My new hero and The Hollywood Economist

“Paramount studio head Robert Evans has described [screenwriter Robert Towne] as ‘lethargic, scattered, perpetually late.’ ”

Towne is my new hero.

The quote is from Edward Jay Epstein’s The Big Picture: Money and Power in Hollywood, which is fascinating throughout, though not as much as his newer The Hollywood Economist: The Hidden Financial Reality Behind the Movies, which shares much of the same DNA (by which I mean anecdotes and facts) and goes a long way towards explaining why so many movies are so awful. It also shows how Hollywood is about deals just as much as hedge funds are, how studios use those hedge funds, and how studios need to project an aura of profligacy while counting down to the last dollar. One thing of many that I didn’t know: how vital insurance companies are to making movies.

District 9

The science fiction movie District 9 intrigues but disappoints. The movie is actually two movies: the first half is a subtle, eerie, complex, portrait of how bureaucrats work, what ground-level refugee camp politics are like, and an alternative take on the traditionally super-powerful alien species that contact humanity in most science fiction. The second half is cops’n’robbers and pointless MacGuffin chasing. The aliens turn out to be… exactly like humans in their personalities, needs, and dispositions. At the same time, most of what made the first half haunting disappears amid car crashes and convenient alien weaponry. The moral sophistication that comes with difficult choices and scarce resources morphs into a psychotic, malicious white colonel and an ignorant black warlord, both of whom provide reasons to blow stuff up.

Cloverfield is an example of a movie that retains its deeper meanings throughout action scenes; District 9 loses them parts way through, then picks up again in the last five minutes. It’s better than most movies but still not as skillfully done as it could have been.

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