Random Erik

Ramblings on Cartoons, Music, Pop Culture and Whatever

That’s Entertainment?

I’m not sure many people would disagree with me when I say “it’s been a bad year for movies.” Because it’s been a bad year for movies. We’ve been hit with schlocky pointless remakes such as The Shaggy Dog and Poseidon and lackluster sequels such as Ice Age 2 and X-3. And the reviews for the anticipated Pirates sequel have been dispiriting, with even the best saying that it’s not as good as the original. Yeah, I’m sure there have been some good ones in there, but they’ve been the small, limited release films. I can only imagine next year’s Oscars, as the crowd sits around thinking about how little they enjoyed visiting the cinema this year.

Why am I sounding so sour? Because I just saw Cars. Yes, Cars, from the spectacular Pixar and directed by the legendary John Lasseter. I never miss a Pixar release because of all the joy these films have brought me. And Cars? It wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t much fun.

I’ve never succumbed to the charms of Owen Wilson, so listening to him as a the smug and self-satisfied main character didn’t help the film. I’m not a fan of car racing, but I wasn’t a big fan of fish or bugs, so that shouldn’t matter when Pixar releases a film. I can’t stand the redneck clowning of Larry the Cable Guy, so giving him a major speaking role was close to nails on a chalkboard. But the big problem was that the film never connected emotionally. Sure, the hero learns an important lesson, but you never see him learn an important lesson. The film just decides that he’s learned an important lesson and shifts his personality to suit that. The stakes never seem very high, either for the quirky little town or for the big race. And the big final race isn’t the big, exciting set-piece it could have been.

I came home feeling dejected. After Pixar’s previous The Incredibles, I came out of the cinema wanting to walk right back in. After Cars, I came out hoping that their next film will be more enjoyable. I certainly found the preview for that film, Ratatouille, funnier and more charming than the main feature.

So I found myself worrying that my pleasure receptors were burned out. Maybe it was me, not the movies, that had become dull and listless. So I stopped to think about the entertainment I have enjoyed recently. Not just movies, either. Here’s a little list of the things that have brought me pleasure in a dreary year.

Doctor Who: Maggie and I have really been enjoying the first season of the BBC’s latest Dr. Who series. The show’s been going on and off since the early 60s, and this series has brought long-lost fun to the franchise. Christopher Eccleston is a delight, one minute maniacally crazed, the next thoughtful, the next charming and the next deeply sad due to some (as yet to us) unknown events. Billie Piper, who was a sub-Britney pop singer in England, is equally charming and a real match for our hero. The special effects often fail to impress, but Dr. Who has always made a virtue of these. Who cares that things aren’t exactly state-of-the-art when you’re having such a blast.

Full Metal Alchemist: Having concluded that Cowboy Bebop was the height of episodic Anime, this one took me by surprise. Funny, scary, touching, strange and never heading exactly where you thought it was. I come away from each episode a bit stunned. Anime-haters need to give this one a look.

Bruce Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions: My parents often played Pete Seeger records when I was a kid, and I’ve always liked him. But I always found something a bit too mannered in his performances. Seeger is a folklorist more than he is a musician and singer. Springsteen and a great band bring a level of energy and fun to this traditional folk material. It’s rough, it’s raw, and Springsteen can achieve that old-time “field holler” that Seeger never quite could. At times, it reminds me of The Pogues in it’s “don’t be so serious” punk-ethic approach.

Harold Lloyd: He made his great films in the 1920s. Still, Girl Shy is the best film I’ve seen this year. We saw it at the amazing Alamo Drafthouse with live accompaniment by a gypsy jazz combo, and Maggie and I laughed our butts off. Not because of some weird nostalgia. Because it was funny. Because the characters seemed real. Because we cared about what was going to happen. And because Harold Lloyd performed his own stunts, without a net. Another theater in town is showing some of his films next week, and I plan to be there.

Finally, Superman Returns: I haven’t seen it yet. Part of me fears going to see it. I’m pinning my hopes on it being big fun, on it filling me with wonder, on it not leaving me feeling empty when I hit the parking lot afterwards. Maggie’s just announced that she’s going to do some comedy tonight… maybe I’ll hit the Alamo Drafthouse again. At least I can drink some wine while watching.

Sorry about the early negativity, everybody. I hope I made up for it in the second half. Maybe you can join me in boycotting Hollywood until they shape up a bit. We deserve better, and we won’t get it until they realize we actually want better. And while you’re at it, check out some of the things on my list. And I’m open to suggestions, as well. After all, it’s been a dreary year and obviously I need a bit of cheering up.

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