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In Praise of the Dumb, Blunt Movie Name
Plus: a curmudgeonly classic, assigned.
There’s a moment in Idiocracy where our Rip Van Winkling hero, played by Luke Wilson, goes to the movie theater to see what’s entertaining folks and winning Oscars (eight, including best screenplay) in the future. The name of that movie? Ass. It’s just a man’s buttocks in full view of the camera for 90 minutes.
Audiences loved it.
I thought of this because much fun is being had with the name of the movie Plane, starring Gerard Butler, in which Gerard Butler plays a pilot who must help usher the passengers on his plane through a war-torn country after it crashes while carrying a war criminal. Or some such, I dunno, I haven’t seen it yet. But I want to see it. I want to see it because I’m amused by the combination of title and star to no end. It feels like the logical endpoint of the blockbuster era. This is the Ass of our time.
Or maybe Skyscraper, the generic Dwayne Johnson actioner is the Ass of our age. Or perhaps Cocaine Bear, hitting theaters in a month or so, will be the Ass of our era. I don’t think Bullet Train quite counts as the Ass of our time, since “bullet” at least obliquely references something apart from the setting/star of the film.
I’m goofing around a bit; none of these movies are Ass. (Well, I mean, maybe Cocaine Bear will be, who knows.) But I’ve always been amused by titles that are either wildly generic or, paradoxically, generically singular, from The Bank Job on one end of things to Snakes on a Plane on the other. (Money Plane splits the difference here.) Plane, obviously, fits into the wildly generic end of that spectrum, and while I have a great deal of respect for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and The Book of Eli’s Gary Whitta, I can’t really get on board with his suggestion that Plane is a bad title and something like Hard Landing would have been better.
There are two reasons not to name a movie something generic like Plane. The first has to do with business: in theory, Googling “plane” is likely to lead to lots of unrelated stuff. In practice—either because the studio bought a bunch of ads or whatever—when I Google “plane” the first results are showtimes near me, the second is the official site of the movie, the third is the trailer, the fourth is the imdb page, etc. SEO does not seem to be a concern.
The second reason is aesthetic. It’s a “dumb” name. And, I mean, yeah, it’s kind of silly. But pointing back to reason number one: people are talking about the movie because of the title. In a meme economy where attention matters more than just about everything else—where breaking through the noise with a gif of a dancing robot doll can net you a $30 million opening weekend—Plane has done its job.
And, perhaps, brought us one step closer to Ass.
A quick programming note: The Bulwark Goes to Hollywood podcast will now come out on Saturdays for your weekend listening pleasure. What with Joe Perticone’s (excellent! Go read it now!) newsletter hitting your inbox on Tuesday and Thursday, things were starting to get a bit crowded, hence the shift.
This week I’m talking to Kevin Goetz, the author of the great book Audience-ology: How Moviegoers Shape the Films We Love and the host of a really interesting podcast on the same topic, Don’t Kill the Messenger. (Seriously, go listen to the episode with Jason Blum right now. And leave him a rating and review if you have a second.) Buy the book, listen to his podcast, and tune in to The Bulwark Goes to Hollywood tomorrow!
On this week’s Across the Movie Aisle bonus episode, we talked about movies about movies. The ouroboros begins! And ends? At the same time. Since that’s what a, you know what, never mind, next link.
I reviewed A Man Called Otto this week, which is a movie that feels like a definite type of movie where a crotchety, conservative-coded oldster learns the importance of community from his progress-coded neighbors and also teaches the progressives how to survive in the world by mastering basic skills. (See also: Gran Torino and As Good as It Gets.) Tom Hanks shines. Good movie!
Zandy Hartig’s essay on postpartum depression and Fleishman Is in Trouble is a must-read.
Justin Roiland, the co-creator and lead voice actor of Rick and Morty, has been charged with domestic battery and false imprisonment. The show is an enormous hit for parent company Warner Bros. Discovery, so there are undoubtedly a lot of eyes on how they handle this going forward.
If Italy lays one finger on Michael Bay we should go to war. I’m not even joking. You’re not going to Amanda Knox this American treasure.
John Carpenter is 75 and I still find it mildly shocking that Netflix hasn’t driven a dump truck full of money up to his house to get him to make something for them.
I kind of hated Lightyear (reviewed here) and Strange World (Letterboxd here) because, in addition to being bad movies, they are, fundamentally, anti-human-expansion. (Avatar 2 is also almost explicitly anti-human, but it makes up for it by being a damn fine picture.) Anyway, I tried to explain why I found them, as well as Elon Musk’s decision to serve as the customer service agent for the worst people on Twitter, kind of depressing in the Washington Post this week. (Un-paywalled link for you, my precious newsletter readers.)
Assigned Viewing: Gran Torino (TBS/TNT)
Once again, I couldn’t help but think of Gran Torino while watching A Man Called Otto. Good movie!