Thursday, December 24, 2009

It's beginning to look a lot like... an opportunity to make up for neglecting your kid.

It's almost Christmas, and I just both started and finished my shopping. I don't dilly dally when I'm in a mall: it's a calculated attack. I know exactly what I need, I know exactly where to get it, I walk quickly while dodging all bad walkers and I was out of the mall less than an hour after I entered it. I imagine this is what Christmas shopping is like for Jack Bauer. It's possible to shop like this because there is nobody on my list asking for whatever unattainable Furby/Cabbage Patch Kid/ Tickle Me Elmo type thing is huge this year. However, I still got to go through the experience of trying to find that unattainable gift with a dear friend of mine named Howard, and we go through this experience annually when I watch my favourite Christmas movie.

Jingle All the Way is about Howard Langston (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who is some sort of carpet king in Minneapolis. But being the king of carpets comes at a price. Howard often ignores his family in favour of business, and they seem to be getting fed up with it. His son Jamie, played by the always loveable and talented method actor Jake Lloyd, has a karate class the night of December 23rd, and Howard has promised he will make it. But, as anybody who has ever seen a movie before can predict, Howard doesn't make it, sending the Langston family into a fit of Christmas disappointment.

Howard comes home to find his son sitting in front of the television watching a show about Turboman, Jamie's favourite superhero. Howard is getting worried about how he is going to mend this situation, and after going through a number of embarrassing attempts to win Jamie over, he comes up with the foolproof American solution. Howard asks Jamie what he wants for Christmas, which gets Jamie out of his chair and performing a live dramatic interpretation of a commercial for the Turboman action figure. When Howard essentially promises Jamie that he will get this toy for Christmas, everything is suddenly okay and the father and son share a heartwarming hug. And then I weep.

Jingle All the Way is a Christmas movie, yes, but it is about the worst aspects of Christmas and in a way that I don't think is meant to be ironic. Everybody knows that Christmas hasn't been about Jesus in a long time, but this movie flat out says that Christmas is exclusively about getting whatever material product you want. Everybody needs to buy a Turboman doll, because if they don't, their kid will hate them.

The rest of the movie takes place on Christmas Eve, and documents Howard's day trying to track down a Turboman doll. At the first toy store he goes to, he meets Myron (Sinbad, who is somehow really funny in this), a postal worker who is stuck in the same predicament as Howard. They end up battling as a sort of Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner duo who are in competition all day, and this is the other interesting/upsetting element of the movie. Howard represents the upper class, while Myron is the lower class. We know that Howard has an incredible house in the suburbs, and that money is not a big problem for his family. Myron, however, is a working class mailman who likely does not live as comfortably as Howard, but is in just the same holiday predicament.

Myron mentions how he has to carry around letters to Santa (while the movie never comes out and says it, it does kind of acknowledge that Santa doesn't exist), even those from poor children who will not be able to get what they want because of financial issues. Myron knows that Christmas is about the "rich and powerful toy cartels," and that North America has come to accept this about Christmas. I am in no way calling for a return to Christian values here, I'm just trying to point out that this is possibly the most accurate Christmas movie there is. Obviously, much of it is absurd, but this movie is great for capturing what the modern Christmas is like.

Howard's quest for the Turboman doll is something he undertakes solely because it's the only thing that will get Jamie to forgive him, and that alone says more about North American culture than most "serious" pieces of media can. Jamie is a spoiled rat who gets what he wants, and Howard knows he can't just stop spoiling him now. When Myron says he never got the toy he wanted for Christmas, but his neighbour got it and went on to become a billionaire, Howard is even more convinced that Jamie needs a Turboman. Howard had better get his kid that toy, for otherwise Jamie will be condemned to a lifetime stuck in the middle class.

Towards the end of the movie, Howard ends up at the Christmas Eve parade downtown in an attempt to meet up with his family. He accidentally stumbles into a building that is apparently used for parade float preparation, and due to his muscular physique, Howard is mistaken for the actor meant to be Turboman in the parade. Howard is then put in costume, complete with a functioning jet pack, and goes up to the float where he has the opportunity to give Jamie a special edition Turboman doll. Finally, Howard has provided for his child (unless you count keeping him warm and fed in a gorgeous house, in which case he was providing all along).

BUT WAIT! Myron caught up, and is now in the costume of Turboman's arch-nemesis, Dementor! This leads to an incredible, over-the-top action sequence that features flying fists, flying discs, and flying people. After it's all over, Howard/Turboman has defeated Myron/Dementor, and Jamie has his Turboman doll. But, as Myron is being lead away by the police, Jamie realizes that this movie features no holiday spirit and makes a last ditch attempt to inject some by giving the action figure to Myron for his kid. Aw, how sweet. Myron says that it will make his son very happy, but I don't know how he'll give it to his son: by my count, Myron is going to be charged with attempted kidnapping, multiple counts of assault with a deadly weapon, and theft. His son might get his Turboman doll this year, but he certainly won't have his dad home for the next few Christmases, and his family will have to learn to adjust to life without a father figure and his paycheque.

There is one quick shot during Howard's Turboman jet pack scene that sums up this movie and the modern Christmas frenzy perfectly. Howard loses control of his jet pack and flies through the window of an apartment building before flying out through another window on the other side. While passing through the building, however, he flies right through a family's dining room as they pray over their Christmas Eve turkey dinner, destroying everything. Turboman, and consumerism in general, has lead to the destruction of the religious and familial elements of Christmas, and he doesn't even care enough to look back once.

The title for this post is courtesy of my good friend Emma... thanks pal!

A NOTE ABOUT YEAR/DECADE END STUFF: You are probably currently being bombarded by top 10 lists from every critic, blogger, and nerdy friend for both 2009 and the 2000s as a whole. People like reading quick hit lists, but the real reason so many people write them is because they're fun as shit! I probably won't post a top 10 movies of the decade, but I will post something both movie and music related sometime in January. I will also eventually make some sort of list about my favourite movies of 2009, but not for another couple of months (I don't live in a massive city, so often I have to wait a while for a lot of good stuff to make it to town). I do already know what my absolute favourite movie of 2009 will be when all is said and done though, and you can expect a post about that in the near future too. If Santa's pending visit wasn't already enough to keep you from sleeping, this news must be!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A few little things

I saw Brothers last week, which was pretty good. It was mostly well acted, NatPo was real cute, and there were some fun parallels between some characters... I'll warn you though: if you are like me, Tobey Maguire will always make you think of Spider-Man. If you're like me even more, any time you see him angry, you will want to make a dark symbiote joke. But I digress.

I like Jake Gyllenhall. I think he is a good actor (although I wish he would do a comedy every so often - the man is obviously funny), but Brothers features a couple of scenes that together form what I like to call "How to NOT Eat Food like a Regular Person.*" At the beginning of Brothers, Jake's character has just gotten out of jail, and we see him eat his mashed potatoes of freedom with a vigor matched only by... I can't even think of anything. He tears those potatoes up! I forgive this one... I mean, he did just get out of jail. I haven't been to jail, but I imagine that if I had, I would demolish my first post-jail meal too.

Later in the movie though, he eats again, and it is ridiculous: Jake's character apparently loves his pizza so much that he has to eat it UPSIDE DOWN. I'm serious. Over the course of this meal of upside down pizza, he smacks his lips, licks his fingers, and plays with his napkin constantly. Was he in jail for overacting? I don't know, but I'm pretty sure that at one point in this scene, Jamie Foxx (dressed in a tailored suit, of course) pops up over Jake's shoulder and winks at the camera before disappearing. Maybe Foxx was his lawyer and knows he will soon be getting more business? Who knows.
*now with an introduction by Jamie Foxx!

The poster for Christopher Nolan's next movie Inception exists now, and it gets me really excited. Yeah, the poster looks like that Dark Knight teaser poster with the Joker, but that one made me lose my shit, too. After the Dark Knight's success, I bet that Nolan can do pretty much whatever he wants with Inception, and I'm willing to bet it's going to be incredible. Nolan is probably the best working filmmaker today, so I'm really excited to see what he'll do with the creative freedom.

I had another point, but in all the excitement about upside down pizza, I seem to have forgotten it. I saw the Blind Side last week too, which I would give a rating of "good, but exactly what you would expect." Sandra Bullock's physique, however, gets a rating of "DAMN!" Maybe even the coveted rating of a damn featuring both a Y and a U. If you don't know what I mean, just watch half an episode of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air... Will is sure to say it at least once.

Anyway, a real post will be forthcoming in the next couple of days, I just couldn't wait any longer to continue my crusade against poor eating in films. Shame on you, Jacob.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

My thoughts on Avatar (before I see it)

MILD SPOILER ALERT: This post (obviously) won't spoil Avatar, but if you haven't seen the first two Terminator movies, this may hurt them for you. Also, I realize that my examination of the time travel in the Terminator is crude, but few discussions about time travel end up making sense anyway, so I just kept it brief.

I don’t hate James Cameron, although with the way I talk about him you might soon think that I do. However, I do hate how he seems to be perceived by the media, film critics, and most regular folk. For some reason, people just absolutely love this guy’s work. I have trouble seeing why he gets the love he does though, and it's not just because I constantly try to think the opposite of what mass society deems I should think (I suspect this explains why I often loudly claim my love for Steven Seagal movies, that the Lord of the Rings sucks, and that Annie is hotter than Britta), but because I actually don’t think his movies are much better than well-made action movies.

