Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: I won’t watch, don’t ask me

Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: I won’t watch, don’t ask me-attachment0

Last week’s ActionFest—which was eschewed by some cineastes who don’t like “action”—and my narrow escape of having to watch Soul Surfer—which I was spared thanks to Justin Souther—give rise to the question of what people just plain, flat-out, categorically, without fear of going back on it, simply won’t watch. Since I long ago surrendered the possibility of playing the “you couldn’t pay me to watch that” card, my own feelings in the matter are largely theoretical. At the very least, my feelings are reliant on whether or not someone else can be forced or somehow cajoled into stepping into the breach. Most of the world has no such consideration. So what evokes my paraphrase of Mr. Astaire’s song about not dancing in you?

Actually, Soul Surfer—or Soooouuuullll Surfer, since the title reminds me of Soul Train every time I see it—comes very close to being the film I would refuse to watch. It’s a fact-based, faith-espousing, uplifting sports movie. That’s a hard parlay to buck. All they needed to do was make the main character mentally challenged to ace it. OK, that sounds cynical. Well, that’s because it is. I’ve seen too much fact-based stuff that I know is lying through its teeth. Worse, there are gangs of people who are immediately out for your blood if you don’t like it because it’s “true,” as if this gets anything a free pass. I’ve yet to see one of the crop of faith-based movies that have been finding their way into theaters in recent years that I even thought was watchable. (These, by the way, are distinct from films with religious themes, which can be very moving and thought-provoking.) And the uplifting sports movie has never in the history of motion pictures worked on me or for me.

I’m glad I didn’t see it. I’m glad I was able to get Justin to review it. I’ve already been told that—for payback—I will be watching something called Dolphin Tale, which appears to be about Morgan Freeman and a dolphin that loses its tail. The cost could be heavy, but I suspect worth it. Now, if the dolphin gets religion and wins the big game, I’ll rethink that.

I have never really just ruled out a type of film totally. I tend not to naturally gravitate toward Westerns and war movies, but I often like them all the same. I’ve remarked in the past that I’m actually surprised by how much I’ve liked nearly all the Westerns I’ve had to review since doing weekly criticism. And war pictures? I always used to say that my favorite war movie was John Cromwell’s Since You Went Away (1944), which takes place entirely on the homefront in a Norman Rockwellesque vision of small-town America—and not a battle scene to be seen. And there’s some truth in that, but there’s a good deal of hyperbole, too. Plus, there’s more than a little dodging involved, since I’m not including things like Richard Lester’s How I Won the War (1967) or Mike Nichols’ Catch-22 (1970) or Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) in the mix.

Looked at in a broader context, at least part—and a pretty important part—of Frank Borzage’s 7th Heaven (1927) is a war picture. And I rank 7th Heaven very highly—easily in my personal top-five silent movies. While it’s not exactly a war film, Josef von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express (1932) is set against a civil war in China, is partly about the general heading up the rebellion, and contains a degree of fighting—including shots of soldiers being executed by machine guns. These are unarguably war-movie elements—and they’re in a film I find endlessly watchable and is in my top 10 from any era. Isn’t Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) a film set during—and revolving around—the Spanish Civil War? I could go on, but that makes the point.

It isn’t that I don’t like war movies, it’s that I mostly don’t like a certain type of war movie—and that type is what rushes into my mind when the genre is mentioned. It’s equally fair to say that there are certain types of horror movies I don’t like, but when you say “horror movies,” my brain defaults to the types I do like. I don’t think I’m unique in this by any means. I know lots of people who say they don’t like musicals, and what they mean is they don’t like the first things that occur to them when you use the term. The default is traditional 1950s-60s Hollywood musicals more often than not adapted from a Broadway show. Well, if you put it on that basis, I don’t much like musicals either. There are few things I’d less care to watch again than Fred Zinneman’s Oklahoma! (1955). But it’s not what I think of when I think of musicals. It’s a kind of musical.

That’s why I’m a little hesitant to say I won’t watch something. In the overall sense of the term, it would be perfectly fair to say that I am not an action movie fan per se, but that only extends as far as the definition of action movie being one where “stuff blows up real good” or musclebound chuckleheads beat the crap out of each other. I would never try to deny that both Hobo with a Shotgun and Super are action films, but neither are that kind of action film—and neither are very much alike, except that they’re action and subversive. And I very much liked them both and for different reasons.

So what I’m asking here is what you really mean when you say you won’t watch something—and to gently suggest that maybe you’re doing yourself out of something by eschewing certain genres by taking the term as having more specific meaning than it does.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

31 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: I won’t watch, don’t ask me

  1. The Trolls Troll

    Will you or Mr. Souther be reviewing “Atlas Shrugged?” I heard it stinks.

  2. Dionysis

    Okay, here goes:

    I’m with you on ‘faith-based’films. Couldn’t add anything.

