Thursday, March 21, 2013

Image = A Season About Nothing

I have not been to the movies since December 26th - which is very weird.  I am a firm believer in seeing films on the big screen and I normally go at least once a week.  Honestly though, I saw a TON of films in 2012 and since the big award contenders, nothing has come out that has compelled me to go.  Which brings me to the topic of this post – film seasons. 

Every season has an image.  Films are released strategically throughout the year according to budget, genre and award winning potential.  Traditionally, award competitors are released in the Fall - from October through December 31 - so these films will stay fresh in Academy voters’ minds.  Since the 70’s, Summer has meant light feel-good comedies and musicals like Grease and more recently, superhero franchises and other action blockbusters like Independence Day & Men in Black.  (I once heard Will Smith say he “owned” Fourth of July weekend)…  For these reasons, usually Summer is the season when I don’t go to the movies.
But alas - the times they are a changin’ – I don’t think Fall awards season is going anywhere but in the past couple of years, I have seen more & more films with substance released in the Summer.  Yes, I said the SUMMER!  In fact, The Beasts of the Southern Wild was released in June.  And I saw a lot of other great films last summer – like Ruby Sparks and Magic Mike. 
For some reason, the first quarter of this year feels like a vacant space.  This Winter has brought a few moronic comedies, some underpublicized action films and (Billy Wilder forbid) Valentine’s Day love stories (I’m talking about you Safe Haven!) but January through March has provided nothing for this film buff to spend $10-13 on with any enthusiasm.  So, what’s up?  Did the industry forget about the Winter?  Is this part of the strategy?  Is this just a lull post Sundance/pre Tribeca?  Or is the world truly coming to an end?  I don’t know but I do hope that as with last Summer, the seasons of film are shifting.  And I am craving a Spring that brings warmer weather and more excuses to sit in a dark theatre - where I belong.               

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Image = James Franco, The Great and Powerful

James Franco is having a truly great week.  He got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame two days ago and his hugely anticipated Disney behemoth Oz The Great and Powerful opened yesterday.  And my question – through the lens of image is – what is his deal?  I just don’t get this whole James Franco phenomenon.  He’s nothing special in my humble opinion.  He’s arguably a nice looking guy who is a moderately talented actor, but that’s it.  Yet his image is enigmatic, conceited and superhuman and he is very well-respected.  Many actors do other things besides act, which is understandable because creative people often do multiple creative things.  Robert DeNiro is also a painter, Robert Duvall is an accomplished Tango dancer and many actors have bands, but James Franco does A LOT of other things.  Here are two descriptions of Franco’s astonishing education from IMDb:

{…when he went back to UCLA to finish his undergraduate degree in creative writing, he was worried that his classmates and professors might think of him as "sliding by" because of his acting career, so he took a lot of extra courses to make sure they knew he was serious. He told Gross that the cap on the number of units that a student is allowed to take in a quarter was 19, but in his last quarter he took 62 units - which as far as he knows is a record for a single student.}

{…may perhaps be one of the most academically accomplished actors (an "extreme scholar") in Hollywood history: besides his BFA in English from UCLA, he has two MFA degrees - both in writing - from Columbia and Brooklyn College, and a third MFA, in film, from New York University.  He is continuing further degree studies while also teaching a graduate class that takes students through the process of making a feature-length film. (2011).}

Now, I went to college & grad school and busted my ass during certain semesters with 15 or 16 credits.  How in the world did he manage 62 credits?  This doesn’t sound impressive; it sounds utterly preposterous.  I don’t care how smart you are – it’s inhumanly possible.  And what’s up with the numerous master’s degrees?  Being a famous Hollywood actor isn’t enough?  What is he trying to prove?

And why is he hailed as such a great actor?  I’ve seen a few of his films and have never been blown away.  Milk is an extraordinary film with a great script and what I call a transcendent performance by Sean Penn who totally deserved his second Oscar.  By contrast, Franco played Penn’s boyfriend, doing an okay job in an amazing movie and won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actor.  Meanwhile, Emile Hirsch was tremendous as Cleve Jones and didn’t even get an Indie nomination!  Which makes me ask again, what’s up with this James Franco idolatry?             
James Franco and his Mini Me getting their star on the Walk of Fame
Maybe it’s me.  Maybe I’m missing something.  But I don’t think so.  Franco’s image is confusing - definitely on the Hollywood A-List and simultaneously pretentious and elusive.  Makes me think about that Groucho Marx quote,“I wouldn’t want to be part of any group that would have me as a member.”  He gets a lot of criticism from the press about looking half asleep all the time (like when he hosted the Oscars) and for being self-congratulatory.  He held the Oz doll based on his character to his Walk of Fame honor and the headline about it on The Huffington Post read “James Franco is Incredibly Proud of James Franco”  I find the dichotomy of his fame & adoration fascinating.  He’s only been famous for a little over 10 years now (since his breakthrough role as James Dean).  Was it really that urgent to give him a star right now?  Or was it just part of Disney’s marketing for Oz?  It is not easy to play both sides of the fence in Hollywood and come out a winner, but James Franco is doing a great (and powerful) job.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Image = Responsibility

There’s a new movie opening today called 21 and Over and when I saw the preview a few months ago, I was horrified.  It’s about two college kids who visit their old friend Jeff Chang on his 21st birthday so they can celebrate his coming of age together.  Thing is, Jeff Chang has a very important interview the next morning that his stern Chinese father warned him he must be “rested and sharp” for.  Well, the boys convince Jeff Chang that he has to fight for his right to party and of course, the night involves profuse amounts of alcohol, half-naked girls, dimwit police officers and Jeff Chang wearing a bikini.  We’ve seen it all before, right?  Wrong. 

I have no problem with teenage sex comedies - there is humor inherent in pubescent boys on a quest to lose their virginity.  But 21 and Over goes way past where Porky’s, American Pie and even The Hangover (21 and Over is from the writers of The Hangover) went.  And in The Hangover, at least the boys behaving recklessly are grown men.  21 and Over is socially irresponsible in my humble opinion.  Jeff Chang is on his path and his idiot friends convince him to jeopardize his future (and ultimately his life) and it’s supposed to be funny.  Jeff Chang is black out drunk for a while and his friends decide to throw him off a balcony onto a covered pool.  His comatose body bounces off the pool cover and into some bushes.  And then they do it again at another point in the movie.  And the kid says, “Did we just kill Jeff Chang - again?”  Is this funny?

{By the way, they call him “Jeff Chang” over and over again in a 3 minute trailer.  If his buddies address him by his full name, how close can they be?  And, the choice to call him that by the writers occurs to me as racist as well.}

Here’s the link:     

How do movies like this even get made?  I don’t understand how the MPAA has strict guidelines about language and nudity in films, but no one seems to care about morality.  Maybe they think it’s okay because he’s 21 which is supposed to be an adult, but I don’t.  We have a significant alcohol & drug abuse problem in this country and we are the embarrassment of the world in education.  Kids graduate from high school here without being able to read and we are putting out garbage films like this that millions of 17-24 year olds will go to see this weekend, reinforcing appalling values in them.          

Now, I have not seen the entire film (and don't plan to) but I have an idea that there’s an element in this movie of Jeff Chang’s dad is too hard on him and he needs to let go and find his own path.  But does that message need to be delivered in this moronic package?  I’m also wondering if it’s one of those situations where they all learn a valuable lesson at the end but I’m thinking…um…probably not.