My Take by Jim Carl - November 30, 2011
MY TAKE is a blog about my funny life experiences that happened to involve movies, and how I found myself in charge of programming films for a living. I’ll discuss how certain movies came to be responsible for my bad attitude, memories, associations, personal beliefs, and plain stupidity. Yes, I fully intend to trash films considered sacred in certain circles, and will probably offer a poor explanation for doing so. I also intend to squander praise on movies considered awful by most everyone, even if it makes me sound ridiculous, because I have a funny memory to share about them. Again, I’m not writing reviews. All I mean to do here is tell some good stories, and perhaps a clever lie or two. No one has ever accused me of suffering a shortage of ways to make a fool of myself, and because blogging is one I haven’t tried, at least this is one most of my friends haven’t yet seen.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995)
I understand there are certain people who love the plot of this stupid movie, especially its twist ending. I am not one of those people. The world spins on, still not caring. Does that mean I think The Usual Suspects is a bad movie? Absolutely not, it's a mediocre mystery-thriller. Stick it in a time machine, transport it back to 1981, and it would be a decent ABC TV-Movie of the Week, no more, no less. Kevin Spacey could have made a living as the generation’s latest Gerald McRaney or Joe Don Baker, if he should be so lucky. What I can't comprehend is why certain people speak about this movie is hushed, breathy tones usually reserved for selling CIA secrets to North Korea, as if its mere mention is akin to participating in Holy Sacrament. It's a competent, little thriller with a few good scenes and Kevin Spacey before his ship left the dock. It's not the consecrated elements of the Eucharist, not even close. And yet, over and over in numerous "Best of" lists, I see this film's title. It annoys me.
Why this particular mystery-thriller? Why not a thousand others that preceded it? Like 1987's Masquerade or 1982's Evil Under the Sun or 1972’s Don’t Torture a Duckling? Any of these films have much worthier twists, at least to me, than Suspects. Why did this particular film garner such reward while those others have been forgotten? Did Mr. Spacey really deserve an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor more than Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys, another movie which also never left the dock? Dumb luck, I reckon. I see no other reason. The Usual Suspects is the first film in my life that I've slowly grown to despise, if only because so many others insist it's a masterpiece. To each his own, I suppose, especially if your own involves really dumb twist endings. I much prefer a Hercule Poirot-style reveal with all the suspects gathered into the parlor, not written on the bottom of a coffee mug. (Yes, that was indeed a spoiler. If you don’t all ready know the ending of this film, I just saved two hours of your life. Make all checks payable to my attention at the Carolina Theatre of Durham.)
Side note: I started working as a projectionist at the Carolina Theatre in October 1995. Suspects was all ready playing at the Theatre, and along with Jeffrey, it was these two films that I threaded and screened, over and over, ad nauseum, for the next few months after my hiring. Try watching the same film again and again, twice a night, for six weeks. It’ll make even the most-ardent fans of Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Rocky Horror Picture Show sign petitions to place Harrison Ford and Tim Curry into forced retirement. If you’re wondering why I’m knocking Suspects so hard, this could be a reasonable explanation to some psychiatrists, but those quacks would be wrong.
Certain circles insist Suspects is a clever film, that it's deserving of the praise it's received. I disagree. This film is a gimmick, stretched to feature-length. Was I fooled by the twist ending? Sure, I'll admit, I was. Here's the rub: Being fooled is not the same as being impressed. Rather than feel joyous surprise, I remember thinking, "That's it!?" Now imagine being forced to watch that same film about 100 times during the next few weeks. “That’s it!?” becomes “That’s enough!”
Suspects is that rare film that brings out the worst in me, and that's unfortunate, because I don't particularly enjoy being such a narcissist. Each time someone mentions this film, I feel an immediate urge to belittle their taste in movies. I'm sure that everyone feels this way about a particular film, sometimes without the slightest provocation. At least I hope that's true because Suspects is mine.
JIM CARL is Senior Director of the Carolina Theatre. He has been in charge of its film program since 1995. Some of his favorite contemporary movies include True Grit, The Queen, True Lies, Postcards from the Edge, Star Trek, Aliens, The Fog (1980), Private Benjamin, What’s Up, Doc? and almost anything involving Great White Sharks, Jamie Lee Curtis, Gilda Radner, Kurt Russell, or is set underwater. His favorite movie of all time is Ordinary People. Some of his least-favorite contemporary movies include 300, Alien 3, Brazil, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Moulin Rouge, G.I. Joe, District 9, Take Me Home Tonight, The Tourist, Sherlock Holmes, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Scarface (1983) and almost anything involving Ben Stiller (except Flirting with Disaster), British gangsters, or a toy that transforms into a loudmouthed robot. His least-favorite movie of all time is Pulp Fiction. He is a film believer in the presentation and preservation of 35mm film and will book any movie he suspects will make money, even if he hates it.