Uncouth, Cranky and Rude: Movies in 1988 Were a Far Cry From Today

In films like “Die Hard,” “Cocktail” and “A Fish Called Wanda,” characters were loud, obscene, neurotic and mean. Now the edges are razored off.


By Wesley Morris

The regular box office is back. Ordinarily, that sentence would arrive with exclamation points. But after six months of pandemic-induced nothing, the numbers are still off. Theaters are showing films but at a reduced capacity, and mine in New York City are still closed, which helps explain how, in the last weekend of August, the Top 10 movies made just $12.5 million. I would love to see “Kajillionaire,” but “in a schlep to New Jersey and maybe get sick” sort of way? As it is, I raced over there for “Tenet” a few weeks ago and left sad.

The conditions were optimal. New Jersey caps theater attendance at 25 percent, and my boss rented out the entire house as a precaution. So a few of my colleagues and I sat rows apart and agreed to remain masked the entire time. It was lonely. That’s, in part, because I was enduring another soulless Christopher Nolan afternoon. “Tenet” is a save-the-world heist puzzle with yachts and spies. Nolan cares about time and space as mechanical matters that are meant to double as existential. What a skilled delusionist he is: His movies always seem heavier than they actually are.

Things were also lonely because after Michael Caine tells John David Washington, near the start, that he needs better suiting, I couldn’t lean over and ask a friend, 30 minutes later, whether the clothes he wears to steal some art or steer a speedboat were actually better.

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