Sunday, March 24, 2013

Dear Era of Gritty Movies

You might call it "The Dark Knight" syndrome.  That movie didn't start the trend, but it certainly exemplifies it.  I frequent a website,, to get news on upcoming movies that are in development.  The writers for the site, at this point, mock every announced production that promises with the words "dark", "gritty", or the ever present "dark and gritty reboot".  It seems that anymore, a movie can't get into development if it is not a harsher, more criminal version of something that came before it.  This is how the movie "Battleship" was sold last year.  Remember that movie?  No, because you weren't one of the six people that went to see it just to check out Taylor Kitsch with short hair.

This sales tactic works for some properties. I understand that.  Batman had to get darker, almost literally.  The neon death glow of the last two Joel Schumaker films had to be extinguished for the franchise to have any chance.  Ben Affleck has reinvented himself as a fine director of very gritty movies after doing fluff movies like Surviving Christmas and Jersey Girl.  It has gotten to the point, however, that I am waiting for Hollywood to announce a remake of ET where the alien probes the kids and "Reece's Pieces" is a code name for some drug that makes ET trip.  In 2015 there very well may be a Fraggle Rock movie where the diggers are hired to hide a body.  Even most of the so called "kids" movies that come out anymore are rife with innuendo and jokes that only the adults are going to get. 

This may sound out of place, coming from this purveyor of anger and bitter candor, but Hollywood, give us some hope.  Have you look outside lately?  Things aren't great out there.  The job market sucks.  The economy is terrible.  TV keeps cancelling my favorite shows.  Why can't we have a movie that doesn't leave us feeling dirty?

Look at what happened to M. Night Shyamalan.  He made two excellent films in The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable to start his career.  Neither of those were what someone would call a "feel good" movie.  He gets a little more optimistic with Signs, a movie that preaches hope and purpose, and he starts to get panned.  Then he makes The Village darker, and people still aren't happy with him, so he finally tells us all to go to hell, and he makes the movie he wants to: Lady in the Water.  Say what you want to about that movie, whether you like it or not, it was more inventive and took more risks than anything he had done since Sixth Sense.  And, for the love of it, it was pure in its intentions.  That movie is all about hope and the knowledge that we can make things better if we even just gave a little bit of a damn.  We buried M. Night for it.  He is still one of my favorite directors, regardless of any bad movie he puts out, because of the good ones that he has given me.  I guarantee you that one of you reading this did the Robot Chicken "What a twist!" when you read his name here, and that honestly upsets me, because he is so much more than a one trick joke written by an awful actor that still plays with action figures. 

Let me take another track.  Sure, I loved The Dark Knight.  I have seen it one time, all the way through, since I saw it in the theaters.  I liked The Dark Knight Rises too, but I don't have any plans to see that again anytime soon.  However, I can sit back and watch Groundhog Day any day of the week, all the way through.  Same goes for the movie The Sandlot, and that's a kid's movie.  Why can I watch them any time?  They make me happy, and I need something to make me happy most days.  Some people will call Groundhog Day a comedy, and those people aren't watching close enough.  It is a very funny movie, but it deals with some very dark subjects, and never stoops to slapstick or low brow measures.  It is much harder to define than just "comedy".  This also brings up another valid point.

Where are the comedies in all of this?  While we are getting pushed into the much with these dramas, quality comedies have disappeared.  Has there been a good one since Wayne's World and Tommy Boy?  The Wayans Brothers and their reference humor are what pass for genuine comedies now.  There are no joke, just a reference to something that might have been funny.  Or, we get "quirkedies" like Napoleon Dynamite, that just strive to make people laugh by forcing awkwardness at them like the chess club captain trying to get a date to the prom. 

All I am saying is, let's all just feel good for once, and not feel bad about feeling good. 


  1. I think the "gritty" thing has in part to do with people (like me, for instance) who enjoyed particular franchises in their youth and who like to see those franchises "grow up" along with them. Batman is a perfect case in point, and you can chart the "growth" of that franchise pretty easily from Adam West's ridiculous schlock, through Michael Keaton's debut as the Dark Knight, then to the amazing Batman: The Animated Series (which was always, in my opinion, secretly for adults), on through Justice League, and finally up to the Chris Nolan films (and this is all to say nothing of the comics, which were by and large dark and gritty at least from "Knightfall," if not before--an expert will have to weigh in). There's a steadily-increasing grit factor, or at least a growing darkness, through all of those. I mean, have you seen the episode of Justice League Unlimited called "Epilogue"? Holy shit. Seriously.

