by its cover

The A.V. Club’s recent column on contributors’ pop-culture rules has sparked similar discussions among my friends and acquaintances and fellow online forum users internerds. I quickly realized that though I have no firm rules, I do have a great many rough guidelines. Whew, a great many!

– I almost never see films in a first-run theater, where the fools in charge let other people in, too, with their cell phones and their chatter and their candy wrappers. That’s not a pop-culture rule but an avoid-temptation-to-criminal-assault rule. Crowds, cost, and the threat of poor storytelling all diminish my patience with other people and/or nonsense, so clearly a blockbuster in a first-run theater is a perfect-storm situation for me.

– Because I like to be surprised by entertainment, I rarely research enough to apply the Bechdel test before the fact, but I do notice and appreciate when a filmmaker or author:
1. has two or more named female characters
2. talk to each other
3. about something other than a man
just as if they were real people or something.

– I will watch any movie directed by David Lynch, David Cronenberg, or the Coen Brothers, and probably more than once, even if I wasn’t crazy about it the first time. These directors more than any others have earned my trust and gratitude, despite a few misses and a very few absolute stinkers. Oh, Terry Gilliam, I can’t say no to you, either, you hapless bastard.

– I will watch almost any Shakespeare adaptation, with or without the text intact. Yes, the one set in a greasy spoon. Yes, the one in post-war Japan. Yes, the kids’ movie rip-off.

– I don’t mind if a sensible adult thinks my choice of entertainment is silly or juvenile or embarrassing. Maybe I see some deeper value there; maybe I just like the silly thing. I’m not easily embarrassed. Or, uh, I am, but I’m also used to it.

– I am unlikely to sit still for a straight-up romantic comedy. Ditto a straight-up war movie. Indeed, anything that looks like a formula Hollywood picture, with characters slotted into a template, is of no interest.* I am especially not interested in the whitewashed Hollywood bio (see A Beautiful Mind) or other Oscar bait. I skip a lot of blockbuster movies and feel no pain over it.

*Unless is is a horror movie, in which case I miiiiiiiight tolerate the formula. I don’t know why I might, but I might. Additionally, with a horror movie, the low-budget/no-budget risktaker entices me far more than the splashy, shiny big-money movie. The no-money filmmakers have to push their creativity and plan their storytelling instead of relying on special effects and retakes.

– While we’re on the subject of formulas and failure: no Michael Bay. NO. NO. No, Michael Bay, No! I thoroughly respect the appeal of stuff blowin’ up real good. I don’t want to see stuff blowin’ up all sloppy.

– I shy away from remakes, especially English-language remakes of contemporary foreign-language films. However, a few marvelous remakes have made this more of an inclination and less of a rule. Criminal comes to mind: the original is fantastic, the remake is different but fantastic — I loved both. And I am the rare J-horror fan who actually preferred The Ring to Ringu.

– I do not like to see brief short stories transformed to full-length features. Padding rarely improves a story, but if it’s a favorite story, I almost always give in and watch it. For this reason, I am dreading The Yellow Wallpaper, but happily for me, it’s evidently stuck in some post-release limbo.

– I will [never/almost never] choose to watch a Jim Carrey or Robin Williams slapstick comedy. I will often watch Jim Carrey in a dramatic role. (Yes, this means I watched the hilariously, gut-splittingly awful The Number 23. Youch.)

– I will try reading almost any author or story once, in any genre or type: literary fiction, popular fiction, pulp fiction, academic no-fiction, popular non-fiction, graphic novel, whatever. Sometimes, I can’t make it more than a 20 pages before giving up in disgust, but I do try it in earnest. (I even tried to read The DaVinci Code out of curiosity, but its prose made me very cross indeed.)

– I believe that sometimes, you really can judge a book by its cover.

4 thoughts on “by its cover

  1. We’ve been discussing this over on a discussion forum too. My incomplete list:

    -I’ll watch anything with Bill Murray.
    -I won’t tolerate anything with Don Henley because it will be insufferable. And I will hate it.*
    -I won’t watch anything with Winona Rider in a major role because she will be playing the role of “Winona Rider.” And I will hate it.
    -The ONE movie I will drop everything and watch if it is on is Alien Vs. Predator.
    -I really hate super-earnest celebrity fund-raising efforts.
    -I cannot abide any singing histrionics that completely overwhelm the music with what sounds like 20 minutes of exceptionally strenuous childbirth. I’m looking at you, Mary J. Blige.
    -If Werner Horzog is involved, I am in.
    -I’ll read anything by Terry Pratchett.

    *Joe Walsh is a huge mitigating factor here, but don’t construe that any sort of fondness for The Eagles.

  2. A friend just clued me in to a name for another Bechdel-like test I like to see a movie pass: Deggan’s Rule, which asks that there be:
    1. at least two minority characters
    2. in a narrative that is not about race.

    It occurs to me that this general idea can be extended to all kinds of demographic ranges.

    Hell, yes. This is one of the features of Inside Man, an inventive but deeply flawed heist movie that I love, and now I see that this is why. It was such a treat to see a movie set in NYC play out with a population so varied in age, ethnicity, and style without anyone being pigeonholed based in these attributes.

  3. Jane: I’m with you on singing histrionics. But AvP? Really?
    Having said that, I’m far more likely to watch a bad SF film than a rom-com or a western.
    A movie will always grab my attention if it features Holly Hunter (although A Life Less Ordinary was awful).
    I will pretty much never watch a TV drama about forensics, although this is more due to irritation at their ubiquity than anything objectionable about the genre itself.
    I have no time for word-for-word (or, in the case of Sin City and 300, image-for-image) slavishly faithful film adaptations of stories. It’s a different medium, so make the effort to ADAPT it!

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