The End of the B Movie! (aka The End of Quality)

Hollywood has always created both masterpieces and schlock. I have never felt that every movie produced needed to be the best possible work ever, though, if you’re going to do it, why not do your best, right? But, fine, there is a niche for cheap crap, or even expensive crap in the theaters; we used to call these B films. And rightfully, everyone involved knew it was a B film before selling or buying it.

Somehow it feels as if the movie industry has no concern, no recognition anymore for this boundary, trying to pass off B flicks as quality, oscar worthy films; it is destroying the joy of crap, for crap’s sake, and the thrill of masterpiece theater. Sure, in the past, a movie might really want to be great and it flopped, but at least you could tell someone was trying. But now there is a laziness, where, you can almost hear the director thinking, “Ah, who cares. It’s got a star. . .why worry about the quality. No one will notice.” (Think LONE RANGER for instance.) Enter ELYSIUM . .old news, but perfect to illustrate my point.

This movie in the ads, looked stellar: Can’t! Wait! Matt Damon? Jody Foster? It MUST be awesome! However the only redeemable element about this mess is how it gave the boys and me loads to discuss (read:criticize) in terms of its many distracting plot wrecks. We bonded as a family over our displeasure. It was neither a good film, or fun B Flick. And, spoiler alert, aside from being extremely derivative, and predictable, and self-righteous, here’s what we else couldn’t ignore in the film:

1. In almost two centuries into the future, The Wealthy escape to a segregated paradise in space because Earth is a polluted, starving hellhole-not just Delhi-Bad, but escape-the-planet bad. But. . .Where is the starvation? If so, how are there tons of people in every nook and cranny, but no dead bodies piling up as history proves there would be? Why does the granny peasant have a cart filled with fat swine, fresh pork on the hoof and no one is paying one lick of attention to her? No one is trying to knock the eighty year old over for the meat. (and how is granny moving the cart?) People are smeared with sweat and grime. . .implying hovels and outhouses, but there is clean running water coming from the taps. . .implying there is still an infrastructure.
2. There are still hospitals on Earth with doctors and nurses. So doctors-the wealthy class in our age- are not going to move to Elysium? Oh, they would be obsolete there. So wait, they don’t make any money on earth? Huh? Do they still have medical schools in this hellhole? Who pays for this? Structure that the plot doesn’t support.
3. the world is in chaos. But there are still many jobs that look suspiciously like the ones now-production, computing, doctoring? So is the real problem smog then? Where are the face masks? Where are the inevitable skin diseases? Oh, wait there’s a kid on crutches. I guess smog causes leg troubles.
They still have personal cars, perhaps souped up jalopies from the present age. But one guy who has an underground network of computers also has a handful of personal spaceships. So either he’s the equivalent of a modern day billionaire with a handful of Rolls Royces, in which case, why isn’t HE on Elysium? Or spaceships are accessible; if so, then why the heck are cars even still around? (And where is the gas secured in all this chaos?)
4. A group of spaceships attempts to smuggle people (dirty, broken, crazed people) into Elysium. Okaaaay? Why? The place looks sort of small. Even with the new “citizen” tattoos, where are these stowaways going to live, work, eat? Or are they hoping to quickly break into a rich house, climb into the tanning-slash-healing bed, get fixed, then hop a ride back home to Earth? It’s a little like someone trying to break into Buckingham Palace to live, and hoping no one will notice.
5. Matt, Our hero, is offered and rejects an amazing variety of life enhancing pills in the beginning, sort of like SOMA from Brave New World. But there is still yearning and distress on Earth? WTF? Are we supposed to assume Elysium is really like a resort that one aspires to instead of a separate society?
6. Our Hero, having been imprisoned many times, at some point decided to go straight, so he could save money to get to Elysium. So in this broken world, a job is more stable and financially rewarding than crime and black market? Isn’t that a little bit of why the wealthy are trying to secure their way of life in the first place: to get away from crime/criminals? How is Our Hero different from them then. . .Is he more kind because he hugs his “criminal friend”? Again, the stability of Earth doesn’t fit the movie’s premise.
7. BIG ISSUE: Robots do many human jobs, like acting as parole officers, flying planes to and from Elysium, being police officers who have legs and hands and minds that are humanoid, BUT our hero has a job screwing nuts, bolts, and pushing buttons on a dangerous radiation-filled assembly line. Weren’t humans replaced by machines on assembly lines back in Ford’s day? Yet they’ve got very human robots who could easily screw in a bolt? Or the rich schmo from Elysium who has to travel to the factory, he can’t give directions from home? From space, Jody can lock down all air travel, and summon a sleeper-agent on Earth, but this guy can’t get a production company in line from space, with or without robots?
8. There is a machine that can revamp not only human tissue, but human (and viral) DNA in mere seconds. But so far these fear-filled wealth mongerors have not come up with an effective form of birth control? What about some handy population control machines? Hey, lady, come walk over here by this sensor. Stand still a minute. Op, there you go. No more babies, for you, little lady! They can’t swing that since that is what ruined earth to begin with? And the wealthy I know are more philanthropic than anyone else I know. Why exactly are these folks so greedy with their magic machine?
9. Power hungry lady-Jody-is willing to risk it all, stage a coup, and murder the president of Elysium. Machines can graft, repair bone and flesh in mere seconds. She gets a fatal wound. Nurse can save her to put her in machine later, and Power woman says, “no, thank-you” and dies? Huh? But why? (I think Jody, the actress, had just had enough and literally said, I’d rather die. . .)
10. WORST of all. . .Premise of film is Rich vs. Poor, Elysium vs, Earth, equality vs. Inequality, Jody vs. Matt. All rising action is along those lines. Final show down is between, not Jody and Matt, but Matt and angry, crazy dude, who was seemingly not right in the head earlier, for reasons unrelated to premise. He’s extra pissed because Matt blew off his face, not because Elysium is elitist, not because he was poor. . .so Matt has to take down not “the power”, but crazy dude. That could have been set in any movie, any time, for any reason- which thereby negates the whole flipping premise. Sure, crazy dude mentions early on that he wants Matt’s brain chip to wield some power, but that never comes up again. Not only does this climactic scene destroy the plot arc the writer tried to set up, it gives us good reason to want an Elysium of our own: to get away from crazy, dudes like him.

