June 29, 2006

Summer Films

So, it's summer. Even in Vancouver. And with it comes the usual glut of summer films. Summer films are generally considered to be those that cater to the broadest possible audience, usually humans less than thirty years old. Kids on summer holidays. Which more often than not means movies that are long on spectacle and short on story. A season of remakes, adaptations and sequels.

And I've usually been pretty elitist about this kind of thing, and prepared to settle into a long dry spell until the Fall when the Oscar contenders line up and start to appear on the box office marquee. But I read something by the notoriously surly David Mamet today, a piece called The Screenplay and the State Fair, that made me rethink that attitude.

"If we reason or accept that this is not drama, which it is not, we need not decry the summer film's vapidity. It would be inappropriate to criticize the pie-eating contest for lack of reasonable nutrition."
~ David Mamet


You know, I've never had the pleasure of seeing a real live pie-eating contest, but I imagine it would be pretty entertaining. It's not something I'd like to watch every day.

And there's only so much beautiful weather a person can take. Especially a person without air conditioning in their house. It's really nice to duck into a dark, cool theatre for a couple of hours on a hot day. And I have to say, there are more than a few summer movies that will get my dollar (or twelve). After openly mocking the concept of creating a movie inspired by a Disneyland ride, I loved Pirates of the Caribbean, and I've really been looking forward to the sequel, Dead Man's Chest. I'll probably go see Clerks II, Miami Vice... (yes, they really did make a movie of the show, but at least it's directed by the creator of the television series, one Michael Mann, who has since directed some of my favourite movies).

Think I'll pass on Snakes on a Plane, though.

June 14, 2006

Jesus Christ Superman

I was never a Superman fan. Sure, I liked the old movies enough, as a kid, but I never got into the comics. Superman always struck me as a goody two-shoes. Too pure and virtuous and innocent to be relatable. He never really screws up. His only real dilemma is whether or not to reveal his true identity to Lois Lane. I always thought he should spend more time trying to round up all the spare Kryptonite in the universe so it would stop getting into the wrong hands. Plus, I never bought that whole Clark Kent thing... I mean, a pair of thick glasses and a conservative suit doesn't exactly hide the fact that you're basically a god walking among men.

(Bear with me, this blog will not become all about superheros and comics, I promise.)

When we first saw the teaser for the new Superman Returns, Esther immediately said, "They're setting him up as Jesus Christ."

To wit, from the teaser, Jor-El (Superman's father, as if you didn't know):

"Even though you've been raised as a human being, you are not one of them. They can be a great people Kal-El. They wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity to do good, I have sent them you, my only son."


Which is fine. Superman has been compared to Jesus/God before. I've got no problem with that. But I do start to get nervous when people support or decry a movie solely because of its perceived message.

Just last month we had Christians of every stripe the world over drawing lines in the sand over The Da Vinci Code, as if it actually mattered or something. I mean, isn't all of this just getting a little bit out of hand? Is this the legacy of The Passion of the Christ? Which was recently rated the most controversial film of all time but which still made $370 million at the domestic box office. (And if you think Mel Gibson made The Passion of the Christ with his own money because he's a devout Christian, then I've got a bridge to sell you. Mel made Passion because he saw an untapped market. And, baby, did he tap it.)

I'm all for movies that make a statement, raise discussions, and even change the way we think about things. And I think filmmakers should aspire to say something with their work. But when I can see the strings of the studio's marketing departments being pulled for all they're worth to evoke meaning and incite controversy for the singular purpose of selling tickets to both red and blue states, and people actually falling for it, getting downright sanctimonious about it, buying out blocks of tickets, even whole theatres to support it... my skin crawls.

They're still just movies, right? Entertainment.

Go watch the movie. If you like it, that's great, tell your friends. If not, don't. Me? I'm going to go see Superman Returns because I think Bryan Singer makes great superhero movies, and because (as I've said before) my friend James Karen has a speaking part in it. And I think it'll be a lot of fun.

'Nuff said.