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Chinatown: Most overated movie of all time.

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This movie sucks.  I know, heresy, but let me explain.  My husband and I watched this movie because it’s the ‘definitive’ film Noir, and I kind of like film noir on occasion.  The movie Brick was so good that we decided to see the movie that launched a genre. And we would really like our 130 minutes back. The whole movie was great, right up to the last ten minutes, when nothing that happened in the proceeding two hours mattered! We watched the plot twist and turn, clues revealed that only made the whole skein yet more tangled and it was great. Then the whole sordid mess was uncovered, the knot untangled, the pattern made plain. Hurrah! Our hero has unearthed everything and now the bad guys will be caught, our hero made a difference. The pain and effort was worth it! But alas no. It was a total and complete waste of his time in every way. Nothing changed except that more people were now dead than when he started. It could be argued that his involvement made the whole thing worse.

And I now need to take a shower, because I feel dirty. The whole movie is just one big waste of time. And I feel this way about so many ‘great’ movies. I don’t need them to have a happy ending, I’m okay with bittersweet, like Gladiator and Sucker Punch. I’m okay with main characters dying as long as they accomplish something with that death. I’m not okay with main characters getting the ever loving snot beaten out of them, their life put on the line and it not meaning a thing in the end. Maybe I just hate tragedy, and that is true, I’m not a fan of it. Romeo and Juliet strikes me as just one long exercise in failed communication and futility. But even in that story, their deaths ended the feud, so they did accomplish something. That didn’t happen in Chinatown. It was just sheer futility and pain, struggle for nothing, not even character growth. I don’t find that to be a story worth spending time with because it’s not a story, it’s just something that happened, but didn’t mean anything.

Yeah, that ending might be true to real life more often than not, but I don’t watch movies to relive all the times real life has kicked me in the face. I watch most movies to see somebody beat those odds. One of the many questions writers ask themselves when constructing a narrative is ‘why this character and why now?’ The point of that question is to make sure that we are telling an interesting story, that the story we are telling is a pivotal point in that character or the worlds history. That’s why when we look at history, we see the points of change like WWII, The eruption of Pompeii, Fall of Rome, etc. We don’t tell the story of a boy 10 years before the fall of Rome because nothing is happening there! Unless the story is about the boy himself, then you can do it, but if it’s about Rome, no one cares. The why is as important as the when. Why are we telling this story? Does someone in it triumph over their adversaries to meet a goal? Because if they don’t why are you writing it? What’s the point in the telling?

tumblr_md1ul6cNys1qzsuffo1_1280You can probably tell that I am not a fan of literature. I can respect some fiction because thrillers, suspense and mysteries mostly end with the hero solving the problem or living or whatever. I prefer to travel off planet for my fun, but that’s personal taste and not a problem of the story being broken. And Chinatown isn’t the only movie I’ve seen with this problem. Most of the movies coming out with Oscars tend to have this problem. The movie is great right up until they slit their own bellies at the end. I always walk away from those wondering what the writers or directer or producer were thinking. I wonder if they just couldn’t figure out what to do with the ending or if they all have prosaic sponsorships I don’t know about.

To be fair, Chinatown might be a classic because it’s the first Film Noir or maybe it’s an example of some filming technique I don’t know about. I’ve not been to film school, so I don’t know. But I am of the opinion that it isn’t fit for general consumption. I found very little to recommend it. If you did, more power to you, in at least that much, it’s still a free country.

 

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On Having Lists

As writer and a dyslexic one at that, I am all about organizing, categorizing and filing. I have piles and lists and scraps of paper with important tidbits written on them. I have notebooks, and binders, folders and loose leaf paper by the sheaves. It’s something we do naturally as humans, we find ways of categorizing things, putting them in groups for easier assimilation by the computers in our heads. And it’s a tricky thing, because the slot we put things into isn’t always the ideal one, but we do our best, and as long as we remember that this is a tool and not a hard and fast rule, we’ll do okay by it.

My husband and I watched Avengers again this weekend, second time for him and third time for me and I was struck anew by the excellence of the movie. I commented that this movie is now on my top ten list of all time favorites and he agreed. It was a throw away line in a way because while I was sincere, the meaning of what I had said didn’t really sink in until I was laying in bed this morning, luxuriating in warm husband and warm blankets.

How would I really make a list of my favorite 10 movies of all time? What criteria would I use? Over all excellence of story telling? Most compelling characters? Most immersive? Could I count whole trilogies as a single entry? Star Wars and Lord of the Rings would make my list, as would all the Indiana Jones movies and right there I’ve used up nine slots and there are other movies I would just have to add. The Dark Crystal, The Dark Knight, and The Last Unicorn come to mind, so how to choose? Heck, I would toss Gladiator on there too if I had room simply because I love so much about that movie that I re-watch it regularly. And the beleaguered Sucker Punch as well. Honestly I like everything Zack Snyder has done. When it comes to mood and sheer artistry, that man is amazing.

See the problem I’m running into now? Too much good stuff to choose from. So maybe I’d have to break it up by genre and pick my top 10 that way. But what about those movies that straddle the line? Like Starship Troopers, which yes, I love because it’s awesome. I could put that in Sci-Fi or satire. I guess, since my satire list would be light and Sci-Fi brimming with entries I could put it there, but is that fair? Aren’t I playing games with the lists now? And they can’t really be definitive because tastes change, new movies come along that shuffles the whole list around and just time of year can effect how I’d rate them.  Star Trek IV is still my favorite Star Trek movie and sometimes I forget about it because it’s so old.

So in the end, I guess I don’t have a top ten, I just have a list in my head of movies that I love. I’ll call that enough, because for me it really is. Putting them in order is less important than being able to articulate WHY they are on the list in the first place. And yes, Inglorious Bastards is on my list too. My husband likes Kill Bill more, but I think Inglorious Bastards and Django are better. I mean come on, any movie that can make a scene of people drinking milk so tense you can’t breath has got to rank. And they killed Hitler! (fan girl moment)

I can tell you that I am old enough now to follow directors and writers and here’s my list. Nolan, Tarantino, Whedon, Snyder. I’ll see anything these guys touch, even tangentially. Somehow this post went off the rails there. Sorry, but it is Sunday after all. Stay tuned for meringue cookies later in the week. And my flash fiction, which will have the word Hitler in it. There, all tied together, even if the knot is super messy.

And Chinatown is a terrible movie.  Just terrible.

 

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