Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Great (film) Debates vol. 100

Wow, we've hit the big 1-0-0. So let's do something different today. Today, we turn the question over to you. What questions do you have? What have you always wondered about Hollywood? What are some of your favorites, or not so favorites? Tell us what you would like to talk about!

43 comments:

ScottDS said...

Andrew, you could probably appreciate this since you're also a novelist but I can't stand obvious "movie" character names. I'm not saying every guy in a movie needs to be named John Smith.

BUT... I was watching Under Siege the other night on AMC and Tommy Lee Jones plays the villain. His name? William Stranix. It's like, "Oh, of course he's a bad guy! With a last name like Stranix, he's not gonna be elected pope!"

PikeBishop said...

Scott, I get what you mean. I really think writers need to follow the uber-sophistication and subtlety of James Cameron here, like he did in Avatar. UNOBTAINIUM! (Sticks finger up nose) Duh, I think he's trying to make some point with the name of this maguffin, but I can't figure out what it is......................DUH!

Anonymous said...

Why do they make so many shit films?

Why do so many 'stars' get to be famous when there are so many better actors.

Why so many remakes or sequels... Or should I say why the lack of original thoughts?

Why not pick more original stories, actors and directors?

Scott.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I agree. I often find character names to be ridiculous. You see that a lot in action movies because they've decided you can't have an action hero without a tough sounding name. So now everyone has a name based on a metal (but not a sissy metal like Aluminum) or a weapon or some version of the word "strength." It's silly. It's like they have no faith in their ability to write an effective character so they need to cheat and use a descriptor for a name... Sword McRockiron.

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, He stole the name from better films... like everything else in his story. And believe it or not, the term actually originated with engineers in the 1950s and they used it to describe materials that were too expensive for them to get their hands on.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Those are some great questions and I'm thinking we should definitely talk about those! :)

ScottDS said...

Scott -

Why do they make so many shit films?

Believe it or not, no one sets out to purposely make a bad film. From everything I've seen and read over the years, it's a miracle any film gets made, let alone a great one. Of course, some people just have more talent than others. :-)


Why do so many 'stars' get to be famous when there are so many better actors.

Blame the entertainment media for that. Nowadays, all you have to do is one movie and you're instantly on the "A-list." There used to be a time when that took years. After all, how many movies did John Wayne do before he hit it big with Stagecoach? Of course, there have always been one-hit wonders and flashes in the pan. It's inevitable.

And as hard as it is to believe, many actors don't care about fame. They don't seek out publicity, so who could blame them for not being more famous? I think of guys like Christoph Waltz or Michael Fassbender - great actors but they're not exactly household names.

And it's safe to say we're passed the point where a big actor could open a film. There are a few of those left but, for the most part, it's all about the concept.


Why so many remakes or sequels... Or should I say why the lack of original thoughts?

Because everyone in Hollywood is scared of losing their jobs so they play it safe. And the studios are merely cogs in larger corporations and most large corporations aren't fond of taking huge risks. And since Hollywood makes most of its money from the foreign market, everything has to be dumbed down so it can be understood by everybody.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Some set out to make less than quality films because there's a market for B-pictures. Basically, they are doing their best to turn out an acceptable picture within budget constraints... they aren't aiming for more. On the bigger productions, I agree that no one thinks their film will stink.

As for getting famous, something I find interesting is how fame and ability really are unrelated. Some of the most famous people in Hollywood got that way because of misconduct rather than ability. In terms of what makes someone a big star, I think that depends on the movies you are in. You can become a huge star by being in a big picture, whether or not you have talent. If you go the small picture route, then you really need to work at it.

John Jameson said...

This may be a bit meta, but there are now so many lists of "Top xxx movies (to see before you die etc. etc.)". Some of them probably say more about the authors than the movies. So what are the best/most insightful/most useful lists of "best movies". Answers in the form of the top five lists maybe... :)

AndrewPrice said...

John, Good question. I tend to see those lists as a marketing gimmick. Most name a couple of the obvious choices, then a personal favorite or two, and then a couple that absolutely don't belong on the list just to spark outrage. So they really aren't legit.

I've done some lists (Top 25 lists at bottom of page LINK) and I noted at the time that the problem with Top list is that they tend to be based on subjective measure -- "how much I liked these films" or "best." That's worthless unless we share the same taste. To be useful, these lists really need to try to use a slightly more objective, like films that have had the biggest impact on the genre. That's what I tried to focus on with my lists.

T-Rav said...

Wow, I didn't realize we were hitting that milestone already. Though I guess it's been a couple years so, never mind.

I guess my thing would be, why are movies today so gritty and stuff all the time? And lacking in good storylines and acting? And...well, everything.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Time flies. We're almost at 150 film reviews too. Wow! I still remember when there are only three reviews at the site.

