Friday, September 30, 2011

The Summer of My Discontent

No, Dane Cook did not release a movie as of Labor Day 2011, so I figure we should give Thanks for Great Favors.  He really has nothing to do with these private thoughts expressed publicly, except perhaps that he is emblematic of what is wrong with Hollywood at the moment: people with a modicum of talent who find themselves both in front and behind the camera. 

I look back on 2011 from the beginning of the year to the end of Labor Day/September (which in the U.S., means the end of summer) and think, Dear God what has gone wrong?  Has cinema gone so far off the deep end that audiences were treated to an especially grotesque barrage of garbage in the belief that people would want more?  I've been told that I'm far too harsh, but looking back at a year that has brought us such endeavors as The Green Hornet AND Green Lantern (making the case that no one should go green), and the almost Satanic horror that was The Hangover Part II, it's rather easy to lose hope.  It appears that every summer a cavalcade of bad films rushes at us from one weekend to the next, and as soon as we see what a horrendous piece of trash we've shelled out money to see was (from The Green Hornet to The Hangover Part II to Green Lantern), we at least have the small comfort of knowing they will quickly be replaced by another film. 

This summer has been the Summer of the Superhero, with FIVE comic-book based films (X-Men: First Class, Thor, Priest, Green Lantern, and Captain America: The First Avenger...whether I count Green Hornet as one is subject of debate).    Both Thor and Captain America served as nothing less than trailers for The Avengers, though in fairness they will have their own series too.  The positive thing about them (in particular Captain America) is that they work apart from The Avengers, so they can be appreciated on their own merits.  I don't know if X-Men: First Class can work within the established X-Men film series or is intended to start another series altogether, but unlike others I was underwhelmed by it.  As for Green Lantern...a mess touching the edge of a disaster.  That one also set itself up for a sequel, and it will get one, though God only knows why anyone would want to see another bungled effort following how bad the first Green Lantern was.    Priest I think also left the door ever-so-slightly ajar for a sequel, but if there is another one actually made, it might signal the end of Hollywood as an industry.

Of the films so far reviewed, I hold The Hangover Part II in particular contempt.  How I HATED THIS FILM.  I know many people within the theater loved it, but I've said it before and I'll say it again: I find no humor in dismemberment.   The Hangover Part II was an ugly film: racist, sexist, homophobic, and just plain nasty (in every sense of the word).   The first one had an offbeat charm in its collection of oddballs and idiots, but the second one just had a vicious streak running through it, and I take my fellow viewers to task for thinking that such deliberate cruelty could be so funny.  I don't ask much, but I still think it is required to think when watching any film, and The Hangover Part II demanded that I not only shut off my brain but shut down anything resembling a soul. 

One thing that I find extremely troubling is the emphasis on remakes.  So far, I managed to count seven (Fright Night, Conan the Barbarian, Straw Dogs, Arthur, The Debt, Footloose, and The Mechanic), and at least two more to go (The Thing and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), and that was just off the top of my head for this year.  I'm not thinking about last year's The Karate Kid (which should have been if one is technical on the matter The Kung-Fu Kid), Clash of the Titans, True Grit, and The Wolfman (though True Grit was a great film and I liked The Wolfman...and make no apologies for it).  Now, unlike other people I don't have a problem with remakes (I always remember that both The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur are themselves remakes).  I'm not even particularly troubled by people remaking beloved films like Footloose (although I'm not keen on the idea of a Dirty Dancing remake). 

What DOES trouble me is that Hollywood is now going to remakes of films from the 1980s.  It doesn't trouble me because I'm old enough to remember when the original came out (well, maybe a little); it troubles me because it's another sign that Hollywood just does not trust its audience.  Remember a few years back when old television shows and sketches from television shows were being adapted into films?  There were some good adaptations (The Fugitive, Wayne's World, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan & 2009's Star Trek, The Untouchables) but then it became a mad rush to see the film version of almost anything (Miami Vice, The A-Team...where's the Hunter remake?)  It's this damn herd mentality within the confines of Hollywood: if it worked for them, it will work for us.  This goes a long way into explaining why after The X-Files (another one that went from screen to screen), there were more sci-fi shows, and why today shows like The Event and FlashForward are (or were) trying to be the new Lost, No Ordinary Family was vying for Heroes-like glory (it quickly fell off the radar), and The Playboy Club and Pan Am are attempting to be the next Mad Men.  Rather than try for originality, Hollywood tries to take what worked for one and make it work for others.  Nine times out of ten, it doesn't, but they keep trying.

