January 14, 2017

DEEPWATER HORIZON and the Multiplex Multi-Tasker

Starring Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Gina Rodriguez, Dylan O'Brien, Kate Hudson, Ethan Suplee. Directed by Peter Berg. (2016, 107 min).

Essay by D.M. ANDERSON

My youngest daughter, Lucy, is currently at that age when she'd rather go to the movies with a gaggle of girlfriends than Mom and Dad. I understand that. Once I hit my teens, the idea of sitting in a dark theater with my folks had the appeal of an Alpo smoothie. They understood, too, graciously accepting the role all parents are destined to fill when their children are ready to take those first steps into a bigger world: taxi service. Though my mom often seemed melancholy over my increasing independence, I'm sure she was grateful I didn't require a chaperone for Dawn of the Dead.

40 years later, it's my turn. After Lucy made a movie date with two of her friends to see Oujia: Origin of Evil, my wife volunteered me to drive them to the theater. Like my mom, part of me is a bit melancholy, partially because the last of my little girls was growing up, but also because, for the longest time, watching scary movies together was sort of our father-daughter thing. We still take in a fright flick together on occasion, but the realization that she'd probably have a better time with her own kind was a poignant moment. On the other hand, since the first Oujia movie was a celluloid suppository, being a taxi service suddenly had considerable appeal.

Then my wife dropped the other shoe. One of the girls' parents objected to the idea of simply dropping them off; she wanted an adult to remain at the theater with them. Since I'd rather lick a cheese grater than sit through a Oujia sequel (or prequel, as Lucy later informed me), my options were to either sit in the lobby with my wife's cell phone or catch another flick all by myself.

No way could a cell phone keep me entertained for two hours. Frankly, I don't understand the world's fascination with them. Sure, they're handy to have around and sometimes fun, but I'm staggered by the lethargic legions who appear physically unable to put them down (but more on that later). Since I love disaster movies and must also confess I enjoy Mark Wahlberg as an actor, I chose Deepwater Horizon.

Never mix Mentos and Pepsi.
As far back as I can remember, disaster movies have been my favorite genre. Good ones, bad ones, so-bad-they're-good ones...there's something about mass destruction I've always found entertaining. Not a lot of plot, or even intelligence, but usually plenty of grandiose fun. Their heyday was in the 1970s, when I thrilled to such creative cataclysms as Earthquake, The Towering Inferno and The Cassandra Crossing. Ironically, these were some of the first movies I went to see without my parents tagging along.

Nearly all disaster movies back then followed the same blueprint...gather some marquee names, throw them in a burning skyscraper/sinking ship/quake-ravaged town, add some subplots & big-ass special effects and you had yourself a blockbuster (at least until The Swarm came along to ruin the party in 1978).

The characters themselves were strictly cardboard cut-outs; you could almost always count on seeing the selfless & down-to-Earth hero, the woman who loves him, the “cute” child that needs rescuing (but whom you'd rather see die), a pop star who shows up to croon an Oscar-baiting love song, the estranged couple who fall in love all over again just before one of them dies, the gruff-but-kindly hardass, the “expert” who designed whatever contraption that's now killing people. I could go on, but would be remiss if I didn't give a shout-out to just one more crucial character: the evil “company man” whose greed and carelessness is often the catalyst for the disaster in the first place. He exists to contradict the hero's common sense at every turn, then when the shit does hit the fan, gets a heaping helping of karmic retribution.

These films were definitely products of their time, and while no one makes them that way anymore, the disaster genre never actually went away. They even made something of a comeback in the 90s under the guise of action movies (Twister), science-fiction (Deep Impact) or epic drama (Titanic). The formula was a bit different, but as long as people died and shit got blown up, all was still right with the world.  

Deepwater Horizon, which I meant to see when it opened weeks earlier, looked like nifty slice of old school spectacle.

It had been years since I took in a movie all by myself. I used to do it all the time when I was a kid and, as the girls paid for their tickets before making a bee line to the snack bar, I found myself sort-of excited to be doing it again. After buying my own ticket and telling Lucy and her friends to meet me near a claw machine in the lobby, I made my way to Auditorium #8, which was empty save for one other guy in the back row. Nobody else came in.

Awesome. As someone with increasingly little tolerance for bumping elbows with popcorn crunchers, cell phone shitstains and Chatty Cathys whenever I went to the movies, this was gonna be great. I suddenly didn't care if the movie was any good or not.

