Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Critics, Don't Be Lazy and Blame the Young

Yesterday, a Los Angeles Times piece swept across the internet with some fervor. Neal Gabler's article, "Perspective: Millennials seem to have little use for old movies", placed the blame for weak remakes squarely on the shoulders of the under-30 crowd. His chief arguments are that young people these days have no cinematic memories and only want newer, bigger, faster, flashier movies. The Amazing Spider-Man is his chief example of bad taste. As an under-30 person myself, I respectfully yet emphatically disagree for numerous reasons.

1. Young people ruining everything is the oldest excuse in the book. Seriously, it's just lazy. In the past, people criticized the youth's infatuation with mindless cinema when they should be exploring the art of novels. This is the same argument: young people have no taste because they don't have my taste. It's cheap, it's lazy, and it's wrong.

2. We didn't ask for a new Spider-Man. I'm pretty sure that most of us remember Toby Macguire's dreamy-eyed Peter Parker, so it's not a matter of updating or freshening up the franchise. People of all ages -- yes, even those over 30 -- have an affinity for Spider-Man and other franchise characters. In fact, this year marks Spider-Man's 50th birthday, so there are numerous generations who would go see any Spider-Man movie, good or bad. It's an allegiance to the character, not to cinematic newness. Why not blame the production company for putting out sub-par films instead of fans who watch the pictures?

3. Let's get to the real issue: the option on Spider-Man the character. In case you aren't aware, the option to create a film on a given character or book does expire. That means that if Sony doesn't actively use its option, it will expire and revert back to Marvel. If that happened, Marvel could move the franchise to a different company; they'd still be making money, and Sony would miss out. As such, Sony is choosing to actively exercise the option in order to legally keep claim on it. If that means cranking out movies that aren't up to snuff, so be it.

4. Here's where I get controversial: not all movies are art. Film is an amazing medium because it marries art and entertainment, but they aren't always created equal. I don't know anybody rushing to say that Men in Black III is a work of art, and -- take a deep breath -- that's perfectly okay! Sometimes people want to suspend reality for a few hours and be utterly entertained. Why should we punish them for that? We can't watch Citizen Kane on a loop and expect society to be happy. Certainly, entertaining movies have taken priority in cinemas over the years, but that's not a new trend. More artistic films are being released in smaller theaters and alternative venues, so they still exist and are still being viewed. In fact, I dare say that many people would rather watch a new David Lynch movie in the privacy of their own home than risk the talkers and texters who notoriously interrupt the cinematic experience. That means Millennials are still watching the art movies, just not in theaters. Here's another big shocker: the same person can enjoy watching both The Amazing Spider-Man and Battleship Potemkin. Art, entertainment, and taste are not mutually exclusive. Isn't it amazing how complicated Millennials (and all people) can be?

So, in conclusion, there are tons of reasons to criticize Millennials. The bad eggs tend to be self-involved jerks who spend the entire crappy movie on their iPhones. That doesn't mean we don't go home to our precious Netflix accounts to watch classic art films. Crappy movies don't exist because we're young and desire more movies. Crappy movies exist because some movies are crappy. End of story.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Top 4 Best US Presidents on the Silver Screen

Happy birthday, America! The US has given film some pretty incredible gifts over the years: being a safe haven to European directors during the World Wars and pushing Hollywood to be the world's movie production capitol, among other things. In return, Hollywood has turned the President of the US into one of its most iconic roles. To celebrate Independence Day, here are my top 4 favorite presidential portrayals in film. (Note the lack of women, but then again, the White House also lacks women. I digress.)
The American President

4. Michael Douglas: The American President

Michael Douglas plays bad better than almost anyone else. He has a certain loathsome charm wrapped in a magnetic personality. However, his role as President Andrew Shepherd in The American President (1995, Rob Reiner) plays to his softer, more sympathetic side. President Shepherd is a rarity in America: a single president. The film focuses on the president's personal life, an often overlooked aspect in film. President Shepherd may not be incredibly powerful, but he is highly admirable and, above all, human.

Air Force One

3. Harrison Ford: Air Force One

Harrison Ford has a lot going for him. Outer space fighter pilot with a heart of gold? Check. Bumbling archeologist who goes on zany adventures? Double check. American president who beats the crap out of the terrorist Gary Oldman? Triple check! Ford's James Marshall in Air Force One (1997, Wolfgang Petersen) is the definition of a badass. Not only does he kill a bevy of terrorists, he also takes control of the airplane to save the day. "Get off my plane", indeed. Bonus points for Marshall having a female vice-president, portrayed flawlessly by Glenn Close.

Mars Attacks!

2. Jack Nicholson: Mars Attacks!

When aliens inevitably invade the planet, the president will inevitably have to guide the people. Nicholson's President James Dale in Mars Attacks! (1996, Tim Burton) strongly resists calls for nuclear retaliation. Instead, he tries to reason with the aliens while keeping the American people calm, which is no small task. Although his stellar performance is in a comedy, it could easily be translated to a dramatic film for a wider audience. Bonus points for the First Lady, also played by Glenn Close.

Independence Day

1. Bill Pullman: Independence Day

Bill Pullman's President Thomas J. Whitmore in Independence Day (1996, Roland Emmerich) has all of the qualifications we look for in a president: intelligent, handsome, calm, and authoritative. Like Harrison Ford's Marshall, President Whitmore has a background as a fighter pilot. When America comes under attack by aliens, the president refuses to sit around with diplomats. Instead, he straps into the pilot seat and assists other pilots deliver a nuclear weapon to the aliens. Way to be a hands-on president while staying cool and collected, President Whitmore! (And it goes without saying that his hair is flawless throughout the movie.)

Of course, there are plenty more silver screen presidents, but those are my personal favorites. Have a happy Independence Day!