Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Titanic 3D: Timely or Tasteless?

            On April 15th, 1912, the RMS Titanic and 1,517 passengers sank to the bottom of the freezing North Atlantic Ocean.  The tragedy instantly made the headlines of newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic (with a few exceptions: The Christian Science Monitor’s headline that day read: Passengers Safely Moved and Steamer Titanic Taken in Tow), and has continued to be a massive source of interest to this day, eclipsing the notoriety of other disastrous voyages, like those of the Lusitania or Hindenburg.  And now, less than three weeks to the centennial of the event that has so captured the imagination of the public, I am faced with a moral quandary: Is the release of Titanic 3D an act of commemoration or exploitation?
            On the one hand, it is an area of public interest, especially as the centennial approaches.  Furthermore, the movie itself is well-regarded and made tastefully.  It doesn’t wallow in disaster footage.  At its heart, it is a love story, set aboard the Titanic.  It was released in 1997.
            I can’t believe that it’s a coincidence that the film is being re-released less than two weeks before the anniversary of the Titanic disaster, although the official website doesn’t mention it.  But even if the release date’s significance is intentional (which I assume it is), does that mean it’s exploiting the disaster, or just using the fact that it’s going to be back in the public consciousness?  If a movie is done tastefully, and represents the tragedy in a human way, is it really so bad?  And don’t you wish you could see the characters kiss… in 3D!?
            Look, I don’t hate 3D.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s just another tool that can be used to tell a story (the immersive visual world was the only thing that made Avatar watchable).  And movies that are filmed in 3D by a capable director can have a new, exciting layer added to them.  Titanic was not filmed in 3D.  The conversion process from 2D to 3D lowers the video quality, but you can charge an extra $3 or so per ticket.  This is where I draw the line on tastelessness.  The movie is set almost entirely on a boat, which makes me wonder why the 3D is even necessary (oh, right, $3 or so a ticket).  This is a case of a gimmicky use for 3D that serves no purpose to the film, and in this case it’s just shameful. 
            The sinking of the Titanic has been so romanticized in culture, that we forget that over 1,500 innocent men, women, and children DROWNED.  A way to commemorate what was, in no uncertain terms, a tragedy, is not to find the gimmickiest way to make money off of it.  If you want to see Titanic in theaters, I urge you to see the 2D version.  If for no other reason than the footage would look better.

Monday, March 26, 2012

In Defense of Adam Sandler, et al.

Like many movie-lovers, I’ve been disappointed by the string of awful movies by actors who have been historically great.  Actors like Adam Sandler (Happy Gilmore), Jim Carrey (The Truman Show), Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas), and Eddie Murphy (Trading Places).  And I’m sure anyone reading this is familiar with the immediate backlash against “Jack and Jill,” which, as of writing this, has a 3% fresh rating and 38% audience rating on rottentomatoes.com.  Like many others, my first thoughts on seeing the awful trailer were along the lines of “Why are you doing this?” and “You used to be so funny!”  After thinking for a while, I stopped blaming Adam Sandler and other actors like him for their flubs, and here’s why:

They Didn’t Make the Movie

Adam Sandler was, undoubtedly, the big draw for moviegoers to see “Jack and Jill,” and as such, he’s the name everyone associates with it.  But a quick check on imdb shows that he was, at best, minimally involved with the production outside of acting.  There were three writers, six executive producers, three producers, one co-producer,and one associate producer.  In all fairness, Sandler's name appeared twice on that list.  But the fact remains that he did not have creative control of the movie (so if you want to blame someone, blame the Director Dennis Dugan, whose imdb awards page is officially the saddest thing I’ve seen all day).  But he was still the lead actor in the movie, so that’s still his responsibility, right?  Well…

The Movie Was Awful, Regardless of Acting

Let’s look at The Wicker Man.  One of the most commented upon aspects of the gigantic flop was that of Nicolas Cage’s acting.  Honestly, it was pretty awful.  But let me ask you this: If you replaced Cage with any other actor, would it have been a good movie?   And I don’t mean “a better movie,” because a better performed version would still be shit.  Why? Because the movie as a whole is terrible. 

Should an actor try his/her best, even if the movie is terrible?  Sure.  But then again, acting is an entirely different kind of job.  As long as they get asses in seats, it doesn’t matter to their bosses whether or not they put on a great performance, because after all…

This is Their Job

We in the audience like to think of movie stars as idealistic visionaries who hold the search for truth and aesthetic beauty above such common concerns as money.  We in the audience are (for the most part) wrong.  I’m sure all actors wish that they could do nothing but prestige pieces, make only movies that they feel are cinematic achievements in excellence.  But then reality sets in because a) a majority of movies are of average or below average quality and b) the crappy movies have a better chance of success. 

Don’t believe me?  In 2009, Robin Williams had three mainstream releases.  The first was Old Dogs, in which Williams and John Travolta have take care of twins (wacky hijinks ensue, and they learn important lessons about family).  Of 106 critic reviews on rottentomatoes, only 5 were positive.  It grossed $96 million internationally.  The second film was Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian, in which he plays Teddy Roosevelt as part of an ensemble cast.  This one did better on rottentomatoes, receiving 70 positive votes to 93 negative.  It grossed $413 million internationally.  He was also in a movie called World’s Greatest Dad, an R-rated dark comedy where he plays a divorced father and failing English teacher until his son accidentally kills himself and becomes a cult icon at the school Williams teaches at.  Of the 115 critic votes on rottentomatoes, 102 were positive.  It grossed about $200,000.   The well-reviewed, risky movie earned .03% of the combined gross for the other two mainstream movies released in 2009. 

