The movie critic

Let’s start things off with the greatest movie review in the history of movie reviews – which takes some explaining.

Back when I was growing up in the Greater Sacramento Metropolitan Area (a phrase that always makes me wonder if there is a Lesser Sacramento Metropolitan Area) there was a kiddie show called Captain Sacto.

The Captain was played by Harry Martin, a local TV personality, and at the beginning of every show he would arrive in his fighter jet, climb down and next appear in a TV studio where he would then show animated cartoons like Crusader Rabbit.

If you grew up in the Sacramento, California area (and I know some of you did) and experimented with hallucinogenic drugs (and I know some of you did) tell the grandkids you’re about to have a flashback and they might want to get 911 cued up on speed dial.

Somebody put the Captain Sacto opening sequences – there was more than one – on YouTube and here they are:

And here’s another version:

Like all seven-year-olds I believed whatever an adult told me so at the time these intros didn’t set off any alarms, but 59 years later they raise some questions:

Captain Sacto had a secret airfield west of Rockville? He did space experiments with the mysterious Dr. Xavier? His profession was space volunteer?

Really seems like a lot of unnecessary backstory for a kiddie show and I think reasonable people can agree that whoever created these opening sequences was high as shit.

“Hey, man…what if the Captain works for a mysterious doctor and does space experiments in his spare time? Also…pass that joint and the Cheetos.” 

If you want to know what made the late Harry Martin great, here’s another video that shows his sense of humor in action:

OK, so what about the world’s greatest movie review?

Towering Inferno versus Cries and Whispers

If you watched Harry’s interview you can see it was done before someone shoved a four-by-four up the media’s ass; back then it was OK to go off script, screw around with the screen titles and smoke a good cigar.

If I get any of the next part wrong, blame my memory (which only provides vague clues to my kids’ birth dates), but here’s what I remember:

Harry did a movie review that compared Towering Inferno (a disaster flick) with Cries and Whispers (an Ingmar Bergman mopefest) – which was a neat trick since they came out two years apart.

Just in case you didn’t see it and want to know what Cries and Whispers was like, here’s part of the first line from Roger Ebert’s review:

“Cries and Whispers envelops us in a tomb of dread, pain and hate.”

So a date-flick?

Despite the fact that Towering Inferno was considered lowbrow entertainment and Cries and Whispers was considered high art (and most movie critics want to show their taste and intelligence by giving a thumbs up to movies that make the rest of us want to jump off a bridge) Harry said he loved the disaster flick; it was entertaining.

As I recall, Harry summed up Cries and Whispers by saying if he really wanted to watch two people argue he could just stay home.

My thoughts exactly.

I love cheesy movies

As anyone in my family will tell you, I will watch some really cheesy movies as long as they’re entertaining.

Got another Fast and Furious spinoff?

I’m in.

Bruce Willis decided to make another Die Hard movie where all the shit that happened in the first one happens again for the seventh time?

Sign me up.

Jackie Chan is going to jump off the Empire State Building and land on the Goodyear blimp?

When does that come out?

Like Harry, I go to movies to be entertained and would rather not spend my time in a movie theater contemplating the Meaning of Life – I can get depressed on my own.

I got conned into seeing My Dinner with Andre (an hour and 51 minutes of two dislikeable people eating dinner) and all I got out of it was an appetite.

Shoot the Moon was a film about a dysfunctional couple being dysfunctional for 123 minutes and the only thing I enjoyed was the popcorn.

If you enjoy those types of movies I’ve got no argument with you; I’m not saying they’re bad movies – I’m saying don’t invite me along because I’d probably rather see something starring Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson and at least three car explosions.

So with my cinematic track record I was pretty sure there was no movie so cheesy that I couldn’t enjoy it – until I saw 42 minutes of Aquaman.

As low as they are, apparently I do have standards

I began to lose it when Patrick Wilson and Willem DaFoe showed up with hairdos that looked like something a 1950s housewife would sport, bobbing around spouting dialogue that sounded like it was recorded at the bottom of a well – that was supposed to let the viewer know the scene took place under water.

Both those guys have made some good movies and I sometimes imagine actors being horrified when they realize just what the script calls for them to do:

“Wait…I’m riding a shark that snorts?”

Up until that Wilson-DaFoe scene I was giving a pass to Jason Momoa who was playing Aquaman and swimming really fast while wearing jeans and motorcycle boots and had the superpower of being completely dry 10 seconds after emerging from the ocean. I couldn’t buy Nicole Kidman as a badass, either.

42 minutes into Aquaman I was more conflicted than Luke Skywalker getting the results of a paternity test.

I was confused and here’s why:

I had just watched XXX: Return of Xander Cage and had no problem buying the idea that Vin Diesel (an actor who reminds me a of a pit bull that’s been taught to speak English as a second language) could jump off a TV tower in the tropics while wearing skis, somehow slalom down a mountainous jungle trail without snow, ride a skateboard across the side of a moving bus and get involved in a motorcycle chase across the surface of the ocean.

So why did Aquaman’s snorting shark throw me?

I’ve done more soul-searching than all the Cries and Whispers actors combined and here’s what I’ve come up with:

The cheesy movies I enjoy know they’re cheesy movies and acknowledge it; sometimes characters even break the fourth wall and speak to the movie audience directly:

“Hey, we know this stuff is ridiculous, but aren’t we all having fun?”

Playing it tongue-in-cheek lets the audience know the guys that made the movie are in on the joke: they get what they’re doing and what they’re doing won’t get nominated for Best Picture.

But Aquaman’s subtitle could have been could have been: Shakespeare; 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. There were a few jokes, but too much of it featured ridiculous monologues delivered by actors serious as Hamlet suffering a heart attack.

So here’s today’s lesson:

If you’re going to take yourself seriously, you better deliver the goods; if you can laugh at yourself, the audience is more likely to laugh with you.

Aquaman is two hours and 22 minutes long, so quitting 42 minutes into it got me an hour and forty minutes of my life back so I think that was a good decision.

And I’m pretty sure Captain Sacto would agree.