Take note.We are one month away from my birthday (Aaron Dietz directed my attention to a Tauntaun sleeping bag, if you’d like to start up a collection), and every year on my birthday I go see a movie.Which isn’t so unlike any other time of year, except that any other time of year I can choose not to go to the movies if there’s nothing good on.But on my birthday, I MUST GO TO THE MOVIES. I must because somehow squashing down in a theater seat with a contraband package of HoHos has become a tradition that if not practiced will result in meteors pelting the earth, puppies and kittens spontaneously combusting, and Sandra Bullock winning an Oscar.

So, the problem with being thus compelled to go the movies on my birthday is that my birthday falls on September 8, which in the movie world is the equivalent of flying Virgin Atlantic, being stuck on a tarmac, and realizing that all you have left to distract you, having finished your book and skimmed your magazines, is the fold-out safety information card. That’s a September movie.That’s my birthday. That’s what you can expect.So, in short, this means that for roughly a decade I’ve spent my birthdays with Jason Statham.

Not so long ago, the Huffington Post challenged readers to identify different Jason Statham movies by eyeballing the movie poster for each.All of the posters featured a furrowed-browed Statham leaping with a gun in each fist.Sure, this might tell you Statham’s films are indistinguishable from one another, that they’re so cliché they’re practically parody.But then, they also say that at the very least Statham knows who he is.He’s the leaping guy with two guns.He’s the guy who can kick ass in motor oil and a pair of pedal clips snapped off a bike.He’s the guy who belongs in September more than anybody else, and he embraces it with a wink and a nod.You have to admire that, right?

So, my birthday is a month away.Enter Jason Statham with The Expendables.You gotta give it to the man.Not only does he always find weapons to leap with but he’s punctual about it as well. Early, in fact. Look, I don’t have any choices here (meteors, puppies, kittens), but you … you have choices.You can stay home and watch something else over the next couple of months, and while I can’t spare myself from venturing into the theater during this, the brink of one of the worst possible seasons for movies, I can tell you what I would do in your shoes.

You know that guy who wanders onto the “Today Show” set now and then and shows you how a McDonald’s Big Breakfast is the equivalent of eating thirteen commercial-sized tubs of Cherry Garcia?And then he tells you how you’d be better off making yourself a bean-sprout quiche the size of a baby’s thumbprint?Imagine I’m that guy.Except with better legs and a dimple.And I’m offering you a swap-out that’s both more substantial and more delicious.Consider it my early birthday gift for you, even though you should be giving me something, like the Tauntaun sleeping bag.

Watch:The Magnificent Seven, not The Expendables

Some little girls had Hello Kitty posters over their beds.I had the one-sheet for First Blood.Stallone! Rourke!  Willis!There was a time when that line-up would have warranted a double take, but those names have lost their exclamation marks and the synopsis for this one reads like a rejected draft for the last Rambo (and have you seen the last Rambo?).Strip it of its nostalgia factor and its just another Statham movie with a lot less Statham.In 1960, another list of action greats assembled to make a film about as perfect as a film can get. Adapt The Seven Samurai as a western, add McQueen, Bronson, Coburn, and Brynner, and you have a movie you can get absorbed in without the aid of Demerol or Dolph Lundgren jokes.

Watch:Dogfight, not Dinner for Schmucks

Ah, back in the days when River Phoenix was our Joaquin he made a movie about soldiers one night shy of being shipped off to Vietnam competing to see who could bring the ugliest date to a party.Phoenix’s Eddie finds a winner in a homely pacifist named Rose (Lili Taylor).Okay, so it’s not exactly a comedy, but it is the basic Dinner for Schmucks premise done right.

Watch:La Femme Nikita, not Salt

For years, I have wanted nothing more than for Angelina Jolie to be the next big action hero, but time and time again she has rendered herself soulless and personality-free on the big screen.She becomes little more than a gorgeous shell of a human being, scaling walls, tossing hand grenades, ducking into subway cars at the last second, and if by chance any of her characters did not walk fast enough away from that obligatory unfurling fireball I would have zero reaction.Before he was penning the Transporter flicks for Jason Statham, Luc Besson was directing Anne Parillaud in La Femme Nikita, the French film featuring a character as sympathetic as she is flawed, as badass as she is beautiful.As Nikita, Parillaud lunges from many a fireball, and each time I watch from between my fingers.

