More ‘Man’, Less ‘Child’

 

batman-hoodie

Here are some things that I like lots: comic books, Star Wars, the Muppets, Chuck Taylors, video games, porn, Star Wars, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, pop culture T-shirts, sports, technology, angsty music, white tube socks and Star Wars.

Here are some things that I actively dislike: neckties, hiking, auto repair, guns, mornings, cheap scotch, fine scotch, neckties, most sitcoms, plumbing, meetings, sushi, yard work, trying to understand my health insurance, keeping track of my finances, and neckties.

I am rapidly coming up on 40 years old.

I state these things up front so that if anything I say after this comes across as hostile, recriminating, or insulting, you know that I’m one of the injured parties. I am of two minds about all of this. So that when I say something like…

My generation needs to grow the fuck up…

…That I’m talking to myself.

There’s nothing shameful about being an adult (I can no longer dodge that title) who likes any of those things that I like. Except maybe the porn. And the last decade of popular entertainment has provided me with plenty of content to satisfy said list: a seemingly endless barrage of superhero films, a good many of them quality, featuring A-List talent, a new Muppet movie made by someone with genuine affection for those little felt pieces of happiness, games like Bioshock: Infinite and The Last of Us that take video games into realms I never would have dreamed while playing Yar’s Revenge and Tempest as a kid, the MLB Network, dark chocolate peanut butter cups, white chocolate peanut butter cups, Big Cup peanut butter cups, mini peanut butter cups, and, the asshole of them all, the Reester Bunny, a sword-and-sorcery adult fantasy television show with mainstream appeal that doesn’t betray its genre roots, and a man winning an Oscar for playing the Joker.

When I was younger, the things I like came in these forms:

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And now, they look like this:

now

It’s been great to be a ‘geek’.

But this recent slate of Summer films as culture in general have got me questioning whether all of this is a good thing. As I write this I’m still angry at Man of Steel, a film that feels like it’s made by a bunch of teenagers trying to be ‘dark’ and ‘edgy’ and ‘adult’. But that’s a rant for another day, another time, another blog post.

I am most familiar with film; it is my first love and the medium in which I am most well versed. So I will use it most heavily to illustrate my point.

Oh, and I’m just talking American film here. To travel to foreign soil would make this already too-long piece way too-fucking-long.

In the 1960’s, the Hollywood studio system collapsed. The result was, in the 1970’s, the greatest decade of film so far in the history of the medium. Not knowing what to do, they threw their doors open and let the first batch of film school graduates and their peers, the ‘film brats’, take over Hollywood. It is commonly said that in the 70’s, they let the lunatics (and they were indeed lunatics. Brilliant, ballsy, genius, visionary lunatics) take over the asylum. This time is known as The Hollywood Renaissance.

The lunatics in question? Scorsese, Coppola, Ashby, Altman, Kubrick, Allen, Malick, Friedkin, Frankenheimer, Lumet, Spielberg, Lucas, Bogdonavich, Cinimo, Pollack, Polanski, De Palma, Penn. Not to mention the numerous producers, cinematographers, and writers behind the scenes. The actors of that generation are among film’s finest: DeNiro, Pacino, Hackman, Keaton, Gould, Hopper, Hoffman, Keitel, Nicholson, Streep, Foster, Burstyn, Sheen, Walken, Duvall, Rowlands, Spacek, and two personal favorites and underappreciated icons: John Cazale and Warren Oates.

taxi-driver-taxi-driver-06-1976-08-02-1976-8-gThese folks found inspiration in every film made before them, from the silents to John Ford westerns to John Cassavetes to, most prominently in some cases, the amazing work being done in France, Italy, and Japan in the post WWII era, and they created a New Hollywood that transcended the starry-eyed golden age of movies and turned the form into a true art. They (for the most part) made serious films about serious things. Uncompromising looks at life the way it really was, not how they wanted it to be. They were the perfect people to come along and create film for the Vietnam generation.

And the fact that they appeared together makes the me the most impressive collection of American revolutionaries since America’s actual revolutionaries.

Their reign lasted 13 years.

pulp_fiction_uma_thurman_jack_rabbit_slimsIn the 1990’s we got a new wave of fascinating moviemakers, inspired by the work of the New Hollywood movement. It seemed a new Renassiance was upon us. Tarantino, Smith, two men named Anderson, Fincher, Linklater, Payne, Rodriquez, Jackson (okay, not American but English language), Russell, Soderbergh, Egoyan (yeah, also not American). The Coen Brothers came into their own. A lot of these men were associated with the independent boom of the 90’s. I would call them the Miramax Generation. They breathed new life into film, pushing past the entertaining but someone stale cinema of the 80’s. They wore their influences on their sleeves. They pushed limits when it came to violence, language, and just what constituted a ‘film’. Some of them reveled in the profane and immature, but they had something to say, most of them, and made great films that stand the test of time. Several are still making great, relevant films, twenty years later. This is the generation that inspired me to become a filmmaker.

