Summer 2010
By Steven M. Housman

"Arthur," Angelina & "Cleopatra" –
Has Hollywood Sunk To An All-Time Low?

Originality in Hollywood seems to be a thing of the past... and I mean past, as in the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s & one of the best decades in Tinsel Town, the 70s.

I was having a conversation recently with someone that shared my frustration about Hollywood's lack of originality and its overall laziness. The conversation was sparked after I saw a TV entertainment reporter talking about Angelina Jolie being cast in the title role of "Cleopatra," updated and possibly titled "Cleo." Ugh. This is the film Elizabeth Taylor owns (for better or worse), and Taylor was the first actress to break the one million-dollar salary barrier back in 1961 when she was approached. I wondered how audiences today would take to this "remake," and then it got me to thinking of how many classics should be left alone... not touched... in other words, hands off! "The Grapes Of Wrath," "Casablanca," "All About Eve," "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" come to mind, just to name one from each of the five aforementioned decades. You need more examples? I got a million of them, but none could be worse than "Scarlett."

It was bad enough that an author had the audacity to continue the saga of "Scarlett O'Hara" in a sequel to "Gone With The Wind," certainly one of the best novels ever written, transferred to one of the greatest films ever made. But the fact that Hollywood shot a TV miniseries almost tarnished the original beyond repair. The thought of a "sequel" was unthinkable at the time. Then when we (the audience) thought it couldn't get worse, the actress to play the legendary vixen was revealed. Let's not forget that the casting for the original "Scarlett O'Hara" (Vivien Leigh) was laborious and legendary, and the fact that they settled on a B-actress for the miniseries, Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, felt like a stab in the back to Ms. Leigh, David O. Selznick, George Cukor, Victor Fleming, the book's author Margaret Mitchell, and all involved in the 1939 masterpiece, not to mention the audience. I won't bore you with the details of the 16 year-old TV wreckage, but it's a start to make my point.

Year after year, Hollywood is still insistent on doling out dreck. Better yet, they're taking some of the best films ever made and actually turning them into the garbage, in a fashion that I so affectionately referred to in the last paragraph.

The latest: Hollywood has the classic 1981 film "Arthur" on bored, er, onboard and they're now in actual meetings for a remake starring the not-so-funny, in-your-face comedian (and I use the last descriptive word loosely) Russell Brand. Really? No wonder Katy Perry "Kissed A Girl" and she liked it. But I digress. Before we condemn this latest atrocity, let's take a look at the original:

From Dudley Moore's "Peter Pan-complex" alcoholic with impeccable comedic timing, to his heartfelt chemistry for his man-servant, exquisitely played by Sir John Gielgud (who won the Oscar for his part as "Hobson") to Arthur's honest-to-God sincere affection for part-time petty thief, full-time New York coffee shop waitress "Linda Marolla," played sensationally by Liza Minnelli (in her best film role since 1972's "Cabaret"), the film worked on every level. It was no surprise to me (and many others) when the film received four Oscar nominations and two wins; the aforementioned Sir John Gielgud for Best Supporting Actor and Best Song "Arthur's Theme (The Best That You Can Do)" written by Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer-Sager, Christopher Cross and Peter Allen. The other nominations went to the late Steve Gordon for Best Original Screenplay and to the late, great Dudley Moore for Best Actor.

How short of a memory do Hollywood studio heads have?Anyone recall the Ben Stiller debacle "The Heartbreak Kid" from 2007? The film managed to destroy the charm and comedy that was captured in the original 1972 film that starred Charles Grodin (as the "happy honeymooner") and supported splendidly by Cybill Shepard (as the "college-aged temptress") with the gifted Eddie Albert as her domineering and obnoxious father. My question is, and always has been, why mess with success?

With that said, we're still getting films like "MacGruber" (thank goodness for its failure) and "Prince Of Persia," which has grossed less than "Sex And The City 2" to date (which was released one day later) and expected to be the first big summer blockbuster. I guess "Tron" only taught the studio heads to find better formula, and when that fails, just try to pretty-up a classic script from 30 years ago. Or better yet, resurrect a classic 60s TV show. The next one up (NO JOKE) is "Gilligan's Island."

Hollywood has gone to hell in a handbasket, and until every film stars A-list actors (and there are plenty) and stops making foolish fare only to make a profit when it goes to cable and DVD, then we'll be seeing more and more dreck by the theaterful!

I recently went to see the thought-provoking "Please Give." I got there just before showtime expecting an empty theater. Fortunately it was just about filled. Unfortunately, that meant the second row for me and my companion. I was happy with its message, and the film was intelligent and smart enough not to have to spell out the people's foibles. As an adult, I got to figure it all out for myself! The only reasonable answer for why this movie had an audience is that it's truly the first film for adults in 2010! It didn't involve 3-D special effects, robots, animation or middle-aged-cocktail-swilling ladies looking for answers to life's questions while riding a camel through the Sahara desert.

There! I feel better... that is until the Skipper (who will probably be played by Kevin James) screams at Gilligan (Adam Samberg, anyone?) to come on down from that tree and ask Ginger and Mary Ann (a red-headed Paris Hilton & Nicole Richie, respectively) to bake them a coconut cream pie while the Howells (Ed Begley, Jr. and Shelley Long) sip cocktails and ask the Professor (David Schwimmer) when the rescue ship will be arriving.


© 2010 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.