The decline of good Hollywood movies

In my post on Stephen Fry, several readers took issue with my claim that Hollywood was being taken over by blockbuster action movies, usually connected with franchises, and that was a sign of declining standards. But the turn of Hollywood to reliably profitable “action” movies is a real phenomenon, and I recommend that readers have a look at an engrossing new piece in The New Yorker, “The Mogul of the Middle” by Tad Friend (access free).  It’s about the uphill attempt of one man, Adam Fogelson, to buck the trend by creating a new studio to make non-blockbuster movies (what I’d call “good” movies). And the piece really does show that although Hollywood has always produced some blockbusters (in the past, they were movies like “Ben-Hur” and “The Robe”, or even some cowboy movies), there’s a very real decline in higher quality stuff.  (Yes, that’s my personal judgement.) It’s now all about getting people to come to movie theaters when there’s a whole bunch of competing stuff they can see on the Internet.

I have no objection to the existence of movies like the “Mad Max”, “Batman,” or “Jurassic Park” series, though I don’t go see them.  (I have enjoyed some of the Pixar movies!) To each their own. But I would claim two things.

First, maybe people are missing something in their penchant for blockbusters movies—a kind of gratification that you get not from watching people being blown up, but by watching people live their normal, difficult lives, and stepping into their shoes. As I noted in a comment on the Stephen Fry post, some of the Hollywood studio execs in the article say that movies like the great ones of the recent past just wouldn’t get made any more:

The average teen-ager, the moviegoer of the future, sees six films a year in the theatre. Movie theatres are no longer where we go for stories about who we are. That’s become television’s job. We go to the movies now for the same reasons that Romans went to the Colosseum: to laugh, to scream, and to cheer. Comedy, horror, and triumphs of the human spirit still play better in theatres than at home. What plays best of all, of course, is a spaceship going kablooey all over the screen. Extravagant computer-generated imagery is the hallmark of blockbusters that are carefully formulated to avoid being “execution dependent” or “review sensitive”—to avoid needing to be good. One studio head told me, “Movies may not have gotten better over the years, but they’ve gotten more satisfying. A generation ago, execs made movies that they wanted to see. ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ was a really good movie, but it’s not satisfying to a global audience. Whereas the ‘Harry Potter’ series and the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy weren’t great movies, but they were very satisfying.” The director Billy Ray traced the phenomenon to the economic collapse of 2008, and to the decline of the DVD market. “That’s when corporate timidity gave way to terror,” he said. “Studio people actually said to me, ‘Don’t bring me anything that’s good, because I’ll be tempted to buy it, and I can’t.’ ”

In the same way, I’d argue that people who limit their reading to detective novels or the Harry Potter series are missing something if they don’t essay Tolstoy, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, or Joyce. There are greater depths of humanity in those books than can be found in any “Mad Max” movie. Now maybe that’s not what people go to the movies for, but it seems to me that a life spent watching endless cars blow up and aliens battle Tom Cruise is not as rich as one that includes movies like “12 Angry Men,” which I’m sure wouldn’t get made today.

And I find the line in bold below (my emphasis) immensely sad:

The studios’ turn to spectacle to transfix a restless audience is not new. When TV became popular, in the nineteen-fifties, the studios responded with such CinemaScope behemoths as “The Robe” and “Beneath the 12-Mile Reef.” (Billy Wilder suggested that the widescreen technology might be best suited for filming “the love story of two dachshunds.”) What is novel is the studios’ heavy reliance on the string of sequels known as a franchise. Shawn Levy, the director of the “Night at the Museum” series, said, “We have projects at six studios, and ninety per cent of their attention goes to the ones that are superhero or obviously franchisable. And every single first meeting I have on a movie, in the past two years, is not about the movie itself but about the franchise it would be starting.” Twenty-nine sequels and reboots came out last year, many of them further illuminations of a comic-book universe. One senior studio executive told me, “As a moviegoer, I don’t like seeing all these sequels and franchises. But we have to do justice by the shareholders, and from a marketing perspective it’s a lot easier: ‘Star Wars’—Gee, I wonder what that’s about?” Getting any movie right is hard, so why not make one that can bring in five hundred million dollars?

Second, this blockbuster mentality is driving out the kind of movies that appeal to people who go to movies for reasons similar to those that draw them to good literature.  Have you seen the wonderful movie “The Best Years of Our Lives”? Or “The Last Picture Show”? Or “Make Way for Tomorrow”? Or “On the Waterfront”? I doubt that movies like this would be made in today’s Hollywoood. And we’re the poorer for it.

And I’ll say this at the end, knowing that some will be pissed off by it: I simply don’t understand the appeal of movies like “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which involves one long chase scene in a post-apocalyptic world. I found it tedious. The critical acclaim of that movie (it was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar) also eludes me. Thank Ceiling Cat that the Oscar went to a really good movie, “Spotlight.” But as the New Yorker article notes, movies like that are getting harder and harder to make, for they don’t bring in the big bucks, and you can’t franchise them. And there are no car chases.

But I do disagree with Fry on baseball caps and sugary soft drinks. Though I don’t wear hats, and drink only diet sodas, that was a bit out of line.

233 Comments

  1. Diana MacPherson
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Life is tragic, sad, painful and frustrating. It’s fun to escape from that with brain candy sometimes and often that brain candy can be scripted well with witty good writing.

    • Jeff Lewis
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:29 am | Permalink

      Exactly. My daughter’s going through a stage where she likes sad movies. When she asks me why I don’t like them as much as she does, I tell her it’s because I know of enough sadness in real life that I don’t need to add fictional sadness on top of it.

      • darrelle
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

        I tend to agree. There are many movies that I thought were excellent, would put on any list of best movies, would highly recommend to anyone, but don’t really want to ever watch again. Most of those are movies that either made me very sad and or were very disturbing.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted April 5, 2016 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

          Same here. I watch movies to escape reality, and I’m not any less compassionate because of it. In fact I would argue the opposite, because my emotions haven’t been “used up” in fiction.

          TV is really good these days. You can see quality drama without going near a movie theatre, and don’t have to have strangers see you cry. PCCE doesn’t watch much TV so maybe doesn’t realize how good it’s become.

          And movie stars demand huge salaries, so a movie has to make heaps just to break even.

          I’ve never watched a Mad Max movie – they don’t appeal. And a lot of the new superhero movies are crap too, though I really enjoyed Antman and a couple of others. In general I find the epic fight scenes just go on too long and are really boring. They add long minutes without advancing what little story there is. A good old Terminator 2 action scene was much better.

          And there is a snobbery I think about what a good movie is. Lord of the Rings was good imo, and I’m not just saying that because I’m a NZer.

          • Paul S
            Posted April 5, 2016 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

            I liked LOTR as well, not to mention NZ produced one of my favorite movies of all time, Goodbye Pork Pie.
            A good movie is any movie you enjoy. Snobbery is trying to pass off crap as a masterpiece, cough, Terms of Endearment, cough.

            • Heather Hastie
              Posted April 5, 2016 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

              I loved Goodbye Pork Pie! I remember very little of it, but I do remember the enjoyment associated with watching it.

          • darrelle
            Posted April 5, 2016 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

            I’m with you. I can barely watch an episode of The Voice or So You Think You Can Dance without shedding a tear or two.

            My wife and I took the kids to the theater to see A Dolphin’s Tale and while Mom and Dad were sniffing and wiping their eyes the kids were dry-eyed and teasing us about it.

            Regarding TLOTR, I was a fan of Tolkien starting at about 6 when my father started reading The Hobbit to me to try and get me interested in reading. It worked. About half way through I took the book from him and read it myself. I slogged my way through the trilogy for the first time at 9 and read it probably about 15 times by the time I was 20. Sometime in my teens I read The Silmarillion then Unfinished Tales, and . . . I deciphered Dwarvish and Elvish alphabets using the stories and related appendices and taught myself to write fairly fluently in them. I drew pictures of dragons and orcs and elves and hobbits and wizards. Then I sort of grew out of it.

            But, I thought the movies were great! Easily the best fantasy sword & sorcery type movies yet made. Being me there was some slight disappointment too because they could have been better still, with a few tweaks. Most of my issues were probably just having to do with disagreements between my conception of the source material and Peter’s.

            • Heather Hastie
              Posted April 5, 2016 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

              I’ve got a cousin who got into reading via Tolkien too, and I’ve got quite a few into reading in more recent years via Harry Potter. As Diana McPherson suggested elsewhere, it got a some of them interested in Latin, classical myths and stuff like that too when I told them about things like the Fluffy/Cerberus connection.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted April 5, 2016 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

            I too think we are living in a golden age of TV. Series like Breaking Bad, True Detective, The Walking Dead, Better Call Saul and even Netflix series like House of Cards are just a sample of the good stuff that is out there.

            • Barry Lyons
              Posted April 5, 2016 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

              And don’t miss Louis C.K.’s Horace and Pete, a series that you can only access through his website. I’ve seen four episodes so far. It has the look and feel of a play (this isn’t a comedy) and it’s written and directed like one. Really great stuff.

              Better Call Saul is excellent. I guess Vince Gilligan is a genius.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

            I certainly watch movies to escape reality. Not in the slightest interested in the boring existence of everyday people; I have a perfectly good boring existence of my own, I don’t need more. I want to see interesting people doing interesting things.

            I didn’t care for Lord of the Rings. Great scenery, great special effects, but just too many characters (and some of them quite annoying). I couldn’t really relate to any of them.

            One thing some ‘action’ movies have is a strong central character you can relate to. And ones that minimise the CGI (like the James Bond movies that try to do as much action for real, with stunt men) do benefit because you can tell that, dramatic as the action is, it’s real. Similarly the ‘Bourne’ films.

            On the other hand I loved ‘Inception’, which had to be full of unreality and CGI (it all happened in peoples’ subconscious), but there the effects were part of the plot.

            But the most tension is generated, not when things are blowing up, but when you’re waiting for them to happen. The scariest movie I’ve seen was an old one called ‘Play Misty for me’, with Clint Eastwood as a DJ who had a casual affair with a fan who turned out to be obsessed and homicidal. She had already knifed a detective to ribbons and was hiding in Eastwood’s house – we didn’t know just where – when he came home and the camera followed him as he wandered casually from room to room. The tension was unbearable.

            Sergio Leone knew this too, in his spaghetti westerns – the tension in a gunfight is in the lead-up to it, it’s broken as soon as someone draws.

            cr

            • HaggisForBrains
              Posted April 6, 2016 at 8:11 am | Permalink

              Agreed. I particularly like the final duel in the cemetery scene, made by the brilliant Morricone music.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted April 6, 2016 at 8:47 am | Permalink

                That three-way duel is a very interesting situation. Assuming all three are equally fast**, the first one to draw will kill the one he’s shooting at, but will then be shot himself by the third. All of which indicates a permanent standoff until someone goes to sleep or someones nerve breaks.

                **And also assuming the usual Western convention that they actually hit what they’re shooting at.

                Morricone’s music is indeed great, and even more so in Sergio Leone’s masterpiece Once Upon a Time in the West. Jill’s Theme with Edda dell’Orso’s haunting voice is one of my favourite pieces of music.

                cr

              • HaggisForBrains
                Posted April 7, 2016 at 5:02 am | Permalink

                Of course, in this case it was a fix, since Blondie had already emptied Tuco’s revolver.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted April 7, 2016 at 8:59 am | Permalink

                Yes, I realise that, but of course we the audience don’t know that until after the event.

                cr

  2. Sigmund
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    While there are still some good movies being made, I think it may be a mistake to consider big-screen movies on their own without taking into account the evolution of television media.
    I think that the intimate stories tend to be found on TV these days while cinema is reserved for the spectacular.

    • DrBrydon
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      I think this is a very good point. Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle was a great production that probably wouldn’t have fit a two-hour format anyways.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:02 am | Permalink

        I wish I could get that in Canada. It’s exclusive to Amazon and we don’t have the video available here. Curse you Canadian rules that are ruining my ability to watch what I want!

