When I was a six, my uncle Mickey was a tank commander in the New Jersey National Guard.
Mickey liked to show off. So, one chilly spring morning he took me and my pal Ritchie to not only go see the tanks, but to climb around on them! I thought it was the greatest day of my life.
It got better.
In a fit of hubris or an allergic reaction to common sense, Uncle Mickey threw open all the hatches and invited us to climb inside.
Sensibility out the window, Mickey then taught us how the tank worked. He taught us how to drive a tank. We learned how to load a tank gun. We learned how to aim a tank gun and move the turret.
Mickey patted us on the head and left us alone inside the tank thinking we would just rattle knobs going “vroom-vroom “.
He was wrong.
As soon as we were alone, I started barking orders at Ritchie. The two of us worked together to point the tank gun up in the air and turn the turret away from the highway.
Then we waited.
As soon as I spotted an approaching car through the tank’s sight, the two of us worked the controls (when you show little boys’ dangerous things, we become prodigies) and brought the (thankfully empty) tank gun to bear on the innocent vehicle and turned the turret as they passed – always keeping the car at gunpoint.
As this was happening, Mickey and my dad were obliviously looking at other happy fun toys at the armory.
By the fifth passing car, Ritchie and I could bring the turret around and aim the gun so fast that the cars we were aiming at started swerving.
To a pair of six-year-old cretins, those frightened looks and screeching tires were hilarious.
I am willing to bet more than one of the drivers Ritchie and I played with during Fun Time With Deadly Weapons are still in therapy.
Eventually, somebody made a call and somebody else got word to uncle Mickey that some lunatic was aiming a tank gun at passing cars.
My uncle Mickey had made one of the classic blunders.
Not, ‘never get involved in a land war in Asia’.
And it sure wasn’t ‘Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line!’
No, the blunder uncle Mickey made was this: ‘never give a six-year-old command of a tank.’
In recent years, some of the movie franchises I grew up with went through such idiotic sudden and cataclysmic changes that it is obvious to me that Hollywood is falling prey to Uncle Mickey’s Folly.
What happened to Star Wars? They gave a six-year-old command of a tank.
What happened to Star Trek? They gave a six-year-old command of a tank.
What happened to Doctor Who? They gave a six-year-old command of a tank.
Marvel? DC? They gave six-year-olds command of tanks.
Movies are not that complicated, but the directors and producers in charge need to be responsible adults capable of making the tough calls.
Nomadland: Chloé Zhao, a grown up, was driving the tank.
The Empire Strikes Back: Irvin Kershner, a grown up, was driving the tank.
Zardoz: … I don’t know… I just don’t know.
Some directors made a good movie, become famous and revert to childhood. You get The Lord of the Rings trilogy in one go, and then King Kong, The Hobbit mess and… I don’t know. I stopped paying attention to him after that.
Dear God. The tyrannosaurus battle from King Kong is so long I have yet to sit through the whole fight. What was the director thinking?
I can tell you exactly what he was thinking: The same thing Ritchie and I were thinking when we aimed a tank gun at passing cars: “Whee! Whoo-hoo! Yipee! Wahoo!”
About ten years ago, I was talking to a friend, and she was carrying on about how much she loved cinema, but the films she was talking about were the dandruff of the multiplex like Paul Blart: Mall Cop or The Little Fockers. Adam-Sandler-level light comedy compost.
We started watching one great movie a week. Night of the Hunter, Ganja and Hess, Spartacus, Gandi, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Producers, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, Quo Vadis, Near Dark, The Last Starfighter, The Hidden Fortress The Searchers, Fantastic Voyage, Bringing Up Baby, My Darling Clementine, Master of the Flying Guillotine, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, Seven Samurai, The Toxic Avenger and… You get the idea.
With each film, we were not being sold on a franchise or waiting for the end credits – we were being told a story. I know that movie theaters are closed right now, but you can still rent a great movie tow watch with your family. Go for something challenging that tells a story. Watch a great romance or a swashbuckling adventure. Get a feel for what makes for great cinema, and then get zany and try some great bad cinema.
I know that movie theaters are closed right now, but you can still rent a great movie tow watch with your family. Go for something challenging that tells a story. Watch a great romance or a swashbuckling adventure. Get a feel for what makes for great cinema, and then get zany and try some great bad cinema.
Get a taste of the good stuff, and you will find yourself refusing to accept the swill Hollywood is ladling out. In time, grown-ups will be commanding the tanks. We will find ourselves at the start of a new generation of great actors and filmmakers.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait.
Until next time, I’m Zookie LaRoux. Bad movies, I’m watching you!