Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hollywood's Losing Battle: The War on Terror

For the last two years or so it has perplexed me that, for all of their filmmaking and marketing prowess, Hollywood seems utterly incapable of selling movies that touch, directly or tangentially, on the United States government's infamous "war on terror." I'm not speaking as any kind of entertainment insider and in fact, this topic was discussed in Time Magazine with probably a lot better insight than I could hope to give, but at the time the article was written, yet another work touching on the controversial conflict, Ridley Scott's Body of Lies, starring Leonardo Di Caprio and frequent Scott collaborator Russell Crowe, was just about to hit theaters. It was speculated at the time that it could finally end Hollywood's losing streak with the war, but at the end of the day, it didn't, failing to even open at number #2 on its opening weekend.

So as it stands Hollywood now has a zero batting average when it comes to selling feature-length films touching upon the war on terror. From Oscar winners like Reese Witherspoon (Rendition) to Jamie Foxx (The Kingdom) to Hollywood royalty like Tom Cruise (Lions for Lambs) and the aforementioned Crowe and DiCaprio, Tinseltown's efforts to lure moviegoers into the seats with their take on the war have been received with, at best, tentativeness and at worst, complete and utter indifference. Meryl Streep, it should be noted, starred in not just one but TWO flops on the war on terror: Rendition and Lions for Lambs. She has the track record to show she can sell a film, so she definitely isn't the problem. It isn't even much of a stretch to predict that the upcoming film Green Zone, from the tried and tested box-office duo of Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass of Bourne fame, will suffer a similar fate at the tills. Universal Pictures, the film's distributor, has apparently yet to announce a release date despite the fact that the film was in the can several months ago. The widespread interest in Hollywood types to have their say on the war seems to have been tempered by the widespread rejection of audiences of just about every single movie thus far released on the topic.

The lingering question, really, is how does one explain the aversion of Joe Moviegoer (a very distant cousin of Joe the Plumber) to any and every take on the war on terror?

I don't buy that America isn't receptive to criticism; one need only look at the sensational box-office returns of Farenheit 9/11, which was essentially one long diatribe against the Bush Administration and its war on terror.

I don't even really have any ideas on what's behind the almost unanimous rejection of these movies, whether left OR right-leaning, but it's definitely some kind of sociological phenomenon considering the pedigree and box-office clout of filmmakers who've thrown their hats into the ring. I've never even actually seen any of these movies so I can't speak about their merits or lack thereof, but seeing such widespread rejection I can't help but take notice. Is the problem that the movies themselves aren't any good, or that their target audience just aren't ready to digest their subject matter?

It's a question Hollywood should be asking itself before bankrolling another project set in Iraq or even discussing, let alone critiquing, the war on terror. It's a shame because all things considered, it's a discussion that really should be encouraged.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Madness and Brilliance of Tina Fey

I'd known about writer/comedienne/actress Tina Fey for quite awhile, but my first real exposure to her was the film Mean Girls, which she wrote and in which she starred as Lindsay Lohan's teacher. When I heard of the TV series 30 Rock, which she actually created based on her extensive experience as a writer and performer on Saturday Night Live, I was quite keen on watching it but, for one reason or another, never got around to it.

Thanks to the wonder of the internet, however, I've been able to catch up on several episodes of the second season, and I dare say I love the show even more than I thought I would based on the ads I saw on TV! From the zany, rapid-fire writing of Fey and her team of writers to the knock-'em-out-of-the-park performance delivered by card-carrying Democrat Alec Baldwin, playing his antithesis, a staunch Republican in just about every episode I've watched, this show is pure gold. I easily enjoy this show a lot more than the last sitcom I followed with any semblance of regularity, which was Friends.

Maybe I'm at that stage of my life where I like stories about the workplace more than I do those about people's personal lives, and given that Friends was largely about the interpersonal dynamics of the six protagonists, mostly as far as their romantic relationships went, but whatever the reason, I am well and truly loving this show. I never liked Ally McBeal with its self-absorbed, self-pitying heroine, but oddly enough, Fey's Liz Lemon isn't exactly completely removed from the neurotic lawyer Callista Flockhart played for five years, and yet I totally connect with her character. What I like about her is how, even though she has issues, she doesn't act, the way Ally McBeal often did, like her problems are the most important in the world. No dancing babies here, folks.

