Culture Shlock: At The Movies

Written by admin on . Posted in Opinion and Column.

By Daniel Meltzer

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:

  • Inception
  • 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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  • Jrdm3

    Really!!! Ain't it the truth….

  • Edna Vera

    One thing that Mr. Meltzer forgot to mention is how expensive movies are now – $20 bucks a pop! Expensive and no substance, oy what is a person to do, or better yet, where to go for a good movie without being fleeced. The box office gross figures are important because they report to the public how rich Hollywood producers are becoming and how stupid we as a whole are for buying into these crappy movies! I agree, we need more independent movies like “The Secret in Their Eyes” that was lovely!

  • Margosolod

    one word, netflix, baby, netflix.
    those of us in the hinterland and beyond used to feel left out because we never got to see the good movies the big cities had showing. good to know we don't have to worry about that. we have the same movies you guys do at our little 3plex in town. although i bet they are quite a bit cheaper.
    i've given up. everything i want to see eventually comes out on netflix, and is carried to the back of beyond by my local postal service.
    what did i do before netflix? were movies really better then? or was i just younger?

  • magicD

    Absolutelsy! I like entertaining movies, and I can't find anything good this year. Avatar was the only movie of 2010 worth the price–and it wasn't one for the ages.

  • Joanwile

    And where are the great, charismatic leading ladies and leading men? Is Angelina Jolie on a par with Betty Davis or Audrey Hepburn? Is Brad Pitt the equal of Cary Grant or Clark Gable? I don't think so. There's Clooney, but handsome and cute as he is, he doesn't have quite the same weight.

  • Ghummel

    Thank you, Dan. We've stopped going to movies and just netflix what is of interest…….and the above do not fit that category.

  • Sy

    I couldn't agree more with your dismay at today's Hollywood fare. Imagine what awaits us in the future if 3-D with IMAX sound becomes the standard format in moviemaking, and screenwriters and directors feel even more compelled to focus on eye-popping special effects rather than mind-expanding themes, ear-splitting sound rather than sparkling dialogue.
    One can only hope that Hollywood regains the ability to once again make movies that are “absorbing, serious, or truly witty,” the kind we used to enjoy and that a new generation of filmgoers have been deprived of.

  • Llyn

    Nice work, Dan! I agree; were it not for the Cleveland International Film Fest and indie film venues, I would be lost. I think “Winter Bone” should be added to the list, and Pixar is turning out some good films funny to children as well as adults.