"Seek any statue in any city, you'll not find one of a committee."
— Gilbert K. Chesterson
Times are tough. People are afraid to stand alone, scared to take a swing. From lackey politicians, to corporate boardrooms to every condo strata council since the beginning of time, everyone wants a say and the credit for success — but let's make damn sure none of us ever have to face the music alone when the bottom falls out. Western culture, though built on the ideal of the lone drifter cowboy, is suddenly looking piss-scared to act like one.
And that makes for generally shitty movies. In Hollywood, birthplace of the cowboy movie, we see more and more studios greenlighting cookie-cutter comedies and sequels based solely on what's worked in the past. Nearly every film is test screened before a lowest-common-denominator audience then sometimes re-edited in the hope that it will click with as many people as possible.
Shake, stir, repeat and you end up with Getaway, wherein washed up race-car driver Ethan Hawke has to car-chase a hot rod through a city, completing tasks without stopping, in order to save his wife from an unseen scary voice (Angelina's dad, Jon Voight). Selena Gomez plays the chubby-cheeked hacker/carjacker who gets swept along for the ride.
If that sounds like a cross between the Grand Theft Auto video game and Saw that's OK because after "re-imagining" what works for 20 years, Hollywood has at least figured out how to pump out glossy, golden escapism. It's North America's most successful recycling program (though they still produce an awful lot of trash).
Thankfully the stars still shine once you get away from the smog and there are a few cowboys still out there. Auteurs like Scorcese, Spike Lee, Catherine Hardwicke and the Coens are artists and visionaries but their visions make money so they get the freedom to be original. Quentin Tarantino exemplifies the difference between remixing and recycling. He turns old concepts into new hits and can even make a comedy about racism and slavery if he wants to.
And so can Lee Daniels. After Precious turned $10 million into $60 million and picked up an Oscar, Daniels was given the keys to make the kinds of films not everyone else gets a crack at. And this week he comes in and sweeps up.
Lee Daniels' The Butler, also opening Friday, places Forest Whitaker into the titular role as a White House servant who serves under a number of American presidents through some of the most trying times and significant moments in that nation's history.
It's not as Gump as it sounds and although Daniels delivers a little less grit this time around there are still those flashes of brilliance. The Butler holds up thanks to well-written characters being played by exceptional actors under the thumb of a director who knows how to get people to go for it. One of many standouts is Oprah, playing the butler's fiery, drunk, cheating (and yet loyal) wife. She's swinging for an Oscar and so is Daniels. The Butler stands alone.
One final note: this week marks the 572nd straight week of "Notes from the Back Row" that's 11 years. And I might be getting old because One Direction: This Is Us opens this Friday in 3D and I know absolutely nothing about it. Not a clue. Apparently it's a Morgan Spurlock directed concert-documadvertorial about five young English Spice Girls... scratch that, they're boys... acting like working class lads for 85 minutes while throngs of teenyboppers scream for more.
That doesn't sound too derivative. Perhaps things aren't so bad after all.