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rare female film critic | by maryann johanson

ho ho no: anticonsumer movies for your holiday pleasure

A day after a man was trampled to death at a Long Island Wal-Mart — not by starving hoards rushing for the last can of Spam but by holiday shoppers desperate to save ten bucks on a cheap-ass made-in-China DVD player — Entertainment Weekly posted a DVD roundup called “Shop ‘Til You Drop: 20 Movies for Big Spenders” — it’s a celebration of America’s obsession not merely with buying shit we don’t need, but with buying shit we don’t need as a recreational pastime that also serves to indicate our rank in the social pecking order. So — to name three disgusting movies EW chose to highlight — Jingle All the Way is about showing your children you love them by rampaging all over town on Christmas Eve so your kid can have the hot toy of the season in order to look good in front of all the other kids; Pretty Woman is about purchasing both a woman and the bling that keeps the bitch’s mouth shut about being treated like a piece of property; and Sex and the City: The Movie is about a woman who shops for a husband the same way she shops for shoes.
That’s all way uglier than the desperation of retailers at the moment, who are hoping you’re going to suddenly crash the malls over the next few days with, I dunno, some cash you suddenly discovered under the mattress or something.

Don’t do it. Stay home and watch some movies that remind us that mindless consumerism is not the path to happiness.

Dawn of the Dead [Region 1] [Region 2] [my review]: Zombies at the mall? And this is satire how?

THX 1138 [Region 1] [Region 2]: Robert Duvall’s distopian drone buys a box of white, only to drop it in the recycling bin on the way home. It’s not that he needs the box of white, it’s that if he didn’t buy it, all the box-of-white manufacturers would go out of business. Sound familiar?

Idiocracy [Region 1] [Region 2] [my review]: “Welcome to Costco, I love you.” This is what happens when mindless consumerism turns into religion.

Wall-E [Region 1] [Region 2] [my review]: Or maybe this is what happens: a planet buried under our castoff crap.

They Live [Region 1] [Region 2]: If only it really were aliens brainwashing us into keeping up with the Joneses. Cuz then Roddy Piper could just kick their asses and everything would get better.

Fight Club [Region 1] [Region 2] [my review]: You are not your fucking khakis.

American Beauty [Region 1] [Region 2] [my review]: Remember how Annette Bening didn’t want to get it on with Kevin Spacey on the sofa because it was covered with Italian silk or something? That’s just sad. Yeah, he dealt with his midlife crisis by buying something — that classic car — but I bet he would have been happy to use the backseat for its traditional secondary use.

The Matrix [Region 1] [Region 2] [my review]: If only it really were The Machines brainwashing us into sleepwalking through life. Cuz then Keanu Reeves could just kick their asses and everything would get better.

What Would Jesus Buy? [Region 1] [Region 2] [my review]: Not so much, probably. Maybe some new sandals. Not that you’d know that from the commericalized nightmare Christmas is today, as this snarky-but-serious documentary highlights.

You Can’t Take It With You [Region 1] [Region 2] [my review]: Ah, now this is the movie to watch for a reminder that it’s not the stuff in your life but the life in your life that makes it fun, rewarding, and worth living. In this 1938 classic from Frank Capra (which is way better than that other Capra movie everyone else but me loves at this time of year, Lionel Barrymore is the patriarch of a family that’s dropped out of the rat race to follow their dreams.

(And yes, I get the irony of promoting anticonsumerist DVDs with shopping links. I’m not suggesting — and neither are these movies — that all shopping is bad, just mindless shopping driven not by need or even true desire for things that give us real pleasure but by unhappiness, peer pressure, or a perceived need to conform when we’d really rather not. Or the kind that gets people killed.)



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