How to Watch Snake Movies: The Life and Times of a True Pessimist

I never realized how much of a pessimist I am until I found bananas on my banana tree. (And please don’t start the whole pedantic thing about how actually it’s a banana ‘plant’ not a ‘tree’ – this is not a botany text. If I say it is a banana tree, it’s a banana tree.) My banana tree (don’t argue with me) had bananas. A miracle. A totally unexpected miracle.

Yeah, I got the tree (i.e. Bertram, my gardener, found it for me), I planted it (i.e. I asked Bertram to plant it), I watered it (i.e. Bertram watered it) and I watched it – but I never expected it to actually, you know, grow and make bananas. But it did.

And then, this totally blew me away, the rose bushes made roses: actual roses, rose-colored roses, rose-scented roses. My fig tree produced figs. My lime tree made limes. My almond tree bloomed. Guavas on the guava tree – papayas on the papaya trees. I guess it would be really a miracle if the guavas showed up on the papaya tree, but for me, quietly hard-core pessimistic, I never thought any of the plants I bought, paid to be put in the ground, watered and watched would actually DO anything. My, unexamined, underlying assumption was that they would turn yellow, sickly, droop, lose leaves, and give up the ghost.

My deep-seated pessimism is the reason I don’t watch romantic comedy movies. One Emerati friend, in that way of using the wrong word that is actually right, calls me ‘fluffy.’ I would seem to be: a pink frilly skirt, rhinestone barrette, kitten heels, fuchsia purse, card-carrying ‘chick-lit’ fiend. No such luck. I like happy endings, but I don’t believe in them enough to watch the movies or read the books. Those rugged men who are too-good-to-be-true are too-good-to-be-true. Which is why I like shark movies.

You know the movies that start with the helicopter moving over a vast stretch of water towards a deep sea research platform which has recently had an unexplainable glitch in the super computer? I snuggle into my comfy chair, popcorn at the ready. I love, love, love, those opening scenes in which the expert explains to the new-comer about the triple-secure, backed-up safety doors, which will fail in about twenty minutes. Pessimism rules!

I love snake movies – the little ship bravely chugging down the Amazon looking for lost tribes and finding huge predatory anacondas. The inexplicably large crocodile footprints by the side of the quiet lake. The flock of bats which are starting to act oddly. The deserted space ship which is broadcasting an unusual signal. The underwater rock formation with the peculiar cellular structure. Love them.

But not truly scary movies, not horror flicks. I like movies with fake violence and nothing that could, by any stretch of the imagination, happen to me. Woman attacked in a subway station, no, no, no. Woman attacked on inter-planetary space-ship – no problem, as I am never going to set foot on an inter-planetary space ship. I am not going to set foot on any kind of submarine, I am not going to research tropical diseases in tropical jungles, I am not going down volcano craters, or up the Andes. I am not interested in experiencing uncharted anything; dealing with my grocery store reorganizing the shelves is difficult enough.

The Mummy – perfection! I am not going into ancient tombs. The Transporter (first one) – excellent. I am not going to hire anyone to move illegal goods. Rouen, actually anything with Jean Reno, great! I am not going to hire professional hit men. Anything with Vin Diesel! Matrix was ok, but trying to hard to be intellectual. Minority Report, Pirates of the Caribbean (first one), Terminator 1, 2 and 3, very good, especially as Terminator 3 has a car chase between a pick up and a truck-crane, that is a nice touch. I always appreciate it when someone thinks about the car chase.

And Jet Li, Jackie Chan’s dark twin, and now that is a guy who makes good movies. Nothing like watching some good old Hong Kong chop whack punch! What could be more relaxing? The movies are like Bollywood films (or ‘filmi’ as they say) in that you get drawn into a universe that looks like yours, but isn’t.

It is safe to watch the movie because it portrays a universe you will never visit. For example, HK films have a weird obsession with wound protection. I still don’t know what the underlying cultural force at work there is, but in HK films the hero will spend 15 minutes decimating hordes of bad guys, then show up in the next scene with a band-aid on his forehead. He’s been shot, impaled, whipped, and mangled. He’s got broken ribs, a cut hand, bruised everything and limps – but there’s that little band aid on his forehead. When there is a group of good guys there will be several band-aids in evidence in the obligatory ‘meeting the day after the fight’ scene. So, while you watch the fight, you can concentrate on where you think the band-aid will appear.

Furthermore, since there have been so many movies, fights have a whole classification system [like car chases in American movies – you have ‘matched’ vehicle chases (James Bond film with two race cars on ice), ‘unmatched’ vehicle chases (the Hummer vs. VW Bug), lots of cars after one car (Blues Brothers), etc…]. So, you have hero against multitudes, hero and gang against villain gang and on to the good subsets: hero with handicap (Jackie Chan fighting with hands handcuffed to disconnected steering wheel), fight in enclosed space, fight while trying to stop object from touching the ground (usually priceless vase or bomb), and, my favorite, fight when hero is carrying unconscious person, who is swung around like battering ram.

And you get these plot points come from nowhere. Like hero asks sidekick at one point “Did you used to work under Lt. Chan?” Sidekick says, “Yes, he was a nice guy.” Hero shoots sidekick and says, “Chan was a bastard.” Hero and sidekick have been buddies about two weeks in movie time – and sidekick has never been shown to know, much less assist, bad guys. Why did that happen?

Or the scene in which hero takes innocent-female-caught-in-cross-fire home, goes into kitchen and goes whackita whackita whackita with the ginzu knives to make dinner. Which looks good but tastes awful. She goes into kitchen and goes whackita whackita whackita with the ginzu knives and you think, “Oh I know what happens next: she is great cook, so he falls for her.” Then you see evil black smoke coming from the wok. She looks sad, then you hear hero’s voice say, “It’s ok.” Female turns around and there is hero with tray, nicely arranged with carry-out boxes. He went out and bought dinner! My pessimistic heart melts. This never happens in American movies. American men don’t even understand the concept that a woman could be lousy cook and a quick exit to corner sushi stand, much less arranging objects on a tray, is what is called for.

On the other hand, Forest Gump – am I the only American who loathes this movie? Way too happy.

Casablanca and Lovely Actually work because the people you like get their hearts smeared all over the pavement. Just like real life. Humphrey and Emma Thompson are devastated. Hugh Grant is in love with a ditz. One guy is in love with his best friend’s girl. A man marries a woman he can’t communicate with, so their joy is prolonged until they are mutually fluent in each other’s language, then they will get divorced. At which point the man will go on a tropical vacation to forget his pain and, ignoring the advice of the local waitress who warns him that the sharks have been acting strangely, the man will join a tour group going out for a perfectly innocent day-sail with a little snorkeling at a beautiful reef. Cue ominous music; cue me on the sofa with a Diet Coke and a fruit salad made from my own fruit trees.