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When the formula works

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Ex-Pique journalist and movie-loving cinephiliac Jesse Ferreras put forth an interesting concept this week. He claims the American film industry is currently knee-deep in an era that's much like the old studio system that dominated Hollywood from the 1940s to '70s.

"At that time, producers called all the shots," Jesse says. "It didn't matter who directed a film, it had to subscribe to the standard of the studios making it...Today, I fear we've descended into a similar area. Hollywood has become and engine of mass production in which the director's vision matters less than a film's fealty to its source material."

Jesse brings this up in reference to the Hunger Games, a bland adaptation of a huge literary franchise that bears few (if any) stylistic marks left by a usually quite-unique director (Gary Ross of Pleasantville, Seabiscuit). Check out Jesse's film blog at www.cinephiliac.org for his full meal deal on the issue.

I think Ferreras is pretty bang-on. Certainly the odd original screenplay will squeak through, and a few directors still seem to call the shots, but this "go with what works" profit-driven ideology is what has given us such a proliferation of sequels, remakes and literary (mostly comic book) adaptations recently. Anything with a pre-built fan base or recognition factor gets made. Case in point — almost all the big summer movies for 2012, be it The Avengers, Amazing Spider-Man, Dark Knight Rises, Twilight 3 - Part 2, Snow White and the Huntsman, Madagascar 3,Total Recall or, opening this week at both the Village 8 and Garbaldi 5, Mirror Mirror, the Snow White story retold with Julia Roberts as the evil Queen.

The good news is director Tarsem Singh (The Cell) has a strong visual style and it seems to carry through here — a fairy tale movie is only as good as its visual punch. The bad news is that this fairy tale does away with almost all the fear, darkness and evil and instead dishes up a contemporized, comedic re-telling that's, at best, airy-fairy entertainment for young kids and simple adults. It works as that but I suspect the other Snow White movie of 2012 (Snow White and the Huntsman) will be more my style (and not just because it stars Kristen Stewart).

Also opening this week is Wrath of the Titan, the latest swords-and-sandals epic/CGI actioner. Remember 2010's Clash of the Titans? Remember how bad it was? Who cares, it made almost a half a billion dollars worldwide. Sticking with what "works," Warner Bros has actually produced a sequel that looks better than its predecessor (no prescreening for this one). Wrath continues the tale of half-human-half-god Perseus (Sam Worthington). He appears to have retired after defeating the Kraken until Zeus (Liam Neeson) gets kidnapped by Hades (Ralph Fiennes). And so Perseus has to descend into hell to save his dad and the world. Unleash the mayhem! And you can bet there will be a hot chick (hint: it's Rosamund Pike) in the story somewhere as well.

Wrath of the Titans is rated 14A in B.C. but PG-13 in the states so expect more violence than sex (and more action than good dialogue or thematic epiphany) but for an escapist, crap-kicking, head-severing good time this one shouId be able to entertain most 14-year-old boys.

On a broader scope, as the "new studio era" continues to pump out more of the same, film fans have never had more access to foreign and independent flicks thanks to Internet services like Netflix, iTunes, and view-on-demand. Film is not gonna die, we just need to find the golden nuggets.

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