On modern movies, I wonder that too. We seem to be in a period where it's just not cool to be happy about anything.

ScottDS said...

Andrew and T-Rav -

Re: grittiness, I was listening to Kevin Smith and Ralph Garman's review of Man of Steel.

(Smith and Garman do my favorite podcast, Hollywood Babble-On: movie stuff, geek stuff, etc. They regularly bash the Kardashians, Bieber, and the rest. It's all NSFW but hilarious!)

Anyway, Smith liked it but Garman (a radio personality and actor) didn't like it. They talked about the darkness and grittiness of the film. Smith maintained that, given the times we live in, you can't do an all-happy, all-colorful "Gosh, Lois!" type of movie.

Garman countered, saying, "So you bring us up to Superman, you don't lower him down to our level!" He complained that too many filmmakers equate "dark" to "real." He recalled when Zach Snyder said that they were getting rid of Superman's red tights, saying this was a "real" Superman movie. Garman replied, "Yeah, it's a real movie where a guy flies and you think getting rid of the underwear will make it realistic?"

Just an example. :-)

Tennessee Jed said...

Other than the fact they are almost always exactly the same, and work hard to embellish every minute hardship in life for the protagonist, is there any other reason bio pic.'s of athletes and musicians usually suck so badly? There are notable exceptions, e.g T-Bone Burnett coaxing amazing vocal performances out of actors Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, or Gene Hackman's performance in Hoosiers.

Tennessee Jed said...

Was anybody else uncomfortable with Shatner in the Captain's Summit special feature when he kept telling Jonathon Frakes to stop smiling because it was creeping him out?

Tennessee Jed said...

What scene besides the crop dusting scene in North by Northwest did anyone think was the best?

ScottDS said...

Jed -

I only watched that feature once. Having said that, the extras on the TNG Blu-Rays are fan-effing-tastic. Very candid insights, especially on the season 3 set from the writers. They certainly address some of the criticisms that have been brought up here.

Now that the ownership of the franchise is split between two companies, it's clear CBS cares more about the shows than Paramount does about the films (most of which could use new HD transfers).

Backthrow said...

Why do modern American audiences (and perhaps worldwide audiences), in general, seem to be less curious in making their entertainment choices than ever before?

I'm painting them with an extremely broad brush, I know, but it seems to me (and this comes from 6+ years previous experience as a video store clerk, serving people of all ages and from all walks of life) that a lot of people today tend only to be interested in whatever is brand new, or at best, stuff that's come out in maybe the past 5-10 years, plus a smattering of childhood favorites (WIZARD OF OZ, Disney flicks, WILLY WONKA, etc), turning a cold shoulder to anything outside that narrow slice of the pie. That slice seemed to be a good deal wider in prior times.

Now, in saying this, I'm not implying:

1.) That everybody should be just as big a film geek as I am; I know many/most people don't have time to watch very much, and I do realize I have a higher tolerance for things that others might not (subtitled foreign films, old-school dubbing of same, black & white (though a really lame excuse for an impediment, imho), old Hollywood artificiality, stylized acting, silent films, etc).

2.) That people should choose pretentious 'critic bait' over plain old 'meat & potatoes' entertainment; in many cases, I hate the bait, too. I mostly want thrills and/or laughter (intentional or not), a good story, or at least some interesting characters. But there's so much more from which you can get that from, than just (or instead of) TRANSFORMERS 8, MEET THE FLOCKERS 7, THREE FAST FOURTEEN FURIOUS, Apatowapalooza, Even More Superheroes, Generic RomCom and Horror Remake du Jour.

3.) That people should necessarily skip THE AVENGERS (2012) or SKYFALL in favor of PARDON MY CUMMERBUND! (1932), when settling down on the living room couch on a Friday night. Though you might well really enjoy the obscuro moldy oldie, if you gave it half a chance, and even if you didn't, that failing doesn't necessarily taint all other films of similar vintage, whether they made it on some hallowed AFI, Oscar or big boxoffice list or not.

4.) That nothing new/recent is excellent, or even good... or that there wasn't an abundance of mediocrity and flat-out crap in previous eras.

5.) That I'm blaming teens/twenty-somethings/Millennials for this; it's bigger than that, covering practically all age groups. Also, I don't blame young folks for not knowing about names and titles of once-big pop culture things and people that they've had virtually no exposure to --how could they know?

6.) That people should just mirror my particular likes and dislikes, and if they don't, they're hopelessly philistine morons (despite all evidence to the contrary! --I'm joking, I'm joking, LOL).

7.) That there were never people in the past who were only ever interested in the newest, hottest thing.

Hollywood is deathly afraid of risk, as has been said, hence all the remakes and sequels... but only because that seems to be what the vast majority seem to be content to pay their money for and make time to see (even build their anticipation for, months in advance).

