Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Oh darlink, it's just sooo...Hollywood...

"Was I bored? No, I wasn't fuckin' bored. I'm never bored. That's the trouble
with everybody - you're all so bored. You've had nature explained to you and
you're bored with it, you've had the living body explained to you and you're
bored with it, you've had the universe explained to you and you're bored with
it, so now you want cheap thrills and, like, plenty of them, and it doesn't
matter how tawdry or vacuous they are as long as it's new as long as it's new as
long as it flashes and fuckin' bleeps in forty fuckin' different colors. So
whatever else you can say about me, I'm not fuckin' bored."

- From Naked (1994, Mike Leigh)

Uh oh. I've become a film snob.

Why are most American films such a heap of obvious crap? Take your average Hollywood blockbuster. Concept, good. Relevant issue, stunning special effects, big star in a lead role...and then bam. Let's throw in 20 different sub plots, a romance plot so obvious a deaf and blind man could see it coming, a sickly sweet father-always-lets-son-down-but-not-this-time story, an element of danger that we'll never actually believe to be life-threatening for anyone other than an inconsequential character (possibly an extra being paid by the hour), the Government eating humble pie, a feel-good presidential speech and to top it all off - the pet dog will always survive even if half of humanity doesn't.

I can understand people wanting easy viewing, a film that they are entertained by but don't have to think too much about. I love those films too, after all - why do we watch films if not to switch off and subscribe to another world for 108 minutes? But there comes a point where some films not only tell you a story, but insult your intelligence, memory and use of logic in the process. For example, the age old scenario where the main girl hurts her leg, cutting it on something sharp while running away. 10 minutes on and all is safe for the time being, but again and again we are reminded of the cut leg, which we then know will turn out to have a much more sinister consequence for the girl. But why do we need these obvious clues?

Among other things, Hollywood has a knack for dumbing things down; luring the audience into a safety cocoon where you know from the credits on the movie poster exactly who will survive the impending crisis and who'll meet an untimely end. Name the last film Bruce Willis died in. No? How about Will Smith? Arnie? Tom Cruise? Hollywood couldn't even kill off Leonardo DiCaprio until he'd defied the laws of human biology by staying alive, clinging to the side of a plank of wood in freezing iceberg-ridden waters for a ridiculous, super-human amount of time in Titanic. Come on, the ship sunk quicker than he did.

The thing is, Hollywood's all for churning out impressive special effects, commanding increasingly large budgets for a variety of films that make you go 'wow look at that', but the performances are leaving much to be desired. When was the last time a Hollywood blockbuster became one of your favourite all time films? Indeed, the actors receive a generous pay packet for their efforts, but where's the Oscar for Johnny Depp's recent dalliances in Pirates of the Caribbean? or Jake Gyllenhall's efforts in The Day After Tomorrow? Was it Tom Cruise's acting or the way they got the aliens to destroy Earth so convincingly that made War of the Worlds compelling viewing? It should come as no surprise that the special effects and the sound got the Oscars in Independence Day, not the acting or the writing.

All this has come to my attention having spent the last year watching a load of British and Hollywood film offerings and finding the British camp winning hand over reel when it comes to thought provoking film making. British films have that home grown feel, you never feel like the leading role is a safe one or that the casting of a well known star is an indication of who will last until the end. Like any industry, there is an awful lot of crap on the film-heap and Britain is no exception, but it's refreshing to watch films that are independently made to the specification of the director and script writer's ideas, not tried, tested and then reassessed following the results of questionnaires given to a sample audience as is normal Hollywood practice.

Compare a disaster film from Hollywood up against a recent British offering such as Children of Men. The special effects turn Britain into a convincing wasteland of infertility and rebellion, but it's the writing and screenplay that get the nominations and rightly so. This is what films should prioritise, it should be the stories and characters that grip us and leave us wondering 'what if..', not the blue screen effects laid on to cover up the lack of any indepth thought or insight that may confuse the action-hungry American audiences. Such things are clearly to be avoided if the film is to gross billions of dollars and earn the corporate companies their share of the profit.

So I rant on, but this wouldn't be much good unless I could back up my thoughts on the superiority of British film with a few suggestions of my own for anyone bored and in need of something that credits their intelligence with more than that of a toad or just a good viewing sesh.

