Did you ever have the experience of browsing through the inventory at a clothing store and saying, “Why would anybody buy this shirt?”
There is a good chance, if you loiter in that clothing store long enough, somebody will spot that same shirt and light up like the Vegas “strip” at sundown. For them, that sartorial mutant is exactly what they’ve been looking for.
This, at least, is the hope of the clothing store proprietor, who, lacking unlimited shelf space, must have somehow determined – while perhaps shaking their heads in skeptical disbelief – that there was a market out there for that haberdashorial mistake. If only as an “impulse purchase” that would ultimately be consigned, possibly unworn, to the Helping Hands For The Blind “give-way pile.”
These thoughts come to mind at the semi-annual arrival in the paper of the listing of upcoming movies, in its eponymizing “Summer Movies Sneaks” feature.
(The “Summer Movie” distinction is now arguably an anachronism. See: the New Yorker cartoon showing a warmly-dressed middle-aged couple exiting the theater, and one of them says to the other, “Remember when ‘Summer Movies’ were only in the summer?”)
I was drawn to write about this explosion of (by my count, 163) cinematic offerings. But I was not certain what approach I should take. (File this – if you’re filing – under “The Inner Workings Of A Writer’s Mind.”)
My first impulse was self-mockery – my standard go-to position – accompanied by the ever-popular “helpless undertone.” Re: the 163 preview glimpses: “Why didn’t I think of that idea?” Offered not with a lampooning irony, but rather, showcasing my congenital uncommerciality. Okay, maybe with a little lampooning irony.
But today, my heart just wasn’t in it. You can only deride yourself so often before you feel like a schmuck. (A fool, but with anatomical connotations.) So, no. Self-mockery, at least on this occasion, will take a seat on the bench. (Though it may possibly appear as a pinch-hitter.)
My second thought was to wonder – based, admittedly, only on these thumbnail summaries, but still – how exactly these movies that are arriving this summer ever got off the ground.
Imagine the studio executive whose job it is determine which pictures to “green light” into production, responding to – picking titles at random – these pitches:
In a World…
A struggling vocal coach musters the courage to pursue her secret dream of being a voice-over star.
STUDIO EXECUTIVE: Not an acting coach mustering the courage to purse their dream of being a movie star, but a vocal coach pursing their dream of being a voice-over star.
IDEA PITCHER: Exactly.
STUDIO EXECUTIVE: Let’s do it!
Two men painting traffic lines on a desolate country highway that’s been ravaged by wildfire forge an unlikely friendship while bickering and joking.
STUDIO EXECUTIVE: Lemme see if I’ve got this. They’re painting traffic lines on the highway, and they’re bickering and joking. That’s the movie.
IDEA PITCHER: Exactly.
STUDIO EXECUTIVE: I wish all my decisions were this easy. We’re in for forty million.
And leave us not forget…
And Now A Word From Our Sponsor
A Chicago advertising executive awakes from a coma able to speak only in slogans.
STUDIO EXECUTIVE: For two hours?
IDEA PITCHER: Exactly.
STUDIO EXECUTIVE: I love it! I can already see the sequel. They wake up from a coma able to communicate only in theme songs from situation comedies. Doctor: “The patient is lucid!” Patient: (SINGING) “I love lucid, and she loves me.”
Sour Grapes Alert: It is easy – and not particularly attractive – to make fun of movies that got sold and made and exhibited when none of those things came close to ever happening to any of my movies, all of which, I feel compelled to add, though I acknowledge a personal bias in the matter, had more going for them than two guys painting stripes on the highway. (“It’s all in the telling, Earlo.” Okay, but still!)
There is a good chance that we will not be attending either of the forementioned movies. But that’s another approach I was reluctant to take – writing about movies we will not be attending, some simply because of their titles:
Detention of the Dead
And Grown Ups 2.
(The latter, because I saw Grown Ups 1. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.)
It been done to death that they don’t make movies for people my age. Or thirty years younger even. What else is there to say about it? “Stop doing that”? They won’t.
What approach then is left?
You say what you’re not going to do while simultaneously doing it, topping it off with an old-fashioned happy ending. Such as this one.
After scouring the hundred and sixty-three offerings, I found four that sounded promising:
Desperate Acts of Magic – An aspiring professional magician and an accomplished street performer work out their complicated relationship over the course of an international magic competition. (One of us particularly enjoys magic; the other is happy to go along.)
Old Dog – The sale of a valuable dog causes strife within a family of Tibetan herders. (We’ve had success with Tibetan movies on the past. Wait! Or were they Manchurian movies? I can’t remember.)
History of Future Folk – Sent to Earth to plan for a future invasion, a space alien decides to become a bluegrass musician. (There’s the possibility this one is not be as good as it sounds. Still, how bad can it be? We like bluegrass.)
One Mile Above – A Chinese man faces adversity as he tries to ride his bicycle to the highest point in Tibet to honor his dead brother. (I am extremely hopeful here. What are the chances of two Tibetan movies both being no good?)
There you have it. Four “possibles” out of a hundred and sixty-three.
As my friend Pedro who has fourteen children used to say when I told him I had two:
“Better than nothing.”