Hollywood Studios: More Afraid Than Ever?

For what seems an eternity, I have mourned the loss of the days when Hollywood studios managed to mix films that were simply meant to have mass appeal, with films that focused on a more demanding audience. But those days are long gone and seem, for the moment, to be drifting farther and farther away. Even many of the studio’s more sophisticated arms like Warner Independent Pictures and Paramount Vantage have seen their doors close. Quite possibly forever.

Whether it’s the state of the economy or the fact that studios simply don’t tend to hire people who truly love film (more than the film business), the quality of American cinema has continued to nosedive.

02moneyball2_190Take Steven Soderbergh’s latest almost-film, MONEYBALL. Based on Michael Lewis’ nonfiction baseball story and set to star Brad Pitt, the plug was pulled by Sony Pictures just days before shooting was scheduled to begin. The reason given for such a rare and surprising last minute decision? According to the New York Times:

…accounts from more than a dozen people involved with the film, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid damaging professional relationships, described a process in which the heady rush toward production was halted by a studio suddenly confronted by plans for something artier and more complex than bargained for.

It seems a new version of the script was rewritten by Soderbergh himself. Now without having read the script myself, it’s hard to say if this decision was made because a film with a $57 million price tag simply needs to appeal to as many people as possible, or because the execs at the top simply don’t, themselves, appreciate more demanding films. I mean, let’s face it, Sony used to be the studio that made films like REMAINS OF THE DAY. What was the last film to come from that studio (or any other) that approached the quality of that one? Also from the Times:

The swift mothballing of “Moneyball” may also increase doubts that Hollywood can still deliver tricky but appealing pictures like “Michael Clayton,” “Good Night, and Good Luck” or “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

While films like REMAINS OF THE DAY haven’t had a place at the studios for quite some time, it’s truly sad to consider that films like the above-mentioned might also not be able to find a home at our once beloved studios.

And maybe that’s why I rarely see films produced and developed by a studio unless I happen to be in the mood for something, well, mindless. And they are good at that. And that has its place.

But I still miss the films that inspire and move me, the ones that allow me to think, that challenge me, that remind me that I am a human being, with complexities, questions, thoughts, ideas, curiosities, a sense of adventure, a desire for something poetic, profound, daring… something that can reach deep inside me and move me with the sheer energy of its cinematic storytelling…

But alas… I guess, for the time being, I will have to depend on the rest of the world to supply those. And to the handful of American independent filmmakers out there who are making films more for themselves, and less for that much-coveted directing slot at their favorite studio of choice… I am depending on you.

Addendum: it looks like MONEYBALL is back in the game, but Soderbergh is not. Sony has brought in SPORTS NIGHT creator Aaron Sorkin to do a polish on an earlier, more commercially-minded version of the script written by Steve Zaillian. Pitt is still attached.

Hollywood Studios: More Afraid Than Ever?

Is Pot The Answer To California’s Economic Woes?

74cx3jhnDemocratic State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano introduced a legislation last month to legalize pot and allow the state to regulate and tax its sale. According to TIME Magazine:

Pot is, after all, California’s biggest cash crop, responsible for $14 billion a year in sales, dwarfing the state’s second largest agricultural commodity – milk and cream – which brings in $7.3 billion a year, according to the most recent USDA statistics. The state’s tax collectors estimate the bill would bring in about $1.3 billion a year in much needed revenue, offsetting some of the billions of dollars in service cuts and spending reductions outlined in the recently approved state budget… State revenues would be derived from a $50-per-oz. levy on retail sales of marijuana and sales taxes.

Orange County Superior Court Judge James Gray, who supports the legalization of marijuana and believes it would save the state somewhere in the range of $1 billion a year in eliminating the arrest, prosecution and imprisonment of marijuana users and sellers, states:

“We couldn’t make this drug any more available if we tried. Not only do we have those problems, along with glamorizing it by making it illegal, but we also have the crime and corruption that go along with it. Unfortunately, every society in the history of mankind has had some form of mind-altering, sometimes addictive substances to use, to misuse, abuse or get addicted to. Get used to it. They’re here to stay. So let’s try to reduce those harms, and right now we couldn’t do it worse if we tried.”


Is Pot The Answer To California’s Economic Woes?

I Voted: Now THAT Felt Good!

aka It’s My Birthday & I’ll Vote If I Want To!

ivotedstickerAs the economy continues to wreak havoc on friends, family and strangers, as the wars rage on in the Middle East, as my own future looks incredibly uncertain, I went out today and voted for Barack Obama & Joe Biden. And while the cynical part of me knows that it’s very likely Obama may disappoint in many ways, the optimistic part of me has allowed myself to believe this guy may actually create huge positive change and is a self-aware individual, something I’ve never felt about a candidate in my lifetime (I’m 45 today). So I’m hoping that Obama is a president I can take pride in and can restore this country to a country I take pride in. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to feel that. 

It saddens and confuses me when I think about family members I dearly love whom I believe will be voting for John McCain and Sarah Palin today. Family members who struggle to make ends meet, find themselves out of work, deal with major and minor physical and emotional disabilities, have young children who will want an education and a safe future rich with possibility, homes that are under construction and in flux… It pains me to watch decisions be made that I think are destructive, both to self and others. And I can’t help but feel that it’s not unlike finding your family members in support of Joseph McCarthy and his power-hungry, hate-filled communist witch-hunt. People whose fear is so malleable that they can be made to believe that cutting off one leg will help them run faster. It’s a terrifying misjudgment of character and an extreme example of the political illiteracy of many Americans. Let’s hope not too many.

This election has moved beyond simple ideological differences. It has moved to the difference between right and wrong. In this time of such conflict the world over, in a time when our country faces its greatest struggle for survival since, well, the Civil War, it’s difficult to watch the ones you love be taken in so easily. Good people, kind people, well-meaning people. It does not sit easily in the gut. And it is disheartening, frightening and confounding. And it is hard to know exactly how to react, except to know that it’s okay to feel torn, to be confused, and to wish it were otherwise.

And to hope.

I Voted: Now THAT Felt Good!