Anybody who says that the Terminator movies are expertly written is at least half-crazy. The plot of the first movie goes something like this: Kyle Reese is sent from the post-apocalypse 2029 to pre-apocalypse 1984 in order to stop a Terminator from killing Sarah Connor, a woman who will eventually give birth to a sort of Che Guevara who hates machines instead of America. Obviously good triumphs, with Sarah and Kyle defeating the Terminator and leaving it a scrap heap.

The second movie, however, takes place in 1995, as we are inching closer and closer to the apocalypse. Cyberdyne Systems found the remains of the Terminator from the first film, and was able to create a powerful microprocessor for weapons systems from it, which is eventually what leads to the development of Skynet, and then, you know, the apocalypse and stuff. A young John Connor with his mom and a modified, wisecracking T-1000 are trying to stop this, but the whole plot of the movie and the eventual apocalypse requires the existence of the remains of the first Terminator.

Kyle Reese is sent back to 1984 by John Connor himself in order to stop the Terminator, thusly allowing its remains to be found and for Cyberdyne to develop Skynet. Given that the means for time travel exist in 2029, Connor must know that by altering the past even in the slightest, you will change your present. Connor should have realized the risks of having a destroyed version of some pretty advanced technology being found by a tech company in 1984. He should have let the Terminator kill his mother and by extension himself, because then there wouldn’t have been any giant police station shootouts and the Terminator could leave 1984 without his remnants being found. Knowing what was at risk, Connor's death and his mother’s death would likely be seen as necessary for the greater good, the Terminator would be a 20-minute movie that did not spawn a franchise, and Edward Furlong never would have become a pop music sensation in Japan*.

The Terminator is an interesting movie, mostly because it’s so dated now that I don’t think I could qualify it as “good” anymore. It was made on a very low budget, and the special effects make that obvious to the casual modern viewer. While it was definitely very well-liked at the time, judging by the lengths of their respective Wikipedia pages, the sequel is far more beloved. James Cameron gets endless amounts of love from critics and film nerds just like me for writing and directing a cool action movie around a plot hole… and like John Connor, T2 unnecessarily ushered in a negative change in its respective environment.

James Cameron is often noted as starting the advent of computer generated imagery in film, and he has received plenty of praise for it. CGI has allowed for a number of great films to exist, but I think that its use is more often than not a detriment to an action movie. Now it seems that whenever the choices are between CGI and trying a little harder and doing it for real, 90% of the time CGI will be used for a variety of reasons. Any big action scene generally requires a suspension of belief and an unbroken sense of tension in order for a viewer to be completely engrossed in it, but the second I see a computer generated image that is noticeably bad, I think about it instead of the scene, and that tension is lost. I think the best action movies of this past decade are the Bourne series, Collateral, Casino Royale, The Lookout, Public Enemies and others that are slipping my mind currently. What these movies all have in common is a decided focus on avoiding CGI whenever possible: while Public Enemies has one bad CGI shot towards the end, I can't think of any other notable uses of CGI in these movies. While there are some movies that use CGI flawlessly in their action scenes (the Transformers movies come to mind), you are still taking the viewer out of the action as they marvel at the technology.

Through the success of the first Terminator, Cameron was in a position to be hired to make Aliens. I would imagine that after Aliens’ box office success, Cameron could pretty much do what he wanted, which meant the Abyss, T2, True Lies and then Titanic, all featuring his baby CGI. When Cameron (kind of embarrassingly) claimed he was the king of the world at the Oscars, he was probably right if that world was confined to “Hollywood in the 1990s.” And then, he disappeared to his castle until 2005, when he announced Avatar, the film whose commercial is currently bombarding you whenever you watch professional football.

I am curious to see how Avatar does financially, just as I am curious to see whether or not the movie is actually good. I bet it will be a colossal hit, and I will probably classify it as “pretty badass.” But I want it to fail… horribly. I want it to be the new Cutthroat Island. I want it to be the new Waterworld. I want Avatar to "Ishtar," and then I want Avatar's name to be used as a verb for the poor performance of a future blockbuster. And it’s all because of one thing James Cameron said.

Cameron has mentioned multiple times that he cut back on the story element of Avatar in order to focus on the new stereoscopic 3D technology. While I concur that few blockbusters put the story over the action, most of these movies aren’t directed by people who are hailed as the saviour of the modern blockbuster. It seems like critics and movie nerds alike are expecting to see the world changed by Avatar, but it will probably only be a mediocre-to-good movie that has elements taken from it and put into countless other shitty blockbusters. It isn’t going to reinvigorate the modern blockbuster, it’s going to hurt it.

When Avatar inevitably does huge numbers, its success will likely be attributed to Cameron’s innovative use of technology, and probably deservedly so. By almost all accounts the effects are insanely cool: while one Guardian reviewer said the 3D effects made him nauseous, it seems that everybody else says "WHOOOOAAAA." The problem is that by sacrificing story, and also by making that sacrifice known, Cameron has given viewers few other reasons to cite for the movie’s success. This then leads future blockbuster filmmakers to (rightly) assume that the technology was the reason for the success, and then these filmmakers also ignore story in favour of messing with the new technology.

From what I can gather without having seen the movie, Avatar is about humanity's encroachment on a world that is living in harmony, populated by the Na'vi. Sam Worthington plays Jake Sully, a paralyzed U.S. Marine who is able to walk again through the development of the new Avatar technology, and he starts to explore the Na'vi world of Pandora. Through technology, Jake is able to do what he wants in this world that existed before him, but he quickly realizes that what the humans are doing is destroying a world that was more or less a utopia before they arrived. Cameron has mentioned that he sees the movie as a sort of warning, and that he wants viewers to think about how they interact with nature, and yet he doesn't seem to realize how big of a metaphor he is creating for himself. While Hollywood is far from a utopia, James Cameron was able to do what he wanted with the blockbuster due to the advent of filmmaking technology, and in doing so he forever altered the landscape of the world of filmmaking.

All of this makes me sound like a luddite who hates any sort of technological growth, but I think I have a point here. While James Cameron often uses his technological advancements well, many others that borrow them in the future just aren't using them as well. Despite the fact that it exists because of what I deem to be a plot hole, T2 has held up over time and is still a good action movie. Aliens is still good as well, and every time I see True Lies on television, I always find myself watching it until at least the next commercial break. The problem is that they are just that: good. They aren't great like many people claim, and Cameron is above all else trying to make some money. He is barely different from Michael Bay, the most reviled modern filmmaker of the past decade: the only real difference is that Bay is more honest about his ambitions. He wants to make money and knows he is making popcorn movies, whereas James Cameron seems to feel he is advancing the state of filmmaking, while most critics and movie fans seem to feel the same way. While Cameron has said that Avatar is for 14 year old boys, he knows nerds like me will think about it far more than we should, and he expects us to marvel at the technology and praise him for it. While I will likely marvel at the technology, I don't think it will add much to the future of filmmaking, and it will detract more from future action movies than it will help them. CGI is consistently used well by Cameron and Bay, but not many others. I worry that the same thing will happen with 3D in action movies.

Maybe Cameron wrote the character of Jake intentionally as a metaphor for himself, and that Jake will use technology to achieve his goals without care for what is going on around him… or maybe it's just a coincidence. It appears from the trailer that Jake has a crisis about how humans are treating Pandora at some point, and the ending of the movie will likely feature a "we need to treat nature and our fellow man better" type of message. However, I think it would be far more appropriate if Jake and the rest of the humans used their technology to do whatever they desired within Pandora, because that's what James Cameron is doing in Hollywood. And like John Connor's decision to send Kyle Reese to 1984, Cameron's work is going to affect the future of his environment in a negative way, not a positive one.

*according to Furlong's IMDB trivia page, this happened. I would have looked into it more, but honestly I just didn't want to find out that it wasn't true.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I apparently might also love Ben Affleck...

I'm changing some stuff around here. I will no longer be posting every Monday, instead I will be posting whenever something is finished. I've rushed a couple of my last posts, and I don't like that. This isn't a job, I have no real deadline to make, so I'm going to take some extra time and do a better job.

I originally put that "posting every Monday" thing into play because I was worried I would just stop writing, but that has not been a problem. Finding a satisfactory conclusion has been, and hopefully more time and thought will fix that. So, I will (hopefully) post at least four things a month, but there won't necessarily be a post every Monday.

Since I am desperate to keep the few readers I have, if you don't have Google reader and want me to notify you when I post something new, I will gladly do so. I'm not going to post my e-mail here, but comment if you want notifications and we'll figure something out.

And now onto the real reason you should be here:

"Stop giving Ben Affleck such a hard time. He occasionally shows that he's really talented, he just makes poor choices with the movies he chooses to be in."
-my oft-repeated argument/apology for Ben Affleck

"It's really cool, I liked it a lot... But I don't think it will age well."
-my description of Gone Baby Gone, November 2007

"I don't know what the fuck I was thinking in November 2007... this is a great, great movie that will absolutely hold up over time. And I was right about Ben Affleck! SUCK IT!"
-my thoughts about my description of Gone Baby Gone from November 2007, November 2009
I won't lie, I'm a big fan of the brothers Affleck. I've been an apologist for Ben for longer than I can remember, and if you read my post about the Assassination of Jesse James, you know how I feel about Casey. It seems that every review of this movie (like, ever) has to mention that they are brothers, and just how bad of an actor Ben Affleck is, and how surprised people are that he made a good movie. This is me fulfilling that obligation.

I also feel that I should explain why I have defended Ben Affleck for so long. I think that reason is a combination of Chasing Amy, and a couple of scenes in Good Will Hunting. He is really good in Chasing Amy in general (I haven't watched the movie since high school and realize it is probably the most dated movie ever by now, but I'm sure he's still good), and there are those two scenes towards the end of Good Will Hunting.

