The Tipping Point: Polanski, Moore and why Hollywood Hates You

7 10 2009

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MaryAnn Johansen of at The Flick Filosopher lists this week’s box office numbers and asks the question why the re-release of Toy Story and Toy Story 2 are outperforming films like Whip It and Ricky Gervais’ The Invention of Lying. At the risk of restating an obvious theme, can I put out the possibility that it’s because Hollywood hates its audience and everything they stand for? We may have finally reached the tipping point where Hollywood realizes that it’s in trouble.

Before the obvious objection, I acknowledge that this is not the only reason for the precipitous decline. There’s a lot of technological reasons. The ubiquity of home video, a new universe of entertainment choices including video games, the Internet and all sorts of homemade entertainment options has to take a bite out of Hollywood’s pie but it’d be stupid not to acknowledge that that Hollywood’s screwed-up value system has finally started to bleed over into the work itself, producing films that either insult, sucker punch or fly right over the heads of their intended audience while dripping with contempt for the people they’re trying to sell tickets to.

Take Ricky Gervais’ “The Invention of Lying.” Here’s a movie that sells itself as a quirky romantic comedy with an interesting premise (What if everyone told the truth all the time?) that then devotes it’s middle third to lecturing its audience that all of their deeply held beliefs are just convenient fictions. It’s not that I have any particular objection to Ricky Gervais making a film about his atheist beliefs, it’s he (ironically considering the subject of the movie) then has to lie to us to get us to go and see it. First with a tremendously deceptive trailer, then by trotting out the classic John Stewart “I’m just a comedian” defense in an effort to salvage the film’s sagging box office numbers. If you’re going to make an atheist screed, have the courage of your convictions and be willing to accept that maybe you’ve just limited your own box office.

This didn’t used to happen. Sure, Hollywood was always liberal — even leftist. But they used to know how to create great movies because they respected the intelligence and acumen of their audience enough to create stories for them — not thinly disguised lectures. It isn’t that the audience disagrees with you, it’s that nobody really enjoys paying $12.00 to be lectured by people who obviously hate us.

Even worse, our 24-hour news cycle celebrity-obsessed culture has simultaneously exposed the sick and twisted culture of Hollywood while at the same time holding it up as something to be admired and envied. Is it any wonder that Hollywood, a town filled with pathologically insecure, envious people desperate for the validation of others would begin to believe their own press releases? These are pathetic conformists who only exist inside a make-believe bubble and have the world telling them 24-hours a day that they’re better and more important than the regular proles who exist only to fill theater seats. It’s not wonder the arrest of Roman Rolanski inspired such outrage in the creative community. It’s not just that they arrested an artiste whose brilliant creative output puts him above such mundane concerns as a little child rape, it’s that they arrested him at a film festival! Check out this delightful passage from the petition to release Polanski.

“Filmmakers in France, in Europe, in the United States and around the world are dismayed by this decision. It seems inadmissible to them that an international cultural event, paying homage to one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers, is used by the police to apprehend him.”

When the Hell did a film festival become the equivalent of a foreign embassy? There’s no diplomatic immunity for directors! The thing is, to these people, there should be. Film festivals are where the Olympians gather to display their art. Why should they have to worry about petty matters like the law at such rarified heights?

To be fair, there are always idiots who validate this world view. They range from sycophants who can’t understand why someone would care about the forced sodomization of a 13-year old when there are wonderful movies like Chinatown to watch to the followers of Michael Moore. Moore is a millionaire capitalist whose latest film is an unvarnished plea for the overthrow of the very system that supplies him with cheap Twinkies and Ralph Lauren Polo shirts.

According to Fortune Magazine, Moore’s films have grossed over $300 million worldwide. His highest grossing film was “Fahrenheit 9/11,” which critiques the Bush administration’s handling of the war in Iraq and earned over $200 million worldwide.

Moore reportedly was paid $21 million by Disney for producing, directing and creating the film.