Same with films.  A prime example is The Hangover Part II, the only film that can be both a sequel AND a remake all at once.  You take the exact same movie, tweak it a bit, and voila: a 'new' product.  People were fooled, but given that there is already a Hangover Part III in the works one can only ask, how often can people go to see the same film over and over and over once more? 

Again and again I tell Hollywood: trust your audience.  If you give something good to people, you will find they will love it.  Granted, sometimes something awful is beloved, and something great is overlooked, but by and large people will go to good films if you give them a reason to. 

Looking back on all the films reviewed thus far, only TWO were in my mind worth being called Masterpieces (and one of them was a documentary): Jane Eyre and Senna.  These are the only films for which I will beat the drum for and that I truly fell in love with.  However, out of the 49 films I've reviewed up to this date, there have been quite a number of good ones.  Among these are:
  • Atlas Shrugged: Part I
  • Beginners
  • A Better Life
  • Captain America
  • Cedar Rapids
  • The Devil's Double
  • Fright Night
  • The Help
  • Insidious
  • Midnight in Paris
  • Unknown 
Now, I know I may get grief over Atlas Shrugged: Part I, but I hold that it was the politics that got many riled up.  As a film, it had problems, but I didn't detest it at all.  Some of the acting wasn't good (then again, compared to the two Green films, The Hangover Part II, or Just Go With It, Atlas Shrugged: Part I is almost a study in/of Bergman-esque performances), but on the whole, it's a film I would recommend to anyone (especially my Ron Paul-loving friends, of whom I have more than I suspected).  Barring that, I think I'm within the consensus of the rest of my fellow critics.

On some of their choices, I dissent.  I was underwhelmed by Thor and X-Men: First Class, as well as Bridesmaids, The Adjustment Bureau, The Debt, and Everything Must Go.   They weren't terrible films, but not as good as I was led to believe.  As for the true horrors, I think again, I'm with the majority. 

The two films where I sharply disagree on are The Tree of Life and Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part II.  Most of my brethren were enraptured with them, but I found the first dull, slow, boring and worse of all, pretentious.  A hideous film (though beautiful to look at, if one were conscious at the time), and its praise by others is a mystery to me.  As for the second, I have never bought the premise that the Harry Potter series is the Citizen Kane of literature (children's or otherwise), and while I thought the films did get progressively better (culminating in my favorite Potter film: The Half-Blood Prince), I found nothing to justify splitting up Deathly Hallows into two films (except financial considerations) and don't think it's this groundbreaking spectacle worthy of a Best Picture nomination.  I am unyielding on my insistence that both Tree of Life and Deathly Hallows Part II are WILDLY OVERRATED. 

It seems like every summer I go through this: bad movies with little thought other than to take my cash first week out only to go into that oblivion they so richly deserve.  And to think: the original Cleopatra with Theda Bara is lost forever, while The Hangover Part II will always be with us to torment us...

Now that we are in fall, we will be seeing those Oscar-bait films, the classy upmarket products that probably won't be seen in El Paso until 2012.  I figure though, that The Help will earn a Best Picture nomination (though I doubt it will win even without seeing which films will actually earn nominations), and that will be a good thing: it will mean that perhaps a good film like The Help can be released in the summer and still somehow be remembered for the quality work. 

I can only hope that like every year, Hollywood has gotten most of its bad films out of its system, and that the fall will be a glorious season in film.  How I LONG for that.

Finally, to commemorate the Winner of My Poll of Who Should Just Stop Making Films (who has made one bad film already--Water For Elephants--and will appear in an adaptation of one of the worst book series ever written--the Twilight series...excuse me, SAGA):

Well, there's no accounting for taste...

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