AMBROSE Bierce, the 19th-century American author and newspaper columnist, wrote what was considered the most devastatingly brief book review on record. It is exactly one sentence and nine hilariously appropriate words long.
"The covers of this book are too far apart," wrote "Bitter" Bierce, a nickname he acquired because his disposition would have had to improve a hundredfold just to reach the level of bilious.
Bierce died sometime in the 20th century. Where and when are not known. The last folks saw of him, he was riding into Mexico with some revolutionaries around 1913. But if his review is any indication of how he felt about that one book, think of what the Bitter One would have thought of today's movies. To paraphrase Bierce, the time between the opening and closing credits of today's films is too darned long.
"Bet you can figure out the 'surprise ending' to this movie in 15 minutes," I said to the wife-a-rooney just last week, handing her a video of "The Sixth Sense." It wasn't long before she got back to me.
"One of the worst movies I've ever seen," she groused, no slouch at criticism herself. "Boring, and I figured out the ending in eight minutes."(If I and the person who ruined the surprise for me had shut up, maybe it wouldn't have been so easy to unravel.)
Still, "The Sixth Sense" did well enough at the box office to garner six Academy Award nominations. (Oscar nominations are based mostly on box office receipts. You didn't think they were based on quality, did you?) "The Blair Witch Project," a movie that was such a turkey you could hear the gobbling when you pulled your car onto the theater parking lot, also made a bundle.
Films just aren't as good as they once were. Films with supposedly surprise endings don't have them. (Although the ending of "The Usual Suspects" was more than worth the price of the ticket.) Disgusting scenes and four-letter words now pass for the funny lines in today's "comedy" movies. When we see Tom Cruise playing the lead in the "Mission: Impossible" series, it's a clue that the action/adventure genre is all but dead.
What's a film buff to do in such a situation? Make up your own plots and hope someone is daft enough to film them. Your ideas certainly can't be worse than what we've seen in the last decade or so. Here are a few of mine:
1. The Monroe Cornish Story: Finally, the film biography of the man who ran for mayor of Baltimore in 1983 and was the talk of the candidates' debate that included then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer and his leading challenger, attorney Billy Murphy. When it came Cornish's time to speak, he went on and on about the attempted assassination two years earlier of President Ronald Reagan. When the moderator tried to slow his roll, Cornish ordered him to "Shut your mouth about it!"
Monroe Cornish, an American hero. It's time he got his due. Immediately after the debate, friends and co-workers asked my thoughts about him. I answered that he might have been the only candidate who believed everything he said. During the 1999 mayoral campaign, I lamented that Cornish wasn't a candidate.
"Where's that darn Monroe Cornish now that he's really needed?" I huffed.
"He died," a colleague answered.
"And your point is what, exactly?" I shot back.
This could be a television miniseries in two parts. "Monroe the Candidate" and "Monroe Cornish: Courting the Wino Vote."
2. After 37 years of film womanizing, the last of the James Bond-007 movies appears. In this one, Bond has to face all the women he's slept with over the years and gets his comeuppance.
3. A cowpoke in the Clint Eastwood mold seeks revenge on the outlaw gang that killed and ate his horse.
4. The secret love child of famed black nationalist Marcus Garvey and a white socialite named Becky Bovina Lumpenfrau struggles to find his racial identity. He attends the historically black Uncle Tom University, where he tries out for the position of waterboy on the football team and gets cut. He settles for being the mascot for all the school's athletic teams, affectionately known as the Handkerchiefheads.
Passing for white, he weasels his way into the chief executive officer position of a large corporation.
When happiness still eludes him, he makes himself a solemn promise.
"I Uncle Tommed my way into this job," he tells himself, staring into the mirror, "and dad-gum it, I'll Uncle Tom my way out."
He leaves the job and forms his own black nationalist organization -- Negroes Involved for Greater Race Awareness (NIGRA).
You say these ideas don't float your boat? There's a solution.
Your local bookstore awaits you.