Some time back I read a very entertaining piece by a British critic named Mark Kermode, who waxed sardonic about the lamentable state of movies today. This particular passage made me laugh out loud:
If you want kids' movies in which cameras crawl up young women's skirts while CGI robots hit each other over the head, interspersed with jokes about masturbation and borderline-racist sub-minstrelsy stereotyping, then Bay is your go-to guy. He is also, shockingly, one of the most commercially successful directors working in Hollywood today, a hit-maker who proudly describes his visual style as "fucking the frame" and whose movies appear to have been put together by people who have just snorted two tonnes of weapons-grade plutonium.
Yes, yes, I remember, I actually liked Transformers: Dark of the Moon earlier this year. But that was mainly because shooting in 3D forced Bay to edit his film like he'd snorted only one tonne of weapons-grade plutonium. He may occasionally be able to pull a coherent action scene out of his ass, but he still has all the narrative skill of a lemming cascading over a cliff.
To hear Kermode tell it, maybe I really didn't like Transformers 3 after all. He says that to one degree or another, even educated film folk like me have become too forgiving of blockbusters. It's OK, they're supposed to be dumb.
Bollocks, says Kermode.
This has become the shrieking refrain of 21st-century film (anti)culture – the idea that critics are just too clever for their own good, have seen too many movies to know what the average punter wants, and are therefore sorely unqualified to pass judgment on the popcorn fodder that "real" cinema-goers demand from the movies.
This is baloney – and worse, it is pernicious baloney peddled by people who are only interested in money and don't give a damn about cinema. The problem with movies today is not that "real" cinema-goers love garbage while critics only like poncy foreign language arthouse fare. The problem is that we've all learned to tolerate a level of overpaid, institutionalised corporate dreadfulness that no one actually likes but everyone meekly accepts because we've all been told that blockbuster movies have to be stupid to survive. Being intelligent will cause them to become unpopular. Duh! The more money you spend, the dumb and dumberer you have to be. You know the drill: no one went broke underestimating the public intelligence. That's just how it is, OK?
Well, actually, no. You want proof? OK. Exhibit A: Inception.
He'll get no argument out of me there, said a guy who named Inception the best film of 2010.
The Good, the Bad and the Mutiplex: What's Wrong with Modern Movies? The excerpt was so insightfully pungent, so I decided to give the book a try, downloading a sample onto my tablet. And wow. Kermode certainly has a sharp wit, but also a bit of a knack for well-read bullshit. He dares to compare Marlon Brando to Zac Efron - with Mr. Brando as the loser. Kermode writes of Efron:
He's young, he's talented he can sing, dance and act, and when I met him once (briefly), he was sweet, gracious, charming and very lovely to be around ... You can smirk all you want, but to my mind Efron is a reminder of the kind of fully rounded star appeal which was required of screen actors before Marlon Brando somehow managed to bamboozle everyone into believing that true talent meant mumbling and snorting like you've got a mouthful of cake, turning up late to work because you've been researching your role in the cafeteria, and refusing to accept Oscars because you don't like cowboys and Indians movies. For the record, Marlon Brando was a fool whose growing contempt for his audience caused them to stay away from his later pictures in droves ... rather than being the greatest actor of his generation, Brando was actually Ron Burgundy.
Wow. That's gotta be written under the influence of a half-tonne of weapons-grade plutonium.
In fairness, there's more than a kernel of truth to what Kermode is saying. It's all too easy to snigger at Efron, but the kid is a genuine talent. He held his own in a movie called Me and Orson Welles, the title of which should tell you everything you need to know. And it is also true that Brando's latter-day antics make Tom Cruise seem rational by comparison. But any sane person, including Mr. Efron, I'm sure, knows whose legacy is more valuable.
It also must be said that most of the movies that made Mr. Efron famous are every bit as prefabricated as anything Michael Bay ever shot. Or maybe Mark Kermode doesn't really like High School Musical. He just thinks he does.
Regardless, I'm going to read the rest of his book. Anybody this incisively insane has gotta be worth more posts.