How Cynicism is Killing Entertainment

CYNEMA: This Time It's Personal



There may be a single quote that sums up the entire aspect of of my concept "Cynema." It was spoken by the great Michael Caine, Oscar winner, film legend and one of the most bankable and respected names in the business.

After filming "Jaws The Revenge" (the title bugs me. Shouldn't it be JAWS: THE REVENGE? If not what exactly IS "Jaws The Revenge"?) Caine was asked by a reporter if he was upset over missing accepting his 1987 Oscar for Woody Allen's "Hannah and Her Sisters."


Caine said this: "I have never seen it [Jaw the Revenge], but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it's terrific!"


And there you have it. That kind of sums it all up. Read a snippet of the late Richard Jeni's rant and beautiful monologue on "Jaws The Revenge":


"…Have you ever seen a movie with a plot that's so bad, even if you were stupid... even if you were the stupidest person... if you had no brain... just a spinal cord, a sweat sock and a bag of [lousy] popcorn, and your spinal cord's sitting there going: "Hey hey hey!!! I'm only a spinal cord, but even I'm getting a little pissed off!"

(c) 1987 Universal/MCA Pictures


This is a film that goes beyond what is "good" and what is "bad." We all have our opinions and many of us love a wonderfully bad Grade Z film. But "Jaws the Revenge" is none of these things. The great Roger Ebert said this about the fourth (and hopefully last) installment of the shark franchise:


Jaws the Revenge is not simply a bad movie, but also a stupid and incompetent one.”  The legendary critic just might have the last word on this film.


This Time It’s Ridiculous…


Imagine you are sitting at that long table atop the Black Tower in Universal Studios. You are the one to give thumbs up or thumbs down to film projects pitched to you and your corporate suit friends. You are the keeper of “The Green Light.” You now have the power to make movies! Here’s the challenge. Without any knowledge of the previous Jaws films, someone comes into your office and pitches you the plot for a fourth installment to the famous shark series. Would you or wouldn’t you give 28 million dollars to make this movie? Ready?


 “OK…we get Lorraine Gary to return to the Jaws series as a widowed Mrs. Brody. She loses her son on Christmas Eve to yet another Great White Shark attack. Her son took over his dead father’s job as town cop and fell victim to the shark as it waited for him to dislodge debris blocking the Amity harbor.


The shark is psychic and is hunting down the Brody family to avenge the deaths of the previous sharks from the other films. A grief stricken Mrs. Brody flies to the Bahamas to be with her surviving older son and the shark follows her there to continue its plan of vengeance. She meets and falls in love with Michael Caine and convinces him that the shark that was responsible for the deaths of her husband and son now hunts her family.


The shark attacks her other son (a deep sea diver) who along with a “Jamaican” Mario Van Peebles is a marine biologist. It then attacks her grand daughter who narrowly escapes. Mrs. Brody decides to get her own revenge and steals her son’s boat to confront the shark.


Mrs. Brody and the shark square off at sea as the film climaxes with Mrs. Brody steering the boat on a collision course for the rampaging shark and impales it with the bowsprit through the head (which explodes).”


So...would you spend millions to make this? Because that is the exact plot of Jaws 4, The Revenge?


It actually takes great effort to make a truly bad movie. There is a difference between cheesy and just plain inept and I have found we are a society quickly becoming incapable of distinguishing between the two.

A cheesy monster movie like 1979’s Prophecy is superior to the dreck that makes up the SyFy Channel’s original movie lineup. Why? Because director John Frankenheimer and his cast & crew really thought they were making an important movie, a commentary on environmental destruction. The folks at SyFy know they are churning out glossy CGI crap to fill programming and people will THINK this is "so bad it's good" cheese. It's not. It's cynical product assembly.


  Prophecy is also superior to a mega budget film like "2012."  Why weren’t audiences more in tune with the fact that "Titanic" was really nothing much more than an overrated “B” movie with an expensive budget? Why did it receive a record number of Oscars and awards and reign for awhile as the all time highest grossing film?


Part of the answer is that "Titanic" is not much different than "Armageddon" or even the sappy Ali McGraw "Love Story." “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” is no different than “I’ll never let go, Jack” or any of the diabetes inducing lyrics from Celine Dion’s sap-oozing Oscar winning song which was no different than the sucrose laced “Wind Beneath My Wings” from the over rated Lifetime Channel movie, "Beaches" sung by Bette Midler.


I will later examine a small, 2010 independent film called You’ll Know My Name, produced for a budget of $30,000 and outshines movies with 100 times that budget. Money is at the root of Cynema only when it comes to making it.


I am instantly labeled a cynic—having forgotten what it was like to be young, I’ve grown old and crabby, become jaded or even more simplistically have a case of very sour grapes from my jealousy for the success of these films. “Those who can’t do…teach. Or become critics,” is often a line thrown back in response to my statements on these films. It becomes more heated when people hear my views on Disney and my firm belief that much of what Disney creates is far more damaging than any horror or porn film out there (save your scathing comments for later and don’t stop reading just because you don’t agree. Don’t just read…listen).


Except I did go out and write a movie. In fact I wrote and produced TWO movies so far. And they got distributed. And I got Cloris Leachman, an Oscar winner to star in one. I started writing this to understand why society embraces things so blatantly bad, despite the fact that tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on the productions. If you’re confused, I am going to try to  analyze why the original 1979 "Friday the 13th" was superior to its expensive 2007 remake.


The whole budget for the original "Friday the 13th" was probably the bill for the catering services on the remake, and yet it’s a better movie. A few things came to mind as I tried to make sense of Cynema. One of those things is that this is not just a Hollywood problem. Hollywood is simply giving us what we want. The problem rests solely with audiences and what they expect from their culture. And then this exploration led me to something darker…our culture is rotting and has been for some time.


This will not be one long diatribe on how things were better “back in the day.” What I hope is a look into a disturbing trend that can be validated on any blog, website comments section and Netflix reviews. Part of it is a national narcissism that transcends nationalism and basic patriotism—a shift in a culture that has become so self centered that it’s lost its ability to see what it is doing to itself by what it endorses and embraces and in even plainer terms: what it thinks is ‘good’.


So let’s take it back to the first inspiration for Cynema—the overused Netflix reviewer phrase “Worst movie ever. I want the last two hours of my life back.” I am paraphrasing of course, but simply go on to Netflix and see how many times this begins a review. So let me get this straight…this film was so absolutely horrible that you want at least 90 minutes of your life refunded, yet you devote more minutes to write about how much you want it back and waste yet further “precious” time? We will get back to this concept in a bit. The whole concept of Cynema is knowing just what defines a truly “bad” movie and what is being passed off as good to an audience that doesn’t know the difference.


Much like “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” And if you don't know what that reference means, you have proved my point.

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