An actor’s job is to act and to get people to go to the theaters.  If they can earn more money and do both by being in a crappy movie with a larger audience, it’s not just their right, it’s the smart thing to do.  Because they can’t buy things with prestige.  So why don’t we cut the actors a break, and take a look at ourselves, because they wouldn’t keep making these shitty movies if they weren’t so damn profitable.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Series of Increasingly Improbable Events - Part 5

            When I came to, the police were already at the pub.  Most of the tables had been flipped over and several of the chairs had been smashed.  An officer was talking to the bartender and Wesley while another was talking to George, Tara, and Barry.  Everyone else had cleared out.  I pulled myself together, stood unsteadily and staggered over to my friends. 
            “And you saw him throw the first punch?” the cop asked George.
            “Yeah.”  George nodded.
            “Do you,” he started, then looked at me, “oh, you’re awake.  I need to ask if you want to press charges.”
            I swayed back and forth to offset the floor’s tilting.  “Ummm…” I said, “I think… Maybe…” 
            “Look, Officer,” Barry said, “Matthew’s not really in a position to be making any legal decisions.”
            The other officer finished talking to Wesley and the bartender and approached us.  To the other officer he said, “These guys are drunk out of their gourds, Charlie.  They claimed that this guy,” he motioned to George, “was lifting tables over his head and throwing them like he was the Hulk or something.”
            “The Thing.” George said.
            “Whatever,” the cop replied.
            From across the room, Wesley shouted, “I swear to god!  ‘E was throwin’ ‘em like they were nothing.”
            “Sure he was,” Charlie said, jotting something on a pad.
            “ ‘Ow do you explain that, then,” Wesley said pointing to a spot on the ceiling.  Everyone turned their gaze to where he was pointing and, sure enough, there was a table lodged halfway through the roof.
            “How do you explain that,” the cop asked George. 
            George took a second to think before responding, “Termites?”
            The cops looked at each other.  “Good enough for me,” the cop named Charlie said. 
            “What!” Wesley shouted, “ ‘Ow is that termites?  ‘E threw the table through the ceiling, ‘e did.  I tell you, ‘e isn’t human.”
            “I have to write something in my report, and it’s sure as hell not going to be aliens or super-strength.” 
            “Or alien super-strength,” George chipped in.
            “I think that goes without saying, George,” Tara said.
            The cop looked at George for a moment before shifting his attention to me.  “You feeling alright?  Heads all cleared up?”
            “Yeah,” I said, just wanting to be out of there. “I’m fee-”
            “Do you want to press charges, or not?” the cop clearly wanted to be out of there as much as I did.  I told him I didn’t and tried to get the slightly drunk George to follow me out, while Tara hassled with the very drunk Barry, who wasn’t making it easy. 
            “You people,” he chuckled, pointing to Tara, “You people… what was I saying?”  He belched, speckles of beer visible in the air, “That’sh righ.  I love you people.”  He hugged Tara, and fell asleep standing up.
            I won’t bore you with the details of our walk back to my apartment, as it mostly consisted of me stopping George from drawing on Barry’s face, while he half-sleep walked with one arm over  Tara’s shoulder and one over mine.  When we got back to the lobby of my apartment building (calling it a lobby is incredibly insulting to all the perfectly nice lobbies out there, but there’s no English word “dingy room with a couch that smells like old curry”), we leaned Barry up against a wall. 
            “Well,” I said, “I’m going to head up, grab a handful of aspirin and pass out.”
            “Can  I crash on your couch?” George asked.
            “Sure.” I said.
            “Well, I’m going to head home.  See you guys later.”
            We said our goodnights and started to walk off, when a loud snore reminded us that we had almost forgotten Barry.  “Umm,” George said, “Would you like us to help carry him to your car?”
            “Why would I be taking him home?”
            “I thought,” I said, “that you and Barry were together.”
            Tara laughed, “Oh, god no.  He’s just this guy that would always buy coffee from me.  I felt sorry for him, and, well, you know, the Wiccans and everything.”
            “Could you take him home?” I asked, “because George and I are in no condition to drive.”  George nodded.
            Tara shook her head.  “I actually don’t know where he lives.”
            I looked at Barry, still leaning against the wall, snoring gently.  “Fuck it.” I said, “Help me carry him upstairs George.”
            George had no trouble carrying Barry by himself, and laid him down on the floor near the couch, before flopping onto it himself.  I went to sleep thinking that things could only go up from here. 
            At an earlier point in my life, I would have assumed what happened had been a dream.  The vividness due to the headache, the nausea from one hell of a night.  But I can’t pretend it didn’t happen.  At about four a.m., I woke up.  I could see that I was in my bedroom, but everything looked like it was through a blue filter, like in that movie Traffic.  Then I teleported.  God, it was awful.
            Imagine the feeling you get when you free fall.  Now imagine the feeling you get when you’re launched upwards.  Take both of those, and combine them with rapid acceleration in every direction on a three dimensional plane.  Complete unhinging from space.  Then you come to a sudden stop.
            I came to in a vast dimly-lit room, the white metallic ceiling and walls barely visible in the distance from where I stood.  A dozen creatures formed a circle around me, obscured by shadow.  They looked stocky, like blue pro-wrestlers but with four legs.  I could hear them whispering, and, strangely (well, not more strange than being abducted by aliens, but strange for the given context), they were speaking English. 
            “It’s not ready yet,” one of them said.
            “We can’t risk letting them get it,” said another.
            “You know the Fen would never allow it,” the first shot back.
            “Just shut up and send him back,” a third suggested.
            “Fine,” the second said, “but I’m running this up the ladder.”
            “By all means,” said the first one.
            A high pitched humming reverberated in the chamber, getting louder until I had to cover my ears, louder until my eyes started watering.  Then it stopped.  I looked around.  I was back in my bed, the alarm clock ringing at 8:00 a.m.  “Fuck,” I said aloud.  “I have work today.”