Wednesday, August 24, 2005

NY Times: "After so many summer blockbusters flopped, H-wood exec wonder if many of their movies are just not good enough"

By SHARON WAXMAN (Published: August 24, 2005) LOS ANGELES, Aug. 23 - With the last of the summer blockbusters fading from the multiplex, Hollywood's box office slump has hardened into a reality that is setting the movie industry on edge. The drop in ticket sales from last summer to this summer, the most important moviegoing season, is projected to be 9 percent by Labor Day, and the drop in attendance is expected to be even deeper, 11.5 percent, according to Exhibitor Relations, which tracks the box office.
Not only am I a writer, but I am an avid watcher of films. Far from being a cinema purist or snobby slighter of "popular" films, my only criteria for enjoying a film is that it be "good." Could my criteria be any more amorphous, subjective or vague? Probably not.

For a film to be "good", first, the makers must respect their audience on some level. For instance, the movie Independence Day starring Will Smith and Bill Pullman respected no one but the beancounters in the accounting department. The Scream films are another example of a filmmaker having no respect for his audience. I'm not only willing to suspend my disbelief, I enjoy doing so; that's why I watch at least two films per day. However, this does not give a filmmaker carte blanche with me. The filmmaker (writer, director, producers) must present me with a world in which some semblance of logic exists. I don't care if their world's logic conflicts with the real world's; if it does, all the better. But the filmmaker must adhere to the logic of their world, whatever it is.

Hollywood movies, on the whole, fail miserably on this point.

For me to enjoy a film, it has to look good, as well. Cinematography is an artform. Too few directors realize this. More often than not, films seem to be made by people who are used to making Kmart commercials or filming sitcoms. Hollywood's general idea of cinematography seems to be "Has the lense cap been removed from the camera? OK, that's cinematography." Uh, no, that's not.

Have you seen the film Hero, or Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock, & Two Smoking Barrels or Snatch? That's cinematography. Have you seen the latenight classic Alice, Sweet Alice? That's cinematography. Or Rob Zombie's films, House of 1,000 Corpses or The Devil's Rejects? Both films look absolutely wonderful. Their stories are quite "iffy", but I gladly hung in there for both because they looked so damn good.

Also, scrap remakes. All of them. Particularly of old TV shows. Fire and ostracize anyone who suggests anything along this line. I have yet to see one of these that didn't make me vomit in the first ten minutes.

More films based on graphic novels, like Sin City.

Bring the audience more talented unknowns. I think Tom Cruise's recent, ongoing publicity debacle is proof that big name stars just aren't enough to get people out to see films. Personally, I'm sick of watching a bunch of millionaires running around in some abortion of a film that basically serves as celebrity welfare to support their billionaire lifestyles.

Star Wars Episode IV in 1977 succeeded because the film brought the audience a cast, largely, of talented unknowns. Mark Hamil was probably the weakest actor of the bunch, but even he comes off well as the neophyte Luke Skywalker. My guess is because the casting was based on partially on his looks.

What films have I seen recently that I hold up as examples of wonderful filmmaking?

  • Fritz Lang's M starring Peter Lorre. This is a haunting film with a gripping plotline in which a child killer is loose on the streets of a German city. His crimes have brought a general crackdown onto even the more "respectable" criminals to the point where members of the city's organized crime syndicate move to capture the monster themselves in order to get back to business as quickly as possible. The acting is impeccable, the storyline is entirely engrossing, and the film raises many thought-provoking issues about vigilante justice and how much are people responsible for their actions, even if they are mental unstable.

  • The Eye, a Mandarin film by Oxide Pang Chun and Danny Pang. It's the story of a blind woman who receives a cornea transplant, and soon after sees ghosts all around her. It turns out, the donor of her eyes had been an eccentric girl with psychic abilities who died a horrible death in some far-flung village. This film's plot and storyline are exceptional. The film also looks great. It's a first rate horror film. The thing I enjoy best about horror movies coming out of the Orient is that they aren't into the shocking or startling the audience like American movies. You know, how Hollywood films are always pulling those "zingers" on the audience, startling the shit out of you with some loud noise and giving you only a glimpse of the monster? This is bullshit filmmaking. It's cheap and hackneyed. When you're in charge of the camera, it takes absolutely no skill to startle your audience.