And here’s why it annoys me enough to write. How hard would it be to fix these many flaws?

Show people truly starving. Don’t give Matt a real job, or give everyone hellish jobs, like slaves. Do have computer geek but get rid of smuggling ships, or at least show us a few folks who have been able to successfully sneak on. Or not. We can learn about lifesaving machines in some other way. Get rid of any semblance of a regular, albeit dirty, world on Earth. Explain how population control is too expensive for the rich to install;. Elysium is easier. Let computer geek try to steal chip AND ship from rich guy to put Matt on Elysium. Kill off Kruger. Go ahead and save his life in machine. Have Jody kill him in surprise twist. Have Jody strap on (smirk) and get into a fist fight with Matt. Who among us wouldn’t love that scene!

How hard was that? But NO. . .The creators disrespect their audience so much that they cannot be bothered to write a tight, plausible script; They don’t care even when the bullshit is obvious in just about every single scene. I read a horribly written book once where a cop (secretly) shoots and kills a bad guy in the front yard of a mansion, to rescue freaked out damsel in distress. He and the love interest then go inside and have a light lunch. They just go about their business, onto the next plot development. No one else ever notices dead guy. No one ever asks. The dead body just never comes up again. It is still on the front lawn I suppose. Hollywood is more often than not, phoning it in, just like that crappy novel, but expecting us to applaud anyway.

What were Jody and Matt thinking? (The heavy handed social-political statement was so intrusive that even THAT can’t explain why they signed on to this film). Shame on them; but then. . .look at the ratings. . .it’s as if viewers don’t even recognize a B Flick anymore.

So are we then to blame for this overt laziness?

The Secret Life of Oscar Nominators

Disclaimer: I have good taste in movies. Disclaimer for my disclaimer: somehow liking a movie that the critics hate forces people to claim they actually do have good taste in movies. I’m sure that the movie industry with its multiple dish ditches that help promote or demote a film has always played the who’s cool and who’s not game, where anyone who wants to appear “in” loves every nominee on the Oscar list, or otherwise simply is dismissed as a member of the embarrassingly unintellectual pop movie masses. . .sort of like loving caviar over a Big Mac, right? I probably just never felt defensive about it because either it was a year I completely didn’t go to the movies or I just happened to be part of the in crowd that year. Not so, lately.