    • Nom de Plume
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      Good point. I have long since conceded the theater to teenagers, and they’re welcome to it. Netflix and other sources have made it possible to watch whatever you want, more or less whenever you want it. Not to mention that I, like a lot of people, have a 50″ screen and surround system at home, so why would I go to a theater?

      Honestly, I think I’m better off for it.

      • Richard
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:05 am | Permalink

        Agreed.

        I last went to a cinema in 1998. Now I also have a big screen and a surround sound system (when I watch ‘The Return Of The King’, it’s like the elephants are in the room with me!), and I can watch what I want in peace (though the neighbours have complained occasionally! :)), without having to put up with other peoples’ talking, coughing or phones. Plus I can pause the film whenever I need to, and if there’s a bit I don’t get I can replay it.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted April 5, 2016 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

          Ditto. And it’s physically much more comfortable at home too.

          Apart from the recliner and a suitable place to put your drink, you can take comfort breaks whenever you want.

          • Richard
            Posted April 6, 2016 at 8:11 am | Permalink

            Plus I can shout at the screen (“Gah – that’s ridiculous! Humph! Humph!”, etc.), without disturbing anyone.

            Yes, I’m a grumpy old man.

      • Jay Baldwin
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:35 am | Permalink

        I have no connection to this company. This is an unpaid, unsolicited endorsement: Fathom Events (fathomevents.com) shows special engagements (limited runs) of top-notch classic films in modern theaters. I saw Double Indemnity last year in a multiplex. The big screen experience was worth it despite my having seen the film a dozen times on my TV. “On the Waterfront” plays later this month at a cinema near you. Check it out: http://www.fathomevents.com/event/on-the-waterfront

    • Jeff Lewis
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      Great point. And although this is still playing into the blockbuster mentality – compare Game of Thrones to Lord of the Rings. They’re both similar subject matter, but Game of Thrones presents such a more in depth story because they have so much more time to tell it.

      • Pali
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

        Not exactly fair to use those two examples, since the way they’re being done simply reflects the source material. LotR was always a fairly simple good vs evil tale with mostly one dimensional characters – the overall story and the heroes’ trials are the focus, not in-depth character work or a complex plot. GoT, on the other hand, is multiple books – each book nearly as long as LotR in its entirety – that completely eschews the good vs evil dynamic or a single cohesive plot in favor of pure character work. Neither would work as well in the other’s medium as they do in their own.

    • Posted April 5, 2016 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

      Exactly my feelings. The rise of excellent longer form TV dramas, coupled with superior screens means that I’d rather enjoy intimate or complex plot-driven stories at home than in the cinema.

      DVDs and online sources also make it more economical for international and art-house material to find their audiences over time, rather than hoping that they’ll turn up for a very limited cinema run in a single neighbourhood screen per city.

      I’m still happy to view good special effects films at the cinema.

  3. Frank Bath
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    I can’t disagree with any of the above. I have given up blockbusters which I’m told are aimed at a male 14 year old mentality.
    The Everyman cinema chain in the UK is heavy on independent and art house films with mixed results. I saw The Big Short there. I hope the USA has something similar.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      We have small, arty theaters that show movies like that. But smaller towns generally don’t have them.

  4. jwthomas
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    This article at Vox.com is highly relevant to this thread: “Big-budget films are getting worse — and we can prove it” http://tinyurl.com/hfr9alq

    • eric
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      Interesting article. However I wouldn’t be surprised if, when we consider Hollywood output as a whole (not just blockbusters), JAC’s contention that movie quality is declining might disappear.

      My argument would be that the film industry is very much like our internal memory in that it is selective about the past: with the exception of some real boners chosen for their artistic failure (Plan Nine, Santa Claus vs. the Martians), the further back in time you go, the more selectively positive is our view of the film industry, with both the preservation and showing movies become more and more limited to those very few movies that have stood the test of time. This gives us a very skewed view of the past.

      Anyone who is a fan of the Three Stooges or Godzilla knows that franchises of bad movies are not a 21st century invention, nor did they start in the ’70s with Star Wars. Its not an accident that MST3K was able to field nearly 200 episodes; there were that many old bad movies to choose from. And when Syfy started producing their recent spate of very bad monster movies, they were intentionally re-invoking the concept of the Saturday morning matinee from the ’50s.

      Movies have IMO always been like icebergs – 10% above “art” line, 90% below it, created for mass entertainment consumption more than the film lover. But this is probably a good thing, in a way, because it is the profitability and success of the mass consumption product that allows for the funding and creation of the more refined. Go look at Stephen Spielberg’s IMDB list of credits if you don’t believe me. There’s a bunch of pearls there, sure, but quite a lot of swine. If you want to have the artistic freedom and budget to produce Schindler’s list, you first gotta produce a few Joe Versus the Volcanos.

      • Sastra
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

        Yes, the same selective memory is at work with most things in the “good old days.” I remember my music appreciation professor going on one day about how the quality of music lyrics had grossly declined since the time when “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” was a hit. Now that we were in the 70’s the only musical poetry you college kids were exposed to were monotonous repetitions of “love ya, baby, oo oo.”

        I suggested that maybe “Dust In the Wind” ought to be contrasted with “Mairzy Doats.” We seldom remember the level of mediocrity.

        • Posted April 5, 2016 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

          It took me many years before I learned that “Mairzy Doats” had actual lyrics:

          Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy…etc.

          Not that those lyrics were great, either. But, how about “Feudin’ and Fussin’ and Fightin'”?

          • Heather Hastie
            Posted April 5, 2016 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

            Or, “You’re a pink toothbrush, I’m a blue toothbrush.” For goodness sake.

          • eric
            Posted April 5, 2016 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

            Or My Dingaling. By Chuck Berry, for goodness’ sake!

        • eric
          Posted April 5, 2016 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

          Yes, and with film it’s not just our memories creating the biased view of the past, its also the limits on the physical storage media (old film). We have to spend money to actually preserve old films, meaning not all such films will be saved, and guess what, we prioritize the best ones to be saved ahead of the bad ones. So our memories are selectively sampling the good films from a data set which is also itself selective sample of relatively good films.

        • Posted April 5, 2016 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

          Additionally, I think, since there is so much subjective judgment involved in assessing art, we are sometimes inclined to respect a work simply because of its age. This results in the perception that more good stuff was being produced “back in the day”. As a musician, I regularly hear of the discoveries of lost pieces by obscure composers, which discoveries are almost always accompanied by interviews with scholars or performers who wax hagiographic and insist that the piece or the composer must enter the canon. Then I hear the piece in question and usually realize why the composer remained obscure all those years.

      • Kevin
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

        I once made myself listen to about ~6000 CDs of classical music during school and rated composers and their works and found that ‘one hit wonders’ are actually quite common, historically and not just in pop music.

        And you are right about funding. You have to fund, just like science, a lot of shit to get some gems on top:

        Sewage pays the bills so you can make the dream a reality.

      • Posted April 5, 2016 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

        I agree with this post. There are a lot of good movies out and it’s not just blockbusters. Note that Spotlight won Best Picture this year.

        I also grow tired of a refrain that I’m hearing all too often. “I haven’t seen/been to the movies/news/sports event/grocery store/you name it since ten/twenty/thirty years ago/just after the dinosaur extinction event.” Because I always feel what is right after it is the unsaid phrase “because I’m better than you”.

        • Posted April 5, 2016 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

          Re your 2nd paragraph: I have the same sense.

        • Richard
          Posted April 6, 2016 at 7:04 am | Permalink

          Er, no. I just found it too much effort, compared with watching a film comfortably at home.

          • Posted April 6, 2016 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

            If I were GreenPoisonFrog, I wouldn’t have written “always”, but people often do tout their abstinence from this or that as evidence of their sophistication. How do I know people do this? I myself have done it and I get the psychology behind it.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

        I certainly agree about the selectivity of memory. Sturgeon’s Law (95% of anything is crap) applies to old movies and TV just as much as today.

        We have a channel called Turner Classic Movies which my wife sometimes watches, and what a heap of sh*t. With the occasional gem buried in it. But for the existence of this channel, I would have forgotten just how direly nondescript many old movies were.

        The same goes for the old-TV-series channel – some shows I’m delighted to watch again, many I couldn’t stand at the time and age has not improved them.

        We are, however, hugely better off nowadays, in that we can easily and cheaply have such a huge choice of old movies and TV and music, on DVD or Netflix or Youtube. It’s hard to recall just how constrained our viewing was in the days when a VCR – just being able to record a TV show to watch later – was a huge expansion of our viewing horizon.

        cr

        • gscott
          Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

          Don’t forget Kitman’s Law:
          “On the TV screen pure drivel tends to drive off ordinary drivel.”

  5. TJR
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    What’s more, these films are in effect just third-person shooter games.

    Its like watching somebody else play the latest Call Of Duty.

    • Jeff Lewis
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      Have you seen any previews or trailers for Hardcore Henry? It’s not even a third-person shooter. It’s straight up first-person.

      • Wunold
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

        2005: DOOM had a short sequence of first person mayhem as a homage to the computer game classic it was based on.

        2016: Pandemic is said to be mostly in first-person view.

  6. Richard Bond
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Re the authors mentioned, can anybody explain why Hemingway is so highly rated? I have read three of his novels and a book of his essays, and I find him pretentious and self-centred.

    • Geoff Toscano
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      I quite agree. I’ve tried a few times to finish For Whom the Bell Tolls, and each time I get irritated with his naive take on Spanish, and his use of ‘thees’ and ‘thous’.

      • Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:56 am | Permalink

        I am not crazy about Hemmingway’s novels (I hate “The sun also rises”). but find his descriptions of fishing in the woods to be fascinating.

        As to movies… Not only are action movies pervasive and mind-numbing, too many movies are filled with supernatural beings, fantastic heroes and various colors of magic. Is this a result of New Age silliness or are both indicative of something else — maybe an inability to be alone with one’s thoughts for any length of time?

        • darrelle
          Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:08 am | Permalink

          The supernatural crap is rampant in popular literature too. It has infested every genre.

          • JohnH
            Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:15 am | Permalink

            More variety in literature would be better but as long as supernatural fiction is read by people who enjoy it as something that is desirable and not as something that is possible. That is when fiction turns into religion.

          • Sastra
            Posted April 5, 2016 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

            The real problem I think isn’t with supernatural stories which are supernatural stories. That’s a genre. It’s when supernatural elements are casually added in to an otherwise secular story, as if ESP or ghosts were a given of modern society and can be used to move the plot along the way divorces, car crashes, and pets do.

            • darrelle
              Posted April 5, 2016 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

              Yes, that is what I find tiresome. A genre I’ve always enjoyed reading, science fiction, has become about 75% supernatural crap. It’s hard to find good new stories to read. Not saying they aren’t out there, just harder to find amidst the supernatural dross.

              To clarify, I was (am) merely expressing personal preferences in reading materials, not commenting on what the prevalence of supernatural crap infesting a wide range of genres might mean about the direction society is going. Though that would be a great topic to discuss!

              • eric
                Posted April 5, 2016 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

                For my sci-fi and fantasy reading I now do much more reviewing of “best of 20XX” lists than I used to. They tend to include fewer vampire-of-the-month stories. I don’t always necessarily agree with the critics, but I get fewer “bad misses” that way.

                Also the tried but true method of picking by author is still good. If Charles Stross wants to write a teen vampire love story, well at least I can be pretty sure it will be more amusing and well-written than your typical teen vampire love story (and if have to read one of those, I recommend Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore. 🙂

            • Heather Hastie
              Posted April 5, 2016 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

              I agree with Sastra – it’s when a character in an otherwise non-supernatural story gets an answer to a prayer that I get pi$$ed off. Especially when afterwards people use that as proof prayer works. Personally, I enjoy the TV series Supernatural, for example, but it never occurs to me it’s real. It’s just a bit of escapism.

              • eric
                Posted April 5, 2016 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

                I was roped into reading Lovely Bones because a teacher whose kids were reading it told me it was deep. Overall I thought the book was meh, but the part where the story promotes intuition/psychic feelings as a guide for finding murderers really ticked me off. This is a lesson you want to teach our teens?

