Raise your hand if you are a person of a certain age and you have recently seen an absorbing, serious, or truly witty American-made movie, a film with a penetrating, insightful, thought-provoking narrative, whose plot and dialogue are not contrived to appeal to audiences 14 years old and above, as well as to avoid alienating consumers with IQs in the 90s or lower. Where would Hollywood be today without special effects, robotics, mind- and time-bending science fiction scenarios, end-of the-world catastrophes, vampires and monster serial killers, “meeting-cute” teen and twenty-something romances, gross-out frat-boy farces, and every possible form of animation?
Whither plot? Whither character? Whither mystery? Wither, you know, Great Movies? Where is our day’s Alfred Hitchcock? David O. Selznick? Rod Serling? Paddy Chayefsky? John Huston? What ever happened to Steven Spielberg?
I know someone who made $400,000 a few years ago for a scenario, just a scenario, submitted to a Hollywood studio in four words: “Earthquake hits New York.” A hundred grand a word! The movie was never made, but the studio owns the rights to the screenplay that was subsequently written. It’ll happen, baby, count on it – likely after it has been re-written a bunch of times by a team of west coast pros.
Is this not the worst summer ever for movies? The ironically titled Grown-Ups merely underscores the undercooked gruel that La-La Land keeps dishing out. And why, by the by, are weekend box-office gross figures now a mandatory feature of Monday morning newscasts and Monday’s New York Times? Is it at least in part because so much real news – about Iraq, Afghanistan, and our government’s clandestine activities are off limits to journalists? It’s about the movie business, dummy. Duh.
Here’s how bad it is. At this writing, at my local SONYplex, the following films are showing:
- The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Good wizard recruits Nicholas Cage to defend New York against a bad wizard who wants to… don’t ask.)
- Inception (More catastrophic special effects, collapsing cities, etc., No hit tunes)
- Despicable Me (Animation for kids. Ugly is good.)
- Predators (Elite warriors hunted by merciless alien race. Video game on the big screen, minus the joystick.)
* Grown Ups (aka The Young Morons)
* The Last Airbender (A young Avatar must stop the fire nation (who?) from enslaving the earth. Call 911.)
* Knight and Day (Secret agent Tom Cruise defies death, again.)
* Cyrus (Boy meets girl, then meets girl’s grown up momma’s boy – see Grown Ups above)
* Toy Story 3 (Casablanca it ain’t)
A little further up Broadway at the Loewsplex, it’s:
- Despicable Me
- The Last Airbender
- Toy Story 3
- The Twilight Saga (Love-struck high school senior must choose between a vampire and a werewolf. A Kevlar neck brace could save her a lot of trouble.)
- Get Him to the Greek (A record company intern must accompany a nut-case rock star to a concert. More bad behavior. Earplugs advised.)
Action films are contrived to travel – globally – where dialog and plot are less important than spectacular images and outrageous action, and whence the bulk of their income derives. The deliberately lowball comedy/farces rise, if they can, to the level of TV sit-coms, but with a higher gross-out index.
The rest of us are left to forage off the few and far between worthwhile foreign imports such as The Girl with the Golden Tattoo, The Secret in their Eyes, and the occasional high-quality documentary.
Yoo-hoo, Hollywood: We’re here, we read, we want quality movies. Broadway is too expensive and there is nothing for us on TV (We’ll get to those media in future columns), and for us you can save bundles by dropping the special effects and lowering the volume. We’re not deaf, or dead, yet.
Daniel Meltzer is a resident of the Upper West Side.
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