What I Talk About When I Talk About Mediocre Movies

I have plan, or at least ideas for my writing career, and I also think that things I write should have a more unified intent, but sometimes I just wanna do this:

I went running tonight. While out there, I contemplated writing about running. I was going play off the title of Haruki Murakami’s book called What I Talk about when I talk about running. I never figured out how I would make that title my own title because Murakami’s title is so good. I love it. I never read it though. My friend Adam gave me the book-on-tape version, geez, almost two years ago. I’ve never listened to it. Sorry Adam. I still have it. Adam Pittman. He has a red beard and a severe intellect.

While running, I also pondered writing about not having a phone since Super Bowl Sunday. I was thinking maybe I could write about running and not having a phone in a single post. That enrty might have been called What I Think About When I Think About Writing About Running And Not Having A Phone.

These blog ideas of course pushed aside the four or five other unfinished blog ideas I’ve been thinking about finishing. Among those unfinished things was a review of the movie Black Swan and a thing about the movie website Rottentomatoes. I don’t know whether to put Rottentomatoes in italics or to add the dot-com at the end but I didn’t become a writer to learn about that shit. And I don’t feel like opening a new tab and searching and whatnot. Seriously, sometimes enough is enough.

Toward the end of my run- well I was walking at this point, I walked past the Somerville Theatre. I looked at movie times and I thought maybe I’d see a movie. None of them looked mind-blowing.  Five minutes later, I was home reading the synopses. There was a movie with Tommy Lee Jones and Kevin Costner about men who lose their jobs but find themselves. They probably end up hanging out with their kids more and falling in love with their wives again.

Also plyaing, was a movie with Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman. That’s the one I ended up watching. I did. By myself. You might know what movie I’m talking about. It’s called No Strings Attached. It’s not a great movie, but in my opinion, after Black Swan, Natalie Portman can do whatever the heck she wants. That movie was great and you can read plenty of good reviews about it at Rottentomatoes.com. I think what happened is she filmed Black Swan and told her agent she wasn’t really gonna think or work too hard for a while cuz Black Swan taxed her pretty good. So her agent called one day-

“How bout’ a remake of that 80’s movie with Rob Lowe and Demi Moore wherein they have sex early on- like a one-night-stand type thing, then they fall in love. I think Ashton Kutcher’s gonna be the guy.”

I imagine her having the conversation with her agent while in bed, entirely under the covers, still trying to forget the places she went when she filmed Black Swan. “Sure, yeah, whatevershe mumbles just before hanging up, briefly exposing her arm to the air as she reaches out to put the phone back on the nightstand.  It falls off the cradle and onto the floor- that annoying off-the-hook sound ringing out. But she doesn’t do anything about it because she doesn’t care about much beyond erasing Black Swan tape from her head. She nailed Black Swan. That movie was killer.

No Strings Attached isn’t killer. It begins with 15 year old Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman sitting next to each other on a log at a summer camp. I think the song “Let’s Talk About Sex” is playing in the background. We’re supposed to relate to the characters in the film while that song plays. Ashton Kutcher starts crying about his parents getting divorced, then he asks Portman if he can do something perverse to her. If we’re Natalie Portman’s age and we grew up during that time, we’re supposed to hear that song when the movie begins and excitedly lean over and whisper/yell to the person next to us that we remember that song and we made out with whomever wherever and it’s all very exciting and nostolgic. I had a step-sister back in the 90’s who used to sing that song really loud. I didn’t like it. You might think that last sentence is incorrect-  “Hmmm, perhaps he meant ‘back in the 90’s my step-sister sang that song…'” But no, she is no longer my step-sister. But I’m sure you’ll find plenty of errors within the text if you read on.

I’m sorry, I just did some fact checking. The song that opens the film is “I Wanna Sex You Up” by Color Me Bad, not “Let’s Talk About Sex.” I think the latter is by Salt & Peppa.

So the movie wasn’t that good. I knew it wouldn’t be. It kind of goes in and out of truths. Mediocre movies, songs, art, whatever, often do have bits of truth in them. This movie’s theme of people being afraid of commitment is based on truth. But the bar-owner friend of Ashton Kutcher played by the rapper Ludacris is not really.

Ashton Kutcher drives a late-80’s 5 series BMW in this film. I like late-80’s BMWs. Here is a photo: Actually, on this MAC computer, I’m having trouble copying and pasting a photo of a late-80’s 5 series BMW. I also planned on including a photo of a late-80’s 3 series BMW, because I like those a bit better, but I’m not going to try to do that because it’s late and I fear if I don’t post this tonight, it’ll never get finished. You gotta believe a post like this needs to be done in one sitting. Anyway, What’s-his-name, the main protagonist in 500 Days Of Summer drives a 3 Series BMW. 500 Days of Summer is a little like No strings Attached except it’s quite a bit better (but not perfect) and Whats-his-name doesn’t end up with Summer at the end of the movie. Her name is Summer. It’s a play on words.

I didn’t really care for Kutcher’s wardrobe in the movie. At times, his shirts were a bit large. Portman looked splendid in every scene. Portman is smack-dab in the middle of a twenty-year period where she’s gonna look pretty damn splendid all the time.

