Monday, May 18, 2015

DOWNEY JR. vs. INARRITU, HOLLYWOOD vs. INDEPENDENT: HOW RDJ's COMMENTS REVEAL THE TRUE NATURE OF HOLLYWOOD



Hmm, well, Robert Downey Jr. said,- exactly what everyone else in Hollywood was thinking. Oh come on, let's drop the naivete thing, they were thinking it already.

Are we really that shocked that a major Hollywood actor, arguably the biggest actor in Hollywood, who's done two movies this decade where he wasn't playing a superhero or a major leading role in a major Hollywood franchise, not counting a cameo in "Chef". Sherlock Holmes, Iron Man, says that he doesn't want to do an indy film anymore. For those who didn't hear his comments, and I'm sure most of you have, but in an interview with The Guardian, he essentially responded to Inarritu's comments about superhero movies, which he made months ago, while promoting "Birdman..." which is the Oscar-winning Best Picture film that essentially undermines the entire modern superhero film culture, where Inarritu called the superhero genre "Soulless paycheck gigs," as well as, and I quote back in October: 

"I sometimes enjoy them because they are basic and simple and go well with popcorn. The problem is that sometimes they purport to be profound, based on some Greek mythological kind of thing. And they are honestly very right wing. I always see them as killing people because they do not believe in what you believe, or they are not being who you want them to be. I hate that, and don't respond to those characters. They have been poison, this cultural genocide, because the audience is so overexposed to plot and explosions and shit that doesn't mean nothing about the experiences of being human." 

Robert Downey Jr., first off, did praise "Birdman..." saying that except for the parts where they were bashing him, he rather enjoyed the film, but then went on to start pontificating about indie films, saying he has zero desire to go off and make a tiny film working on a shoestring budget, as well as Inarritu, and I quote again, this time from RDJ:

"...they're exhausting and sometimes they suck and then you just go, 'What was I thinking?', but I'm interested in doing all different kinds of movies. Sometimes the little movies are the ones that wind up taking the most out of you because they're like, 'Hey, man, we're just running a couple days behind. Do you think you can stay through your birthday and then come back on the fourth of July, and by the way, but, like, the crew-- can you pay for the craft services? And, oh, by the way, man, when we go to Sundance, it's like, can we just sit you in a chair and you can sell this for six days in a row so that we'll make 180 bucks when it opens in one theater....' Actually, most of you are kind of inexperienced and lame.... Look, I respect the heck out of him [Inarritu] and for a man whose native tongue is Spanish to be able to put together a phrase like cultural genocide just speaks to how bright he is."

In his defense, it does seem in context that the comment about being impressed that Inarritu, a native Mexican is able to use English vernacular like "Cultural Genocide", was not intended to be racist, and he was trying to compliment, but it-, ye-ah, Robert Downey Jr. is noted to be politically conservative and he is a recovering drug-addict who's known for shooting his mouth off a few times too often in the past. so this is definitely a state of his perception, but yeah, that was bad, but let's say this one time we can give kinda give him a pass on that. Besides I want to talk about the other part of this statement more.

Cause here's the thing, are we really shocked by this? Look Robert Downey Jr. is one of the best and biggest actors alive and I remember back when we all thought he was gonna end up OD'ing when he couldn't even hold a job on "Ally McBeal" for more than a season. He's also a second-generation filmmaker, his father was what we would now consider an Indy filmmaker, and he's been acting in mainstream films for 30 years as well as having a long period the previous decade where he literally had to take nearly any job he could get and that included a lot of independent films. And I hardly think that just because mainstream movies are more professional that he means that he's more proud of his work in "The Shaggy Dog" than he is say, "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints", or "Game 6" or "The Singing Detective", "Good Night and Good Luck." or "Waking Life", all of which I consider pretty major accomplishments in his career, but this state of mind, is really basically...-, alright, let's just say it; what he said about indy films is the perfect representation of the state of mind of Hollywood right now.

It is, isn't it?! Fewer movies, bigger budgets, more superheroes, bigger productions, the best crew and staff, etc. etc. Tentpoles aren't just tentpoles anymore, pretty soon, their aren't gonna be films that they're tenting over.

Okay, "Birdman..." despite winning the Oscar, eventually grossed, $42 million dollars worldwide, that's not even twice it's budget of $22 million dollars, BTW, all the Oscar-nominated blockbusters, grossed about $600milllion give or take, total, all eight of them, and if take "American Sniper" out of that equation,  which was a mid-budget film, because Eastwood can do that, than that's less than half-that number and that's about, where Hollywood is willing to accept a low-budget or independent film be made at. It's true, there was an interesting article recently on flavorwire about the death of the mid-budget film, the link is below:

http://flavorwire.com/492985/how-the-death-of-mid-budget-cinema-left-a-generation-of-iconic-filmmakers-mia

