Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Departed

A recent article in the New York Times details Hollywood's concern or, rather, their panic over the $500 million decline in box office sales in 2011 versus the year previous. Piracy is listed as a possible culprit, so is "the erosion of star power," gaming, the quality of the product being produced, the higher ticket prices, etc.
Interestingly enough, none of the articles that I have read mention the reason that I have (mostly) stopped going to the movies. Maybe I'm the only one with this reason, but, somehow, I don't think so. Sure, all of the above-mentioned reasons are probably the major factors, but I don't think that Hollywood or the cineplexes should necessarily disregard my experience.
So, Hollywood, let me tell you a story:

I used to love going to the movies. I didn't care that much when tickets jumped from $6 to
$7 to $9. Movies were my guilty pleasure. I'd get a tub of popcorn and a big soda, grab a seat in the middle of the last row (my favorite place to sit) and just get lost for 90 minutes to two hours. I always got there early to watch all of the previews. I was only mildly annoyed when car commercials started getting mixed in with my previews. Oh well. I guess the profit  margin on my $4 Coke and $5 bag of popcorn weren't quite keeping the theaters afloat. Fine, show me the truck I can't live without, and then let's just move on, shall we?
Are movies as good as they used to be? Some are. Some aren't. Some are better. Yes, Hollywood, you love your remakes, but you always have. (There are three versions of A Star is Born, all made prior to 1980, so let's not stamp our feet too loudly about modern Hollywood's apparently "sudden" lack of creativity.) Every year there are some really great movies made, and even more moderate to mediocre movies that are still quite a bit of fun.
And, for me, sitting in a dark theatre, being transported to another world, being told a moving story: that was the best kind of fun.
Until . . .
Phones started ringing in movie theaters. Then people started answering those phones. Then people started texting, and that little blue light (or several of them) immediately sucked me back away from the fantasy world and into a room occupied by an invader who apparently wasn't there to be transported with the rest of us. This person wants to take the cinematic experience and turn it into background noise for his or her very important l33t-speak discussion on who called whom a "dirty skank" behind their back. Since they paid their $9, I suppose that they think that they are entitled to spend their movie experience in whatever way they choose, but the problem is that they're ruining the experiences of the others who are there for only the movie. People like me.

Over the course of a year or so, I would complain to theater managers who would apologize and give me free passes, but apparently take no further steps to remedy the problem, because I would use the free passes and still not be able to enjoy the movie for all of the text-happy usurpers. Sure, I saw the signs and the the messages before and after the previews asking patrons to please turn off their cell phones, but, then, so did the offenders. And they just didn't care. I even tried confronting a few of these individuals myself, using a number of tactics:

Politeness: "I'm sorry, but the light from your cell phone is really distracting, would you mind not using it during the movie?"

Reason: "Um, hi. We all paid $9 to see this movie, too, and I'm sure you'd rather just turn off your phone than have to reimburse all of us."

Incredulity: "If you have a pressing conversation that cannot wait two hours, why on earth are you in a movie theater?"

Occasionally, these pleas were met with compliance. Just as often they were met with belligerence and  physical threats. Usually, however, they were met with indifference. Invariably, it was almost impossible to get back into the world of the movie, though, and the experience was spoiled. I eventually stopped confronting, stopped complaining, and just stopped going to the movies. I will still go see a film in the theater on occasion, but it is usually an art-house film that shows in a theater where the ushers take their jobs seriously and the other patrons are even more aggressive than I about confronting these backlit invaders.
Rarely in these theaters do they show "blockbusters." I end up waiting until those films become available on DVD, and I watch them at home. I'm a couple of months behind on the new movies, sure, and the home theatre experience isn't as good as the old days of watching a movie in a darkened theater that stayed dark, but I fear those days are gone. I know that there are a few privately-owned movie theaters that have taken more proactive, cinephile-friendly approaches to eliminating this text invasion, but none of them have been in any of my neighborhoods.
So, a few inconsiderate people have taken me away from the movie experience I loved, and yes, Hollywood and the multiplexes: they have taken me (and the hundreds of dollars I personally spent every year on going to the movies) away from you.
I'll confess that I don't really care for 3-D. That third dimension has a nasty habit of reminding me that I'm watching a movie, and that defeats the whole purpose. Still, if you guys were to figure out the right way to do it (this Cracked article could very well have been written by someone who overheard one of my 3-D tirades at a party), I'd shell out a few more bucks and give it a try. I don't mind the remakes as long as you find a fresh take on the story. (I've got to say, I really liked the new Arthur.)
Again, though, neither of those were the reason I stopped going to the movies.
I still enjoy the Hollywood product, but I end up having to wait for it, rent it, and watch it at home (which sucks a little for me), and I end up paying about 90% less for it (which sucks a lot for you).
The sad part is that there probably isn't a lot that you can do to get me back. If the "Martin Scorsese interrupting someone's phone call" ads aren't getting through to these knuckleheads, I don't know what will.
I just thought you deserved to know why I called it quits. It's not you, it's - well, it's not me, either, really.  It's . . . them.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Have a Camel!

