Wednesday, February 16, 2011


So I’ve actually implemented Operation: Movies on a Train in the past couple of weeks. I had Netflixed the Terry Gilliam flick 12 Monkeys and I watched it over the course of three one-way commutes on the VRE; it’s about 130 minutes long and the end-to-end rail time for me is about 50 minutes and change, so that amount of trip-devotion was to be expected, and I didn't even feel like it lessened the experience of enjoying the movie to have it split in widely-separated thirds like that. Techno-logistically it worked about as well as I had envisioned, so the whole scheme looks like a keeper, especially given the approaching move of my contract from Rosslyn to Crystal City, which might very well allow me to take the VRE to work pretty much every day.

I didn’t really blog about the movie itself at the time (and only bring it up today because it’s Geek Day and I’m blanking on much else to muse on) for a couple of reasons. Partly it was because it didn’t really touch off anything personally meaningful. I remain a big fan of Brad Pitt’s acting and Gilliam’s visionary filmmaking, but in the end it’s a solid, stylized, bizarre sci-fi movie about mutant viral superplagues and time travel that’s well put together and well acted but … I don’t know, a little cold? A little bleak? Not altogether resonant, especially considering that it was predicated on an End Of Days scenario playing out in 1996 and we are currently 15 years beyond that moment and counting?

Of course that ties directly into the other major reason I wasn’t consumed with any urgency to record my thoughts and reactions to the movie: it’s just old, and anything I might spin out of it would run a very high risk of landing in “who cares?” territory. It’s an interesting artifact of historical curiosity, I suppose, but not much more. If I doubt many people would even remember it very well, and I don’t have a ton to add to the understanding of it beyond “that was pretty cool” then I can easily let it slide off the blog-agenda.

And that, in turn, brings to mind certain questions about how I choose to entertain myself (which I readily admit is navel-gazing to the extreme but, as I have said before, this is kind of inherent in the concept of a ‘blog’, as it were, so onward!). Of all the many, many movies on DVD I could have watched on the train going back and forth to work, why did I pick one from 1995? If I feel so weirdly out of the loop on pop culture lately, and acknowledge that’s largely a factor of not keeping up with current trends and new releases and so on, why not address that a little more directly?

It’s not as though I always think newer is better, as I would imagine my dedication to reading a dozen canonized classics of literature this year would show, since most if not all of those will be decades if not centuries old. But 12 Monkeys isn’t exactly a stone-cold classic, as far as I can tell. I seem to vaguely remember it being a big deal when it came out while I was in college, but that must have been because it was so of-its-moment. If I had gone my whole life without ever having seen it, I don’t think it would have come up very often, with or without people gasping in utter shock, “You’ve NEVER seen 12 Monkeys???”

Except … there’s a tiny part of my brain … that maybe does think that? It’s a sci-fi time travel movie that is a bit of a mindtrip. It’s Terry Freaking Gilliam. I am a self-professed geek and stuff like that is supposed to be my bread and butter. At the moment I feel like there’s no one I could chat up if I wanted to really delve into the “what does it all MEAN?” questions raised by the movie, but I like to think that if anyone I know ever (inexplicably) sits down to watch 12 Monkeys and afterwards wants to talk about it, they’d think, “I bet I know who’s seen this movie!” and they’d be thinking of me. I kind of pride myself on that.

But the fact is there are gigantic swaths of half-forgotten pop culture that anyone who knows me would be forgiven for thinking I’m already familiar with, even though I’m really not. Some of those areas even brush up against what might be legitimately considered classics; I haven’t had time to watch absolutely everything, not even everything right up my alley (though granted, “my alley” covers a pretty long stretch). But I still see that as something which I not only can address, but should address, every chance I get. Hence the occasional weird sidetrip along my Netflix queue, where I take in movies that in some ineffable way seem to make more sense for me to have seen than not seen, and my internal insistence that I align reality with that expectation.

This Friday I’ll probably try to get another couple of episodes along in my delayed consumption of the tv show Smallville. And after that, I have Inception coming from Netflix, which at least is a movie people are still making off-hand references to (and which I feel like I need to see asap, before spoiling its secrets becomes a pop culture joke like The Sixth Sense did). So I’m not completely in the thrall of minor cinematic footnotes that happen to be simpatico with my projected predilections. It’s just a big part of the mix.

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