10 Suggested New Year’s Resolutions for Filmmakers
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See movies before you disparage them.
His last couple of narrative efforts notwithstanding, Spike Lee remains one of our most important filmmakers — and most widely misunderstood, the gross misinterpretation of his early efforts and breathless reporting of the occasional ill-advised comments causing much of the movie-going public to assume (incorrectly) that he’s some sort of rabble-rousing, whitey-hating terror. Too many people judge his movies, we’ve argued for years, without seeing them — which is why his recent (if sadly expected) public trashing of Django Unchained, sight unseen, is so disappointing. “I can’t speak on it ’cause I’m not gonna see it,” he told Vibe magazine. “The only thing I can say is it’s disrespectful to my ancestors, to see that film.” Good luck unpacking the logic of that statement, which is a waste of time anyway; it’s just the latest chapter in Lee’s peculiar and long-running public feud with Tarantino, a feud which, in light of the current state of Lee’s own career (his long-awaited 2012 return to fiction filmmaking, Red Hook Summer, was received with a good deal less critical and financial success than Tarantino’s), is looking more and more like sour grapes.
Think through those provocative sound bites.
On the other hand, it’s not like QT’s always the most insightful fellow in interviews either. Tarantino got many of his cinephile fans up in a bit of a lather last week when he took several weird shots at legendary Western director John Ford in an interview with The Root. “To say the least, I hate him,” Tarantino announced, for “the faceless Indians he killed like zombies” in his films, and
this idea of Anglo-Saxon humanity compared to everyone else’s humanity” — problematic elements, to be sure, but ones Ford himself addressed in later films like Cheyanne Autumn and one of the greatest Westerns ever made, The Searchers. But that doesn’t even seem to be Tarantino’s main bone of contention (and that wouldn’t make him the first to knock the filmmaker, either; Thomson’s New Biographical Dictionary of Film entry on Ford is just as sour) — it’s that Ford did a bit of work as a Klansman extra in Griffith’s notorious Birth of a Nation. Um, what? So, okay, does that mean we should shrug off the rest of Tarantino’s biography because he did a bit role as a rapist in Planet Terror? And while we’re on the subject…
Also, please, God, no more acting.
There is exactly one bad performance in Django Unchained, and it’s the one bad performance that Tarantino didn’t have the distance to remove: his own. His single-scene appearance as an Australian mining company employee is a disaster: twitchy, self-conscious, and burdened with the worst Australian accent this side of Natural Born Killers. Tarantino’s stifled acting ambitions have been our cross to bear throughout his career, and while he’s acted (with varying success) for other directors, his appearances in his own films have — since his horrifying work in Pulp Fiction — been mercifully brief. No such luck this time; he’s only got about five minutes of screen time in Django, but boy does he make the least of it.
Find out what William Goldman is up to.
We had two encounters with Rob Reiner this year. In July, we were mortified by The Magic of Belle Isle, Reiner’s latest feature film, a gooey, gloppy mess that wasted Morgan Freeman and Virginia Madsen and further confirmed that the man who, it seemed, could do no wrong in the ’80s and early ’90s can these days do no right. Then, in October, we were delighted by Reiner (and the extended cast and crew) at the New York Film Festival’s anniversary/reunion screening of The Princess Bride, which remains as enjoyable as ever. The byplay between Reiner and Bride writer William Goldman reminded us that not only did Goldman adapt his own novel there, but also penned Reiner’s film version of Stephen King’s Misery. When you look at Reiner’s recent filmography, you can’t help but notice that the kind of collaborators he had during his golden period — the Goldmans, the Sorkins, the Christopher Guests — are nowhere to be seen these days. Maybe it’s time to reconnect with some old friends?
Learn that less is more.
Look, we know: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is grossing insane amounts of money, and if Peter Jackson figured out a way to make insane amounts of money three times instead of twice, then that’ll probably make him and Warner Brothers very rich and very happy. But his decision to stretch the slender Hobbit (as we’ve discussed, a 300-page text — roughly 1/5 the length of the Lord of the Rings books that Jackson turned into three movies) into three full films of their own smacks of greed, or desperation, or both. And while audiences are eating it up, critics are less enthused, noting that the first film in the trilogy (expectedly) takes a very long time to get going. Will audiences continue to indulge Jackson’s sentence-by-sentence adaptation technique for two more films? (Okay, probably. But should they?)