Their reign lasted, by my estimation, about 8 years.

Who are the hot-shot, super-star filmmakers of today? The ones that get the most attention, the ones the studio hands the biggest budgets, the most coveted properties?

Zach Snyder. Chris Nolan. Guillermo Del Toro. Marc Webb. Rian Johnson. Duncan Jones. Joss Whedon. Edgar Wright. Peter Berg. Jon Favreau. James Gunn.

Many talented men in there. (Yes, men. I lament that there is only one major American female film director right now. I do. But it is a fact. One I’d love to see altered. But you want to see a boys’ club? Look no further than Hollywood.) I am a fan of many of them in one way or another. Some, like Whedon and Wright and Jones, I adore.

But this is a filmmaking generation of man-children.

I’m not a person who laments the current state of film often, but looking at the Summer we just came out of, I am forced to. I’m not going to go film by film but I will use one particular film to make my point:

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Pacific Rim.

I like Guillermo Del Toro. As a person. He’s ‘one of us’. A real geek. As a filmmaker, for me, he’s hit and miss. I think the less money he has, the better. His projects with considerable budgets, namely the two Hellboy films, have been lifeless, poorly told stories with good effects, even if the Hellboy II creatures seemed to be cast-offs from the overrated Pan’s Labyrinth. He is one of those filmmakers, like Tim Burton before him, who is much better at the visual and the concept than the story and the characters. Which would be fine, if he wasn’t making narrative films. But he is. He is telling stories. And if he isn’t bad at it, he is at the very least lazy.

Pacific Rim is no exception.

I know I’m supposed to love Pacific Rim. I love Gorjira and Robotech, why shouldn’t I love this? Like my beloved peanut butter cups. Two great tastes that blah blah blah.

But I didn’t. Because it felt like it was made by a twelve year old. Watching it all I could think of was a little fat kid in Mexico, sitting in his sandbox, bashing his Godzilla toy into his Optimus Prime toy and imagining the epic battles they would have.

Every generation of filmmakers is influenced by (read: steals from) the generations before, but his is different. These guys aren’t ingesting what came before, gestating it in their minds, then making something completely new and original. They’re regurgitating. Pacific Rim, if you ignore the monsters and robots (a conceit, while cool on the surface, doesn’t hold up to one moment of critical thinking; more later), is just one tired ass action movie trope after another tired ass action movie trope that, when strung together, Del Toro thinks constitutes a story.

It is Top Gun. It is Independence Day. It is Gojira. It is “Voltron” and Gundam. Thrown into a blender and called a Summer blockbuster.

It is not a work by a man with any original thoughts or anything to say.

Sorry.

(I also know why it failed. Geeks may have had super-duper hard-ons for it, but I asked a few guys, guys who go to the movies on a regular basis, who had seen Iron Man 3 and Star Trek and Fast 6, about Pacific Rim and they said “it looks dumb and loud”. That is why it didn’t connect with the mainstream audience. It looked dumb and loud.)

I walked out of Pacific Rim slightly entertained but unsatisfied, then, two days later, after the smidge of enjoyment it gave me wore off, I realized that it’s a bad movie. Just another case of something that has plagued not only film of the last decade, but art in general.

The 70’s were the New Hollywood Generation. The 90’s, the Miramax Generation.

This is the Karaoke Generation.

karaoke girls

Some people mistake Tarantino for a mimic, but I disagree wholeheartedly. Pulp Fiction is, behind the surface, about three killers who find themselves saving a life. It is about redemption: that’s what’s in the briefcase for me.

That may not be super deep, but what is Looper about? Other than Johnson showing us a bunch of shit that he likes. 12 Monkeys. The Omen. Back to the Future. Blade Runner. I have no problem with wearing your influences on your sleeve, but, for God’s sake, try to come up with something of your own. Stop singing the words scrolling by on the monitor and write your own song.

Two of the bigger films of the year made two mind-boggling choices that I am still trying to figure out.

JJ Abrams’s first Star Trek was, for me, great. Fresh, entertaining. It told its own story and, while respecting the decades of Trek behind it, started its own timeline. That encouraged me. Opened up the idea of brand new Trek stories not beholden to all that canon. So, what did they do for their next tale, Into Darkness?

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They brought back Khan.

Man of Steel was a disaster in almost every aspect, but again. Starting over. Fresh slate. Retelling the origin. Redefining the relationships. Trying to paint a new Clark (one who is a borderline sociopath, but whatever). New look. New feel. New everything. And who was the villain in this re-imagining of one of America’s most enduring fictional characters?

terence-stamp-general-zod-supermanjpg-68906cfa3ba7dee8michael-shannon-brand-new-zod

They brought back Zod.

In both cases the filmmakers, in acts of inane laziness, pilfered the most famous and effective parts of previous films and “reimagined” them into their own. This is especially egregious in Star Trek, which not only recycled Khan, but the entire last act of the film. With, you know, a “twist”.

