Saturday, February 25, 2006

Let Them Eat Garbage

I finally saw Brokeback Mountain this week. When I first heard about it, I wasn't even planning on seeing it. "Just what the world needs," I remember thinking, "another gay cowboy movie." And to be honest, I'm not the big fan of Ang Lee that I used to be. I like a lot of his movies -- Pushing Hands, The Wedding Banquet, The Ice Storm, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, to name a few -- but I thought that Hulk was a big waste of time.

There are some film-makers whose movies I will always see, regardless of the reviews -- people like David Cronenberg, Woody Allen, Peter Greenaway, Jim Jarmusch, the Coen Brothers, Atom Egoyan, Albert Brooks, John Waters, and others whose names don't spring to mind, such as John Sayles and David Lynch. Ang Lee was never really one of them, but when he made the movie Hulk, he pretty much guaranteed he'd never get on my list.

But the way people were raving about Brokeback Mountain, I decided that I had to go see it. And I thought it was pretty good, but I wouldn't call it a great movie. Maybe it relied a bit too much on beautiful outdoor scenery, but film is a visual medium, so that's probably nothing to complain about. It was well-acted and the ending was very poignant, but I still didn't think it was a great movie. I'm glad I saw it, but I doubt if I'll ever see it again.

So, if it's not that great a movie, what's all the Academy Award talk about? That's a good question, and I'm not on the nominating committee so I don't have the definitive answer, but I think it might be found in the Oscar category itself. It's called "Best Movie," which means that it doesn't have to be great -- all it has to be is better than all of the other garbage spewed out the same year. And considering most of what was released last year, it's got a pretty good shot at the title. I'm not saying every movie released in 2005 was terrible -- there were actually some pretty good movies last year, but there weren't many.

I see a lot of movies, but I was never really sure how many I actually saw. So a few years ago, I decided to keep a list. And this list includes only movies I saw in a movie theater -- it doesn't include anything I saw on cable or DVD. In 2003, I saw 38 movies, which averages out to about one movie every 9.6 days. That's not a huge number, but it's probably higher than the nationwide average. In 2004, I saw 48, which is just a little short of one movie per week. In 2005, the number dropped down to 27 for some reason. Part of the reason is that there was other stuff going on in my life, but the other part of the reason is that there weren't that many movies I wanted to see. And this year, I've only seen two movies. I realize that this year isn't even two months old, but still, I'm averaging about a movie a month so far, and unless things get any better this year, I don't expect that average to improve much.

As a matter of fact, I expect things to get worse, because I think the overall quality of movies is declining. I know I'm not the first person to complain about this, and I know I won't be the last, although I think my complaints might be different from a lot of other people's.

First of all, this trend of making movies based on comic book characters, no matter how obscure, has pretty much worn thin. It was a good idea once, but now it's just old. And not all comic book characters are interesting enough to be made into a movie. I know that if I live long enough, I'll wake up one day to find that some studio has released Nancy and Sluggo: The Movie.

And I don't mind a lot of gratuitous violence, as long as the violence is realistic. In the movies, some people get knocked unconscious after just one blow to the head, while other people get beat up by a dozen thugs and then fall from the roof of a building, and when they hit the concrete, they just dust themselves off and walk away. Finally, when people get shot, they bleed. This is a proven medical fact. If you get shot in the forehead, blood will be pouring out the bullet hole, but you rarely see this in movies. There are limits to my ability to suspend my disbelief, and those limits have been exceeded.

There are so many other things to complain about, from boring car chases to awkward dialog, but I'm only going to mention one more: Computer-Generated Imagery. I think CGI has taken all of the excitement out of special effects. In the past, whenever you saw some cool special effect in a movie, part of the fun was asking yourself, "How'd they do that?" But now, the answer is always the same: CGI. No matter what special effects I see, it's hard to be impressed, because I know how simple it is to create an animated 3D model using CGI software.

Oh, there's one more thing I should mention: nudity. I don't know who these people are who complain about sex and nudity, but whoever they are, they're not seeing the same movies I'm seeing. Maybe they're unwittingly going to porno theaters -- I don't know -- but the truth is there's less sex and nudity on film than there was in the past. It seemed like in the 70s, just about any movie with an R-rating was going to show you a woman's breast at the very least, but I can't remember the last time I saw a woman's breast in any movie released in the last ten years. I'm not saying there weren't any -- I'm just saying there weren't a lot.

You could probably respond to all my complaints by saying, "But Bob, to be honest, movies aren't made for people your age -- they're made for teenagers and college students and young adults. You're no longer part of the targeted demographic." Yeah, I know all that -- I think the demographic is 18 to 34 years old, or something like that -- but that's not really the point, because when I was in college, I was watching movies by Francois Truffaut, Jean Cocteau, and Luis Bunuel.

And if you're thinking, "But Bob, you're obviously much more sophisticated than most people, so maybe you were more sophisticated back in your college days as well," I'll respond by saying that I wasn't the only college-student at the movie theater. As a matter of fact, before videotapes and DVDs practically put the revival houses out of business, you could see all kinds of classic movies and low-budget movies and foreign movies in most major cities, every night of the week. And the theaters were never empty.

Which brings me to the point of this little essay. People will eat what you feed them. If you feed them some idiotic movie based on some idiotic comic book character, that's what they'll consume. If you feed them a well-made thought-provoking movie, they'll consume that too. So this argument about the movie studios just giving the 18- to 34-year-olds what they want to see is completely without merit. The studios are essentially defining what the audiences want by rarely exposing them to anything else. Believe it or not, a lot of teenagers and college students are pretty smart, and they can handle movies with more depth than a comic book or a bad TV show from the '60s.

Okay, that's all for this week, but before I go, there's one more thing I have to mention. I happened to see an article about how some of the fans of James Bond movies are up in arms over the new actor chosen to portray James Bond. One such group of fans is even planning on boycotting the upcoming Bond movie as a sort of protest. That seems sort of stupid, but the surprising thing to me was that there actually are any fans of James Bond movies. I thought everyone realized by now how stupid those movies are. I admit I liked the ones in the 60s starring Sean Connery, but I think the only reason I liked them is that I was about 12 or 13 when I saw them. Anyone older than that must realize how awful those movies are. And I'm not just speaking for myself. I remember when Pierce Brosnan starred in his first Bond movie, one of my nephews was about 12 so I took him to see it. We both thought it was stupid.