Sean Penn Speaks Out Against Hollywood's Formulaic Films

Edwin Pereyra

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In what seems to be a main gripe since the start of the summer box office season, it is now Sean Penn's turn to speaks out against films lacking in artistic and intellectual value.
``In Hollywood ... there's a sense that if you put three thoughts in a movie, then you've broken the law and nobody will come,'' he said.
``The American audience is very interested in being comfortable, so I was very happy to go out there and take a few people by surprise,'' he said.
Rebelling against the power of the box office buck he has nothing but contempt for Hollywood directors who churn out formulaic pictures with no eye on artistic or intellectual value.
``There's a constant beating of anything that doesn't serve the bank,'' Penn said.
 

brentl

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In the past I would have never agreed with Sean Penn but this time he's right.
I think people are finally getting sick of the the same crap getting released with only a name change to spruce it up.
I think any kiddy bopper flick falls into the category.
Can't hardly wait, She's all that BLAH BLAH BLAH
Brent L
 

Michael Reuben

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Penn has been saying this publicly for some years now. At least this time, he restrained himself from attacking other actors who work in the system. A previous high-profile airing of his dissatisfaction with Hollywood contained a nasty swipe at Nicholas Cage (something about how he's no longer an actor, just a performing animal -- I wish I could remember the exact words).
M.
 

SteveGon

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A previous high-profile airing of his dissatisfaction with Hollywood contained a nasty swipe at Nicholas Cage (something about how he's no longer an actor, just a performing animal -- I wish I could remember the exact words).
I can see why Penn made those comments. Nic Cage does seem to be coasting along on his persona these days. Not that he's the only actor guilty of that...
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Marc Colella

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I only have one thing to say regarding this article...
God Bless Sean Penn !!
 

Gavin K

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Similarly, in the commentary for Christopher McQuarries' brilliant The Way Of The Gun he states that everyone complains when the audience is treated like idiots, and everything has to be spelled out, and you can tell exactly what is going to happen, yet test audiences didn't like TWOTG because they had to think too hard to follow along.
But it's the same with every medium. Why do you think N'Sync is so popular, but Radish is just a blip on the radar. Unfortunately, the masses don't appreciate literate, thought provoking works of art. (I know that sounds funny after mentioning Radish, but hey.) And I think it comes down to education. Go to any University and compare the number of business majors to English Lit majors. When I was in High School we read Homer, Vonnegut, To Kill a Mockingbird, Bradbury, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Shakespeare, A Seperate Peace, Chaucer, Dickens, Hawthorne, Pygmalion, and numerous, numerous short stories and various other longer works. And I went to public school. Nowadays, my brother-in-law, who graduated a few years ago, read maybe three novels. And actually he used cliff's notes and watched a video version instead of actually read the novel. We actually read some in class, and our tests were thorough enough that we had to have read the novel to pass.
As a society we're failing in certain aspects, and Hollywood is ultimately a business, and has caught on to this trend.
I'm glad guys like Penn, McQuarrie, and John Sayles have found ways to bring their visions to the screen, but it does sound kind of funny coming from Jeff Spicoli.
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TheLongshot

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Hollywood likes to shoot for the lowest common denominator because it brings in the most people. Hollywood is mostly about money nowadays, not about art. If art gets made, it isn't because Hollywood is trying to make it. The good thing is, there are still those out there who care about their craft. While I don't particularly like Sean Penn, I do respect his opinion and he does practice what he preaches.
Jason
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Michael Reuben

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quote: Hollywood is mostly about money nowadays, not about art. [/quote] When has Hollywood ever been about anything but money? When was it ever about "art"? The movies started as popular entertainment, and they still are. The difference today isn't a change in the essential nature of the industry; it's a change in the scale on which it operates: big budgets, which necessitate big openings to recoup costs, which increases the risk that anything challenging, troubling or problematic will be eliminated from the final product.
Good films are still made, but they don't necessarily get the huge distribution, and they need audience support. How many of the people complaining in this thread (and others) have made the effort to seek out and commit their dollars to the many fine smaller productions released this year? (Other than Edwin, of course -- his support is http://www.hometheaterforum.com/uub/Forum9/HTML/006656.html)
M.
[Edited last by Michael Reuben on August 28, 2001 at 02:25 PM]
 