SPOILER ALERT: This next paragraph will potentially ruin Good Will Hunting if you haven't seen it. Skip ahead if you want, but the movie as a whole isn't very good so you won't be missing out on much if I spoil it. Plus, I'm saving you from having to watch Minnie Driver act.

I don't like Good Will Hunting very much: I think it's far too Hollywoodized, Minnie Driver's head is fucking HUGE, and when you think about it, very little of the movie actually makes sense. What does make sense, and what are clearly the best scenes in the movie, are the ones between Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. Their last scene together at the construction yard is one of my favourite scenes ever, and that it sums up everything that's good about a friend you are really close with. There is one line especially where Affleck's voice wavers just the tiniest bit, and it's absolutely perfect. Later, in Affleck's final scene, the expression he makes when walking back to the car is just as perfect. I don't like the movie, but I've watched it about 5 times just to see those scenes in context… Even if every other scene he was ever in was absolute trash, I would defend Affleck to the death for these moments alone.


Was I surprised that Ben Affleck directed a good movie? No, not at all… especially since he has never really come across as an idiot to me. Maybe dating J-Lo was a poor idea, but don't act like you wouldn't have if given the chance.

FINE, alright, he shouldn't have been in so many shitty, shitty action movies. Yes, Paycheck and Pearl Harbor are two of the worst movies I've ever seen. But, check out these movies:
  • Mallrats (I'm not a big fan from what I recall, but people love this movie)
  • Chasing Amy (assuming his performance has aged well)
  • Dogma (again, not a fan of the movie, but him and Matt Damon were great)
  • Reindeer Games (honestly, all I remember about this one are Charlize Theron's boobs, but isn't that enough to make it a great, timeless film?)
  • Boiler Room (a very cool movie)
  • Changing Lanes (this is a really good movie)
  • Dazed and Confused (IT'S DAZED AND CONFUSED!)
Boom. Chances are you like John Cusack, and he's been in a much smaller number of good movies, ergo your Affleck hate is completely unjustified. Now that my Affleck discussion obligation has been excessively fulfilled, I can move on to the actual movie.

Like I mentioned in the post about the Savages, 2007 was a great year, and Gone Baby Gone is one of the reasons. It is a neo-noir about a child kidnapping, yes, but that doesn't even begin to do justice to the number of good questions posed by this movie.

The movie starts off with a voiceover monologue about what home is, and the effect it has on a person, setting the theme for the movie. We quickly get some criticism of the mass media, and then we're onto the plot which opens up a whole slew of ethical questions:
  • Who has the right to be a parent? Who doesn't? Who gets to decide what a good parent is?
  • What is a home? How does your own home affect your growth as a person?
  • Do child molesters have the right to a fair trial? Should they just be killed?
  • What constitutes proof? Can we trust the people we're told are to be trusted?
  • Does the media do more bad than good?
  • Why are some people posing for the camera when their goddamn kid got kidnapped?!!?
And all of this is done without ever getting too heavy-handed, and without any actor slipping for even a second. Casey Affleck is (obviously) perfect, Amy Ryan is perfect, Ed Harris is Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman is Morgan Freeman, and Michelle Monaghan is really good too. The cinematography is gorgeous as well for a movie that is almost exclusively shot handheld, and the movie moves along quickly without rushing anything.

I could get more in-depth about why this movie is so good, but I think this post has turned out to be more about Ben Affleck than anything, so I'm going to continue with that. As a study of celebrity, the star as director is fascinating to me: in Gone Baby Gone, we get to see that Affleck has some issues with the media, which is no surprise given that he was a favourite target of theirs during his J-Lo phase. It also might even be a bit of self-criticism: Bennifer never really ran from the media, and in the movie neither does Helene.

Knowing that Affleck is from Boston is also key, because it might appear to be kind of an anti-Boston movie without having known that. I would imagine that all of the questions about raising kids, and who deserves to be able to raise kids, likely come out of the fact that Affleck himself has become a father since fading a bit from the spotlight. Watching Gone Baby Gone, I see the way Helene treats her kid Amanda and think of the Chris Rock joke "that kid is going to rob me in ten years." We see many grown up versions of Amanda in Gone Baby Gone, and it's not pretty.

Then what is it about Gone Baby Gone that I like so much? Is it that it is the first movie I've seen directed by a celebrity I like that backs up my own thoughts about said celebrity? Partially. But apart from Ben Affleck's attachment, this movie is just really, really good. As a thriller, it works. As a series of ethical questions, it works. And yes, as a vague examination of a celebrity, it works. But there is nothing about the movie that isn't intriguing, and I think it definitely belongs in that illustrious "Top 5 of 07." Step aside, Michael Clayton, I'm rejigging this list.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I think I'm in love with Laura Linney

I’m taking the easy way out this week and just writing a pretty basic (and spoiler-free) movie review, but it’s for good reason. 2007 in my mind was a very good year for movies, with No Country for Old Men, Michael Clayton, There Will Be Blood, the Assassination of Jesse James, I’m Not There, Gone Baby Gone, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The Bourne Ultimatum… do you see where I’m going with this? It was a good year.

I am also taking the easy way out this week in another way, too: after I wrote this I realized I did not articulate at all just how good the movie I’m discussing is, and instead of re-writing, I’m just going to occasionally interject… now carry on.

The problem is that with so many great, deservedly recognized movies, there were bound to be a couple that don’t get the full credit they should. The Savages isn’t the best movie of that year (it might not even be in the top 5 of that list I just rattled off), but that doesn’t mean it isn’t absolutely great.

As I have mentioned before in my post about Sugar, I find it rare that a movie focuses more on character than plot or theme. This is one of those rare films. Siblings Wendy and Jon Savage (Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman respectively) have to find a nursing home for their father (Philip Bosco) as he struggles with dementia. This all sounds like something overly dramatic, but I assure you it isn’t. It’s actually remarkably funny, and I would probably consider it a comedy more than I would a drama.

Here is my problem with this movie: it IS great, but it is difficult to fully explain why. I love this movie so much that it is legitimately difficult for me to explain why, and that’s really frustrating.

Wendy and Jon’s relationship with their father has never been a particularly good one, and at the beginning of the movie they haven’t seen each other for years. Wendy and Jon are not particularly close with each other either, and the movie follows them as they get to know each other again. The acting is flawless on each of their parts, but let’s be serious, if you get Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney in the same scene, acting will not be your problem. And with the Savages, the writing certainly isn’t a problem either.

The movie begins with a surreal musical sequence that is hilarious before it moves onto some fairly dramatic plot exposition. The first 45 minutes aren’t particularly funny, for that time is spent setting up the main characters’ relationships. This set-up is absolutely essential to the second half of the movie, however, for once the audience knows the characters, the film gets the opportunity to focus on the laughs. And that is the strength of this movie, in my opinion: the writing. I really enjoy movies that set up their world and then just sort of live in it for a while, and in the Savages you get about an hour of that. Wendy and Jon’s relationship is enjoyable to just watch, and I wish more movies would give you something like that.

Because of the setup in the first half of the movie, we know these characters and have an idea as to how they will react. We know that when Jon hurts himself, Wendy will tap into her maternal urges to take care of him while Jon will downplay everything about the injury. Their scene in Jon’s hallway is absolutely hilarious, and it can only be that funny because of the large amount of setup we’re given before we get there.

This movie, as a whole, is hilarious. It’s not just this scene, but also the scene where Jon gets hurt, the cookies scene, the pillow scene, etc.

I think the Savages is very close in tone to Six Feet Under, but without the occasional feeling of self-importance and pretension (that being said, I love Six Feet Under). It is a mixture of comedy and drama, and the comedy is made much funnier because the drama is so effective. Not only do you laugh at the joke, but you also laugh as a release from the fairly heavy subject matter you’ve been paying attention to.

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney are two of my favourite actors, and they are both perfect in this movie. Yes, they are playing variations of the same character they normally play, but dammit they do it really well. And how many actors out there consistently play drastically different characters anyway? I know Philip Seymour Hoffman does it more often than most, but he still plays the intelligent middle-aged writer type in about half of his movies… he just so happens to excel at it. You could change a few words in those last couple of sentences and it would apply to Linney as well.

This is also Laura Linney’s best performance by a mile. She does almost always play the 40ish upper-middle class woman, but she is unbelievably good at it, and this might be the only movie where we see her character having no real idea about what to do with herself.

I saw this movie once when it first came out, and I absolutely loved it to the point that I was kind of afraid to watch it again in case it wasn’t as good as I remembered it. Well, it’s two years later and it hasn’t gotten any worse. The way the movie builds on its characters is still beautiful, and the jokes haven’t gotten any less funny as time has passed. And while the last scene does sort of bow to a bit of a Hollywood cliché, it works well enough for me.

All things considered, there are few really significant events that happen over the course of our lives, and what the Savage family is dealing with is something that can conceivably happen to most of us. What the movie the Savages tells us, however, is that you don’t need a high-concept movie to be thoroughly entertained. If you start with something that is well written, you’ve got a good chance to make a great, entertaining movie… the problem is that nobody will promote it other than bloggers who beg their friends to watch it.

WATCH THE SAVAGES! Seriously, it’s just so damn good. But maybe I should change a word in that last sentence from “beg” to “yell at.”

Monday, November 16, 2009

I'm a Celebrity Dog: Get Me Out Arf Here!

SPOILER ALERT: This post contains spoilers for Andrew Dominik's Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford... but the title of the movie itself features the biggest spoiler anyway.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is absolutely one of my favourite movies in years, if not period. I love a good western, as well as a movie that doesn’t rush to get to its conclusion… this movie has both of those elements, as well as some stellar acting (Casey Affleck and Sam Rockwell especially), a gorgeous score, and it is far and away the most beautifully photographed movie I have ever seen. But, enough of that normal movie review shit; let’s get down to brass tacks.

