July 7, 2014

EDGE OF TOMORROW: A Question of Age

Starring Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson, Noah Taylor. Directed by Doug Liman. (2014, 113 min).

I remember my first-ever concert…Rush in 1980 at the Memorial Coliseum in Portland. They were one of the most popular bands in the world at that time, and tickets cost a whopping nine bucks (and that was for pretty decent seats). I ended up shelling out even more for a commemorative concert tee-shirt ($20). The entire night ended up costing me a month’s worth of allowance.

To put that into perspective, the last concert I attended was Kiss back in 2009. I took my wife and oldest daughter (who was far more enamored with the opening act, Buckcherry). Three tickets ended up costing over $200. Tee-shirts were $40 each. Hell, a single beer was eight fucking dollars. It actually cost more to park our car than my ticket for that first Rush concert, all to see what was essentially a nostalgia act. In between Buckcherry’s opening set and Kiss, I went on a pretty lengthy tangent about how inexpensive everything was back in the day. My daughter, Natalie, didn’t care (why would she?), and my wife, a few years younger and never much of a concert-goer, didn’t really have a frame-of reference to appreciate my tirade.

As a guy whose middle age is nearly always in-mind when considering attending any concert, I thought I’d throw-in that comparison (old folks love doing that). As much as I’d still love seeing my favorite bands live, more often than not, I choose not to attend. Aside from the tremendous expense, I’d feel like the oldest guy in the room because my music of choice is heavy metal, and not just the fat, geriatric 80s groups regulated to playing state fairs. One of my current favorite bands is Tool, but I’d feel self-conscious and stupid going to one of their shows, certain I was at least a decade older than anyone else.

Why? Because going back to that Rush concert in 1980, waiting for the show to start, there was a guy near our seats who was obviously high as hell, yet older than my own dad…Foghat tee-shirt, pot belly, receding gray hair. He continually stood up and high-fived everyone around him as his beer sloshed from his cup, looking rather pathetic. Even though my friends and I were just as high, we laughed at him, simply because he was older and had no business hanging out with us younger kids. Why the hell was this old bastard still trying to be the life of the party?

Not once did it occur to me he was actually a Rush fan. He was too old.

Then I suddenly got old, yet still had the same love for ear-blasting heavy metal. Later in life, I attended a Slayer concert (by myself) at a small theater in Portland. I always loved the band, but because of the nature of their music - which encouraged kids to mosh and bang each other bloody on the concert floor - I felt intimidated enough to stay in the balcony (safely near the beer garden). Fortunately, I was seated next to an equally-old dude, and after a four beer courting period, we high-fived each other whenever Slayer played one of our favorite songs. Kids who happened to glance up and see me headbanging in the balcony were likely having a good laugh while wondering what that fuck I was doing there.

Suddenly, I was the same old fart as that guy I once ridiculed at the Rush concert.

But why is that? Why was I expected to outgrow my love of Metallica, Slayer and Pantera once I turned 30? Why, at 50, do I feel compelled to try coaxing my daughter into accompanying me to an Opeth concert, just so I can rock out under the guise of being a chaperone? Why do we tend to assign an age limit to certain forms of entertainment?

This ageism doesn’t just apply to music. I love playing Grand Theft Auto, but there’s this perpetual mentality that video gaming is not-only a young person’s pursuit (though age has zero to do with one’s ability, since you’re just sitting on a couch), but a young man’s endeavor (like being equipped with a penis automatically renders your thumbs more agile). I’m a middle school teacher, and many of my students are shocked upon learning I enjoy GTA, not just because of my age, but being a teacher apparently makes me a puritan.

Then there is ageism related to moviegoing, where I’m sad to say I’m recently-guilty of being a hypocrite.

There was once a time I couldn’t wait for the summer movie season, when Hollywood typically trucks out their biggest, flashiest blockbusters. I was first in line to see the likes of Gremlins, Ghostbusters, Batman, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Die Hard, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Independence Day and Jurassic Park. Most of them spawned sequels which further obligated me to spend future summers inside a theater…like everyone else in the free world.

But eventually, the appeal of being bombarded by eye-candy began to wane. Part of the reason is because I’ve seen so many movies over the years that fewer and fewer mega-budget epics thrill me quite like they used to; I’ve seen it all before. But also, I began noticing the increasing number of blockbusters exclusively-geared toward the audience with the most disposable income…teenagers.