              • Heather Hastie
                Posted April 5, 2016 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

                I haven’t read it because I knew that was in it, and I knew it would annoy the sh*t out of me.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted April 5, 2016 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

                I’m enjoying the new series, Lucifer because the character of the devil is the same as the Lucifer in Gaiman’s Sandman comics. I kept wondering why there weren’t protests to get rid of the series, given that Lucifer is, like Gaiman’s Lucifer, charming and relatable and probably a good guy (though I’ve argued this for years about biblical Satan ever since I read Paradise Lost) and felt the Angel of Light got an unfair shake – but I do have a pathological attraction to arrogance). I haven’t read Sandman but I read American Gods and the devil in that story reminded me of Lucifer in this TV series.

                And of course people want Lucifer taken off the air for the reasons I listed above.

              • Heather Hastie
                Posted April 5, 2016 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

                ‘Lucifer’ sounds like something I would like. I hope it comes here.

              • eric
                Posted April 6, 2016 at 9:13 am | Permalink

                Ray Wise played a likeable (if cheesy) Satan too. As Milton and pretty much everyone since then has figured out, as theological characters go, he’s just a lot more interesting than most of the others. Even in his most “2-D evil” portrayals, he’s still the guy you love to hate. And any time you give him more depth, he just gets more interesting.

          • Posted April 6, 2016 at 10:32 am | Permalink

            Humans need fantasy. Particularly in their young years, but some, like me, for life.

            A Russian author (Chukovsky) once wrote about his learned compatriot, expert in teaching, who thought that children should be brought up without fantasies. She tried the system on her son – read to him realistic short stories instead of fairy tales, explained the body in simple words etc. The boy invented crude fairy tales of his own and introduced labyrinths, corridors, staircases and adventures between the internal organs. She duly reflected this in her published works.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

          “too many movies are filled with supernatural beings, fantastic heroes and various colors of magic.”

          Wasn’t it always thus? Thinking of Shakespear, Dickens, Tennyson, Poe, Conan Doyle… (and hundreds more). It seems to me that literature has always had a very strong fantasy component.

          cr

          • eric
            Posted April 6, 2016 at 9:18 am | Permalink

            The complaint was about adding it where its unnecessary, not writing fantasy per se. Nobody complains about the supernatural elements in MacBeth or Christmas Carol; they fit those stories. What we’re complaining about in when authors are telling a non-supernatural tale and then suddenly pull out some supernatural tidbit as a deus ex machina plot device or other extraneous add-on.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted April 6, 2016 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

              OK. To be honest I can’t think of too many cases of that (but then I’m not very well acquainted with modern movies).

              But add in ‘unnecessary religious references’ and I would agree most fervently.

              cr

    • Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      I’ll answer that. There is one great novel: The Sun Also Rises, a passel of excellent short stories, and one good memoir (A Moveable Feast). The rest is substandard, but the novel and short stories alone secure his place in literature.

      • Richard Bond
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        Thanks; I shall try The Sun Also Rises. I should have said “short stories” instead of “essays”, and I must confess that I am not that keen on short stories.

      • John Scanlon FCD
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

        You can’t read much Hemingway and come away thinking that writing good stuff is easy.

        Lucky me, I haven’t read either of the ones you named yet.

      • dabertini
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

        What about A Farewell to Arms? I prefer it to The Sun Also Rises.

      • tgczarny
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

        The Nick Adams stories, particularly “The Big-Two Hearted River” are works of genius. It may be worth noting that the actual river Hemingway camped and fished along is the east branch of the Fox River, some 50 miles south of the Big Two-Hearted in Michigan’s UP. Supposedly Hemingway thought Fox River sounded too prosaic. Neither is the brook trout fishery they were in Hemingway’s day. The Fox is heavily sanded from upstream erosion and the watershed of the Big Two- Hearted was damaged by a ferocious forest fire in 2012.

    • barn owl
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

      Hemingway’s short story The Snows of Kilimanjaro is worth reading, IMO.

      A couple of friends enjoyed a visit to the Hemingway House in Key West – not that they’re fans of Hemingway’s writing, but rather they just wanted to see the cats. Worth visiting for that alone, according to them.

  7. Geoff Toscano
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    I signed up to a monthly cinema card years ago, and have never got round to cancelling it. As a result a see a great many films, but have discovered that too many times I am constantly checking my watch, wishing the time away.

    So now I usually avoid big action movies. I did see the latest Star Wars, and was severely disappointed. It’s a way overrated franchise. On the whole, my best experiences are unexpected; for example, Silver Linings Playbook from two or three years ago was a gem.

  8. normw
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    I wonder what Mr Fry would have all the golfers of the world wear?

    • RolandG
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:31 am | Permalink

      Flat caps, I presume, like in the golden days.

      • barn owl
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

        Great for waving angrily (along with the golf clubs) at an American equestrian who is being run away with by a riding school horse, across a golf course in East London.

        Not that I would know anything about this from personal experience, you understand.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

          Why wave? Tee off and see if you can score a direct hit. (On the horse would be even better than on the rider…)

          I’ve been watching too many TV secret agent fantasies…

          As an aside, golf seems to be a favourite of the genre. I’m reminded of the golf-ball-shooting golf cart in ‘The Avengers’ TV series, and the famously unsporting golf game in Goldfinger.
          “If that’s his original ball I’m Arnold Palmer!”
          “It isn’t.”
          “How d’you know?”
          “I’m standing on it”

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7GMzNJNDmdM

          cr

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      Male golfers seem to have a thing for white belts on the golf course, unless they’re wearing white trousers.

  9. RolandG
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    “But I do disagree with Fry on baseball caps and sugary soft drinks. Though I don’t wear hats, and drink only diet sodas, that was a bit out of line.”

    Why was it out of line? Surely he has the right to an opinion on both these things and to voice this opinion. It’s not like he’s campaining to outlaw caps and sodas.

    Also, I happen to agree with him. Baseball caps DO look hideous on adults outside of sports and garden work. And sodas (sugary or diet) are more or less liquid poison. All IMO, of course. I, too, am not trying to stop people from wearing caps and drinking sodas. That doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to form an opinion on them.

    • Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:00 am | Permalink

      Yes, but he implied that people with that garb were not as good as others. It’s a bit different from claiming that he didn’t like them.

      • Dean
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:14 am | Permalink

        Good thing he didn’t take a shot at cowboy boots!

        • Amy
          Posted April 5, 2016 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

          :))), thanks, I’m so amused .

    • rickflick
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      I’d say Fry was trying to complete a picture of the juvenile aspect of our culture. The soda cups, caps, and blockbuster movies are all a symptom of the shift from an adult society toward an infantilized one. He’s probably implying that this is a bad trend, maybe not so much that the masses are inherently bad. That’s my guess anyway.

      • Tom Snow
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

        That whole idea of “infantilization” is what I objected to. Is it really so wrong to do something fun once in a while, and not because it has any other redeeming value?

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted April 5, 2016 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

          I agree, and said something similar yesterday. It annoyed me that someone was making a completely erroneous judgment of my character and ability based on what I watch and drink. There are plenty of genuine criticisms that could be lobbed my way, but they don’t include infantile, shallow, stupid, or thoughtless.

        • Posted April 5, 2016 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

          I think the term “infantile” is apt in the context of the serious issues Fry and Rubin were discussing. As I wrote on the other thread, I think Fry intentionally specified some mundane things about which he doesn’t actually have a strong opinion in order to act like an amusing curmudgeon for just a bit before getting down to brass tacks.

      • eric
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

        As a pale guy losing his hair and concerned about skin cancer, I don’t see baseball caps as infantilizing so much as just plain practical.

        • rickflick
          Posted April 5, 2016 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

          We won’t call you infantile unless you wear yer cap backasswards. 😉

          • eric
            Posted April 6, 2016 at 9:23 am | Permalink

            If the sun’s in my eyes or not too strong in general, I’ll wear it normal. If the sun is beating down on my neck, sorry, I’m going to wear it backwards without apology. Again, I don’t see it as anything more than practical.

            • Vaal
              Posted April 6, 2016 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

              Same here eric.

              I actually hate wearing hats, and I’m in the camp of baseball hats generally looking goofy on everyone. But at this stage I need to protect myself from the sun, so I have to wear one when in really sunny conditions (I know if I ever graduate to a Tilly hat, like my father-in-law, the grave is not far behind..)

              I also wear it backwards if the sun is going to remain behind me.

        • Posted April 6, 2016 at 10:35 am | Permalink

          No use to seek logic and sense in dress code.

    • Posted April 5, 2016 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      Why are diet sodas poison?

      • Tom Snow
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

        Artificial sweeteners have had a bit of a bad reputation. I know there have been studies correlating diet soda consumption to greater obesity, and that it may have to do with your body expecting calories to accompany sweetness, and if there are none, you’re more prone to eat more to make up for it. Now, that hasn’t happened in my case, since I regularly drink diet sodas and strictly watch how much I eat, but I am just one person and my experience is thus anecdotal.

        • Posted April 5, 2016 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

          My understanding is that the link between artificial sweeteners and cancer is about as well demonstrated as the link between vaccines and autism.

          To address your second point, if the problem is that calorie-free sweeteners make people feel as though they can eat more food, then we’d have to put water in the same “poisonous” category.

          • Vaal
            Posted April 6, 2016 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

            MB,

            I agree. There has almost been a “moral panic” over diet soda sweeteners over the years. People just reflexively think if you are drinking much diet soda it’s the “worst thing for you!” and you are effectively embalming yourself.

            But artificial sweeteners such as aspartame are among the most studied and tested food products of all time, and the studies have yet to justify the fears associated with aspartame.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

        Some sweetners can have side effects in some people too. One is diarrhoea.

        • Posted April 5, 2016 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

          But many people are deathly allergic to peanuts and we don’t call peanuts “poison”.

      • eric
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

        AIUI carbonated beverages in general are bad for the teeth.

        No I don’t count that as “poisonous” but as others have said, if the artificial sweetener has the effect of encouraging you to drink more of it than you otherwise would, its not exactly contributing to good health.

  10. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Similarly with printed fiction…

    New ‘elevating’ literary fiction is just a tiny fraction of printed (and epaper) output because it doesn’t sell as many copies as the many ‘lighter’ genres. Some of which also come in franchises too.

    But that seems to be the consequence of people ‘voting’ with their money. So it’s democracy in a way…

    • Posted April 5, 2016 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I’ve always thought it was a mistake to blame the producers for the crap that makes it big. They’re simply giving the people what they want, and not necessarily in a craven, opportunistic way. Artists of both the popular and avant garde varieties, often, to quote Peter Medawar, “before deceiving others, [have] take great pains to deceive [themselves]”.

  11. TheDoxieTruth
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    I agree with this opinion & am surprised that people would get angry at it.

    I’m not opposed to action movies, I just would like a greater variety of genres.

    For now, I’m just sticking to watching the TCM channel.

    • Tom Snow
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      If anyone’s angry, it’s probably not because the movies themselves were being criticized, but because of the implication that liking them somehow makes them “infantile.” I do not care much for superhero movies but I certainly don’t think that makes me more mature than those that do.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

        Exactly. That’s what I objected to anyway.

  12. GM
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    The recent “Mad Max” movie indeed fits the blockbuter stereotype.

    The original one was quite different though. And the subject matter is in fact very important and thought-provoking even if it might look like a mindless action movie.

  13. Amy
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Is there a survey result indicating very high percent of blood type O among Americam people? Kids like taste is very typical for Blood Type O people. ;)) Run! Before someone points out what I said was psedoscience.

  14. Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    I think the money invested in Imax, 3d, and surround sound sort of drives the industry into making the types of movies for the big screen that play best in theaters now.

  15. Simon Hayward
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Couple of thoughts – I watch a fair number of movies in theaters, probably a dozen or so a year, perhaps more. I clearly separate things that I would prefer to see on a huge screen (MadMax was one – fun but should not have been a best picture nominee), from things that I will stream or watch on DVD at home. Things with a lot of action do benefit (at least IMO) from being in a theater. More thoughtful movies, many of which seem to go straight to DVD are usually fine to watch at home.