Gavin K

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QUOTE: "When has Hollywood ever been about anything but money?"
I've been reading Joseph Engle's "Screenwriters on Screenwriting" and in it, Nicholas Meyer speaks about Zinneman's The Sundowners. He describes the basic plot as being about Australian Sheepherders and then adds, "Try to get that made today."
I think before the cost of moviemaking skyrocketed, and actors and directors were under contract to studios, a wider variety of films could get made. It was still a business, but I think the bigwigs trusted the talent a little more.
I'm not trying to say we need to go back to the old studio system, as I'm sure it had its downside, (look at what MGM did to Keaton), but I do think there was a time when the art of a movie was considered as a factor along with the financial side of things. As opposed to nowadays where money is the bottom line, story be damned.
Going back to Mcquarrie. Even though he was successful with The Usual Suspects, the only funding he could get was predicated on him doing another crime picture, even though he had plenty of other scripts he wanted to do. In the old days, he would have been recognized as a talent and probably allowed a certain freedom about his next picture. Kind of like Stanley Kramer suddenly deciding to a comedy and making IAMMMMW. But today, he's a crime writer, shit out another crime script, it's what the people want. Copy your success, now a proven formula, instead of continuing your original works.
I think what it boils down to is that Hollywood no longer has faith in its product. And why? Because if a movie tanks, an executive is out of a job. So they play it safe. And that's a shame.
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When has Hollywood ever been about anything but money?"
Excellent points Gavin... but it is great to see someone with some Hollywood clout actually speaking about this problem... it's the only way it will ever change... right now Hollywood is a cesspool of prostituting individuals out to take as much money out of your pockets as they can... by fooling you, by appealing to your baser instincts... by hook or crook, whatever way they can. They have absolutely no desire to further your intellectual or artistic spirit cause it is not in the best interests of their pocketbooks... Since DVD I have only been to the cinema twice... yet I'll watch 10 films over the course of a weekend. It's this initial catch where they snare you into forking over your cash... "Wow, that looks good"... no, the true test of greatness is time.... (Gary singing "won't get fooled again..." )
sorry, rant over.
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Sean Penn is one of my favorite actors, and I appreciate his persistence in trying to make "art". But at the same time, I don't wholly agree with his strident attitude.
I like deep, challenging movies. But by and large, I watch movies to relax, have a good time. For that, I want fun, easy movies to watch. And this forum's constituents reflect this general desire as well: Look at all those who own/love/watch movies like "Armageddon", "M:I2", "Starship Troopers", "U-571", "The Haunting", etc. These are all 'popcorn' movies with varying degrees 'artistic' merit. And I'd wager that Penn opposes them as celluoid pablum.
The other problem is the lack of consensus on what is 'art'. Some people think "Starship Troopers" is insightful art; I think it's a lame, big-budget, B movie. A poster above said, "Christopher McQuarries' brilliant The Way Of The Gun, " but all the reviews I saw for it said it was mediocre. And I think "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" is gorgeous, wonderful, truly artistic; others find it over-rated and silly with all those flying people.
I hope Penn stays strident -- we need passionate artists to make passionate art like "Dead Man Walking", "The Sweet Hereafter", "Hamlet", "American History X", and "The Red Violin". But at the same time, I don't want to lose my fun Jurassic Parks, Indiana Joneses, Vertical Limits, Tarzans, Final Fantasies, and so on.
 

Michael Reuben

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Since DVD I have only been to the cinema twice... yet I'll watch 10 films over the course of a weekend.
Gary, with all due respect, I would suggest that attitude makes you part of the problem. Good films are still made, but you (and no doubt, many others who feel the same as you do) are not supporting them at the box office.
Watching them on DVD isn't enough. The arthouse circuit needs to show that a good film can still generate theatrical revenues. Otherwise, the funding for riskier stuff will continue to shrink. When a smaller film breaks out, it gives filmmakers something to point to when they're trying to shake loose the funding for non-standard fare. (For example, with any luck, the success of Memento will be a lesson to all those distributors who turned it down. Maybe they'll take a closer look the next time they're approached with something offbeat.)
It's not as if you don't have reliable sources for separating the arthouse wheat from the chaff.
This forum is an invaluable resource; at least it has been for me.
To repeat the question I asked earlier: How many of you have made the effort to seek out and support the many fine smaller films released this year? IMO, that kind of support is far more meaningful than Sean Penn bitching to the media.
M.
 

