Monday, February 27, 2012

Leave it Alone

I started writing a blog about The Oscars, but I couldn’t bring myself to care about any of the winners all that much. I will say that in a lot of years I would be outraged that The Artist won over something that will ultimately be seen as a far greater movie, since you know…The Artist is all flash, and no substance, but you know… I look at the other movies nominated, and while I really liked The Descendants and Moneyball, it’s pretty difficult to argue that they’re much better than The Artist, so… congratulations Frenchies!

Of course, the Oscars did get me thinking about movies, and the nature of them, and whatnot, and they’ve convinced me to finally write my blog about my current biggest pet peeve in the realm of movie making.

Does anyone remember the absolutely insane fervor of May 1999 when the first Star Wars prequel was released? It was fucking CRAZY. Like… There were articles, and news items, and interviews. Rumor of a new trailer would sell out a theatre for some afternoon show of some horrible March release movie. I remember going to meet my friends for the Midnight show, and sitting in the theatre for hours. People were dressed up. Getting crazy. My friends were asking Star Wars trivia. It  was the first enormous midnight release movie, paving the way for every tween who stays up for days for Twilight.

I remember the lights going down, and the incredible electricity in the air. The palpable anticipation of the start of the movie many of these people had waited 18 years to see. The opening titles started “A long time ago…” and people went insane. It was so loud I remember involuntarily laughing at the whole business. It was like a rock concert.

Every light saber resulted in cheers. Every throwback reference resulted in knowing laughter. Every time we saw a character we’d come to love it was greeted with raucous applause. Every moment was met with baited breath.

When the final credits rolled, the place was like a madhouse. People were cheering and shouting and chanting “Show it again” and before I knew it, there were light saber fights in the aisles and people leaving the theatre and getting in line for the first showing in the morning, and all of the rest. It was a fucking sensation, and I was just as caught up in it as anyone else.

Nobody bothered to tell any of us how incredibly shitty it was.

It wouldn’t have mattered. We were too invested. We were too far down the rabbit hole of a sycophantic fugue state. We NEEDED it to be good. There was no way it would register otherwise.

That state must have lasted all Summer, because I am fairly certain I saw it 5 more times in the theater, and I loved it each time.

I ignored the discussions about how boring the politics were (“They set up what comes next”, I’d say). I paid little attention to the complaints about the acting of Jake Lloyd (“He’s just a little kid!”). I defended Jar Jar Binks against the onslaught of racial criticism (“Um… He’s funny!”)

Then, through all of the haze, I didn’t watch it again for 13 years.

In the meantime, I watched Attack of the Clones and found myself bored through a lot of it. I watched “Revenge of the Sith” and found myself groaning over the dialogue and the huge holes in logic and continuity.

I started questioning those movies more and more. The haze and excitement and anticipation started to diminish, and the harsh light of reality started beating down. Part of this, I have to believe, has to do with The Lord of the Rings. These were highly anticipated movies that absolutely killed it from beginning to end in terms of writing, acting, effects, and overall story telling. Arguably the fans of these books were as rabid as any George Lucas ever encountered, even if the volume wasn’t as high. As every LOTR fan left each film with a sense of pride and satisfaction, the true feelings of the Star Wars fans became more raw and haggard.

Then… to top it all off… I went to see the re-release of The Phantom Menace, hoping that the 3D would somehow bring it all together.

It didn’t.

That movie is fucking atrocious.

I’m sorry to say it. I believe I really did love it once upon a time, but either my tastes have matured, or the halcyon days of anticipation had truly clouded my thoughts (much like a Jedi).

The script is one of the worst I’ve ever heard. The acting, outside of Liam Neeson, is unbelievably bad. (Jake Lloyd, who at one time garnered defense is… completely indefensible. There had to have been better child actors out there. There had to have been. I can’t accept otherwise). The effects are great, that’s true, but there are too many. Back in the day, Lucas had to be creative to make visually interesting scenes. This movie makes him lean on the effects too much.  Let’s not even talk about how self-referential it all is… The totally Americanized sports announcing team might be the dumbest throw-in I’ve ever seen in a movie.

And then there’s Jar Jar. The problem with Jar Jar is that his character DOES serve a purpose, but my god… So offensive. I know that Lucas attributed a lot of the Jar Jar dialogue to his little kid, and maybe that’s true, but if it is… that little kid needs to do some self examination, because they are racist as shit.