And the best part is how, even though this show is, in every way that counts, Fey's baby, she doesn't hog the limelight. The world of 30 Rock is populated by fantastically insane characters, the notable of which being Baldwin's uber-prick Republican Jack Donaghue (sp?), though he is far from the only one. Even Jane Krakowski, who basically recycles her oversexed, busybody secretary from Ally McBeal, manages to make me guffaw time and time again.

It's nice to have something that really tickles the funny bone on a regular basis again. These days, being able to laugh is a truly precious commodity.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Good Time to Be Broke

Financial crunches of late, both global and personal have severely curtailed my personal spending. The good news is, right now I don't really mind.

Everything on the consumer market that might vaguely interest me nowadays, from movies to comic books to toy cars to DVDS, has me feeling particularly underwhelmed. I stopped collecting albums/CDs a long time ago, and since becoming a lawyer I seem to have become increasingly less literate (as absurd as that sounds) as time goes by, with even comic books becoming a chore to read. But more on that later.

Now that I've seen Tropic Thunder and am only really looking forward to Marc Forster's Quantum of Solace, the latest James Bond caper, there is, rather blissfully, almost nothing I'm looking forward to spending my money on.

In the realm of film, I have to say there isn't much I'm looking forward to, save perhaps for Avatar, (James Cameron's first movie since the monumental Titanic), which looks, from all indications, to be that rarified Hollywood animal: an ORIGINAL blockbuster film, not one derived from a novel, a comic book, a TV show, a toy line, or a video game. That, unfortunately, won't be out until Christmas next year, but the good news is I don't see myself spending a whole lot of money on movies until then. I'm also looking forward to the sequel to Iron Man, the Marvel Comics Avengers movie (as opposed to the Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman stinkfest) and film adaptations of Avatar: The Last Airbender (not related to the Cameron project) and the European comic book sensation Tintin, but none of these movies will be out any earlier than 2010, so my wallet is destined to stay healthy between now and then, and any spending won't be on account of rushing to cinemas.

In terms of comic books, the anti-climactic-event-comic-book still seems all the rage these days, with Secret Invasion and Final Crisis topping the comic book charts and most Marvel comic books bearing an "embrace change" banner implying that Secret Invasion is likely to end on a low note with the marauding Skrulls somehow taking over the world or at least staking a huge chunk of its territory, as if real life weren't bleak enough. Considering Marvel, my bastion of comic book entertainment, is still very much into its addiction to shaking up the status quo every year I don't intend to give them business again any time soon. I can definitely see myself picking up collected editions of their Stephen King adaptations and some of their Spider-Man storylines down the line, but the compulsion to buy their books on a monthly basis, to which I was once a slave, is now completely gone, with no sign of it ever coming back.

With DVDs, well, with the Blu-Ray disc having won the format wars I find myself somewhat leery of spending large amounts of cash, whether on real or fake DVDs, on a product that was always destined to one day be antiquated but is now just counting the days till it goes the way of the Laser Disc. I don't have much of a collection to begin with, and although I still want to add Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk to my small and incomplete collection of Marvel movies, well, both the thought of them being outmoded and their prices are just too scary for me right now, especially given my limited funds.

As for my toy car addiction--I mean hobby--which kicked off in December of 2006 and raged for most of 2007 and a good chunk of this year, well, apparently the speed with which I could acquire the cars I liked was greater than the toymakers' ability to come out with new models because I now have everything all the models I want that are currently on the market. The only cars left that I still want to buy aren't even on the market yet, and, I hope, will stay that way for awhile. If I had my way I wouldn't want them to come out until sometime next year.

I don't even spend that much money on eating out anymore because quite frankly I really don't want to keep shopping for increasingly bigger pants every other year. Maybe, if I drink enough liters of water every morning and eat small enough meals, I'll be able to squeeze into my 34-inch pants again someday.

It's a good time to not have a whole lot of money for worldly pleasures, guilty or otherwise, because right now there aren't a whole lot of pleasures on which I'd like to spend it.