Jewish World Review Feb. 14, 2005/ 5 Adar I, 5765

Greg Crosby

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Consumer Reports

The Trouble with Movies | I am a consummate movie-fan. Ever since I was a kid I loved going to the latest movies and watching old movies on TV. I grew up watching television in the fifties and sixties so I was exposed to just about every era of movie — from silent pictures on. As a teenager I attended workshops and special retrospectives of and by master film makers. I worked on a few pictures myself, having spent close to thirty years in the movie industry. Needless to say, I went to almost all of the studio screenings during my years in the biz.

So I think I've earned the right to comment on the state of today's movies. And by and large, in my humble opinion, today's movies stink. Big time.

In honor of this season's annual self congratulatory, narcissistic, movie award shows, I will offer up a short list of some of what I don't like about today's brand of motion picture and of the industry as a whole, or more appropriately, as a hole. You may not agree with me on all aspects, you may even think that today's movies are far and away better than all that junk they made back in the thirties, forties and fifties — if so, then you should stop reading this column right now and do something much more worth your while, like get another tattoo.

  • The most unfortunate thing that determines whether or not I'll go to see a movie today is the outspoken political bias of actors. I know, I know — I'm supposed to be able to separate the real person from the part he or she is playing, but I find that it's getting harder and harder to do. I see Barbra Streisand on screen and in my mind I only hear her hate-filled venom toward the President. The same for George Clooney, Whoppi Goldberg, Alec Baldwin, Susan Sarandon, and so many others. I want to enjoy their acting, really, but it's hard to do when they've said and done things publicly that makes them unlikable. Why can't they just shut up and act?

  • I recently saw "Jerry McGuire" on TV for the first time and hated that they had two young kids (one looked to be about 8 or 9 years old, the other couldn't have been more than 5 or 6) saying the f-word. Bad enough for anyone to use that kind of vulgarity on screen, but five-year olds? Why isn't that considered a form of child abuse? And what's with their parents? I guess anything is fine as long as their kid is in a big movie.

  • Today's style of movie kiss really repulses me. I know you think I'm probably just an old prude, but if you knew me you'd know that I'm not. It's just that the way the kisses are handled isn't very romantic — it isn't even sexy — it's simply vulgar. Part of it is the way the kisses are staged, part of it is the over the top Foley sound effects which replicate the slurping of an overripe peach. It's a total turn off.

  • Speaking of outspoken political bias, so many movies push a political agenda in the audience's face these days — much of the time in a sneaky way. For instance, I had no idea when I went to see "Cider House Rules" several years ago that I was going to a movie with a pro-abortion message. It wasn't marketed that way at all. Just as this year's Oscar contender, "Million Dollar Baby" hasn't been marketed as a pro-euthanasia picture. The Eastwood film has been sold as a feel-good Rocky-type boxing story. I never cared much for hard-sell messages in my movies, but I really resent it when they don't let me know about it ahead of time — before I shell out my $9.50.

  • Most of the time I find the style of acting way too over the top, no subtleties, no understatement. Too many times adult actors will react in totally childish ways. If an actor losses his temper he screams on the top of his lungs, kicks the wall, and flails his arms around. Can you imagine a Spencer Tracy or Greer Garson emoting in such a self-indulgent juvenile way?

    And much of the time the actors don't seen to be acting with each other, it's like they're acting for themselves. My wife used to say that she never much cared for Tony Martin or Lena Horne because they looked like they was singing to themselves in the mirror. That is what I feel like with so many of the actors in the movies today — they look like they're acting for themselves in front of a mirror.

  • Another malady in many of today's actors is the ‘flashing my beautiful teeth’ syndrome. Lots of smiling going on — Actors like Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise and many others seem unable to play a part without grinning all over the screen. It gets distracting and sometimes downright annoying. Again, it's as if they are smiling to themselves. Even in ‘Being Julia’ Annette Bening did too much gratuitous smiling in an otherwise outstanding performance. Actors need to remember it's show business, not show-your-teeth business.

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  • Studios catering to the 12 year old movie-goer have kept me away from about 80% of the films being produced today. I can't identify with teen angst let alone teen humor. Bodily function jokes stopped being a rip-roaring knee-slapper for me at about the age of eight. And when will the studios stop with the ever-popular ‘kick-in-the-crotch’ joke? Enough already!

  • Have you noticed that almost all actors sound the same and look the same? It seems especially true of the young women — all frightfully skinny, all blonde and all sounding as if they just walked out of the shopping mall. Not a unique face among them. The men all look like boys and are shorter than the women who play opposite them. Not a rugged man's face in the bunch.

  • There are no character actors in the movies anymore. Today's films use people of the same age and type in every part. Movies look like high school productions. I think this is probably because they want to appeal to young people so they cast everyone with that in mind. I really miss the wonderful characters that we had in movies of the past. Where are today's versions of Thelma Ritter, Sam Jaffe, Jane Darwell, James Gleason, Josephine Hull and Edward Everett Horton? William Demarest, Harry Carey and Agnes Moorehead where are you now that we need you?

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.

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© 2005 Greg Crosby