Big Screen 2014: Been There… and Back Again… and Again…

“Again? Really? Do I have to?”

Good news, moviegoers! Courage, invention, and imaginations are soaring to new heights in the American film industry.

Today, I’ve learned that there’s a new Gilligan’s Island movie in the works. What’s more, the two sequels you’ve been dying to see are coming together: a follow-up to Rounders and the mandatory Shakespeare in Love 2!

What will we do while we wait for these grand contributions to cinema? No worries. According to Movie Insider, here’s what Hollywood has in store for us…

  • Night At The Museum 3
  • Dumb And Dumber To
  • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1
  • Horrible Bosses 2
  • Paranormal Activity 5
  • Resident Evil 6
  • Dolphin Tale 2
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • The Expendables 3
  • Sin City: A Dame To Kill For
  • Fast And The Furious 7
  • Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes
  • 22 Jump Street
  • How To Train Your Dragon 2
  • The Purge 2
  • Think Like A Man Too
  • Transformers 4: Age Of Extinction
  • The Amazing Spider-Man 2
  • Godzilla
  • X-Men: Days Of Future Past
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Rio 2
  • 300: Rise Of An Empire
  • Muppets Most Wanted
  • A Haunted House 2
  • The Bronx Bull
  • Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
  • The Hobbit: There And Back Again
  • Hot Tub Time Machine 2

… for starters.

Okay, enough kidding around.

Folks, are you excited about this? Do you go to the movies to see more of the same? Or are you in search of new experiences, ideas, stories, characters, and visions?

Bob Dylan once quipped, “Nostalgia is death.” It’s true. Nevertheless, Hollywood goes on favoring imitators over artists, and like diners who would prefer factory-standard Big Macs and Whoppers over something cooked with love and personality and imagination, we line up for more of the same.

As the 32 titles listed above find their way to theaters, you will find hundreds and hundreds of reviewers spending valuable time and space summarizing them, describing them, and exploring them. You certainly won’t need my perspective. I’ll bet most of these movies don’t inspire you to reflection and discussion beyond the hours immediately following the event.

Filmmaker Neil Labute once said that he makes movies to provoke and engage people in some way. “The worst criticism in the world doesn’t come from a movie critic,” he said. “It’s an audience member who uses you as two hours of air conditioning … and then never tells another person about what you’ve done.”

Of these 32, I plan to attend the following:

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1

Why? Because it’s a chapter in an one story, and it’s intently and efficiently exploring themes and questions that actually have to do with our day-to-day experiences. It’s a mythology that is giving many viewers and readers, especially teens and young adults, some powerful questions to pose to the cultures that they’ve inherited.

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Why? The first film told a surprisingly good story, with memorable characters, and richly enjoyable animation. I’m not terribly optimistic about a sequel, but I’m hopeful that it delivers a similarly impressive film full of surprises.

Muppets Most Wanted

Why? Jim Henson and his fellow Muppeteers set a high standard of creativity, playfulness, and heart in their television and big-screen productions. Since his death, the Muppets have squandered much of that cultural currency, showing up in a lot of mediocre productions. But the last film showed a resurgence of imagination and a renewal of Henson’s spirit. I’m hopeful they can maintain that, to bring the joys of handmade movie magic back to the screen. We need that, in my opinion… because the more CGI-dependent movies become, the less they engage my imagination, and the less likely I am to be truly surprised and impressed.

Okay, I might go see Godzilla, but only because Juliette Binoche always surprises me. Frankly, I wish they’d cast her as Godzilla. I believe she would have been awesome.

I’m confident that the rest of this list will deliver what Hollywood hopes it will: Money. People will decide they want more of the same instead of something new and surprising. There and back again… indeed.

But I’d invite you to save your moviegoing dollars and hours, and invest them in experiences that will challenge you, surprise you, and give you something that you’ll still be thinking about in the years to come.

That’s what I’m going to try to do here at Looking Closer in 2014.

And by the way, if I hear trustworthy reports that some of these not-so-intriguing titles deliver something truly visionary, I’ll happily change my mind.

Stay tuned… I’m about to round up a list of my favorites from the films I saw in 2013.

 

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  • disqus_rvQBti83yi

    While I do enjoy films that provoke discussion, thought, reflection, and—above all—introspection, I do believe there is a place for discardable, bubble-gum pop movies that simply entertain. After reading “Through a Screen Darkly,” I’ve always respected your opinion on movies; but I have seen your movie criticisms recently become increasingly snobbish (though I agree with your recent criticism of the “actionization” of the Hobbit). Yes, the endless sequels are tiring. But aren’t we allowed to shut off our minds and watch Thor wield a hammer every now and then? Isn’t that an allowable thing for film to do?

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      I never even suggested it’s “wrong” or “bad” to relax and enjoy an action movie now and ten. There’s a big difference between that and feeling discouraged at the fact that at least 33 of the movies in the next several months appear to be franchise-extensions, prequels, or sequels of some kind… most of them extending properties that are of questionable value to begin with.

      And for what it’s worth, I never recommend “shutting off our minds,” just as I don’t recommend shutting off our stomachs. I enjoy campy comic book movies on occasion… but I enjoy them because my mind appreciates certain things about them. (The sense of humor, the actors, the effects… and sometimes the inadvertently entertaining aspects.)

      • disqus_rvQBti83yi

        That’s fair. Sorry for coming across as an attack. As a pastor, I do find the box-office bestsellers intriguing and insightful. While we can learn a great deal about humanity by watching “Andrei Rublev” (a film only a small percentage of average film-watching Americans have seen), we can learn almost an equal amount by watching the latest box-office hit; for the latter reflects exactly what we want, what we are, what we see. Drawing on an article by David Foster Wallace on television (Wallace, David Foster, E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction , Review of Contemporary Fiction, 13:2; 1993:Summer, p. 151), he suggests that television (and could be applied to film as well) is valuable because we can trust it as a reflection of our society. There’s a lot of money at stake after all, so the best demographers know exactly that these empty sequels will bring the money. If these movies do not contain imagination, creativity, or thoughtfulness, then this indicates that those two traits are not highly valued. Thanks for helping us think about the movies, Jeffrey.


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