Saturday, January 21, 2012

I'm back! or, Action movies, an essay.

Today, I bought eggs from Chad, went to the Roasting Co. to work on a poem (why do I have to go to another place to write a poem? another post for another day), ate lady fingers (but not really--they were actually langues des chats, and they were both darling and delicious), and cried my head off at a movie (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close--you will have to decide for yourself if a movie that insists that you cry this much is your poison, but I expected to pity and perhaps despise it, and did neither, really). But that's not what I want to write about.

What I want to write about is action movies. Yesterday, when I came home from a day in which I got up at 6:30 a.m. (boo hoo hooooooo) to go to school so that I would be ultra-ready for my 9 a.m. class, which went swimmingly thank you very much, then had a meeting and a post-meeting chat, wait: where was I? Right: yesterday, when I came home from that day (see above), I met the historian who was finishing up some dishes, and as I plunked down my burdens (computer, purse) and poked around for the entertainment section of the newspaper, and didn't find it, I asked, "Where's the movie section?" and the historian said, "I took it to work, but there's really only one movie to see, I think, and that's The Artist," after which I predictably sulked, privately, because: who says? But then I said, "Great!" because I am nothing if not a trouper (< -- patently not true). So off we went to enchiladas and The Artist, and it was good.

But this morning, as I was scanning the long-lost entertainment section for what other movies there were, I saw that Haywire had also opened this weekend, and then I was all, "What? Soderbergh!?" (because white people love to talk about movie directors, I guess.) So I went to the historian who may or may not have just been waking up, and I was all, "You know what else opened this weekend? Haywire. And do you know who directed it? Soderbergh." And he was all, "Oh!" Honestly, that's not necessarily the conversation you want to have before you've eaten your pancakes.

But then, while we were driving hither and yon on our adventures, I said, "I am lately kind of taken by action movies."

The historian said, "Oh? Why is that?" Polite like that, because he really could not care less about action movies. Even after I made the fine distinction that I was only talking about well-made action movies, not stupid ones, not the ones where stuff blows up and the hero walks away in slow motion while things are erupting behind him in sheets of flame and a power ballad amps up on the soundtrack. But whatever: I am pretty sure I will not convince him at this point that action movies are a category worth making allowances for, when your movie-going choices are on the line. At this point the historian knows his own tastes, and what he likes is (a) nothing set in a fantasy realm: no wizards, elves, dwarves, fairies, or orcs; (b) nothing where a bunch of stuff erupts in sheets of etc.; (c) no movies that are stupid; (d) small, human-scale movies that are plausible and something interesting and thought-provoking happens; (e) no gratuitous arty stuff, although he can tolerate that if the movie also exhibits characteristics of (d) above; (f) so-called little, "quirky" movies (also, see (d) above) (upon reading all of this to the historian, he points out that "little" and "quirky" are not necessarily the same category, so you can divide or merge the categories as you see fit--I'm leaving it up to you); (g) comedies that are actually funny (unlike so-called comedies that are not funny); and (h) the occasional good thriller and/or heist movie. [note: after reading this whole post to the historian, he points out another category all this leaves out, the western, and particularly old westerns, which he loves. And I also think of the sports movie, which is an action movie of a kind, but not really what I'm talking about here. Also: dance movies omg.]

I agree with most of the above, by the way: the differences between us are mostly a matter of degree. For instance, I don't love fantasy movies, and found the latter two of the Lord of the Rings films to be excessively orc-filled. But I can enjoy a fantasy element or so in a movie, if the movie is good. I really, truly loathe action movies that have the explosive elements mentioned above. On the other hand, a movie with awesome fighting or chases or kinetic forms of intrigue--that movie I will probably enjoy, and may possibly love.

For instance, I really, really loved Collateral, that Michael Mann [again with the director fetish] thing that had Tom Cruise as a killer who seemed composed entirely of nerve and muscle and an assassin's instincts. And I loved The Hurt Locker, which was both a war movie and an action movie, and the more awesome for being both. We both liked the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmeses, but one thing I liked about them was the chasing and the fighting. The Bourne movies were swell, for sure (I liked them a fair bit more than the historian did). And--this is probably the clincher--the art-house martial arts films, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers and Hero (others as well). I'm pretty sure I haven't seen any of the early great martial arts films, no Bruce Lee, none when Jackie Chan or Jet Li were in their prime. But I was absolutely riveted by these arty films. And recently, I enjoyed myself enormously at Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol--perhaps just a tad too long, but otherwise, fantastic action sequences where I marveled simultaneously at the gorgeous well-framed sequences and shots, and the spectacle of the human body in motion.

Isn't that really it? what movies can do, show us--the human body, strong, vulnerable and irrepressible, at the thin margin between life and death? When it's made well, the action movie shows us this, and it's thrilling.

I may or may not persuade the historian that he will enjoy Haywire, but I am pretty sure I will have to see it. Also, I may need to see MI:GP on an Imax screen. I hear it's mind-blowing.


  1. Yes! Yes! Yes! You are awesome. You make me laugh and hold my face so it will not collapse in muscular hilarity.
    Also, you too.

  2. Yes to IMAX and yes to Haywire, etc, it al, and so on and so forth.

  3. Excellent. And have I told you that all my daydreams, and many of my nightdreams too, involve car chases? Mostly ones in which I feature as the stunningly daring and controlled driver being chased by faceless baddies.

  4. So many action movies so little time. So much to talk about!

    And a sub-genre missing: super hero movies. Would the tongue in cheek of Ironman appeal to the Historian?

  5. OH! One other thing! In 1991 I was 14 and it was time to continue my adolescence with TERMINATOR 2!

    And Dad took me to it!

    He had read that it has a strong anti-violence message because John Connor orders the terminator not to kill all of the innocent cops.

    He shoots them in the legs instead.



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