The Hollywood Reporter‘s Ray Bennett has raved about Mamma Mia! from London, where it’ll open next Friday (7.4). How does a dedicated sourpuss and Europop/ABBA hater cast doubts and aspersions without having seen the film? Obviously he can’t and shouldn’t. The watchword should always be “try to be fair.” The sourpuss can, however, sniff the air for girly-girl fumes, for hints of vapidity or plasticity or anything that feels like excessive fizz.
The word “fun,” for example, has been known to strike fear in the hearts of ardent film lovers. “Fun,” as we all know, is a code word that usually means the kind of shallow exuberance best appreciated by women and gay guys. Bennett’s statement therefore that “no matter how many blockbusters there are, Universal Pictures’ screen version of the global hit stage musical is the most fun to be had at the movies this or any other recent summer” is perhaps cause for concern. Perhaps, I say. Or perhaps not.
“Teenage boys may be glued to the latest action adventure, but the rest of the family will be having a rollicking good time and dancing in the aisles to Swedish pop group ABBA’s irresistible songs,” Bennett says. Does “the rest of the family” include dad and Uncle Frank and his son Carl as well as grandpappy Amos with the limp and the overalls? I don’t think so. And I say this as a straight guy who’s occasionally succumbed to shallow pop tunes with cleverly delivered hooks, like Paul McCartney‘s “No More Lonely Nights.”
“It’s a delightful piece of filmmaking with a marvelous cast topped by Meryl Streep in one of her smartest and most entertaining performances ever,” Bennett writes. I don’t mean to sound like a pisshead, but isn’t the use of “delightful,” “marvelous” and “entertaining” in the same sentence reason to wonder about the reviewer’s critical scrutiny levels and his general susceptibility to the gush impulse?
It was reported earlier today that Bill Clinton has told confidantes that in order to get his full support in the presidential campaign Barack Obama will have to apologize, beg and grovel like nobody’s business. Clinton was quoted as saying, in fact, that Obama will have to “kiss my ass” in order to make things right.
Bill Clinton, George McGovern
Clinton apparently resents having been tarnished by the Obama campaign for having played the race card, which of course Clinton absolutely did when he compared Obama’s win in the South Carolina primary to Jesse Jackson’s two previous wins there in the ’80s. Coupled with Hillary’s statement that Obama is not a Muslim “as far as I know” and her “psst…Obama is black!” implications in speeches to and comments about “white” Appalachian-belt voters, it’s almost surreal that her husband is angry about all this, but the truly arrogant have never recognized boundaries.
The last time “kiss my ass” was attributed to an ex- or would-be White House resident in a presidential campaign was, according to this Time report and this Wikipedia page, on the final day of the 1972 campaign when Democratic candidate George McGovern euphemistically told a pro-Nixon heckler in Battle Creek, Michigan, to plant his puckered lips on McGovern’s rump. The astonished heckler, a chubby kid with glasses, reportedly told a reporter that McGovern had “said a profanity!”
Time columnist Joe Klein has told the Telegraph that he’s been told the ex-president is “very, very bitter” about the campaign. “It’s time for him to get over it or go off and do his charitable work,” Klein is quoted as saying. “[Clinton] knows the rules of the road. What’s going on now is kind of strange. I think his behavior is really, really shocking.”
What…another Dark Knight reviewer doing cartwheels over Heath Ledger‘s Joker? Is this getting tedious or just repetitive? We get it already. Brilliant demonic channeling. The guy’s going to win a posthumous Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Warner Bros. will almost certainly run a full-on Oscar campaign on his behalf. Now can we talk about something else, please? I feel like I’m getting beaten over the head here.
Ledger “presents himself as The Joker in a role that defines a career,” writes Rope of Silicon‘s Brad Brevet. “It is unimaginable it would come to the point that a film based on a comic-book character could actually have such an impact on one person. On a generation. Ledger’s decent into what is, and has become, The Joker makes Jack Nicholson’s interpretation look like nothing more than a simple clown.
“‘Wait’ll they get a load of me,’ Jack said 19 years ago. Wait until you get a load of Heath!
“The Dark Knight presents a character so destructive and without a care for those landing in his path of decimation that you are left to your own devices. Love him. Hate him. Hate to love him or love to hate him, director Christopher Nolan has guided an actor into a dark realm not often realized. The Joker finds his place alongside villains that go by the name of Hannibal, Scarface and John Doe himself. A nameless, unrecognizable entity you won’t be willing to or able to admit is Ledger until the credits roll.”
