Before I sit down to prepare this column, I spend some time ruminating on current trends and important themes of the cinema. Too often of late, I confront a disturbing reality: There aren't many issues worth writing about. A good deal of the present cinema is alarmingly formulaic.
Films often depend on overwhelming hype to give them a chance at the box office. Joel Schumacher's potboiler "8mm" seemed at first blush to be a merger of "Blow Up," with that picture's obsessive concern for the camera's distortion of reality (a theme done to death in a dozen films), along with the sense of an apocalyptic world made popular by serial killer movies such as "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Seven." Indeed, some of those elements pertain in "8mm," but it is finally another latter-day film noir about a private detective drawn into a seamy world of pornography, murder, and sordid sex by an upper-class employer. This is the kind of stuff author Raymond Chandler did a half-century ago, but "8mm" is not by any means the most egregious sin in Hollywood's recycle-repackage factory.
Movies are so vacuous these days, so focused on slam-bang adolescent fare, that when a moderately adult film shows up, the media puffs it out of all proportion. The newspaper ads for Sam Raimi's "A Simple Plan" were stuffed with blurbs from journalistic reviewers with lines like "one of the great American films...." "A Simple Plan," as most viewers in control of their senses have observed by now, is a moderately smart redoing of "The Treasure of Sierra Madre," a crime melodrama in which a working-class guy of average intelligence, his dull-witted brother, and the brother's even duller sidekick stumble upon a fortune in cash belonging to a hoodlum. You needn't be clairvoyant to see what's coming in this everything-that-can-go-wrong-does-go-wrong chestnut. Nevertheless, because the Dolby soundtrack isn't pummeling the audience, people seem to think the film is what used to be called "art cinema."
What the new, heavily corporatized Hollywood gets away with is truly astounding in its arrogance and deception. I suppose I am one of those few heretics who see "Saving Private Ryan" not as a break from the norm, but a reinforcement of it. It is not Steven Spielberg finally making "serious" movies, but, rather, this well-heeled director again ransacking the cinematic past to find product with a grimmer patina that he can spectacularize. Except for the blood-curdling D-Day sequence, "Saving...