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Better Than Ever

With films like "Donnie Darko," "American Beauty," and "Magnolia," you'd have to be on crack to think that movies today aren't as good as they used to be.

I finally saw It's A Wonderful Life for the first time last week, and I was utterly dumbfounded.  Ever since I was a wee lad, I've heard so many great things about this film, a proverbial Classic that's praised as one of the best movies ever made.  In contrast, I found it to be a boring and predictable tale, with practically no depth whatsoever.  On top of that, there is not one point throughout the feature where I felt even remotely sucked into the story, that captivating draw that gives viewers a sense of relation with the characters portrayed.  This surreal magnetism is an intricate virtue of Film…or at least, the ones worth watching.  While It's A Wonderful Life is not a complete waste of time, it does go to show that the only thing that has not improved since its release is the mentality of the Mainstream, and if anything, it's degenerated.  1997 saw the release of Titanic, which took in more money than any film that came before it.  Does this mean that a movie that's mediocre at best, who's only real brilliance is its special effects, is better than, say True Romance, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, Central Station, Un Chien Andalou, or As Good As It Gets?

The main thing that really bothered me about It's A Wonderful Life was the acting.  While James Stewart (as the main role of George Bailey) stayed in character for the most part and seemed to remember the script, he never portrayed anything other than a performance.  He rarely looked the other actors in their eyes, and never displayed a convincing human in a human situation…then again, maybe that's because his lines were wrought with clichés and obvious hopefuls for the Line of the Year.  Honestly, films like Terminator and Mars Attacks! are more believable, and far more entertaining.

It would be absurd to place blame on the Era for this negligence, for the fact is that even in 1946, remarkable films were around.  Casablanca, easily one of the most impressive films of all time, was released in 1942, and more than half a century later it still is completely absorbing.  It's just that films like It's A Wonderful Life and Titanic are shallow fixes of entertainment, and they lack the pure Magic that can be found in the Cinema.

Film is a remarkable medium in which every form of Art can be combined into one, providing a copulation of the Senses.  This intercourse has established Film as the most dynamic and powerful method of Expression around, and with each passing year, it only grows stronger.  Movies can make people laugh, cry, think, and even enraged.  In fact, movies can be so influential, they’ve been used as widespread propaganda from time to time.  Films like Reefer Madness attempted to terrify the public, in a covert operation to secure financial interests with a few key bureaucrats.  It was effective in 1936, and to this day, those who reaped the benefits of marijuana prohibition still thrive.  On the other hand, J.F.K. was even more provocative (not to mention honest and grounded), causing an unprecedented stir by exposing a massive cover-up in a profoundly effective manner.  This movie resulted in the U.S. government passing the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, which called for thousands of documents to be declassified and made available for public examination.

Then again, plenty of movies don't have such incredible messages to convey, but are nonetheless remarkably entertaining.  A great example of this is Beavis and Butthead Do America, a hilarious, creative, and witty odyssey, albeit fairly crude and silly.  Then there's Homeward Bound, the one movie that will make me cry no matter how many times I see it.  Well, actually, A.I. does too, but that's a whole nother ding job...and besides, that film is anything but simple.

Simplicity is not always a bad thing.  The Pledge incorporated a very basic plot that's been recycled a countless number of times, but did so with a spectacular precision that manifested a fresh and brilliant tale.  Plus, using basic structures can open doors for the Masses, preparing them for realities that may otherwise be difficult to stomach.  Menace II Society would not have made the impact it did if Boyz N' The Hood hadn't hit the screens first, nor would have American History X without Higher Learning.

On the other side of this coin, today's films have also become more complex than anyone could have imagined.  Back in 1976, the genius behind Eraserhead was far from acceptable for the Mainstream, and was therefore overshadowed by the likes of Rocky and The Outlaw Josey Wales.  However, that didn’t thwart the Art of Storytelling, which has continued to grow since then.  Now, we have masterpieces like Magnolia and Requiem for a Dream, elaborate movies that, in the vein of Eraserhead, offer to truly enlighten the viewer, rather than simply placate as eye candy.

Film has the ability to entertain and enlighten us, and when done right, a movie can leave an impression in our minds that can augment our view of Reality forever.  Whether it’s using Annie Lennox’s version of Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” in American Beauty to hint at the juxtaposition of generations, or toying with imagination like in Donnie Darko, one thing remains certain- movies are better today than they have ever been.  As this continues to evolve, I for one can’t wait to see what’s next.

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