Watch:Hideous Kinky, not Eat Pray Love

I should know better than to do this after my already precious-few Twitter followers peeled off by a fourth after I slighted Eat Pray Love.I have not read the book yet.Maybe it’s brilliant and moving and life-affirming.I can’t say.But I can say with certainty that when I see the preview for Eat Pray Love that title becomes like a voodoo incantation making my gag reflex dance a little jig. I was raised on Scorcese and John Ford.Red meat and lawn darts.Give me something with the schmaltz wrung out of it.Give me Hideous Kinky, a movie with one of the worst titles but one of the best performances by Kate Winslet playing a single mother who takes her two daughters to Morocco in hopes of finding spiritual enlightenment under the guidance of a renowned sufi.Also based on a true story but there’s nary a plucky score or soft lens in sight. (Please don’t send me hate mail.I don’t do confrontation well.I will simply cover my eyes and think you can’t see me.)

Watch:Truly, Madly, Deeply, not Charlie St. Cloud

Awkward admission time.When I saw Die Hard in high school, Alan Rickman became my Zac Efron.Come on!Who could resist that snarl, that deep voice weighty with disdain, that level of villainy?Rickman already had me at, “now I have the machine gun, ho, ho, ho,” but then he took a turn for the romantic in Truly, Madly, Deeply directed by Anthony Minghella.Forget Zac Efron’s overwrought tear-jerker of a ghost story.If you’ve seen the preview, you’ve seen the whole thing already.In Truly, Madly, Deeply Rickman is the ghost – a witty, snarky, cello playing ghost – impeding a living loved-one’s sense of closure.Please forget that it spawned a hokey Savage Garden song of the same name and see it anyway.You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and more importantly you’ll validate my Rickman fixation.

Watch:“Dr. Dunk, Dancing Hamster” not Step Up 3-D

Seriously.It’s bound to be better.

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TNB Arts and Culture Editor CYNTHIA HAWKINS teaches creative writing at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Most of what she thinks she knows comes from movies, including how to tango, how to take someone down with a ballpoint pen, how to curse in French, and how to catch a moving train. Her work, on movies and otherwise, has appeared in literary journals and magazines such as ESPN the Magazine, Parent:Wise Magazine, The Good Men Project, New World Writing, Strange Horizons, and numerous alternative weeklies and anthologies. You can find Cynthia on Twitter and at cynthiahawkins.net.

53 responses to “Watch This, Not That”

  1. Becky Palapala says:

    Can I watch League of Extraordinary Gentleman instead of either of those other dream-team action flicks?

    I mean, I know it’s not so great, but the premise. THE PREMISE! Every time I watch it, I do so thinking that it will be good this time. How could it not be good? The premise! I love it for what it could be. Its potential. (Or is the premise actually really geeky and I just don’t notice because I’m a geek?)

    I developed a crush on Dorian Gray after I read the book (one of the most evil people in literature, I know. I have problems), and that movie came out a few years later. I was so excited. And so disappointed. I’m just going to keep watching it until it improves.

    Once I found out Jason Statham was an extremely short person, I could no longer respect him as an action hero. As agile and compact as he may be, anyone who would need me to reach the top shelf is just not bad ass. I can’t help it. It’s a prejudice.

    I’ve never watched it, but I LOVE the title “Hideous Kinky.” That movie always just barely misses the cut when I’m at the video store. I shall try it.

    I have a soft spot for “Under the Tuscan Sun,” as well. Eat, Pray, Love strikes me as a rehash. But I’ve never read it, and I already made a pariah of myself on here once speaking out enthusiastically against “uterus contemplation novels,” so maybe I will just shut up this time around.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      I take that back. He is not extremely short. Where did I get that idea?

      • Cynthia Hawkins says:

        Is he not extremely short? He looks short when usually everyone looks taller on screen. Hmm.

        What? You’re going to shut up this time around? But, but … I need me some Becky deflection!

        • Becky Palapala says:

          I guess he’s 5’10 or 5’11”? That’s taller than me. Not by much, but not the 5’5″ or so that I thought he was.

          Maybe he has stubby extremities or something, making him look shorter than he is.

          Oh no. The uterus contemplation novel rant was a total disaster. Some people really get into that stuff. I was traumatized and nearly convinced that I am defective–lacking in proper feminine sentimentality.

          Since then, my pat answer to all mentions of such movies and books is, “I’m sure it’s very nice.”

        • Stubby extremities, ha! That might explain it. He’s as tall as me, then. That’s surprising. He seems shorter. Clive Owen seems really tall. That must mean *he’s* 5’5.

          As for the disastrous rant, ouch! Something like that might push me off the grid entirely!

    • Matt says:

      The comic was VASTLY superior to that terrible movie. Alas for you, Dorien Gray is only in it as a passing reference.

      Personally, I was on your side against the “uterus contemplation novels.” That’s just an awesome term for them.