“Curmudgeonly, cantankerous, cigar-chomping Hellboy is a cross between a ’40s noir detective and a burning fireplace,” writes Variety‘s John Anderson, “but he’s also cool enough to make Hellboy II: The Golden Army the hipster’s hit of the summer. It’s certainly a more deliberately (and successfully) funny movie, thanks largely to Ron Perlman, who returns with the rest of the cast, and without whom an onscreen Hellboy would have been almost unthinkable.
“Yes, Catholic imagery has always run rampant through helmer Guillermo del Toro‘s movies, including Pan’s Labyrinth, which he made in between the two Hellboy entries, but he’s really an evangelist of fanboy excess: Given the right push by Universal, he’ll be making fantasy-horror acolytes out of the heretofore unconverted.”
“In a previous life, del Toro might have been a maker of clocks — clocks inhabited by gargoyles instead of cuckoos, and which exploded on the hour. But there’s a precision to the visual ornateness of Hellboy II that exceeds even that of its predecessor.”
Eight or nine days ago the New York Observer‘s Sarah Vilkomerson wrote one of the funniest observation-and-reporting articles I’ve read in ages called “You’ve Got Mail (You Never Open).” And I only happened upon it last night over dinner. Funny because it’s true, because it’s my life — because the urban under-45 onliners, one gathers, have become a nation of mail denialists.
“I don’t have a fundamental fear or anxiety that makes me avoid the mail,” Mark McMaster, a 29-year-old senior account manager at Google, tells Vilkomerson. “It just seems relatively uninteresting, and probably most importantly, doesn’t arrive when it’s relevant. I don’t want a bill to tell me it’s time now to pay by showing up at my door. I just got home from work, asshole!
“At Google, we wax philosophical about `the cloud,’ a metaphor for all the data that’s kept in a server farm that could be in Oklahoma or Beijing but you can instantly access from any computer or phone or BlackBerry that’s connected to the internet. I put as much of my life in the cloud as possible.”
As Vilkomerson summarizes, “The internet, with its neat-o technology, has made it so that, for the most part, not opening your mail doesn’t really matter.”
Update: It’s one thing for people to not use mail that much or as much — that’s been a growing reality for eight or ten years or whatever. Or for the usefulness of the U.S. postal service to matter less and less in terms of personal letters, bills, credit card come-ons and junk mail. But a growing subculture of web-savvy urban dwellers falling into the habit of not even opening their mail — that’s significant. And so far, no one reading this site seems to be appreciating this sea-change, or even chuckling about it. Flatliners. Asleep at the wheel.
A convincing report of stepped-up secret covert actions against Iran by the Bushies, as written by New Yorker‘s Seymour Hersh in a piece called “Preparing the Battlefield.” The neocons have only a few months left to try and hurt I’m-a-dinner-jacket. It’s a kind of prelude or warm-up, some believe, to the big Israeli bombing of Iran that will happen (if it happens) sometime after the Democratic and Republican conventions. One imagines that $4.40 a gallon will seem like a fond memory if and when such hostilities commence.
The obvious movie analogy to the “my middle name is Hussein!” movement (good citizens symbolically showing support for Barack Obama and flipping off the righties who’ve tried to use the exotic Middle-Eastern sound of this name to stir fear among rural dumb-asses) is, of course, the “I’m Spartacus” scene in Spartacus (1960). Moving then, moving today.
To emphasize the analogy I tried to find a good-quality letterboxed clip of this third-act moment in Kirk Douglas and Stanley Kubrick‘s film. Then I was distracted by this beautiful Pepsi ad that ran on the Oscar show four or five years ago and forgot all about the Obama aspect. I love the moment when the Roman centurion offering to return the lunch-bag Pepsi shrugs and says “I’m Spartacus,” and then pops open the can and downs it.
Websites started kicking “nuke the fridge” around roughly three weeks ago, and Newsweek‘s Periscope columnist Sarah Ball has just had a go at it. It refers to Harrison Ford hiding in that refrigerator in Indy 4 to escape the effects of a nuclear blast, etc. The main reason the term hasn’t seemed all that vital to get into from this end is that it doesn’t seem all that different or distinct from “jump the shark.”
Sean Connery’s fridge moment in Thunderball.
The latter, of course, refers to suddenly being old news — having lost one’s place (position, toe-hold, whatever) in the media-culture firmament — due to some sudden, what-just-happened? tectonic shift in the state of things. The former is a cinematic term referring to some ludicrous, over-the-top piece of business that destroys the audience’s faith or sense of belief in the reality of an iconic character. Different, but not too far apart.
