Monday, January 14, 2008

What's wrong with this Picture?

In the business of keeping up with the business of Hollywood and American movies, reading trades, watching Box-office reports and screening hundreds of trailers, that headline question is the one I'm most often asking myself. And frankly, I think that it's a bit unfortunate. But then, that's how came about in the first place.
It's unfortunate that the question isn't more often, wow, how could this get any better? Happily it sometimes is, and it's a pleasant surprise when that question is front and center as the lights are coming back up in the theater. More often than a wow is, hey, good movie, I'd recommend this one, wonder when the DVD will be out? I had that experience just recently at Charlie Wilson's War, and in not so popular theater outings like Lions For Lambs and The Golden Compass. To each his own, one of the real pleasures of movies is that it's fun to find your own favorites. Which brings me back to the headline question, so what IS wrong with this picture. Perhaps nothing at all, but I don't really want it that way.

I admit it, I like to find occasional fault. Much like rooting against your least favorite teams, there are some studios, directors and stars that I like to root against. I break out in a minor fit of private glee when a Matthew McConaughy flick opens out of the top ten. (I was delighted by the abysmal Sahara.) I chuckle all Monday long when Sony falls all over itself with another piss-poor CGI kid critter movie. After having sat through Molly Shannon in the aptly titled Year of the Dog, I'll be snickering with fingers crossed, hoping her next project tanks worse than, well, Year of the Dog.

Logical? Maybe not. So sue me. I like to watch projects that irk me from inception, get destroyed under the weight of negative returns. But before you think I'm a total bastard, I like having a rooting interest too. I'll be rooting like hell that someone will see the value of letting Chris Weitz do another His Dark Materials chapter. I hope Robert Downey Jr's Iron Man out box-offices Edward Norton's The Incredible Hulk this summer and I love when Pixar blows every other attempt at animation into the back rows of the balcony. I enjoy seeing hard work and humility rewarded. I like watching clever, original, creative thought win out over stale, staple, and stupid.

In my book, something really stupid, is playing up a gimmick and calling it original thought. I can let Saw V come and go, whenever it does, and who cares? No one is calling it anything more than it is and it's makers have fused the franchise with enough cleverness as to have earned the right to run it into the ground for personal profit. But let's take a look at J.J. Abrams' and director Matt Reeves' new project Cloverfield, that is if you can find a frame not shaking with handi-cam motion jitter. Ah, something to root against. Yes, the technique was clever and fantastically profitable in The Blair Witch Project. George Lucas fueled the fire a few years ago when he suggested that everyone would be making movies with cameras bought in Best Buy with budgets that would hover around a million or two. Well that's very nice George, but butt out. I'd like a little technical innovation applied to my movie making, thank you, and I definitely have an attitude about being sold home movies at ten bucks a ticket. But who can resist the irresistible appeal of the wild profits lurking if you can score a blockbuster hit for the price of shooting a wedding video?

So what do we get to see? Brian DePalma coming up with every inane "creative" reason for shooting a feature with mini-DV hand-helds. Unfortunately Abrams and company found their "creativity" could be just as clever and planted a camcorder in the hands of one of their characters as well. Voila, a movie made by a character making a movie. How can anyone not be aching for this thing to crash and burn? Not since Jerry Seinfeld took "smug" to new heights in promoting that Bee thing, have I so wanted a movie to fall flat.

If you're sitting there chuckling at my despair, you'll get yours. This wave of shooting movies without going to the bother of shooting the freakin' movie continues. Happily missing from box-office tallies or release schedules is Look, a film shot mostly from, I swear it, surveillance cameras. With an advertised release last month, the Adam Rifkin directed film seems to be next to non-existent, much like the absence of creativity, imagination and inspiration from the production company responsible, Captured Films. This is a bad film school idea. Yes, it's failure (or potential failure, anyone know where this thing is?) puts a huge grin on my face.

So c'mon, admit it. I'm not the only one out here who likes to choose up sides. There's just something special about really rooting on your favorites and something oh so satisfying about watching the hacks get launched into box-office oblivion. And how much justification do we really need? Be as irrational as you like, you don't get a choice about what movies get made, who gets to star or for that matter, how much you have to pay to buy a ticket. But here the choice is all yours, so have your say and have some fun. will be adding a "choosing up sides" feature to our website soon. Click-in and follow who we root for and against all year, then let us know who you're for and against. Now if movie studios just had team colors and cheerleaders.

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