Anyway… All of that, and I haven’t even articulated my pet peeve.

Despite all of the anticipation and excitement, nobody was sitting around waiting for another Star Wars movie. The story was done. Nobody really cared all that much about where Darth Vader came from, unless they were huge Star Wars fans, and they already knew. There was no clamoring until silly George Lucas announced he was working on the prequels. It was dead. It was resting. The most controversial thing to come up in the Star Wars universe was whether Lucas ruined the originals by doctoring them in the re-releases. Han shot first. So the fuck what?

So, without active demand, why in the world couldn’t he have made a better movie? The pressure was off. He could have had a damned contest for the best screen play and gotten 500 great scripts from all of those obsessive Star Wars fans who probably know the universe better than Lucas does at this point. He could have done literally anything he wanted to make the best possible version of that story, and instead we end up with damned “Mr. Tambo” Jar Jar Binks, and Jake Lloyd shouting “Yippee” like a youth from the 1960s. (Long time ago indeed).

That’s my pet peeve.

With no pressure, and no clamor, why in the hell can’t they make better unanticipated sequels?

I touched on it briefly during my movie recap for 2011… One of the reasons Pirates of the Caribbean was my worst movie of the year was due to this phenomenon.

The Pirates trilogy was over. They’d wrapped the story. There was no need or specific demand for more, and yet they pushed through another Jack Sparrow story without so much as a single story editor. Without even the teensiest bit of passion. It’s so disappointing when all semblance of guise is dropped, and the money grab we all know it to be is just bared to the world.

My other favorite example of this is the Indiana Jones Disaster of 2008.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade came out in 1989, and was pretty much universally loved by anyone that cared about those kinds of movies. It’s certainly my favorite one from start to finish. It’s still 100% watchable. And while there’d been rumors for years of another installment for years, the answer they always gave was “We’re always interested, but we’re really waiting for the perfect script.”

I wonder if they’re still waiting somewhere, because ALIENS? Are they fucking serious? I’m still furious. One of the most interesting and timeless things about the Indiana Jones movies is how neatly they intertwined religion, archeology, and mysticism. Throwing in fucking aliens stretches credulity. Giving Indy some dumbass, greaser son (played by one of the least likable actors in Hollywood) only weighed it down. Bringing back Karen Allen, looking bizarre, was just a bad choice.

Look.. I get that Harrison Ford isn’t getting any younger, so it makes sense that they had to account for that… except that they didn’t have to. They didn’t have to make it at all. So… why make something totally shitty?

The Hobbit is coming out soon. The first trailer got something like 8 bazillion hits on YouTube. Another movie where there was interest, but not necessarily demand. It’ll have been 9 years since Return of the King. Hopefully Peter Jackson recognizes the opportunity to come in and stick the landing.

I’ve heard rumors for years about another Ghostbusters movie. I can tell you that I’m not holding my breath, but if they do get it together, they better do it right. I have faith that they’ll wait til the right script comes along.

Anyway, this is my plea… If you don’t have to make a sequel (Twilight, Harry Potter, Hunger Games), then wait until you have good reason to make one. Don’t be Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” or Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. I’m begging you.

If you cared about the first ones, care about the others.

And since I can’t help myself, here’s a small observation on the Oscars.

The Artist won, making yet another Best Picture winner I was rooting against. I’ve been really actively following the Oscars for about 20 years, starting with Unforgiven’s win in 1993. Here are some personal opinion stats.

Of the Best Picture winners, I’ve only agreed with 6. (Unforgiven, Schindlers List, Braveheart, American Beauty, Return of the King, and No Country for Old Men).

I’ve actively disliked 4 (Titanic, Shakespeare in Love, The Artist, and Crash).

I’ve been outraged for various reasons (shut up, I’m dramatic) by 5 (Titanic, Shakespeare in Love, Crash, Chicago, and A Beautiful Mind).

My favorite film of the year has not even been nominated a few times… (50/50, Children of Men, Road to Perdition, Pan’s Labyrinth).