  2. Love the idea of this, Cynthia. Could be an extremely long list. Totally agree about La Femme Nikita, but I would say watch that instead of Point Of No Return. Also, watch The Vanishing (Dutch,’88) instead of The Vanishing (Kiefer, ’93).

    • Thanks! I wonder if there are any foreign-to-English remakes that are actually better than the original? Right now I can’t think of one. There must be *something.* Point of No Return was dreadful! Even weirder I think is when they remake a film that’s already in English — like Fever Pitch.

      • Matt says:

        *achem*

        I know I’m in the minority here, but I honestly prefer Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky to the original Abre Sus Ojos. I thought Crowe had something very interesting to say with the way pop culture shapes identity in the early 21st century, a subtext that was missing from the original. And I thought it was one of the few times where Tom Cruise’s creepy artificial charm actually worked in service of the story.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Agreed on The Vanishing, Sean. Did you know the same director made both films? I guess he changed it to appeal to a different audience. Ha.

          I love Vanilla Sky, Matt, and I think you’re spot on with the comment about Cruise.

        • Zara Potts says:

          Ugh. The Dutch ‘Vanishing’ gave me The Goob. Big time.

  3. Dana says:

    I had to Google Statham. 😐

    I loved Truly, Madly, Deeply. (I also have an attraction to Rickman.)

    I’ll be on the lookout for Hideous Kinky – sounds great and I like Kate. I kind of want to see Eat, Pray, Love but only because I often like Julia Roberts. I read the book, but mostly it pissed me off.

    Reading Under the Tuscan Sun made me hungry (I haven’t seen the movie). In general I prefer hunger to anger.

  4. Matt says:

    I give a thumbs-up to all of your selections. Having seen Inception a couple of weekends ago, I cannot think of anything coming into theaters anytime soon I have any desire to see. Aside from the film adaptation of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, whenever it gets released over here.

    Is it all right, though, if I just watch Seven Samurai instead of The Magnificent Seven? I like MS well enough, but I prefer Kurosawa, and anyway I have a copy of it here already….

    • Matt says:

      Forgot to mention: though I have seen–and enjoyed–them both, for some reason I always get the titles of Hideous Kinky and Holy Smoke! confused. Without fail.

      • I say since you have a copy handy, be true to your purist tendencies! Ah, I’d forgotten about Holy Smoke. I barely remember that one. I remember nakedness … what else was there? Oh, Harvey Keitel. Was Harvey Keitel naked? Perhaps why I’ve blocked it out.

        • Matt says:

          Yup, Keitel nakedness. Pretty sure the man’s shown his wang on screen more than some porn stars.

          On the plus side, Winslett nakedness! Though it’s not tough to come by that, either.

        • Ah, that’s it then! Keitel nakedness = convenient memory loss. And what was The Piano about??? Thank goodness for naked Kate, though, b/c she has a real-woman’s body and she’s bold about it. Go naked Kate!

    • Mindy Mcready says:

      America! Fuck Yeah!…Mag 7 is the way to go ..whats for dinner…Aaron Copeland

      Steve McQueen fidgety and doing all those extra prop things to piss off, Yul.. hahaha love them both.

      Kurosawa he personally bombed Pearl Harbor , ate a whale, killed a dolphin in a cove and raped Korea. but oh not really.

      Try ‘Kick Ass’ on Dvd BluRay

      “So You wanna Play”

  5. Zara Potts says:

    Okay, Cynthia – Now we’re on track!

    Forget Tarantino – we have Alan Rickman!

    I love, love, love ‘Truly, Madly, Deeply.’ I think that was the first movie I remember really crying in. I felt like such an idiot, but there was something so magical about it that I couldn’t stop the tears. And Alan Rickman’s fabulous elocution and diction. I could listen to that man all day long.

    As for Kate Winslet, I think she is just the bees knees. I take it you have seen ‘Heavenly Creatures?’ That wonderful little flick set in NZ??

    • Matt says:

      I love Heavenly Creatures so, so much.

    • We have Alan Rickman! Hooray! I know — I cried in that one too. That scene when Nina loses it at her therapist’s office, then the Neruda poem, and so many other little beautiful, heartbreaking moments. I often forget it was actually quite funny as well! Love Kate. So, of course I’ve seen Heavenly Creatures! Isn’t that directed by Peter Jackson?

  6. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    Cynthia, this is awesome. You have such a great voice for arts & culture. I love the “contraband package of HoHos” in the movie theater. I have a similar birthday tradition. I go to an indie movie house by myself and watch a flick (if not a marathon) before heading to a diner for a piece of strawberry shortcake the size of my head. I’ll have you know I can’t find a diner with a decent piece of old school strawberry shortcake anyplace in Los Angeles, and I’m totally fucked up about it. Strawberry shortcake on the East Coast rules.

