Grumpy Critics review:Kick ass cinema featuring pabulum and dribble

A friend of mine told me recently that her adult son liked to see movies where the fight scenes looked “real.” And for that reason, he would not see “Avatar.” This is a valid argument perhaps, however it is certainly not the only reason I would choose not to see “Avatar.”

If I believe that the world in which the aliens live is a viable and realistic depiction of an alien life-force, I would go see “Avatar.” If I believe that the dialogue between the main characters is witty and realistic and engaging, I would go see any movie.

If I believe that I will learn something or become engaged in an emotion and/or cathartic moment of cinematic magic, I will see a film. Movies are meant to be viewed and reviewed by all different types of people. Some movies are not “my cup of tea” but I know they are valid and have merit.

Other films I love and realize they are not viewed in the same light by many other people. The same is true for all art forms, including paintings and literature. But the criteria for movie-going cannot be narrowed to a bias that some of another generation can reduce to “kick-ass” cinema, as I call it. “Kick-ass cinema” can be defined as a type of film where the predominant emotion is one of elation when the hero “kicks-ass” against the protagonist and the entire film-making experience is cathartic only for those who view life through a very narrow window.

This is not really a new problem for film-makers and there are a number of films that have been made from the post-WWII generation through today catering to the “kick-ass” audience. However, the types of films that have lingered in the highest-grossing list and the ones that have earned sequels in the past ten to twenty years represent the “dumbing-down’ of a large portion of the movie-going audience.
To be fair, films like Titanic & Avatar don’t really figure in this category. But films like “Fast & Furious”, Transformers and other mindless high-speed car chase action films are fast becoming the sure-fire hits for Hollywood studios. These films are the counter-point to the small, independent pictures that have been made in the U.S. and abroad since the ‘60’s.

The breakdown of the old Hollywood studio system did spawn independent and foreign films that make us think. But the “kick-ass” brand of film-making makes money and that is why they are here to stay. At some point in our lives, as we age, we start to ask ourselves how much money we want to spend to be entertained by the same mindless pap that is being paraded on screen and masquerades for “entertainment?” Speaking for myself, this is a nasty apocalyptic thought. Even the notion of having to waste two or more hours sitting through this type of dribble has made the very thought of becoming a film critic akin to someone condemned to a torture chamber.

One of the most satisfying addendums I have seen in recent times comes in one of my least favorite movie guides, “Entertainment Weekly.” In the sidebar, there is a list where the highest-grossing films of all times are adjusted for inflation, and the list begins to look quite different. (“Gone with the Wind” comes out on top, I do believe!)

So the good news is that there are still great films being made, even in Hollywood. But the demand is high for pabulum and dribble being churned out of Hollywood simply to generate revenue, and that is all we may eventually get. Imagination and originality in plots and content are all that should be asked for in good film-making. It’s not too much to ask and we should all demand more of it in the days and decades to come.

Capsule Review: The Wolfman

I like “old school” movies such as these because if you go to see a movie about werewolves, you would expect blood and gore. And this picture delivers that. Anthony Hopkins and Benecio del Toro are good in their parts. Hopkins reminds me a bit of the old Boris Karloff who would behave in horror films the way he was expected to behave. He was there to deliver a “menacing persona” that would encompass a whole spectrum of horror we had come to expect from his presence in a movie.

In this case, Hopkins doesn’t even have to extend himself much to allow us to identify him with the menacing persona. He delivers it in his voice. The plot is pretty standard as wolfman plots go, but my one big complaint was the fact that the character del Toro played was supposed to be an actor. That footage must have ended up on the cutting room floor as we never see him, save for one brief flash, acting. But the idea would have been interesting enough to further the characters development and was instead, simply thrown out as an interesting aside to his character.

The movie is fairly forgettable, but there are worst wolfman movies out there. Unfortunately, I don’t have to guess because I have seen a few of them! The movie is a good popcorn movie for Friday night horror but not worth the trip to the cinema.

Oscar Night Review

My final analysis of the Academy Awards show was that it was okay. Anyone who reads my blog would not be surprised by that opinion, as I’m usually not enamored with all things Hollywood –at least not in the last few decades.

I think there were some good things about the Oscar show. Number One: they chose Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, who were very funny together. Number Two: they chose not to “high-brow” the affair because no one likes to see a bunch of pretentious pseudo-intellectual “Hollywood elite” types trying to appear sophisticated, glamorous and “above it all” when the rest of America knows they are not!

But they opened the show with this cheesy act from Neil Patrick Harris that was pretty cringe-worthy. And their list of presenters was, for the most part, boring. They did not use enough past Oscar winners nor the “up and comers” of the acting world. They did use a lot of very young people in a fairly shameless ploy to boost ratings.

And in that same vein, they bottom-loaded all of the final significant awards into the last ten minutes of the evening, which simply made it look inept. And they also chose to use “testimonials” to the best actors/actresses which could have been left out, in my opinion because everyone in that audience should know if the actors in question are good to work with, and if they aren’t, it just looks awkward.

But one of my biggest beefs is the fact that we are in the 21st Century and the show looks a lot like a holdout from a bygone era. The glitz and glamour are not as believable when there is so much more to the film industry in the modern era. The age of computer imaging and video games and the type of sophisticated special effects used in modern films were barely acknowledged. There was little mention of the separate awards show they hold for the scientific and technical awards.

James Cameron has invented a new method of film-making and George Lucas and others have initiated many breakthroughs in the way we see things on film. NONE of this was mentioned….at all. And there should be new categories to acknowledge this and it should be brought to the public’s attention.

Plus the global village that we live in is still fairly compartmentalized in one or two categories of short films and the foreign film category. Even though “Slumdog Millionaire” won so many of the awards last year, it was treated as if none of that had ever happened. The encapsulated world of Hollywood elites still appears to be fairly homogenized. (barring a few obligatory jokes about Jews in Hollywood). The only nod to the changing of the guard was the fact that Barbara Streisand gave the Best Director award to a woman for the first time. And the black actress who won the Best Supporting award acknowledged Hattie McDaniels and all of the women of color who had come before her.

If Hollywood and film-making are a large part of the American “persona” and this show is one of our best chances to advertise our unique and diverse American way of life, then why don’t they pull out all the stops on these occasions? Instead, the powers that be in Hollywood present a timid and tepid kind of tribute to films the way they’ve always been done before. Not that there is a need for pornography or new age philosophy, but there should be an acknowledgement of INNOVATION. To my mind, THAT was “the stuff that dreams are made of” that Bogart spoke of so long ago.