1.09.2011

2010: What, me worry?


"The movie really heightens the lack of interest in the film."
- Crow T. Robot


In 2001, I walked into Lord of the Rings, Fellowship of the Ring with complete indifference. I'd always been aware of the books & was kinda fascinated with wizards & dragons & things of that nature when I was a child. That's as far as it went, though that little bit put images inside my head of what these things should look like.
This was still very early in the decade, & more than this distant interest in fantasy, I was still conditioned to go & pay money to see the next big Hollywood 'event.' I cherish my opening night memories of Secret of the Ooze, Back to the Future II, Batman Returns, Jurassic Park, & even Independence Day & Phantom Menace. Something that could be huge & inspire & dazzle me with movie magic, and to be able to share that with the people in that theater & potentially all over the world -- I needed to participate, & I thought maybe this movie would be that. I was half right.
Regarding the film itself, I remember very little - nearly nothing. However, the one thing I do remember - perhaps the only thing I remember, & always will - was a scene involving the principal characters battling some giant creature inside a cave. I remember this because, that was the moment - the moment that, when I look back on it now, I'm able to pinpoint when I was forcefully cast into my own personal Twilight Zone. I was immediately struck by the hokeyness, amplified by the amateur craftsmanship - so much in a way that I may have laughed out loud, or, LOLed. & it was at the moment I thought, "Well, this film & the two that follow it will be laughed into oblivion, or they'll acquire some small, strong cult following in the vein of films like Battlefield Earth.
So, my ultimate gripe was & is: in a film driven solely by FX (because it certainly wasn't acting, cinematography, or any of that other film crap), shouldn't said FX be tip-top? Like nothing you've ever seen? & certainly like nothing you've ever seen in a SciFi Original Movie? Independence Day stunk but the CGI was believably dimensional & exhilarating. & that was '96! Point is, the backpeddling of artistry in LOTR has echoed throughout these past 10 years into a painfully misguided direction. The reason it's "painfully" misguided is: at its core, film is headed in the right direction - a largely visual direction. Mildly familiar stories & strong acting performances are becoming outmoded as a substitute to what we see on the screen. I always laugh when I hear or read people criticize the "plot" of Avatar. I didn't see the film, but I can guess that all that money wasn't spent on "plot" - neither from the pockets of the filmmakers or the filmgoers. Nor should it! Bob Harris, my college film professor once said, "There are great stories in books. There is great acting on the stage. Film is about light & movement." Personally, I would add, to a lesser extent, color & sound. Though, mainstream film hasn't really been about that for over 100 years - not until the aforementioned "misguided" present. Expert craft & technique became After Effects & ILM. Light & movement became 3D & IMAX. Art became McDonald's, & McDonald's became Starbucks. Even Pop Art simply became Pop. Now, I like Pop; I like it as a snack. But when there's nothing on the menu but snacks, I'll eventually become fat & stupid. And in that state, yeah, a film like Inception will probably blow my mind.
Right now is the time when technology is playing the singular role of magnifying the ass-backwardness of the whole debacle - especially in our own homes. At our fingertips are Blu-Ray Hi Def Plasma THX Dolby Surround Sound Theater-Quality devices "giving you the best picture & sound like never before!" So we can watch Anchorman. Meanwhile, somebody's watching Close Encounters on their phone. Or a .wmv of True Grit with Korean subtitles they downloaded from Limewire. The home viewing experience has killed the theater-going experience; noisy audience members have been a problem since the introduction of talkies, but nowadays, Todd & Tucker can't tell the difference between a public setting & their own living room. & how could they? The movie is as big & loud as it is at home, they got their free-refill energy drink, their phone nearby, & a shitload of TV commercials peeing on their face.
/Film.com posted a telling article some time ago weighing the pros & cons of video rental-by-mail & various instant, on-demand methods of movie viewing. For those of you unfamiliar with /Film, it's a meticulously up-to-date news feed on the status of Spiderman, The Hobbit, & James Franco. That's not saying anything against /Film necessarily - the site has been very kind to Bennett Media over the years - David Chen in particular, who also happened to write the article mentioned. In it, Craig Kornblau from Universal is quoted saying, "We want to advantage methods that are more profitable... We don't have an obligation to give consumers what they want when they want it." Strong words from a guy selling live action comic book adaptations for a living. And, on a personal note, I'd like to point out that Chen goes on to say, "I'm actually somewhat sympathetic to this viewpoint. It might be best for the consumer to be able to purchase a digital copy of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen the day it comes out in theaters, but if that eliminates a huge revenue stream for the studios, it means they might not have as much money to make the next Transformers film." I can't be certain if he's speaking strictly objectively - but what I do know is: I drink alcohol solely for the purpose of keeping warm in my apartment during the winter months - much like your average hobo. The least of my concerns are whether or not studio execs have enough money to make Transformers movies.
I still optimistically consider film to be art, & with that same optimism, I believe, perhaps, we're due for a Renaissance - in the comparative sense - when people start asking, "How many more paintings of Jesus do we really need?"
There was a time when we members of Bennett Media would respectively see everything that was in the theater. And, speaking for myself, when Oscar nominations were announced & I hadn't seen all 5 films nominated in the Best Picture category, I would go to extreme lengths to make sure I did prior to the telecast. Coincidentally, the first year I decided to ignore this personal agenda was in 2003, when I skipped the film that actually took home the Award. (To this day I haven't seen Return of the King). And so, over the years, interest dwindled & tastes became more sharply defined. And more so, we welcome you to the first (and perhaps only) Bennett Media's Top 10 Films of the Year. Of course, that's a little unfair because we only saw 10 films released in 2010. So, it's hardly a "Top" list. How about, "Shit we saw."
-Paul

