“Police Academy” vs. the Sea Cucumber

(or, “Flicks for when you’re not feelin’ so good”)

"Police Academy" vs. the Sea Cucumber

What movies can you recall watching while you were sick, injured, or otherwise temporarily incapacitated? Are there any favorites that you summon up on Netflix, or slide into the DVD player, when you start feeling lousy?

The title of this entry comes from an experience the Cinema Wonk had last August. My husband and I were trying a new Asian restaurant. The entree’ I chose included something called a “sea cucumber“. Less than 24 hours later, I was profoundly regretting my choice during several rather urgent trips to the bathroom. “The Revenge of the Sea Cucumber” enjoyed an exclusive run, shall we say, for about two days. About the only activity I could manage between pit stops was watching TV. And brother, I was not picky about what I viewed. I’m pretty sure I watched all of one of the “Police Academy” movies for the first time in my life. Don’t ask me which one. Even though that series of movies came out just as my cinematic diet was expanding beyond Disney and the oldies shown on TBS, somehow I’d missed seeing more than a few minutes of any of them. The one that saw me through the sea-cucumber siege included a guy being tricked into washing his hair while in the nude in view of several other people, and the guy who could imitate all kinds of sounds using only his mouth. Also Steve Guttenberg was in it. (Does this narrow it down?)

All of which made this movie a perfect fit for my gastrointestinal haze. Any critical faculties I have were not just dulled; they were reduced to the level of a kindergartener’s. And that kindergartener was not the brightest kid in her class, either.

While I’ve been writing this blog post, I’ve been trying to recall any other movies that made the perfect accompaniments to infirmity. And for a cinema wonk, it’s surprising that only two movie-related experiences come to mind. One is deciding that the only advantage to getting a sore throat was that I could sound more like Lauren Bacall for a few days. The second came during a recent mild cold, which seemed to respond to black-and-white British comedies. Dozing off while Peter Sellers and friends outsmarted Lionel Jeffries in “Two-Way Stretch“, and later Terry-Thomas and his teeth and a flock of spinsters (including the marvelously-named Elspeth Duxbury) contrived to steal any furs not nailed down in “Make Mine Mink“, proved very soothing for body aches and sinus congestion.

I guess this lack of sick-flick memories is good, because it means I haven’t had to spend very many long, difficult periods in bed. My only two really long periods of recovering – chickenpox and after having my wisdom teeth pulled – happened before the VCR Fairy visited our house. And the movie offerings on cable that were age-appropriate were pretty limited at those times. (During the wisdom-tooth convalescence, I do recall waking up during the Pat Benatar video for “Love Is A Battlefield”, and panicking because I thought this meant I had somehow ended up in the afterlife.) More recent sick days have been eased with DVDs, Netflix and a bigger range of movie options (and the freedom to watch R-rated stuff, without a parent censoring). So all those sick days run together. Except for that ferocious sea cucumber.

So, fellow wonks, what do you prescribe for the next time Dame Stomachache or Good Sir Sinus Infection comes a-callin’?

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Movie-Geeking for Dollars

In a perfect world, games based on extensive knowledge of movie trivia would be played for high stakes, like poker in Las Vegas.

Dream with me, won’t you?

Of a world where knowing the meaning of the phrase “pre-Code” gets you long-overdue rewards like fabulous accommodations, booze and food. All us cinema wonks could finally be rewarded in meaningful ways for those countless hours we’ve spent in front of movie, TV and computer screens, soaking up the kind of knowledge that in the real world will only get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks if it’s accompanied by at least $1.75.

And forget just visiting a Las-Vegas-type place to participate in these movie trivia games once in a while. Why not move to this imaginary paradise and become a professional movie trivia buff? As long as you keep your trivia knowledge sharp, it’s practically a guaranteed living. None of the stomach-churning risk of being a full-time poker player.

Think of the glitzy tournaments we pro-geeks could all compete in! Streamed live over the Internet, televised worldwide and beamed throughout the cosmos. The Super Bowl would fade in comparison. IMDb and Netflix would work themselves into a fever, begging for the privilege of sponsoring the film-wonkiest among us.

Finally a response from the rest of the world that’s more encouraging than the “Get away from that @#!! screen and go out for some fresh air!” we’ve all heard so painfully often. Every species possessed of even the most rudimentary eyeball, ear and brain would be transfixed to the point of requiring adult diapers because they couldn’t bear to miss a second of this clash of the cine-trivia titans. No matter how near-sighted and large-bottomed our film obsessions had rendered us, we’d each be enrobed in a flattering tunic completely covered with the shimmering logos of our adoring and loyal sponsors, and seated on our own (surprisingly comfortable) mountain of gold ingots.

During the competition our every utterance – to say nothing of our silences, carefully timed to heighten the audience’s already-fascinated tension to a new and deliciously unbearable height – would be hailed as both witty and wise. And when a victor finally emerged from this fantastic-bombastic brain-battle, he or she would be offered prizes such as a crown, the enthusiastic attentions of a harem-full of his or her preferred gender(s), and having the president of their choice chiseled off Mount Rushmore so that his or her countenance could be added. The also-rans would receive consolation prizes in the form of new piles of gold ingots, big enough to serve as ottomans to those ingot mountains they already have.

But when it comes down to it, we cinema trivia geeks are a humble folk with simple needs. After a decent interval of considering each of these fabulous prizes, the winner would cast down his or her eyes and shyly say, “Y’know, all I really wanna do right now is watch a movie.”