    In reality the two experiences are getting closer, with domestic large TVs and good surround sound now common. So, sitting at home rather than fighting traffic and other peoples cell phones has a certain appeal if one does not need the spectacle.

    As an aside, I do wonder how great the past actually was. We tend to remember the good and forget the dross. Even if it was better the market has changed, and we can all vote by paying for what we personally value.

    • Richard
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      Yes – if you look back at the 50s, there were a lot of pretty dire Westerns made then. Ones like ‘Shane’ or ‘High Noon’ may stand out, but far more have been forgotten.

    • Jeff Lewis
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      My wife and I are the same way on movies. When we see a preview or trailer for the first time, we’ll usually comment on whether it’s theater, Blu-ray, Redbox, or Netflix worthy. It doesn’t help that for the price of us and our daughter going to a theater and getting drinks and popcorn, we could buy several Blu-rays to watch over and over to our heart’s content.

    • Jerry Tarone
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      Excellent point. The “Good old days” syndrome. Lots of people suffer from it for the reason you point out. We forget all the really terrible movies of the past, and the really good ones stand out. The studios had a lot of control in the old days too, and things haven’t changed.

      When I check DVD and Blu Ray releases there is often a lot of dross. When they first came out the studios released their best movies, and life was wonderful. I quickly built up quite a collection. Now they are releasing anything they think they can sell, and they have a lot of movies that may never get pressed onto a DVD.

      Even so, there are bins where we can buy 1 dollar DVD’s of movies I’ve never heard of and many are best left in the bin.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I do the same thing when deciding which movies to see in the theater. Are there a lot of special effects or sweeping scenery? All films are better when viewed in the theater, but some of them are better choices because they’d lose more of their impact on our smallish television.

      I suspect there’s a fair number of people who do this. The problem then is that the stories I look forward to viewing on my couch might not get made at all.

  16. DrBrydon
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    I don’t object to action movies per se. Some of my favorite movies, such as Die Hard, are action movies. What I object to are: 1) the constant drive to turn non-action stories into action movies (Robert Downey’s Sherlock Holmes among others); 2) the completely unrealistic action sequences (car chases, gun-fights, martial arts duels) which now take up so much time in preference to plot and character development; and 3) the never-ending stream of undifferentiated sequels.

    Here is an excellent piece from the Independent where the director of Guardians of the Galaxy (an excellent movie) explains how Hollywood will take the wrong lesson from that movie’s success: http://goo.gl/ygggCH

    There are still good non-action films made. The recent Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was an excellent movie, and an excellent adaption. I think part of the trouble is that action movies translate more easily (literally and figuratively) for foreign audiences, and that’s where the big money is.

    • Richard
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      “the constant drive to turn non-action stories into action movies”

      E.g. ‘I, Robot’ with Will Smith – Asimov must have spun in his grave fast enough to separate U-235 from U-238!

      • Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:39 am | Permalink

        I second that! How long before they remake “My Dinner with Andre” as an action movie?

    • colnago80
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

      Actually, the Die Hard movies are really comedies masquerading as action movies.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, I always saw them that way too! I love the Die Hard series.

  17. Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    “a kind of gratification that you get not from watching people being blown up, but by watching people live their normal, difficult lives, and stepping into their shoes.”

    There is no accounting for taste:
    http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/04/11/gay-talese-the-voyeurs-motel

  18. JohnH
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure about where the latest Mad Max movie falls because I have not seen it, but there are differences between many of the movies that are lumped together in the genre of fantasy or super hero. Yes, there are common features for all (but not limited to) those types of those movies, especially in the area of computer generated graphics of massive explosions and battles. However, some of those stories also have a very human element where the characters exhibit the same frailties and face similar problems that we all face daily to varying degrees in reality. It seems that the fantasy movies lacking those qualities do not fare as well at the box office (some, like Cat Woman bomb), although still at times raking in big bucks. Pixar is one company that seems to have consistently found that key for movie making. Although taking place in a fantasy setting with larger than life characters, the audience can still relate to them and find some common ground as with any movie worth watching. The worlds of fantasy are by definition totally imagined, but then so is any work, both classic and pulp, of fiction.

    • Richard
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      I quite like ‘Soldier’ – but I think that the best part of the film is the middle section, where Sgt. Todd (Kurt Russell) has trouble in adapting to the totally alien (to him) world of normal human society; and (since Todd speaks only 104 words in the movie) Russell has to portray his confusion with body language and minimal expression.

      But I have read reviewers on IMDb who say that they like the (violent) first section and (very violent) third section – which is just a shoot-em-up – and found the middle section boring.

      • JohnH
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

        I haven’t seen Soldier yet but I hope those reviewers are in the minority or it doesn’t bode well for the current success of violent movies. I’d like to believe that it is the human reaction to and interaction with imagined environments that puts the box office over the top.

  19. Zado
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    “the decline of the DVD market” sounds rather passive; the author should have wrote “the proliferation of pirating” instead.

    The only reliable money movies can make nowadays is on the big screen. Off it, on the internet, they’re effectively free. So no studio exec can justify putting a movie on the big screen that won’t reliably make money there. It’s the exact same reason musical artistry has shifted from production to performance in the 21st century: too many people who will download a terabyte of free entertainment without batting an eye.

    • Kevin
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

      I still buy movies if I like them. I burn them then donate to the library, where I am sure others can burn them too. Still the great thing about this system is I do not have to store movies any more..let the library keep them.

  20. Pliny the in Between
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    In my opinion the challenge that all contemporary art forms face is that they have to compete with the public perception of past art that has already passed through the filter of time. For the most part, time filters out everything but the most enduring art of a given period. So we tend to look back at it as being of higher overall quality that the unfiltered jumble of what is currently available. Read any art critic reviews from the past and they tend to lament the downfall of the arts every time some new form or style arises.

    Movie studios have always been businesses first. Long before TV they were churning out cheap franchise movies – Cowboy flicks, road pictures, water ballet pictures, wrestling pictures, you name it. TV (and now streaming) just raised the stakes on what a franchise movie needs to be.

    Prestige pictures got the green light for bragging rights, not any particular commitment to the arts. For every Citizen Kane, there were 25 forgettable franchise movies that filled theaters and cost nothing to make.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      Yes, I think in a way art is no different from neologisms, which are often dismissed as frivolous or plain wrong.

    • Randy Schenck
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      Was thinking about not commenting on this piece but just can’t help it. Yes, I agree with PCC on this one but maybe not always for the same reasons. Much of it does have to do with age because if you grew up in the 50s and 60s you were in a different period, just like those who did the same in the 30s and 40s.

      If you saw a movie of perfection, such as To Kill A Mockingbird and thought, well it’s okay but black and white? Or where is the entertainment? All I can say is good luck with today’s standard. And certainly they did make a lot of B pictures years ago, that was the system in the studio controlled days.

      But where are those really good movies today. Better yet, where are the actors to replace the Gregory Peck’s, Kirk Douglas, Jimmy Stewart, Katharine Hepburn or Spencer Tracy. There would be little work for them today because they are not needed in today’s film.

      But just in case you wonder if there are some really bad films being made today, go over to Patheos Freethought now and check out the review on “God’s not Dead 2”. As if Dead 1 was not bad enough.

      • Dean
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:21 am | Permalink

        It’s funny you list those actors, but most of them are horribly wooden actors. Many people are nostalgic for the actors of the past, but most B-list actors today are better than the A-listers of the past.

        • James Walker
          Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:41 am | Permalink

          I love Dorothy Parker’s comment that Katharine Hepburn’s acting talent ran the gamut from A to B …

          • Richard
            Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:50 am | Permalink

            And Roger Moore said of his own acting range: “Left eyebrow raised. Right eyebrow raised. That’s about it.”

            • Posted April 5, 2016 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

              Talking of wooden actors, I enjoyed Brad Stick in Troy, Keanu Trees in When The Earth Stood Still and Chris Pine in…anything.

            • darrelle
              Posted April 5, 2016 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

              My favorite Roger Moore movie was ffolkes.

              And there’s cats! After he saves the day the Queen, having learned of his love of cats, gifts him with a gorgeous moggy.

              • Posted April 5, 2016 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

                Actually, he’s gifted with several all white kittens.

              • darrelle
                Posted April 5, 2016 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

                You’re right, of course! It has been a while and I’ve forgotten details.

          • revelator60
            Posted April 5, 2016 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

            It was a funny line, but not really true. Hepburn was cast in a bad play that very few actors could rise above. Her range actually extended from frothy comedies like “Bringing Up Baby” to tragedies like “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.”

            • James Walker
              Posted April 5, 2016 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

              Meh, I was never a fan of Katharine Hepburn, or Spencer Tracy, for that matter.

              • colnago80
                Posted April 5, 2016 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

                I never cared much for Hepburn but Tracy was absolutely magnificent in Bad Day at Black Rock and Inherit the Wind.

        • Randy Schenck
          Posted April 5, 2016 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

          I guess that would explain the decline then.

          • Doug
            Posted April 5, 2016 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

            I always thought Gary Cooper was about as wooden an actor as you could get.

            • colnago80
              Posted April 5, 2016 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

              Agreed, except that he did a fine job in High Noon.

        • Vaal
          Posted April 6, 2016 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

          I would hope you are at least making an exception in that list for Jimmy Stewart.
          He is the antithesis of a “wooden” actor – he was known for and admired by fans, critics and fellow actors alike as being able to bring a relaxed naturalness to his roles that was hard for any actor to achieve.

          • Richard
            Posted April 7, 2016 at 4:59 am | Permalink

            Just look at his performance as Elwood P. Dowd in ‘Harvey’ – if he had been any more relaxed he would fallen asleep!

      • Sastra
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

        I also disagree on older actors being of higher quality — much as I loved many of them. The studios in the past used to type cast like crazy. Today it seems that as soon as an actor has clout they want to do a variety of things and disappear into the role. Good on them.

        • Randy Schenck
          Posted April 5, 2016 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

          Type casting they certainly did. But I think many of those listed were in many types, such as Jimmy Stewart, or Gregory Peck and even Kirk Douglas.

      • Pliny the in Between
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

        The G not D duo seem like spiritual successors to such high art as “The Next Voice You Hear’ from 1950.

        As for dreadful religious movies, ‘King of Kings’ anyone? Or for that matter any of ‘The Ten Commandments’, ‘The Robe’, ‘Sampson and Delilah’, etc. And who can forget the spectacle of John Wayne as a Roman centurion in ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’ 😉

        • Richard
          Posted April 6, 2016 at 7:20 am | Permalink

          And if you want to see the worst piece of mis-casting in movie history, just check out Wayne as Genghis Khan in ‘The Conqueror’.

    • Jeff Lewis
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      Reminds me of an article I came across not too long – 5 Complaints About Modern Life (That Are Statistically B.S.). Specifically, there was a section refuting the claim, “Today’s Music Is All Derivative Trash.” It pointed out that although great songs like Fortunate Son and Gimme Shelter were released in 1969, they never even made it into the Billboard Top 10, while Sugar Sugar was the top song for the year.

      • Randy Schenck
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

        Could also be someone just changed the subject but if you want something called Cracked to be your reference, that is your privilege. With music, if you survey your parents, generally you will find they care little for your music. Not B.S., just fact.

        • Tom Snow
          Posted April 6, 2016 at 8:07 am | Permalink

          The article doesn’t dispute that; it just points out the fallacious reasoning behind it. The “B.S.” is the complaint itself, not the fact that people make it.

  21. darrelle
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    What irritates me about blockbusters is that so much money and effort is spent on visuals and sound, and so little effort on the screen play and other story aspects of the movie. I think Mad Max: Fury Road is a good example of this. Visually stunning, but lacking in the story department. In most cases I am sure it would not add significantly to the cost of the movie, if at all, and would only make it better.

    Someday someone will make a science fiction movie with the visual qualities of a Mad Max: Fury Road and the script and acting qualities of a The Godfather and I will be happy. I hope.