Mr. Wahlberg's Calvin Kleins appear to be riding up.
Deepwater Horizon is based on a true story – the Gulf of Mexico drilling platform explosion in 2010 - but adheres to the 70s' Hollywood disaster formula pretty faithfully. We have the down-to-Earth hero (Mark Wahlberg), his loving wife (Kate Hudson, in a rather thankless role), the gruff hardass and expert rolled into one (Kurt Russell). Finally, it features a doozy of an evil company man in form of John Malkovich, chewing the scenery and having a whale of a time as sleazy BP executive Donald Vidrine. He refuses to allow Mike (Wahlberg) and Mr. Jimmy (Russell) test the stability of the old, rickety rig before drilling because of the cost of falling further behind schedule. Of course, he lives to regret that decision when the rig explodes and burns out of control, killing some extras and trapping dozens of others. Much of the second half of the film has Mike selflessly rescuing others while trying to avoid burning alive.

The film takes a long time to get going – mostly to inundate the viewer with tech-talk and to establish Vidrine as a despicable ass. But when disaster finally strikes, Deepwater Horizon turns into the big, flashy – and really fucking loud – spectacle I paid my two bits for. Kurt Russell was always one of my favorite actors. Even though his anti-hero glory days are in the rearview mirror, he gives the movie a healthy dose of gravitas. And Wahlberg still does the best impression of Mark Wahlberg I've ever seen. Best of all, damn near everything gets blowed up real good. Deepwater Horizon isn't exactly teaming with depth, nor is any of it particularly memorable, but I had a good time, mostly because, aside from the guy in the back row, I had the movie all to myself.

One thing that was memorable – and rather pathetic - occurred in the men's room afterwards. When I went in to take care of some business, I found myself once-again alone with the same guy I shared the theater with. Only now, he was standing at one of the dozen urinals, rapidly texting on his phone with both thumbs while he whizzed.

Are you fucking kidding me?

Granted, I have no real use for cell phones, borrowing my wife's only when I need to. I personally think their proliferation is becoming an increasing bane on society, rendering people ruder, dumber and oblivious to their surroundings, content to vicariously experience life through a 3 x 5 screen. They'll drop everything they're doing to answer a text and film entire concerts rather than simply kick back and enjoy them. In restaurants, I've seen families go the entire meal without uttering a word or glancing up from the device in their hand. And how self-absorbed does someone have to be to invest in a selfie stick?

Alas, I know I'm in the minority. My kids sometimes enjoy a good chuckle at the rantings of their “technophobic” old man. But I don't hate or fear technology. Since newspapers are now on the endangered species list, even I've occasionally taken my iPad into the bathroom to check out box scores during my morning dump. After all, pooping can be a dull, time-consuming endeavor, and it isn't like I need my hands until I'm done.

"What a mess. Looks like someone was piss texting."
But really, dude...while your peeing?? Is what you have to say so goddamn imperative that you can't be bothered to stick the phone in your pocket for 30 fucking seconds? I'm damned sure that even if the President of the United States was in the White House bathroom when NORAD texted to warn him of an impending enemy missile strike, he'd take a few precious seconds to shake the Little President dry and tuck it back in his trousers.

This two-thumbed toilet texter was not the President. Who the hell was he talking to? What was he saying...guess what I'm doing right now?

And while I elected not to take a closer look, unless he's so well-endowed that his member splashes into the drink every time he takes it out, shouldn't he need at least one hand to keep the stream steady? I know from experience that hands-free urination is always a risky undertaking; the slightest bump or jolt can turn you into a human lawn sprinkler.

It was quite possibly the most hilariously pathetic display of narcissism I'd ever seen. Standing four or five urinals away as I did my own business, I had to bite my lip to keep from bursting into laughter. And I swear to God, if he had clicked off a selfie right then, I'd have grabbed him by the back of the head and shoved his face into the urinal on general principle.

After he was done, the man stuck the phone in his jacket, zipped up and strolled out without flushing or washing his hands. I seldom laugh out loud when I'm alone, but couldn't stop myself this time.

Shortly after, Lucy and her friends joined me in the lobby, giggling and talking-up  the movie. She asked me how I enjoyed mine. I simply replied, “Fine,” then stifled another chuckle and refrained from relaying my encounter with Mr. Important in the men's room.

I don't know...maybe the problem is with me. Maybe everybody toilet-texts these days and I'm simply an out-of-touch old man. Maybe 30 seconds – 60 if they've been drinking – is simply too long for a 21st Century man on-the-go (no pun intended) to endure without being connected. If that's true, maybe I should just be grateful this guy saw fit not to text during the movie.

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