Wednesday, April 28, 2010

1 Year! It's my anniversary...

It's been exactly one year since I started this, and this is my 51st post. I've published 35 film reviews covering 50 movies (some in batches) and one TV show. There's also a variety of articles covering aspects of cinema and movie-going, online availability via Hulu, links of film news, and more.

So this is a good time to say a few things, ask some questions, and address a few issues. First, thanks to everyone who contributed to my film discussions, who posted a comment on fb or this site - I appreciate the feedback, the disagreement, the opinions. I'm always open to debate on any topic, especially film, and I love having a spirited and challenging conversation about movies. I wish I could do it more often and with more people.

I should point out that, in addition to my knack for hyperbole, I often employ a particular kind of cynicism. For one thing, it's not constant - just one of many tools for approaching a situation. I do get displeased sometimes with studios, executives, and the many different groups that make the film industry work. Still, the only real frustration arises from watching powerful and capable people perform below their abilities. It's worse to see them do it recklessly. And that, in turn, can be frustrating because cinema is such a big aspect of my culture.

Movies are such a big deal in America. In many ways, I feel our pop culture is our culture. Americans often relate to each other and the world around them through pure pop - top 40 songs, blockbuster films, megahit tv shows. Conversations take place around all of us every day - how many times in the last week have you talked about (or heard friends/strangers discuss) one of those three things? Even when folks talk about art, they're often really just addressing the pop-culture elements of a song or movie, not their artistic aspects. This is a real shame.

If movies are so important to us, then, there has to be a certain element of fair play in the cinema. People - particularly the ones behind the wheel - have to actually care about the medium, its evolution, its goals and potential. So often, massive elements of the industry are influenced in ways that neither advance the art of film nor benefit the audience that keeps it going. What do I mean by that?

Well, read today's AVClub article, which lists a slew of announced sequels. One is for "The Clash of the Titans" remake. Despite being critically panned (30% rotten and a 39 score on metacritic), earning almost $400M is enough by itself to warrant a sequel. "How To Train Your Dragon" is apparently slated for sequels, a tv show, a live show, and an online presence. "HtTyD" is supposed to be good, but it only came out at the end of March! This does not sound like a good environment for avoiding excess and waste.

Another example is the general approach toward foreign films. They rarely receive any mainstream attention in the US. The predominant industry opinion is that Americans don't want to watch a movie that has subtitles, and that they can't relate to people that do not speak their language or live in their country. It seems clear to me that this is a self-fulfilling prophecy: depriving the market of these movies can only serve to weaken the general public's receptiveness to them. Why was there an "Alfie" remake, and why was it set in Manhattan?

Some European, Middle Eastern, and Asian films all provide audiences with amazing stories. Seeing ways of life that are sometimes so alien and sometimes so similar is important. Seeing how we are all connected, all experiencing the human condition, all recording our dreams and tales onto film - this is important. Learning that the number 4 is bad luck in China or that Greeks break plates on festive occasions - these little things can be important, too. Film can help to promote foreign culture, dreams of moving to Paris, or conversation about 3rd World corruption. It certainly helps a lot for folks who don't read much...

And countries like Norway, Japan, or Turkey tally up a very long list of inventive and challenging pictures that are unlike most anything you would get from a production unit in LA or New York. Films like "Amelie" and "Pan's Labyrinth" are among a rare handful of flicks that might be found at a large AMC or Regal multiplex. Everything else is consigned to DVD release or the occasional appearance in an "arthouse theater."

Whether we're talking about Disney, Universal, or 20th Century Fox, I know they're all capable of producing pictures that can dazzle audiences while earning tremendous financial and critical success. I simply want to see them do it more often. I want their decisions to have a better basis than bare avarice.

I want comedies to be beginning-to-end funny, at least more often than most have been lately. I want romantic pictures that tickle you with the leads' chemistry, that inspire and touch you - ones that make you want to run outside and dance with a stranger. I want documentaries that reveal thoughtful things about people and the world. And, yes, I want to see an army of Nazi-controlled cyborg dinosaurs fighting an immortal Alexander Hamilton and a reincarnated William Penn; ninja would be involved.

Most of all, I want to see film-makers actually do their jobs. I want writers to craft stories that have some internal logic instead of contrivance. Or dialogue that teaches us about characters instead of simply relaying exposition. I want people to make films where 90% of the creative thought and effort doesn't just go to visual effects. Pictures like "Primer," "Memento," "Butch & Sundance," Groundhog Day" - I understand that they're special and uncommon, but I think audiences would be so much better off to see directors and writers at least try for artistic quality. It's amazing to see something like "Tango & Cash," that knows what it is (a dumb action flick), and then watch the all-over-the-place mess of "Transformers" or "Enemy at the Gates."

I've already gone on longer than expected. So I will simply close with some questions which any of you reading may answer in person or by email or comment... Should I review television more? Should I do more write-ups of new movies? Should I announce my next review in advance? Does anyone want to see more news, regular installments of the batch reviews, or more articles? All these questions are only examples, of course - I'm pretty much willing to respond to just about anything someone might ask. Whether you'll like the answer is another matter.

Thanks again for reading. Thanks for the persistence when my hard drive crashes and I lose 30 unpublished reviews and then don't have the desire to come up with anything new for weeks. And thanks for reading my lengthy, sometimes hyper-sarcastic sentences. It's all in good fun for me, and I hope it is for you as well.

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