1. Shutter Island - If this man had made this film 15 years ago, it woulda been Cape Fear. But alas, it was made in the modern age. & so, it suffers from heavy-handed animation & forced color timing. Tech stuff aside for a moment, it has an ending we've seen 50 times in the past 60 years, which certainly hurts the supposed ambiguity throughout - faithful to the book or not.
Scorsese has his built-in audience - there's no need to reduce to crap to try to "appeal." It's like the Ghostbusters 3 thing -- does anyone want to see a younger cast take over? If you do, you must really hate Ghostbusters.
Its strengths, like any Scorsese movie, are clever camera moves, Thelma's cutting, a strong male lead, and rockin' soundtrack. B/B+

2. A Nightmare on Elm Street - & we thought the original was boring. D

3. Toy Story 3 - Pixar is consistently excellent - in particular, the Toy Story series. A perfect example of strong animation going in the right direction: cartoons. Here's a group of people utilizing the tools available to the furthest reaches of their capability, combined with some of the strongest scripts to come outta mainstream Hollywood. A

4. Predators - An action movie on par with, well, Predator. Action films, like the horror genre & the romantic comedy are dying an aching death, & the closest we generally come to "okay-ish" are with a lotta these "throwbacks" that mostly just point & laugh at what it used to be, in the hopes you'll laugh along with them. But if we want a comedy, we'll go to one - apprehensively. Predators is unapologetically what it is, as well as what they used to be: clever & interesting. A-

5. Inception - A bad movie is a bad movie, & there's no need to think twice on it. No one's gonna get on an apple box & cry about how Season of the Witch was such a disappointment. No, it only really hurts when heartbreak is involved. Chris Nolan should be the next great action director - & he kinda is. There are no real discernable cracks in the directing of anything. In fact, he may put in so much effort on the directing side that it results in his utter laziness as a screenwriter. We were sold on the teaser -- which was merely dazzling Nolan-specific images & moves with a startling Hans Zimmer score; possibly a horror film. If only the film itself could have sustained that sense of mystery and wonder. Instead, it knocks us down almost immediately in the first act, then proceeds to kick us for the remainder.
One blogger has said something along the lines of this: "There are 3 kinds of people. Those who got it & loved it. Those who didn't get it & hated it. And those who claim to get it, but hate it simply because it's so popular." We're proudly part of a 4th group - one that we know for a fact exists. A group who, unfortunately understood the movie only too well, which ultimately ruined it. Watching the movie was like watching The Making Of a cooler movie. Devices like title cards & voice over are often demonized for being "lazy storytelling." But, they're a hell of a lot more elegant & interesting than clumsy expository dialogue - & this film was the clumsiest in recent memory. So clumsy, in fact, that Nolan created an entire character - the Ellen Page character - simply for the purpose of pointing her finger towards this cool shit & asking flat-out, "What's that mean?" Thanks, Ellen. C/C-

6. Machete - Speaking of "throwbacks" that parody great cinema - as opposed to honor it - no one does it as shamelessly or as often as the head of Troublemaker Studios; the Rebel Without a Crew, Robert Rodriguez. The greatest crime is how much talent there is in this movie, & no one's given anything to do - they all just kinda stand around (sometimes literally) waiting for the audience to recognize them. [Kudos to Don Johnson, who did the most with the least amount of material]. Similar to Inception, they should have just released it as a trailer. Oh, wait. C+