Rob Willey

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How many of you have made the effort to seek out and support the many fine smaller films released this year?
My view is that it shouldn't be such an effort. My "want to see" list fills up with films that aren't shown within 40 miles of my front door. Yet, within that same radius are at least a dozen multiplexes showing the same 10-15 films which I consider to be dreck.
Until release patterns change giving those of us in the suburbs the chance to see these films, quality films will continue to be arthouse niche products incapable of huge box office (which would in turn get more of them made).
In short, it's a self-perpetuating cycle.
Rob
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Richard Kim

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quote: I like deep, challenging movies. But by and large, I watch movies to relax, have a good time. For that, I want fun, easy movies to watch. And this forum's constituents reflect this general desire as well: Look at all those who own/love/watch movies like "Armageddon", "M:I2", "Starship Troopers", "U-571", "The Haunting", etc.[/quote]
I think the main reason people in this forum like these movies has more to do with the fact that they're demo material to show off their home theater systems.

[Edited last by Richard Kim on August 28, 2001 at 03:47 PM]
 

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How many of you have made the effort to seek out and support the many fine smaller films released this year?
Earlier this year I went to a movie ticket site and put in an 80 mile radius from where I live for two movies: Chocolat and Quills. I found exactly one theater playing Quills when I did the search (and Quills had only been released for a couple of weeks at that point). Later, when Chocolat was nominated for some Academy Awards it miraculously appeared in my local cinema houses. Can you imagine how far I'd have to drive for a more obscure film? Finding and supporting quality film-making can be rather difficult depending upon where you live.
 

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I think the main reason people in this forum like these movies has more to do with the fact that they're demo material to show off their home theater systems.
I've noticed that too
But that applies to theater-goers also. People sometimes want to go see a spectacle: a big, loud, eye-popping flick. That's why I saw Disney's "Dinosaur" -- for the animation 'demo' on the large screen in loud surround.
But regardless of the reasons, people here and there buy the allegedly artless movies. Studios don't ask why, all the way to the bank.
 

TheLongshot

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Well, I'm lucky and live in an area where there are plenty of places that play these smaller films. Problem is, I have to decide if these films are worth paying 8 bucks to see. Often, if I don't find one that I think is worthy, I just stay home, sometimes to catch that little film from last year that I rent from the video store.
It is a fact that marketing is king nowadays. It is why thousands of people laid down their bucks on opening day to see Pearl Harbor, even tho it is a crappy movie. People buy into the hype all the time. I do it far less nowadays, since I educate myself on test screenings and WOM, but I can't always avoid it. ("The Mummy Returns" for example.)
It is also hard during this time of year when all people want is to be entertained. That is certainly true of the teens. Course, in the fall, we get all the films everyone thinks are Oscar-worthy at once and can't possibly see them all during that short time frame.
Jason
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To quote Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction: "Move out of the sticks"
I have to drive between 20-45m to get to the various art houses around town, but I make the time to do it because generally I'm going to see a better movie than in a multiplex. I haven't set foot in a 'plex since early July when I saw A.I.
A wider variety of movies were allowed to be made in the past because the moguls were movie lovers. Now the studios are run by marketers and financial analysts.
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I tend to think the real "problem" is misidentified. I tend to think there are generally just as many "good" movies made but that there are more movies made overall every year and that makes more room for the crappy ones, which seem to keep getting crappier. There is generally a handfull of truly good ones each year. The problem is, as the crappy ones get more expensive and are hyped more (futilely hoping the public will look beyond how crappy they are) we tend to start forgetting about the good ones, which usually have a budget of a "paltry" ten or twenty million. As long as movies like Gladiator, Titanic and Forrest Gump get such acclaim, it hardly encourages studios to do anything very good.
Personally, I think one of the major reasons movies tend to suck so bad is because they are rarely ever "written" by true writers. More often than not they are written by producers, directors or a producer in writer's disguise like Michael Crichton, and sometimes they are just written by committee. In the end they just tend to follow the same lame formats.
In the end, I guess we will probably need to accept all the crappy stuff, but there are still several good ones to choose from.
 

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