December 6, 2023

Like most great directors now either dead or slowing down, the late Peter Bogdanovich was a devotee of classic films. His 1973 book, Pieces of Time, features incisive essays on cinema and interviews with screen legends James Stewart, Howard Hawks, John Ford, Hitchcock, and others. The book’s title comes from a quote by Stewart in his interview: “The great thing about the movies … If you’re good and God helps you, and you’re lucky enough to have a personality that comes across — then what you’re doing is … you’re giving people little … tiny pieces of time.” But modern filmmakers are giving people pieces of crap, which audiences are now flushing down. Case in point — Marvel Disney’s The Marvels, which posted the worst opening weekend number, $47 million, in Marvel Comics movie history.

They’re learning the hard way that boys will be boys and stay away in droves.

The few people with the exclusive power to make films today are woke incompetents who can neither create art nor recreate pop art at a comic book level. So past masters of the trade like Martin Scorsese (turned 81 last week) and Ridley Scott (86 next week) can expertly criticize their rubbish with little fear of getting cancelled. A Quentin Tarantino, like Scorsese, can discourse at length why Hawks’ Rio Bravo is superior to Zinnemann’s High Noon(READ MORE from Lou Aguilar: A Christmas Moral for Women)

My own reason is the one Hawks gives in Pieces of Time. Hawks abhorred the idea in High Noon of Gary Cooper’s paid professional ex-lawman running around town asking the bankers and barbers who hired him for help against four hombres on a personal vendetta. So did John Wayne. In Rio Bravo, Wayne’s Sheriff pointedly turns down help from civilians against much larger odds than Kane’s in a speech written by the brilliant Leigh Brackett.

“Suppose I got ‘em. What would I have? Some well-meaning amateurs, most of ‘em worried about their wives and kids. Burdett has thirty or forty men, all professionals. The only thing they’re worried about is earning their pay. No, Pat, all I’d be doing is giving them more targets to shoot at.”

Viewers can discuss either High Noon or Rio Bravo as intellectually as Scorsese and Tarantino have. They can point out that High Noon was blacklisted screenwriter Carl Foreman’s indictment of Hollywood cowardice during the McCarthy witch-hunts. Or how both westerns are about real men heroically facing down believable danger. But they’ll have nothing to say about the empty, mindless comic-book junk being foisted on them by Hollywoke, by people who know less than they.

Ridley Scott has no problem with the comic-book movie genre per se. In an interview with Deadline promoting his new epic, Napoleon, he praised Richard Donner’s Superman for how it “captured the tradition of the comic strip.” And he gave one explanation for the genre’s decline. “As we’ve enlarged upon our capabilities visually, I think funnily enough, everything gets less real and less real.”

This much is of course true. Baby boomers like me know a new James Bond movie will suck (see my review of the last one, No Time to Die, here) partly because CGI has made not only the action scenes lazy but the leadup to them. When a screenwriter types, “Bond skis off the cliff,” it means nothing because the actor playing or doubling Bond will be nowhere near a cliff. We in the audience will sit in the theater and yawn.

But we didn’t yawn in 1977 during the pre-credits sequence of The Spy Who Loved Me. We gripped our seats and held our breath as Bond skied toward the cliff-edge, then flew off it without a parachute. Because we knew the man was plunging to his doom. And we didn’t exhale until his parachute opened bearing the Union Jack, and the thrilling Bond theme began to play. Then we cheered. A stuntman had risked his life just to entertain us. (READ MORE: When Hollywoke Becomes a Joke, It’s Over)

But Scott, the director of Alien and Blade Runner, had previously and less delicately diagnosed the main cause of death of the comic-book film. “The best films are driven by the characters, and we’ll come to superheroes after this if you want … They’re f___ing boring as sh_t,” Scott said. “The scripts are not any f____ing good. Why don’t the superhero movies have better stories?”

I can answer the man. The scripts stink for two and a half reasons. One, the incompetence of the writers, now chosen more for skin color, sex, or sexual orientation than talent; two, their woke ideology; and two-B, their contempt for audience members who don’t share that ideology. Hence, like a chant, The Marvels’ black (check) female (check) director Nia DaCosta knew just what to blame for her film bombing — racism, sexism, and homophobia in the nonexistent audience. “There are pockets that are really virulent and violent and racist — and sexist and homophobic and all those awful things,” DaCosta told Variety. “And I choose the side of light.”

I have to question the “violent” shot. One has to be passionate to get violent, and boredom is the antithesis of passion. But I will go with the sexism part. Because displacing alpha men from the genre that gave birth to supermen and Superman has been sheer madness and a financial catastrophe for Marvel Disney. You don’t need Scorsese, Tarantino, or Scott to assess that. The Critical Drinker analyzed it best on his most recent podcast (starts 6:45).

“The writers at Marvel were not smart,” said the Critical Drinker. “Instead what we ended up with was a relentless deluge of generic, smug, overpowered, patronizing boss bitches that the scripts were painfully eager to depict as smarter, stronger, more capable, more righteous, and more assertive than the dumb, timid, outdated impostors now wearing our favorite heroes like skinsuits.” They’re learning the hard way that boys will be boys and stay away in droves.

Looking for an endearing holiday gift book? Try my romantic Christmas ghost story, The Christmas Spirit, available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other fine bookstores.