Saturday, May 21, 2011

TRENDS IN AMERICAN CINEMA--REPORTED THIS SUMMER

I often write about how different countries select and perform popular movies again and again to reflect cultural, political, social and economic concerns of the masses. The American Prospect has done the same in shadowing what we should expect from Hollywood this next half-year.--KAS

CULTURE
The Political Meaning Behind Summer Blockbusters

This summer's blockbuster movies may be escapism, but they’re powerful expressions of major trends in American politics. Movies as diverse as Sam Raimi’s foreclosure horror flick DragMetoHell and Adam McKay’s financial meltdown cop comedy TheOtherGuys have explored the rage and helplessness of an economy that may be altered forever. James Cameron’s science-fiction epic Avatar sparked as many, if not more, environmental debates than Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth . And, Hollywood director Michael Bay soughtout the Defense Department's cooperation when he started making his Transformers movies, the third of which arrives in theaters on June 29, and switches American troops from fighting Afghans and Iraqis to fighting giant robots, symbolically referencing the human cost of our ongoing wars. Rather than trying to escape politics in our entertainment, it’s time to embrace them. In the next few months, a trio of superhero movies is poised to exploit post-bin Laden American triumphalism. In the midst of our sluggish economic recovery, a new crop of comedies are poised to help audiences adjust their economic expectations. And the most controversial education reform movie since Waiting for Superman stars Cameron Diaz. We may think we're seeking mindless entertainment when we buy tickets to an action movie or a romantic comedy, but those films are both the product of our politics and an expression of them. Welcome to The Progress Report's progressive guide to summer movie season.

OLD ENEMIES AND NEW ONES: In future summers, we'll see an explosion of action movies based on Osama bin Laden's death. Kathryn Bigelow, director of the Oscar-winning movie The Hurt Locker , was alreadyworking on a movie about an attempt on Bin Laden's life when President Obama announced that the terrorist had been killed. Universal greenlitan adaptation of Marcus Luttrell's memoir about his service as a Navy SEAL in Afghanistan. And Disney's movedtotrademark the term "Seal Team 6," locking up the name of the squad that got Bin Laden, now a valuable bit of intellectual property. But this year, superhero movies are turning back to old enemies, and to conflicts where the exercise of American power was decidedly less complicated than it is now. CaptainAmerica: TheFirstAvenger, due out on July 22, is an origin story, but it's also very much a period piece, a high-gloss flashback to World War II. Captain America will fight terrorists in that movie, but terroristswhoareactingasagentsoftheNazistate under the command of the Red Skull, a super villain who, according to some origin stories, was recruited by Hitler himself. Unlike Tony Stark, who has to destroy a terrorist cell who kidnapped him while avoiding civilian casualties so he can keep the allegiance of Afghan citizens, Captain America won't be required to show much restraint. Similarly, X-Men: FirstClass goes back to the '60s to bring its titular mutant heroes together for the first time. The X-Men aren't agents of the government -- in fact, they're precisely the opposite, a group of people whose extraordinary abilities make them despised rather than prized, and whose struggle to figure out if they should assimilate into society or withdraw in it is a major metaphor for gay rights. But in this origin story, the characters have a chance to earn their spurs as heroes and a place in mainstream America by acting as a fail-safe for President Kennedy when his brinksmanship on the Cuban Missile Crisis goes awry. By contrast, Michael Bay's Transformer: DarkoftheMoon, is dipping into more contemporary politics. The movie is relying on American distaste for Julian Assange and Wikileaks -- as well on the rather contradictory pleasure of watching our major cities get destroyed on-screen -- to power a script in which giant robots try to bring down the United States government by revealingstatesecrets.

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