Starting at about 1998 or thereabouts, Hollywood took one further step into becoming the completely artistically and creatively bankrupt institution it now embodies today. They grabbed hold of every single script they greenlit, and made damned sure the main characters were sassy, youthful types that would hopefully pander to what has been perceived as cinema’s main drawing crowd; that of the 16 – 25 crowd. As these are the choice ages that show up for the big blockbuster weekend and the studio needs dearly to inflate their overhyped product as best they can, they have decided that to better accommodate their customers they will try as best as possible to mimic their lifestyles.
This is the approach that the studio system has assumed works every single time. Why would you possibly risk showcasing a character over 40? All of the trendy youthful exuberance is replaced by world-weariness and the growing threat of middle age that eventually leads to cantankerous, out-dated catchphrases that might repulse and lower their expected weekend gross by not relating to their demographic. Instead of Joe being a mechanic that has an ex-wife and a mortgage, let’s make him ‘Nat’, a down-on-his-luck college dropout that works weekends in an independently-owned music store while he struggles with his girlfriend and their gritty, real-world city problems.
That’s a hook no baggy, mid-40’s boring guy could ever live up to! Did you hear that? Nat likes the same kind of music you do! This isn’t to say that every movie suffers if it has a youth angle; for one, that’s what the horror genre was built on, from the dirt upward. Horror flicks, which typically have nothing going for them but the hope that a lot of kid’s asses will fill the seats, were built because of kids, and as such they know their market. I’ll never complain if a slasher comes out that’s got nothing but beautiful teenagers running topless through the woods covered in blood, it’s just a staple of the genre. Movies that have plots centered and whose function relies on the character’s age for the good of the story, they’re exempt from this rant. John Hughes built an empire on that youth market, and all of the movies were fantastic.
Aside from Home Alone 2. Hughes always had class-act movies that could center on youths you could actually care for. It’s my opinion that he’s also very much responsible for what we’re usually looking at today, in regards to the constant youth angle that’s in every movie released, in one shape or another. I’m sick of watching movies that indirectly steer into the problems and tribulations of being a young person. You can tell how much studio interference or unease about it’s appeal a movie has had by the amount of screentime a daughter / son / young supporting character receives.
That’s happened to some great movies over the years as well, and as a result it’s ground some of what would have been my most enjoyable movies to a fucking halt. Now instead of buddy comedies starring actors that actually have talent and recognition for their craft, it’s Justin Long and John Heder making out with tree’s while accidentally on PCP during a wedding and getting hit by pop fly baseballs in their crotches. Even the 70’s exploitation movement, which was powered by the 16 – 25’s, was usually older-than-20 characters who actually have something to offer us in terms of character development other than a perfect high school face and problems with their parents.
Cop movies now have to teeter-totter by putting Josh Hartnett with Harrison Ford, or Ed Burns with Robert DeNiro. Chris Rock popped out of nowhere in Lethal Weapon4, and I’m sure it wasn’t because he had anything to add to the movie other than ‘yo mamma’ jokes as Riggs and Murtaugh looked at one and other and shrugged comedically.
Cue what I can only describe as the hand of God coming down from the heavens and telling me he understands. That is the only worldly description I can afford to ‘Bubba Ho-Tep'; the low-budget ‘redemptive Elvis mummy picture’ that proved to me that someone out there gets it. The entire movie is nothing more than a now-retired Elvis, having faked his death, living in a retirement home in Texas and waxing onward about his lost loves and missed opportunities. He then goes on to fight a mummy with Ossie Davis, who think’s that he’s actually JFK, albeit dyed black. I don’t know how well you read that synopsis, but nowhere did I mention Elvis’ niece coming to visit him, and us seeing into her relationship problems with her ex-boyfriend.
The entire movie, save for once scene where we get to see a chick’s ass, is a character study of an old man in this time, and the people that surround him in the rest home. With a mummy thrown in for good measure. Needless to say, the movie goes on to kick all sorts of ass, and I find that I like this character more than every happy-go-lucky, currently-hot actor I’ve seen for the last 20 years. Alot of the movie’s I’m addressing today owe much to ‘Harry and Tonto'; the film that finally got Art Carney his academy award (notable, considering he beat out Albert Finney, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, and Dustin Hoffman that year). It’s yet another pristine example of adult moviemaking, without an ‘opening weekend gross’ ever having been calculated prior to its release. It works because it knew what it was, and who it wanted to showcase. For the entire film, we follow a retired college professor and his cat, wandering across America from place to place and getting into adventures along the way.