For me, that nadir was reached with Michael Bay’s inexplicably-popular Transformers franchise, in which all narrative and characterization is stripped-away in favor of pure sensory overload. My wife dragged me to the first one, and it was a depressing experience. Not to bash Michael Bay (he’s just giving people what they obviously want), but the movie was mind-numbing, seizure-inducing and, despite the bombardment of non-stop hyperkinetic action, ultimately boring. My attention drifted to the packed theater around us…everyone (most of whom were much younger) seemed to be loving every minute of it, totally content watching what was essentially a video game on a big screen. I wanted to stand up and scream, "What the fuck is wrong with you people? Haven't you never seen a real action movie?"

That’s when I felt like I had no business being there. Transformers (and its even-worse sequels) is aimed squarely at slack-jawed, undemanding, X-Box addicted kids who probably couldn’t sit still through Star Wars because it moves too slow. Most summer movies no longer have people like me in mind.

I still love me some big, dumb action, but feel less-compelled to join the fray if the movie looks like yet-another exercise in CGI overkill (like Pacific Rim, Man of Steel and the Fast & Furious franchise). At my age, summer is now the worst time to go to the movies. Where I used to go to the theater every other week, now there’s usually only two to three movies each summer which look like they’re worth the expense.

"I swear to God...Rock of Ages was not my fault."
One such movie is Edge of Tomorrow, Tom Cruise’s latest sci-fi vehicle which, based on its lackluster box office performance in the U.S., provides further proof that most people don’t give a shit about story as long as they’re continually bombarded by visual & sonic fury (as the insanely-successful opening weekend of Transformers: Age of Extinction will attest). After all, Edge of Tomorrow is loaded with CGI action as well, but commits the cardinal sin of providing a unique premise, a smart script and engaging characters among the mayhem. It is essentially Groundhog Day with aliens, and Tom Cruise playing Tom Cruise, who repeatedly dies and relives the same battle over and over. He's able to change events each time because he has knowledge no one else does about the future. I think it might be the best time travel movie since Terry Gilliam’s brilliant Twelve Monkeys.

It saddens me to say this, but aside from the generic title (it’s based on a Japanese novel, All You Need is Kill, which sounds far more intriguing), I’m convinced Edge of Tomorrow ultimately failed at the box office because it forced movie goers to actually pay attention in-between explosions. And I loved it for that same reason.

Still, as my wife and I settled into our seats in a nearly-empty theater, I became guilty of a bit of ageism myself…

Just before the half-dozen previews commenced, three old ladies filtered into the theater and sat together in the back row. They must have been at least 80 years old, and were total chatterboxes during the trailers.

I’ve endured clueless old folks who’ve felt the incessant need to talk throughout a movie before, but never a sci-fi film, because unless they’re babysitting grandchildren, I've never seen any. Old folks don’t watch sci-fi. They’re supposed to enjoy comedies and dramas featuring other old folks. Surely these women must have wandered into the wrong theater.

My blood began to boil. Why the hell weren't these old bats gabbing at each other at a bingo table? I cursed their age because they were out of their element. I thought for sure I’d was gonna have to roar at them to shut the fuck up. But when Edge of Tomorrow actually started, they reigned-in their chattering and watched the film in complete silence, just like any polite patron.

Edge of Tomorrow is one of those movies where you’re kinda sad it has to end, because it brilliantly plays around with the concept of time. Sure, the resolution is sort-of an anti-climactic disappointment, but the film is certainly thought-provoking and discussion-worthy.

My wife headed to the restroom afterwards, and came out to tell me these same three old ladies were debating the merits of the ending (an ongoing topic among those who’ve seen the film). Without giving anything away, how the film ended provided them a lot to discuss, the ultimate reward for all true cinemaphiles, regardless of the genre.

I suddenly felt like a hypocrite. While continually vexed at the obvious ageism of most Hollywood blockbusters which aim exclusively at the teen crowd, I still passed judgment on these three old women who looked out-of-place attending a sci-fi movie together. What right did I have to think such a thing? After all, sci-fi has been around for centuries. Perhaps these ladies have been fans of the genre their whole lives. For all I know, their level of geekdom far exceeds my own. Maybe the only difference between their youth and the present day is the cost of movie tickets.

I simply made an assumption based on their age. Who am I to pass such judgment? Unlike me, who’s skipped seeing some terrific metal bands because of my hang-up about my age, these ladies didn’t give a damn what others thought.

Good for them.

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