Saturday, July 11, 2009

Move Notes: Public Enemies

Will Hollywood go the way of the Detroit auto industry? ...Please?

Millions and millions of dollars are poured into these ugly, abrasive, disjointed movies aimed solely at the tastes of a very small segment of the population-young males between the ages of 12 and 25- that happens to spend the most money. The end result? Hollywood has done exactly what American auto companies did: spending entirely too much money to capture too small a segment of the market at the expense of alienating nearly everyone else. When we went to the multiplex last night, I didn't see anyone else there above the age of 22. After we watched the "film", I understood why.

It was also surprisingly undersold for a "major Hollywood movie" on a Friday night. So many seats were empty that at least half of the teenagers in the theater had their feet up on the seat in front of them, and about half of them had their shoes and socks off. Also the new rule seems to be that you're okay if you sit in the middle of a multiplex. The back is now understood to be the "talking section", while the middle is where they just whisper loudly and film the movie on their cell phones. I'd imagine they'll be pissing in the trashcans next, since the washroom is such a long walk away.

As for the movie, bootlegging Public Enemies on a cell phone is appropriate because the "film" looks like it was shot on a cell phone. It's amazing: they spent eighty million dollars, made incredible costumes and sets, and hired some of the best actors working in movies, and shot the thing on crappy HD video that makes it look like something a college kid posted on Youtube. If you watched the thing on a PC, it would look the same, if not better. It is, mercifully, filmed in a hand held style that helps distract from how ugly it is by giving the viewer motion sickness. And, like most Michael Mann films, it's edited so quickly that you can't generally tell what's going on anyway. One new innovation here however is that the sound drops out during some of the dialogue scenes so that you can't always hear what's being said either. Viva progress.

This painful technical ineptitude is supposed to seem "current" and "edgy", but it just looks like cable access television. The target audience has no taste anyway, and clearly I'm too old at 35 to be in that focus group. The movie scrimps on actual dialogue scenes because teenage boys don't like to watch people talking; and so, there's no character development whatsoever. The lovemaking scenes are awkwardly chaste, because teenagers get uncomfortable with nudity when they're on dates. And, since teens love violence, most of the scenes feature ridiculously inept bloodletting, whether it fits the story or not. Thankfully, however, there wasn't the excessive CGI that makes most multiplex movies look like video games. This one looked instead like web cam footage.

It all becomes most painful during the last scenes. The real John Dillinger, of course, was gunned down while exiting Chicago’s Biograph Theater after watching a Clark Gable gangster movie, which means that we get to see a film-within-a-film that is much better than the actual film we're watching! It wasn't even a good Clark Gable film, but the few glimpses of sumptuous closeups and acting unhindered by technological gimmickry made me misty eyed. Johnny Depp is a great actor too, but they actually allowed Clark Gable to act, instead of giving him two or three clipped lines and shooting them with the camera zoomed up his nose.

That's what's most frustrating about Public Enemies: Johnny Depp, Marion Cotillard, and Christian Bale are great, gorgeous actors, and it's thrilling to see them together in a movie (even if it isn't porn). The acting was very good, the sets and costumes were beautiful, and on occasion there were some powerful scenes- the scene in the movie theater was particularly effective. And it's not a bad movie- it's just a really mediocre movie that had all of the resources to be a very good movie. Sadly, they just didn't try very hard. And, it's definitely not a film worth seeing in a movie theater, like we did. Rent it on DVD, or better yet, wait until it's on television.

In fact, there really aren't a lot of movies made any more that are worth seeing in a theater. It used to be commonly understood by 'cultured people' that movies are not, and cannot be, works of art- an argument that I've always strongly disagreed with. But, clearly, I'm in the minority now. Modern filmmakers would be offended to be called auteurs, or to have their product called art. And filmgoers... well, they just want noise and fast cars to get their minds off their failing grades and overbearing parents. The rest of us are better off renting old Criterion Collection stuff from Netflix or Zip, or reading books. The hype and horseshit won out- films are not art.

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