    I’m sure you found all this exposition incredibly enlightening regarding the topic at hand.

    Loved this.

    • Thank you! I love your tradition! I was at the indie movie house myself last night and had a slice of cheesecake the size of my head … in the theater … where there’s also a Starbucks. I’ll be packing my things over the weekend and moving in.

  7. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    Oh, and I wish I wrote this. (Except I never could have.):
    “Imagine I’m that guy. Except with better legs and a dimple.”

  8. Reuben Helms says:

    I think it’s too late for my girlfriend, as she’s about to see Step Up 3-D tonight (and she’s already left work to go see it).

    Fortunately, I’ve been given, nay, forced with the option of not going. Or was I simply not invited.

    So instead I watch Dr Dunk, but found his performance to be distinctly two dimensional.

    Something I like to do with quite bad movies is give them an alternative name. For example, there was Never Stand Down which is now called Never Sit Down. I had a few more comments about it after a first saw it.

    Step Up 3-D has been stamped as Step Around, Quick Smart, or Don’t Step In It. Guess I’ll find out in a year or two when it hits free to air TV.

  9. Quite the assemblage, Cynthia! And you raise of bunch of intriguing points. Re Jolie, for instance, I’ve never been taken w/ her action roles but found her quite moving in Gia, A Mighty Heart and Girl, Interrupted. (Still haven’t seen her in The Changeling.) Of course, Salt in its opening weekend made three times what A Mighty Heart did in its entire run, so there you have it.

    Love your work, C. So glad you’re here.

  10. Richard Cox says:

    Instead of The Magnificent Seven, how about The Seventh Seal?

    Just kidding.

  11. Mindy Mcready says:

    I got David Strathairn and Jason Statham confused like them both

    Matewan, David Strathairn character Sid Hatfield calls the hired goons “Pig Fuckers” that makes him an honoray friend of mine.

    I like your list only saw a couple, ther first three ..La Femme Nikita was Kick-Ass just need that Michale Jackson song ‘Beat It’ in it.

    Dog Fight saw it…anything Lily does …she could be a gunslinger in the old west since she shot Andy Warhol.

    Yeah, Mag 7 the intro…Aaron Copeland ..damn! eat a steak and watch this Movie.

    Thanks ..Oh as for Jason Statham he was good in that Guy Ritchie film with Brad Pitt ..it escapes me now but , it kicked ass.

    I will have to check out the rest , they must have violence though

  12. Tom Hansen says:

    I do NOT admire Statham, no matter how much he knows who he is (which I highly doubt btw). I had hopes for the guy, after Snatch, I thought, “Here’s a guy who can do some shit.” I thought he had a career ahead of him as an ACTOR. You know, ACTING, that thing that ACTORS do.

    But noooooooooo. He turned out to be another lame guy with big muscles and a small brain who listens to his publicist too much and takes dumb movies because they will enhance his celebrity status so he can date dimwitted models and thinks being an ACTOR requires steroids and more time in the gym that at ACTING school.

    Fuck that.

    You sound a bit like me. Virgo, right? God I long for the days when ACTORS were more concerned about the art than their celebrity status. They used to even use makeup so they would be unrecognizable in order to become the character! The audience didn’t know who they were! That’s why that dumb Tom Cruise Nazi movie tanked. Everyone knew it was Tom Cruise. You might as well have had Daffy Duck trying to play a Nazi.

    Here’s my recommendation for your birthday. Even if you have to rent out a hall and show the movie to yourself, see A Prophet. It’s the best movie I’ve seen since Bad Lieutenant Port of Call New Orleans

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svRYjm8sr-c&feature=related

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      A Prophet, the French film, right? In my Netflix queue. I’ve heard nothing but good things about that one.

      Ah, yes, Valkyrie. I didn’t make it all the way through that one. You’re right about celebrity status or identity taking precedence. I can’t even remember Statham’s characters’ names (I think he’s Frank in Transporter???) from movie to movie because (aside from Snatch) they’re all the same character. They’re just Jason Statham shooting at things, leaping and shirtless. That’s going to have such a short shelf life, though. I wonder if he looked around at his Expendables co-stars and started to get the picture.

      • Gloria Harrison says:

        I have a horrible Tom Cruise confession: I love him. I do. I don’t mean too! I went and saw Knight and Day by myself last night in the second run theater and I liked it a lot. It was worth the $3 I paid.