The movie is about the infamous bank robber, Jesse James, and his last days before two other members of his gang, Robert Ford and his brother Charley, murder him. Throughout the first two hours of the movie, we are told that Jesse is the most famous man in America through the distribution of nickel books that tell stories of his crusades. When we meet Bob Ford, he is 19 to Jesse’s 34 and Bob has grown up idolizing Jesse.

The thing about Jesse, however, is that while he has committed many crimes, the idea of Jesse James as Bob knows it is more of a concept than a person. Jesse and others throughout the movie mention how the books Bob grew up reading are often fabrications, and that Jesse is not the person described in those books. However, Jesse still makes mention that there is some truth to them: he doesn’t care who rides with him, and “that’s why they call [him] gregarious.” The celebrity begins as truth, but quickly becomes an embellishment of it, although the celebrity often enjoys that embellishment.

Jesse is just that, a celebrity, and between him and Bob, I think this movie is about the concept of celebrity, and those who idolize celebrities. The release of this movie was delayed for over a year due to poor test screenings, and I think the delay only helped to make the film more prescient, as our society’s love of celebrity only seems to grow stronger as each year passes. As a culture, we are often more like Bob than we care to admit. I am far from blameless in this as well, for when I come across a link about a celebrity I admire, I will almost always click on it out of curiousity.

As the movie progresses, we witness Bob forming his own public persona, albeit almost exclusively by copying Jesse. We may not all do this the same way, but we do certainly do it now more than ever. With the advent in popularity of social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, MyFace, etc., we all get a chance to create our own public persona by customizing our pictures and information about ourselves by listing our political views and favourite movies. Again, I am guilty of this myself, and I am probably even more guilty than you because I have a blog. By reading this, you are reading a heavily edited version of my thoughts, and I am only posting what I want you to read. I am helping to construct your opinions of me as a ‘writer.’ The only difference is that people in general care about me far less than they do Brad Pitt… but I concede that he is way hotter than me, so I understand.

The Assassination of Jesse James is a decidedly anti-fame movie: it doesn’t seem to think fame is healthy, and it will eventually destroy those who have it. Jesse is murdered because of his fame: his pride in his exploits in part leads to his murder. Even when he is dead, he is still a concept that people clamor to be a part of. A picture of his corpse becomes extremely popular, and Jesse’s body goes on a road show exhibition as well. Jesse may be dead, but that only seems to make people want a piece of him more, which is akin to many posthumous pieces of media.

We have seen this most recently in the death of Michael Jackson: once he died, the mass media blew up with speculation about his death, and people tried to get one last piece of his life. Like Jesse James, Michael Jackson’s fame probably drove him at least partially insane, and could have possibly caused his death at a fairly young age. And, of course, in death we saw Jackson’s albums back at the top of the charts again (I think I remember seeing his albums were the majority of the Billboard Top 10 for a week or two), and a documentary about his proposed concert tour was rushed into theatres. Just like people once fought to pay $2 for a picture of Jesse’s corpse, people are now rushing to movie theatres to watch an unfinished version of Jackson’s last artistic contribution to the world.

The Assassination of Jesse James also shows us the effect that fame can have on people as they achieve it. After Bob and Charley murder Jesse, they attain their own type of fame. In order to capitalize on this, they begin performing a theatrical reenactment of Jesse’s last days, with Bob as himself and Charley as Jesse. Over time, we see Charley descend into depression from the guilt he feels, and his performance begins to get more accurate before he eventually kills himself. Charley couldn’t handle the guilt he felt from killing a man, much like he couldn’t handle the fame he got from partaking in the act.

Bob, however, initially relishes it. He loves being known as “the man who killed Jesse James,” and shows little remorse over the death of Jesse. He considers himself to be courageous for killing the bank robber, but he eventually starts to feel guilty and descends into alcoholism. Much like his brother, Bob eventually realized how immoral it was to use a man’s murder to increase your financial and social status. The final scene of the movie shows us Bob being killed by Edward O’Kelley, but by that point Bob has resigned himself to his fate. Bob eventually realized that fame is not a positive thing, and that it adds far more pressures than one could foresee prior to attaining it for themselves.

While the way I’m writing about this movie may make it seem like an after school special about the trappings of fame, it is much more subtle than it sounds here. Even if you aren’t as interested with the idea behind the movie as I am, you should still see it because it is a great movie. And once you do see it, be sure to post about it on your Facebook page to let everybody know just how much you love it!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Michael Bay: The People’s Auteur

This is an essay I wrote in my undergrad, and it is just about the only written thing I'm proud of from said career. It's super long, moderately academic, and what may come off as an obsession with one article by Richard Dyer was a requirement of the assignment. I do, however, have a legitimate obsession with Michael Bay that is probably unhealthy. I do legitimately love most of this movies: I think the Rock is the greatest action movie ever (and until the Bourne movies it was a wide margin), Bad Boys 1 and 2 are thoroughly entertaining, the first Transformers is spectacular while the second is a worse film BUT TOTALLY AWESOMER. The Island is a cool movie which I think would have been remembered a lot better if it had a better climactic fight scene (because that city car chase was insaaaaane), and Armageddon is Grade-A hilarity through and through. Pearl Harbor, however, is one of the worst movies ever made. That's okay though Michael: Pearl Harbor sucks, but I still love you.

Michael Bay is a name that evokes horror to film critics, yet all but one of his films have been big hits both in America and overseas. He is perhaps the most notable action director working today, much to the chagrin of many film fanatics. When you are aware that you are seeing a Michael Bay film, you can expect to see non-stop action, edited with a fast-paced cutting style. You also know that there will be multiple instances of product placement, and by the time the film concludes, good will triumph over evil.

These are just some of the things one can expect in viewing a Michael Bay movie, and they come out of the combination of his desire to be an action hero, a businessman, an auteur, and above all, a populist. Michael Bay makes movies for Middle America, and the other three elements of his persona listed here influence and are affected by these populist desires.

It is clear that Bay loves to make action films, and it is also fairly evident through interviews that he likens himself to the heroes the audience cheers for. In Richard Dyer’s Stars as Types, Bay could fit into the mould of the Tough Guy. In commentary tracks he has recorded over his films, Bay often mentions how he operates his own camera in times when he is the only person on set brave enough to do so (The Rock, Bad Boys, Transformers commentary tracks)*. He also discusses how he sees each of his movies as the making of the hero, often involving a wiser old man teaching a young boy to become a hero (Diamond), and this can be read as a way of interpreting how he sees himself as a director on each film. While this is certainly easier to apply to his earlier films, where he is learning about filmmaking from Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, Bay’s completion of later films can still be seen as a lone hero defeating the obstacles in his way before walking off into the sunset as the credits begin to roll. Bay also often discusses competition between his blockbusters and those of other directors: he talks about how he shot, on average, thirty more set-ups each day than J.J. Abrams’ 2006 film Mission: Impossible III (The Island commentary), and how Len Wiseman’s 2007 film Live Free or Die Hard (Transformers commentary) changed its release date to avoid competition with Bay’s Transformers (2007)**. His constant deflection of interview questions that probe into his personal life shows that Bay would like to be seen as the strong, uber-masculine hero, perhaps similar to Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) in Bad Boys (Bay 1995). While multiple writers interviewing Bay criticize him for not being able to open up (Hochman, Hedegaard), Bay says that he is merely guarded because he feels it is not the public’s business, and that “nothing good’s ever been written about [him]” (Saroyan).

*In discussing shooting a scene on an aircraft carrier in Pearl Harbor, Bay mentions how there was a ‘Danger Line’ or a ‘Line of Death’ that no camera person would go past because it was too dangerous with airplanes taking off. Bay grabbed a camera and went, his words, “like 5 feet past the Line of Death.”
**He also mentions how Live Free or Die Hard couldn’t get support from the US Army, but Transformers did. He has “a hotline to the Pentagon… but I guess they just don’t have the juice.”

While Bay does exhibit some elements of a personality in the mould of a tough guy, he would probably be quicker to liken himself to a Rebel. It becomes clear through interviews and film commentaries that this is where Bay would likely want to place himself in the types that Dyer outlines. Bay often mentions how he has to fight with the studio in order to have his way on the set, notably in the case of deciding shooting locations for The Rock (1996). On his commentary track for the film, Bay details how Disney wanted him to shoot the film in Los Angeles instead of on the actual island of Alcatraz, where the film is set. Bay says that after he visited Alcatraz, he went to the studio and said that he’s “got to shoot on this island, because this island is just so fucking bitching” (The Rock commentary)*. He also details struggles with the studio about plot points and elements of his action scenes for all of his movies, to the point where he had to write a cheque for $25 000 dollars (all figures US), a quarter of his fee, in order to get a climactic action shot for his first film (Bad Boys commentary). Bay also constantly fights against the scripts he is given to work with, choosing to rewrite dialogue with his actors as production is ongoing. Bay discusses on each of the commentaries viewed how he often encourages actors to improvise, or even rewrite scenes of dialogue in order to add more humour to the picture. Specifically, he discusses how Bad Boys (1995) had a terrible script**, and that The Rock was green-lit before its screenplay was completed. In order for these films to have been successful, Bay claims, his script changes with the help of his stars were necessary (Bad Boys and The Rock commentary tracks). His addition of this improvisation throughout his films in order to make them funnier, in combination with his combative tendencies, leads Bay to mention how the studio always thinks he is out of his mind (Transformers commentary).