And so all of the competitors would shuffle amiably together to a venue of the victor’s choosing – be it drive-in theater, multiplex, art house or the basement of her or his childhood home – sit down in whatever posture they each find most comfortable, and, as they have so many times before, turn their gazes to the screen, and feel that familiar thrill as the lights dim and a flickering image begins to illuminate the truth.

The End

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Alias “The Escapist”

Alias "The Escapist" What’s your “movie-watching personality” ? Can you sum up what guides you when you’re deciding which movies to watch? Or when you’re revising your list of favorite films? (If you’re reading this blog, I’m assuming you have at least one of these lists, and that you find yourself having to revise it pretty often.)

I’d describe myself as an Escapist*. I seem to prefer my films at least one step removed from contemporary reality. For example, if I have to choose between a movie that takes place in the present day, and one set in the past or future, I lean toward the second one. (And if the setting is Victorian or Edwardian England, I’m a complete goner.) Usually I pick comedies over dramas. Sci-fi over regular-fi, especially if robots or monsters are involved. Musicals over stories that don’t include people bursting into song or dance. As much as I’d like to seem smart, and as often as I try to stretch my mind by watching films that are outside of the categories I’ve listed above, the truth is I watch movies to be entertained and get some relief from reality.

So, does your movie-watching personality fit into any of these categories?
Or would you describe yourself in a completely different way?

  • Intellectual: The films you seek out are the ones that, for most other people, are the cinematic equivalent of being forced to eat your Brussels sprouts first. If a movie promises an unblinking look at oppression or inequality, especially in a country other than the U.S., you’re in. If there are subtitles involved, so much the better. If it’s too entertaining, you can’t trust it. (And please, it’s “FILMS”  or “CINEMA”, not “MOVIES”.)
  • Keeping Up with the Joneses (or preferably, Outrunning the Joneses): You want to see movies as soon as they are released. Two weeks after they start in theaters, max. When recently-released movies come up in casual conversation, it’s important to you to be able to offer your opinion on the plots, characters and special effects, whether you actually liked the movie or not. Older movies don’t interest you that much.
  • Middle of the Road: Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Disney are your benchmarks for quality. If you still get DVDs from Netflix, often they’re scratched because the movies you want to watch are the same ones a bunch of other folks want to watch. You often find yourself in the same line at the movie theater as the Joneses crowd that I mentioned above. But it’s less important to you to see a movie right away than to feel pretty sure that you’re going to enjoy what you’re about to watch. You really don’t want to feel cheated out of your admission fee or two hours of your life.

* Partly because Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is one of my favorite books. If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading it yet, it includes a superhero named The Escapist.)

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Because I Can’t Help It

There are countless blogs devoted to film. Some professional, lots more amateur. So why add to the digital pile? Why should I write this? More importantly, why should you bother to read it?

My only excuse for writing this is that I can’t help but do it. I’m fascinated by movies and always have been. If the time comes when all that’s left of me is a brain and both eyes, floating in a jar of liquid, I’m OK with that. Just put my jar in front of a screen, and keep the flicks coming via DVD, Netflix, TCM, or whatever other technologies the future may bring. (Just make sure the subtitles are turned on. I’m a sucker for good dialogue in movies.) And with the advent of blogging, I have a way to inflict my opinions on the world, for free and without having to run anything by an editor.

But why should any other poor soul subject him- or herself to reading what I’m compelled to write on this subject? (Note to English language: please develop a unisex pronoun, pronto.) Or encourage me by contributing the occasional comment? I don’t have a good answer for that. Unless you’re like me and you can’t help but watch lots of movies, and itch to discuss what you’ve seen, and maybe find out about some you haven’t seen but might enjoy. And, like me, you’ve exhausted the abilities of the flesh-and-blood people around you (spouse, parents, siblings, friends, co-workers, others standing in line at the grocery store) to listen to what you have to say about movies. Or to give you something new to think about when it comes to movies. Like me, maybe you suspect that the only truth is moving images on a screen.

So what can you expect from Cinema Wonk? Subjective opinions, and lots of ‘em. Supported by a certain basic amount of online research (Google, Wikipedia, IMdB ) where possible. Written by someone who likes writing, but who has no formal training beyond high school English. New entries posted when I have the time and enthusiasm. Hopefully that’ll be a few times a month. I tend to focus on English-language movies from the 30’s through the early 60’s, just because I have a soft spot for them. (Thanks mainly to my mom, and to the “Channel 8 Morning Movie” from KTUL in Tulsa, Oklahoma.) But I’m always looking for opportunities to watch more varied films, and expand my horizons.

But if you’re looking for any of the following, keep movin’ :

  • Up-to-the minute factual information about what’s happening in the entertainment industry. I’m not a journalist. Don’t have the training, aptitude, interest or resources to be one.
  • Scholarly criticism. I took two film courses in college in the eighties, one on silent film and the other on foreign (i.e., not American) films. That’s all the formal instruction I have in how to think about movies. Anything I learned outside of those courses is self-taught. (In the course on silent film, I did learn not to snore if I happened to fall asleep. You just can’t hide that kind of noise during a movie with no audible dialogue, no matter how loud the musical accompaniment is.)
  • Hands-on experience with how movies are actually made. I’ve never been to a movie set, looked through the viewfinder of a motion-picture camera, written a screenplay or acted in a movie.

So that’s the deal. Who’s with me?