Moore also earned 50 percent of the profits of his 2007 film “Sicko,” totaling $25 million plus DVD sales, according to Vanity Fair.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Moore would receive all of the profits made from DVD sales of “Sicko,” sales of which have been estimated at over $17 million.

(credit: CNS News)

One would think that Lord Moore would be concerned about his own image, considering the politics of those who believe every frame of his movies. Not so much:

The Capitalism: A Love Story premiere party was a study in decadent excess.

“The event, hosted by Esquire, doubled as the launch of the magazine’s “Ultimate Bachelor Pad,” a fully tricked-out, 11-room, nine-bathroom, 9,200-square-foot signature penthouse in SoHo, filled with flatscreens, sleek, modern furniture and luxury brands—each room meticulously designed around an advertisers’ theme. (The Hugo Boss bedroom! The Heineken lounge! The Lufthansa kitchen!)

As Esquire publisher Kevin O’Malley explains in the Esquire SoHo brochure, part of the reason that the magazine does this every year—alternating between New York and L.A.—is to meet its “advertisers’ growing need to create relevant and innovative new consumer touchpoints for their brands. Our affluent readers share a range of passions: a real desire for the best-of-class products and services that our advertisers represent.”

In other words, the pinnacle of capitalism. A fantasy in capital excess. A byproduct of the corporate greed Moore rails against in the film.

By the time Moore arrived, the party was in full swing, with revelers enjoying the 360-degree views of Lower Manhattan on the 3,000-square-foot terrace, top-shelf themed bars, sipping signature cocktails (there was a guy hired to blow dry ice on one pomegranate-and-melon-martini thing) and devouring skewers of filet mignon.

Esquire even hired models to strip down and slip into the obligatory hot tub.”

Yet Moore will get away with it because he’s our better. We need to do as he says, not as he does. And no, this is not about hypocrisy. It’s about an explicit call for the overthrow of the capitalist economic system and its replacement with the system that made economic and environmental paradises out of the old Soviet Union, Cuba and now Venezuela that he himself is not willing to participate in. Well, the leaders of the Party need their Black Sea dachas after all.

For the record, I begrudge not a single penny of the money Michael Moore has earned. It’s his. Let him keep it.

Somehow, I doubt that he would give me the same courtesy since he seems to want the government to take away yet more of MY money.

Before I sign on to Mr. Moore’s wholesale redesign of the American economy, I expect him to reduce his living standard to the equivalent of $150,000 a year and use the remainder of his money to purchase health insurance for as many uninsured families as he can afford. Socialism begins at home– his home. His multimillion dollar thousands of square-foot Sasquatch-of-a-carbon-footprint bulldozing-a-wetland home.

Somehow socialists are never willing to part with their own money while grabbing it away from those evil white RethugliKKKan businessmen.

This is the guy you want as the spokesperson for your movement?

Wondering why Hollywood is losing its box office power is like Marie Antionette in the cart wondering why everyone misinterpreted her remark about pastries.

Can a Critic be Too Biased?

15 09 2009

I really like A.O. Scott, the film critic for The New York Times. He’s smart, usually on target and manages to do it without picking up the obnoxious “I’m so much more sophisticated than you” tone that seems to creep into most of the Times writing. Probably comes from being a veteran of Newsday, the big Long Island newspaper. Speaking from experience, Long Islanders never quite get over their awe at being in “The City.” Here’s the thing, though. I’m about to accuse Mr. Scott of being biased — yes, a biased critic — because of his review of “The Baader-Meinhof Complex” on the latest episode of At The Movies.

