It happens to all of us. It’s as certain as taxes and the tacky antics of reality television ‘stars.’ We will all die one day, lest a scientist discover the secret to eternal youth and we all become pawns in a freak-show future shock where the immortal population is controlled via something called “Carrousel,” a voluntary suicide clinic, or some brutal Hunger Games. Aging is not the end of life, it’s the most mysterious part of it. Don’t think so? Take a moment and evaluate who you are today. Now flashback as far as you can…five years, a decade, two or more (or in yours truly’s case, 40-plus) and see how much has changed. Do you like the same music? Do you favor the same political bent? Are you with someone you love, or have you lost/limited your ability to simply feel said emotion. Time takes its toll, and in the end, what we don’t learn from its passage predicts our inability to deal with what’s ahead.
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At first, fans are anxious to see more. They can’t believe how much they enjoyed the first go round and wonder how, if possible, the filmmakers will top their initial accomplishment. The answer, of course, is that they never completely do. Instead, they do a delicate dance between originality and the same old sh…stuff, providing the viewer with a sense of familiarity while tricking them into thinking it’s all worth another ticket purchase. And heaven help us if Part 2 piles on the profits. Before you know it, you’ve creating a movie monster known as “The Franchise.” Sometimes, these continuing series can be brilliant (Toy Story, which is headed for a fourth installment). In other instances, they are defiantly hit and miss (we’re looking at you, James Bond and Star Trek). And then there are those that can’t see when the written-off writing is on the wall.
When the right actor meets the right role the final outcome can be an extraordinary alchemy. Witness Daniel Day Lewis’s recent Oscar-winning turn as Abe Lincoln. But sometimes, no matter how talented the performer, no amount of make believe can make up the difference if he or she just don’t fit the part.
When we walk in to a movie, be it a comedy, drama, horror film or action thriller, we know what to expect. Heck, Hollywood has programmed us to understand a cinematic experience even before we’ve seen a single extended take. Trailers spill the beans, pointing out meaningful moments and spoiler-esque plot elements as part of some no longer necessary marketing maneuver while the web works its wonders as part of Messageboard Nation’s desire to scoop its Internet competition and be first with any casting/creative choice. Besides, moviemaking has become a formula, a fixed point in a baffling business model’s bottom line which sees the same old things trotted out time and time again, hoping that you, as a clueless viewer, will ignore the blatant similarities and plunk down your hard earned dosh.
Want to understand how horribly unjust the movie business is? Want a perfect example of creativity stifled by unrealistic commercial aims and even more perplexing professional bias? Terry Gilliam has been making movies for 35 years, and in that time, he’s managed a creative canon of ten. Ten. Compare that to someone like Shawn Levy (whose made the same number of films in a mere decade and a half) or Dennis Dugan (who Adam Sandler keeps hiring despite the fact that his 14 films in 23 years have failed as examples of entertainment or ability) and you can sense the cinephile outrage rising. As a member of the Monty Python troop, Gilliam gave us animated nightmares, his cut and paste perversions resulting in some of the series best moments. As a filmmaker, he’s crafted so many meaningful masterworks that, when something new is announced, fans automatically assume the best before (sometimes) receiving significantly less.