Longtime Time magazine reporter Jeffrey Ressner has joined the Washington, D.C.-based Politico as its Hollywood corespondent. Obviously the idea will be to report stuff that straddles the interests of the film industry and the governmental/political realm. The kind of thing you might run into on the Huffington Post, only….I was going to say “only different” but maybe it won’t be. Hopefully Ressner won’t file too many stories about gun lobbyists and the like.
I’m not saying this means anything as far as cineastes or animation aficionados are concerned, but a friend spoke to a Hollywood Foreign Press person about having seen Robert Zemeckis‘ Beowulf, and the HFPA guy expressed his feelings by putting his finger in his mouth. Is it fair to even repeat something like this? I don’t want to acknowledge the opinion of an HFPA whore and pass it off as valid, but I heard this from a trusted source and I can’t brush it off. The first Beowulf screenings are happening this weekend.
CHUD’s Devin Faraci says he’s seen “the” trailer for the monster movie coming from producer J.J. Abrams on 1.18.08. The trailer “lasts 2 minutes and 16 seconds, and will debut in front of Beowulf on 11.16,” he says. Faraci also reports that “the version of the trailer I saw had the title attached at the end, so unless this title card was a temporary placeholder for the real title, this movie is called…wait for it…Cloverfield.”
I have an explanation as to why Jerry Seinfeld‘s Bee Movie (Dreamamount, 11.2) isn’t all that good or funny, and another about why it simply doesn’t work. The answer to the second question is that deep down it’s a movie about death waiting just around the corner, which is obviously a depressing thought for most of us. But that’s a thematic issue that can wait.
The main problem with Bee Movie is the system under which it was made, which is to say the political conditions. The movie is so Seinfeld-y that it’s clear that the men and women who helped this enormously wealthy and super-famous comedian make the movie indulged in too much kowtowing and boot-licking. They did the “right thing” politically, and they made a bad film as a result.
Writing a good screenplay — including an animated fantasy-comedy aimed at the easy-lay family crowd — is a very difficult thing to do. You can’t just “attitude” your way through it, and you can’t just throw material at the wall and use whatever sticks. You have to create an imaginary, spherical, super-detailed world that a typical audience is willing to believe in on its own terms. You need to create a world with rules that make basic sense.
The Bee Movie problem is that Seinfeld — the producer, co-writer and star, and therefore the dominant Big Kahuna — never did any serious undercurrent work on the script. (Which, when done properly, conveys the “things that are there but aren’t said” element that all good films have.) The evidence suggests that Seinfeld and co-directors Simon J. Smith and Steve Hickner and the various co-writers (Spike Feresten, Barry Marder, Andy Robin, Chuck Martin, Tom Papajust) just sat around and cooked up two or three hundred clever lines and jokes and said, “We don’t need to get too deep here…this is just a family movie and we’re trying to have fun and entertain.”
Wrong mentality! A good comedy is a murderously hard thing to get right. You have to approach it the way Anton Chekhov approached the writing of The Cherry Orchard. Ask Billy Wilder, ask Preston Sturges…you can’t just goof your way through it.
It seems as if one of the basic ideas was “this is Jerry’s movie, so nobody stand in the way of his humor flow.” Apparently that meant not matching him up with a Brad Bird-level director — a sharp taskmaster who knows what a tough job it is to make a script really work, and would have stood up to Seinfeld every so often and said, “Uhhn, Jerry? This isn’t working. This is a Laugh Factory act, not a movie.” Instead, everyone from Jeffrey Katzenberg on down just stood back and said, “Whatever Jerry wants…!”
Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson‘s Antz (’99) was silly and comical, of course, but the ant world it created for itself had a certain recognizable logic and rhyme and symmetry. But no one did any heavy lifting on Bee Movie. None of it means anything or goes anywhere or digs into anything solid. The result isn’t a “bomb” — Bee Movie going to make lots of money this weekend — as much as a so-whatter.
Nobody laughed very much at last night’s all-media screening. They tittered, chuckled and guffawed here and there….but no haw-haws and no shrieks. And no emotional currents whatsoever. Seinfeld’s quirky-peculiar humor is all through it, of course, and that gives it an amiable personality and all, but the movie has no theme, no bones, no arc and no soul. It’s a Bee Movie about next to nothing.
All it says is that bees shouldn’t involve themselves in litigation against honey companies or worry in general about ownership or worker exploitation or any of those business-labor issues that concern human attorneys. It says that bees should be just be busy, and that they should be content with that.
One of the big Bee Movie problems was a decision not to worry about the believability of inter-species communication through the English language. I didn’t believe it last night and I don’t believe it now. (And I don’t care if Ratatouile had the gourmet rat speak English — I didn’t like that either.) It’s not an agreeably silly idea — it’s seriously moronic. Nor do I believe that the courts would allow a bee to sue the honey companies for stealing honey from bee colonies. Nor do I believe that bees the world over would decide to kick back and become slackers because Barry has been victorious in his lawsuit and therefore forced the honey companies to return all the honey to the hives. Nor do I believe that thousand of bees could lift up the wings of a jumbo jet and help it land at a major New York airport.