All the money in the world they can spend. Any writer in Hollywood they can employ. With effects the way they are now, anything you want to show, you can show. Any world you want to build, creature you want to birth. The possibilities are literally endless.

Nope. Khan and Zod. Cool, right?

HPIM5002No. Not cool. Nostalgia isn’t storytelling. Just sit down, have a beer, and wait for the MC to call you up so you can emote your way through “Don’t Stop Believin'” one more time.

Children, playing with the toys of their youth, with no original ideas of their own.

Like I said above, I love science fiction and comic books and nearly all things geek. Hell, I finally crossed over my final nerd threshold, the thing I said I would never do, which was Doctor Who, and it turns out I love it. But come on, guys. Isn’t it time to grow up, just a little?

That may be why I liked The World’s End so much. Despite its robot/alien subplot (which was really the least interesting part of the film), there was an adult story there. About addiction, about the disappointments of life, about the bonds of friendship, and, yes, about growing the fuck up.

Maybe I’m just an old man, but I do miss the filmmaking of the 90’s. Much like “The Love Boat”, it felt exciting and new (which, oddly, was a show that never felt exciting or new). But now, the only films I get excited for are the ones made by people from previous generations: Scorsese, the Andersons, Fincher, The Coens, Ridley Scott, Tarantino, Payne, Russell.

They are the only ones making films for adults. I think we have embraced the man-child, but have done no service to the ‘man’ half of that hyphenate.

G.I. Joe. Transformers. Batman. Superman. Spiderman. The A-Team. The always-rumored Thundercats and He-Man films. New Star Wars films directed by a Star Wars geek. The Muppets. There is no mistaking the age range of today’s most popular filmmakers. They’re my age. But, unlike them it seems, I didn’t stop watching film and television after I turned twelve.

battleship-movie-image-02I mean, come on. Battleship? FUCKING BATTLESHIP?!? Bad enough to make a movie based on a children’s board game (again with the nostalgia), but to make it a Transformers rip-off in the process? This is what studios think people want. FUCKING BATTLESHIP.

What I’m trying to say here is, while the ‘geek revolution’ has pleased me greatly, I’m starting to turn on it. I’m tired of films made by grown men who think they’re teenage boys. And I’m one of those men. But I have another side to me, the side that has accepted the fact that I am also an adult that yearns for mature entertainment and art. These guys live in a perpetual state of adolescence and get paid millions of dollars to do so.

This doesn’t just apply to film. The only books anyone seems to read nowadays are Young Adult fiction. Potter. Twilight. Hunger Games. Mortal Instruments. These are adults reading these books. I have read a few myself (Potter and Hunger Games) but that is all some people read. Do you know more people that have read Harry Potter or The Sound and the Fury? Twilight or The Count of Monte Cristo? Hunger Games or Naked Lunch?

Don’t get me started on music. Have you heard that new Katy Perry song, ‘Roar’? The most asinine and hacky lyrics I have heard in a long time, no matter how catchy the track may be. Plus, she rips off Survivor of all things. You can’t drop an ‘eye of the tiger’ into a song. That phrase is taken, lady. It is only acceptable during a corny 80’s training montage. Lady Gaga literally karaoke’d Madonna’s “Express Yourself” for her “Born this Way.” (Or maybe she Weird Al’ed it).

I’m just tired. Tired of being disappointed by artists who I think should know better. Tired of seeing the same things over and over and over again. Much of the hype about Pacific Rim was that it was a ‘new property’ (that’s what we call our films now: properties), but when I saw it, was just a bunch of things I’d seen before strung together with some big, loud, CG things hitting each other.

voltron-775596(About that: why do they hit each other? they have missiles and plasma cannons. there is no reason not to start a fight with those things instead of charging headfirst into a fistfight. any military strategist will tell you: ranged attacks first. has been that way since the bow and arrow. and the sword? we get 75% of the way through the movie and we reveal that the things have swords that can cleave the monsters in half with one slash? either Del Toro watched too much or too little “Voltron” to understand how little sense this makes. form the blazing sword right away, you morons. it works every time. sigh.)

I worry about the state of film going forward, and film is something I hold very dear. It is a great art form that is still in its infancy. We have yet to see a Beethoven or Van Gogh come along. I don’t know what those guys, their films, will look like, but I hope to see them in my life. But as of the moment, the art of filmmaking is in a state of arrested development.

Much like the men making them.

Did I say ‘men’?

I meant ‘boys’.

Oh, and just to show that I’m not just making fun of the guy up top in the Batman hoodie, here is me in my Boba Fett hoodie. I’m part of this, too.

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About Chad J Shonk

Chad J. Shonk is the award-winning writer of the increasingly popular indie film Dakota Skye. A product of the great states of Ohio, Georgia and California, he currently resides in San Francisco.
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