The eye is keen. The mind is thoroughly grounded. The goal is to maintain a sense of intellectual honesty while exploring the culture of criticism and evaluating creativity in all its glory.

Monday, May 31, 2010

And We Throw the Remote Because ....

When was the last time you watched one of those movies that just pissed you off? Not pissed because of content or storyline, just pissed because you felt you’ve been duped and wasted nearly two hours of off-time. And, what’s worse about the pissy movie is the truth that the previews didn’t look all that bad and you know it could have been lightly entertaining, or at least mildly cute. Expectations weren’t that high anyway, simply because it was just a silly romance/comedy. How hard could it be to make one of those that is palatable? Notting Hill did it. 50 First Dates did it. Two Weeks Notice pulled it off. The Princess Bride felt like a classic while doing it. My Big Fat Greek Wedding was exceptional at it. Even in Splash it was ok to watch a fella fall for a fish. But this thing I saw last night ... oh ... my .... gosh!

What in the world is up with Sarah Jessica Parker? 

I confess I had never seen her in anything before and couldn’t pick her out in a crowd of ten. I heard she was in something rather popular called Sex in the City. I think that was a television show, but I don’t watch TV so I wouldn’t know about that. They might have even made a movie or two out of it. I just don’t positively know. However it comes, I’m not one who will give time to something called Sex in the City. If sex is different in the city, I don’t want to know about it. If it’s not different in the city, what’s the point of putting it to film? I admit, here and now, I could be very wrong with this opinion. I only know I stopped watching TV by choice for a specific reason a long time ago. I will probably dig into that subject one day, but today, I’m rather inclined to talk about the movie that pissed me off. 

The thing that can make a movie work, even if the writing is ordinary, or the sets are cheesey, or the director is clumsy ... is the cast. If chemistry between people can be found then things like American Pie can have success. If chemistry falters, then colossal failure can make the best of scripts go bad. 

This movie had Hugh Grant as comedy/romantic lead. He’s a given okee-dokee for this sort of role. Easy as pie, he can pull it off. Sam Elliot played a ranch hand and State Marshall. He rode horses, shot a gun, and tossed horse-shoe-ringers like batting a bug. Wow! That’s another easy as pie. Two for two. Mary Steenburgen played the roll of Elliot’s wife and she looked just like a ranch-hand lady I know, even talked just like her (Hi, Teresa) ... pulled it off.  Easy as pie. But the female lead ... Parker.  She parked the film dead in it’s tracks.

Why so harsh, you ask? Have you seen her try to act? Have you heard her voice drone on and on ... apparently never shutting up while her hands constantly touch her hair? For the first time ever my family and I hit mute when her speaking parts came, and would only resume volume once we saw her co-star’s eyes glazing over and the camera switching to the next scene. What is strange about that is none of us felt like we missed any of the story. Add to it, I’ve seen Hugh Grant in many films and, sure, he’s a stiff English guy that always looks uncomfortable around girls, but there’s a consistent sense of likability between characters. Not in this film. Grant and Parker have all the chemistry of pint-sized mosquito and a horny-toad. It was really painful to watch and I don’t hold that against Hugh Grant. 

So, I’ve had a day to simmer with this stupid movie. That’s probably why I’m pissed because, now, it’s taken far more than the nearly two hours I spent with it last evening. I’m trying to understand why I had such a bad reaction to this actress. How could the first ten minutes of the film tempt me to throw the remote at the TV and run away screaming? And why didn’t we just turn it off once we saw what it was?

I know, for me, it’s the ying/yang thing.  You can’t see the light without the dark.  You can’t have an up without a down.  You can’t miss what is gone if you don’t see the now.  Parker is the now.

What is gone? Beautiful, classy, mannered, respectful, magic, intelligent, stimulating, mysterious, well dressed, healthy.

What is now? Painfully fake, rude, ugly, disrespectful, predictable, ordinary, boring, self-centered, frumpy, judgmental.

What is gone? Marilyn Monroe, Katherine Hepburn, Maureen O’Hara, Vivien Leigh, Natalie Wood, Raquel Welch, Joan Crawford.

What is now?  Sarah Jessica Parker, Paris Hilton, Jennifer Aniston, Angelia Jolie, Pamela Anderson, Sharon Stone, Lindsay Lohan.

Take a moment to think about that.

You know, it never really mattered how physically pretty an actress was back in the day. She always looked good – just by the clothing, hair and, most importantly, the manner in which she carried herself. The same was true for the men. I miss that ... The biggest rebels of them all (like Francis Farmer, for instance) bucked the system a bit and didn’t play the game by letting Hollywood choose their name or who they’d marry for public relations. But they always looked good (In Francis’s case, at least until they put her in an asylum and hid her away ... but that’s another story). From the point of view of the kid who sat at the theater munching popcorn, those people who acted were simply amazing and perfect humans. Today I often want to throw the remote at them. 