I know what you’re thinking — lighten the fuck up, it’s a cartoon movie about bees! But movies like this don’t work unless you can say to yourself, “Yeah, I can roll with that.” I have no problems with a deer being able to talk to a skunk and a rabbit. I have no difficulty with members of an ant colony sounding and reasoning like Woody Allen and Sylvester Stallone. But I had huge issues with almost every story element in Bee Movie.
There’s a deeper, more fundamental reason why this thing doesn’t work, though. Seinfeld riffs about everything in the bee world except one huge thing — the fact that worker bees (like his own character, Barry B. Benson) have an average life span of nine to twelve months. Bee Movie is therefore about a character who’ll be shaking hands with the grim reaper fairly soon. It’s The Bucket List without Jack Nicholson or Morgan Freeman acknowledging their cancer. It’s Edmond O’Brien in D.O.A. without his knowing he’s been poisoned. How can anyone identify with a bee who’s going to be dead by next August?
That said, the animation is bright and lively, and Seinfeld and all the the voice actors (Renee Zellweger, Matthew Broderick, John Goodman, Chris Rock, Patrick Warburton, Kathy Bates, Barry Levinson, Larry King, Ray Liotta, Sting, Oprah Winfrey, et. al.) do a fine job of reading their lines.
Variety‘s Dave McNary wrote yesterday afternoon that the WGA “is probably going to push back its deadline [as] the emerging consensus is that WGA leaders won’t start a strike until next week at the earliest — even though the town’s been fretting in recent days that scribes could walk out at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, when the current contract expires.”
All right, that’s it…no more WGA strike coverage until the strike actually happens, and even then I’m not sure anyone will care very much.
Meanwhile screenwriters Gregg Rossen and Brian Sawyer have thrown together a one-minute short about some crappy McJobs that striking writers may be taking once the WGA strike kicks in. The short is already dated since it says the WGA will be on the picket lines as of 10.31.07. Plus it’s not all that funny. Just a lame-ass “what do we do with our lives now that we’re off the payroll?” thing. Where’s the clever-ass, hipper-than-thou “writing”?
A friend is raving about a Broadway preview performance he just saw of Aaron Sorkin‘s The Farnsworth Invention, a play about how RCA’s David Sarnoff (Hank Azaria) more or less ripped off the patent rights to an amazing new invention called “electronic television” from young inventor Philo T. Farnsworth (Jimmi Simpson).
Apart from calling the play brilliant and immensely satisfying with superb perform- ances (especially by Simpson), my friend is saying it will translate beautifully into a film, and that Steven Spielberg, one of the play’s producers, is certain to either produce or direct it.
Directed by Des McAnuff, The Farnsworth Invention has been previewing at the Music Box theatre since 10.15, and will open 13 days from now — on Wednesday, 11.14.
The Farnsworth Invention, says a press release, “centers around the bitter conflict that pitted Philo T. Farnsworth, a boy genius who invented television as a high school student in 1927, against David Sarnoff, the head of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). The legal battle between Farnsworth and RCA would later become known as one of the great, tragic examples of legal and industrial force combining to crush a rightful patent owner. In a race that would change humanity forever, two men battle one another for honor, glory and a place in the history books.”
Spielberg became a producer of the show after seeing a workshop performance at the La Jolla Playhouse sometime between 2.20.07 and 3.25.07, or the span of its run.
Simpson is making his Broadway debut with the play. He played the kid who got shot along with his blonde married girlfriend in the very beginning of Zodiac. His other films credits include Herbie Fully Loaded, Loser, D.E.B.S. and Seraphim Falls.
My friend says Sorkin was at the performance he attended and was signing autographs after the show.
American Gangster is looking at a huge opening weekend and is running 90% positive on Rotten Tomatoes and 79% positive on Metacritic. And yet many of the critics giving it a thumbs-up are saying “yes but…” Plus the rumble around town is that Academy members are feeling the same way. Support is positive but a bit soft. Enjoyment and admiration, but hats aren’t being thown into the air.
If I were running Gangster‘s Oscar campaign, I’d be worried about those lack of hats. The word “but” is so often a decisive factor in life. I love my wife but oh, you kid! Watch out for those “buts.” Those “buts” can sneak up in the middle of the night and kill you.
For some of us, picking Oscar-race favorites at this stage is about choosing players and films that we truly feel were among the year’s finest. (Like Zodiac, for instance — unquestionably one of the year’s five best entries.) But for others, 75% to 80% of their Oscar prognosticating is about bowing down in front of the throne of this or that big-league distributor. Strictly a show of obeisance before power…no different than the protocol observed among New Guinea headhunters in the presence of this or that tribal chieftain, especially when entering his hut.
Which is why films and filmmakers being promoted by smaller distributors — Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, Control, Once, Sam Riley, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Sidney Lument, etc. — don’t fare as well as they should when it comes to the Gurus of Gold and Buzzmeter choices.
With the exception of Jerry Seinfeld‘s overly enthusiastic opening & closing remarks for NBC’s “TV Juniors” show, this short about a Bee Movie writers conference (which was shown at the Cannes Film Festival promo event last May) is a lot funnier and cooler than anything in Bee Movie itself. Just sayin’…