*This is my favourite Michael Bay quote ever.
**And was originally going to star Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz… Seriously.

Through an application of Dyer’s discussion of the Rebel as a star type, we can read these elements of Bay to be rebellious. He does oppose the system (in this case, the studios producing his films) in the ways discussed above, but he is still far from a Rebel. Outside of these elements of his filmmaking process, Bay is very much the Good Joe. He stands up to the bullies of the studio initially, but when the production of the film has been completed, he just wants to please as many people as he can. Bay is different from many directors in that he will adjust his films based on the responses of focus groups and test audiences.

One of the most important elements of Bay’s personality is his absolute dedication to Middle America*. This can be summarized in a word of advice given to Bay by his grandfather: “if you want to make money in this world, whether you make jeans or whatever, you sell to the middle of the country” (Strauss). Bay has taken this advice to heart, as his films often aim to please the average citizen, as opposed to the film fanatic. He extensively tests all of his films for focus groups, and pays attention to their every move. Bay says that when he sees multiple people get up to go to the washroom at the same time, he knows that there is a change that needs to be made to the film at that point (The Rock commentary)**. When questioned about whether this approach is hurting filmmaking, Bay responds by saying that these are the people you are making the movie for, so he should be molding the movie to fit what they desire. He discovered how much he liked to see an audience’s positive reaction to his work when he was at a screening of his senior thesis film, and “saw 350 people looking at the screen, laughing,” which helped to ignite his crowd-pleasing sensibilities (Snead). In an interview that took place at The Rock’s premiere, where the film was being screened for studio executives and celebrities, Bay states that he has “seen this movie eight times now, and this was the deadest audience I’ve seen. I like seeing this with the people I made it for, because they laugh and cheer and are much more vocal” (Diamond). Bay feels that test screenings and focus groups are vital to make the most enjoyable film possible. He also does not understand why other directors have such a disdain for these strategies: Bay feels that it is better to see scores of other people enjoy his work, as opposed to merely being personally satisfied (Sutherland). In the commentary tracks for the respective films, Bay discusses how using his focus group research to improve his films by shooting two extra scenes for Transformers, removing a shot from The Rock that audiences deemed too gruesome, as well as adding more story exposition scenes to Bad Boys***.

*I picture Michael Bay and Jack Donaghy hanging out. Pleeeeease make that cameo happen.
**This is also the reason the San Francisco car chase is in the Rock.
***Which apparently means that Bad Boys had story exposition to begin with.

In keeping with his strategy of making films for Middle America, Bay likes to make sure to keep the characters and stories of his films accessible. While this applies to an extent to all of his films, it is most notable in his most recent work, Transformers. Bay describes the story as that of the relationship between a boy and his first car (Strauss), and in the commentary for the film discusses many of the techniques used to make the film accessible. Bay shows his main character, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), in a variety of generic suburban settings, including a classroom, in order to increase the sense of accessibility. Bay states that the classroom is identifiable to everybody, because “every guy has had this experience. We have all been in this classroom” (Transformers commentary).

Bay’s extreme patriotism is also present in this film, as it is in all the others he has made. The cars that are used in the film for the Autobots and Decepticons are American-made, and there is extensive glorification of the military throughout the film. Bay’s work generally depicts the military in such a positive light that he is able to use military equipment and vehicles before other filmmakers. He even has what he describes as “a hotline to the Pentagon,” which he has earned because Bay makes the military “look good when I do my movies” (Transformers commentary). In the climactic battle, everyman Sam and the army meet up to do battle in tandem with the Autobots, at which point Captain William Lennox (Josh Duhamel) has to convince Sam to help them fight. After Lennox says to Sam, “you are a soldier now!” the audience watches the transformation of the everyman into a mythical action hero who defeats a villainous 50-foot tall robot.

Not only are Bay’s films themselves both patriotic and populist, but the way he runs his set is as well. He prefers to do his action scenes with real stunt people whenever possible, as opposed to using computer generated imagery. Bay likes to use these stunt people in order to keep his films more realistic, but also so that he can keep more stunt people employed (The Island commentary). He also details how he has had the same crew in place since he shot The Rock, and that they have become “like a family” (Bad Boys commentary). In his dedication to these working people of America, Bay even went so far as to give up 30 per cent of his fee for Transformers so that he could shoot in the United States (Transformers commentary). Dreamworks wanted to shoot in Canada and Australia, but Bay felt an intense loyalty to his crew, and that he needed his Los Angeles crew and stunt workers to make the film properly (Sutherland). He furthers his argument by saying that he believes “American movies that portray America should be made in America” (Saroyan). So far, this dedication to the hard-working people of Middle America has worked out for Bay, and it is unlikely that he will change his strategy as long as these films continue to turn large profits.

Bay makes no secret of the commercial goals of his films: the first paragraph in his press-kit biography claims that he has “won nearly every award bestowed by the advertising industry” (Burns). Bay was the youngest director to ever have films gross over $1 billion at the box office (Saroyan), and to date his films have grossed over $3 billion (Schembri). His former producing partner Jerry Bruckheimer states that Bay has learned how to be a shrewd businessman from his time as a director of commercials, in that Bay has to listen to what his clients say, and also be involved with the profitability of the commercial and making sure the budget does not run over. Bay’s clients, however, are now heads of major motion picture studios, and his films are shot on a much bigger scale than his commercials were (Snead).

Michael Bay’s career has also been heavily influenced by factors that originally occurred in Hollywood in the 1970s. The death of the studio system allowed for the restructuring of studios into media entertainment conglomerates. This allowed for more blockbusters to be greenlit: there were now more ways to offset losses, and big productions could also be spun in order to make money through a variety of ancillary markets (Hall 165). This made big productions a safe risk for studios, and they started to be seen with more frequency because of this. Through Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1976), studios learned how much money could be made with the risk of a bigger budget film, so long as it is aggressively marketed. This has changed the way films are made in relation to an audience, for now returning the investment on the film requires drawing in the largest audience possible (Corrigan 88). Bay is fully aware of these elements of the films he is making, and his films take these factors into consideration from before production even begins. Scott Renshaw argues in a review of The Island that the modern blockbuster is a place where Bay can sell a variety of products: a kiss, a chase, or a consumer product. Bay wants to sell his movie to as much of America as he can, and he keeps his target audience in mind at all times because of this. He often makes reference to a time when he was working on The Rock where one of his screenwriters, Jonathan Hensleigh, mentioned it was odd that Bay would take his target audience into consideration. Bay’s reaction to this is to say, “if you’re given sixty million dollars you had better fucking know who you are selling it to.” (The Rock commentary, Diamond, Snead).

And selling may be what he does best. From the moment he begins work on a project, Bay is already formulating ways to market his work. He discusses on the commentary for Bad Boys how he convinced Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson to hire him over another, older director because Bay already had ideas of how to sell the picture to a mass audience. He also wanted to make sure that moviegoers were thinking about Transformers over a year before the movie was released: in the first week of production Bay had the idea to create a teaser trailer in order to create awareness (Transformers commentary). He also blames his only domestic failure, The Island (2006), on a marketing campaign devised by the studio as opposed to Bay himself (The Island commentary).

Bay’s films are influenced by capitalism to such an extent that the designs of the robots in Transformers were rushed along by toy manufacturer Hasbro. The company needed to have finished designs so that they could begin production on the toys in order to have them completed for the film’s release date. Bay also accepted $3 million from General Motors in order to use their models for the films robot combatants (Transformers commentary). He justifies this by saying that these methods give him more money that he can use to spend onscreen, and that he does not consider this him “whoring out” the movie. Bay feels that this is a fair compromise: he receives money that he can use to make his film better, while the advertiser benefits by having their products shown as fantastical heroes (Schembri). Bay feels that in the real world, brand-name products and advertisements are everywhere, so it only makes sense that they should also be in Hollywood films (The Island commentary)*. These commercial and populist elements stand in stark contrast to the way many traditional auteurs would feel about filmmaking, but this does not keep Michael Bay from joining their ranks.

*Of course, the original Xbox ads in the Island were outdated within a year of the movie’s release, and many of the other companies in the movie have had stylistic overhauls. Note to Mike, this defense does not apply to movies that take place in the future.

The auteur theory existed long before film studios began to see the profits that could be made with blockbuster films, but when the aforementioned shift to the New Hollywood began, marketers brought an altered version of the auteur theory along for the ride. The concept of the auteur states that the director is the authour of the film, and that the film represents their creative vision*. Timothy Corrigan argues that if this theory is still alive in today’s Hollywood, it is bound tightly with the celebrity industry (82). The director’s name and star image is used to sell the film just as much as, if not more than, its lead actors. Michael Bay is in this group of their directors, as the trailers for his films from The Rock (1996) onward have included either a voiceover stating that he directed them (The Rock, Armageddon), or text declaring him as the director (Pearl Harbor, Bad Boys II, The Island, Transformers). This naming of Bay as the director helps to both promote the film and attach a sense of authourship to his films as a collective. Foucault argues that the name of an authour, in this case Michael Bay, is also used as a description (105): saying a film is directed by Bay also says that it is “from the director of Pearl Harbor,” or any of the other films Bay has directed. In this manner, “the name seems always to be present, marking off the edges of the text, revealing, or at least characterizing, its mode of being” (Foucault 107). This marketing strategy adds to the narrative image of a Michael Bay film. The idea of his films, being that of a shallow action picture, is known by the audience as it is being sold to them, and this helps contribute to the preconceived notion the audience develops before they see these films (Ellis 30). This explains how critics are unable to put their preconceived notions of a Bay film aside to review a new work: they are constantly reminded by the new text that it has been created by an authour whose work they have viewed before.