    • Kevin
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

      It’s hard to get the whole movie right, but this scene is one of the best

      https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tears_in_rain_monologue

      I too hold out for the great scify movie.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

        From Blade Runner, right? (I knew that before I followed the link. What I didn’t know was that Rutger Hauer wrote (or adapted) it).

        That was a great movie, as was Ridley Scott’s other sci-fi, Alien. Both of them examples, I think, that sometimes ‘less is more’. i.e. they didn’t have multimillion-dollar FX budgets.

        cr

      • darrelle
        Posted April 6, 2016 at 6:07 am | Permalink

        Can’t argue with that.

  22. Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    I’ve had my fill of super-heroes movies.

    “Spotlight” is on my must-watch list, as well as “Bridge of Spies”, and “Eye in the Sky’. Then maybe “Carol” and “The Danish Girl”.

    • Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      Oh, I forgot to mention “Pacific Rim” as one of the very few sci-fi/action movies I’ve enjoyed with the younger folks.

    • eric
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

      Even as a fan of superhero movies, I’m hoping the market goes from boom to bust pretty soon, so that we get a wider variety of fantasy and sci-fi coming out. I like schlock. I like boom. And yet still probably only 1 in every 3-5 of these movies is reasonable boom/schlock. They have to fail so that Hollywood gets the “try harder if you want to make money in this genre” message.

      Fantasy/sci fi in Hollywood is like evolution on a small island. Right now, we have lots and lots of varieties of finches. Most may be pretty in their own way, but after a while you get tired of watching finches. You want an owl. If we want to see some bird that’s not a finch, some of the finch varieties are going to have to die out so that the ecological niche is empty for something else to come along and fill it.

  23. Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    It is Lucas and Spielberg’s fault, and they have both accepted the blame for the lack of human storyies in Hollywood

    plus racism and heterosexism

    once again the fault is religion that limits what is made because they sell to the general punters

    it means no one new gets in and no new group gets represented.

    meanwhile, in other religion news, women not allowed to sit near men on planes

    http://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/as-it-happens-monday-edition-1.3519804/woman-sues-israeli-airline-el-al-after-man-requests-she-move-seats-1.3519811

  24. Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    I would go further than the OP. There have always been blockbusters but in the past they could be compelling movies. The Road Warrior from the 80s was an interesting, entertaining movie (especially for its time) The action movies they make now are disgracefully bad. They have the most artistically and technologically talented people in the world creating the special effects but then they find some idiot to write the story. Someone who not only doesnt know what a story is but cant write a consistent series of events or plausible motivations for characters.
    Even the ‘good’ movies are not so good. Many have glaring flaws. The movies that thoughtful people rave about now would almost have gone unnoticed in the 60s or 70s.
    I think I first noticed this trend with ‘Sideways’

    **Note- I’m not that old

  25. Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Fury Road was a piece of crap. no need to say all in the genre are crap. Gods only know what the Academy was smoking when they put it up for best picture.

    • Pali
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

      I’ve seen this sentiment expressed here several times now for Fury Road… Yet unlike most of the lamented blockbusters, Fury Road received near-universal acclaim from the critics, sitting at 90% on Metacritic and 97% on Rotten Tomatoes.

      Have you considered that perhaps these people were not all smoking something, that perhaps there was something to the movie that you missed?

      And for those knocking it without seeing it – shame on you. Seriously. I may not see a movie because it doesn’t look to hold my interest, but judging a movie without seeing it? No offense to PCC, but he’s got no idea how much or how little humanity is expressed in Fury Road if he’s not seen it.

      • Posted April 5, 2016 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

        so using the fallacy of appeal to popularity?

        I’ve seen it. It was driving one way and driving back without one single new idea for a post-apocalyptic movie. The exact same thing happened one way and then the other. A tough character had a little concern for others. What about this movie is unique or so well done that we should ignore the triteness? One example?

        • Pali
          Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

          Considering that judgment of art is by its very nature subjective, if as a society we wish to judge a work of art, consensus of opinion is all we have to go on. That does not at all mean that those who disagree have no grounds to do so – but it does leave us room to wonder if those who disagree simply didn’t notice what was so obviously of worth to the rest of us.

          If you honestly want to know, what did I find of worth here? The cinematography – moments like the sand storm are among the most beautiful I’ve seen on screen. The acting – everyone does a fantastic job inhabiting their characters. The transformation of Nux. The action itself, which I found brilliantly paced and choreographed.

          • Posted April 6, 2016 at 5:59 am | Permalink

            There is a difference between consensus and popularity. You and I can come to a consensus, but that’s only two people. There was a consensus that Fury Road was good. Most people find films by someone like Bergman to be tedious. In this case what does consensus tell us?

            The sand storm was pretty, average CGI but pretty. How many movies have had the heroes going through a storm, Pali? The characters were caricatures, the tough girl, the tough guy, the clueless women, the coward who hooks up with the heroes, the warlord and his toadies. There’s more than a few movies like that, including a bunch on MST3K. The action was nothing better than average Asian martial art movies. The pacing was nothing different from any other action movie, frenetic.

            Pali, I’m curious, have you see the other Mad Max movies?

            • eric
              Posted April 6, 2016 at 9:38 am | Permalink

              The sand storm was pretty, average CGI but pretty. How many movies have had the heroes going through a storm, Pali?

              The Mummy. The Scorpion King. Hildago. And that’s just off the top of my head. Pretty much any time Hollywood does Arabia or a desert area, they do a “hero going through a sandstorm” scene. Encountering a sandstorm in a desert is not exactly a rare gem of cinematic novelty.

              Re: Fury Road. I’m a sci-fi and fantasy fan and I found it disappointing. A few parts captured the crazy over-the-top Australian take of the first series, but in general I thought it was trying to be too serious. If you’re going to do a post-apocalyptic masquerade ball, own that. If you want to do a serious sci-fi story about the dangers of environmental degradation, do that. But a serious sci-fi story about the dangers of environmental degradation told through a post-apocalyptic masquerade ball…doesn’t work that well. At least not for me. I’m happy to accept that the majority of viewers and critics disagree with me about the movie.

            • pali
              Posted April 7, 2016 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

              I never claimed it was original or particularly deep, though I do think there was more depth to it and its characters than you give it credit for. Regardless, I’m not going to try to convince you. My original point was “Maybe you should give it another shot”, not “you can’t possibly dislike this movie, I’ll change your mind!”

              • Posted April 8, 2016 at 5:52 am | Permalink

                to claim I should give it another shot seems to indicate that you are indeed trying to convince me.

      • Posted April 5, 2016 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

        Excuse me, but I have seen Fury Road, okay? What makes you think otherwise?

        And I’m comfortable with my opinion that it’s tripe. As Hitchens said, my own opinion is enough for me, and if you don’t like it, take a number, get in line, and kiss my . . .

        • Pali
          Posted April 5, 2016 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

          Apologies, I could’ve sworn I recalled you saying that you hadn’t. I phrased my complaint as a conditional on purpose – since you have seen it, clearly it does not apply in your case.

    • Vaal
      Posted April 6, 2016 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

      “Fury Road was a piece of crap.”

      I disagree. I finally saw it recently and though explosions and wall-to-wall action makes me roll my eyes and look for a good book, I though Fury Road was f#cking brilliant! The creativity, craft, cinematography on display were riveting.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 6, 2016 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

        The non stop action gave me no relief. I didn’t like how that felt.

      • Posted April 7, 2016 at 5:50 am | Permalink

        why were these things riveting to you? Were you already a fan of the genre?

  26. Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    High quality drama doesn’t have to be made in the USA, though. Mike Leigh’s films (just one example) are monster. Americans are at liberty to watch these.

  27. James Walker
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    I’ll admit that I have a soft spot for scifi and superhero movies, but I find that story, characters and even acting are increasingly being sacrificed in favour of flashy effects (a notable recent exception being The Dark Knight, thanks mainly to Heath Ledger). These days I rarely go to the theatre for that kind of movie, reserving them instead for long plane rides, although I often end up turning them off 30 minutes in. Friends talked me into seeing two such movies lately, the new Star Wars and Deadpool, but I was disappointed in both.

    I still like to go to the theatre for “real” films because it’s just not the same as watching it at home, no matter how big your TV is. Thanks to Jerry’s recommendation on this site, I went to see “45 Years” at the theatre. I remember what a difference it made to see “Rear Window” in the theatre with an audience after only having seen it on TV/video before.

    • colnago80
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      The good folks at the UCLA film school have recast Rear Window, along with a number of other Hitchcock films in HD. It looks absolutely great in wide screen (16/9) and refurbished color. A number of Humphrey Bogart movies have also been recast in HD and even the black and whites are sharp.

      Prof. Coyne mentioned Twelve Angry Men which is also available in HD, although still in 4/3 aspect ratio.

    • eric
      Posted April 6, 2016 at 9:41 am | Permalink

      Ledger was spectacular as the Joker. That’s a character that’s really hard to move away from the cartoonishness, but he sold it. He is missed. 😦

      • Geoffrey Howe
        Posted April 6, 2016 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

        Honestly, while I think the Dark Knight Joker was a great characters, moving away from the cartoonishness meant that he stopped being the Joker. Part of what makes the Joker enjoyable, to me at least, is the juxtaposition of the cartoonishness with the sociopathy.

        It’s murdering someone with an acid filled squirt flower, with the Joker laughing his head off at the horrific death cries of his victim that makes him so goddamn creepy.

        Heath Ledger just turned the Joker into a serial killer. A really good, really enjoyable serial killer, but it just wasn’t the Joker. There was very little of that Joker being ‘silly’. And if the character isn’t being simultaneously silly and horrifying, then it’s not the Joker.

  28. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    I cannot argue that movies have shifted toward the big epic sci fi/ animated genre, but don’t forget that the movies of old are still being made as movies or series on television and NetFlix, and so on.

  29. Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    This isn’t difficult to understand. TVs have become big and cheap, and resolution is competitive with smaller theaters. Anyone with a bit of money can have a sound system competitive with theaters. Also, 3D.

    So the only movies that benefit from the really big screen are the ones that have something visually special.

    As for teenagers, I suspect that teenage boys don’t want to see a serious adult themed downer movie on a date, and teenage girls mostly just want to be invited. Perhaps this is sexist, but I know quite a few females who aren’t at all interested in explosion movies, but will go if invited.

    • Kevin
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

      I want to see more heroines. I like traditional heroines like Juliet and Elizabeth (P&P) but I also like Katniss and Rey (SW).

      My two boys are not as attracted to heroines, but maybe girls will be and they will start to demand more of them in action type movies.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

        When I was a kid, I had Wonder Woman, the Bionic Woman and Pepper from Policewoman.

        You can tell it was the 70s because the needed to put “woman” in their names but at that time, they were the few females that didn’t just scream when bad things happened. I remember my mother lamenting such women on screen, of which there were many!

        • colnago80
          Posted April 5, 2016 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

          The queen of scream, Jaime Leigh Curtis.

        • eric
          Posted April 6, 2016 at 9:42 am | Permalink

          Laverne and Shirley! 🙂

      • Posted April 5, 2016 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

        Have you seen The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo?

    • Posted April 6, 2016 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      When I was young and someone invited me to a movie, I admit the movie didn’t matter whatsoever.

  30. Skip
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    What do you consider to be “Hollywood” and what criteria makes a movie a “Hollywood movie”?

  31. Cameron
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    I for one am not ashamed of my preference for big explosion movies. That’s the sole why I go to the movies. Why on earth would anyone go someplace designed to excite the senses only to sit and watch a nice complicated plot that isn’t improved/facilitated by the theatre environment? If I want my intellect tickled I’ll watch it at home. To be sure, there are examples that sit straddle the line between exciting and intelligent, but they are far and few between as they always have been.

    • Paul S
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      I agree. When I go to the theater I want a cinematic experience. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want my intellect tickled or that I need explosions, but there has to be some draw for the big screen experience to get me to the theater and more often than not it’s big budget action that provides that experience. Direction, cinematography, non-dialog acting, complex sets can all add to that experience but those are getting harder to find.