It shouldn’t really matter how Hollywood presents it’s players, but it does. Young people imitate what they admire and Hollywood heroes influence far more than we give them credit for. It goes deeper than that, though ... deeper than the superficial “this is how I’m going to dress and wear my hair and talk” imitation sort of thing. I’m thinking of simple behavior. 

I’m not sure when that element of our society changed, exactly, though I suspect it had something to do with curtailing descipline (I don’t count time-outs as discipline), the halting of teaching of etiquette (yes, I walked around with a book on my head and learned to eat soup without slurpping), and twisting a truly defined sense of masculine/feminine (don’t read into this one, I’ve always supported equality and women’s rights - I’m talking about simple balance here, like nature balances). 

That’s brought us to a place where, I don’t know about you but, I’ve come to detest going where little kids may be simply because it’s difficult to tolerate the screaming, running, whining, demanding little people. I watch many young mothers and it’s pretty easy to see that they don’t know how to parent, they have no control, the kids control them. The sad part is that the children are not bad, and neither are the young mothers, they just don’t know any better. There’s a generation that dropped the parenting-ball somehow and those resulting lost young ones are going to have to figure things out on their own. In the mean time, all the Hollywood hoopla pushes the condition by using toys, clothing, foods, and whatever else they can, as vessels to slap the latest-greatest movie character onto. It is their intention to drive the demanding kids to beg the young parents to buy, buy, buy. It’s working. And it’s killing our society. It’s killing it faster than Joe Camel could have ever dreamed.

In my ponderings you are going to find me talking about movies that have survived their opening season and are now only available on DVD (except for special occassions when I may go to the theater).  I’m inviting all who will listen to try this approach with me. Stop playing Hollywood’s hoopla game and spend some time at home, with your family, watching thought provoking productions. Skip the commercials and sales pitches, fast forward through previews that scream and flash and push mediocracy. Consider the players; learn who’s writing, directing, making costumes and sets. Verify movies based on truths and find yourselves talking about life and people. (It's like reading a good book together if you play it right) It doesn't matter how much money is spent on a film (Good Will Hunting), it doesn’t even matter if the star is well-known. What really matters is quality. So much of the time it’s about money, it seems, and who pulls in the most on opening week. Forget about that and let’s enjoy things that have stood the test of time, either short term or long. Let’s reward creativity of the mind, not of the marketing.  ‘Cause, dang it!  Sarah Jessica Parker is a terrible actress ...

And Sarah Jessica Parker makes me think of these things.  Damn.

** The movie is called Did You Heard About the Morgans?  I recommend you avoid this one ... **


rogle_99 said...

Welcome to consumer society central (the USA), where the currently-available supply of film-consumables, though very large, is for the most part pretty bad, imho. By comparison, many of the old-timey films DO look pretty good. I'm puzzled too - why SJP? - i just don't get it.

But, if you're looking for a cute modern relationship film, with Mr okee-dokee Hugh Grant, rent 'Music and Lyrics'. Drew Barrymore nails the love interest, playing a character with down-to-earth persona and more-than-avg talent. Yes, its a boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl at the end kinda thing - but worth the price of admission.

Irelock said...

Thanks rogle_99. I haven't seen Music and Lyrics, but when the time comes when I'm having to watch that sort of film, I'll check it out. The one that really amazed me was 50 First Dates. I resisted that one for years and was quite surprised when I did watch it. Another Drew Barrymore ... sometimes she nails the role very well!

I worked in the commercial illustration world for years and years and had to attend many a product development brain-storming meetings. The folks who are selling product do specifically target whoever they think has power of spending a family's disposable income. It began switching towards the children in the mid 1980s and has continually gained strength since. Oh, how I hated designing for x-mas season! It felt wrong to me then, and doubly so now. But ... what do you do?

rogle_99 said...

Well, grin&bare it? Imagine a newly-hatched actor, fresh out of college with a degree in theater. Next step - join SAG and get noticed: auditions, equity theater, auditions, bit parts, auditions, background extra (aaaarrrrg) - then......A COMMERCIAL!!!!!! - if the 'starz' are aligned, the agent starts calling and there's nooooooo look'n back (that's the happy ending)

Irelock said...

That would be a happy ending, though so few actually find it. Geesh, I could never do what some folks do ... it's got to be hard to be young and full of dreams in Hollywood. But you know, there are some really, REALLY talented people out there. I love it when I find them ...

savagegoldie said...