*I don’t know if I like the auteur theory. While it definitely makes nerdily discussing movies easier in many respects, film is a collaborative medium. So many people have their hands in a film that I don’t like seeing one person get all the credit. While I agree the director (or the screenwriter for that matter) probably adds more to any given movie than anybody else, there are plenty of little (or huge) things that anybody from a costume designer to a set designer can add to the movie. That being said, if I ever direct a good movie, GIVE ME ALL THE FUCKING CREDIT!

Perhaps the mention of Michael Bay as an auteur would not sit well with many film fanatics and critics, but Bay has certainly been identified as one. In reading almost thirty reviews of his films, it is clear to see that Bay is singled out in every one of them, and in reviews of his later films, Bay is consistently discussed more than his star actors. Corrigan discusses how The Godfather (Coppola 1972) gave critics pre-conceived expectations for how to judge future films by Francis Ford Coppola (94), much in the same way Bay’s previous films influence critics’ opinions of his new works. Of course, this is done contrarily to how Coppola’s are judged, in that critics expect trash out of Bay as opposed to high quality filmmaking. This offers a preconceived notion of what a film by Michael Bay will entail: there will be explosions, quick cuts, and little in the way of plot and character development. These auteurs have their work overshadowed by their name (in Bay’s case though, perhaps only to critics).

Michael Bay, through the marketing of his films, has been named, using Corrigan’s terminology, as a sort of commercial auteur, or a star director (91). Bay is now prominently mentioned when discussions of his films occur in the media, and in a recent Entertainment Tonight piece from the set of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) Bay was a higher priority over the star power of actor Shia LaBeouf (Steines). Bay has even starred in a Verizon FiOS commercial in which he spoofs his own image by setting off explosions while walking around his house (Verizon).

What has yet to really be defined however, is what aspects of Bay’s films can be traced back to the auteur theory. In his Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962, Andrew Sarris details how he feels that the three premises of the auteur theory can be visualized as three concentric circles. The outer circle contains the technique and casts the director as technician, the middle circle is the director’s personal style, and the inner circle is where the meaning of the film is found (563). Bay’s films are, at their most basic, certainly identifiable as films, proving that he is at least a competent technician in the creation of his films. He also clearly has a personal visual style: Bay’s films are all use quick and plentiful edits, feature plenty of swooping camera movements, and will end in a climactic battle between the hero and his foe. Bay even has multiple camera shots that are like his signature on each film. Each of his films features a shot where the camera begins behind a character at waist level and tracks around until the audience is looking the character in the face. In addition to this, Bay’s films will feature at least one shot of a large aircraft seen flying towards the camera as the sun is setting behind it. When discussing the third of Sarris’s concentric circles, however, it becomes slightly more difficult to think about Bay as an auteur.

As outlined earlier, Bay is not shy in his position as a populist filmmaker. He does not try to include much in the way of interior meaning in his films, for he is merely concerned with the audience enjoying themselves. A consistent theme in his films has been the aforementioned use of male-to-male relationships, and the tension that can come through in these relationships (Diamond). These male-to-male elements of his films are where Bay encourages the most improvisation from his actors, and often the audience’s response to the film relies on the relationships between the audience and these characters. While critics generally do not like Bay as a director, they seem to have no problem discussing how the skill and charisma of his actors can still engage the audience (Ebert, Brodeur). Does Bay not have a hand in making these characters likable? It may be the actors saying the lines, but it is Bay who is encouraging them to improvise, and then participating in cutting the best takes together in the editing room.

Another way to read Bay’s films is to use them as a metaphor for problems within contemporary American society. These films are empty, hollow, and filled with advertisements, much like the modern Americanized culture we find ourselves living within. In a review for Transformers, Max Burke writes that the film represents “Michael Bay’s America in 2007: if you find it depressing and vacuous, then you have not paid enough attention to the devolution of American culture.” Burke continues to say that the film, like all of Bay’s films, reflects the superficiality and selfishness of modern American culture. While this is not a positive interior meaning for a film to have, it does give Bay something to add to his status as an auteur: his films accurately represent the society that they are created within. These films also represent the continuing expansion of the blockbuster that began in the 1970s. Bay’s strategies towards creating a large profit for the studios financing his films have both worked to advance blockbusters in the realm of profit generation, as well as create problems for filmmakers who want to have their smaller films seen. Studios rely on these tent pole films, being those that have significant production and marketing budgets, to quickly return a significant profit. These films are the most valued of a studio’s production calendar, and smaller films are often treated as merely ways to fill gaps before the next tent pole. As such, studios show less affection for a director of a smaller film, as opposed to Bay, who they adore for creating such big returns. The fact that Bay continues to make these films helps to contribute to this blockbuster culture, as well as continue to shrink the number of smaller, more intimate pictures. Bay mentions that he continues to worry that big movies are going away (Saroyan), but he is helping to ensure that they do not. He also makes continuing reference to a smaller film he would like to make, entitled Pain & Gain, and mentions it in many of his interviews dating as far back as to the release of Armageddon (Saroyan, Hochman, Schembri, etc). Bay states that he just keeps being offered blockbusters, so he never gets around to making it*. However, does he doubt his skills in making a smaller picture? Perhaps he worries that he would be making a film that not everybody in his focus groups would rate as “excellent.”

*On his blog, when he announced that he was returning to direct Transformers 3, the last sentence of his post was “Pain & Gain shoots immediately after.” I really hope it does, if only out of curiousity.

Michael Bay is an interesting figure in Hollywood. His films are loved by studio heads, and generally by Middle America as well, but despised by film critics. Bay’s films signify the death of cinema to many critics, but that is not completely the fault of Bay. His films are born out of the birth of the New Hollywood, and Bay’s populist and commercial approach to filmmaking is merely another facet of how cinema has changed. Whether or not this change is a good thing is another issue, but Bay cannot be solely blamed for it, for there were plenty of other factors involved long before Bay ever directed a film.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

But, this character is about 15 years younger than Denzel! WHAT WILL WE DO?!!?

This is Part 1 of 2 about the movie Law Abiding Citizen. You might think that this does not seem like the type of movie that deserves a two-part piece, especially when you consider that it isn’t particularly good. But I don’t necessarily write about good movies, I write about movies that get me thinking about something. And Law Abiding Citizen got me thinking about a couple of things, one of which is this: Jamie Foxx is terrible.

Honestly, outside of maybe Leonardo DiCaprio, no actor is more overrated than this guy. Let’s get a couple of nice things out of the way first, though:
1) I admit he does a killer Ray Charles impression. So, you know, good work watching video and imitating him, Jamie.
2) He doesn’t hurt Collateral too much.
3) He is good in Any Given Sunday… but that’s because he is always standing next to either a scenery chewing Al Pacino or Dennis fucking Quaid.
Well, now that we’ve got the compliments out of the way, I can tell you how I really feel. Foxx always has the same look on his face in a dramatic scene. ALWAYS. You know the one I’m talking about, the “Jamie Foxx intense face.” He just scrunches up his face as tightly as he can and tries to look tough. Back when Freddie Prinze Jr. was a thing, I remember people always bitching about his lack of a changing facial expression. I’m not trying to say Freddie Prinze Jr. is underrated (because he sucks), but nobody ever tried to claim that his performance in She’s All That was transcendent.

Foxx also does a lot of those little actor-y things that drive me insane. I have a couple little rules that help in telling the difference between a decent actor and an over-actor: watch how they eat, and watch how they hold a phone. If you don’t see anything that sticks out to you as a “nobody would do that” type of thing, then this person probably isn’t a terrible over-actor. However, if you see an actor rub their nose while chewing loudly or hold a phone to their ear across their body, then they are an over-actor. Jamie Foxx is a repeat offender on each count.

Not to get all lame and semi-serious on you here, but I think the worst part about Jamie Foxx is that he symbolizes how racist Hollywood is. It seems that for a black actor to be able to get any decent lead roles, they have to be good looking and get extremely lucky in mixing a good performance with a movie that is popular. Jamie Foxx had that with Ray, and since then it seems like he has been the go-to guy for any black lead role who needs to be a decade younger than Denzel Washington can play (and that Will Smith is too nice for). Never mind that Derek Luke and Larenz Tate are better actors than all of them, until another under 40 black actor lands that lucky role, we’re stuck with Jamie Foxx in movies like this one. And Law Abiding Citizen features just about everything that makes Jamie Foxx terrible: over-the-top eating, over-the-top cell phone holding, over-the-top intense face, over-the-top and constant muscle flexing, over-the-top trying to look cool, etc. Please, Derek and Larenz, find that lucky role. You are the ones who can stop the intense-faced monster that is Jamie Foxx.

Oh, and by the way, Jamie Foxx is also the creator of "From Gs to Gents." So... yeah.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Again, I apologize that this is late. I honestly didn't know I still had readers. But I promise it won't happen again... until it happens again.

I watched this movie Sugar yesterday, about a young baseball player from the Dominican Republic as he tries to realize his dream of being a pitcher in the Major Leagues. If this sounds at all interesting to you, stop reading this, because I really had no idea the direction this movie was headed in, and I never would have guessed. The less you know about Sugar, the better.

Miguel “Sugar” Santos grows up in the Dominican and moves from a baseball boarding school to a training camp in Arizona, and from there to a Single A team in Bridgetown, Iowa. Up until that point it is a fairly standard baseball movie, but it then begins to take on the feeling of a movie about an outsider. Sugar can barely speak English, and apart from baseball, he is almost completely lost. Over time, his performance on the field falters, and Sugar realizes his baseball days are over. Without warning, he leaves his team for New York, fleeing the dream of America’s national pastime for the American Dream.