    • Posted April 5, 2016 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

      It’s better to watch many good movies on a big rather than a small screen, for, at least for me, you get far more immersed in the experience watching it on a big screen in a darkened room, when the environment disappears.

  32. Paul S
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    All movies are fantasy, even movies that highlight true events like Spotlight are products of writers, director and actors. It isn’t superhero action or stirring social commentary that make a movie great, unfortunately it seems Hollywood believes it’s the formula instead of the presentation and we wind up with sequels, re-makes and genre formulas. To Kill a Mockingbird and 12 Angry Men are great movies but I dare you to sit through Shakedown or The Juror. Courtroom drama does not a great movie make.
    When Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Wyler’s Ben-Hur and Ang Lee’s Life of Pi all win for best director there’s a serious lowering of the talent bar.
    I guess it’s like evolution, it doesn’t have to be great, just good enough.

    • Posted April 5, 2016 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      Lots of different kinds of movies are being made. The recent winner for best picture had no explosions and little action.

      It is silly to characterize the hundreds of theatrical releases per year as all belonging to the comic book genre occupied by a dozen or so high budget releases.

      I also think it is silly to assert that no quiet and thoughtful movies are being made. That just means someone isn’t looking for them.

    • colnago80
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

      Both Shakedown and The Juror god mediocre ratings of less then 6 from IMDB.

    • colnago80
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

      Anatomy of a Murder wasn’t bad. A good performance by Jimmy Stewart.

  33. Richard S
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    There are so many excellent European movies available, not to mention European TV dramas which are even better, that I gave up on watching American movies and TV a long time ago. Tiny Denmark runs rings around what’s produced in the US. Unfortunately, European films and TV dramas usually aren’t released in the US as evidently Americans won’t watch anything with subtitles. With a few of them American studios buy and rights and produce inferior knockoffs.

  34. Kevin
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Movies are like traveling. You bring to them what you have. If you do not bring anything, do not be surprised to be disappointed.

    Opera, which I see a lot of, is remarkably taxing. Many operas are obviously complex on many levels, but you have to participate with the performance in order to get more out of it. No one would suggest opera is low-art, but it can be extremely boring compared to watching an ostensibly mindless sci-fy flick.

  35. Jerry Tarone
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    There are a lot of good books, an incredible variety. The problem is finding them through the vast number of published works. Every country has their own favoured ‘classic’ authors, classic because they are dead. Edger Allen Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, two classic authors both produced strange books, similar to Stephen King who is panned by many for writing popular fiction. I love most of King’s work and I think his books will become classics. After he dies, assuming his deal with Satan (to write bestselling books) allows him to die.

    Is the Hobbit a classic? Or Lord of the Rings trilogy? They have been emulated and copied by thousands of authors since. One of my favourite fantasy writers is a Canadian, Guy Gavriel Kay, who writes every well as good as Tolkein, and I’d suggest a damn sight better. His books are beautifully written.

    I enjoy a good movie but I prefer a certain type usually science fiction. I enjoy a good story, be it from a book, a movie or TV show.

    Some of my most enjoyable movies and shows have been animations and Japanese animes.
    Totoro, Wolf Children, Up, Wall-E, Ghost in the Shell series and movies, Ponyo, Grave of the Fireflies, My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away.
    Most of Studio Ghibli’s work.

    Unfortunately most anime is targetted to horny teenagers (and old men and salary men) with needless fanservice, crotch shots and bouncing boobies. But they also have the occasional series that is different, that tells a good but unusual story about people.

    My two all time favourite TV shows are on now and are animations, Adventure Time and Rick and Morty. Two very different shows with very different humour. Rick and Morty is a “high concept science fiction rigmarole” that isn’t going to make you smarter, but will probably provide entertainment as Rick, Morty’s grandpa takes Morty on adventures through space using a spaceship built out of garbage, and a portal gun that can take them to any universe. It’s a parody of other science fiction shows. Adventure time looks like a cartoon for children. My daughter recommended it. I resisted, seeing it as a poorly drawn children’s cartoon, and for the first season it pretty much is. But Adventure Time becomes so much more than a show for children. It is a complex show in many ways with a rich and very sad background. It has a way of turning brutally sad episodes humorous. The artwork (backgrounds/scenery) is better than any other American series I’ve seen, although I haven’t watched any for a while. The story is about a boy, one of the last humans in the world and a magic dog who are living after the apocalypse. It sounds absurd, but it’s not. At least once you get past the first season.

    The stories in Adventure Time are about people and how their lives effect each other. I’m often amazed at the depth of this 15 minute TV show. It’s often silly. Not matter what I’m feeling like when I watch it, It never fails to put a smile on my face.

    Last night I fished out my DVD set Band of Brothers so I can begin watching tonight.
    That reminds of Saving Private Ryan, and I’ve been watching the British series Sharpe, an English commoner in the 95 Rifles in the early 1800’s.

    I think we are in the golden age of television, movies and books. We’ve never had so much choice. The problem is separating the wheat from the chaff.

    • Posted April 5, 2016 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

      With such an abundance available, choices are based on individual preference: my “wheat” may be your “chaff”, or vice versa. And, what one chooses to watch today may not be desirable to watch tomorrow. There are so many options. Some of the movies made in the past are still entertaining by modern standards. Others are cause embarrassment to think we once thought them great.

      • Jerry Tarone
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

        Oh absolutely. There are classics in just about every genre, and not everyone likes the same thing. As you say, the problem is not just finding quality, but quality in the type of material we enjoy. Not everybody agrees on quality either. I have pretty eclectic tastes myself, I’ll read most kinds of fiction. My spouse prefers mostly mysteries. To each their own.

        As you say my choices have changed.
        I really liked Star Wars when it first came out, and now much of it looks silly and hokey. I may read science fiction for two years, then western, horror, fantasy and a novel about star crossed lovers.

        Our options are going to increase even more. A billion and a half Chinese are going to create a huge number of books, movies and TV. We’ve started seeing some good Chinese authors being translated, like The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin.

    • barn owl
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

      I second the recommendation of Studio Ghibli. I’ve loved every Miyazaki film I’ve seen so far, especially Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. I also enjoyed Satoshi Kon’s films Paprika and Tokyo Godfathers.

      There are a lot of things I enjoy that others would likely judge as infantile, juvenile, immature, etc. After a long day teaching or doing research, I sometimes feel as if most of my cerebral cortex and both hippocampi have been sucked out of my skull by students, or by Excel and the image analysis software. I really don’t have the cognitive horsepower for anything more complex than preparing dinner, watering the garden, walking the dogs, and then knitting or coloring or doodling while listening to a Discworld or crime fiction audiobook. Perhaps this is a sign of limited intelligence, or maybe I just know how to relax and chill after work.

      To me, infantilization is not about what people wear, eat, read, or watch; nor is it about embracing or avoiding aspects of popular culture – it’s about how you behave and treat other people. Petulant whining about minor inconveniences and disappointments, egocentric thinking, magical thinking, and self-involvement are all infantile behaviors, and potentially quite damaging.

  36. colnago80
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    “12 Angry Men,” which I’m sure wouldn’t get made today.

    As I understand it, it almost didn’t get made in 1957. Henry Fonda had to put his reputation on the line to get it approved. A superb set of performance by some of the best character actors in Hollywood.

  37. reginaldselkirk
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    … by watching people live their normal, difficult lives, and stepping into their shoes.

    Why didn’t you say so? Clearly you meant “good movies like Eat, Pray, Love.

  38. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Even some blockbusters are more literary than others in ways mass audiences don’t often seem to notice.

    “Planet of the Apes” launched a mediocre franchise, but the original was a clever humanist parody on fundamentalism and creationism.

    There’s a genuine literary quality to “Harry Potter”, but I can’t say the same for the “Twilight” series.

    “Ben-Hur” is a great film that revived the market for religious movies that has slid wayyyy down hill.

    etc. etc. etc.

    PS Richard Dawkins seems to share Stephen Fry’s aversion to baseball hats, or perhaps in RD’s case it’s just wearing them backwards.

    • colnago80
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

      Cycling caps are even worse.

    • eric
      Posted April 6, 2016 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      Lucas wrote Star Wars to intentionally follow Joseph Campbell’s archetypal myth structure, with Luke as the ‘hero of a thousand faces.’ IIRC he was actually one of Campbell’s students in college, when he started formulating the plot of Star Wars, so we’re basically looking at a collegiate applied literary analysis assignment making it big.

  39. Wunold
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    You just have to look beyond Hollywood in particular and America in general.

    Here in Europe/Germany we have film festivals like the Cannes Film Festival, the Berlinale, and the Fantasy Filmfest whose programs have great movies from all over the world. Most major cities have movie theatres specialized on non-mainstream films.

    Don’t you have comparable festivals or cinemas in the U.S. so you could just ignore the Hollywood cacophony?

    That said, one can be a cineaste and still enjoy a braindead action extravaganza from time to time. 🙂

    • rickflick
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

      “Don’t you have comparable festivals or cinemas in the U.S…”

      Yes, we do. They are not widely distributed though. The theaters are held by the corporations which book the big studios pretty much exclusively. If you live in a small town, you might be out of luck. Perhaps, now, with the diversification of media, many of them will become more widely seen. My local library system, fortunately for me, has many films which are not widely known on DVD.

    • eric
      Posted April 6, 2016 at 9:54 am | Permalink

      OTOH, the Europe/Germany film industry also gave the world Uwe Boll, and Germany’s subsidizing of local movie-making is pretty much the only thing propping up his continued movie-making career. You really should apologize for that; he’s as bad as anything the US has produced. 🙂

      • Posted April 6, 2016 at 10:48 am | Permalink

        Unfortunately, there are many European movie producers who think that if a movie is boring and the average viewer regrets watching it, it must be high art and will be appreciated by future generations.

  40. Nate
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Have hope. Take a look at season two of Inside Amy Schumer. She does a full episode of her sketch comedy series to do a parody of 12 Angry Men. This is a break out female comedian doing her second season of television ever, and she has the courage to do a black and white parody of a movie she couldn’t have expected a third of her audience to have even heard about? That’s bold. What’s more- in the episode 12 Angry Men are arguing to determine if she, an average looking woman by Hollywood standards, is “hot” enough for TV. Self deprecation magnified 100 fold. Agreeing with a lot of commenters- TV is where it’s at for the good stuff.

  41. J. Quinton
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    There are movie theaters you can go to that don’t show blockbusters.

    In Philly there’s The Ritz (I think) where my more intellectual friends/gfs would see movies with more substance.

    I remember I saw The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo there. The original one, where I had to read the subtitles because none of it was in English (though I’m used to that, having been watching Dragonball Z since 93). Maybe a year later the Americanized version came out and was more blockbustery than the original.

    I was dating an economics professor at the time so those were the type of movies we’d see when we went out; if I wanted to see a blockbuster she would not be going with me (though she did find Inception interesting).

    Of course, I love comic book movies because I was a huge comic book (and anime!) fanboy growing up.

  42. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    In the same way, I’d argue that people who limit their reading to detective novels or the Harry Potter series are missing something…

    May I respectfully suggest that people who limit their TV viewing to the evening news might also be missing something? There are any number of excellent TV shows focused not on explosions or superheroes, but on people living their lives, sometimes in extraordinary circumstances.

    A few current and recent examples that come to mind include “The Americans”, “Breaking Bad” (and its spinoff “Better Call Saul”), “The Good Wife”, “Fargo”, “American Crime”, and if you’re OK with elements of the fantastic, “Battlestar Galactica”, “Invasion”, “The Walking Dead”, even “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. There’s serious, thoughtful human drama in all of these shows, of the sort you find sadly lacking in the movies. So why not look beyond “60 Minutes” and see what’s out there?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

      I’m glad you included Buffy. I thought the way they handled the death of her mother was so moving that it gives me goosebumps. And I’m a hard-assed analytical type who frequently describes herself as “dead inside” to the more emotional (because I know they’re thinking it).