I planned on never watching that movie because Parker was in it. I can't stand her even though I'v never seen her in more then clips of her work. 30 seconds of her was enough to make me never want to see more. Not that having a big nose and kind of horsey face makes an actress bad (I never understood why people say she's beautiful) If you want a good actress with a big nose then hire Claudia Black, she's funny :-) (Vala in Stargate SG1, Cassandra in Hurcules, and Farscape I think, never saw that one though) She an actress that isn't the conventional image of beauty but she's a hell of a lot more real then Parker.

Irelock said...

Ah, Savage Goldie, good example! Claudia Black is funny as can be and is beautiful, too, with a great screen presence. I wouldn't say she has a big nose ... she's just what I'd call ethnic. I only saw her in Hercules (she played more parts than Cassandra there) but I sure enjoyed whatever part she had.

It's not SJP's looks that are bad ... I mean, we all enjoyed Bett Midler is something, haven't we? One wouldn't classify that woman as a-typical beautiful, but she acted beautifully and chemistry happened on the screen. Like you said in your last line, it's about coming across as real. From my point of view you've nailed it about Parker ... there was no 'real' about her performance and I'll never watch another thing with her in it.

Anonymous said...

My dentist has a great library of films which he allows his patients to watch while he happily drills away. I chose "Did you hear about the Morgans" 'cause I like Hugh Grant. I think I got half way through this dreary film before the work on my tooth was finished. I could have cared less about the ending, or the mindless plot. I agree about Parker. But don't lump Jennifer Aniston with some of the other unlikables you mention. I think she is funny, cute and talented. However, she has been in some real turkeys lately. Needs a new agent. And yes, where is the glamor of yesteryear when stars were trained to walk, dress, dance, sing, act and stand out from the crowd? Just saw "Date Night" with Tina Fey. I actually enjoyed it!

Irelock said...

That ads a whole new meaning to 'watching a bad moving is like pulling teeth'! You are right, Hugh Grant is usually a sure shot at a movie that will probably be enjoyable, at least not stinking bad. And, you are probably right about Jennifer Aniston, too. I had her on and off my list several times. She's on the list because of the 'lately' movies and, what looks to me like a bit too much plastic surgery. She's was cute and funny when she first came to attention, now .... she feels like every other bad young actress out there who ends up on a downhill slide while aging. I'm a WAY bigger fan of Sandra Bullock.

Tina Fey can be funny, that's for sure. I just may have to check out Date Night ....

savagegoldie said...

Oh I didn't mean anything negative about Claudia Black's appearance, I only meant that she's real looking and not Hollywood's plastic faced "beauty" I agree ethnic is probably a better way to phrase. I bet you'd like her in Stargate as Vala. fun character that one. :-)

Irelock said...

I thought that's what you meant. For sure, the plastic faced look of folks who've done plastic surgery is so unattractive and distracting ... I do wish that crowd would stop it! There are some actresses that I used to like a lot and now I can't stand to watch them. One is Jennifer Aniston ... plastic beauty is not beautiful at all. It's sad, really.

Anonymous said...

The Turner Classic Movie Channel saves my sanity re television. I watch the wonderful movies that were made without car crashes, slow motion blood spilling, foul language and fierce grappling that passes for romance. Regular television, with few exceptions, seems to be designed to annoy, encourage violence and be just plain tasteless. The news channels are impossible with their constant shouting of opinons with little or no real information...just pictures of doom and gloom and endless commercials. Try hitting the mute on a commercial and see if you can guess what they are selling.
When I can't stand it anymore, I watch the Turner Classics. The lighting in the old movies is great. There is character development and an actual plot. Sure, some are pretty corny, but even that is a relief from the daily fare provided on regular TV.
I am a movie buff, but it is hard to find anything at the movie theatres these days that is worth the price of admission,or the risk of losing one's hearing with the noise level.

Irelock said...

Very well said, anonymous! I stopped watching TV before they came up with ... um, I think it's T-vo. Something that pre-records programs so you can pause or fast forward through commercials. I maybe would have lasted longer in tv land had that been available back in the day. For my family, what happened after we tossed regular tv is we got very used to no commercials at all and now we cannot stand any sort of tv just on that factor alone. If we are at a friend's house and they have a tv going, I find I'm often trying to guess what exactly is being sold. I don't even see creative marketing any more! Just loud, noisy, obnoxious gunk that seems to take more time than the actual program. Perhaps it's all reflecting our society, eh? Whatever the case, you are sure right about old movies. If you ever have the chance, seek out Mildred Pierce, staring Joan Crawford. That moving is stunningly beautiful and has a fantastic murder/mystery story going on. It's black and white and the filming is simply superb. In fact, I've always thought the shadows deserved an academy award for best supporting actor!