System Shutdown

We had a power outage last weekend, for about forty hours. It’s one of the hazards of living so far out in the sticks, I guess. Happens all the time. You get used to it. When the power came back on we realized that our modem had fried. So I went without the interwebs for a week. I chose to look at is as a sort of fun social experiment, tricking my brain into thinking outside the internet box. I was too broke for internet access for years, so this is not entirely alien to me. But I’ve definitely gotten so used to it that going without is weird, and a little bit of a pain in the ass.

However, I think there’s great merit in this disconnect. In those two days that we were without electricity, I read three books. So that was awesome (and I have much to say about all of them so stay tuned). And then, when my tv was working again, I spent a couple of days revisiting some of my old movies that we have on DVD. I’ve been watching so much weird shit online just because I have access to it now, that I haven’t really been thinking too much about the movies I already know and love. I haven’t watched this many movies that I can recite word for word in a long time. It’s cool to go back and look at them again, especially all in a marathon like this. Here’s the thing about “favorite” movies, though: they’re not necessarily “good” movies. I think a lot of what we get out of loving movies is their familiarity, possibly even a little dose of nostalgia.

There’s a certain category of films that I particularly enjoy, that I call “day in the life” movies. If they were television shows, they would be called “bottle episodes.” They’re self-contained by time and circumstance. The Breakfast Club, Clerks, Ferris Bueller, Nowhere, Dazed and Confused, even Texas Chainsaw Massacre (sort of). And incidentally, they’re cheap to make because there aren’t many changes in costume or sets, so a lot of indie films have this format by default. But convincingly moving the plot along that quickly can get deep into cheesy territory with no way out. I also have a deep and abiding love for ensemble movies, which tend to go south when there’s a weak link in the group. There’s a big difference between bad comedy and bad drama, though. People seem to accept bad comedy as a matter of course these days. If it’s got dick jokes or slapstick it will still make money. But bad drama, especially if it’s any sort of genre film, gets panned and railed endlessly in the media. Maybe we just hold those movies to a higher standard, or are more offended when we’re not taken seriously as an audience.

Having said all that, I still maintain that a lot of bad movies are worth watching. Take, for example, Empire Records, which was the first in my lineup. I fucking love this movie. And I’m really not sure what its status is. I know a lot of people have seen it, like it, and can even quote it, but what does that mean? Is that just because all my friends have seen it and it’s a group dynamic taste appreciation thing? Could it actually be a cult classic? Is it merely a touchstone of the 90s, a time capsule, and dear to us because we associate it with our youth? Or was it a huge hit and everyone saw it and somehow I missed that because I lived in a very small town with no movie theater or cable when it came out? I don’t know. It’s not a fantastic film, but I don’t think it was ever trying to be. But it’s populated with lovable misfits perpetrating shenanigans, has a great soundtrack, and is irrefutably quotable. (“Do you know where Harvard is, man? It’s full of big blonde guys who eat ivy and row boats” is one of the all-time best lines of dialogue. Ever.) I think the thing that makes this movie endearing, though, is our identification with that sense of community that comes from working with a weird group of people. You get thrown into these situations with strangers and you’re forced to get to know them very quickly and rely on them very heavily. It’s forced socializing, working retail. Those scheming corporate motherfuckers, making me all come out of my shell and shit. As much as I hated the Giant Evil Bookstore, I really do love most of the folks I worked with there. Even if some of them are jerks. Yes, that’s a sappy thing to say. Doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Anyway, Empire Records. It’s in my all-time top five favorites, ridiculous as it is.

Next up, Airheads. Holy bad movie, y’all. Brendan Fraser catches a lot of shit for doing bad movies, but I don’t think he’s actually a bad actor. School Ties, Gods and Monsters, and Twenty Bucks were all great. Outside of the realm of the absurd, though (ie, Monkeybone), I think he should probably steer clear of comedy. Just doesn’t have the delivery chops, you know? Anyway, Airheads is, despite its ham and cheese, surprisingly well written, and has an outstanding cast. Steve Buscemi, Judd Nelson, Michael McKean, Joe Mantegna, plus a ton of bit parts and cameos (Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Chris Farley and motherfucking Lemmy Kilmister). It’s another one of those movies that’s positively soaking in music references. I love that, in general, but in this case it’s exactly what dates this movie so, so badly. These dudes are a very specific type of metalhead, caught in the 90s wasteland between hair metal and industrial, men without a decade. They hate the Beatles as much as they hate grunge. This movie does have heart, even if it’s hamfisted and clumsy. The guys in the band just want to make the music that they feel is missing from the mainstream. That is undoubtedly a noble pursuit. But if this movie had been made even five years later, they would have had the internet at their disposal and wouldn’t have had to go to such lengths to get their voice heard or their record made. Plus, it’s a bit of a caper, in a way, before devolving into a hostage situation. And I love a good caper. It’s like a frolic, but with crime. Delightful.

I can only do about two goofy comedies before my brain turns to mush and I begin to drool. So, onward and upward to atmospheric horror. Ish.

Session 9 was the last movie I can remember that actually scared me. (The first was Se7en. Weird, that, the numbers thing. Are numbers scary? I think so, yes. Admittedly, I was thirteen when Se7en came out. But you have to concede that serial killers are way fucking scarier than demons or monsters or whatever fake bullshit people use for baddies in their makem-ups.) So, you know how I have this thing for abandoned mental hospitals? Maybe you don’t. I think I’ve really only mentioned it in passing. But I’m endlessly fascinated by them. Hospitals in general, but mental hospitals in particular. If I believed in ghosts, those are the places where I would start looking for them. This was filmed at the Danvers State Insane Asylum in Massachusetts. Which was later turned into condos. That is the shit that nightmares are made of, my friends. Icky. Also? Disembodied, creepy voices weird me out pretty hard. And Session 9 is full of them. I get the all-overs just thinking about it. This movie is super extra B-grade, maybe even lower. But it’s still very well done, given what they had to work with. Brad Anderson has a real eye for horror, which he puts to good use in his later, non-horror, work (Fringe, Alcatraz, The Machinist). The whole time I was expecting the bad thing to be some predictable, formulaic horror movie trope. Some ghost, some alien, blah blah blah, and was pleasantly shocked and appalled at what it actually was. Awesome. That happens so rarely. And they held off the conclusion until…wait for it…the conclusion. That, too, happens rarely these days. Every movie seems to have an extraneous epilogue, or a tag that could lead to a sequel just so the studio can cover their ass if it actually does well. They want to turn every fucking thing into a franchise. Annoying. The only thing that puts this in the “bad movie” category is how B it is. This could have been a great film if they’d had a bigger budget and not hired David Caruso (and then made his character constantly smoke weed – seriously, what the hell?). Such potential.

So, what’s the point here? I guess I’m just telling you to not feel bad about loving horrible movies. You like what you like and there’s no getting around that. Like that awful one-hit-wonder song that you belt out at the top of your lungs, but quickly turn off when someone else comes in the room. Also, I wholeheartedly endorse completely shutting down your internet connection every once in a while. Turn off all your devices. You’ll feel trapped for a minute. Do not panic. Take a walk. Sit in the sun. Grab a beer with your buddies (no phones allowed!). Go read a book. Or watch a movie you’ve already seen. This thing we do, this obsession with newnewnew moremoremore, is probably bad for us in the long run. It desensitizes us a little, I think, and lessens our enjoyment of everything.