Children of Men (Alfonso Cuaron, 2006)
28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, 2002)
Trainspotting (Danny Boyle)
Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (Guy Ritchie)
The Pianist (Roman Polanski, 2002)
The Descent (Neil Marshall, 2005)
The War Game (Peter Watkins, 1965 avail on YouTube)
Dirty Pretty Things (Stephen Frears, 2002)
The Queen (Stephen Frears, 2006)
Last Resort (Pawal Palikowski, 2000)
Naked (no porno, click to see trailer & quote from the top)
The Last King of Scotland (Kevin MacDonald, 2006)
Love Actually (a fave ;)

and non-UK offerings

Rabbit Proof Fence (Phillip Noyce - Australia)
Gallipoli (Australia)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (USA)
A History of Violence (USA)
Fargo / The Big Lebowski / Blood Simple (USA - The Coen Brothers)
One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest
Hotel Rwanda (proves my point about investors wanting big names over talented actors)


Miss Understood said...

I couldn't agree more.

I've only seen about half of those British films, but I'll definitely be hunting down the rest.

London-Lass said...

I think the film industry has definitely lost something. And when I say `film industry' I mean the US offerings. CGI has a lot to answer for -- whilst some think it's great and exciting, it's all just a bit too cartoony/unrealistic for me. A successful film is one where the viewer can go about `willing the suspension of disbelief' -- bit difficult when 3/4 of it is CGI'd to the max.

And dont get me started on those trailers. They used to be just a teaser. Something to tempt you in to watching a film. Now they show the whole blimmin' film but in a more condensed version. And via the same old bored formula too. Of slow fades in & out of a few scenes or images at the beginning with softly, softly plinky music, then music suddenly picks up, along with speed of images shown, til eventually it reaches a crescendo and the music explodes feverishly (in nightmarish jangling chords) to pan on film title and then fade out. And this seems to be used for every genre of film ...

Do you hear me, film distributors..? B-o-r-i-n-g!!!!

Venting said...

Well, I agree with most of this. However, Children of Men was not that great of a movie. To be honest, the story went for a walk half-way through. It's better than 90% of what the USA churns out though.

Also, there are some great Canadian films out there as well!! Les Invasions Barbares is still one of my favourites. I also thought Bable was a good attempt at something more.. meaningful.

Jessica said...

I must admit that I've not seen most of the film on your list. I do enjoy a flick which allows you to turn your brain off but they are very rarely the ones I watch a second time.

Although thinking about it. Hollywood looses money every time I watch a movie I've already seen, they would much prefer me to see something new since that makes them money!

Hannah said...

Can I add Closer (the writer's a Brit, but I don't know about the film itself) and The History Boys?

(And as good as Children of Men was, it def wasn't a date movie. Learnt that the hard way.)

Jo said...

miss understood - the less obvious ones are definitely worth checking out.

london lass - I watched The Day After Tomorrow and couldn't help but think all those shots in "antarctica" actually had a plasticy feel...then I realised it was all done on blue screen. And the trailers piss me off too - especially if its for a funny film and all the good jokes have already been played 100 times on adverts!

Venting - I saw the first 45 mins of Babel and really liked it, then the download ran out. Eek. Serves me right for not buying it, hey...but I definitely intend on watching it. I'll check out the other one you said too.

Jessica - that's a really good point. Most of the newer films only need one watch really. Although Donnie Darko had me rewatching to find out what the hell went on.

Hannah - I liked Closer even if it was quite long (if I remember rightly) and my boyfriend has been banging on about me watching The History Boys for ages. Children of Men is a bit grim - definitely not a date film I agree!!

the boy who likes to... said...

I really liked Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind. I like alot of Jim Carreys movies. The Trueman Show I thought was a fantastic and lovely story. Really well written. And Jim Carrey was so spot on with his Andy Kaufman likeness in Man on the Moon (I'm actually falling for the Theory that the two are one in the same person.)

But if you want memorable movies you cant get any better then Plan 9 From Outter Space. Ed Wood was a genius.If you ever get the chance to watch this movie I couldnt recommend it any higher.


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