    I refuse to watch mad slasher/torture ‘porn’films; they may be a type of horror film, but I just don’t like ‘em (the original ‘Halloween’ may be a singular exception). Give me a classic Universal type horror movie any time.

    As I’ve noted before, any film that features abuse of animals (yeah, I know they’re ‘only movies’), regardless of the kind of film, will be skipped.

    And musicals; however, I have to admit that I finally got around to watching ‘Chicago’, and liked it quite a bit. Maybe I’m starting to mellow.

    Lastly (and with apologies to his fans), I try to avoid any film with Mickey Rourke in it; maybe it’s just me, but with the sole exception of his unrecognizable turn in ‘Sin City’ (which I thought was the best part of that movie), he leaves me feeling like I have to shower in Lysol, he projects such sleaze.

  3. Jim Donato

    In my mind, Mickey Rourke’s first name is actually “Sleazy.” As in “Wild Orchid” is yet another Sleazy Mickey Rourke flick.” But I have to admit, I enjoy the hell out of “Barfly” and “The Wrestler.”

  4. brebro

    Any movie about a girl and her horse or a boy and his dog (except, “A Boy and His Dog,” that was actually cynical enough for someone dead inside like me to enjoy).

  5. Ken Hanke

    Will you or Mr. Souther be reviewing “Atlas Shrugged?”

    It fell to me because I’d read the book, and because I’m more used to having readers yell at me.

    I heard it stinks.

    The review will be in this week’s paper. I dislike Ayn Rand and her philosophy intensely and even I think she deserved better than this.

  6. Ken Hanke

    I refuse to watch mad slasher/torture ‘porn’films; they may be a type of horror film, but I just don’t like ‘em (the original ‘Halloween’ may be a singular exception). Give me a classic Universal type horror movie any time.

    I tend to agree with the last part, as you should know. I don’t mind the slasher pictures as such (though I’ve never understood why Halloween gets a pass; I don’t think it’s that much better). The bulk of them are just dumb. I do dislike torture porn, though, and would give those a pass if I could.

    And musicals; however, I have to admit that I finally got around to watching ‘Chicago’, and liked it quite a bit. Maybe I’m starting to mellow.

    There’s an irony here because I like Chicago less with every passing year!

    Lastly (and with apologies to his fans), I try to avoid any film with Mickey Rourke in it; maybe it’s just me, but with the sole exception of his unrecognizable turn in ‘Sin City’ (which I thought was the best part of that movie), he leaves me feeling like I have to shower in Lysol, he projects such sleaze.

    I don’t mind it, but I wouldn’t argue the sleaze factor, but the sleaze factor is just right for Angel Heart.

  7. Ken Hanke

    In my mind, Mickey Rourke’s first name is actually “Sleazy.” As in “Wild Orchid” is yet another Sleazy Mickey Rourke flick.” But I have to admit, I enjoy the hell out of “Barfly” and “The Wrestler.”

    I have to say that all in all, I have more trouble with Mickey the Rooney.

  8. Ken Hanke

    I avoid movies that bill themselves as comedies.

    In the current climate that may not be such a bad idea.

  9. Ken Hanke

    Any movie about a girl and her horse

    Does that include movies about Catherine the Great?

  10. Dionysis

    “(though I’ve never understood why Halloween gets a pass; I don’t think it’s that much better).

    A valid point; perhaps it’s because when I saw it (upon its initial release) it seemed somewhat original. It hasn’t really aged that well, though (but it is still superior to Rob Zombie’s remake).

    “I like Chicago less with every passing year!”

    Since I’ve only seen it once, I’ll avoid that problem by not watching it again.

    “the sleaze factor is just right for Angel Heart.”

    You have a point, but it’s been so long since I’ve seen that movie, I really don’t recall that much about it.

  11. The Trolls Troll

    I’m sure a certain person — who shall remain unnamed lest he accuse me of making this thread about him because he is more interesting than Ayn Rand, “Atlas Shrugged,” Torture Porn and Mickey Rourke combined — would have been willing to write a perfectly objective review of the movie for Xpress.

  12. Ken Hanke

    but it is still superior to Rob Zombie’s remake

    Even though I have a weird soft spot for Mr. Zombie, I can’t argue that.

    Since I’ve only seen it once, I’ll avoid that problem by not watching it again.

    I think that’s wise, but how do you feel about, say, Hard Day’s Night, Help!, Tommy, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Hair, etc.?

    You have a point, but it’s been so long since I’ve seen that movie, I really don’t recall that much about it

    You might refresh your memory of it some time. I think it’s one of the very best more-or-less-modern horrors.

  13. Ken Hanke

    I’m sure a certain person—who shall remain unnamed lest he accuse me of making this thread about him because he is more interesting than Ayn Rand, “Atlas Shrugged,” Torture Porn and Mickey Rourke combined—would have been willing to write a perfectly objective review of the movie for Xpress.

    I wouldn’t argue the point with you in the least. I like how “objective” always tends to translate as “agrees with me” with a lot of people.

