerard Butler wasn’t one of my “guys.”“I thought Gerard Butler was one of your guys,” he said.He likes to explain this to our daughter Hannah whenever they watch a Harry Potter film.“This movie has lots of mommy’s guys in it,” he’ll say.“That’s Alan Rickman.That’s one of them. Oh, Kenneth Branagh, that’s really one of mommy’s guys.Like, the top guy.And Ralph Fiennes, mommy’s friend, but we don’t talk about that.”I met him once, and lets just say if he has forgotten that nervy American tourist who turned a theater-program signing into an impromptu vaudeville routine all the better.“Gary Oldman!He’s been one of mommy’s guys for a long time.And there’s David Dooly.”
“Thewlis!” I’ll loudly correct from the kitchen.
“Yeah, but I call him David Dooly because it makes mommy angry,” he’ll tell Hannah.
In order to be in these ranks you’d have to be someone for whom I’d let a bad film or two slide.David Thewlis, for example, retains his credibility despite The Island of Dr. Moreau and Timeline because of his stellar work in Naked and Besieged.Thus he’s one of “my guys,” I guess, if you want to call it that.But there are plenty of women in these ranks that Joe curiously never mentions.Rachel McAdams, Cate Blanchett, and Gwyneth Paltrow, for example.If you really want to get to the bottom of Joe’s fixation on the my-guy club, mention Colin Firth.“Don’t forget Colin Firth is my guy!” I’ll add and then watch as Joe’s face screws up as he begins his envious, relentless mocking of all things Colin Firth.
“Gerard Butler is so not my guy,” I said, folding up my guidelines into a hard knot.“Forget Gerard Butler.It’s time for a test.”
I collapsed his poker game, ran a search for the latest movie trailers, and cued one up.The chair squeaked beneath him as he shifted to concentrate on the video just beginning to play.It was a preview for Shattered.Starring Gerard Butler.I clicked to close it when it was done and crossed my arms.
“Well?” I asked.
“Wow.That looks really good.”
I threw the knot of paper at him.“Stay away from my Netflix queue,” I said.“And get ready for a Pride and Prejudice marathon!”
“The one with Keira Knightley?” his voice trailed after me with the strained inflection of hope as I stomped away.
“The one with Colin Firth,” I said as vehemently as if I’d uttered the words “Jane Fonda” instead.