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Dismay for Hollywood
A troubled – and coincidentally twinned – article to Slarek's New Year Round Up on why Hollywood has almost lost me too in a sea full of terrabyting sharks... by Camus
 

Altogether now...

"If ever, oh ever, a Wiz there was
The Wizard of Oz is one because
Because, because, because, because, because
Because of the wonderful things he does..."

Sung by those hopeful of having their wishes come true...

 
"Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain..."
The 'real' wizard exposed as one mother (of a) faker.


Well, he used to do wonderful things. Now he does seemingly wonderful things but the people behind the curtain are always irritatingly present and obvious if not actually visible poring over their Silicon Graphics monitors. What's the new definition of CG dominated mainstream cinema? How about 'Of Mice And Men' by John Steinbeck? Film technicians may smile at the famous author sharing a name with a flat-bed film editing table. Well, some of them might. I couldn't bring myself to review the almost utterly charming Enchanted (the performances are a real treat). Is it because Disney's under internal Pixar control that it has at last lost some of its smug complacency (now there's a new name for Dreamworks' Animation Department). But the movie went utterly formulaic at the end and turned the whole, sweet soufflé flat. It should have ended with a kiss. If I say it ended with a CG dragon, does that explain anything? It was like ending My Dinner With Andre with a helicopter gunfight. In a jungle. Inappropriate imagery for the sake of providing special effects will never win me over or charm me (but it may my fellow, skewed younger, audiences). Cinema's own self awareness and so called post modern sensibilities are terrific disciplines to look at media under the academic lens but for our ordinary eyes, can't you rich Beverly Hill bastards just tell good stories well? You really did know how to do this over and over again for many years.

Thunderbirds

Cinema-going in the 21st century is like watching modern natural history TV with that constant reminder about how clever the film makers are coming to your 42 inch in just a few minutes. It belittles the work and in some odd way belittles the audience. I saw a documentary on a 40 year old TV show last night and there was more soul and warmth in those clips than any clean and perfect CG'ed movie of today and what was so ironic (in place, it's OK, we can't go without our irony) is that the creator of said warmth and soul kept on complaining about the medium in which he was forced to work. And in it, he excelled. But for all puppetry's limitations, Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds is probably my generation's most beloved programme.

And so it has come to this.

Hardly days into our fledgling year of 2008 after a month that saw the release – definitive DVD box sets, no less – of two of my favourite Hollywood pictures, I must regretfully announce my love affair with Hollywood mainstream is coming apart like cheap roll-blade sliced pizza dropped from the leaning tower of its near-homonym. Tendrils of hope flail and go taut and finally snap as each piece thuds down, splattered and of use now only to a stray cur. Gosh! An all-consuming passion for film has been partially derailed. It wouldn't be true to say the spark has gone out but let's say it will take a bellows job of Herculean effort to get that fire stoked up to its former glory. It was neither one thing nor one film. Hollywood of 2007 was a sludge of CG Mechano sets. You could see what it looked like when finished because it was there on the box. You knew exactly what was on offer – no surprises.

Yes, I've mentioned before that the end of the journey is almost always known by audiences with any common sense (we should re-name that kind of sense nowadays) but it's how we get there in exciting and unexpected ways that's the entertainment value. Not so sure about that now. The movie that actually needed CG to tell its story wimped out on the climax of the original book – for namby-pamby commercial reasons I'm sure. But just when you had a chance to really affect an audience (the heroine's mentor kills a child to get what he wants, power to cross worlds), you leave it either for the sequel (wimps!) or you leave it out (no)... I liked the act of watching The Golden Compass (I have read the trilogy) but as a movie it left me curiously detached. Again, it's the perfection of what's delivered in design and effects. Perfection can also trickle right down to the studied cruelty and icy demeanour of Nicole Kidman's Mrs. Coulter, but that kind of human perfection I can live with. Even the author Phillip Pullman said that of course his dark haired character on the page was blonde on the screen. He thought Kidman perfect in the role. I agree.

I'm not a mobile phone using, low slung jeans wearing, my iPod buds jammed into lugholes, floppy fringed early 20 year old anymore. I am no Hollywood Exec's targeted demographic no matter how many times I actually go to the movies, suck in the gut and pretend with a buzz cut that I wasn't going bald at 18. So maybe it is as simple as "I have grown out of what is being specifically aimed at youngsters..." – but Hollywood wasn't always like that (and no more moans about the good old creative days of the 70s). 2007 played out with one disappointment after the other. Unless we can really get our teeth into something that might entertain via its fruity dismissal (The Celestine Prophesy, you know who you are), you may have noticed that we are pretty positive as movie/DVD sites go. We honestly want our reader (heaven forbid I should use the plural) to go and find these movies – the ones that need a hand (and a sympathetic voice). Those with gadzillions just for prints and advertising don't need the push from us but it's good to see what the mainstream is doing. Perhaps this year, it's time to move back and let multiplexes flex their distribution clout and not give one overblown FX festival an ounce more encouragement.

Unless I really want to.