As good and as classic as films like THE CAINE MUTINY, JAWS, THE THING (1951 or 1982), TRADING PLACES, THE HAUNTING (1963), ZULU, SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE (1974), ALIEN, COPLAND and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD are, they still end up falling out of many people's lines of demarcation: pre-1970s (or pre-1980s, pre-1990s... even pre-2000s), and they are so often considered "too old" and/or "cheesy", and are thus ignored in favor of that bright shiny new thing over there, even if it's a bland, shallow (though expensive) derivative of the film they're passing on seeing. You might say that JAWS and ALIEN stand apart, that they still feel modern and endure, but I bet you can find many everyday people now who have never seen them, and only know them by reputation, or from pop culture references.

ScottDS said...

And as for North by Northwest, I love Saul Bass' opening titles with Bernard Herrmann's playful theme, and I'm fond of using Grant's line, "...there's no such thing as a lie. There's only the expedient exaggeration..."

And everything at the UN, culminating with that God's eye view matte painting.

John Jameson said...

Andrew, I'd seen your Top 25s, and like them very much, partly for the reason you suggest: that you look for objective criteria. On the other hand, the influence on the genre is something that I might not care so much about as a modern viewer. For example, Citizen Kane was wonderfully innovative, but many people today would find it dull. Also, Empire Strikes Back is often regarded as a stronger movie than Star Wars, but does not appear on your list, as the main innovations already appeared in Star Wars. I guess I'm looking for a list that pretends all films were made yesterday. To appear on such a list, it is not enough for a movie to be "extraordinary for its time": it must have stood the test of time, and compare favorably with more recent films of similar type.

Backthrow said...

I like the auction scene in NORTH BY NORTHWEST, Grant's drunk driving sequence, and the 'will-she-spot-the-note-or-will-they' in the mountain lodge, just prior to the Mt. Rushmore sequence, which I also like.

Rustbelt said...

John, it's interesting you bring up 'Citizen Kane.' Now, personally, I consider it a dreadfully boring movie- the worst example of a director's over-indulgence.
And for a while, I thought I was the only person who didn't get the film. But recently, I discovered a contemporary review of 'Kane.'
Erich von Stroheim took a look at the movie for a magazine called 'Decision'- which, according to the brief description, was a short-lived, anti-Nazi magazine. LINK
It's pretty interesting. In particular, Stroheim has strong opinions on 'Rosebud' and the whole Hearst controversy that Welles-worshipping film snobs might consider heresy today.

Feel free to read it and tell me what you think.

T-Rav said...

Scott, that's actually a thought I've had before. While I can understand the desire of filmmakers to create movies that reflect our times, that can quickly turn into a cop-out. Not always, but you can't just make that your excuse. Sure, the present-day atmosphere encourages "grittiness," but you can either bow to that trend or make something totally against type, and hope that the audience will become more optimistic as a result.

I think that's one reason why I like The Avengers so much. It's more colorful than a lot of movies nowadays, for one thing; and it's not afraid to be flat-out funny.

John Jameson said...

Rustbelt, many thanks for the link. That is quite striking, assuming it is genuine. It is interesting to note that Stroheim is critical of the nonlinear narrative, something that modern audiences embrace (if it is done well, e.g., Memento, Usual Suspects). Where his analysis still resonates is in the observation that without the "rosebud" gimmick, the nonlinear narrative, and the implied contemporary Hearst reference, there is not enough substance here for such a substantial movie. That is why modern viewers often find it so boring.

tryanmax said...

My question before the board is this: Is narrative the primary objective of cinema?

Let me clarify that before the hasty answers come in. Of course there is some cinema which is wholly unconcerned with cinema, like music videos or art house nonsense. However, the popularity of things like the former is piggybacked on something else, and things like the latter generally aren't popular. Clearly as a stand-alone art form, narrative is vital to cinema.

But is that the first concern of cinema? Ever increasing production values would seem to indicate that a compelling story takes a back seat to at least a certain degree of spectacle. The "big shiny" would seem at the very least to be the foot in the door. Furthermore, any number of films devote large portions of time to spectacle that doesn't forward a plot, to the chagrin of some but evidently not most.

This is perhaps a question from the mind of a marketer. In my line of work it can sometimes be confusing whether we are trying to build an audience or engage it. Of course, the ideal is to do both, but ideals don't report in on a quarterly basis. And while it's true that sequence or prominence don't necessarily denote primacy, oftentimes they do.

tryanmax said...

Backthrow, in response to your question, I would say that I observe us in a time where there is more emphasis on the moment over the continuum. As such, there would naturally be a stronger draw to what's current. This is probably something with a natural ebb and flow and will reverse in time, and reverse again.

