The dead are all celebrities; they don’t exist in our world. We think of the dead by way of the roles they once played. We let go of all the times when they weren’t who we wanted them to be. It’s easy to be wonderful when you’re dead. The same logic applies to celebrity crushes: so if, let’s say, Amy Adams plays a fairy princess (in Enchanted), it follows that she must swish around set sprinkling moonbeams on the crew. Now, I admit, Amy Adams looks like she goes through life like a fairy princess (moony eyes; mischievous nose), but then again – she’s 34. Her new movie, Sunshine Cleaning, won’t help anyone with a crush on Amy (she’s still adorable), but we should try to remember: she may stab kittens.
Good ideas for toys do not make good ideas for movies. Take Transformers, for instance. As toys, they’re ingenious: robots (!) that turn into cars (!), planes (!) and guns (!!!). In one fell swoop you’ve itemised every pre-pubescent boys’ dreams. The robots divide into goodies and baddies (as they must, according to the Lore of the Playground) and they proceed to beat each other up (because what else would pre-teen boys’ want them to do? Get a mortgage?). If you’re lining up merchandizing for a big Hollywood movie: hallelujah! But where’s the movie in all this? Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen does not provide a plausible answer.
A few years ago, while staying at a London hotel, Kiefer Sutherland attacked a Christmas tree. He did it because he was drunk. He did it because someone bet him. And he did it because life is only lived once. Men need have drunken adventures. In times gone by, men sailed the high seas drunk, they went into battle drunk; in the case of Ulysses S. Grant, they even commanded armies drunk. Today, we live in a macro-biotic, cubicle world, far removed from the wild exploits of our forebears. But we still have drink. And men like Kiefer. The new comedy, The Hangover, is a paean to drunken debauchery. Ulysses S. Grant would have loved it.
Every first novel is about a writer’s past, especially if it’s set on Venus. It’s the second book that points toward a career. In first novels – whether the writer knows it or not – prose functions like a self-portrait. Forget readers; what’s important is: owning up. If you’re lucky (forgetting sales, forgetting success of any material kind), you make peace with yourself. In Lovely By Surprise, a virgin novelist writes about two brothers who skipper a landlocked boat. If the brothers seem troubled, first-novel logic says: look to the author. This is a movie where fantasy-trappings are used to catch real guilt.
We wouldn’t win a war against the machines. Most of us struggle with spreadsheets. Humans, at a bare minimum, need: food, shelter, sex and shoes. Machines just need a plug. And therein lies my basic problem with Terminator Salvation; no matter how sexy the human resistance might be, you’d have to bet on the robots. Like the Terminator franchise, they can multiply ad-infinitum. They don’t need motivation to fight, or an explanation as to why they do things. I picture the resistance: bursting for a piss, unsure whose side the lights are on in the toilets. That’s not a battle I’d want to fight.
Horror movies have a grandfather’s morality; piddling vices are Hell-worthy and young people are always up to no good. Every time the unwed have sex in a horror movie their life insurance premiums quadruple. If you drink, you might as well drink glass. And yet, young people are the audience for these movies. Do the under-30’s want to suffer vicariously? Is disapproval cathartic? In the new Sam Raimi horror schlock, Drag Me to Hell, a twentysomething becomes the pronoun in the title just for denying a septuagenarian a loan. It’s as if your grandfather was asked what the problem is with young people today and Beelzebub offered a solution.