Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Let's All Go to The Movies...At Home

It is the end of 2014 and I suppose it's time for some soul searching.

This is the time of year when North Americans are dutifully flocking to movie theatres in order to finally view the "real" films. You know the ones. These are the movies, the serious and contemplative ones, that Hollywood has held back in reserve in order to compete in the pre-award rush leading up to the Oscar nominations due out early in the new year. These nominations can lead to millions more at the box office, in DVD/BluRay rental sales, and can make overnight sensations out of previously languishing and unheard of actors.

This is also the time of year when movie critics whip out their best and worst lists of the year. More often than not when these lists appear, the complaint I hear most often from the average Joe is "I haven't seen or heard of a single one of these films. Why is that?" Well...there are several reasons.

1. Critics are snobs. Yes, they are. There is no getting around that even the most influential critics have personal biases when it comes to movie genres and favourite actors or directors. I imagine that they all try to be fair, but personal preference always tends to creep into any review.

2. Critics see everything, even the stuff the studios only release in limited quantities or stuff that only made it as far as the film festivals, much of which will go directly to streaming services and DVD. Most of those films, while eminently watchable and dripping with brilliance, are simply unmarketable for the big Hollywood studios. There just isn't enough money in it for them. But the critics don't forget and they properly refuse to put a film like another installment of The Hobbit on their best of lists ahead of a small art house or foreign film like The Immigrant, which actually had weight and depth.

3. The studios dictate what we the average public gets to see. That's why The Hobbit is currently playing on three or more screens at your local Cineplex, while something like Mr. Turner is shunted to the independents. If I want to catch any of these smaller films, I probably have to seek them out in small theatres or film festivals, or later catch them on DVD or Netflix. The demand just isn't there, so the supply simply doesn't exist.

So here's where my soul searching comes in.

I love movies, but I hate the movie going experience. Movie theatres have become places that are wholly uncomfortable for anybody who actually wants to watch the movie. Audience members often forget that they are not alone in a theatre. Despite the admonishments, there are still too many who chat, play on their phones, are noisy with their snacks, bring young children when they most clearly shouldn't, kick the seats in front of them, stretch in the middle of the film, and simply just behave selfishly when decorum should prevail. It seems to me that I can have a far more pleasant experience in my own living room.

I love film, but I hate the studios. If you eliminated all of the sequels, superhero flicks, fantasy franchises, comic book stories, remakes of classics, and gross-out comedies, you are probably left with about the twenty percent of original content movies that I actually want to see and would be willing to pay for. Unfortunately, those choices are made for me long before I even get a chance to decide what they might be. The Husband and I went to see Into The Woods last week. It was the first in-theatre experience we had attended since last January. That isn't to say that we have been abstaining, only finding other ways to see the films that interest us. I do realize that I am not part of the audience whom the big studios are targeting, but really? Do they not want my dollars too?

I love actors, but I loathe movie stars. What was the last movie that you saw that starred an actress over the age of fifty not named Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, or Judy Dench? And I mean starred! Not supporting cast or part of the ensemble. Yeah. Good luck with that. Michael Keaton is back this year with a slick new Oscar-bait film entitled Birdman, and the critics are falling all over themselves to talk about his comeback. Are you telling me that he wasn't available until now? Hollywood has a chew them up and spit them out mentality that cannot seem to transcend the current crop of action flicks and sci-fi fantasy nonsense. Acting seems to have disappeared as special effects have taken over and we are left with the dross of pretty faces and publicity hounds.

I love the art form, but it does exist in languages other than English. Foreign films and their directors have become the ugly bastard children of the North American movie going public. They aren't acknowledged with any force or veracity, and when they are finally allowed to emerge from their hiding places, it is to stump for a lonely foreign film Oscar in March. Netflix does a great job of showcasing these films and I have taken full advantage.

I love the creativity, but I loathe CGI. Don't get me wrong. Special effects have their place and are necessary to so many of today's films, but why do more than half of them look like bad video games? I realize that the purpose is mainly to entertain, but I can't believe that the same experience can't be had in front of an X-Box or Playstation.

I am wistful about this post. I really love movies and the entire art form. I will never forget being dazzled by the genius of Hitchcock or the magnificence of Julie Andrews. I know that it is a subjective business and I can handle the fact that we all have differing opinions on what is good and what isn't, but the modern movie-going experience has simply left me flat and I will have to continue to temper my expectations where film-making is concerned. The gold is out there. It's just buried in layers of pyrite.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Quotes Heard From or About Dawn On This Her Birthday

Yes. Today is my birthday.

Happy Friggin' Birthday to me.

It constantly amazes me how much birthdays seem to lose their impact and importance with each passing year. The only thing that I can honestly say about having yet another one, is that I would rather have them than not. So in that vein, here are some of the gems either uttered by me or by a loved one on this the anniversary of my mother's first labour.

"Hey honey. I just realized that you are finally playing with a full deck."~The Husband as he realized that this was indeed my 52nd birthday.