Sugar’s struggle to find his footing in a foreign country is fascinating and engaging without ever getting too corny, and the way the film depicts the death of his dream is even more interesting. It is well documented that such a small percentage of athletes ever reach their professional goals, and this is the only movie I can recall that seems to say that this is okay. Our culture is constantly trying to encourage the celebrity lifestyle through gossip magazines and websites, as well as the explosion of reality television in the past decade. However, it is rare to see a view of the real life that occurs after somebody sees their dream die.

I love movies and television shows that deal with the acceptance of normalcy, because it is something that doesn’t get seen enough in popular media (not that anybody knows what Sugar is). This is why the Office (the British one especially) is one of my favourite pieces of popular media: it is about finding the good things about a normal, day-to-day life. Sugar does the same, showing us a person’s growth while trying to leave his dream behind for something more attainable.

Sugar goes through a period of uncertainty with his baseball team, but once he turns to New York, he never looks back. It is only at the very end of the movie, when he joins a local rec league, that we see Sugar show any sadness or reflection. The last shot of the movie displays Sugar sitting behind the chain-link backstop on a bench between innings, high-fiving his teammates. He then stops, sitting silently and staring at the ground for a few moments before beginning to clap for his fellow ball players. Sugar applauds his team, and by extension himself, for accepting the way life really is, with only brief thoughts of what could have been before realizing that he chose a healthier way of life.

I am an advocate for watching movies multiple times in order to get more out of them, but I doubt if I will ever watch Sugar again. Throughout the movie, I recall thinking that it was a good movie, but before the last scene that was all I thought it was. The last shot, however, was so powerful to me that I am certain it will remain burned in my brain for a long time to come. Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, the filmmakers behind this film and Half Nelson previously, are proving to be an interesting team. Their movies focus more on people than plot, something that is rare. Like in Half Nelson, the main character of Sugar feels like a real person: the film was a window into this person’s reality, and it feels so accurate that I didn’t notice how good it was. We see Sugar accepting the end of his dream, and with that I realized that I actually cared about a character as if he were a real person, and as far as I’m concerned, that is a pretty high compliment for a movie to receive.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Again, I'm the worst.

Alright, so I have 3 posts in progress, but none of them have an ending. Instead of rushing them into production and ending up with a shitty product, 'The Devil's Own' style, I'm going to hold off and post them when they're done. I realize I've probably lost 50% of my readership by wasting time, but whatever.

By next Monday I hope to have at least two of them finished and posted to make up for the lost ones. For now, I will simply leave you with this: watch 'Synecdoche, New York.'

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I'm (kind of) taking a week off.

I must apologize to both of my loyal readers, but I don't have anything for you this week. I just couldn't find the time to write anything decent. I promise I'll be back next week to entertain you with a new half-baked theory about some movie.

However, I did find something I wrote a year or so ago that I'll post today. It's a list of movies that aren't too well known that I think you (yes, you) should see. I don't know who I wrote this for originally, so just pretend that I wrote it for you. These are not very well written mini-reviews, but they get the point across.

Accepted – A teen movie that somehow is completely formulaic but still hilarious and kind of touching, probably mostly due to the cast. Justin Long is Ferris Bueller-esque.

Beautiful Girls – A “chick flick for guys” in that it deals with guys trying to figure out what they want in life and how they deal with the women in their lives. It is hard to make it sound appealing, but it is a great movie with a couple hilarious monologues.

Before Sunset – If you saw Before Sunrise and thought it was decent and missed the sequel, see it. It makes the first one way better and it’s a great examination of how people can change and stay the same in 10 or so years.

Cop Land – Sylvester Stallone playing a role that is different from the norm for him in a great cop movie. It is clearly strongly influenced by classic westerns, notably 3:10 to Yuma.

Confidence – Cool little con-man movie. Dustin Hoffman is annoying as hell in it, but outside of that it is certainly worth watching. And since it’s DuHo you can let it go this one time.

Control – Biopic about Ian Curtis’ (lead singer of Joy Division) struggles with epilepsy, depression and relationships. A biopic that isn’t painfully formulaic!!! Who knew?

Death at a Funeral – If you like British comedy, see this immediately. If you don’t, stay away.

Gattaca – Is genetic modification of humans okay? What is going too far? How brooding can Ethan Hawke look? All three of these questions are examined masterfully in this movie.

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints – Great acting (oddly enough the exception being Robert Downey Jr.) from a huge cast, and a great “coming of age tale.” Fuck I hate that term, but that’s what it is. Shia LaBeouf is the main character growing up in New York in the 80s, and he actually has to do something other than just being himself, which is cool. Channing Tatum is also incredible… if you haven’t seen this movie, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters – A documentary about professional Donkey Kong players. It is structured so well to make you hate the one guy so much, and cheer so loudly for the other, and some of the supporting people are just completely hilarious. A highly entertaining documentary.

The Lookout – Great concept, and very well executed. Easily one of the best crime movies I have seen in the last few years.

Love Liza – Phillip Seymour Hoffman is the best, and this is more or less a one man show. Crazy depressing, but very good.

Manic – Indie wunderkid* Joseph Gordon Levitt stars as a teenager who gets put in a mental health facility. Don Cheadle (!!!) is the kids’ teacher, and it’s a good, non-cliched examination of troubled youth. Zooey Deschanel is also in it, for those that appreciate beautiful ladies with acting skills.

P.S. – Kind of up and down, it’s a far from perfect movie, especially since one of the main plot points is kind of absurd. BUT, it has Laura Linney and Topher Grace each turning in great performances. Fuck Marcia Gay Harden though, I don’t like her.

The Proposition – In my opinion, the best modern western with maybe the exception being the Assassination of Jesse James. It is dirty and grimy as hell, and is exhausting to watch.

Saved! – Hilarious satirical look at Christian high schools, and Mandy Moore is funny as shit in it. So long as you are not particularly religious, this movie is highly recommended.

The Savages – Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman are my favourite actress and actor, respectively, and in this movie they both prove me right. They play a brother and sister who have to find their father a home to live in as his health is declining. It is a very balanced mix of drama and comedy, and is handled in a way that the drama adds to the comedy, and vice versa. The jokes are really funny because you care about the characters, much like the best episodes of Six Feet Under. 2007 had some truly great movies (No Country for Old Men, Michael Clayton, etc.), but this is the one that will sadly probably be forgotten.

Six Degrees of Separation – The acting and dialogue is all great, and it keeps you guessing the whole way through.

Spellbound – This one is about the national spelling bee, and holy shit it is good. My favourite documentary of all time by a mile, because the kids are so entertaining and the contest is quite suspenseful.

Sunshine (2007) – Another one of the great movies from 2007 that will be quickly forgotten about. A team of astronauts has to reignite the sun to save Earth from dying, and this film deals exclusively with their mission. It takes place entirely within the spaceship, and deals only with these 8 people. It is directed by Danny Boyle, and bears many similarities to 28 Days Later in that it deals with how people in a small group handle their mortality in a possibly apocalyptic situation. It takes a bit of a sketchy turn late, but it is so good up until that point that you can easily get past it.

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada – Tommy Lee Jones should have been playing sheriffs exclusively for his entire life, because he is great at it. Another good modern western.

The Woodsman – This movie is unbelievably creepy and at times unbearable because of that, but if you can handle the subject matter it is definitely worth a watch. Also, one of Kevin Bacon and Mos Def’s scenes together is among my favourite scenes ever.

*If you read my 500 Days of Summer post, you will notice that I used this ‘joke’ then, too. I am nothing if not repetitive.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Why do critics hate crowd pleasers?

I originally wrote this months ago, and in the time that passed since then have realized that I did not see Taxi Driver and Transformers on the same day (I saw Taxi Driver and the Hangover). Everything I talk about here did happen, it's just that the time line has been rearranged a little.

The answer to the question is simple: they generally don’t watch movies with other people, and therefore don’t take an audience’s reaction to the movie into account. Within Roger Ebert’s scathing review of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, he basically said that anybody who likes the movie has poor taste and Ebert hopes that these Transformers fans’ tastes elevate.

Well, fuck you Ebert. I loved Transformers, and I can also appreciate “serious films” as well. I recently saw Taxi Driver at the art-house theatre in town, and then hours later saw Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen at another theatre. I am not going to try to argue that Transformers is a better movie than Taxi Driver (“Movies better than Taxi Driver” isn’t a long list though), but it is damn sure entertaining. Each of these two movies succeeds in achieving their goals: Taxi Driver is a great movie about Travis Bickle’s isolation and frustration with society, and Transformers is, well, awesome.

When I saw Taxi Driver recently, the crowd was almost completely silent, and walking out of the theatre, I didn’t hear a word – likely because Taxi Driver isn’t exactly a pleasant piece of cinema. The Transformers theatre, however, was completely different. During the movie there were laughs, slight cheers, and even moments where brief applause could be heard. I’m not saying it was like a party in the theatre, but it was a notably different experience. Walking out, you could hear much of the crowd’s approval of the movie, and I have noticed similar things each of the three times I saw it in theatres. I am not saying everybody liked it, because I really doubt that is the case. I am merely arguing that Taxi Driver and Transformers offer completely different film going experiences, and that neither one is necessarily better than the other.

The filmmakers behind each film have very different goals – Martin Scorsese and his crew likely set out to make a serious film to be taken as art, while Michael Bay’s crew set out to make a calculated piece of entertainment. Movies like Transformers need an action scene every 25 minutes or so, a certain amount of laughs per scene, and they almost always end happily. To ensure the audience gets the maximum enjoyment possible from the movie, there are generally lots of test screenings employed for these types of movies.