  14. The Trolls Troll

    Haha. That is true. But seriously, I have never read “Atlas Shrugged,” and don’t really plan on seeing it on the big (or small) screen. I do look forward to reading your review of it, however, having read Bothwell’s and (name redacted)’s pieces about Rand in the Asheville Daily Planet.

  15. Dionysis

    “how do you feel about, say, Hard Day’s Night, Help!, Tommy, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Hair, etc.?”

    Today, most of those films seem rather quaint and dated. I watch A Hard Day’s Night every couple of years or so, and reminisce about seeing it at the theater as a kid; I also never tire of the music.

    Tommy wears less well, but I do like its quirkiness and (most of) the music. The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Hair are two titles I really don’t care to see again. In fact, I really didn’t care for either that much when they were released.

  16. Ashevegasjoe

    I agree with the hatred of musicals… but, and I have caught a lot of crap for saying so, Moulin Rouge and Sweeney Todd are pretty great in my book. Tommy is made palatable by Tina Turner as the Acid Queen.

  17. Ken Hanke

    Today, most of those films seem rather quaint and dated.

    Oh, I could not be further out of agreement with this.

  18. Ken Hanke

    This musical is getting a belated dvd release tomorrow…

    Ah! The movie that makes Myra Breckinridge look good — almost.

  19. Ken Hanke

    I have caught a lot of crap for saying so, Moulin Rouge and Sweeney Todd are pretty great in my book.

    Well, you won’t get crap from me for saying that.

    Tommy is made palatable by Tina Turner as the Acid Queen.

    But you’d probably get crap from me for so selling my favorite movie short like that!

  20. Dionysis

    “…my favorite movie…”

    Really? Of all of the movies you’ve watched in your life, Tommy is your favorite? I’d be hard-pressed to name my top 10 favorites (and I’m sure I’ve not seen nearly as many as you), much less numero uno.

  21. DrSerizawa

    There isn’t a single genre I avoid completely since occasionally there will be a good one but generally uplifting sports movies, SyFy movies, Lifetime/Oxygen movies, slasher/torture, teen movies movies get avoided unless I get a recommendation from someone I trust. I don’t care for faith based movies, though they don’t annoy me as much as some people. Though after seeing Brigham City and having seen how one can be made actually really good poisons that well pretty thoroughly.

    I try to avoid Vietnam/Iraq War movies but usually get sucked in anyhow. Usually I hate them passionately because virtually all, well, for me suck mightily. I hate Apoclypse Now probably as much as Ken hated Atlas Shrugged.

    Oh yeah, and anything by Terrence Malik.

  22. Ken Hanke

    Really? Of all of the movies you’ve watched in your life, Tommy is your favorite?

    I’m surprised you didn’t know that, since I’ve never made a secret of it. Bear in mind, I’m not calling it the best movie ever made. I’m saying it’s my personal favorite. God knows, I’ve seen it more than I’ve seen anything else.

  23. Dionysis

    “I’m surprised you didn’t know that, since I’ve never made a secret of it.”

    I was quite aware that you really liked the film, but I guess I was unaware that you ranked it as your favorite. Now I’m going to have to ponder that question myself and see if I can actually arrive at one movie as my own favorite. That may take some time, and will probably entail re-watching some of them.

  24. Ken Hanke

    I don’t care for faith based movies, though they don’t annoy me as much as some people. Though after seeing Brigham City and having seen how one can be made actually really good poisons that well pretty thoroughly.

    I’ve never seen a good one, but I haven’t seen that. I have a rule about not watching those unless I have to.

    I hate Apoclypse Now probably as much as Ken hated Atlas Shrugged.

    I suspect not exactly for the same reasons, since mine are as much aesthetic as political.

  25. Ken Hanke

    I was quite aware that you really liked the film, but I guess I was unaware that you ranked it as your favorite.

    The three films that had the most conscious impact on me are (in order of exposure to them) Rouben Mamoulian’s Love Me Tonight (1932), Peter Medak’s The Ruling Class (1972), and KR’s Tommy (1975). They’re kind of all my favorite, but for a single answer (which I get asked for more often than you might think), I go with Tommy. As an answer it seems to have once gotten me out of jury duty, too.

  26. brianpaige

    I will watch just about anything but I have to admit I shy away from 1930s/40s era soap opera flicks. It’s not that I won’t watch at all, and I consider actresses like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford greats….I just don’t find myself watching stuff like Now, Voyager or Mildred Pierce all that often. Or most of the MGM “woman’s pictures” of that era.

    I’m glad you mentioned Oklahoma, Ken. I dislike virtually all of those 50s/60s era Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. South Pacific was especially awful in pan and scan VHS format.

  27. Ken Hanke

    Or most of the MGM “woman’s pictures” of that era

    MGM of that era wins hands down as my least-watched studio. Maybe they edge out Monogram. Maybe.

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