  • Also: Ju On was masterful, Battle Royale was a spectacular dystopian adventure film, Skikoku was a very moody, wonderfully filmed horror, and Ringu which wasn't totally destroyed in the American remake, was as terrifying a film as I've ever seen.

  • Woody Allen's Take the Money and Run. This is one of the funniest movies I've ever seen. Also hilarious films are Catch-22, Dr. Strangelove, Animal House, The Blues Brothers, American Movie.

  • George A. Romero's Land of the Dead was also quite good. Not only did I enjoy the story, this horror movie made almost no use of my steadily-increasing pet peeve: Computer Generated Images (CGI). Romero is a great writer and filmmaker, and he completely maximized the plot effects he sought in this film.
CGI is the bane of contemporary filmmaking. Directors are shoe-horning digitally crafted effects into every conceivable scene in every film. Worse, directors are going back to older works -- George Lucas adding this obscenity to THX1138 and Steven Spielberg to E.T. -- which I think is a complete abomination.

It's no secret why Hollywood films are doing so badly. The Hollywood system is designed to churn out shit. You have the moneymen making creative decisions, you have creatives making money decisions, you've got a coven of MBAs in there who would just as soon sell drinking straws as films -- whatever turns a buck -- all thrown together in this hideous orgy that is finally choking on its own vomit.

Yes, I realize that films need to make money. Yes, I know that accounting departments need to be involved with filmmaking, funding and keeping things on budget. Yes, I'm aware of the realworld aspects of investing money in a film and hoping to earn back more than was invested.

My point: Good films earn money, too. Look at the Indiana Jones films. Look at the first Austin Powers film. Look at American Beauty and Napolean Dynamite.

Hollywood is foundering right now because it's lazy.


Ascendantlive said...

Hollywood Moveie Plot Checklist:
1)Action star who kills at least 100 people.
2)Airplane crash
3)Bad guy with lots of guns
4)Hot blonde/brunette who can't act but mesmerizes men with her tits
5)Exploding Car
6)Action Hero dives behind wall to avoid gunfire
7)Badly coreographed fight scene
8)One or more bombs
9)Evil plot to destroy America, rape children, poison puppies, or genreally kill everyone in a designated area such as New York or L.A.
10)Good guy action hero with socks in his pants kills badguy by reversing the evil plot, fucks mesmerizing blonde/brunette and then say 'Let's go home, babe' because no one can remember the babe's name.

I think this is the list prodcuers keep at their desks. If everything checks off they pledge 100 mil to the movie because sadly they know the tits are worth at least 200 mil.

Whetam Gnauckweirst said...

I think you're dead right about there being such a list. I've read that Hollywood screenplays MUST have a sex scene within the first 12-15 pages.

The theme I've gotten very sick of is the "child in peril" hook. The populace has become so jaded and insensate that filmmakers (and makers of commercials) have to place a child in jeopardy for anyone to care. Take a regular adult hostage in a film, most of the audience would shrug and think, "Who gives a fuck? Blow his head off." Because that adult would probably remind them of someone who cut them off in traffic or beat them out of a promotion at work.

Ascendantlive said...

I think putting a child in peril is a cheap way out of improving story writing and actually making their characters come alive. Whereas now they might as well replace the actors with cardboard cut-outs, we'd never know the difference.

VegasRoyale said...

Hi Matt.
Wouldn't normally add this type of comment, but two great movies I've seen recently are Down by Law, almost caressed onto film by Robby Muller, and In Cold Blood, based on the Capote book. As for the creative constipation that seems to prevail in Hollywood, I don't think that it's limited to film. A cursory look at the best-seller lists pertaining to any of "the arts" would suggest that distraction, rather than stimulation, is what the majority of patrons are after. At the end of the day, producers, publishers, and their ilk are entrepreneurs, not artists. Beauty and commerce are rarely happy bedfellows.
Hope all is well with you.
Best, Al

Whetam Gnauckweirst said...

As Larry Brown writes in his book Big Bad Love, "It's the same old Colossus that's got one foot planted in Art, the other in Commerce, and he's pissing on your head while he's wearing your wristwatch."

Down By Law features Tom Waits in the lead, if I'm not mistaken.

I also thought In Cold Blood with future-murderer, Robert Blake, was extremely well done. Bleak, but fascinating.