On top of which nuke-fridging has been around for since the mid ’60s, when a wave of pop absurdist movies (spy spoofs like Casino Royale, anarchic comedies like What’s New Pussycat?, social upheaval farces like The President’s Analyst) used deliberate and repeated nuke-fridgings as the basis of their comic attitudes.
On top of which the very first superhero fridge-nuke moment happened 42 and 1/2 years ago, so it’s not exactly a fresh concept.
The date was December 17, 1965, when Thunderball, the fourth James Bond film, opened in the U.S. Fans who’d relished Sean Connery‘s brawny machismo in Dr. No and From Russia With Love, and who had felt moderately brought down by the de-balling emphasis on high-tech gadgetry in Goldfinger, completely gave up the faith when Connery strapped on a flying backpack device during Thunderball‘s pre-credit sequence, and went whooosssshhhh….over the buildings!
The problem wasn’t just the jet pack, although that was pretty bad in and of itself. The problem was Connery wearing that idiotic crash helmet. Ian Fleming‘s James Bond wasn’t a scrupulous rule-follower. He was a bit reckless at times, liked to do things his own way. Wearing a crash helmet while flying a couple of hundred feet in the air might have been the prudent thing to do, but it looked wimpy and ridiculous and — let’s be blunt — clownish. It was the end of an era.
A chance encounter this evening with Guillermo del Toro, director of Hellboy II: The Golden Army, at West L.A.’s Laser Blazer — 6.28, 7:50 pm. We spoke about a scheduled junket interview sometime on Sunday, 6.29, about our fathers, about some Blu-ray transfers looking too much like digital data and not enough, he feels, like film.
It’s been a long while — two or three months, at least — since I’ve seen Alex Gibney‘s Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson (Magnolia/HDNet, 7.4), which I mostly enjoyed and fully respected. David Carr‘s story about it in the 6.29 N.Y. Times has jarred my memory somewhat. And yet mainly I’m reminded that my primary impression of Thompson’s life can be summed up in four words: “Wow, what a waste.”
Hunter S. Thompson sometime in the mid to late ’60s, to judge by his hairline.
The “wow” part — Thompson’s productive years from the mid ’60s to mid ’70s — is what 90% of Gibney’s film is about. The largely non-productive downturn phase — the last 28 or so years of his life from ’77 until his suicide in ’05 — occupies, no exaggeration, maybe 10 or 12 minutes of screen time, if that. It’s understood, of course, that ruination from booze and drugs is not interesting because there’s absolutely nothing say about it except “and then, lacking the courage to kill himself quickly, he decided to slowly commit suicide on a snort-by-snort, bottle-by-bottle basis.”
And yet Carr’s sentence about Thompson’s coke-and-tequila poisoning carries a certain poignancy: “By the time most of America knew who Thompson was, he was pretty much washed up, having gradually been overtaken by his own legend, with steady assists from the bottle, the drugs and his coven of enablers.” Gibney’s handling of it, by contrast, is a little on the hurried and perfunctory side.
The only big problem I had with Gonzo is the pop-tunes soundtrack. Gibney has used cut after cut of the music that was big in the late ’60s to mid ’70s, but listening to these songs, trust me, will drive you up the wall.
What prevented Gibney, an extremely smart guy, from realizing that it’s virtually impossible for a person watching a doc about the social upheavals of the ’60s to listen the Youngbloods singing “Let’s Get Together” without wanting to fire a bullet into his or her right temple? There is no other reaction to that song at this stage of the game. You hear those fucking lyrics — “C’mon, people now, smile on your brother, try to love one another right now” — and you want to die as soon as possible.
I felt this over and over as Don MacLean‘s “American Pie,” Jimi Hendrix‘s “Hey Joe” and Janis Joplin‘s “Piece of My Heart” and I don’t how many other ’60s standards were heard. These songs, of course, are part of the 245-song repertoire that every classic-rock radio station has been playing for the last 35 years and torturing everyone to death with. Has Gibney ever heard of B sides? Of ’60s bands and tracks that don’t make people want to jump off the top of 30-story office buildings? Apparently not.
I wish I could help it, but every time a woman (or a group of women) registers astonishment at something another woman has said by saying “oh…my…god!” I feel hugely repelled. In real life, in a TV series, in a film…anywhere. Chalk on a blackboard times ten. So I’m naturally concerned about a moment in the Mamma Mia trailer in which Amanda Seyfried tells her friends she has three possible dads coming to her wedding and she doesn’t know which is the actual sire, and…you know the rest. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Fingers crossed. It opens on 7.18.