“That was so bad,” I despaired, waiting for nachos. “I’m right, right? It was really that bad?”
“Yes!” Daniel snapped back. “What the fuck were those monkeys?”
We were staring over our beers at the Chama River Brewing Company bar. It was May 2008, after an advanced screening of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” I don’t often talk to strangers, but I couldn’t help telling the schlub two seats over “We just saw the new ‘Indiana Jones’ movie, man. Never see it. Oh my god.”
“South Park” soon made a graphic episode about how watching that movie was like watching Indy get raped by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.
The Rottentomatometer, which compiles every movie review on the internet into a percentage for each flick, shows a very high 78 percent for “Crystal Skull.”
If they serve any journalistic role at all, ubiquitous movie critics need to be calling out crap. They are too often wrong. I speak from a place of deep jealousy.
It was interesting to see Obama, between two ferns this week, say how bad an idea it was to make three “Hangover” movies, but how great Bradley Cooper is in them. Cooper also gets to be in good moves like “American Hustle.” Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Jennifer Lawrence, the other stars of “Hustle,” have all served time in mutlistudio-powered franchises.
I think this is how it works for big-time actors. Yes, the studio tells them, you can make that David O. Russell movie with some of our money, but first you have to be in “Terminator Salvation.” Because we like driving gold-plated Bentleys.
There’s a scale, let’s say. At one end are movies made by talented directors with good scripts about interesting characters. At the other end are huge franchises. The huge franchises make billions for the studios, which subsequently finance the director-driven future Best Picture nominees.
Maybe critics can’t do anything about this system, but they shouldn’t enable it by endorsing obvious garbage like “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” Its Tomatometer was an astounding 89 percent. It is worth a billion dollars to its studio. It is an extremely bad movie with obvious, evil motives.
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A really cool guy I knew in my reporter days once told me his daughter hanged herself because of “Twilight.” He called the books “evil,” and thought I should write a story about what they do to young girls’ minds. His daughter insisted on being called Bella in the months before she died—the main character’s name—and gushed daily about how dreamy Edward is. Edward is the sexy high-school vampire Bella loves.
I ran with the story just long enough for suicide experts to explain why “Twilight” did not cause my friend’s daughter to kill herself. She had other (extremely sad) issues.
“Twilight” didn’t help, though. As we’ve discussed here before, “Twilight” is absolutely about sex, but it never says so explicitly. Immature entertainment consumers, around the ages of maybe 12-15, obsess over “Twilight” because of its love story, but they don’t realize almost every page or minute of movie is about characters who want sex but fear its consequences. That strange message seeps in before kids are smart enough to understand it.
I don’t think people understand how bad “Twilight” is. Bella gets so distraught when Edward dumps her that she starts riding a motorcycle too fast, without a helmet. Bella and Edward are confusing, dangerous role models.
Before the “Catching Fire” Blu-ray gets to the movie, an ad runs for the 10-disc collection called “Twilight Forever.” All four movies, plus 100 hours of bonus stuff. It costs $75.*
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There’s an amazing scene in the first “Hunger Games” movie. Katniss is one minute from the start of the game. She hugs her friend and she’s shaking. Her lips quiver. She’s breathing hard and her neck strains as she slowly walks to a tube that takes her to the field of play. A 50-second countdown begins. She can’t move until it’s over. She looks at the other kids, and at the stash of weapons they’re all facing. Everyone runs when the countdown hits zero. There’s no sounds but a hollow tone, and the camera shakes as Katniss watches opponents start killing each other with knives and axes.
It is so scary.
Great science fiction mines tragic truth. Children should never, ever be in a position where they’re forced to kill one another. Yet this actually happens in our real world. The government of “The Hunger Games” is a lavish, wealthy class of psychopaths who rule impoverished slums and force the children of those slums to fight and kill. The story fictionalizes real problems, riding notions like income inequality and war to a dystopic vision of the future.
But it’s a tease. And, worse, a time suck. The fear Katniss experiences of having to kill others is a fascinating theme to explore, but not for four two-and-a-half hour movies. There is a true classic here, achieved by condensing the story and focusing on its most important aspects. We don’t get to see it.
Don’t tell me it takes 10 hours to tell. “Gladiator” has Maximus go from hero general to slave to gladiator to overthrowing the Caesar of Rome, all in under three hours. Katniss can inspire riots and take down Donald Sutherland in the same amount of time.
But no—10 hours. One movie can’t make what four can. So they pad the story with a teenage love triangle that oozes awful dialogue. Scene after scene is about either Peeta’s hurt feelings or Gale’s hurt feelings. Who will Katniss choose?
These scenes of two characters looking and talking intensely to each other are boring, but “Twilight” proved they work. It’s demographic targeting—tweeny love triangles are a billion-dollar formula. “The Hunger Games” pretends it’s about kids killing and elitist opulence, but those parts are brief. Almost all deaths in the games happen while Katniss is hiding far away. The actual meat is just fluff.
Instead of an incredible single science fiction movie, Jennifer Lawrence is the star of a franchise made interminable by selling out to a formula and disrespecting our time.
It’s probably not art if Hollywood suits are splitting billions in profits; it’s probably product. The critics should be watchdogging this. Instead, they happily swallow poisoned Subway sandwiches these megamoney franchises are branding. I’m telling you, Spike Lee’s “Oldboy” is so much better than “The Hunger Games.” No matter what the internet says.
Katniss gets attacked by computer-animated monkeys in “Catching Fire.” Monkeys. What the fuck?
* There’s also a trailer for “Divergent,” another “Twilight”/”Hunger Games” rip-off love story destined to make a billion dollars and be taken way too seriously.