      • Tom Hansen says:

        Yeah the French one. I just don’t understand it, the muscles thing. Mark Wahlberg’s another one (although I thought he was great in Huckabees). Even DiCaprio got all bulked up. Ugh. I wish they would leave the steroids to the porn stars. France still has some movie actors who look like regular people, which is probably one reason why I watch so many French movies. It’s almost as if American actors have been divided into two basic groups, the bodybuilders and the nerds like Seth Rogan (barf). It just doesn’t make sense to me, as an artist they are supposed to try and connect with their audience, presumably regular people. How many regular people can relate to Roid Rage Porno Boy?

        Ok. Rant over.

  13. Simon Smithson says:

    Did you know that Statham used to be the 12th-ranked diver in the world? I like that now he dives through the air shooting two guns. I think his previous sporting history must be responsible for his skill level.

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      Seriously? No, I did not know that. I thought Guy Ritchie discovered him while Statham was pick-pocketing and selling knock-off watches hanging off his jacket lining and the like. Maybe there was time for diving in there. Maybe I’m making unfair assumptions about petty thieves ….

  14. Gloria Harrison says:

    La Femme Nikita is such a great film! I read a review for Salt recently where the critic said that Angelina Jolie doesn’t look tough and cut – she looks frail and thin and that it was hard to suspend disbelief when she pounds grown men into the ground. This is not true of Anne Parillaud – she 100% believable. I have a soft spot for spy movies (also the reason that I wanted to see Knight and Day [see comment above]). Another great one is Long Kiss Goodnight. It doesn’t have the same depth as Nikita, but it’s really fun and Geena Davis is a totally convincing spy/kickass badass lady.

    I really wanted to see Hideous Kinky when it came out and then promptly forgot about it – so thanks for the reminder.

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      Ah, Gloria, there’s no way I can fault you for your Tom Cruise crush. I have too many horrible confessions of my own. I love the idea of you sneaking off to the second-run theater, alone, for Tom 🙂

      I haven’t seen Long Kiss Goodnight in forever! I did love it at the time because I was really cheering for Geena to pull it off. I remember she was being criticized for trying to be an action hero (gasp!) right from the get go. She *was* convincing, though. I wonder if I’d still love it?

    • Tom Hansen says:

      So true. Anne Parillaud rocks. The LFN remake with Bridget Fonda was really bad. But now you’ve reminded me of something else to rant about. Luc Besson. La Femme Nikita, Leon, Fifth Element…such a great start and now he produces the Transporter movies. Ugh

      • Gloria says:

        I didn’t realize that Besson was responsible for all three of those movies. I love them all. Leon is a ridiculously great movie. Now I have zero desire to see Transporter.

      • Cynthia Hawkins says:

        Oh, I’m w/ you on this rant! He actually wrote the Transporter flicks as well, which is even worse than just producing. He also wrote the screenplay for Taken, that terribly mediocre film w/ Liam Neeson. Oh, and there’s also a children’s movie of his that’s abysmal. I think it’s Arthur and the … Invisibles? Something like that. I’ve created a mental block for it. Not sure why he stopped directing. Maybe because of the mess that was his Joan of Arc movie. Ugh. I *love* Leon/The Professional. Love love love it. Obsessively love it. I’m not sure where/why Besson went wrong. I think it has something to do with not casting Jean Reno anymore — in addition to fully succumbing to the kitsch he toyed w/ in Fifth Element.

  15. Erika Rae says:

    First of all, I am going to knock you DOWN in the Black Friday rush for that damned sleeping bag.

    Second, La Femme Nikita is one of my all-time faves. Think I’ll have to watch it again soon. Maybe even on your birthday.

    And now I’m off to eat a tub of Cherries Garcia…

    (You’re funny!)

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      Bring it, Erika Rae!

      I think you should watch La Femme Nikita on my birthday. I think *everyone* should. Then we would *all* know how to curse in French in honor of my birthday.

      Enjoy!

      (Thank you!)

  16. Marni Grossman says:

    Cynthia- you’re my new film guru. Thanks for the good advice and happy early birthday!

    One other thing: It says something profound about Hollywood’s perversions when Lili Taylor is what passes for homely.

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      Thanks! Oh, but that’s a lot of pressure, being your film guru. I will endeavor to be worthy of such high praise (I’ve been watching BBC’s “Emma” all afternoon — it’s what I do when I have a cold. And then I just annoy people with my nasally, mouth-breathing Austen speak). Re. Lili Taylor, I know! She’s one of my favorites. And she’s perfectly lovely.

  17. […] us on which new Westerns are worth seeing, which films you should check out on Halloween, and what you should watch instead of Charlie St. Cloud (other than, you know, […]

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