Tuesday, September 11, 2007

It’s Time for Adults to Take Back the Multiplex

By Lars Trodson

Hey, you, the people who are my age (47), go to the movies. Don’t wait for the DVD, don’t wait for On Demand. Don’t wait for it to come to your cell phone. Because our friend Gina Carbone is right. Content, or the lack of it, is what is going to kill the movies, and unless the spate of adult-themed movies that are coming out this fall get some traction at the box office, we’re doomed to remakes of remakes of remakes -- such as the upcoming “Hulk” franchise with Edward Norton, or the Ben Stiller remake of “The Heartbreak Kid.” Please, let us help the madness to stop.

My call to action is an unlikely villain: Rob Zombie’s version of “Halloween”, which I squirmed through this past weekend. As a real fan of the original, and as someone who thinks that Zombie is an interesting talent with some interesting ideas, I sat through that thing looking at it as though it was some strange artifact from another planet. Half re-imagining, half outright copy, I didn’t know what to think of it. “I’ve seen this movie before,” I wrote in my notes as it came to its desultory conclusion. It wasn’t that it was just witless, it had no real creativity at all. I think I could watch and appreciate John Carpenter’s version at any age -- I think I could look at it fondly when I’m 60 -- but this version, with its crude dialogue, overt and aggressive teenage sexuality, is something I will never go near again. This movie was not made for me, I’m certain the filmmakers don’t even want me to see it, and I’ll honor that by turning my attention to where it belongs: which is the rarefied universe of adult-themed films.

I’m not a snob about movies. I’ll see almost anything, and I pretty much have. Anyone with any movie going history my age will not be shocked or upset by anything we see on the screen if it has some creativity to it, or if it makes us connect emotionally. But when movies start to reject the very notion of that maturity, well, then, maybe it’s time to say goodbye to all that.

These movies with serious themes need champions, and those champions should be those of us who have ceded the seats in the multiplex to the kids who treat and expect movies to tossed away artifacts with no more meaning than a trinket you get in a McDonald’s Happy Meal bag. The occasional art-house hit like “Little Miss Sunshine” isn’t really enough to dispel the notion that our movie culture has been hijacked by less inspired fare.

No more.

I was thinking of this after poring through the Arts & Leisure section of this past Sunday’s New York Times. It was a compendium of films that will be released this fall, and the array of themes and stories these movies offer is glorious. There’s something out there for all of us who are willing to grab a little energy for a matinée or a Saturday night. Our pop culture has been so long dominated by kids, many of whom showed tremendous promise -- and not just actors but also the directors and writers -- but who now have settled into the mode of seeking the franchise film, or the blockbuster, that we now have to sift through the rubble to see the films made by the old pros. That is, if they even get to a theater near you.

The media needs to help out, too. As much as I admire The New York Times and its writers, the lede piece in the Sunday section was a long article on Jodie Foster, titled “Forever Jodie, Forever a Pro”, which ended up actually being a long column by Manohla Dargis, riffing on her thoughts about the actress. It didn’t help much. Then there was a teaser out front accompanying a picture of the actor Steve Carrell. “TYPE CASTING” is the head, with the little lede-in that went as follows: “Steve Carrell stars in a bittersweet comedy that doesn’t dispel his reputation for playing nice.” Great. I’m sure this is just what the producers wanted to hear about Carrell, who can be seen for free on TV each week in “The Office”, after his gargantuan “Evan Almighty” tanked at the box office this past year.

Also, our local papers, local papers everywhere, have to start writing or featuring stories about these movies in order to give them some heft for local audiences. Our local papers don’t have to keep thinking of themselves as copies of “People” magazine in order to tell the world they’re hip. They’ve completely lost the younger audience; they should cater to an audience that’s looking to the paper as a reflection of themselves. After all, if they keep it up, these younger people will settle into middle age sooner than they think, and they’ll be happy to have a publication reflecting these values. There is a way to survive.

Sooner than that, however, we see that Robert Redford has a new political drama coming out called “Lions for Lambs” that actually identifies one lead political character, played by Tom Cruise, as a Republican -- eradicating, at least with one film - the recent tendency not to affiliate fictional characters with an actual political party.

Francis Ford Coppola, the winemaker, also has a new film coming out. “Youth Without Youth” is the title, and it appears to have autobiographical elements. Coppola is an artistic hero of mine, and I want to be able to support the creator of so many films that are important to me to show that he’s still relevant to my life.

Julie Taymor has a kaleidoscopic film coming out based on Beatles music, the name of which comes from a John Lennon tune, “Across the Universe.” Taymor is a fascinating director, see her “Titus”, and if we challenge ourselves to see her film maybe she won’t have to wait years in between.

Benicio Del Toro (a personal favorite of Miss Carbone’s) has a new film with Halle Berry -- a movie star that’s quite beautiful but too remote and chilly for me to get to -- with the provocative title “Things We Lost In the Fire” by a Danish filmmaker named Susanne Bier. I don’t know who Ms. Bier is, but it is time for those of us who appreciate film acting at its highest level to catapult Del Toro into the front ranks of our movie stars. And if he gets there, he might just decide not to take that newfound stardom only to turn it into a chance to play the latest Batman villain.

And just to round out our short and highly incomplete list, we should pay some heed to Sean Penn’s latest directorial effort, “Into the Wild.” Penn is, as they say, the foremost actor of his (my) generation, but his efforts as a director have been tough going. No humor. Too self-indulgent and important, but this one apparently has a performance by a young actor, Emile Hirsche, in which Mr. Penn seemed to find the old-fashioned fire and craftsmanship. So we can kill two birds with one stone on that one.

There are many, many more -- and very many with an international flair with stars we recognize, if that’s what makes you comfortable, as it does me, sometimes. And if we stumble across a newcomer whom we want to follow, that’s our bonus.

These films can and will have a life if those of us old enough to appreciate the full experience of going to the movie theater start going again.

So, to adopt an old phrase that some of us will recognize, this is a revolution that will not be televised. It’ll be at the multiplex, exactly where it’s supposed to be.