Never did I wonder why I hadn’t heard a top-40 song, or want a younger actor so I could relate better. The character and the movie were perfect, and for once, the awards system got it right on the money. Which brings us to the recent resurgence of exactly the kind of moviemaking that saved the Hollywood system back in the 70’s: the character study. In this case, in the new millennium, the post-retirement character study. I want to say that ‘Bubba Ho-Tep’ was what got the ball rolling for all these absolutely epic actors to take on these older parts and begin addressing their own oncoming mortality, but I cannot conclusively say that was the case.
Regardless, we went on to get ‘About Schmidt’, which yet again focused on Nicholson’s now-retired insurance broker, only moving to his daughter and her husband for comedic purposes and nothing more. Every single person in this movie, save for the title character, are bland nutjobs, and Warren Schmidt is the only person in this entire plane of film existence that seems to have all his screw’s tightened. These last three movies showcased the likes of Ossie Davis, Art Carney, Bruce Campbell and Jack Nicholson, all immediately talented actors in immediately talented movies. I’ve come to realize it was among these films that slowly got studios thinking that, however small the niche market, extraordinarily talented actors reaching their ‘post-perfect’ years of life still had something to offer other than the ‘senile grandfather’ cameo.
And this leads us to why it is I’m so happy with Hollywood as of late: ‘Rocky Balboa’ and ‘The Life Aquatic’. These are among the two (out of roughly four) reasons I still attempt the theatre experience; just in the vain hope I find another movie like them. Everything works because, while Steve Zissou and Rocky Balboa are both essentially cartoon characters, it is balanced with such a crashing sense of reality when you don’t expect it that you’re forced to rethink what your watching. When characters so obviously clichÅ½d and overexposed can rebound in an instant into being three-dimensional beings that actually stir our interest at a deeper level than a fireball explosion, it’s a testament that good writing is still present in some scripts.
These were the types of movies I loved watching as a kid. Movies where they don’t explain why so-and-so left the phone off the hook, or why such-and-such stopped in mid-sentence and changed the subject. Hollywood has gotten so bloated with their youth appeal and MTV-editing that good moviemaking, as always, counters with exactly the opposite and is all the more respectable because of it. I’m happy to see the movie heroes of my youth; when making movies still required talent and a love for the subject, back and at center stage. Never in a million years did I expect Bruce Campbell to be doing anything other than slinging chainsaws and getting splattered with blood; and suddenly he’s delivering Shakespearian monologues about love and loss whilst bed-ridden.
Bill Murray, who I’d never expect to do anything but quip lazy, ironic observations, has suddenly upgraded to the dramatic actor I never thought I’d experience. Stallone took the biggest running gag in the history of cinema and handled it with such confidence and professionalism that I forgot all about the wrestling match he had with Hulk Hogan. The announcement of Rambo4, Indiana Jones4 as well as Die Hard4 only sweeten the deal for me. As of late, whenever I try to discuss these kinds of movies with most people, the most common reaction is ‘Oh, they’re too old to do action’. Last I’ve checked, some of the most awesome movies I’ve ever seen revolved around elderly badasses taking up their mantle one more time.
Every ‘old school redemption’ movie I’ve ever watched is a hell of a lot cooler than the movies the same detractors flocked to. ‘Die Hard2′ I can tell you is going to suck a lot more than ‘Die Hard4′, the same went for practically every Rocky since the original up until ‘Balboa’ came out. People seem to be more supportive of a loud, overhyped sequel that always disappoints than with a movie that knows how hard it has to work to win back an audience. The fifth ‘Rocky’ sequel did everything within its power to be on the same level of filmmaking as the original, and half of the people I brought it up to thought Stallone was too old to do anything but die and leave the door open for DJ Qualls. In many ways, it’s a terrible detriment to movies that actually entertain and are well-made, when fodder like ‘Saw3′ and ‘Scary Movie4′ actually go on to make pretty hefty sums. It’s awful because those glossy pieces of garbage don’t deserve dollar one. They’re made for one reason, and have nothing to offer you than the illusion you enjoyed yourself because the movie overloaded your sensory perception for 84 minutes.
The likes of Harrison Ford, Sly Stallone, Jack Nicholson, Art Carney, Bill Murray and Clint Eastwood know the business better than ‘two of the six writers from Scary Movie 2′. They’re past the money grabbing stages of their career and into that terrifying stage where they’re making quality products that interest them. The list goes on and on, and it seems like the most memorable movies I’ve seen in the recent years have dealt with experienced actors trying their damndest to show that the new trend of Hollywood is as offensively shortsighted as the old ones.