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Filmism.net Dispatch August 4, 2022

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News flash; Hollywood is obsessed with youth.

I'm kidding, of course. As a sector of the entertainment and arts field, the movie was built upon fantasy, and one of the most enduring is to be eternally young and beautiful. As James Dean is supposed to have said; 'live fast, die young and leave a good looking corpse'.

(That quote is actually a lot older, dating back to an American college magazine in the mid 1920s, and if anyone had the means to ask Dean if he'd rather have lived to a ripe old age instead of dying at only 24 he'd undoubtedly have chosen life over being a beautiful icon.)

But here's an expression of it I'm seeing more and more often lately, and I don't know if it's always been happening and I'm only just recently noticing it or if it's a new thing because of current tastes, but it's irritating me no end.

I'm talking about the 'passing the torch' motif.

What's the cutoff date for accepted beauty and any last vestige of youthfulness (if not actual youth) in the film world? 40 seems like the age actresses are cast out from the lands of leading ladydom and eternally cursed with the roles of mother, teacher, etc (Amy Schumer even brilliantly parodied the idea.

Now, we all know film is a horribly misogynist industry and male actors can be considered sexy well into old age, but the phenomenon I'm describing applies to men just as much.

It happens because of the prevailing movie wisdom that nobody wants to watch old people (you know, over 40) as the central figures of a screen story. If they are your movie is automatically relegated to the grey market demographic where you can expect to get most of your box office over the weeks or months following the release from daytime screenings mostly purchased with pensioner discount cards.

Because, as that prevailing industry wisdom commands (however misguided), nobody wants to watch movies about old people but other old people. So when they revisit past franchises it always has to contain the tiresome 'passing the torch' storyline.

I think the reason it's so noticeable right now is because we're still in the grip of one of the most culturally entrenched periods of pop culture nostalgia we've ever been.

Stranger Things and Ready Player One were the pointy end of Generation X remembering its own glory days, and one iconic 80s franchise after another has been lined up for the reboot or remake treatment.

Now we're a decent number of years into this dewey-eyed look backwards, more recent pop culture fixtures have come down the pike to separate Gen Xers' slightly younger contemporaries from their money.

The 90s is now legitimate history in the same way the 80s was when we got a belated and tired Indiana Jones sequel in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (complete with not just a passing the torch motif in Shia LeBoeuf's character but a joke about it, him holding the iconic hat at the end before Indys swipes it back off him).

We've also had ill-judged reboots of Robocop , Total Recall , Conan the Barbarian , A Nightmare on Elm Street , Vacation, The Thing and seemingly dozens more.

Exhibit number one in revisiting the 90s is the recent new entry into that decade's most iconic franchise with The Matrix Resurrections.

This whole nostalgia movement originally reached fever pitch when Disney bought LucasFilm and announced not only that we'd get Star Wars movies until the end of recorded history, but they were completing George Lucas' intended nine-part story with three new in-canon sequels.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens became the first salvo in the current crop of 'passing the torch' updates. I'd bet anyone born between 1965 and 1980 would have lined up around the block just as readily if it'd been about Luke, Han and Leia regardless of the fact that Mark Hammil, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher were 64, 73 and 59 respectively. I would have.

But whether it was LucasFilm chieftain Kathy Kennedy, Disney overlord Bob Iger or maybe even writer/director JJ Abrams himself (along with other writers like Michael Arndt and Lawrence Kasdan), someone decided we didn't want to see the adventures of an aged Jedi, smuggler and galactic noblewoman and we had them cast as the wise old sages guiding the hotheaded new generation.

For all the flaws in Paul Fieg's Ghostbusters reboot, it didn't involve the passing the torch motif, it was a quite separate origin story in a completely different universe (apart from the post-credits scene that mentions Zuul, which only confused the issue).

But come Jason Reitman's recently released direct sequel Ghostbusters: Afterlife, a coterie of Sony executives and marketing experts apparently sat down to shepherd (or approve) Reitman's approach and their first edict was undoubtedly 'nobody wants to see Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray and Ernie Hudson running around with proton packs. It has to be about kids or teenagers'.

The Matrix Resurrections did the same. Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie Anne Moss) have been subsumed back into the Matrix, believing the world is real and going about their lives gormlessly with no real idea why they feel a connection to each other neither can deny.

It's up to a group of spirited kids (who rebel against their leaders; don't get me started on how the idea of being a rebel is so ingrained in the American cultural mythology belated franchise sequels usually depict rebels rebelling against the original rebellion) to go rogue and rescue Neo and Trinity to bring them back together to restore balance to The Force... sorry, the whole movement is so ingrained I'm getting my franchises mixed up.

Now, the idea is spreading like a COVID pathogen through a group of antivax protesters. When presenting a SAG award, Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion stars Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow were asked about a possible sequel. They were both up for it, but Sorvino added 'make it multigenerational. Bring in the young audience. Have Romy and Michelle have some young relatives.'

...why?!?

Just once, can we see the original heroes of a world-stopping movie series prove there are more paths to age than just sage old leader or senile fool in need of rescuing? Does every movie portraying characters in their 40s have to be a family drama or a grey market tea-and-scones affair while a band of kids come in to save they day, after the symbolic passing of the torch?

On screens now, I recently watched a movie that was as close to an independent creature feature horror flick as it's probably possible to get, The Killer Shrews. Putting it all up front in the title, it's got iron-jawed acting, a Swedish fashion model and the dodgiest effects you've seen this side of Ed Wood. What's not to love?

At the other end of the scale when it comes to quality was The Favourite, Yorgos Lanthimos' fable about two women competing for the favours of the ailing Queen Anne. I'm not sure who plays the better role or who throws herself so fully into characters that are quite hard to like, stars Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz or Emma Stone. In just three actors, it's got the highest quotient of female acting talent you've seen in a film in a long time.

Lastly, I don't usually talk about films I dislike in the Filmism.net Dispatch, but special mention must be made of The Very Excellent Mr Dundee, a 'comedy' about Paul Hogan, still living in LA with his glory days long behind him about to receive a knighthood. The quality in every single filmmaking department was so poor it was actually like a very smart and talented group of filmmakers set out to make the worst movie ever made for a performance art piece.

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