Friday, October 12, 2012

"The 'Expected' And The 'Unexpected'"

I saw two movies recently.  One was Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, the other, Trouble With The Curve, starring Clint Eastwood.

They’re different.

When the credits say, “Written and Directed By” – the same person handling both assignments – the unmistakable message is, “I’m doing something here!”  It’s more than a person making a movie.  It’s a person making their movie.  

Does that mean the final product is necessarily good?  I try not to evaluate movies in terms of “good” and “bad.”  The only question for me is, “Did it get to me?”

The Master, I’m afraid, did not.

Mr. Earlo, I’m startled and agog.  Considering the interesting subject matter and the original storytelling, the care and craft that went into the production – the costumes, the sets, the lighting, the music, the actors’ extending themselves, delivering Oscar-caliber performances – I’d have thought “The Master” was right up your alley.

What you say is true, Italics Man.  I am, and always have been, a moviegoer who champions originality, artistic daring, and placing the filmmaker’s single-minded vision ahead of following the herd, and box office uber alles.  (I apologize.  My computer is not equipped with an umlaut.)

With The Master, we have definitely entered Auteur Country.  I like when the creative auspices put their distinctive stamps on a project.  I feel the same enthusiasm for Wes Anderson movies – to name another Andersons – and a handful of others – the guy who did The Descendants ­is also one…Payne. 

I can be counted on to show up for these movies, just so the price of my Senior ticket lets the bean counters know there’s an audience out here for filmmakers who march to a different drummer, taking us to exciting, uncharted territory, in a business that way more frequently – inching up to always – goes for the dough.

The thing is, when you take chances, there’s the always the possibility you will wind up with an ingrown hair of a movie.  The final product may exhilaratingly satisfy the auteur’s intention, but the “flying solo” process runs the risk of missing the dissenting perspective that, at critical moments, says, “I’m not sure what you’re going for.”  

The Master is pleasant to look at, a little long – because the director does not seem to have inquired of the writer, concerning the final ten minutes of the film, “Do we really need to go to England?”  They both, apparently, wanted to go. 

And yet…uniqueness, energy and freshness.  Even the movie screen seemed proud to participate. 

MOVIE SCREEN:  Hey!  It wasn’t a squabbling couple that ends up together.  And nothing blew up!     

For “Degree of Difficulty”, as they say in competitive diving, The Master earns a deservedly high number.  Unlike Trouble With The Curve, which is strictly the low board, with hardly any twists.

Literally.  I mean, there are complications, but, unless you’ve never seen a movie before, they are brazenly familiar.  The dialogue too.  On numerous occasions, I found myself uttering lines from the movie seconds before they emerged from the actors’ mouths.  (Sometimes, with better line readings.)

Not that I was entirely unmoved.  Trouble With The Curve is a movie about baseball, and at its core, concerns a relationship between a man and a daughter who is very much like him.  I am a sucker for both of those.  Plus, the movie’s father-daughter bonding song is “You Are My Sunshine.”  That’s Anna’s and my song.  Which makes the movie impressively tuned-in in these matters.  Or “You Are My Sunshine” a father-daughter-song cliché.

Here’s the thing.  You write the expected, and the outcome is…the expected, nothing more, and nothing less.  Every note is satisfactorily hit, every turn and resolution, dutifully executed.  By the standard of “Connecting the dots”, the writer has done an efficient and workmanlike job. 

But what’s there that you’ve never seen before?  On the other hand, if you tore up the template, telling the same story in a less traditional manner, would it make the movie better?  Or would you be butchering the recipe, and making it worse?

One movie is Jackson Pollock, the other, “Paint-By-Numbers.”  I have little talent for predicting commercial success, but my guess is that neither of them will do great.  The Master is too “What am I watching?”, Trouble With the Curve, “Could you please surprise me, just once!  On a split decision, I prefer Trouble With The Curve.  There were a couple of moments in it where, softie than I am, I was kind of choked up. 

The Master impressed me.  Trouble With The Curve, with its screaming predictability – wait, the movie wasn’t screaming; I was – occasionally, at least, got to me.

Which says what?  That formula writing, no matter how much we disparage them, still works?  For some of us?   I don’t know.  In the end, I guess it’s just two different types of movies, to be judged on their own genreistic terms.  By that standard, both of them, from me at least, get a B. 

There’s a personal element to this recent movie-going experience, relating to why I no longer try to write movies myself.  The way I evaluate my skills and sensibilities, I have neither the inventiveness of mind to write something truly original, nor the compelling desire to hack out a cliché.  

Where does that leave me?

Right here, folks.  Until further notice.   

No comments: