Mousetrap was one of my favorite games when I was young and, I assume, would still be pretty awesome as an adult if I threw caution and recommended age limits to the wind and started playing with children's board games. So you can imagine my delight upon seeing this. It's quite real, shot in one continuous take. Allegedly it took two months to build.

Yes, the song blows. Yes, that's the dancing-on-treadmills guys. Yes, that kicks as much ass the 10th time one sees it as the first.

The funny thing is that it probably cost a grand total of about $50,000 to produce and yet it entertained me far more than any of the crap with eight- or nine-figure production costs that passed through theaters in the past year. But I suppose that's not a bold statement in a year in which Jeff Bridges was named the best actor (for some movie I've never heard of) and the big, groundbreaking news out of the Oscars was that they nominated a fat person for an award.

This is a roundabout way of saying that either I am getting older and harder to please or movies just aren't very good lately. There was a time not terribly long ago that I saw a few dozen movies annually, ranging from shit-gets-blowed-up summer action garbage to art house fare. This past year I think I saw about five movies, two of which starred Meryl Streep and which I attended under protest. Lately it all looks the same – same actors, same directors, same tired plots, etc. Is this what getting old is all about? Saying "I've seen this all before" and meaning it literally?

30 thoughts on “NPF: MOUSETRAP”

  • You just don't like music with lyrics you can understand…

    I think you're just getting older in terms of movies. You've got to be willing to give some movies a chance to surprise you, even though they're being marketed as the same old movies you've seen 15 times with the same old plots and themes. Take last summer's Star Trek reboot as an example. The reboot is perhaps the most egregious of Hollywood's schemes: give us $10 dollars for a story you already know and have enjoyed. What it turned out to be was an above average action/sci-fi movie that was only tangentially related to the Star Trek we're all familiar with.

    A similar argument could be made for District 9 or Inglorious Basterds, in that they're not really showing us anything we haven't already seen, but they're showing it from a different perspective with different techniques.

    There just aren't a lot of stories to tell – film has been an art form for over a 100 years and it's clear Hollywood is getting a little desperate. On the other hand, there were also only so many ways to paint a portrait, but Picasso and Magritte put interesting spins on the genre. I guess the point is that there are still good and interesting films being made and realize the constraints most writers and directors are under.

  • No given year has a lot of truly great artistic works, and as you get older, it's less and less likely any given year is going to produce a amount of great art that matches what you've already seen.

    So, yeah, it's age.

  • yup. and I've been saying it since you were a kid. same with music as well. Bob Dylan was serious about instituting a moratorium on new songs.

  • The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.

    So, yeah. This complaint has been around for a while.

    Are you looking for some kind of Ed Asner Lifetime Achievement award before you turn 35, dude?

  • I enjoyed the Jeff Bridges movie Crazy Heart. The relationship with Maggie Gyllenhaal's character was cliche, as was the alcoholism, but the movie had great music and was fun to watch. There's a saying about the Rolling Stones, something along the lines of "They only have two songs, but they're good songs." A hell of a lot of entertainment is that way. Lady Gaga could have been in Missing Persons, The Hurt Locker could have starred Lee Marvin and been filmed in 1954, and everyone working after 10pm thinks he's Groucho. Nothing to worry about, but not much to complain about, either.

    Digital effects, the new 3D, and everything else are just tools, but there are good stories out there among the loads of dreck Hollywood has spewed out in mass quantities from the get go. And even a lot of the movies we consider classics, such as The Maltese Falcon and the Wizard of Oz, are remakes. And if you really think our entertainment industry sucks eggs, watch a week of Telemundo.

  • OneMadClown says:

    Personally, I find it an insult of the highest order that Jeff "Groovy, Man" Bridges won Best Actor, when everyone with half a brain knows that the winner should have been Ninja #1 from Ninja Assassin, a taut psychological thriller roilling with sexual tension, Shakespearean undertones, and ninjas. Not to mention an excellent training film for those of us looking to make the big career shift to professional ninjary.

  • The best thing about this video is the great lengths the band's (now former) record label, EMI, went to prevent people from actually seeing it. They wanted to prevent a band whose fame is largely due to a viral video… from having another viral video. It just boggles the mind. The band got wise are and now going to be publishing under their own label and the world won't know the difference. Keep digging your own graves, music industry.

  • Well, it is occasionally nice to clasp hands across the generational divide.

    The answer is you are getting older and harder to please. And is that so surprising? You sample so many experiences, and that little pattern matcher hiding in that calcareous vault atop your spine is doing a splendid job. Soon you sound like a Hollywood pitchman when recounting movie plots.

    There is a finite and countable number of ways to put plots, songs, and rhythyms together. And then there is the Locus of Attraction. We do not like just any arrangement of notes or narrative twists. Causality and the vagaries of natural selection have limited our tastes to a small set of choices.

    Take music. Assume that you use the chromatic scale and that an average of eight notes creates a recognisable melody. You then get 138 possible melodies, which is equal to… well, a very big number. But you (and I) would find most of these melodies either boring or unsatisfactory in some way. So, the actual number of possibly aesthetically pleasing melodies is actually quite small – as evidence listento your radio.

    If you are truly bored, try listening to Pachelbel's Canon in the Key of J:

  • That's 13^8, 13 to the 8th power, not 138. 13 keys on the piano – the chromatic scale. Although I do like Mixolydian mode as well.

  • Not all movies have devolved, but the Oscars sure have. The Hurt Locker was a very weak script with some lovely cinematography — and the first woman best director was chosen as a foil for her ex — the opposite of progress. Did anyone see Moon?

    There came a transition in English Lit when we stopped reading Classics and started calling Dickens "classic." He was a great pop fic writer. Do we have anyone writing today who compares? So it goes.

    TV writing is where it's at, now: there is more time to enrich characters and lay subplots, to cultivate viewer investment and later payoff. It's like a novel compared to a short story — which, however densely written and cleanly edited, is still short. Like a movie. I still get sucked in whenever I am channel surfing and hit the Godfather, the Deer Hunter, Lawrence of Arabia, Dog Day Afternoon, the Philadelphia Story, the Sopranos pilot…on and on. If I see anything current that compares, I'll shout it from the rooftops.

  • I'd have to agree with you about the Oscars…the only news out of the Oscars was…ABOUT THE OSCARS! Didn't really see much about the actual point of the Oscars which is allegedly…THE MOVIES!

  • Ladiesbane, I must be missing something.
    TV is where the good writing is? Where? There are very few shows that I feel compelled to watch anymore. Even those that start well and show promise either get cancelled (i.e. Dollhouse, granted I am showing a Whedon bias here), or completely fizzle out and get too weird to be interesting (i.e. Heroes). The only thing that seems to stay on long enough to have a chance at developing real characters and plot lines are reality TV shows, which clearly offer no chance of quality entertainment. Granted there are a few funny shows of the slapstick variety which are good for a laugh, but I don't see anything novelesque. Please prove me wrong and point me to some good examples that are worth watching, preferably ones that are available online as we have already given up on thinking television reception was worth the investment.

  • Some of the cable networks are producing stellar writing, Shane, like Mad Men and Breaking Bad are 2 shows I've been watching that have been top knotch…network television is another story.

  • That video is such an awesome shot. I agree with you that the band sucks, but this is amazingly creative and technical shot to pull off. Can you imagine how many times one of those contraptions didn't fire off?

    Movies [for the most part] blow now, music [for the most part] blows now. Music and movies are no longer creative endeavors, they are business endeavors. Yeah, there is still good stuff out there, but you really have to look for it.

    Ed, you should check out the filthy critic, I think you'll dig it. He's pretty spot on and has a thing out for "the lazy grassfuckers in hollywood." The only two blogs I've been reading on a regular basis for the past few years are this one and the filthy critic.

  • I think I've read a claim by folklorists that there are a finite number of storylines, and that there are no more truly original ideas because they've all already been thought of. So what we're getting via television, movies, books and whatever are all things that are getting re-hashed. Avatar is one example. Spoony pointed out the comparison to Dances with Wolves in his review. Although now that Hollywood is starting to make movies based on childhood toys (I think I saw somewhere that they were building a screenplay around the Erector set?) and "rebooting" things like the Spiderman franchise less than 20 years after Tobey Maguire did the first one of the current series, I suspect that Hollywood is officially out of ideas.

  • As a teacher of college-level students, you'll experience this divide between "What I Am Supposed To Think Is Awesome" and "What I Actually Find Awesome" grows drastically when you compare yourself to your young charges. They're in that sweet-spot of being *just* old enough to enjoy things on an emotional/semi-intellectual level and not being *quite* old enough to realize that the stuff that excites them is nearly identical to the same stuff that excited you way back when.

    And it *is* all the same. Pop music hasn't changed since MTV made it corporate, Movies haven't changed since the Robert-Evans-Coke-Fueled-Studio-Head-Taking-Bizarre-Risks business model went out of style, Television's always been recycled pablum–but your kids are seeing it all for the first time, and it's *awesome* to them, lucky bastards. I once tried to explain to a class why Vertical Horizon and 3 Doors Down sucked, but caught myself mid-effort when I realized that I sounded like a Mean Old Man telling little children that there is no Santa Claus.

    So basically, yeah, everyone who's already chimed in here is right–just remember to keep this mature and contemptuous perspective to yourself; let the kids have their fun–it is the prerogative of the young to love crap, and it is the duty of the mature to shut the hell up and let them, knowing that they'll grow out of it eventually and be mortified that they ever thought that "Poker Face" was wicked awesome.

  • Speaking of nothing being new under the sun, this video (astoundingly cool as it is) and its predecessor, the game Mousetrap, both derived from the work of the cartoonist Rube Goldberg in the early part of the last century. Great ideas never really die.

  • I agree that cable TV is where it is at. Indeed, I would argue that we are in the golden age of televised drama. Although it has now ended its run, "The Wire" remains in the pantheon alongside the greatest movies ever filmed. In a month, David Simon's new show "Treme" about post-Katrina New Orleans is scheduled to begin its run on HBO. I am cautiously optimistic.
    On Showtime you can find some great escapist shows- most notably "Dexter".

    But some compelling films are still being made, just not often in Hollywood. "The Baader Meinhof Complex "was released in the US this past fall. While it obviously does not tell a "new" story, it is one of the best non-documentaries on insurgency/terrorism since the "Battle of Algiers."

    So the well is not completely dry.

  • If you'd never heard of Crazy Heart and 40% of the movies you saw were Meryl Streep comedies, maybe the problem is that you're not going to the right movie theaters or venturing outside the 'most popular' section on Netflix.

  • I'm really in over my head here, because of being old and not getting out enough, but I kind of love certain sorts of stories, and I don't mind the thematic repetition. On HBO, I'm fascinated by Big Love. It reminds me so much of The Godfather. Dexter can get thrown in there, too. In each story, you have a group – a family, or in Dexter's case, himself – that's profoundly different from the society around them. They're simultaneously insular and yet longing to break through. Their arrogance is ridiculous and yet weirdly touching, because most of us get it that we can't have it all. But they keep trying to have it all, to live in both worlds. It's a subduction zone, convergent boundaries, and you know wackiness will ensue.

    Speaking of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there's an element of subduction there, too, because Buffy got dislodged from the normal Slayer system, then suddenly she's the Slayer, and nobody's ready for it. She's not, the Council's not, and the centuries-old pattern is smashed.

    (I have a huge Whedon bias, too.) Look at Firefly. Old, old story. Nothing new there, except everything, and a backstory that's never fully explained but is rendered so vividly that you can think about it for a long time.

    Also, that Canon in the key of J is amazing and weird, and thanks for the link.

  • I think that the older you become, more and more pop culture you’ve consumed gets filtered through nostalgia. It’s easy to remember the cream of the crop and the all-time epic bad stuff that becomes the butt of jokes, but it’s impossible to remember the kind-of-bad/almost-palatable/okay stuff at all, so when you compare new stuff with something similar from the past, your expectations are inflated because you’re comparing ‘unfiltered’ stuff to a ‘purer’ stock.

  • ed – Moon, with Sam Rockwell. Has a bit of a samesamebutdifferent thing going on with both 2001 & Solaris, but it's good.

    shane – Deadwood. The Wire. Weeds.

  • Mr. Wonderful says:

    shane–The Shield. Damages. The Office. Even House, still.

    Every time I start to bitch to myself about how formulaic and ignorable movies are, I have to remind myself I'm thinking of Hollywood studio product, which is indeed developed by children desperate to keep their jobs, who have never seen (e.g.) The Third Man, and want to minimize all possible risk.

    But the indie producers generate a zillion cheaper, risk-taking projects. The majority of everything, in whatever form, in whatever "golden age," is junk, but so what?

    Maybe the problem is one of publicity. Most of the movies I know about are widely-advertised with big budgets, and widely reviewed (to the extent that there still IS wide reviewing in the dwindling professional writer media). And I never go. But if I cared, I know there are dozens of indie films to hunt down.

    And, of course, the older you get, the more you've seen, which renders each new interation of a standard story, character, line of dialogue, etc., more and more familiar, ending in cliche.

  • Crazy for Urban Planning says:

    You say that video was created in two months? Why can't I find those people to do nothing but drink beer and screw around for 2 months?

  • If you are only seeing Meryl Streep movies , that is more likely related the the fact you are not single…

    Single guys do not have to see those types of movies, especially not under protest /duress.

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