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What’s with movies these days?

November 19, 2010

I went to the movies last night and I’m beginning to feel like Dylan’s Mr. Jones. You know, the line from 1965’s Ballad of a Thin Man:

“Because something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones.”

What’s with movies these days?

Not that I’ve been living on Mars for the last thirty years, returning last night only to find that movies are now almost exclusively based on comic books or graphic novel stories.  The previews rolled on screen and every one of them was a remake of some old comic book thing—a Green Hornet movie, some Nicholas Cage-meets-the-devil explosion movie and one or two others that looked just like the others—fast-cut action and hyper-real slo-mo warriors flying through the air swinging swords.

A literary critic might call it magical realism. But that’s another subject.

Okay, sure, there are a few adult movies out there in recent times—dare I say films?—although not too many come to mind at the moment. Got some?  Let me know what they are.  Yes, I know there are good ones out there—The Social Network comes to mind.  But movies, in general, ain’t what they used to be.

Something’s happening here. And I don’t know what it is.

Last night, we saw RED, yes, an explosion movie based on some graphic novel series, but with actual adults in the leading roles—Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich (in one of his trademark goofily unhinged roles) and one of my personal favorites Helen Mirren (first seen by me in Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man back in ’73).  All these old folks play retired over-the-hill has-beens—out to pasture AARP CIA killers.  The whole thing is action movie tongue in cheek, over the top, a wink at the audience—we know you know we know.  That’s why I like it.  Ironic detachment. Good movie.  Jill says it was “cute”—high praise from the wife.

Helen Mirren and Malcolm McDowell, ironically detached, in '73

Here’s where I get cantankerous.  Here’s where I, like those RED (Retired Extremely Dangerous) assassins, whip out the what-the-hell’s-going-on-here pen—where I am Mr. Jones.  What is going on?  What happened to intellectually challenging movies that explore character with deeply human themes?  Or moral issues?  Or social issues?   Intelligent comedy and satire?  What happened to movies that matter—movies that don’t simply evaporate in your mind like a computer-generated explosion.  Stanley Kubrick, Francis Ford Coppola, David Lean, Mike Nichols and all those classic 60s-70s risk-taking, hipster filmmakers, please phone home.

Oh yes, I know.  It’s the youth audience.  That’s where the money is.  And Hollywood money’s tight, nobody’s willing to fund crazy adult stuff—just go for the sure thing.  And what’s working now is the movie made for teenage boys and the poor girls they drag along—no matter how old they are.  No risk.

What does it say about our society?  Is it we Baby Boomers, who are now mostly in charge, haven’t got the spine to make a really good film?  Or, more likely—we, as a culture, don’t demand that really good films be made.  That’s more likely.  The demand isn’t there.

Are we getting dumber?  Is that it?

Or maybe I’m just a nostalgic old gaffer, wistfully longing for my younger days, when things seemed to matter more.  Probably happens to every generation.  Old folks think things are going to hell in a hand basket but then it all works out—culture inexorably evolves.  For good or ill.

Maybe Mr. Jones knows what’s happening.  Do you, Mr. Jones?

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From → Scribblings

2 Comments
  1. By and large you’re quite right. But I just saw “The kids Are all Right” on cable and I think it meets most your criteria for a good film. Apart from that one …Well, Spielberg’s finally making his Lincoln movie — with Daniel Day Lewis! Until that comes out, just watch TV — Mad Men, Friday Night Lights, even The Good Wife. Not to mention box sets of the classics — My So-Called Life, Freaks&Geeks, The West Wing, The Sopranos, The Wire, Treme, Dexter, Weeds, and the first few seasons of Lost. Most of that stuff is far better than any movie of the last ten years.

  2. A friend said that the US film export market’s dried up in recent years because they’re making movies everywhere, so all the good stuff’s migrated to TV. So, yeah. Yer right.

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