Fresh out of ideas

Robert Maharry

I don’t get out to movie theaters as much as I used to because, to be quite honest, in the age of Netflix, on demand and streaming until you drop, it rarely feels worth the effort. But in the last month or so, I’ve gone three times, and what have I seen? A remake, a remake and a sequel in a series that’s now at nine or 10 installments altogether.
As a recovering musician, an aspiring novelist and a person who at least attempts to be creative somewhat regularly, I frequently walk myself into the trap that everything good has already been made, and there’s no use in trying. So is the age-old proclamation now true, and if so, what does that say for the future?
Of the three aforementioned movies, none were atrocious—though, for anyone who’s seen Jim Carrey’s take on “The Grinch,” the latest adaptation lacks the same spark. Kids will love it, but parents, maybe not so much.  
And as you’ve probably heard, the latest update of “A Star is Born” is actually an incredible film. It probably won’t win Best Picture, but Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga took a well-worn formula that literally dates back to the pre-World War II era and made it compelling and heartbreaking.
She’s not wearing a meat suit, and her vocal abilities shine through. He’s actually a surprisingly competent vocalist with hints of Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell, and his backing band (which is Willie Nelson’s son Lukas’s Promise of the Real) gives Jackson Maine’s western outlaw music real life appeal. This movie seems to be the only thing that the nation agrees on in 2018.
The third and final film was the second “Fantastic Beasts” movie featuring Johnny Depp as an evil guy named Grindelwald (not Voldemort). As you may have guessed, this series comes from the same people who brought you “Harry Potter,” and while the first “Fantastic Beasts” did its best to establish an entirely separate storyline in New York City (not London), number two leans in to its insanely successful predecessor throughout.
For those who aren’t familiar, I’ll spare all the details, but a younger version of the famed Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore shows up, as does the guy who created the Sorceror’s Stone and the campus of the school itself. Anyone clamoring for more Harry Potter movies (and judging by box office numbers, that’s a good-sized crowd) won’t be disappointed, and as is typical in this series, the heavy-handed Good vs. Evil moralism—complete with a Hitleresque Grindelwald calling for the persecution of the non-wizard community—smacks you across the face faster than you can say “muggle.”
“A Star is Born” was great, “Fantastic Beasts” was decent, and the new “Grinch” was forgettable, but as I watch previews and assess what I’d like to see in theaters, I can’t help but notice a trend (I’m certain I’m not alone). Is everything these days a sequel, a remake, a reboot or yet another comic book movie?
Here are the top 10 box office films of 2018: “Black Panther,” which is the first in its series but a comic book adaptation; “Avengers: Infinity War” (sequel); “Incredibles 2” (sequel); “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” (sequel); “Deadpool 2” (sequel); “Mission Impossible Fallout” (sequel); “Ant-Man and the Wasp” (sequel); “Solo: A Star Wars Story” (sequel); “Venom” (Comic book adaptation); and “The Grinch” (remake)—as a side PSA, go to movies at your local theaters like Grundy Center and Gladbrook. It’s much cheaper and far more enjoyable.
People can watch what they want to watch—that’s the free market at work—but it’s hard not to worry about the long-term effects of a culture that’s so homogenous, so derivative and so creatively uninspired that we’re hesitant to give anything new a fighting chance. Even Martin Scorsese, one of my favorite directors of all time, is sticking to a tried and true formula with his upcoming release “The Irishman,” a crime film about Jimmy Hoffa starring Robert De Niro as a gangster character. Does that sound familiar?
We’ve already seen it in politics: you’re either right or you’re left, with no room for nuance or a hybrid of views held by both of the major parties. The novel has become such a relic that all we seem to get are more new James Patterson and Danielle Steel books because they’re the only commercially viable names left in the business, and all of the pop and country songs that hit the radio waves could be mashed together into one without anyone noticing. Everything is mass produced, and nothing's shocking. 
Before long, robots will be writing our songs and movie scripts, manufacturing and assembling our products and compiling all of our interests and personal data to ensure optimal entertainment experiences—and billions in ad revenue for Google and Facebook. And with the way things are going, it probably won’t feel like much of a change. 

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