When Disney announced in late October that they’d purchased George Lucas’ LucasFilms company — and all of its properties, including the Star Wars franchise — they also made the startling announcement that a new Star Wars movie was already in the works. Fans haunted by the nightmare fuel that is Jar-Jar Binks were relieved to discover that Lucas would neither write nor direct the new trilogy. “It’s now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers,” Lucas said. “I’ve always believed that Star Wars could live beyond me, and I thought it was important to set up the transition during my lifetime.” Lucas got much respect for donating most of the money from that sale to charity; he just might restore his problematic reputation if he holds firm on his pledge to step aside and let that “new generation of filmmakers” take over his universe. It’s not that it’ll be easy; as Lucas has proven, he has a bit of a problem with letting things go. But we believe in you, George. You can do it.
Take a risk on an original idea.
With the sole exception of 2005′s Corpse Bride, every single film Tim Burton has directed since 1996 was based on a pre-existing property. He did film remakes (Planet of the Apes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), book adaptations (Big Fish, Alice in Wonderland), film versions of TV shows (Dark Shadows), short story adaptations (Sleepy Hollow), even a film based on trading cards (Mars Attacks!). This cycle came to its logical and seemingly inevitable conclusion last fall, when Burton directed Frankenweenie, a big-screen remake of one of his early short films. Yes, Burton the remake king was now remaking himself — what’s next? A remake of Edward Scissorhands? A “reboot” of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure? A sequel to Beetlejuice? Here’s a better idea: maybe Burton could try to recapture the originality of those early efforts, and remind us of why we used to like him in the first place, lo those many years ago.
Leos Carax and David Lynch:
Realize that sloth is sinful.
As you may have noticed, we really liked Holy Motors, Leos Carax’s mind-bending celebration of cinema and performance and life itself. It was also, astonishingly enough, his first feature-length film in thirteen freaking years. David Lynch, meanwhile, hasn’t made a feature since 2006′s Inland Empire, and confirmed long-standing rumors that it was his last in the 2012 documentary Side by Side. In true Lynch form, he was a touch evasive, but seemed uninterested in directing more films, focusing instead on making insane music and doing some inspired acting work. Listen here, you two: enough is enough. There’s a shortage of visionary filmmakers these days, and the last thing we need is for two of the best to spend decades screwing around. And for that matter…
Admit that this retirement stuff is all a big hoax.
We’ve been hearing this talk about Soderbergh giving up filmmaking for over a year now, so it’s gotten pretty silly, the way he keeps moving his retirement goalposts in order to squeeze in one more Channing Tatum movie or one more HBO mini-series. But word around the campfire is that once those two projects (Side Effects and Beyond the Candelabra, respectively) are completed — both are currently in post-production — he’s done, walking away from the movie-making business at the top of his game. And to that we say ha ha, very funny Steve, joke’s over. Because 2012 saw two new Soderbergh films that were miles better than their loglines would indicate: the bone-crushing MMA action/spy thriller Haywire and the Tatum/McConaughey male stripper comedy/drama Magic Mike. Both found Soderbergh tinkering with genre expectations and gender roles; both were unreasonably entertaining and unexpectedly smart. All we’re saying, Mr. Soderbergh, is that you’re one of the most interesting and skilled of all modern American filmmakers — so quit kidding around about giving it up. Okay?
Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer:
Stop. Just stop.
The exiles of Soderbergh, Carax, and Lynch seem particularly cruel given some of the filmmakers that have shown no inclination to stop making movies, no matter how loudly we’ve pleaded. Take, for example, Mr. Friedberg and Mr. Seltzer, who parlayed a writing credit on Scary Movie into one of the least distinguished filmographies in movie history: Date Movie, Epic Movie, Disaster Movie, Meet the Spartans, and Vampires Suck. That last title, their most recent, hit back in 2010 — but don’t worry, bad taste has prevailed. Friedberg and Seltzer’s latest is currently in post-production, and it’s called — hang on, finish up if you’re taking a drink, because you may laugh so hard that your soda comes out of your nose, and that shit burns — it’s a parody of The Hunger Games, and it’s called (get ready for this) The Starving Games. Get it?!? Because, um, “starving” is a synonym for “hunger,” and that gives you some idea of the wit we’re in from Friedberg and Seltzer, the masters of “hey here’s a thing you’ve heard of, right?” humor. Boys, please, see the light. Soderbergh says he’s going to quit movies so he can focus on painting. You guys ever tried any watercolors? Maybe we could send you a couple of blank canvases?
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