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Friday, February 06, 2009

ABF Friday:  Barely Tolerable Edition!

Winter in central Pennsylvania!  You know what that means for us mountain folk—lots of snow days with the one kid who still lives at home, arctic temperatures that make everyone forget we’re actually about one degree of latitude south of Rome (yes, Rome in Italy), and (therefore) lots of moviegoing on the weekends!  Sometimes Janet takes Jamie while I work—they saw High School Musical 3, for instance—but most of the time I take him, because (as you know) I have no standards whatsoever.  After Janet took Jamie to see Cats and Dogs years ago, she vowed never to take him to see a movie that terrible again, and she has kept her word.  I matched Cats and Dogs for sheer terribleness that year by acceding to Jamie’s request to see Hard Ball, which for some reason he thought was going to be a movie about sports.  But unlike Janet, I have continued—however unwittingly—to take Jamie to see movies that suck.

This year, he tricked me into seeing The Spirit, which surely deserves an award of some kind for being even worse than Craptastic 4: Rise of the Silver Sucker, a movie that (as regular readers of this humble blog are aware) leads people to say, “I didn’t know they could make movies that bad.” Jamie was puzzled by it, because he thought that it would be something like Dark Knight, which he loves (and has seen three times).  And I was puzzled too, until I realized that it was something like The Haunting, that is, a devious Hollywood experiment whose purpose it is to see if talented and respected actors (no, not Eva Mendes) can be humiliated into sucking worse than Keanu Reeves and Demi Moore. (And hey, why haven’t those two teamed up yet?  a breathless world awaits!) Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson—don’t you two have agents who are supposed to steer you clear of debacles like this? This is my city—it makes snow so that I can throw snowballs at bad guys. O-kay.

But that’s not what I’m blogging about today.  I’m tired of ABF Fridays that are all about the best this and the most godawful that.  It’s time for an Arbitrary But Fun Friday in which we celebrate the barely tolerable

Film: After the debacle that was The Spirit, I warned Jamie that in the future, I would consult Rotten Tomatoes before agreeing to any more of his cabin-fever-in-the-tundra weekend movie requests.  (This is a major departure for me.  I usually insist on knowing nothing about a film before I see it, whereas Janet reads every English-language review she can find before seeing a film.  How pure am I?  Folks, I saw Slumdog Millionaire last week and didn’t even know it was set in India until the movie started.  That’s because I do a lot of sticking my fingers in my ears and singing “la la la la la la” when people talk about movies I haven’t seen.) So when Jamie tried to rally by suggesting Yes Man, I was duly skeptical.  As one wag put it, “Jim Carrey? Starring in a new high-concept studio comedy? As a zany everyman? Surely not, I hear you cry!” But it got a 43 on Rotten Tomatoes, whereas The Spirit earned itself a record-low 15, so I said, “ahhhh, what the hell.  Jamie will probably like it, and it’s got to be better than sitting around watching the permafrost surround my house.” And it was!  It was genuinely funny in places!  The romantic-comedy angle with Zooey Deschanel did not make me want to tear my own head off!  Rhys Darby is hilarious!  Jamie loved the Harry Potter party scene!  And at one point, there’s a big wedding shower over which the soundtrack is playing . . . Trouble Funk’s “Let’s Get Small!” Well, holy mother of Moloch, that’s way more than tolerable!  That’s actually good!  (Serious aside: why the hell don’t filmmakers use more Trouble Funk in their dang soundtracks?  That’s some toe-tapping, finger-snapping music right there!  Also one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen, way back in 1987.)

So Yes Man, much to my surprise and frozen delight, cleared the bar of the Barely Tolerable.

Music: This is harder, because the determination of whether a song is Barely Tolerable is usually a spur-of-the-moment thing, and it almost always involves the question of whether to fiddle with the car radio.  (I assume you all are not making party mixes and iPod playlists with barely tolerable songs on them, or buying or downloading barely tolerable CDs.) And that determination, in turn, depends in part on the question of whether there is Anything Better On.  For me, the line in these shifting sands is probably best drawn by the Rob Thomas / Carlos Santana “Smooth” thing that appears every three to four days on your Drive at Five or Morning Roadblock or Lunchtime Request shows.  On the one hand, you have to listen to Rob Thomas singing, Rob Thomas singing through that filter, and Rob Thomas singing a “Latin”-tinged tune.  On the other hand, the geetar-playing is quite good, and that makes the song average out to Barely Tolerable.  When you combine that with the realization that the classic-rock station is most likely playing Foghat’s “Fool for the City,” the soft-rock-for-the-workplace station is offering Phil Collins’ “Take Me Home,” the best mix of yesterday and today is playing Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young,” the college / alternative station is doing its Grateful Dead show, and the “contemporary” station is playing Britney, you wind up shrugging and keeping your hands on the wheel.  It’s only three minutes, after all, and it’s Barely Tolerable.  Just over that line: Pink’s “Who Knew” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone.” Completely acceptable mainstream radio fare, not worth turning off and flipping through the dial lest one be subjected to two or three seconds of “Fly Like an Eagle” or “With Arms Wide Open.”

And you?  Where’s your Barely Tolerable line?


Relentless Winter Weather Addendum: I have been joking with some of my Internet friends—Chris Robinson chief among them—about trying to come up with some scam for which we all can get fellowships that involve “working” in Tuscany for a year.  Chris’s case is especially urgent, because even though it was two degrees here yesterday morning as I ventured out for my last round of physical therapy at 8 am (torn elbow ligament, story for another time), Chris lives in northern New York where the temperature has not gone above eleventy-eight Kelvin in the past two months.  Some time ago, we proposed writing a book-length analysis of the history of the New York Rangers, a project that obviously would require a spacious villa just outside Siena and a full complement of research assistants.  Unfortunately, in the current economic climate, few granting agencies are willing to support international research on professional ice hockey, not to mention the amount of calamari and pinot grigio necessary for this project.  However, I have since learned that certain new-media consortiums are willing to fund a year-long symposium, to be housed just outside Florence, on the role of blog comment sections in the transmission of knowledge.  So if you have any ideas for this critical research initiative, now’s the time!

Posted by Michael on 02/06 at 10:00 AM
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