A second consideration is that the aesthetic of film has changed at an increasing pace in recent years. This creates a greater sense of temporal distance from things that are really quite recent. And this sense would make those things seem more foreign and therefore less relatable and interesting.

A third consideration is that maybe people are just keeping up on the blockbusters more and want to continue to do so. Along these same lines, maybe everybody just wants to see what their friends are seeing, and that is always more likely to be something recent.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Those are great points about the grittiness, especially as related to Superman. A guy who flies isn't real no matter what underwear he wears. I think the "real" argument is just an excuse for making a film that appeals to that person's tastes rather than the tastes of the people who are the current fans.

And on the point T-Rav makes, that always strikes me as the artistic version of the "I was just following orders" excuse: I was only giving the public what it wants. That's false and they only use it when they are trying to explain away something crappy they've done... like excessive violence or adding sex to too much CGI. If you don't like something, then do it differently. Don't hide behind what you claim the public wants. That's just trying to pass the blame to a straw man.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Them flirting on the train. That is one of the sexiest scenes in cinema!

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, I do not know, but I can tell you that I see it in books too. There seems to be this mental barrier to people buying anything that isn't brand new. I don't get it. Let me think about it.

AndrewPrice said...

John, Essentially, you want me to list my favorite films?

tryanmax said...

PikeBishop, it could've been worse. Cameron could have called it Macguffinite.

AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, I see it as a pretty dull film as well, but I recognize it's place in cinema.

AndrewPrice said...

John and Rustbelt, I think there is something to that. When you do a film that is basically meant to involve some sort of current event or current personality, that film will likely feel dated and lose a good deal of its interest fairly quickly. That's the thing with "event" films that seem so great when you see them in theaters with a thousand people still in line outside, but seem so dull a year later when you see them on video after the event feel has vanished.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, To put a fine point on it, there's a sucker born every minute. And what that means is that there is a sizable chunk of the population who are little more than morons who can be sold anything if it's shiny... especially if you give them the sense that they actually saw something more.

I think Hollywood has decided that those people are the more reliable audience worldwide, so that is what they cater to now.

KRS said...

Tryanmax - I'd go for renaming unobtainium - the very concept of a mineral on an alien world that does not exist on Earth is so utterly asinine ...

Ooo, I think I've got it - asininite?

AndrewPrice said...

KRS, That's awesome! I have to steal that at some point!

KRS said...

I should clarify- every mineral that exists in the galaxy, however rare, is going to be accessible without having to knock over a sacred tree. MHO

KRS said...

Btw, a little OT, but I saw a preview for "The Book Thief," with Geoffrey Rush. Very intriguing and hopefully good. I haven't read the story, but I have hopes it will be a perspective on the holocaust that doesn't numb your senses and provides for some inspiration.

That's what I think American movies should always have (Yay! Back on topic!) - some element that is uplifting, inspiring or ennobling. We have always been a hopeful, striving race, holding a belief that things can always be made better somehow and each of us will get a chance to make it so. Our cinema needs to reflect that ideal and it used to do it very well. Now, it seems to do it only in fits and bangs, like an engine that's not getting enough air.

A movie can be gritty and it can end very badly, but if I come out inspired or uplifted by the sacrifice dramatized on screen - well, that's a helluva good movie. The obvious example being, "300," I am also very much wanting to see "Lone Survivor."

That is also why our cinema was and remains the major target of liberals. Until American art is utterly captured by the unrelenting press of European cynicism, the progressive man cannot rule and the free man has a chance.

In the end, I think American cinema - before the Age of Cynicism that Andrew critiques so well - found it's success in embracing and expressing American exceptionalism. Hence, the development of the "Hollywood Ending." Uplift, inspire and ennoble - that's exceptional.

Finally, big business is risk averse and all too often that puts them in bed with progressives. The few times that Hollywood puts out a good, inspiring movie, it is mostly because it just happened to fit with a low risk business decision - a sequel to a comic book movie being the obvious example.

So, I'll point at two causes for the condition of cinema today: deliberate progressive manipulation and unthinking corporate heavy hands.

KRS said...

This just in -

There's a new instructional video on fracking asininite, but it’s rated NC-17.

Backthrow said...

Asininite requires a catalyst, which of course would be cretinium.

AndrewPrice said...

KRS, Very well said! I concur 100%, especially about the connection you've drawn between the opposition to American exceptionalism and the push of cynicism. Very insightful!


BTW, I literally laughed out loud at the idea of "fracking asininite" and I'm still chuckling about that one. :)

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, Or Beanorillium... or is it Liberalillium? Hmm... both produce the same byproduct.

Backthrow said...

Andrew,

Progressivium Selfhate. It's quite vitriolic, and is widely used as fertilizer.

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