Sunday, March 13, 2016

Mindful or Mindless, Part II: Known and Remembered For (Actors and Filmmakers)

George Lucas, photographed at the Lucasfilm Big Rock Ranch in Marin County, CA, for USA Today in December 2011
Filmmaker George Lucas was interviewed by Wired magazine a few years ago, and he was asked how he wanted to be remembered. Lucas stated, 

"I'll be remembered as a filmmaker. . . . Hopefully some of the stories I told [Star Wars, Indiana Jones] will still be relevant. . . . If you've raised children, you know you have to explain things to them, and if you don't, they end up learning the hard way. . . . So the old stories have to be reiterated again in a form that's acceptable to each new generation. I don't think I'm ever going to go much beyond the old stories, because I think they still need to be told." 

Lucas's quote surely has great significant regarding one's legacy, as well as what that legacy consists of and what it leaves for future generations. Writing and reviewing about Adam Sandler last week (you can read my blog on that here) got me thinking about a few other famous actors and filmmakers in media and pop culture. Specifically, it got me thinking about what these famous people are known for, and what they may potentially be remembered for. In Sandler's case, he is known for lowbrow comedy, silly and/or angst-ridden humor and, in real-life, his nice-guy mentality. The late Roger Ebert once asked, "[Sandler] can't go on making those moronic comedies forever, can he?" Film critic Richard Roeper once candidly pitted Sandler and Nicolas Cage against each other for the competition of how many bad movies each of them could make. I, for one, would like to see Sandler do more serious roles in films, just as he did in Punch-Drunk Love and Spanglish. (His most recent one, in fact, was Men, Women & Children.) 

Adam Sandler
Michael Bay
Ebert's quote (replacing the "moronic comedy" aspect with certain filmmaking qualities) can stand as commentary on directors like Michael Bay and Quentin Tarantino, known for bombastic action films or franchises and crafty-but-extremely-violent movies, respectfully. Like Sandler, Bay has created a resume of films that follow a certain formula that audiences and critics have come to expect and even loathe. The majority of said films for both include crude sexual and/or offensive humor, shameless product placement, and poor acting. Nevertheless, they have ironically made millions of dollars at the box-office. In Bay's case, we've also come to expect the aforementioned explosive and endless action sequences that go on longer than they need to. (Director Peter Jackson can also fit this bill, what with his recent Hobbit trilogy).

Case in point: the Transformers franchise. While the first film in this series had a sense of 80s nostalgia (not to mention revolutionary visual effects at the time), the other films went from appaling (Revenge of the Fallen) to improved-but-still-unbearable (Dark of the Moon) to meaningless (Age of Extinction). For what it's worth, though, Bay has stated on several reported occasions that he was done with the franchise in favor of other projects, yet the studio behind the films (Paramount Pictures) has reportedly allowed him to make other movies, like Pain and Gain and this year's 13 Hours (the latter of which got him some of his best reviews), only if he agreed to make another Transformers. (Bay will, in fact, be directing a fifth installment, reportedly and hopefully his last.) Bay certainly has a knack for action sequences, to be sure, including the fact that he prefers shooting on film and doing as many practical effects as possible. In fact, one YouTube subscriber commented that if he worked as a cinematographer instead of a director, his work would be "legendary". There's a great YouTube video that discusses Bay's films (and features said comment on the video page), and it commentates on why they don't work and what we can take from them for the future of film. 

Quentin Tarantino has directed nearly ten feature films since 1992's Reservoir Dogs, and all of his films have met with critical acclaim, not to mention spots on some of the "Greatest Films of All-Time" lists. (Pulp Fiction, arguably his best, was ranked by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 greatest movies ever made.) Tarantino is certainly a craftsman, not to mention a self-appointed cinephile. (Actor Christoph Waltz, who starred in Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained, will vouch for this.) However, like many of the films of director Martin Scorsese, Tarantino's films have not been accessible to all audiences because of their extreme, profane, and violent content. Tarantino was interviewed by Rolling Stone last fall, around the release of his latest film The Hateful Eight, and hinted that he may be retiring from film directing in favor of other avenues, such as writing plays or novels. 

Quentin Tarantino
Martin Scorsese
Speaking of filmmakers, Scorsese's film resume, despite the graphic nature of many titles on the list, has actually been very diverse. Often known for gangster crime dramas (GoodfellasThe Departed), the award-winning filmmaker had been involved in other categories like period drama (The Age of InnocenceGangs of New York), documentary (Shine a Light, on the Rolling Stones), biopic (The AviatorThe Wolf of Wall Street) and family entertainment (Hugo). He also stands as one of cinema's greatest advocates of film preservation. Such filmmakers who exemplify range in other mediums and fields are certainly worth commending. 

Steven Spielberg is another great example. He first came on the scene as the director of some of the greatest blockbuster films of all-time (Jaws, E.T., Jurassic Park). In the mid-eighties, however, he made a transition into drama with an adaptation of Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple. In 1993, the film Schindler's List inspired him to form the Shoah Foundation, which currently preserves over 50,000 video testimonies of Holocaust survivors. His passion for American and world history continued with films like Saving Private Ryan (1998), Munich (2005), and last year's Bridge of Spies. Spielberg also happens to be a lifelong fan of animation, and executive-produced several acclaimed animated films (An American Tail, The Land Before TimeWho Framed Roger Rabbit) and T.V. shows (Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs) in the late-eighties and early-nineties, respectfully. 

Steven Spielberg
James Cameron
And there is James Cameron, who, like Spielberg, burst on the scene with blockbuster hits. His career launched with The Terminator in the early-eighties (putting Arnold Schwarzenegger on the map in the process), and continued with a string of action films like Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the multi-award-winning Titanic, and the record-breaking Avatar. Not only has Cameron proven a visual and visceral storyteller, as well as a leading expert in the field of digital technology and effects (Avatar practically changed the way we look at movies in recent years, for crying out loud!). He has proven an expert in various expeditions and discoveries, such as the submersible that was specifically designed and build for a deepsea expedition in 2012 to the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean.

While each of these people is certainly known for one or a variety of things (whether action or comedy or history), it's important to keep in mind how they have influenced culture, media, and the world. For some of them, diversifying their work if a good recommendation. Bay, for example, could arguably take some advice from directors like J.J. Abrams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) or George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road), both directors of big-budget action/effects movies, as well as visual and visceral storytellers. Sandler could start working with other directors and get outside his comedy comfort zone more often. One site made a list of indie directors he could work with, including David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, Joy) and Paul Thomas Anderson (Punch-Drunk Love, Inherent Vice). Recently, it was announced that he and Ben Stiller will be headlining a new comedy-drama from director Noah Baumbach (While We're Young, Mistress America).

Sylvester Stallone
Vin Diesel
The same applies to action film stars like Sylvester Stallone, who won wide acclaim for his supporting role in last year's Creed, and Fast & Furious headliner Vin Diesel, who is currently shooting a biopic from director Ang Lee (Life of Pi). As for ourselves, we can all certainly choose how we want to live and choose to do. Yet we must consider that what we choose to do, whether as athletes or singers or movie stars or writers or what have you, must have a reason and that it will impact the world, for better or worse. 

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting article Bryan. Really enjoyed it, very easy to read and very informative.