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Is Hollywood incapable of producing original works?

Not Another Damn Sequel

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Too Old to Die Young is an Amazon Original Series that, before it came out, I (and about 172 other demented people) was really looking forward to because of the madman behind it, director Nicholas Winding Refn (Drive, The Neon Demon, Bronson). The plot involves a cop, played by Miles Teller, trying to find out who killed his partner and ultimately finding himself immersed in all kinds of unpleasant seediness. It's an acquired taste. If you can get through the many intentionally slow-moving sections, it's at once a visually beautiful and repellent 13-hour movie that is engrossing in its own existential/sleazy way.

I'm very happy I watched this imperfect series simply because I got to see a unique voice express his political frustrations and showcase his artistic flair for neon-drenched sleaze. I can only imagine what it would have been like to experience this bloated monstrosity on a movie theater screen. Love it or hate it, at least it doesn't succumb to the nostalgia that Refn considers "artistic suicide."

Speaking of artistic suicide ... I'm realizing the era of content bearing an original voice in mainstream cinema is fading away. If it's not a sequel, it's a remake, a reboot, or based on a game, a book, a TV show, or a celebrity. Whatever it is, it's usually based on something you already know or are familiar with.

When I see a movie in theaters, I find myself unintentionally grading on a curve. If the movie has a seemingly unique plot, I'm more willing to forgive the imperfections. Give me a new perspective or environment and I'm there with rose-colored glasses on and ready, willing to be swept up in the cast and crew's manipulations. A few weeks ago I saw the Octavia Spencer horror film Ma and the teen comedy, Booksmart. Olivia Wilde's movie directing debut was pretty funny. The characters were likable and the story was relatable overall. Spencer's first horror role since a scene in Rob Zombie's Halloween 2 was sad and psychotic. Her portrayal of a woman carrying bitterness and wounds made the film's blemishes a little less noticeable. In the end, the results were mixed, but I'll be damned if I won't take a movie like Ma over another Men in Black film.

It may be a Grumpy Cat-way of looking at things but it's kinda off-putting when you take into account last week's top 10 films at the box office: Toy Story 4, Annabelle Comes Home, Yesterday, Men in Black: International, Child's Play, The Secret Life of Pets 2, Aladdin, Avengers: Endgame, Rocketman, and John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum.

Nine of those 10 films are based on something we've already seen or know about. We are blissfully drowning in stuff we know. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like we'll be coming up for healthy breaths anytime soon.

Sure, sequels and films based on familiarity are nothing new. In 1989, the biggest hits were based on a comic book (Batman) or a sequel (Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, Lethal Weapon 2). But the other films were originals like Look Who's Talking, Dead Poet's Society, and Honey I Shrunk The Kids. This year, the top 20 films so far only contain two original works, Jordan Peele's Us and The Upside.

Before it became a product, there was a time when Star Wars was merely a film by a bearded weirdo who wanted to celebrate the movie serials he grew up on. We're at a point where studios are no longer willing to bankroll original ideas — much less big budget original ideas — on their own without a few other companies coughing up some cash. When was the last time you saw a film solely produced by one company without assistance from two or more entities?

I understand studios, big and small, need to make their money back on their gambles but when you look at films like Ma, Brightburn, and Booksmart, you see that the production budgets of these films were below $10 million while a Memberberries bomb like Men in Black: International cost $110 million to make. I'm sure there are reasons why but what are they? Intriguing plot lines and great performances don't have to be triple-digit affairs to pull in mainstream audiences — look at movies like Crazy Rich Asians and A Quiet Place.

Aside from the lack of original films in mainstream cinemas being a sad comment on studios unwilling to take risks on original works, it also seems to be a Black Mirror-esque comment on how we're being steered into a void of never-ending nostalgia. And that's just fucking creepy.

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