Hi, it's me, your friendly neighborhood naughty elf. I'm just checking in on your shopping list. How's it going? Did you manage to get the bow around the Lexus? The trick is to set the emergency brake. How about Rockin' Elmo: did you get all of them that you needed? How much pepper spray did you end up having to use? Not bad. See, I told you: short bursts makes it last longer. Okay, so how many names are left uncrossed off your list? Wow. That many? You've only got a few days left!
Okay, it's a good thing I dropped in - by the way, you need to sweep your chimney.
I have a solution for you: Heifer. No, that sweater doesn't make you look fat, I'm talking about Heifer International, you ninny. (That sweater does make you look kind of stupid, though. Okay, maybe it's not the sweater.)
Heifer International! Come on, you've heard of them, right? Oh, fine, Alton, please educate these thunderdomes:

Clear enough? Good. Here's what you do: go to and click on the gift catalog button. It's really big, you'll do fine. This will "magically" take you to a page filled with pictures of farm animals. It's kind of like the site you were looking at the other night, but completely different.
You click on the animal of your choice and then whip out your - oh, grow up! - credit card. Then you can print out a card with the name of the person you're giving the gift for. On behalf of. In the name of. Oh, whatever. You follow, right?
You can get creative if you want, too. If you donated a goat on behalf of your boss, you could go down to the nearest curio shop, buy a little porcelain goat, and, when he goes down to his reserved parking spot at the end of the day, you bounce it off his windshield, and say, "I got you a goat, you bald motherf-" . . . Okay, maybe that's not such a good idea. Anyway, you'll think of something. Sweater choices notwithstanding you seem like a smart - well, ask your kids for an idea.
Heifer International works great for those people on your list who you have no idea what to get. Seriously, if you give someone a card that says, "Hey, I gave a flock of chicks in your name to a poor, starving family so that they could get a new lease on life," and they go "Awww, maaaaaan.": Take that hemorrhoid of a human being off of next year's list. Seriously seriously.
It's a no-brainer. You could even go in with a group of people who are just as befuddled as you and give a water buffalo, or a cow, or a camel - which, actually, reminds me of a joke . . .
Hey, where are you going?

Saturday, December 17, 2011


I woke up to "Let It Snow" this morning on the radio. Soured on the Christmas Holiday as I am, I started to reach for the radio to turn it off, but then something occurred to me.
"Let It Snow"isn't a Christmas song.
No Santa.
No elves.
No Baby Jesus, angels, or star.
It isn't about shopping or exchanging gifts.
It's a love song. The singer wants it to keep snowing so that he or she can stay a bit longer snuggling with their significant other.
I decided to investigate.
The first thing that I found is that something very interesting happens when you type "let it snow" into the Google homepage. Go ahead, try  it. I'll wait.
Cool, huh? Those clever, clever nerds.
The next thing I found is that my observations were correct. A re-read of the lyrics confirms no holiday references whatsoever. Check it:

Oh, the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful
And, since we've no place to go:
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!
It doesn't show signs of stopping,
And I've brought some corn for popping.
The lights are turned way down low.
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!
When we finally kiss goodnight,
How I'll hate going out in the storm.
But if you'll really hold me tight,
All the way home I'll be warm.
The fire is slowly dying,
And, my dear, we're still good-bying.
But as long as you love me so,
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

The song was written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne in 1945 - right at the outset of the U.S. Baby Boom. Coincidence? I think not.

Two more songs that have become "Christmas songs" but really don't actually have anything to do with Christmas per se are "Frosty the Snowman" and "Winter Wonderland." (The "sleigh bells" referenced in the latter song aren't on Claus's sleigh.)
Why is this important? Well, it isn't, really. (Look up "superfluity" in the dictionary.)  However, I found it at least mildly significant for myself as I have become increasingly disenchanted with this holiday season (which has increased in duration since I was a kid). Seeing TV commercials with luxury cars wrapped in bows, Black Friday shoppers camping out in tents in parking lots, and Jolly Ol' St. Nick's face on advertisements for everything from cell phones to soda pop has left me cringing every time I hear "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."
You can call me a "Scrooge" if you want, but pepper-spraying someone to be first to get to a sale was the sort of thing Ebenezer would have done before his ghostly encounter. I'm just saying. (Do I have to pay Aaron Sorkin every time I use that phrase or just if I say it rapidly?)
I get called a Grinch sometimes, too. Apparently no one remembers that the moral of that story is that presents weren't important. Audible sigh.
Anyway, I've got at least three songs that I will be hearing the rest of the year over and over that I can sing along to without feeling the least bit of irony. I'll take what I can get.