The interesting thing here is I knew the movie wouldn’t be very good, but I saw it anyway. Alone. I can recall three movies that I’ve seen alone. They are Snakes On A Plane, Pineapple Express, and No Strings Attached. Snakes On A Plane I saw for obvious reasons, the whole so-bad-it’s-good element. And, you know, I wanted to know how self-aware of its badness it was. Plus, what is Samuel L. Jackson of Pulp Fiction and True Romance doing in this movie? I think most people shared my curiosity. I knew Pineapple Express wasn’t going to blow me away, but I thought it would be funny, and it was. Plus, I’d been in Boston about a month and I had zero friends.

So tonight, my run was winding down, and I was trying to figure out what I could do for fun. My phone is gone, and I didn’t feel like popping in on people, nineties-style. So I decided to see a movie that I knew wasn’t going to blow me away. I realized that five years ago, I never would have seen No Strings Attached, cuz if a movie wasn’t made to blow me away, it wasn’t worth my time. The only way I would have seen it is if I was dragged along because that’s what people were doing. Like if my family was going out to a movie and they decided to see No Strings Attached, I’d have dragged my feet. Afterward I’d have vociferously argued that No Strings Attached represented everything that was wrong with society, America, Earth, life.

But I’m a little more forgiving now. And maybe that’s cuz I’m throwing myself out there a little bit. And it’s kind of scary. And while Kutcher and Portman were just cashing huge paychecks, there were notable things in the movie. There’s a woman who plays a minor role as Kutcher’s neurotic not-so-much-boss but woman with a bit more clout than Kutcher at his place of work (He works on a set of a show that is basically Glee.) That woman (her name is Lake Bell) is kind of crazy about him and she’s fun to watch. And she’s pretty. You know what, Kutcher’s not that bad. Like Portman says in the movie “He’s just so damn happy- all the time.” Kevin Kline is in the film. He’s interesting to watch. Basically, people are throwing themselves out there in No Strings Attached- Kline in a movie where he’s only a minor character. Portman’s friend, played by Greta Gerwig- um, I don’t know how much she’s throwing herself out there, but  she’s really cute and I sort of have a crush on her now.

And I’m throwing myself out there a little bit now so maybe gone are the altruistic days where every movie needs to be Bottle Rocket and every book needs to be A heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

As far as the running is concerned, I’ve been getting away from it the past few months. But let me just  take a minute to tell the story of Aaron and running.

I was a chubby asthmatic child. I wrestled in tenth grade and lost the chub and most of the asthma. But I was never a great athlete. I loved baseball but didn’t make the team. Like most things that happen in adolescence, that affected me.

My High School’s girls’ basketball team was profiled on a local San Diego news station one year. They were really good. A few players and the coach were interviewed. I remember the coach said that he just tried to teach these girls some life lessons through the sport of basketball. I thought “I guess the girls that got cut missed out on some serious life lessons.”

My freshman and sophomore years, I worked out with a handful of baseball players in optional fall practices. Anyone who wanted to practice, could. All grades- potential varsity and JV players. Many of the baseball players played fall sports or just didn’t go to these fall practices, so practices were pretty intimate. On a typical day, there were maybe ten of us. So it was a small, mixed range of talent and bravado. There was mainly one coach involved in the fall practices and his name was Coach Stewart. He was about 50 years old at the time. Coach Stewart played minor league baseball years before. (Which isn’t really merely minor accomplishment.) During the regular season he was an assistant Varsity coach. The first time I ever seriously worked my body over was during those fall practices my freshman year. He had us run stairs and ramps. Stairs were bad- they were typical High School stadium stairs, but ramps were really bad. Ramps was really only one ramp- a huge, steep, paved ramp that ran up along the side of the football field, just outside the stadium. And we had to sprint up that thing about 10-15 times. Maybe 100 feet. After 14 years of asthmatic and mostly prepubscent lethargy, my legs and lungs begged me to quit as I ran ramps. I’d never felt soreness like that before in my life. In the days that followed ramps, I had to cling to railings as I walked down stairs from class to class.

I didn’t run enough stairs or ramps to make a huge impact on my body, but what never left was what Coach Stewart said to us as we sprinted the last 10 feet up the ramp. “You cheat in ramps, you cheat in life.” At the end of a day of workouts, I’d hear other players playing off Stewart’s aphorism- “You cheat in [insert adolescent crass word or phrase] you cheat in life.”

I think about that almost every time I run.

I also think about people who can’t run. Well, I think about one particular person who couldn’t run. Or, he couldn’t benefit from taking his body to the limit, seemingly killing the body, or at least maiming it, with the crazy miracle of the body regenerating and coming back stronger. I see him lying in his hospital bed and I think of the excruciating pain of the last ten feet of the ramp or the last couple miles and I wonder if he’d trade that bed for the pain I feel when I run like that. And the answer is, yeah, he would. He’d have traded it every time. And that’s when I start thinking about this life as a gift. You think about that when you run and you can run to Lexington and back.

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