Some other thoughts…

There were some good years… The year The Departed beat Little Miss Sunshine. The year Million Dollar Baby beat The Aviator, Finding Neverland, and Sideways (Wow). The year Forrest Gump beat Quiz Show, Pulp Fiction, and Shawshank… (Holy…)

At least one year featured a winner that could arguably have been the WORST nominee:
Titanic beat out As Good as it Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Hunting, and L.A. Confidential.

If I’m having a “BEST” Best Picture Winner of the Past 20 years, the Nominees are:

Unforgiven, Schindler’s List, Forrest Gump, Braveheart, The English Patient, Titanic, Shakespeare in Love, American Beauty, Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, Chicago, The Return of the King, Million Dollar Baby, Crash, The Departed, No Country for Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire, The Hurt Locker, The Kings Speech, and The Artist

You know what… That’s for another blog. Stay tuned for the Best Picture Tournament.


Caren said...

What about (Titanic, Shakespeare in Love, Crash, Chicago, and A Beautiful Mind) outraged you?

Beefy Muchacho said...

Oh lord... I mean, how much time do you have? It's almost enough for a whole other blog entry...

In short...

Titanic was, essentially, a populist pick. It was incredibly, wildly popular, and it looked really pretty, but... It was exploitative and incredibly manipulative. I've often made the statement that it's the worst movie ever made, which may sound like hyperbole, but when you view the disparity between the actual product and the public hype over it, I'd say the GAP between the two is the largest. It also won in a year where at least 2 other (nominated) movies were FAR better in terms of writing and acting(LA Confidential and Good Will Hunting).

Shakespeare in Love, Chicago, and A Beautiful Mind all fall into the same category. They're fine movies, even very good in some cases, but when you look at the movies they beat out for Best Picture, their winning is a total joke. In all cases the movies they beat will undoubtedly garner more universal praise 50 years from now.

Shakespeare in Love beat Saving Private Ryan. I've said previously that this is the biggest Oscar travesty of all time, and I stand by that.

A Beautiful Mind and Chicago beat the first two Lord of the Rings movies respectively. I understand that Return of the King did win, and against a better field, and that people would argue that it was a cumulative award. Nonsense, I say. They released them as separate films. Each one features incredible acting, writing, and effects. It's also pretty well acknowledged that the first two didn't win only because the Academy knew that they could reward the third as a Catch-All. I don't like it, and I don't accept it. A Beautiful Mind has great performances, but is really badly flawed in terms of storytelling. Chicago is all flash, no substance.

And... Crash. Well... Crash won for one reason only. Old Hollywood simply couldn't let the gay movie win. Brokeback Mountain is a superior film in every way. So, the homophobia is what enrages me.

djphob said...

Hyperbole and you know it! Is there any other movie that long and serious I will sit through a million times? It's second only to Pee-Wee for me. I could only watch those two forever and genuinely be happy.

But even if you don't agree, to think that the Oscars mean much is silly at this point. That said, to say Titanic was a "populist" choice is as silly as saying LotR was. Twilight or HP or Mean Girls or Austin Powers or WTF ever would win if that were truly the case. I prefer Oscar winners people have heard of most of the time.

And I don't think Crash was necessarily homophobia. BbM did get three awards. I think Crash was perfectly superficially engaging.

I guess my point is, if the public usually finds bad movies to be entertaining, shouldn't it count for something when they like a movie and it's good? Managing to please critics and fans is what makes a classic like Star Wars (which never won).

Idk. I just think award shows are pretty worthless as it is except as far as a guide to what to watch and discuss.

Andrea Lynne said...

I loved reading this. I remember thinking the dialogue in the Phantom Menace was weak when I begged to go see it as 13yr old, but I don't remember hating it as much then as I do now. I also went to a 3D showing, and yea, the pod racing and the final battle scenes were fun in 3D, but they're still fun in any dimension.

CGI is one of the worst things to happen to action movies. It's great for SciFi because it allows you to create entire fake worlds, but it also allows directors to be lazy and rely on flash. See the latest (and another completely unnecessary and sequel that no one was waiting for) Die Hard movie for more evidence.

Beefy Muchacho said...

You're right. Really the last 2 Die Hard movies were both unanticipated and not good.

I do think there's a tendency for laziness when it comes to CGI... You see something like Jurassic Park and you see how great it can be, but Star Wars was made without it, and is great, so I think it's more about trying to find a balance.