The article talks about how some of the great auteurs of recent American cinema, people ranging as wide as David Lynch to John Waters, are basically not able to make the movies they want, because while, they don't want to spend nine or ten-digits on a box office blockbuster, they would like to make movies that cost more than the $20million dollar pricetag, but Hollywood studios aren't interested. If it isn't a blockbuster they can put their marketing machine onto, then, the movie better be made on the cheap in order for it to at least, guarantee to make or profit, or short of that, not lose so much that it would actually cause a giant dent in their overall budget. Basically, you're either a first time filmmaker, or you're directing "Iron Man", and there really isn't much room anymore for anyone else inside the Hollywood system. More money more dollars, less money, no dollars, I guess fairly reasonable amount of creative freedom, but even then.... and the "even then" is often, your, "Paranormal Activity" whatever number their on, genre movies they can afford to make cheap knowing they'll do 5x their budget at least. (That genre is always horror btw)

I can make a legitimate argument that Robert Downey Jr. is the best actor of our time, he's certainly one of the biggest right now and he's basically rejected independent film, because he can. He doesn't need it anymore and while he's the only one who's said it, he's certainly not the only one out there who feels this way. Julia Roberts once famously requested 8 digits just to get her to read a screenplay and unless your name is Steven Soderbergh, or are a mutual trusted friend or associate of Soderbergh, for awhile, she refused to do independent work. You don't see Will Smith looking for his next "Six Degrees of Separation" do you? Some big actors make it a point to switch between major film and minor projects, Woody Harrelson for instance has made a point to do that, even at what some would consider the highest points in his long career. And like I said, most named good actors will work for scale if there's something about the project that actually interests them. I'm sure part of the reason Julianne Moore took "Still Alice" was that it was a role that had the potential for her to gain a long-overdue Oscar.

That said, Downey's not wrong here. Who directed "Charlie Bartlett"? Quickly, anybody remember? Don't worry, I had to look it up and I keep seeing that movie replayed on ThisTV, or whatever half-assed movie channel on Digital it is. Jon Poll, it's still the only film he's directed, and frankly, it's a half-ass forgettable indy film that Robert Downey Jr. was in. That's the thing, while ideally, it would be nice to simply dismiss Hollywood blockbusters and talk about the artistic greatness of indy, frankly, if you're a major actor in Hollywood, an indy film is a crap shoot. So is a big-budget movie, but if you're Angelina Jolie and Colin Farrell and you're told Oliver Stone wants you too for his historical epic, or, low-budget film from director and writer you've never heard of, which one would you take? Okay, it ended up being "Alexander," but I mean, dice roll seven enough times in a row, you bet on seven, and you happen to catch snake eyes, it sucks, but it's a reasonable bet, cause all evidenced seemed to indicated that the dice were loaded. But, even if the film is the greatest script you've ever read, you don't know know whether you've gotten the next Martin Scorsese or the next..., well, Jon Poll, who is apparently gonna be punchline for this article, apologies to him in advance, I hear he's a better editor than a director. Hell, go back and watch "Guess Who's Knocking At My Door?" and "Boxcar Bertha", it's not necessarily clear in those early films that Scorsese is gonna become Scorsese either. And RDJ is also right, it's not like every Indy film is the next "Citizen Kane", it's no different than Hollywood films, some are good, some a bad, few are exceptional, few are exceptionally bad, etc. etc. At least, with most Hollywood productions, which are done by more experienced and professional filmmakers, or else they won't get hired again if they're not, even it's a bad film, it'll probably a least be a worthy filmmaking experience. 

And frankly, unknown, untrained first-time filmmakers, on no-budget first films, well, they aren't proven entities and they aren't particular professional. Some are, but not always. In film school, I certainly wasn't not the greatest first-time director, even in my class. Hell, I wasn't the best first-time director, on any of my film shoots. Part of that was by design, I tried to get the best directors I could find to be my D.P.'s and that certainly helped, and I followed as much of the protocol as possible. Provide food, drinks, get all the props, get all the signa-, oh shit, I never did actually do the signature part. Well, I put out an add for "Meal and a Reel", and made sure they got, half-that eventually. (Never did finish that short film.) Anyway, with Hollywood these days not even really pretending to give a shit about art, or to cater to the wills and desires of the best filmmakers around they created this modern environment and the fact is, it was partially by design. And most were okay with it, to some degree. All RDJ really did, was say it out loud. Confirm where the battle line between Independent and Hollywood is actually being fought. Robert Downey Jr., is now basically the representative of modern Hollywood. 

In case you're wondering, I'm on the side of good films and I don't really care if it cost ten cents or ten billion to make them, nor do I care how much they made at the box office, but that's the number game of Hollywood, so I have to pay attention but yeah, Downey. perhaps it was coincidental or inadvertent, but his rant on the perils of indy films was the perfect person and the perfect time to fully showcase the current mindset of Hollywood as well as those who are more than content at letting this system remain as it is. A man content to play nothing but "Iron Man" forever? Well, if we still want him to do it and he's still willing to, then, I guess why the hell not.  

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