I rely on Slarek to keep my toe dipped in independent waters even though I catch so few of his many recommendations a year. I live within a family who wouldn't share Slarek's love of the bizarre and genuinely innovative, so that's a lonely pleasure if I get to indulge and I have very few lonely moments that aren't devoted to writing about movies and sneaking a mini egg or eight from a hidden cache. I adored Society but play that in my living room and my son would jump on it with a gleeful "eurgh!" but alas that would be the end of any pleasurable, however perverted, emotions towards that movie. Through my partner's eyes I'd have to be suitably and sympathetically appalled (yes, yes, lap dog to a slip of a girl...) How much fun can you have watching a film with someone who is loathing it?

And if I like a Hollywood movie on a knee jerk reaction, it's because I'm holding on to a sliver of what may have captivated myself as a child. Trust Slarek to disabuse me of this enthusiasm by sometimes writing a 'con' review to my 'pro' and he always manages to convince me pro to con but I've yet to have any success t'other way around. I suspect it's because we are growing older not younger. I guess I'm more lenient on the movies going large because I recognise an odd sort of desperation in Hollywood recently. I mean, have you seen Evan Almighty? A greater example of pandering to all the lowest common denominators on offer I cannot think and with state of the art special effects that make you mutter aloud, 'did the crafts people stop and think outside their one element of their one FX shot, to what they were actually contributing? As Harrison the pink tentacled head alien(?) creature of The Mighty Boosh says, "It's an outrage!"

It's been well known for a few years that all the best examples of recent genre work (mobster movies, science fiction movies, dramas etc.) are to be found on that widescreen box in the corner of the room. There's one good reason for this. How much more profound can you become if you have hundreds of hours to develop characters and not three at the max? This is where Serenity tripped up being born from such a superb (but ten hour) character piece called Firefly. But what do execs do in finding material the great unhinged might turn up to see – stuff they know from another source; The Brady Bunch, Starsky and Hutch, Bilko, The Flintstones and coming soon, Get Smart.

GET SMARTER, guys!

It's difficult to find a mainstream film that doesn't have the in-built marketing recognition of an old TV series (ironies abound here like Wallace and Gromit's Lady Tottington's rabbits). But when a great many, one assumes at the very least, savvy people pin their hopes on movies like Transformers or Spider-Man 3, the word 'nadir' leaves the room and starts looking for another definition. So with that low brow, high disappointment, here are my highs and lows from 2007. Taste as you like...

Highlights in no order except memory prompts

Movies and DVDs together (sad because I can't separate and then rely on there being enough to justify this article).

    1. Cap'n Shakespeare throwing out Tristam from his lightning collector sky vessel (Stardust).
    2. Perfume and Pan's Labyrinth (on a late night double bill, both resonant and both perfect for late night cinema going).
    3. Close Encounters and Blade Runner reach the zenith of their masterpiece-ness via their terrific DVD box sets.
    4. The Host's daringly downbeat ending.
    5. 300's enormous balls at creating rock hard Scottish Spartans and one merry hell of a production design.
    6. Hot Fuzz's nod to The Omen (though how one can nod without a head is another matter entirely).
    7. Not having to see Shrek 3 and dying to see The Bourne Supremacy.
    8. Homer's final mishap on the roof (my son was in tears of hysteria and that's enough of a highlight and that's not even mentioning Spider-Pig).
    9. Romeo Dallaire's palpable disdain for the blood cuffed monster who came to negotiate with the UN in Shake Hands With The Devil.
    10. Seeing Michael Gambon, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Brendan Gleason, Gary Oldman and Jason Isaacs all pointing and shaking little wooden sticks at each other – the shooting of Harry Potter V's final scene must have been hilarious. How could any of them have kept a straight face?
Lowlights: in no particular order except no. 10, the lowest light of all...

    1. Watching the opening credits of Spiderman 3 and realising that I'd seen enough.
    2. Wondering how many person hours were wasted used up for us to witness the twenty eighth robot to something else transformation in Transformers.
    3. Missing out on Care Bears: Oospsy Does It!
    4. Screaming at Morgan Freeman in Evan Almighty to do something about Iraq and not this bothersome worm playing fucking Moses to change a US senator's mind about a dam... Sheesh.
    5. The all too low U.S. domestic turn out for the star studded but obviously too political Lions For Lambs.
    6. Enchanted's inevitable and ridiculous CG climax.
    7. Glimpsing how effortless it is to be evil, let evil happen and let evil flourish – the harrowing and beyond words Shoah. (this is a highlight DVD of course but a lowlight of the human condition).
    8. Driving home the loss to cinema that was Michael Powell's fate after Peeping Tom.
    9. The penultimate movie lowlight of the year was the unbridled anti-joy that was The Celestine Prophecy. It's staggeringly bad but don't take my January 2008 word for. Hop back in time and savour (?) my first and past astonishment...

Drum roll...

And the lowlight of the year with no contenders and not even the movie version of Dungeons and Dragons comes close...

    1. Reno 911: Miami – every last piece of grain in every last frame. Heart-stoppingly awful – actually beyond words.

This really does need an explanation but hey, rent the bastard and get within six minutes before ejecting it and throwing it across the room and taking a knife edge to its shiny side... I'd review it but I wouldn't be able to see the screen from the spittle of rage that erupts when stuff like this passes itself off as comedy – and people go and see it! They choose to see it. Needless to say I was dragged in...

So, signing off – Happy New Year from Camus at Outsider!


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