The 80s was about action movies. Lethal Weapon; Beverly Hills Cop; anything with Arnold Schwarzenegger (he even killed people in Twins!)… It didn’t matter what the story was, as long as the story involved a guy and lots of guns. Rambo fit the 80s like a bayonet. He might have tried for a poignant back-story in First Blood, but as the decade wore on, he knew what audiences wanted of him: headband, knife, “don’t push me!”, guns. Sylvester Stallone had once harboured ambitions to be the next Brando, but the 80s didn’t ask for Brando, it asked for Rambo. In a decade without war, audiences wanted blood.
We love movie murderers; whether it’s Dirty Harry executing punks or Hannibal Lecter eating the rude. Morals slacken when killing is done on-screen. The fact these guys would probably kill us if they got half a chance doesn’t factor (we know we’d be the exception to their “kill ’em all” rule). In Mr. Brooks it’s Kevin Costner who plays the psychopath. He’s more Jekyll and Hyde than Dracula, but he still kills more often than most of us eat hot meals. What is it about a guy like that? Why would anyone think they could make us sympathise with him?
Is a movie great if it looks great? There aren’t many great movies that don’t look great, but how much wrong-decision do good looks buy? Blade Runner is known as a great movie predominately because it invented a look for the future. And no question, it has to be the best looking sci-fi movie of all time. But y’know, there’s a lot about Blade Runner that doesn’t work. I know it might be heresy to say this but… the love story sucks, the pacing is off, and Sean Young is robotic, even for a robot. So are good looks enough? I think of Wong Kar Wai’s 2046 (another handsome, robots and cigarettes movie). My god I hated 2046. Is Blade Runner any better?
Heart of Darkness doesn’t work with women. Oh sure, there are women who find the themes interesting, but the story is a very male myth. On the one hand you’ve got Colonel Kurtz, the guy who’s “Faced the Ultimate Evil”; on the other hand, Marlow, the man The Man has sent to kill Kurtz. An 800lb gorilla and a bad-ass; these are not characters whom girls take an interest in. In The Proposition it’s Danny Huston who plays the Kurtz-role. Guy Pearce is Marlow. Ray Winstone is the East India Company/The Man. It’s set in 19th century Australia instead of Africa. But the heart is the same, whether it’s the heart of the jungle or the bush.
What Hiroshima was to Godzilla, 9/11 is to Cloverfield. They’re both about catharsis. I grant you, it’s catharsis of the hinky sort. Each takes the greatest horror its people have ever experienced and makes a monster movie out of it – but y’know, we’re not in ancient Greece anymore. No one’s going to write an Odyssey about our troubles. Today, when bad things happen, we call Jerry Bruckheimer for catharsis, not Euripides. Movies like United 93 and World Trade Centre might want to be America’s response to 9/11, but the real response is Cloverfield. Some real events are so fantastical you need the fantastical to talk about them. And to claim them back.
Is a movie bad because it tells you what you already know? Let me re-phrase that. Is a movie that wants to say something important bad because…? War is bad. We can all agree on that. No-one would disagree with a movie being anti-war (unless it was a bad anti-war movie). But does the world need another movie that tells us war is bad (like it was saying something new)? In the Valley of Elah is well-made, well-acted and well-short of insight into warfare. It thinks the Iraq war is something new; that what happens in Baghdad is somehow different from Stalingrad; Nanking; the Somme.
Imagine Sixteen Candles if Molly Ringwald had picked Duckie over Blaine. Imagine a movie where the doofus gets the girl… because the girl wants the doofus. That’s Juno. And that ain’t the half of it. Juno contains the best role for a woman in an American movie for twenty years. If I were an actress over 21…if I were any actress but Ellen Page, I’d be livid. Because Juno MacGuff is a female Holden Caulfield, only spunkier, and pregnant. It’s so insanely rare that women get to play anything but hookers and killers in American movies, to have a character who: a) gets the best lines, b) makes mistakes, c) fixes her mistakes, and d) has a vagina – is amazing.