American Hustle. What a hustle. Yes, I am pleased that there are still filmmakers out there who are bold enough to focus on characters. Yes, this movie turned me into a Christian Bale fan. And I have always known that Amy Adams was a sexy, heavy-weight as an actress. But honestly, I was ready to fall asleep in the first hour or two. I was kept awake by mentally analyzing if anybody really did walk around showing that much breastbone and boob slices in the Seventies as if it were completely normal. Oh, sure. When I was a kid, we saw Amy Adams’s style in Cosmo. And we wondered if it was rampant in the clubs that we were too young to enter. But on the streets. . .in business suits. . .regular day time restaurants. . .? I don’t recall it. And I am pretty sure as a kid, I would have noticed. So at least I had that to entertain myself as the movie took forever to make me hate the curly-headed dude played by Bradley Cooper.

I am not saying I didn’t think the movie was “good” by movie-making standards. I’d hate to be the uncool kid. Seeing the comb-over scene and the sympathetic face of the woman who loved it was great. Bradley Cooper’s recent turn away from what was dangerously becoming his type cast (rich, handsome ass hole) was once again a pleasure to see. But watching Jennifer Lawrence do her Ellen Barkin impression from half of Barkin’s films was only fine (JL is coming very close to being over exposed. I mean, I was distracted too often by the fact that she really was too young to play this character. . .explore other actresses Mister Director.) So sure. I can see why it was supposed to be good. Just like I know why pickled brains are a delicacy. But again, let me stifle the yawn and say, well, it didn’t rock my world. Remember Pulp Fiction? Now, That’s what I’m taking about!

I read the critics after seeing AH. Of course, I am alone in my critical boredom. And it’s not that I need fast cars or crashes or heads-in-trunks to love a Cops vs. Bad Guy movie. I have no interest in any of The Fast and Furious movies. . But obviously the critics just adored AH, and the filmmaker, and the actors. I think the whole cast and production crew received an Oscar nod, right?

Now the weekend before seeing that film, my family saw The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I resisted going because I thought it would probably miss the point of the short story. My husband resisted going since he is not a Ben Stiller Fan. But we went and we were wowed. Snagged from the opening scenes. My twelve year old son said it was his “favorite movie ever”, and I’d be perfectly happy seeing it again with him. My twenty-year-old found it buoyant. (Yes, His word.) I enjoyed the sweetness of it, the beauty of every single scene, the idea that we could actually begin living a fuller life if we could overcome our fears. And even the humor vs. sobriety was well-balanced. Sure it had a tidy ending. And we did struggle to see how being the negative asset manager for LIFE could ever be dull or uncool. But I came away feeling I had a movie experience.

Of course, I read the critics afterward. Again we were not on the same page at all. They hated the CGI. (It’s okay in a Sci Fi futuristic film. Not okay in a real time fable. . .?). They hated the concept, the actors, the ending, the tidiness, the everyman quality of it, I suppose. What it felt like, to me, was that they hated Ben Stiller for thinking he could pull it off.

When I read the Oscar list this morning, that is exactly how I felt: the industry, along with its sucker fish, the critics, cold shouldered Ben Stiller for not being one of the cool kids. . .has he made too many Zoolander type films for the industry to overlook his tiny WM mistakes, because not one of the other film nominations was flawless. .. Stiller’s gorgeous visual feast didn’t even earn a cinematography or a CGI nod.

The industry suffered this sense of snobbery last year, too. Denzel Washington’s subdued, controlled study of an alcoholic coming to terms with his drinking was so nuanced, but then crushed by the heavy caricature of Lincoln by Lewis in the votes. Yes, I said, caricature. I never once stopped thinking while watching . .this is Daniel Day Lewis. But Washington, his portrayal was so deftly handled, I was lost in his every emotion. He at least got a nomination.

Point is the same. The movie goers’ experience seemingly now has nothing to do with it. Don’t tell me the issue is a film versus movie issue. Remember early Spielberg? He made movies, great ones. The critics and the industry in general now vote by what they think they are supposed to think. Thus, the Actor who takes on only “superior roles” and immerses himself like a crazy man for months into his character MUST be better than the actor who sometimes plays in buddy comedies. It’s becoming like a giant game of the emperor who had no clothes. Critics to be “serious” have to love and hate very defined elements, sometimes even when they don’t exist. Thank goodness I read them after my viewing pleasure has been fulfilled.