Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bread and Circuses 2011

I think we have officially reached the end of the era of the Movie Star.  Gone are the days of Humphry Bogart, Sean Connery, Harrison Ford, George Clooney and Johnny Depp.  We are entering the era of the franchise, where the only quality an actor must posess is a generic enough face and enough talent to shout "Oh no!  A giant robot!"

As we head into the summer, most of the movies we've seen coming out from major studios have either been franchises (Harry Potter, Transformers) reboots (Batman, Planet of the Apes, the upcoming Spiderman) or sequels (Johnny English Reborn, Pirates of the Carribbean 4, The Hangover 2).  Even movies that seem original (Cowboys and Aliens, Sucker Punch) are based on pre-existing material, in those cases, comic books no one's ever read, hence the originality factor.

The problem with franchise films is that they strip away any chance the actor has of, oh, I don't know, acting.  Because Spiderman has to be Spiderman, damn it, or the fanboys will mess their underoos, Andrew Garfield has to be pretty much the same as Toby McGuire.  James Franco and Shia LeBouf are interchangable, just slightly-updated Hayden Christensens and Elijah Woods.  Blockbusters don't make Hollywood names anymore because Hollywood doesn't want pay someone $20 million dollars for a performance.  Imagine, if you will, a world where Han Solo didn't say "I know" in response to Princess Leia's "I Love You" in The Empire Strikes Back because Harrison Ford wasn't allowed to be Han Solo--he was just allowed to wear his clothes for a few hours.  That would have sucked, because that one line, which Harrison Ford improv-ed based on his own interpretation of his character, tells us so much about Han that two hours of exposition couldn't have revealed.

Because there aren't characters anymore, the actors aren't allowed that grace.  It's basically Halloween every day--Shia LeBouf gets to put on his Transformers-guy costume, but he isn't allowed to create that character because that character doesn't exist.  He's basically a prop for a bunch of special effects.

And hell, even Christensen and Wood, who were in two/three of the highest grossing films of all time can barely get work anymore--because they're too recognizable as Anakin and Frodo, so they get replaced with someone of equal nerdiness who comes cheaper and no one will notice.  (Also, because Hayden Christensen can't act.)  Jesse Eisenberg is (was) a cheaper Michael Cera.  Seth Rogan, Zach Galifanakis and Jonah Hill (who Matthew says "looks like he invented pink eye") can all play the exact same character (fat stoner asshole) with almost no difference between them.  There was a big difference between, say, John Belushi, Chris Farley and Horatio Sanz as far as filling the "fat funny guy" role--Belushi was crazy, Farley was sweet but dumb and Sanz, well, he's just unfunny.  But now we've got three fat guys all trying to play the same role in various incarnations.

I have a whole theory on guys like Seth Rogan anyway--women are expected to see these nerdy, fat, loser guys as their new romantic leads (like Knocked Up)  We've been asked to lower our standards without men lowering theirs--if anything, now the average sclubby guy thinks he DESERVES a hot girl, simply for being "who he is" (we'll call this the "Nathan Rabin" trend).  The horror of that aside (The tagline of Knocked Up was "What would you do if this guy got you pregnant?" and my answer is "grab the nearest coat-hanger") having the "everyman" (because let's face it, American guys aren't getting any hotter) be the romantic lead just furthers my theory that actors are becoming interchangable--because with Jonah Hill finally succombs to fatal pink-eye, they can just pick another fat schlub from Nowhere, America to replace him, probably without anyone noticing.

But you can't replace Leonardo DiCaprio.  My guess is, and I hate admitting this because I hated him for years. DiCaprio will be the last movie star.  He's the last of those big-names with any screen presence or charisma.  You can't make a new Johnny Depp just by giving someone a hipster haircut and a fedora.  These are actors with real raw talent, but that's not what Hollywood wants anymore.  Talent is too hard to replace.

Hollywood is creating a class of actors who will never be household names.  James Franco's name alone will never be enough to sell a film to a wide audience, which is good because the less James Franco we have, the better off we'll all be. This new class of Hollywood actors has a shelf life of about ten minutes, which is, frankly, fine with me because they all suck.

1 comment:

  1. Marvelous blog, Libby! The contrast of Harrison Ford's "I know" line with the things that make the "fanboys" lose their minds left me wondering whether to laugh or cry. And like you, I didn't care for DiCaprio for many years (even though I gave him huge credit for "Basketball Diaries") but now I see just about everything he's in. I'd never given any thought to the notion that he might just be the "last movie star" but now I see it -- brilliant observation. Great blog.