As I was perusing my fave film sites this afternoon in an all-too-brief moment of quiet downtime, I came across a bit on Roger Ebert's site about Silent Hill director Christophe Gans lashing out in this month's Electronic Gaming Monthly about Ebert's opinion that video games are not art. Now, I am not a video game person (honestly, I just don't have the spatial ability to play them well, as my six-year-old son can well tell you), but what drew me to Ebert's reply was the end of it, where he notes, "the older I get, the more prudent I become in how I spend my time." Ebert concludes his response to Gans with an homage to his friend, the late Gene Siskel, who once said that nobody on their deathbed ever thinks, "I'm glad I always flew tourist."
I can relate to Ebert's sentiment, because I, too, find that the older I get, the less tolerance I have for much of the sludge that Hollywood spews out with ghastly predictability. I'm sure there are lots of people willing to shell out 10 bucks plus snack money on a David Slade or Adam Sandler film. I'm just not one of them. For the most part, I far prefer to spend my movie-watching hours with indies, foreigns, and documentaries. Not that every film that falls in those categories is automatically good (actually, indie films can be really, really bad), but the likelihood of hitting a film worth spending my time on -- where I actually walk out of the theater feeling that my life has been enhanced in some way by spending my time watching it -- seems to markedly increase the further from Hollywood the film originates.
Of all the films I've seen since Sundance in January, there are only five (so far at least) that were really worth my time: Duma, Thank You for Smoking, Brick, Match Point and Water. Five very different films, but each a first-class ticket in its own way, compared to the touristy fare that populates the local metroplex. Duma made me wish longingly that more family films would strive to be intelligent and lovely; Thank You for Smoking is the best comedy I've seen all year (I still chuckle thinking of some of the lines from that film). Brick was a rare find -- a smart, savvy film about teens that didn't condescend toward that age group or present them as nothing but empty-headed, mean-spirited little sex fiends; Match Point was Woody Allen directing at the top of his game, practically a how-to-make-a-great-film seminar for aspiring filmmakers; and Water was notable not only for what director Deepa Mehta went through to make it, but for its universal message about compassion and the way we as humans can treat each other badly, using religion or culture as an excuse.
The conundrum of Hollywood is that, while some folks there might actually be really interested in making good films (oh, c'mon, I'm sure there are a few, don't be so cynical), the studios bow before the golden altar of Box Office, and put their heft behind films like MI:3 and Big Momma's House 2, films that have the best shot of getting many, many people shelling out their hard-earned cash at the theater, rather than holding out for the DVD or pay-per-view. Hence, films like the upcoming animated flick Barnyard, the trailer for which had even my two-year-old rolling his eyes, gets promoted out the wazoo, while an actual quality family film like Duma gets bupkis. Teens get all manner of mindless crap hurled their way, instead of a film like Brick, which assumes they are actually capable of intelligent thought.
Looking at the list of upcoming summer fare, there's not a whole lot that screams "first class" at me. My Super-Ex Girlfriend looks somewhat promising; at least, it's a storyline that hasn't been completely done to death. I'm hopeful (praying even) that Clerks 2 won't suck. Nacho Libre? Four words: Jack Black in tights. There's another Fast and Furious movie? Why, because there were so many unanswered questions from the first two? The Devil Wears Prada? Yawn ... Our Heroine takes on the Boss From Hell? I already saw that film when it was called Working Girl -- and before that when it was called 9 to 5. Superman Returns? Cute guy in tights. Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor might make that one worthwhile, we'll see. Miami Vice? Even if it didn't have Colin Farrell -- who I swear I just cannot see the appeal of -- I'd take a pass.
Bah. Maybe I'm just getting surly as I edge closer to 40, but most of the summer line-up just feels so overdone and rehashed as to be almost pointless. Yet millions of people will go spend millions of dollars going to see these films, thereby encouraging the powers-that-greenlight films to keep on shoveling more tourist-quality crap our way. Which means that those of us who feel too old to waste that much of what's left of our lives on that much dreck will be left to sift through our film festival catalogs and art-house schedules, hoping to shake out a first-class gem.