Saturday, August 26, 2006


I don't have cable, but it is available in the exercise room in my apartment building. It's a nice way to kill time while doing laundry on a lazy Saturday morning, and a chilling reminder that basic cable is a dumping ground for all types of pop culture ephemera. This morning I saw snippets of two movies that reminded me, as bad as most movies are now, there was a time--the late eighties and early nineties--when things were a whole lot worse.

First up, Far And Away, Ron Howard's inexcusable crapfest from '92. This is the one with then-married Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as plucky Irish imigrants trying to find their way in the New Land...or something. Hell, I don't know. I've been avoiding this thing for years, so when I actually saw a little bit of it this morning, it was the first time I'd experienced the unspeakable horror that is Cruise's Irish accent.

Oh. My. God. What were they thinking? Was there anybody on the set? Couldn't anybody stop him? At best, it's like an earnest high school freshman doing a dramatic reading from Sean O'Casey, at worst, it's...AARRGGHH!! It's so bad, it makes you respect Kevin Costner's decision to not even attempt an accent when he was cast as Robin Hood, and anything that makes you respect any decision Kevin Costner has made must automatically be considered a crime against humanity.

(At this point, I must make note of the Costner Exception Rule, the Kevin Costner movies I actually like. They are The Untouchables, probably Brian DePalma's best movie as a for-hire director, in which Costner's bland presence at least does no harm; Bull Durham, easily the best baseball movie ever made, and Costner is perfectly cast; and A Perfect World, in which Costner gives a brilliant performance as a psycho with a conscience, but since it's like nothing he's done before or since, we should probably give most of the credit to its director, Clint Eastwood, who's always good with actors. Otherwise, Costner sucks.)

In addition to Cruise's accent, there are enough leering shots of his ass and footage of him preening to qualify this as softcore gay porn. Keep in mind, I only watched this for about ten minutes. God knows how bad things would have gotten if I'd sat through the whole thing.

Tom Cruise is still around, of course, although Paramount Pictures loudly severed ties with him this week, and he's still an egotistical jerk. Still, as misguided as Hollywood can be these days, it's kind of hard to imagine a studio greenlighting such an expensive vanity project.

Still, sometimes when the studio was in charge, the results could be even worse. The other movie I watched with stupefied eyes this morning was The Disney Corporation's '93 version of The Three Musketeers.

In the eighties and nineties, no studio churned out as much soulless, mindless, featureless product as Disney, particularly, its "adult" divisions, Touchstone and the short-lived Hollywood Pictures. It was all pretty much indistinguishable, competent but free of any frills, style or sense of purpose, giving steady paychecks to such grating screen presences as Bette Midler and Jim Belushi. (Yes, kids, there was a time when major players in the movie biz thought Jim Belushi had what it takes to be a Big Star. Governments have been overthrown for lesser offenses.) Once in awhile they'd mistakenly hire talented filmmakers like Paul Mazursky or Tim Burton, but then drop them like hot rocks after a picture or two. But in-house hacks like Arthur Hiller or Stephen Herek would always have a home at Disney, because they could be counted on to make 'em fast, cheap and without one iota of personality.

Herek was in charge of The Three Musketeers, and aside from the fact that Richard Lester's magnificent 1974 version of this story has officially obliviated any need for further variations, the fate of this sucker was sealed when they decide to play it as a standard buddy action-comedy so typical of its era. The decision to cast Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland and Oliver Platt (as the comical fat guy) in the title roles didn't help, nor did the theme song, "All For Love", performed by Bryan Adams, Sting and Rod Stewart--a Mt. Rushmore of crap.

But nothing marks this as a product of its time like the casting of Chris O'Donnell as D'Atragnan. Anybody else have terrifying memories of the Great Chris O'Donnell Scare Of The Nineties? Suddenly this smirking, blandly handsome frat boy type started showing up everywhere, in movie after movie, even though none of his movies were popular. It's atrend you still see today, when every other weekend brings another Colin Farrell movie, but at least, annoying as he can be, Farrell has talent. O'Donnell was just...there.

Movies are horrible now, most of them designed to be nothing more than momentary sensations, and usually failing to be even that. Still, at least the attempt is made. So many studio movies of the eighties and nineties actually seemed to have been designed to bore audiences, to let their minds drift, to do more useful things while watching them, like making grocery lists or slitting their wrists.