John Ostrander: Default Mode


About a million years ago when I was a kid, summer time was the entertainment doldrums. All the TV shows were in reruns (and we only had a few channels back then) and the new season wouldn’t begin until September, right around the time school began, limiting the shows we could see. Big new movies usually didn’t come out during the summer; the prevailing theory was people didn’t want to sit in a darkened theater (even if it was air conditioned) during the summer. They’d rather be outside. Drive-ins did good business because they combined both. My mother usually didn’t let us go to one because they were reputed to be make-out dens for teen-agers… and they probably were. Mother didn’t approve. Again, the fall started up the movie season.

We didn’t have VHS tapes when I was a kid, let alone DVD or Blu-Ray. No channels on TV devoted exclusively to movies or old movies or cartoons. Even our music wasn’t portable; vinyl records had to be played on large machines. Transistor radios were small enough to take with you and that gave you some music but it was always what the guy on the radio chose for you to listen.

I know. The Dark Ages, huh? Somehow we managed to survive.

These days, you can see or hear what you want when you want and you can get it On Demand. Miss something? Netflix or Hulu or any of a number of other services will provide it.

With all these choices and the ability to experience new things, I still find myself watching and re-watching certain movies on TV. If I come upon them, I’ll watch them first, even if they’ve already started. Or I’ll seek them out. Or put on the DVD or Blu-ray. I think of it as my own personal default mode. It’s probably a result of the summer rerun season I learned when I was a kid. It’s what I know.

Sometimes something new will enter into the rotation. A few films have done that recently. I don’t say they are the best films but I seem to like them a lot. For example, my current fave Marvel superhero film is Guardians Of The Galaxy. I think it really captures the essence of what made Marvel Comics so cool to me. The heroes are not your usual heroes, initially they don’t like each other, they are all flawed, they become a sort of family along the way, there’s lots of comedy, a really big villain to fight, possibly cosmic consequences at stake, and a tug at the heart. For me, it’s the best realization of Marvel Comics on screen.

I’ve stumbled on Edge Of Tomorrow and become very fond of it. It sort of combines Starship Troopers and Groundhog Day. It was originally known as Live Die Repeat, which is a terrible title. I think it’s more inclined to keep people away from the movie.

The premise of the movie is that bug-like aliens have invaded Earth and are rapidly taking it over. They have the ability to “re-set” a day, going back 24 hours but retaining their memories of what happened. Thus they can correct any errors made and continue the conquest.

A human, played by Tom Cruise, gains the alien power and finds he an also re-set the day. He just has to die – which he does over and over again. I’m not a big Cruise fan but I like him in this. His character is something of a coward at the start and he must change during the film, fight through hopelessness and despair, in order to win and save everybody. Doug Liman, who directed the first Bourne film helms this one as well and does a very good job of it.

Knowing the film and how it works out, I still watch it even if I come in on the middle of it. It’s familiar, I enjoy it, and I watch it a lot.

I’ve also grown fond of The Judge starring Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duval. It’s a courtroom drama, a family drama about fathers and sons, and it sets two terrific actors up against one another. It also has a terrific cast including Vincent D’Onofrio, Billy Bob Thornton, and Vera Farmiga. The script is good but not great but the film is very watchable. Again, one of those I can come in on anywhere and probably watch it through the end.

The most recent film to enter my rotation is This Is Where I Leave You. The story is of a family that comes together after the father dies and spends an uncomfortable week in each other’s company. Despite how that sounds, it is mostly a comedy and has an incredible cast – Jason Bateman, Jane Fonda, Tina Fey and Timothy Olyphant among others. It’s very well written, terrifically directed by Shawn Levy and I can come in anywhere on it and probably stick right through the ending.

There’s also TV shows that I’ll watch in default of other things. I’ve seen every Castle episode multiple times but still will seek it out and watch it. I’m happily watching the reruns of the first season of The Flash. Most episodes of Doctor Who will get my attention and there are my cooking or food related shows, Kitchen Nightmares or Diners, Drive-Ins And Dives or Chopped. They’re not my favorite but they are part of my default mode.

There are better movies and television shows, I’ll admit but these are familiar, I know that I’ll be entertained and sometimes that’s all I ask. Sometimes that’s all you need.