"It never really feels like my birthday until I get an email card from my optometrist."

"I had to do something productive on my birthday, didn't I?"~Said as I shlepped the linens off the bed and into the washing machine.

"Where's Season 7?"~Said by me as The Husband so very thoughtfully gifted me with the DVDs of Seasons 1-6 of my everlasting obsession, Murdoch Mysteries.

"Every day is somebody's birthday."~Said as The Husband regaled me with the names of celebrities with whom I share this day. Did you know that Mary Tyler Moore is 78 today or that Ted Danson is 67? Whoopdi f***ing do.

"Facebook has an interesting way of making you feel loved and disconnected from family and friends all at the same time on your birthday."~Said by me as my phone began to vibrate with vigour and purpose.

"I think that you should wear your birthday suit all day." The Husband. (He is nothing if not endearingly predictable.)

"Have you ever noticed how long a song 'Happy Birthday' is when you are the one to whom it is being sung?" My brother remarking on his own milestone birthday celebrations yesterday.

"Have you ever notice how much longer it is when it's being sung to you in a restaurant?" Me in response to his remark.

"The Leafs couldn't even manage a win for you on your birthday?"~My Father trying to salve the stinging pain of yet another in person Blue and White collapse.

"Only on my birthday could we manage to lose our car in the garage at the beach. We are showing our age."~Said I to The Husband after a glorious early morning walk on Hollywood Beach. As we wandered aimlessly from level to level, faint calls of "Tabarnac" could be heard from all the French Canadians in cars following us, desperately hoping to snag our soon to be vacated spot. It was so coveted that when we finally did manage to locate our car, a guy got of his, placed himself directly behind us so that we had trouble backing up, and stood in the spot until his buddy circled back. Can you say "Sheldon"?

"Walking down to Walmart is no way to spend your birthday. How old are you again?"~The Husband, whom I suspect was just trying to escape the agony of grocery shopping.

"Starbucks should have free drink day on your birthday."~Said by me as I hoped the barista would overhear and gift me my soy mocha frappucino light. She didn't.

"What kind of schmuck doesn't call his mother on her birthday?"~Older Son

"Do you want to grow old with me bugging you?" The Husband. To which I replied: "I am growing old with you bugging me." That's what marriage banter sounds like after almost thirty years.

Birthday orchid from Other Dad
Gus and Younger Son's Beshert win the Birthday message of the day. They managed to infuse it with just the right amount of cuteness, pathos, and guilt. Well done!! The Husband's JibJab post was just plain disturbing. (I won't even comment on the virtual card he sent that had me wishing I could hard scrub my brain cortex.)

There is still time to add to the list. If somebody says anything remotely amusing in the next 8 1/2 hours, I will amend.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

The Interview on Christmas

Back in November, The Husband and I were watching as Seth Rogen came on to pitch his new and upcoming movie The Interview on Real Time with Bill Maher. I barely gave it a second thought. I have never been a fan of vapid imbecilic comedies, and I am even less enamoured with James Franco. I knew by watching Mr. Rogen right then and there that I would probably never bother with this inanity. Believe me, there are a myriad of movies on which I would rather spend my time and entertainment dollars.

And then came the Sony hacks.

And out of the hacking scandal emerged the threats from anonymous sources against the movie.

And the bullshit that followed was vaguely reminiscent of the Hollywood blacklists of the McCarthy era. The entertainment industry was crashing in on itself like a house of cards all in a tiredly transparent effort to protect their bottom lines. 

And then came the president's rebuke.

And then came Sony's feeble attempt to feign concern about collective safety.

And then....finally....predictably....came the inevitable release, albeit on limited screens and on a much cheaper digital platform.

I will not give credence to the conspiracy theorists that suggest that Sony used the legitimate horror of the hacking scandal as a way to brilliantly advertise a pathetically weak and asinine film that was destined to flop. (Although, ironically that is what has occurred.) That nonsense would require complicity from both the White House and the FBI, and somehow I cannot imagine that either of those bodies would ever cooperate for the sole purpose of publicizing a mediocre film. I will say, however that the idea that somebody, anybody was telling me that I couldn't see this movie was like catnip. Artists have always been at the forefront of free speech causes, and I felt an almost pathological need to support Rogen and Franco by viewing their film.

So that's the backstory of why The Husband and I decided to download and watch The Interview on this Christmas Day.

The movie?

It's a piece of derivative crap. Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd played on this premise much better and for much bigger laughs in Spies Like Us. Franco is as bad as I have ever seen him and Rogen desperately tries to elevate the sophomoric humour with a modicum of talent. It is everything that I expected it to be and worse.

But I sat through it....all of it... mostly because I felt the need to defend even the crappiest of films as an art form. I only wish that Rogen and Franco had heeded the wise words of Soren Kierkegaard.
People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.
The Interview is a sad platform on which to defend art and speech, but I honestly didn't expect anything better.