Hopeless Hollywood Sameness

Yesterday Kish and I decided to go see a movie.  It’s been hot as blazes in Columbus recently, and humid, too, and the idea of sitting for a few hours in an air-conditioned movie theater watching an interesting film was very attractive.

We haven’t been to the movies in a while because, candidly, the array of films offered this summer hasn’t been very appealing.  We have a narrow window of consensus — Kish can’t stand sci-fi and superhero movies, and I groan at the idea of sitting through some deep study of dysfunctional families — but we thought we’d give Jason Bourne a shot.

rs-jason-bourne-ea2bec70-27d1-4c0a-abc0-dcd61b987aa9Several hours later, after we’d been assaulted by loud, chaotic, and grossly improbable non-stop action, we emerged with the realization that Hollywood apparently has run out of ideas.  I think I may have seen part of an actual Jason Bourne movie in the past, but I’ve definitely seen this movie before — over and over and over again.  The film is so trite and formulaic that it immediately seemed like I was watching a rerun.  Even Matt Damon, who typically makes interesting films, couldn’t salvage it.  If you’re considering going to watch it, save your money.

Take every car chase scene you’ve seen since The French Connection, Bullitt, and The Blues Brothers movie, make them louder and longer and more destructive, and move them to Athens and the Vegas strip.  Input a rote, duplicitous bad guy with absolutely no redeeming qualities as the evil head of the the CIA and expect the audience to root for him to be killed.  Take an ambitious female agent with ambiguous loyalties off the shelf.  Add in an unbeatable hero with superhuman intellectual and physical capabilities and have him tracked by another apparently unstoppable cold-blooded killer who he has to fight at the climax.  That’s the plot.  Sound familiar?

The summer movie season used to feature inventive, different movies, like Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars and Forrest Gump.  That’s no longer the case.  Now we get sequels, remakes, and canned, tried-and-true formulaic crap.  It’s no wonder that the box office receipts are down this summer.  What we’re getting from Hollywood these days really sucks.

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Jaws At The Ohio

IMG_5707The CAPA summer movie series is one of the great treasures of Columbus.  For several months the mighty Ohio Theatre becomes a repertory cinema, playing the best Hollywood has produced for your enjoyment in plush, opulent, air-conditioned comfort — with a plus.

This afternoon Kish and I went to see Jaws, which is the summer movie to end all summer movies.  Until you see Jaws again, on the big screen, in all of its colossal splendor, you forget what a marvelous film it is.  So believable in its portrayal of small-town provincialism, so well-acted by Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider, and Robert Shaw, and so compelling in its set pieces — from the little scene between Captain Brody and his son at the dinner table, to the destroyed kid’s raft that washes ashore after one of the Great White attacks, to the bloody, horrible, screeching end for Quint in the shark’s mighty, threshing mouth.

It was telling that, even forty years after its release, the film still brought a gasp and shriek to the audience when the face of the dead fisherman drops into view in the hole of his ruined vessel.  Jaws is being released for a limited engagement, nationwide, next week, and if you get a chance to see it in a full-sized theater you have got to go and hear that familiar shark music again.  It really is a masterpiece of American cinema.  (If you live in Columbus, you can go catch Jaws at the Ohio Theatre tonight, at a 7:30 performance.)

IMG_5725And speaking of masterpieces, no description of the CAPA summer movie series would be complete without a mention of the “plus” that I was talking about — the “Mighty Morton” theatre organ that rises from the stage floor to entertain the audience with classic organ music and then sinks back down, with the organist still playing and pumping away, as the curtains open and the film credits roll.  The organ  alone is worth the price of admission — which is only $4 a person in any case.

No Good Summer Movies

Jaws was released on June 1, 1975.  Taut, believable, and  brilliantly acted, telling the story of a gigantic great white shark that terrorized a resort town and then coldly set out to kill the men who were hunting it, Jaws was perfect fare for the summer.  Anyone who saw it in a theater with a big screen, with the iconic “dun-dun, dun-dun” music playing and letting you know to prepare yourself for the awful carnage that was going to begin at any moment, will never forget it and always feel a thrill when they think of it.

Summer used to be the big season for movies.  You could relax in air-conditioned comfort, enjoy the movie, and practice the hinge move on your girlfriend in a darkened room.  And Hollywood always seemed to deliver at least one great movie that ran throughout the summer.  Whether it was Jaws, the original Star Wars movies, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, or Animal House, every year there was at least one can’t miss movie that everyone was talking about.  Watch any of those films, or the other summer blockbusters that you remember, and you’ll see well-made films that stand the test of time.