Bay did not start this democratic method of filmmaking, but he and other action directors happily participate in it. Bay has said that he doesn’t make movies for critics, but instead aims to please Middle America. And honestly, I don’t see why film critics seem so angered by the fact that people sometimes want to engage in movie going exclusively to have fun. While some movies are more of an isolated experience, like Taxi Driver, movies like Transformers are perfect to see with a group of people.

Bay orchestrates his movies so that he can get reactions from his audience, and other directors who try to make crowd pleasers undoubtedly do the same. These filmmakers want to hear laughs, screams, applause, cheers, and most of all, they want their audience to leave smiling. They want a trip to the theatre to be more than just seeing a movie – they want it to be an “experience.”

I’m alright with this. Most of my favourite memories from being in a movie theatre come not from the movie itself, but the audience. I will never forget laughing along with the rest of the audience at the ludicrous writing in Lady in the Water, the people who cheered “ROCK-Y! ROCK-Y! ROCK-Y!” during the climactic fight in Rocky Balboa, and seeing a full theatre collectively jump during 1408. I will probably never watch any of these movies again, for they are far from good movies (okay, Rocky’s awesome), but it’s unlikely I’ll forget these experiences.

To be fair to Ebert and seemingly every other movie critic, I would happily trade all of these experiences to have legitimately great movies such as Synecdoche, New York be the commercial hits that the masses flock to see. But what critics seem to disregard is that Hollywood takes any movie that is a huge commercial hit and attempts to replicate it, and in doing so often bastardizes everything that was so great about it originally. I think that I would rather keep things the way they are and just deal with the fact that there are movies made to provide people with a fun couple of hours, and there are films that are made to be seen as art.

Not everybody likes a movie like Taxi Driver, just like some people aren’t fond of movies like Transformers. But just because some would rather watch Transformers than Taxi Driver does not make those people stupid. What makes movie critics stupid, however, is that they often expect their word to be taken as the only correct way to feel about a movie.

For those wondering, here is the quote that set off this rant:
"Those who think "Transformers" is a great or even a good film are, may I tactfully suggest, not sufficiently evolved. Film by film, I hope they climb a personal ladder into the realm of better films, until their standards improve."

Monday, October 12, 2009

{Look} at HOW [indie] eye/ \yam?

SPOILER ALERT: This week's post features spoilers for Paper Heart and 500 Days of Summer. There, I warned you.

This year has seen some great and interesting romantic comedies, including Adventureland, I Love You Man, and Away We Go. The ones I am going to be taking a closer look at, however, are Paper Heart and 500 Days of Summer (although I will not be putting the 500 in parentheses, for they are [ridiculously] unnecessary). These movies both put forward interesting ideas about the idea of love, ideas which stuck with me weeks after seeing them.

Paper Heart stars Charlyne Yi (the Asian stoner girl from Knocked Up) and Michael Cera (Hollywood’s favourite zip-up hoodie enthusiast) in a “documentary” about Charlyne’s quest to find out if love exists. Most of the interviews with real-life couples appear to be unscripted, but the film as a whole is still mostly scripted (and there is even an actor playing the film’s director). The whole thing is excessively postmodern to tell you the truth, and I love that about it. But that’s not the point here.

Charlyne doesn’t believe that love exists, so she decides to make a documentary about what other people feel love is. In the process, she meets Michael, and the documentary starts to follow their relationship while still trying to maintain its original goal of questioning the existence of love.

Charlyne’s confusion as she appears to fall in love for the first time is great to watch, and as far as I’m concerned, true to life. Falling in love for the first time is weird, and you never really know what to think. Charlyne is one of the better on-film examples of this I have seen: nothing about the early stages of a relationship is smooth, and Charlyne’s performance is nothing if not awkward.

The same goes for when there are signs of trouble in her relationship with Michael – she is once again confused and unsure of what to do. While Charlyne does appear to find love, or at least the beginning of love in the movie, Paper Heart conveys the idea that love is a product of fate: Charlyne was just going about living her life when Michael literally walked into it.

Tom Hansen (indie wonderboy Joseph Gordon-Levitt) would surely agree with this idea of love at the beginning of 500 Days of Summer. He seems to believe in true love, and Tom thinks that Summer Finn (indie wondergirl Zooey Deschanel) is that girl for him, even though she refuses to even acknowledge him as her boyfriend. The film is an examination of their whole relationship, from the day they meet until Tom gets over his heartbreak.

Summer is a good character in that she feels like a real person, but she is not a particularly likeable one. It’s hard to articulate how, but I can definitely see how Tom would fall for her. Well, if a girl as gorgeous as her told me that she was a fan of a favourite band of mine, I think I would fall in love with her too. I have, sadly, fallen for a girl’s CD collection before, and it will probably happen again. Certain things can blind you from unlikable elements of a person, and Summer does enough loveable things that Tom can’t see that she is in fact, unlikable.

The most interesting part of 500 Days of Summer is how Tom eventually gets over Summer. When they run into each other and hang out at a wedding months after they broke up, Tom sees a second chance at his true love. In one of the more brilliant scenes I’ve seen in a while (for those that have seen the movie, you should already know I’m talking about the expectations/reality scene), we learn that Tom is wrong, and Summer is done with him for good. Tom’s friends already knew this, and tried to help Tom get over Summer, but of course Tom was blinded by the idea of true love. He has built Summer up into what he wanted her to be, for he no longer has a realistic perspective of who she is (and maybe he never did).

In a memorable monologue, Tom’s friend Paul explains how there are no perfect women, and that his long-term girlfriend is perfect because she is real. While it is unknown whether Tom hears this, his younger sister helps him realize that he made Summer the perfect woman when she never really was. He may have thought she was “the One,” but the people around Tom knew that wasn’t the case.

500 Days of Summer is a hopeful movie, but it does not advocate a belief in fate like Paper Heart does. The ending thought of 500 Days of Summer is that in order to continue living, one has to take control of their own life and avoid being blinded by concepts – if you chalk things up to fate, you will be stuck reliving the same thing for your whole life.

Neither Paper Heart nor 500 Days of Summer are conventional stylistically, but they each have conventional ideas fueling them. I think a choice between which of these movies you like better probably says a lot about what you think of love: Paper Heart is a vote for fate, while 500 Days of Summer says that we have a bit more control over our own lives. To tell you which of these movies I like better would give you far too much insight into who I am*, but just know that these are both good movies that attempt to give their opinion on an unanswerable question. Are you Charlyne, or are you Tom? Either time will give you an answer eventually, or you’ll find out on your own. Good luck.

*and I worry that there are already too many metaphorical cards on the metaphorical table of metaphors.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Are movies really worse than ever? Part 2 of 2

Part 2: Melting away the mediocrity
Last time I took a look at the Academy Awards, and today I’m moving on to the state of North American cinema as a whole.

People seem to loathe the state of North American cinema these days, which I think is valid. I mean, there is a lot to hate. The problem I have comes when people say “movies are so much shittier than they used to be!” like there is nothing good being made now. Every year, there are still (at least!) a few truly great movies released, the problem lies with the fact that fewer people get a chance to see them.

The modern independent film sector of the movie industry is doing well, producing a handful of great movies every year (and don’t get me wrong, Hollywood has a few winners every year, too). Charlie Kaufman has consistently proven to be one of the most interesting writers film has ever seen, Rian Johnson may be the most interesting and creative director since Wes Anderson, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt has proven in the independent world that he is capable of playing just about any character. These three are a mere sample of the quality work that can be found in the independent world, but they are by no means the end of it.

Generally, the best modern Hollywood films have an independent sensibility to them – most of the great modern directors have come from independent film (the Coen brothers, Steven Soderbergh, Christopher Nolan, Spike Lee, Wes Anderson, etc) or music videos (Spike Jonze, David Fincher, Michel Gondry, etc), places where original ideas can be more easily accepted without having to get approval from a focus group.

In the age of the auteur, or the “Golden Age of Cinema,” there was a lot more freedom for directors to do what they wanted within the studio system. Now, great directors have to build up some clout outside of Hollywood before they can get that Hollywood money. The directors I listed are just that, and I think they are modern film’s version of the much-lauded auteurs of the past that included Kubrick, Penn, Nichols, and others. Those directors made movies in a different landscape, one where great movies often got the recognition of Academy Awards (The Graduate, Midnight Cowboy, The Godfather, etc) and were able to be box office hits. However, the films by today’s auteurs are often not advertised and distributed to an extent where it is possible for them to be hits. A good portion of these modern directors’ movies take some effort to find, and most people really don’t care enough to find them.

Another, and in my opinion the most important, factor in the way the “Golden Age” gets remembered is that enough time has passed for the mediocre films to be washed away. We remember the movies like the Graduate because they are so good that people continue to talk about them long past 1967, allowing for re-releases and new special editions on home video. This will hopefully be the case for great modern films like Adaptation, but that is yet to be seen. However, the modern movie industry as a whole is tarnished because we can still remember the mediocre movies and money grabs of the recent past such as Ghost Rider and Superhero Movie. Time will likely forget these movies, but hopefully remember the great ones.

Has anybody in the modern film industry captured post-graduation stress better than the Graduate? No. But did any movie from the “Golden Age” capture the writing process better than Adaptation? No. The overall quality of movies has remained the same, and our generation has its own truly great classics, it just so happens that they are now more difficult to find. So next time you want to talk about how shitty modern movies are, be sure to remember that there are plenty of movies from the 60s and 70s that were forgettable, and that you have in fact, just plain forgotten about them.