7. Piranha 3D - Speaking of "throwbacks" -- oh, fuck it. D+

8. Dinner For Schmucks - Imagine if Plains, Trains, & Automobiles had an arbitrary, Gary Marshall-esque subplot about relationship problems. Wouldn't be quite the same movie. B-

9. The Social Network - Another movie that we left at the theater. It's strange - what can we really say about The Social Network? Virtually nothing; we can't even condemn it. That's the problem. What can you say about white bread? It never changes, there's not much to it, & leaves you wanting a sandwich. B

10. Black Swan - A great filmmaker uses metaphors. A mediocre filmmaker uses similes. Based on Natalie Portman's staggering performance, she didn't need any help from cartoon feathers. For a film trying so hard to be subversive and surreal, it's laughably literal, which, by definition, is incorrect. Aaronofsky loves flesh & skin texture, & this is his first film solely about that - or rather, he uses a story of personal transformation as an excuse to epitomize a physical one. At points throughout the film, he does this with chilling makeup FX. Conversely, further into the film, he swaps out makeup for animation, and miraculously Natalie turns into a Babylon 5 character! Didn't see that coming!
Strip it of its digital FX and shave off a few expository scenes, & you may very well end up with an A+. Instead, B+
-P&J

6 comments:

Yago said...

Extremely interesting and accurate blog.
Thank you. I'm a big Film fan since I had some memory and I have been always thrill for the whole experience of go to the movies. But always, respecting the Film history of the past decades and admiring those films that change our minds and souls, no matter if it was an Epic, cult or any child 80s movies. The basic ingredient was the plot and our connection to the characters.
The 60s was the decade of exploration and radicalization, and the 70s was the social revolution on film. The 80s, was the mom and pop generation of films, that mark a whole generation. The 90s, the beginning of the end. With few exemptions, the 90s was the beginning of CGI full blast and the deterioration of the scrips and character development. But besides that, something else was going on, the lack of interest of the new generation into movies made 10 to 40 years earlier. Today, mainly 2010 it was a necessity by Hollywood to "update" al the greats movies for the new youth, the ME generation. Movies like Tim Borton's Planet of the Ape, that simply bulldozed a classic, new batman, new superman, the unnecessary creation of the 2nd Star wars Trilogy ( with it;s devastating consequences in the original 3) Then the worst happened, the 80s were stolen from us ( those kids of the 80s) to the new ME generation of the 00s doing all this kind of remakes trying to fix them or just erased the original. Good examples, Kartekid (or KunFu Teen) and Elm's Street. Deep Icons of the 80s.
The Cherry in the cake was Avatar. (con)

Yago said...

(cont) I tried to be fair to it, but is not that easy. Avatar is a monument to the CGI and 3D and expectable worth to see with a huge BUT, no matter all technology and money, and time, invested in this movie, there is no right to COPY PASTE the scrip of Dance with Wolves and using Hayao Miyazaki's Master Pieces to elaborate the Artistic Direction and some plot and character development. Hello, we are talking of the mastermind if ALIEN and TERMINATOR. The whole ideao of the Forest, the Miners, the Spirits of the Forrest, the Animals protecting the forrest, even the main Female character was directly copied from Princess Mononoke. So the 3/4 of the art of AVATAR has been copied ( no inspired, copied).
But there is nothing to do besides BoyCot and Download. The Movies Experiences is turning into something for the rich ($5-8$ for a small popcorn) with a extreme lack on content.
For how long are we able, as society, live as empty shells? For how long.

Nick Naney said...

I'm probably preaching to the cynics here but I don't know Bennett Media, I understand your critiscisms but I still think youre letting your negative outlook on modern cinema keep you from enjoying most new movies. There were many great fun times I had at the movies this year, Scott Pilgrim, True Grit, The Fighter, Dogtooth, Never Let Me Go, Four Lions. Everybody wants it to be the 70's or the 80's again but it's never going to happen. There's still talented people out there and every now and then they get enough power to show the world their shit. Maybe things were a bit looser 30 years ago but it's always been us against them in terms of being a film geek and whats popular and I guarantee you in 20 years, there'll be a whole new slew of geeks complaining about how they just don't remake and reboot things quite like they used to

Paul Proulx + Jessica Sargent said...

that's backwards. most new movies are giving us a negative outlook on modern cinema

Jacob Spickelmire said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aaron said...

something needs to be done

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