Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Crazy Heart, Lazy Filmmakers

I wasted my Monday evening watching yet another formulaic, canned product from Hollywood called Crazy Heart.

I gave this movie a shot because I am a Jeff Bridges fan and have enjoyed this actor's work over the years going back to his role in The Iceman Cometh. I didn't expect much from this film and I wasn't disappointed. There is a saying in literature and film making that there are only a finite number of story lines. The trick in writing and film making is coming up with something original using one of these plots. The producers, writers and director of this film failed to do so.

The plot went like this. A washed up country singer who drinks and smokes too much meets an inspirational single mother and bonds with her kid. He stages a mini-comeback only to self-destruct by drinking and driving and losing the kid while imbibing at the shopping mall. The mother wisely chooses child over washed up drunk. Washed up drunk goes into rehab, heads down the right path, but loses the woman to an invisible, responsible man. Hmmm, where have we seen this before.

Jeff Bridges is an effortless actor who always seems like he is playing himself, ala Clint Eastwood, but still manages to sell you the character. Is this the stuff Oscars are made of, apparently so since he got one for hobbling through this screenplay acting drunk and stupid and doing a passable job of signing country and western songs. If this is acting, I'm Lawrence Olivier; I can hobble, drink and sing bad C & W with the best of em. The point here is that one gets the impression that from the writers to the actors, no one really made an effort making this movie and I find that somewhat insulting to those of us who invested time and money to watch it.

Yet, all in all, to it's credit the movie wasn't offensive and the writers and director did take the high road and end it on a positive note with the two main characters going back to the point of inception in their relationship with seemingly no hard feelings and no weepy deaths.

Movie making has devolved to the point where there is precious little originality. I can count on one hand the number of movies I have seen in my lifetime that I considered to be surprisingly original despite being based on familiar story lines. Among these are A Clockwork Orange, The Usual Suspects, Unforgiven, Vanilla Sky, The Crying Game and pretty much anything Quentin Tarantino does. Keep in mind that Crazy Heart wasn't what I would consider a bad film. If you want to see a bad film check out anything George Clooney tries to produce and/or direct. It also strayed from the safe harbor of big blockbuster, cartoon genre films such as Batman, Spiderman, X-Men, etc. So there was a bit of risk-taking here, just not enough.

It is a popular perception that the creative gene in Hollywood has been damaged by the toxic influence of television that has taken our children away from the written page. I don't doubt that television has had a negative influence on movie making. Quite a few movies are now produced based upon television shows/series. I don't see this as a particularly good trend since....well just turn on the TV for yourself to see the crap that is thrown at us from the inside of the screen. Can an American Idol movie be far behind. Oh wait, I think Hugh Grant already made one of those.

So what is a film fan to do? I search Netflix for old movies with big name stars from the days when there were big name stars. Marlene Dietrich, Burt Lancaster, Humphrey Bogart, Lee Marvin, Bette Davis are some searches that have led me back to the time when movies were not special effect-based, but simply produced, and character/story driven. These movies were not necessarily original in the way the plots were manipulated, but they were meticulously crafted, well-written and acted by actors and actresses who felt a responsibility to their audience. They feel original. When I watch one of these films I feel invested in it, like reading a good book that one wishes would never end. When I watched Crazy Heart, I couldn't wait for it to end. It's a subtle distinction, but one that movie makers should start paying attention to.

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