Last weekend Kish and I decided a trip to the movies was a good idea, so we checked the roster at the nearby multiplex.  Another Transformers movie.  Another X-Men movie.  A silly comedy, Tammy.  A remake of a TV series, 22 Jump Street, that we never watched in the first place.  Edge of TomorrowThink Like A Man Too.  And others, equally forgettable.  And this weekend, the big premiere is of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes — another remake, one that the previews indicate is full of computer-generated scenes of rampaging apes.  We yawned and decided to pass — and we’re not alone.  With these lame offerings, is anyone really surprised that Hollywood receipts are way down this summer?

In the past, Hollywood at least seemed to make an effort to deliver summer movies that were new and exciting, well-written, well-acted, and well-made.  Now, it offers a steady diet of remakes and movies that rely heavily on formulas and special effects, explosions, and groin shot humor.  If Jaws were released this summer, it would stand out among this tired and uninspired fare like LeBron James at a junior high school game.

C’mon, Hollywood.  At least try!

I Can’t Bring Myself To Watch Bates Motel

There’s a new TV show that’s being advertised constantly.  Call me a wuss if you will, but I can’t bring myself to watch it.

It’s Bates Motel — the back story, apparently, of Norman Bates and his mother, Norma.  Of course, Norman figured prominently in the Hitchcock thriller Psycho, where he donned his mother’s dress and ruthlessly stabbed to death a young woman taking a shower in the motel that Norman managed.  I think Psycho is one of the creepiest, most unsettling movies ever made, and Norman Bates is one of the creepiest, most unsettling movie characters ever conceived.  In view of that, why in the world would I want to see even more of young Norm and his unbalanced mother?  Is there really a big audience for a TV that tells their disturbing story?

Of course, if Bates Motel is successful it might start a trend.  Why stop at telling the bloody tale of only one horror movie icon?  No doubt other TV producers will begin searching for frightening film characters whose earlier days remain unexplored.  Some possibilities:  Little White, the moving, coming-of-age tale of an awkward young shark striving to become an unstoppable killing machine off the beaches of Amity in New England; Hockey Boy, the whimsical tale of Jason Voorhees, an uncoordinated youngster whose dreams of career in the NHL are foiled but who discovers he experiences strange new urges when he dons a hockey mask; and Vlad Ain’t Bad, a comedy about a white-skinned, cape-wearing exchange student from eastern Europe who fits right in with the Goth crowd then discovers an insatiable craving for corpuscles.

Some Random Thoughts on 2001

I really enjoyed Richard’s post about 2001:  A Space Odyssey, and it got me to thinking about one of my favorite movies.  (It also is a movie that you really haven’t seen unless you’ve seen it on a big screen.)   I think it could be reasonably argued that 2001 is one of the most influential movies of the last 50 years, for at least two reasons.

First, 2001 ushered in the golden age of movie special effects.  Before 2001, movie special effects were little used and were pretty much confined to Ray Harryhausen pictures or stop-motion effects.  2001 was a quantum leap ahead.  Whether it was the classic space station docking scene, or the weightless pen grabbed by the stewardess on the space shuttle, or the astronauts jogging in a seemingly endless and weightless circle, or the giant fetus floating in Jupiter orbit, the special effects on the movie just blew people away.  2001 seemed to destroy all of the barriers and preconceived notions about what could be depicted, visually, on the big screen.  Thereafter, special effects became hugely important parts of movies — some might argue too important.  In any case, films like The Matrix, The Abyss, The Fifth Element, Blade Runner, Star Wars, Jaws, and countless others owe a great debt of gratitude to 2001.

Second, 2001 seemed to be one of the first movies to fully integrate music and on-screen action.  If you watch movies from the ’50s and before — at least, movies that weren’t musicals — the soundtracks typically are muted, background music, where strings might play in a particularly sappy scene.  In the late ’60s, however, soundtracks began to assume a more prominent role.  In 2001, the soundtrack music really played a crucial role.  Everyone remembers The Blue Danube Waltz and the space station docking scene because it was a perfect marriage of sight and sound.  But the scene where the apes discover that a bone can be used as a weapon as Also Sprach Zarathustra rises to a crescendo, or the creepy “eeeeeeeeeeee” music that is heard during some of the suspenseful scenes, or the sad music that plays as the space ship takes its lonely voyage to Jupiter, are equally stunning and effective uses of music.  Now, the use of music to specifically convey messages and advance storylines is so commonplace that it has invaded TV as well as cinema.  On House, for instance, it is not unusual for the final scene to involve no dialogue, but only a carefully chosen song that plays as the show cuts from character to character as they deal with the events of the preceding hour.

2001 is a masterpiece, and it shows that Stanley Kubrick was a genius.