According to Mr. Scott, this is a film that takes a middle road in its portrayal of the 1970s German terrorist organization. According to Mr Scott (and I’m paraphrasiong from memory here as the show’s not up on the offical site yet) the film doesn’t ask you to sympathize with them and doesn’t shy away from showing the consequences of their actions but also gives insight into their motivations as a bunch of idealistic kids trying to make a better world. While this already sounds like the words of an apologist for Baader-Meinhof excusing mayhem and murder because their motivations were pure, what really puts his comments beyond the line for me is when he later wonders why Hollywood can’t create political movies that portray controversial topics with the kind of passionate intesity on display in this film. He surmises that Hollywood is “so afraid of offending its audience that they won’t take a stand on issue.” (again paraphrasing)

Excuse me? Has he seen the output of Hollywood in recent years? Never mind the list of anti-Iraq war movies as long as your arm. There are liberal jibes, commentary and messages in virtually everything put out by Hollywood. And they’re often in the places where you’d least expect them and where they’re the least appropriate. Take Definitely, Maybe, a treacly little romantic comedy starring Ryan Reynolds and Abigail Breslin. This is a film where the main character is made a political consultant (a Democratic political consultant, natch) stricly for the purpose of becoming a mouthpiece for the director and writer’s liberal political views. In one scene for example, Reynolds expresses shock and outrage that a woman he’s interested in isn’t a Bill Clinton supporter (a man well known for how well he treats women) or at least a Democrat! There’s also one scene that has nothing whatsoever to do with the movie and exists solely to take a potshot at George W. Bush. The idea that Hollywood is somehow afraid to offend half it’s audience flies in the face of the reality that that’s exactly what Hollywood does — continually. To the point where they continued to make anti-Iraq war movies depite their box office failures and continued to come up with desperate rationalizations about why they kept failing.

Now I don’t expect critics to adhere to some sort of nonsense about being “objective.” They’re critics, after all. Their whole existence is based on them having opinions which are, of course influenced by their biases –including their political ones. This is not my objection. One of my favorite film critics, MaryAnn Johanson over at The Flick Filosopher is an outspoken liberal, something that comes across quite often in her film reviews. Roger Ebert, who I also enjoy, is the same way. I read them and I trust them because their biases are right out where everyone can see them and my judgment on their judgment can be filtered through my understanding of what colors their opinion.

What I object to is when a political bias becomes so strong that it distorts everything about a particular review including the reviewers judgment. Mr. Scott did this in his “Baader-Meinhof Complex” review. Is his political judgment so far to the left that he honestly thinks that Hollywood films are middle-of-the-road politically because they’re afraid of alienating the audience? What does that say about his judgment of “The Baader-Meinhof Complex?” Is he somehow so sympathetic to the aims if not the methods of the Red Army Faction that iT skews his judgment of the film’s quality? I don’t know. After that comment I can’t tell and as a result I can no longer trust Mr. Scott’s judgment.

Too bad. He’s a big improvement over Ben Lyons.

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Angry Bear 16 is Up! The Most Important Twitter Conversation Ever…

10 09 2009

I love me some Soren Johnson. For those of you unfamiliar with the name, he’s the brilliant mind behind much of the gaming goodness that was Civilization III and Civilization IV. As such, whenever he speaks at a conference or updates his personal blog, he’s always worth listening to. What I wasn’t expecting was Johnson’s July 16th entry (called “So this is what Twitter is for…”) regarding a fascinating Twitter exchange he had with some of the leading lights in game design regarding the relative importance of narrative versus actual gameplay.

According to Johnson, the conversation began in response to a somewhat controversial talk given by Too Human designer Denis Dyack at the Design 2009 conference. Johnson Tweeted to Dyack after the talk and was This was responded to by Harvey Smith. Then Clint Hocking Rob Fermier. Brenda Brathwaite and a host of other leading game designers that included Ian Bogost, David Jaffe, Damion Schubert and even John Romero started a long, complex conversation about the boundaries and importance of gameplay vs. narrative. It went on for a while.

(This week’s Angry Bear is my take on Dyack’s talk and the conversation that followed. At the risk of stepping on the toes of all these game designers whose work I’ve long admired, I’m going to say that while I understand where Denis is coming from, he’s drawn absolutely the wrong conclusion from his study. I’m hoping for some heated conversations this week.)
Check out the rest of the new column here!

And while you’re here, why not check out the rest of the Angry Bear Columns under the tab at the top of the page?


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