    In many cases, the grit and darkness actually suits these franchises better than the "glitter" that has previously characterized them (though this, of course, is a matter of opinion, like everything). Have you watched any of the Mortal Kombat: Legacy YouTube series? Arguably, that franchise was always meant to be this dark.

    Video games are actually a great example of the same trend. Gamers like me, who were natives of the console era, grew up with Link and Mario and Metroid. Two of the three of those franchises have matured--by which I mean they deal with much more serious, and much darker, themes than in their earlier incarnations--along with their audiences. Mario is still aimed at kids, of course, and a gritty reboot of that franchise wouldn't make any kind of sense (though actually, I think I'd pay money for that--and they did it in a G4 short film-- see "Kart Driver," here: But in terms of narrative, it does make sense for the others. A lot of film franchises are the same way.

    There's still plenty of stuff to appeal to different tastes. If you really think there hasn't been a good comedy since the early 90s SNL films, though, you might be out of luck.

    1. Obviously I was being very general and ignoring some things. I have enjoyed all of The Blood and Cream comedies and Paul. There were good comedies that didn't involve Nick Frost and Simon Peg. Hot Tub Time Machine was ok, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall was too. It just seems like good, lighthearted fare is few and far between. Maybe I am just skewed looking back at movies from when we were growing up.

  2. One of your calmer rants. Actually more of a philosophical discussion. "Philosophical discussions with my Enemies".
    But, as always, I liked it!

    1. I wasn't feeling so feisty this week. I promise the venom shall return for Easter.

  3. Though I agree with the ridiculousness of the "dark and gritty" reboots, the d&g thing happened to comic books in the 80's (The Dark Knight Rises, the Punisher, Spawn, The Watchmen, etc...) and the comic industry on the whole was far better for it in the long run once it got through some shakes (read: "I'm the goddam Batman.)

    With comedies, for better or for worse we started to reject the "man-child" comedies that were such a hallmark of the 90's. Adam Sandler and Chris Farley and the like. I think that was also a function of the actors who did them best getting older or... err... dying. Anyway, the gag movies of our youth (Naked Gun, anything by Mel Brooks) did indeed become the awful Wayan's Brother's movies we love to hate.

    Also, comedies have been dark for sometime, and they're called "dark comedies." Groundhog Day was indeed dark. In the orginal cut it was stated that Murray spent 10,000 years in the loop. Very Bad Things and Death to Smoochy are classic black comedies, and about half the things put out bu the Cohen's qualify as such.

    1. It was more a pining for a straight up funny comedy. Not a black comedy, or a reference comedy, just flat out funny movie.

      I agree that the gritty thing did save several properties, and I enjoy it as well. I think it hurt the Punisher movie franchise. I liked the Tom Jane one for what it was, and just found War Zone repellent in most ways.

    2. Ah, the straight comedy. The 90's saw a bumper-crop of funny men who did nothing but comedy after comedy: Sandler, Farley, Carrey, Myers. Mel Brooks was still making comedies in the 90's, and even Murphy still made movies you wanted to see then.

      Then what happened? Sandler's comedies grew up, Carrey stopped making comedies altogether, Farley died, and Myers and Murphy whithered out (Shrek doesn't count). Brooks basically stopped making movies. Straight actors don't make forrays in to comedy the way guys like Hanks used to. If serious actors DO do comedy, it's with a wink and a smile - De Niro in the Fockers movies isn't being funny, he's being De Niro in an unlikely place. Don;t ak me about Steve Carrell. 40-Year-Old Virgin was funny for reasons that nothing to do with him.

      So where does that leave us? We've had a few good straight comedies - Forgetting Sarah Marshall (which led to the unfortunate Get Him to the Greek), Pineapple Express (stoner comedy), and Superbad (which was basically an evolution of the "party" movie that was big in the 90's). They're out there, just few and far between.

    3. And War Zone? That wasn't grittier, that was a return to the Schumaker Batman - ridiculous theme gangs and guys in bad masks. The Jane one was the gritty reboot, it just happened to come first.

  4. I agree, not enough comedy. I love Rat Race. Nothing really horrible happens. It's ridiculous piled upon implausible with goofy boys and crazy characters. For a while, my husband & I were going to a lot of plays, like at Everyman Theatre & Woolly Mammoth Theatre, and we started mocking any where the director or house manager wanted to welcome us and tell the audience all about their upcoming 'hard-hitting' season. Hard-hitting is the (live) theatrical version of dark & gritty. You know what? We didn't go to any shows at Woolly this past year, because I don't want to pay $40+ a ticket for hard-hitting. Going to play about heavy socio-political situations doesn't make me noble, or an activist, it just brings me down. So... Yeah. I feel you on this one, sir.


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