They say that everyone -- even the guy with the best gig in the world -- dreams occasionally of doing something else with his labors. I know chefs who dream of being musicians, musicians who’d love to be chefs, real estate brokers who spend their nights writing strange novels, and businessmen who’d give it all up to be doctors. Me? I wanna be a scientist. Doesn’t really matter what kind, though because of my intellectual proclivities and my love of slide-rules and giant graphing calculators, I think Rocket Scientist would be the most fun.
But failing that, film critic would be my second choice. Any job that would afford me the opportunity to eat Junior Mints and make vicious fun of Jason Schwartzman on a regular basis sounds pretty good, because I do love me some Junior Mints and Jason Schwartzman skeevs me out more than just about any human being on the face of the planet. And to get paid for eating Junior Mints and mocking Jason Schwartzman? Well, that would just be gravy.
Unfortunately, there were no Jason Schwartzman films playing at Neighborhood Flix during the time that I was setting it up for a review. The last major role he played on the big screen was in The Darjeeling Limited (which I actually liked quite a lot, in spite of Mr. Schwartzman’s starring role), and the next thing he’s got scheduled is The Marc Pease Experience, which isn’t due out until the end of the year (and also stars Ben Stiller, who generally makes me yawn and who I haven’t really loved in anything since he delivered the single most heartbreaking line in The Royal Tenenbaums). What there was, though, was There Will Be Blood.
Like the pop-culture sheep that I am, I’d been looking forward to seeing There Will Be Blood. It was nominated for about a hundred Academy Awards. Most of my more serious film-nerd friends talked about it like a singular work of staggering genius that would shape the way Hollywood made movies for decades -- the Citizen Kane of their generation, and on and on like that.
But now that I’ve seen it for myself, I can sum the entire thing up in two lines: Daniel Day-Lewis begins the movie as a miserable bastard with a fondness for silver and unusual facial hair. Daniel Day-Lewis ends the movie as a miserable, drunken bastard with a fondness for oil and unusual facial hair. There is precisely one reason for seeing this movie, and that is to see Daniel Day-Lewis play a miserable, drunken bastard with unusual facial hair. And there’s one really big reason not to bother: You’re going to spend two and a half hours watching Daniel Day-Lewis playing a miserable, drunken bastard and, after about the first half-hour, the only thing that’s going to change about him is the unusual facial hair.
Is it a beautiful movie? Only if you consider the oil fields of Texas (which stood in for California during the filming) to be beautiful. It is a well-directed movie? Only if your idea of good direction is Paul Thomas Anderson turning on a camera and telling Daniel Day-Lewis to go crazy and grow some unusual facial hair. As far as the acting goes, D.D.’s certainly got the chops. He’s a fucking brilliant actor. Bill the Butcher, Gerry Conlon, Christy Brown -- even as John Fryer in The Bounty, he was an actor to be reckoned with. But you know what? Even fucking brilliance will grow tiresome after a while, and by the time you get to the point that D.D.’s fucking brilliance begins to wear thin, you’ve still got about nine hours of movie left.
I guess I was lucky, then, that I was watching Blood at Neighborhood Flix because, during the boring parts (essentially all of the parts after the first half hour and before the final ten minutes, a span that seemed to encompass about seventeen-and-a-half hours of stark vistas, oily extras, Daniel Day-Lewis growing funny beards and fuck-all else), I had some distractions that came in the form of first, dinner, and second, the two assholes sitting behind me.
For the story of dinner, you can check out this week’s review here. As for the assholes sitting behind me? They just have no idea how close they came to getting punched. One of the many reasons I had for wanting to leave the East Coast when I did was the way people in Rochester, New York City, Philadelphia and elsewhere talk during movies; the way they seem to believe that the purchase of a ticket gives them not only the right, but the duty to critique the costumes of the characters onscreen, to offer advice to them, to sometimes demand explanation of thorny plot points and to generally behave as though suggestions, if shouted loudly enough at the screen, will actually be able to influence the progression of the story.
That shit drives me nuts. It has, in the past, caused me to commit acts of violence in public and made me truly doubt both the decency and basic intelligence of my fellow man. I mean, why can’t everyone just act like civilized adults, suffer through a bad movie in pained, glowering silence and then, later, use their weekly restaurant columns (or MySpace pages or personal blogs or features slot at The Economist) as a barely disguised excuse to talk about banging Lea Thompson and make fun of one of the greatest actors of their day?
Since coming West, I’ve had little problem with people talking during movies. But the two assholes sitting behind me? Maybe they just moved here from New York. I don’t know. But the running commentary began almost immediately—
“I think he’s digging for gold,” came the hissy, quiet voice from behind me.
“Nope. Looks like silver, I guess.”
—throughout the entire—
“Ooh! He definitely broke his leg there…”
I though that maybe I’d just be able to ignore it.
“That’s a pretty big hole he’s got.”
Or tune it out.
“Is that oil?”
But I couldn’t. Since so little was happening onscreen and my supply of mac-and-cheese and beer was already running low, I couldn’t help but overhear every comment.
“That’s the same guy from the scene before, right?”
Of course it’s the same guy, you idiot! It’s Paul Dano, playing the young preacher Eli Sunday. And Paul Dano -- a creepy, slack-faced and frog-eyed weirdo even without the Roman collar and black vestments 00 looks like no other human being on the entire planet! Who else do you think it’s going to be? Who, exactly, are you possibly going to confuse him with? Is there another doughy, dead-behind-the-eyes, child faith healer in this movie that I am unaware of? Because if there is, you’re a goddamn genius, but if there’s not, would you please just shut the fuck up for the next twelve hours so we can all get through this movie alive?
“You know, the priest kid.”
To kill time, I began making a list in my head of ways I would murder the man sitting behind me.
Number 1: Assault him with hot gorgonzola cheese sauce.
Number 2: Stab him repeatedly with the only sharp instrument at my disposal -- the plastic fork that came with my macaroni and cheese.
Number 3: Beat him to death with the rather inventive theater-seat tray I was given. It is designed to slot securely into the cup holder on the fold-down arm of the seats at Neighborhood Flix and thereby provide a sort of small, adjustable table to eat off of. It’s really rather clever, but unfortunately, it was made of plastic and probably wouldn’t have done a lot of damage to a grown man’s skull. I noticed that the plates, too, were made of plastic. And the beers were served in plastic cups. Perhaps the Neighborhood Flix partners realized the terrible temptation that would be presented by the combination of a few Mexican lagers, real silverware and the kind of asshole seated behind me. And if they did—
“No, that’s his son. He’s deaf now.”
—they are far smarter than me.
The movie continued on like this for about seventy more hours. My list of possible felonies grew and grew.
Number 36: Light him on fire.
Number 41: Death by anal impalement.
Number 46: Choke him to death with half a bratwurst. The problem there being that the kitchen at Neighborhood Flix makes a very good bratwurst (an elk-and-jalapeno variety, slathered with cream cheese and topped with onions caramelized in Coca-Cola), and if I was going to go to the effort of securing myself another, I wouldn’t want to waste half of it on choking the asshole behind me. Maybe if I got two bratwursts…
By the time the movie reached its climactic, milkshake-driven conclusion, I was sober, hungry again, and up to something like number 60 on my list: beat him to death with a bowling pin. I could not leave fast enough once the credits rolled. Like Daniel Plainview, I was finished, and on our way out to the car, Laura asked, “What was up with those two behind us? I think one of them was blind.”
I decided to keep my list to myself. -- Jason Sheehan