      I want to watch The Americans but with all the good shows, it’s hard to commit to a new series. I’m getting caught up on Crossing Lines after Canadian networks didn’t pick it up (but Netflix did).

      Speaking of Netflix, I watched a series I really liked called Occupied. It’s a Norwegian series and I was surprised to discover a lot of people I worked with also saw the series and liked it. I hope they bring out a second season — things were really heating up at the end! Of course, with sub-titles, I get so caught up in listening to the language to hear how things are pronounced that I sometimes miss the content. I do the same when talking with people with accents I’m trying to place. It’s my gift, my curse. 😉

  43. Jonathan Dore
    Posted April 6, 2016 at 2:47 am | Permalink

    It’s hard for anyone under 50 to remember, but before the great watershed moment of the first Star Wars film in 1977, which fundamentally reoriented the industry, film — even the mainstream commercial product of Hollywood — used to be considered a medium primarily for adults. Films for children used to be a distinct genre, not part of the mainstream, and relatively few in number. Now it’s a medium primarily aimed at teenagers, and it’s the adult fare that has become more and more the niche market, pushed onto the small screens, for shorter runs, in the multiplexes we were promised would mean there’d be more screen time for *everything* (but which, when push came to shove, just meant there were enough screens to show this week’s blockbuster on three or four of them simultaneously).

    There’s another complicating factor, which is the increasing extent to which intelligent people in their 30s and 40s are now quite unembarrassed about continuing to consume film and literature aimed at teenagers. In this, it simply mirrors what’s already happened in music. To me, part of the excitement of growing up was being able to get to grips with the profound rewards of reading George Eliot and listening to Beethoven. Today, many people just a decade or two younger consider Marvel comics and The Smiths a perfectly acceptable substitute, and talk about them as if they are cultural productions on the same level. I find that profoundly worrying.

    • Richard
      Posted April 6, 2016 at 7:52 am | Permalink

      And I thought it was just me being snobbish… 🙂

      I’m with you on this one: I find it puzzling that people who are supposedly adults unashamedly read Marvel comics, and even collect them as though they were precious objects. I read them for a short while (when I was about ten!), then moved on to more demanding fare. As Penny says in ‘The Big Bang Theory’: “My God, you are grown men. How can you waste your lives with these stupid toys and costumes and comic books and now that?”.

      • Linn
        Posted April 6, 2016 at 10:33 am | Permalink

        I’m tempted to post one of my comments from the Stephen Fry thread, but I suppose simply copying your own comments will be against the rules so I’ll make a new one.

        Have you ever watched sports, read anything that was not science or watched a fictional movie? Congratulations, your are just as “childish” as people reading comic books. After all, as a grown man you should spend your time with warfare or spreading your seed, not wasting your time with silly entertainment. 🙂

        I’m sure plenty of older religious people are just as upset at today’s youth. All those grown men (no one cares about what women do luckily) that are skipping church, listening to metal and reading comic books. If only they would start reading serious literature like the Bible, things would be better.

        People alway look back on the past with rose coloured glasses.
        Oh, if only great movies like “The wasp woman” or “Attack of the crab monsters” were still being produced (google them).

        Newsflash, people watched silly movies in the past as well, they might hve been looked down upon for watching them, but they were also admonished for such horrible things like dancing and listening to rock.

        When it comes to superheroes and comic books, well, take a look at ancient mythology. Thor wasn’t created now, he was created a long time ago. And yes, he dressed up as a bride and killed a party full of people to get his hammer back. He was a damn superhero and people were proud to worship him back then. How is people enjoying stories about superheroes anything new?

        I’m just glad most people in this thread dare to express their fondness for fictional movies and books. If I would be forced to only watch documentaries about east-european prostitution or read Nietzche for the rest of my life, I would kill myself.

        • Jonathan Dore
          Posted April 6, 2016 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

          Wow — way to straw-man. Ok, let’s take a look:

          “Have you ever watched sports, read anything that was not science or watched a fictional movie? Congratulations, your are just as “childish” as people reading comic books. After all, as a grown man you should spend your time with warfare or spreading your seed, not wasting your time with silly entertainment.”

          So, according to you, everything that is not about immediate survival is on exactly the same level of value, and it’s impossible to differentiate meaningfully between them. Do you actually believe that?

          “I’m sure plenty of older religious people are just as upset at today’s youth. All those grown men (no one cares about what women do luckily) that are skipping church, listening to metal and reading comic books. If only they would start reading serious literature like the Bible, things would be better.”

          I don’t even know what point you think you’re making here. That my argument might be made by religious people (using different examples) so is therefore invalid?

          “People alway look back on the past with rose coloured glasses. “Oh, if only great movies like “The wasp woman” or “Attack of the crab monsters” were still being produced (google them). Newsflash, people watched silly movies in the past as well, they might hve been looked down upon for watching them, but they were also admonished for such horrible things like dancing and listening to rock.”

          Pure trolling. What part of what I said could you interpret as claiming that there were no dumb movies before 1977?

          “When it comes to superheroes and comic books, well, take a look at ancient mythology. Thor wasn’t created now, he was created a long time ago. And yes, he dressed up as a bride and killed a party full of people to get his hammer back. He was a damn superhero and people were proud to worship him back then. How is people enjoying stories about superheroes anything new?”

          Comic books aren’t mythology, they’re a commercial product. But even if they were pure expressions of mythology, why would that make them any better? Being myths and being old aren’t a guarantee of profundity or worth — myths are simply the best archetypes that pre-literate societies could come up with to convey social messages. “Middlemarch” or “Bleak House” or “War and Peace” are far greater productions of human imagination and intellect than any ancient myth.

          “If I would be forced to only watch documentaries about east-european prostitution or read Nietzche for the rest of my life, I would kill myself.”

          So much straw-mannery packed into one sentence. OK:
          1. “Forced” — who’d be doing this forcing then?
          2. “Documentaries about east-european prostitution” — is that your characterization of all non-comic-book-based movies? So there’s nothing in between that and Ironman then?
          3. “read Nietzche” — again, your caricature of any reading matter that isn’t a comic book. You should probably read more.

          • Linn
            Posted April 7, 2016 at 3:26 am | Permalink

            Sorry for the straw men. I tried to put in a smiley there so I wouldn’t seem too angry or serious, obviously I failed at that.

            Are you sure those people reading comic books are only reading comic books? They could be reading philosophy and science as well, but use comic books to relax sometimes. I don’t see what’s worrisome about people reading stuff that they find fun. If everyone read comic books instead of going to work or reading about how the world works, then yes, I agree that it would be worrisome.

            I suppose I’m just sick and tired of people thinking that their form of entertainment makes them so much better than everyone else. As long as someone contributes to society and help those around them, I don’t care whether they sit at home jacking off to Sponge Bob or a game of basketball.

            It truly did sound to me that you were glorifying past days by claiming that movies were for adults back then. Well, then clearly, adults liked to watch movies about Godzilla and wasp women. I don’t see anything wrong with that either.

            If superhero movies were the only ones being made, I would be protesting as hard as you. But luckily there are movies out there for everyone. I like variety. Just on one of my computers I have a movie about Chile in the 70s, a Russian drama/homoerotic movie, japanese movies, cartoons, an movie about the Iraq war, and yes, Ironman and similar movies. If those cartoons and Ironman makes me less of an adult or stupid, then so be it.

            And that last sentence in my previous post were examples. I could have used something else as an example if using Nietzsche bother you. I love those non-fictional books by Carl Sagan so I can use him as an example and say that I would never want to read only that type of literature either.

            And well, I don’t know who would be doing the forcing, We would probably have to force ourselves, to prevent others from viewing us as stupid and childish (which might prevent us from getting a job or a loan for instance).

            About the whole grown man thing, it was in response to Richard using a quote from Big bang theory (which is also a really silly/fun show by the way).
            To me, it’s the same as using the expression “real men” and believe me, there are a lot of opinions out there on what real men ought to be doing.
            Most of those suggestions on what constitutes a real man doesn’t involve “high brow” literature. Historically I think it has more often involved suggestions about joining the army or cutting your hair or “stop reading those darn philosophy books and go outside”. :p

            I’ll end it here. Sorry again. I’ll go back to reading posts about the important stuff now, instead of discussing hobbies.
            And sorry to Jerry for writing such a long post again. I just felt I had to clarfy my points.

        • Richard
          Posted April 7, 2016 at 6:26 am | Permalink

          Wow, did I ever pull your chain! 🙂

          Actually, I have a wide range of interests – everything from archery to microscopy to naval history to astronomy to mythology to Chinese cooking. Sport doesn’t interest me much (though I was fascinated by sumo when Channel 4 in the UK broadcast it in the early nineties, so much so that when in Japan a few years later I was able to discuss it in a chance conversation with someone in Ueno Park in Tokyo – he was amazed that I knew the names of the wrestlers, like Chiyonofuji, Terao and Akinoshima).

          I have never seen ‘The Wasp Woman’, but ‘Attack of the Crab Monsters’ was one of those wonderful old movies, like ‘Santa Claus Conquers The Martians’, which are good because they are so bad (e.g. “That proves that the crab is negatively charged!”). And one of my favourites is ‘Them!’.

          Yes, I also like ‘The Big Bang Theory’ – it’s funny – even if I don’t get nerd/geek culture.

          My point was that I no longer read the things that I did when I was a child – I no longer read the ‘Janet and John’ books, or the ‘Playhour’ comic, that I did when I was five years old. Just as there are books that I thought were wonderful when I was twelve (e.g. ‘Doc’ Smith’s ‘Galactic Patrol’), but now know that (for all their entertainment value) are not the best things ever written.

          So yes, I do find it mystifying that grown men (or women) would spend their time on things that are meant for kids. As the late comedienne Linda Smith said (*) on the subject of adults reading the ‘Harry Potter’ books: “Yes, it’s great that these books are getting the kids reading; but come on, people, there are a million good books in the world, try reading some of those”. (*) Quoted from memory.

          Now, I’m not claiming any intellectual superiority here, that I limit my reading to Proust, or Tolstoy, or Joyce, or whatever – but I what I read is intended for adults, not children or teenagers.

          • Linn
            Posted April 7, 2016 at 7:47 am | Permalink

            Hehe. You didn’t yank anything. I’m just calmly disagreeing with you. Clearly I need to put in more Smiley’s since everyone thinks I’m frothing at the mouth here. 🙂

            I’m unsure of where the border between childish and adult media goes. I like to watch old cartoons like Aladdin and The sword in the stone around Christmas (it’s like a tradition). Is that something adults should refrain from? I have watched the harry potter movies and lord of the rings as well so I suppose I’m already screwed in the adult department despite all my years of education and interest in science.

            I don’t really get why for instance superhero movies would be considered aimed at children. I would never let my 3 year old nephew watch The dark knight with me. I wouldn’t let a 10 year old watch it either. I wouldn’t let them read some of the more violent comic books either (I don’t read comics so I can’t come with any examples, but I think there are some violent ones out there).

            I may be strange but I think movies/literature with violence in it is aimed at adults. So yes, something with the title “Little Claire’s first day at school” is most likely aimed at children (though I can imagine some creepy porn movies would have that title too), but a movie where little Claire goes on a rampage and kills a 1000 people to save the world is not considered a kids movie in my view. Maybe this is what is causing our disagreement. 🙂

            I am for instance in strong disagreement with people who think games like GTA are kids games. The games have an age limit for a reason people. They are NOT meant for kids. I am shocked that anyone would let their kids play that.

            Anyhow, clearly a lot of adults like superheroes. When going to watch the newest marvel movie with my mom (yes my 64 year old mom loves sci-fi, superhero stuff and action movies), all the people in the theatre are adults. I don’t think I’ve seen a single kid on any of those movies. If those movies were meant for kids, then clearly marketing went wrong somewhere.

            Of course, many people liking something doesn’t make it right. I’m just trying to show that superhero movies and the like actually are being aimed at adults too, and that adults have always enjoyed silly movies, cartoons and action flicks. It’s not something new.

