Between the Lines: The Critics Hate This Movie, So We Gotta See It!

by Tim Kelly

Creaky joints, interrupted sleep, walking like the Tin Man immediately after driving moderate to long distances. Yelling “what?” when someone speaks on the other side of the room. Yelling “what?” when there’s no one on the other side of the room. Asking “where are my glasses?” while wearing them.

These are just a few of the downsides of growing older.

Grandchildren, adult offspring, paid-off parents’ college loans, knowledge, wisdom, experiences good and bad, memories bitter and sweet, a better understanding of self, a sharpened ability to recognize and dismiss BS, growing older when others can’t, Social Security and Medicare.

These are some of the benefits of growing older.

Now it may not seem like much, but, for the Mrs. and me, having reached a certain age brings the most welcome blessing of senior citizen-priced movie tickets. Near our home we need only fork over a combined 14 bucks to get in the door, and even with popcorn and a drink it’s a very cheap date.

So much so, that for us, at least, the quality of the movie hardly matters. No, we don’t only go cinema slumming. We sat in silent awe for Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” In the title role Daniel Day-Lewis was Lincoln. Spooky good. The same for “The Shape of Water,” this year’s Best Picture winner. Unsettling and sexy. A rare combo.

But most of what we take in is most definitely not of Academy Award caliber, and that’s just fine with us. Even so, there are limits.

While it’s of little concern to the Mrs., I’ve spotted a troubling trend in the originality of the stories told on the silver screen. There ain’t any. But we’ll get to that later.

To reiterate – schlocky, chintzy and implausible plots are OK. Perhaps it’s the unhealthy nature of cinema snacks that feeds our suspension of disbelief.

Let’s see, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson performs feats of physical magic the entire instructional staff of Hogwarts couldn’t pull off in battling a fire in the worlds tallest building in China… Sure, why not?

Tom Cruise does likewise in another entry in the “Mission Impossible” franchise? Well, whaddaya expect?

There’s much to be said about the mental health benefits gained through a couple of hours of sitting in the dark, munching on salt and oil-covered carbohydrates, engrossed in mindless entertainment, safe from the incursion of the worries of the workaday world.

Our cinema Bible is the “Rotten Tomatoes” website, and we trust that any flick with a user score exceeding the critics’ consensus is worth a watch.

“The Meg,” about the death and destruction wrought by a thought-to-be-extinct giant shark was cheesy, predictable and ridiculous. Naturally, we gave it 5 stars. 

Then again, “Jurassic World” left us wondering just how many more story lines the producers can/will produce that’ll put seemingly level-headed and intelligent folks in oh-so-close proximity to the mammoth, monstrous, dentally gifted, car-crushing, mankind-munching monsters that had the survivors of the original movie exclaiming, “Screw this, I’m going home!” Or words to that effect.

East us once, shame on us. You get the idea.

Sequels, like “Jurassic Park: Attack of the Lawyers!” or whatever the last one was called, are OK by us. Good, bad, who cares?

By the way, have I pointed out the genius of developing a new series of Harry Potter genre films under the “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” title. I have? Too bad.

Now there’s a Harry Potter play on Broadway, a two-parter no less. And get this – “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” received 11 Tony award nominations this year and won six – SIX! – including Best Play and Best Direction!

Yeah, I’m the color of a Common Welsh Green Dragon with envy.

Now let’s turn our attention to the black-hearted business of redoing old film under the original title. The new terms d’art are “reimagining” and “reboot.” “Reimagining” evokes oh so much class and artistic purity and “reboot” as harmless as flicking a computer’s on/off switch. Whereas “remake,” which means the same damn thing, reeks of all things crass and classless.

On a personal note, I’m still smarting over a REMAKE of the beloved Christmas classic, “A Miracle on 34th Street.” All involved in this 1994 stinker should have been deported to Tierra del Fuego. Except director John Hughes, who earned eternal forgiveness for giving us “Home Alone,” “Uncle Buck” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

Still, he shoulda known better.

So, it was with more than a bit of dismay when, while checking out the “coming soon” posters on the theater walls and watching the pre-movie previews, it became all to obvious that the “reimagined” (remake) era has just begun.

Coming up? “Papillon,” “The Grinch,” “Predator,” “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” and finally – gasp – “Mary Poppins Returns.”

For you kids in the MTV generation and younger, “Papillon,” released in 1973, told the story of a French convict played by Steve McQueen, the coolest of the cool, serving out his murder sentence in a filthy, sweaty work camp prison in French Guiana on the northeast coast of South America.

Papillon, his nickname, refers to the butterfly tattoo on his chest.

Surprised the producers didn’t go all modern and tag the title character “Burning Skull with Big-Fanged Snakes Slithering Out the Eye-Holes,” or “Grinning Topless Babe With Devil Horns Straddling a Harley.”

Topping, or even equaling, the original will be tough to pull off. Less so for “The Grinch,” a new animated version coming 18 years after the live-action version, which came 34 years after the original animated version, which came nine years after the beloved Dr. Seuss book.

Got it? Good, cause I’m not going over that again.

The latest iteration, opening Nov. 9, has to be better than the last one, which stunk. Or, using song lyrics from the half-hour TV version, “stink, stank, stunk!”

Why? The story, what there was of it, was mostly Jim Carrey in a furry green suit doing shtick. I think that’s an Irish word, but I could be wrong.

Sorry, Jimmy-Boy, but you grinched The Grinch.

“Predator?” Nah, wasn’t into the original, in which a pumped-up Arnold Schwarzenegger goes mano a mano with an equally juiced alien of malicious intent with dreadlocks and a mouth like a blue claw crab.

Didn’t the original alien off himself with a mini-nuke?

Who cares?

Trying to keep an open mind on the latest “Nutcracker,” but they better not muck it up.

Which brings us to “Mary Poppins Returns.” Is it a remake or a sequel 54-years in the making? We’ll definitely see this one, but heaven help ‘em if they tarnish one of the most magical and beloved movies of my childhood.

I was but a lad of 10 when Mary Poppins glided UP the stair rail with her talking parrot head umbrella. I was right there, with all the soot-faced chimney sweeps et al, on the rooftops of Edwardian London, as a dying golden sun topped the city with a crown of shadows, then was swallowed by a coal-dark night, with gaslights twinkling as stars in a moonless sky on the streets so far below. Oh, it was glorious.

Know what ain’t so glorious? Walking out of the theater into the glare of an afternoon sun in a Patchogue parking lot. Ok, magic gone.

I’m holding out hope that “Mary Poppins Returns” will bring back the wonder and enchantment as a worthy follow-up, respectful of the original, yet fresh and new, without drawing unfavorable comparisons to the original.

Know what else promises to be enchanting? The next “Fantastic Beasts” film opening Nov. 10 with Jude Law as a young Professor Dumbledore! I can hardly wait.

Fine. Be that way.

“Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, the medicine go dow-own, the medicine go down…”


Tim Kelly is a former congressional press secretary and award-winning reporter, editor, columnist and photographer. He has lived on the North Fork for 30 years. For his mid-life crisis, he became a bagpiper.

East End Beacon

The East End Beacon is your guide to social and environmental issues, arts & culture on the East End of Long Island.

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