I would agree that our culture displays a whole lot of meaningless violence, yes, even to a pornographic level, but of all the films to accuse of this, THE REVENANT is simply not one.
I know people were very excited for this newest STAR WARS film. I also know that some people hate to be disappointed and will hold onto anything that feels positive and that perpetuates their most-cherished narrative. I also believe that audiences have become so accustomed to comic-book movies and Hollywood origin-story rehashes that they have essentially forgotten not only what good storytelling is, they have forgotten its importance to human society and development.
STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS suffers from far worse than a wholly unoriginal story, which on its own would be bad enough. Not only did J.J. Abrams decide that what the film, the franchise, and the Star Wars universe needed was a remake of the original STAR WARS, it now required a version of that story sans heart and soul. STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS is yet another mournful stop on the road map charting the demise of Hollywood storytelling. We’re past the death-throws here, we’re now in “I’m exhausted, will it just die already” territory.
Linds Redding died of inoperable espohageal cancer. He was an art director who worked at BBDO and Saatchi & Saatchi. Linds kept a blog and one of the last pieces he wrote before he died, “A Short Lesson in Perspective,” explores his final frame of mind on the ad business and how many of us choose to live our lives and approach our art. It is a devastating and scathing piece. And desperately worth the read, I think.
With over 20 years under my belt in the commercial casting business, I’ve worked a lot with the folks from BBDO and Saatchi & Saatchi. May have even worked with Linds. I think what he discovered at the end of his life is considerable and noteworthy. Particularly while living in any Capitalist society. Not that Capitalism is all bad, but it does promote a state of mind that can be –how shall I say this — a tad misleading. Our goals and definitions of success are oftentimes out of sync with the greater elements and offerings of the human experience. It’s one of the main reasons I have such a hard time with the Hollywood mindset surrounding film and filmmaking. I think it almost entirely misses the point. At the same time, it has its own alluring gravitational pull that is hard to break free of. Lord knows I’m still struggling with it.
I always thought the writing on THE WALKING DEAD was terribly inconsistent. Sometimes downright awful. But I love the zombie genre (saw NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD in a movie theater at age 9 and it has been burned into my psyche ever since), and if there are some good visceral moments now and again, I find myself drawn back. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that the writing on THE WALKING DEAD improved in the last two seasons, it felt more consistent, more organic.
So when I read that there’d be a spinoff series, I hoped that the writers, creators and anyone else involved with the series had evolved in their storytelling sensibilities to offer something interesting, maybe even slightly provocative or, god-forbid, original. Instead, what I found was an hour of the kind of silly character reactions and scenarios I would expect from network TV at its most benign. Why is this?
I’m not gonna lie. This sounds just awful. In truth, I can’t see any way it could be anything but. Not in today’s filmmaking climate and not with whatever oversized budget this puppy’s gonna have. I suppose it’s a good thing that Ridley Scott isn’t directing again since the original BLADE RUNNER was the last film he directed that I liked and his ALIEN prequel (PROMETHEUS) suggested once again that the man who made Scott’s first three films no longer inhabits the body and mind of the man who now calls himself Ridley Scott.
Too harsh? Probably. But the promise and talent exhibited in THE DUELLISTS, ALIEN, and BLADE RUNNER never returned to the screen with any of Scott’s subsequent projects. Yes, I include the Best Picture Oscar-winner GLADIATOR in that group. I didn’t like it at all. For me, Scott’s signature “style” lost its substance and seemed to revert more to what pleased the eye than what best told the story.
Like many cinephiles out there, the Academy Awards were, as a kid, a big draw for me. I never missed watching it on TV. From start to finish. I hung on every word, every sound, every clip. As I got older, started working at film festivals, moved to Hollywood, started working in the industry itself, sold screenplays, directed two features, wrote for the studios, worked over 2 decades in casting, and have been represented by UTA, ICM and Gersh, my outlook on both this town, this business and the Academy Awards changed quite dramatically. Peeling back that curtain can be a scary thing. Like when one of my friends told me “Be careful of meeting your heroes. There’s a good chance you’ll be disappointed.” Of course, this is not always true. But I think the idea he was trying to get across was that, oftentimes, people, places and ideas exist in our mind in a somewhat more “perfect” or fanciful way than they may in actuality.
I feel like Hollywood does the same with actors. The combined talents of the individual actors that make up the cast of 2014’s GODZILLA would, in any other place other than Hollywood, warrant some serious attention. But here, the sound of paychecks being cashed drowns out even Godzilla’s monstrous roar.
I will admit, however, that the film — while offering a truly dimensionless script and uninspired dialogue –does harken back to those all-star Hollywood disaster films of my youth: THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, THE TOWERING INFERNO, EARTHQUAKE… And in so doing, it does stir some nostalgic memories for me, but mostly of the worst elements of those films. I was also, I should add, a huge Godzilla fan as a boy. All monster films, really, but Godzilla held a special place, so much so that familiar pangs of youthful anticipation crept in from time to time while watching my old, familiar friend recreated.
However, my adult needs are a bit different and I have avoided the majority of monster films that have been tossed out of Hollywood for several decades now. There’s a life that has been stripped from these tales, a social consciousness, a humanity. GODZILLA does indeed have some truly visceral moments and when seen in 3D, those moments can be enhanced greatly. But there’s no heart to this tale. Whatever Godzilla and the other monsters destroy, be it buildings or lives, it all feels hollow, a pretense that squanders the potential of cinema. Open-mouthed expressions of fear and loss do not take the place of actual emotions. The only actor in GODZILLA whose performance seemed to rise above the others for me was Elizabeth Olsen. Wherever she took herself, it transcended the movie despite the fact that they gave her appallingly little to work with and was only a minor character with no real story arc. Sadly, the fact that she was able to nonetheless be present in her performance, shone a light on all the grey, washed-out, lifeless areas of the film in stark contrast. For a movie that seemed to consciously want the characters’ stories to build up to and justify the monsters’ ultimate showdown, they did a shockingly poor job of using that time to create anything with resonance.
I don’t know if director Gareth Edwards wanted the film to retain some of the “cheesy” storytelling qualities that had become part of the landscape of Japanese monster movies, but I maintain that the original GODZILLA (GOJIRA, 1954) stands up as a far stronger, more impactful piece of cinema than this 2014 revisitation.
With all the technological tools at their disposal, it will never cease to amaze me how good writing does not seem to hold the same level of importance, the same value. Why is it so difficult to combine these two things into one? We either have groundbreaking special effects (GRAVITY) OR we have good screenwriting (not GRAVITY). Rarely do the two come together in modern Hollywood cinema.
It’s a shame as the teaser trailer for the film actually gave the impression that GODZILLA might have been a truly cinematic and interesting take on the genre. A deep-rooted social nightmare culled from the subconscious. A film with a little more vision behind it, a sense of tone, a more authentically involving experience. Turns out, the trailer just utilizes the single best moment in the film, the one moment that hinted at what might have been. It also, like Elizabeth Olsen’s performance, reminded us just how weak and uninspired the rest of the film was.