            And as long as it doesn’t have a negative effect on their ability to function, makes them hurt people or involves truth claims (like imagining that people really can climb on walls like Spiderman), people should mind their own business.
            Once comic book geeks start murdering people in the name of Spiderman or denies their children vaccines because they think their kids have superpowers, yes, then I will complain.

            • Richard
              Posted April 7, 2016 at 11:16 am | Permalink

              I was really agreeing with Jonathon’s remark:

              “To me, part of the excitement of growing up was being able to get to grips with the profound rewards of reading George Eliot and listening to Beethoven. Today, many people just a decade or two younger consider Marvel comics and The Smiths a perfectly acceptable substitute, and talk about them as if they are cultural productions on the same level. I find that profoundly worrying.”

              I didn’t actually mention superhero movies, and don’t have a great problem with them – I find a lot of them to be entertaining – I just wish that Hollywood would devote the same resources to more good SF movies. 😦

              Perhaps I am being a “cultural elitist”, but I like a SF film to have a good plot that’s not full of holes through which one could fly a Bussard ramjet, some scientific plausibility, good dialogue, good acting (I don’t care whether that’s by established stars or newcomers), a good soundtrack, and a structure to the film that makes sense (*). Good special effects are a bonus (but not essential, re. my earlier remarks about ‘Gattaca’). Action is fine so long as it doesn’t dominate the film.

              My all-time favourite film is ‘Aliens’, which comes pretty close to perfection by my criteria. What I would like to see is film adaptations of novels such as Niven’s ‘Protector’ or ‘Ringworld’ – the technology is advanced enough now (as ‘Avatar’ showed) that they would be visually stunning, and the source material should make for an intelligent film. If you want a monster movie, ‘The Legacy of Hereot’ would make a good one.

              (*) I found the Star Wars prequel films to have little structure – they just seemed to meander from one plot point to another.

              —-

              It’s really the matter of comics that I don’t understand: they seem to fall between two stools, that of literature and movies. There’s not enough text in them to allow the depth of exposition or introspection possible in a novel, yet a few drawn frames (*) cannot convey expression or body language, or tone of voice, in the same way that a live (or motion-capture!) actor can. Just imagine Rutger Hauer’s “tears in rain” speech put into a comic – I just can’t see how it could possibly be as moving. So I don’t see what adults can get from them.

              (*) If I want to see pictures accompanying the words of a novel, well that’s what my imagination is for (“On your imaginary forces work”).

              • Linn
                Posted April 7, 2016 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

                Thats fine. 🙂 Some of my comments were directed at the superhero movies remark by Stephen Fry that started this whole discussion.

                I don’t read comics either. I actually dislike book covers that shows the characters in the book as it takes away my ability to create an image of the characters in my head.

                Love Aliens too. 🙂 In some ways it’s even better than the first movie. Also loved Gattaca. I always cry at the end of that movie. I must admit that I take to tears very easily though. I watched an episode of Top chef recently where they were catering a gay/lesbian mass wedding. I cried the whole way through. Pretty pathetic. 😛

                I also hope that there will be a variation in movies shown in the future. When it comes to games for instance, I love isometric, turn based RPGs and they are sadly becoming somewhat less common nowadays so I can understand the feeling of seeing your favourite genre being forgotten and replaced by more popular ones. I still think that there are more than enough variety out there for everyone as of yet. We just have to look more carefully for it.

                I will end this discussion now before I’m thrown out of this place for my long, mediocre posts. 😛
                I will reiterate that I just saw this as a fun discussion. My annoyance at the “snobbery” of you and Jonathan is no higher than my annoyance during discussions with my dad who thinks only movies that’s shown on our (extremely boring) state sponsored TV channel are worth watching.
                So it’s all good. Thanks for the discussion:)

          • Linn
            Posted April 7, 2016 at 8:38 am | Permalink

            Just to quickly clarify, I’m not saying that those comic books or superhero movies are great examples of writing. I certainly don’t think so. I just don’t see how going to see a silly and fun movie or reading a comic book reflects negatively on you as a person or means you’re not an adult.

    • eric
      Posted April 6, 2016 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      It’s hard for anyone under 50 to remember, but before the great watershed moment of the first Star Wars film in 1977, which fundamentally reoriented the industry, film — even the mainstream commercial product of Hollywood — used to be considered a medium primarily for adults.

      Adults who liked Godzilla and Three Stooges so much that the Three Stooge franchise alone produced 190 short films and 30 standard long ones between the mid 30s and mid 50s. In contrast the Godzilla franchise “only” produced 28 films during the 50s-70s. Note that the first talking movie was produced in 1927, so the Stooges’ popularity really drives home the point that the movie industry has always, since its very inception included a large component of lowbrow, repetitive, sequel-production. Its not new. It wasn’t caused by Star Wars, or Marvel’s tying together loads of superhero movies, nor can anyone look at the historical record and seriously claim its a result of change in modern tastes. Because its always been there. Almost literally the moment we started making films, the public was asking ‘can you make another one with the same fart jokes told by the same characters’ and Hollywood was answering ‘sure, we’ll scrape something together on short notice if you’ll fill the seats.’

      • eric
        Posted April 6, 2016 at 10:11 am | Permalink

        As a follow-up, just read this. Serial ‘unreal action’ schlock has always been part of the film industry. Even going back to the silent era.

        • Linn
          Posted April 6, 2016 at 10:36 am | Permalink

          Saw your reply just after I posted mine. You made the same point I tried to make with examples like “The wasp woman” and “Attack of the crab monsters”, you only made it better. 🙂

      • Jonathan Dore
        Posted April 6, 2016 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

        Not sure what point you think you’re proving Eric. That dumb movies have existed from the start and have always been made? That’s trivially obvious. Now read again the paragraph from which you copied and pasted my first sentence, and tell me how exactly your post invalidates the point I make there?

        • darrelle
          Posted April 7, 2016 at 6:53 am | Permalink

          Heavily paraphrasing, did you not say that juvenile films were a small part of the film industry prior to Star Wars and then became a major part of the industry afterwards?

          If not could you please clarify?

          If that is more or less what you meant to convey then I think you can interpret eric’s comment as meaning that he doesn’t agree that juvenile films were only a minor part of the film industry prior to Star Wars and an explanation of why he disagrees. It seems directly on point to me, but then I may be misunderstanding your original comment in the same way that eric did.

  44. Posted April 6, 2016 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    The Days of Yore were not better; sophisticated storytelling did not die out. On the contrary, it flourishes – on smaller screens. Take “Broadchurch”: it’s slow motion storytelling in a small town where a crime has happened, which is little more than backdrop to kick the story into gear. It’s not a freak. Many a television episode features outstanding writing and ideas, even shows that have otherwise cheesy premises. There is now space in the series format that allows writers to explore stories in new ways – sometimes in more depth, sometimes with more characters, sometimes to experiment from episode to episode. Contrary to the complaint in the quotation, the franchise-approach is not the problem, but the solution; though it has a flipside. The big movie has become a big, storytelling poster ad for all the other interesting things and draws people in. Due to the classification into two types of film (one for the cinema and one for TV), it seems like it went worse, but that is not really the case.

    One problem is that studios rely too much on name recognition of franchises. Another problem that underlies it all is human cognition and how exploiting it works better than trying to be too artsy: viewers and critics review works of art in a certain kind of way: genres and standards remain invisible and are accepted as part of the expectations that are set at the beginning, perhaps as part of of the suspension of disbelief. For example, people don’t expect James Bond to be overly realistic. The villains don’t need to have depth. With that out of the way, you can woo the audience with interesting locations and stunts, which show up on the “plus” side. If you try something new, people will however evaluate everything: characters, story arcs, locations, tone, setting and so on and on. And as humans are, will notice things they dislike more than things they appreciate. There is thus a inherent pressure in creative industry to play it safe as much as possible, and sneak across as many things as possible, so that the spotlight can be on the few innovative, cool, outstanding things that are different.

    Another grain of truth is that many current movies for the silver screen rely too much on mere spectacle (also thanks to 3D). A few superhero flicks, Star Wars, Jurrasic World, The Hobbit, movies by Snyder and Bay are some of the worst examples. You can enjoy them while you are in the cinema, but they don’t resonate for long. The critical question is whether people then want to fill their appetites with more of the same – bad – or dive into the franchise products in other media – bad – or if this formula is superseded by better films that represent a synergy between current series and blockbusters – good.

  45. Posted April 6, 2016 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    Terminator movies help me teach transcription termination. Unfortunately, some students still do not get it (or are not fans of action movies). On the day of truth, they say that the end of transcription comes when RNA polymerase reaches a stop codon.

  46. Geoffrey Howe
    Posted April 6, 2016 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    Focusing on movies seems a bit unfair. Take a look at the list of TV shows on Netflix, and you’ll find a lot more dramas. Part of the reason movies are becoming action schlock (not that I have a problem with action schlock) is that movies have the budget to be big action pieces, but not the length to be truly introspective character developing dramas.

    TV Shows, on the other hand, don’t have the budget to do action, but can show gradual character development over tens or even hundreds of hours.

    Different media for different genre, because each medium is better suited for a different genre.

  47. Vaal
    Posted April 6, 2016 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    Just some random additions to the thread:

    1. Fury Road: I finally just watched it with a friend and we both loved it. I’m not generally an explosions/action movie guy – I typically find too much action numbing. But the creativity in every frame in Fury Road, from production design, to the character of the action pieces, kept me riveted. This was a movie were action didn’t “serve” the story, action WAS the story – drama expressed in the language of action. I was never bored, always cracking up at how the movie managed to crank up the outrageousness, while also being beautiful to look at.

    2. On the Steven Fry comments: if you want to reliably look like a fool in the future, pontificate on matters of taste now. It’s amazing how many otherwise brilliant people in the past have truly silly-sounding quotes attached to them, once they ventured to declare what piece of art or culture was not of worth. (On a pop culture level, it’s been fun to go back and read reviews for movies like Star Wars that junk the movie for everything that it became beloved for).

    3. Superhero movies: I grew up as a comic collector, and literally used to go to bed dreaming of my favorite comics being made into movies. Now I live in a time when all of that has come true.
    And I’m officially super-hero’d out. I simply can not get excited for another super-hero movie.

    That’s not to pronounce them trash. Far from it. It’s a golden age for that genre, with many great people working really hard to make fantastic films, and often succeeding. And on that note, when people point to examples like superhero movies as evidence of infatilization, I’m not so sure this isn’t getting things backwards. Sure, in the past the superhero genre was infantile, or for kids. But it has grown up. Superheros, and super hero movies are often far more complex now, and often deal with far deeper, more philosophical themes than ever before. So rather than being a sign of an appetite for a lower form of entertainment, it seems superhero movies have been raised to meet the demand for greater complexity and depth.

    4. A personal pet peeve: Though I am as happy as anyone to take in a “pop corn” movie, I do tire of such movies being used to justify lowered standards. That is, for instance, when a movie is criticized for laziness, poor dialogue/acting/lazy plotting…basically just earmarks of a bad movie….too often I see the reply “Well, what do you expect? It’s just a movie, you are demanding too much, I just turn my brain off and enjoy…”

    This is especially used when it involves popular entertainment type movies, as if we really should never demand relatable characters, thoughtful ideas or logical plotting, or anything that actually takes some effort to put together. That, whatever shows up on screen, hey if it has explosions…good enough! And that we should forgive every bad element by turning our brain off when watching.
    No. Movies can be far richer experiences. Few people WANT characters doing obviously illogical things on screen. And when movies really show craft, where action is combined with great characters, ideas, plotting and execution, THEY are usually the most highly lauded by critics and audiences alike. The “turn off your brain” excuse tends to be raised in defense of movie-making that has failed to rise to the possibilities of the medium, where you groan during parts instead of appreciating them.

    (That’s not to say that “turn off your brain” type popcorn movies don’t or ought not exist – ones that are the equivalent of a ride or whatever. Fury Road to me was almost entirely stimulation – very artful stimulation! – but certainly not a vehicle for deep thought on my part. But I object to using the “popcorn movie” excuse too liberally for movies – as a balm to forgive all movie-making sins).


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