Before we get into the new movies, I need to disclose something.I’m not qualified to discuss the validity of one of the three movies opening on account of my Christmas vacations as a child. More on that later.
Fortunately, I’m free to write with abandon about the other two, both of which are remakes. Both of which should do nicely at the box office and luckily for their makers they’re targeted toward vastly different audiences. If you’re willing to suspend your disbelief and you go in for great dance moves, plenty of high school high-jinks, with maybe a dash of morality thrown in, you’ll probably be off to see Footloose in two shakes. People were – and are – understandably leery about this Footloose for many reasons, not the least of which is probably the lack of a young Kevin Bacon as its protagonist. Still, it’s getting very nice word of mouth and even though both Zac Efron and Chace Crawford turned down the lead role, the young man filling Bacon’s shoes may very well have the last say. He’ll certainly get a few more job offers this fall. Plus, it’s got Craig Brewer directing, which may be one of the more inspired choices of the season.
Now, if Antarctic-type ice drifts are your bag, especially the ones upon which grim Norwegian and curious American explorers tread to track down mysterious “fossils”, this Thing’s got your number dialed. It’s a remake of John Carpenter’s 1982 horror classic, but I doubt there’s much camp or many tongue-in-cheek nods to an earlier master. In fact, it’s got a very sober, almost documentary feel – which makes the monsters who invade human life forms doubly creepy.
So you have one silly movie, one scary movie and …The Big Year. Which stars Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson. So far so good, right? However, when I explained the premise to several people (and listed the well-known, bankable stars) each looked at me and said “Great actors – but why such a dumb premise ?” The movie’s about three men who are competitive birdwatchers. Here’s why I should recuse myself: I was a birder as a child, not by choice, but by instruction and upbringing. Every year my family travelled at Christmas to Florida to visit the grandparents (kind of de rigueur for Northeastern families whose ancient relatives fled to warmer climes). And every year, no matter the weather or any other old circumstance, we went birding. Nor was this a simple stroll in the yard to eyeball a bored blue jay. Rather, these were three-day expeditions carried out with little irony and even less Coca-Cola to find all manner of exotic and tropical birds. They usually began with a 4:45 AM grumpy wake-up in total darkness, followed by the gathering of spotting equipment that included telescopes, lenses, tripods, binoculars and an encyclopedic battery of bird books. All the children were corralled into the ancient Jeep Wagoneer where we would sit for two hours on the bumpy road to the Everglades. The ride was usually grim because nobody wanted to be up, and it was still dark out and there was an early morning chill so everyone had bundled up – even though we all knew we’d be sweltering in a matter of hours. All of us had notebooks and lists in hand detailing the many creatures we’d hoped to spot. You had to check things off, and you learned early on which birds got you noticed by the adults, and which birds were, well, akin to the blue jay in the backyard. The cormorant, the anhinga, seven types of Woodpecker (but never the elusive Ivory-Billed last seen in the 19th century), the pelican (embarrassingly easy), thirty-six types of gull, the pink ibis, the wood ibis, great blue heron, little blue heron, the snowy egret, and so on. Nor could you do a lot of talking because you’d scare anything you’d set out to see. My favorite part of these expeditions was always the flamingos and the crocodiles, although one rarely saw them near one other – lest a bloodbath ensue. These trips were conducted with a fair amount of earnest solemnity. I developed a nearly humorless approach to the expeditions, and my silent fervor was usually rewarded with several sightings that the older kids missed. Nor would I discover til I was in my late teens that not all children spent a godly portion of their holidays tracking down furtive warblers and canny spoonbills. I just assumed they all had. Ultimately I’d grown to love birding, although I haven’t done it in years.
Thus, when the question of the “silliness” of a movie about birders comes up, I’m not qualified to comment. I love the actors. I hope it’s funny. But if it isn’t, that’s just fine too. I know how to sit quietly and enjoy something that might not be for everyone.
1) The Thing
2) Real Steel
4) The Big Year