Cinemablend‘s Katey Rich, a sharp reviewer but never a take-no-prisoners Christopher Hitchens type, has torn The Expendables a new one. She’s calling it “a bloated mess, a bunch of guys past their prime punching and kicking each other and pretending its for our benefit, when it’s really just one last self-congratulatory hurrah.
“The giant list of beefy male names is the major draw of The Expendables, but it’s also what kills it. A movie about Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham‘s lead characters kicking ass and taking names in a foreign country might have gone somewhere, but the movie is utterly overstuffed, making room for a Dolph Lundgren vs. Jet Li fight scene, an entire subplot about Randy Couture‘s cauliflower ear, and worst of all, a 10-minute Mickey Rourke monologue in which he looks mournfully into a mirror, makes up an absurd story about his heartbreak on a previous mission, and silently cries.
“All of these will make for hilarious YouTube clips in the coming months, but they’re frustrating to watch in context as a movie with actual potential constantly kneecaps itself because the director and the cast had no idea when to give it a rest.
“Is The Expendables the manliest movie of the summer? Probably — it is ridiculously violent, fetishizes male strength without being too homoerotic, and treats women as pure, perfect beings who exist to be rescued. That kind of old-school machismo is missing from most modern action movies, and fans of old-school Stallone and Lundgren and company will likely flock to the Expendables with their bros, ready to watch the blood and guts fly. But if you were old enough to love Rambo III un-ironically the first time around, you’re way too old now to be fooled by the dull and desperate Expendables.”
I was in the upper lobby of AMC’s Lincoln Square the night before last when two ushers started dismantling the Expendables standee. “Whaddaya doin’?” I asked. “Takin’ it down…it’s opening, time to take it down,” he said. If I’d been Sly Stallone I would have said, “Wait…whadda ya mean, take it down? Movie doesn’t open for another two weeks!” But I just watched. “Are you trashin’ the figures?” I asked. I thought I could take Jason Statham back to the apartment and put him in the kitchen. “Naah, just the structure part.”
I regret to report that last night’s Film Society of Lincoln center showing of Ken Russell‘s The Devils — a kickoff of a seven day, nine-film Russell tribute — was a disappointment in some respects. Russell attended with Devils costar Vanessa Redgrave, and it was of course delightful to see them sitting together, and to share in the love. But they showed the wrong version of this 1971 classic, the print was less than mint, projection was substandard, and a befogged Russell offered no hard answers about the Devils controversy.
Legendary director Ken Russell, Vanessa Redgrave following last night’s FSLC screening of The Devils — Friday, 7.30, 9:55 pm.
I’m not faulting the 83 year-old Russell for not being a younger man, God knows. What matters is that he’s attending each and every FSLC screening and “making the effort” and so on. But the fact of the matter is that Russell wasn’t very snap-crackle-pop when asked about this and that.
The Devils print looked vaguely cruddy — poorly aligned, underlit, green scratches here and there — and was not the promised 111-minute “rape of Christ” version but the 108-minute version that was originally released in the U.S. This was a massive letdown. FSLC had promised the notorious version, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the room who felt burned.
I asked series programmer (and Film Comment editor) Gavin Smith what had gone wrong, and he said it had something to do with Warner Bros. not “allowing” the unrated print (which is sitting in England) into the country due to some legal blah-dee-blah. I’m still not clear on this. A FSLC screening sells tickets, of course, but isn’t a “commercial” screening as much as a museum-type showing. Will Warner Bros. ever stop messing with this film?
In a post-screening q & a Russell offered no inside explanation as to why Warner Bros. has twice offered and then withdrawn The Devils from commercial release over the last two years. (I wasn’t persuaded that he knew the particulars about the DVD and the iTunes versions being yanked after being announced and/or offered.) All he said was that “they don’t want it shown,” and something about their obstructions more or less constituting the same kind of political repression that is depicted in the film. The whole Warner Bros. thing is just infuriating, I swear.
When I say “poorly aligned” I mean that the image projected last night was too large for the screen — that the “throw” was miscalculated — resulting in a significant amount of the film’s image being cropped by the projector’s aperture plate. Throw in the poor lighting and the green scratch marks and it was indisputably a substandard experience. I love film as much as the next guy, but the iTunes version of the The Devils that I rented for my iPhone? Perfect, brightly lit, immaculate.
I asked Russell after the q & a why Song of Summer, the 1968 BBC film that he considers his all-time career best, wasn’t being shown in the series, and he just looked at the floor. (Maybe he didn’t hear me clearly.) When I asked Smith about this he didn’t seem aware that Russell has called Song of Summer “the best film I have ever done.” My impression is that the FSLC never gave the idea of showing this film much thought.
Joe Queenan has written a Hollywood ripjob piece for the Wall Street Journal that basically says 2010 is the suckiest movie year since…ever. Maybe or maybe not, or (my view) unsupported by the facts. But the best portion of the piece reads as follows:
“Every year, by tacit agreement with the public, Hollywood is expected to produce at least one surprise hit, one out-of-nowhere dark horse or, in a pinch, one cunningly hyped movie that either exhumes a noted actor from the grave or greases the skids so some solid journeyman can ascend to the ranks of the Oscar Winners of yore.
“The movie doesn’t have to be especially good — Crazy Heart and My Big Fat Greek Wedding certainly weren’t. Nor does it have to be a homegrown product — La Vita e Bella, Slumdog Millionaire and Amelie — were all imports. Nor does it even have to be a financial bonanza –neither The Wrestler nor The Hurt Locker broke any box-office records. But it has to be the sort of sleeper hit that the American people start talking about, the kind of movie that leads to an unexpected comeback, or spirited blog postings or a fawning Barbara Walters interview.
“2010 doesn’t have one of these movies. The Kids Are All Right, arguably the most heartwarming lesbian romantic comedy ever, is trying to fill that slot, but whatever its merits, it’s no Sideways, no March of the Penguins. The only other candidates for this role would seem to be Robert Duvall‘s upcoming turn as a crusty old varmint in Get Low and Ben Affleck’s big-screen comeback in The Town. Critics also might start banging the drum for the latest film showcasing the ethereal Tilda Swinton or some heartwarming motion picture about lachrymose camels or motorcycling proto-totalitarians or English spinsters who inexplicably decide to become crack dealers, but so far nothing truly phenomenal like Slumdog Millionaire seems to be on the horizon.”
I say again: Chris Nolan‘s Inception, Amir Bar Lev‘s The Tillman Story; Alex Gibney‘s Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer; Lee Unkrich‘s Toy Story 3, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu‘s Biutiful, Doug Liman‘s Fair Game, Olivier Assayas‘ Carlos, Aaron Schneider‘s Get Low, Noah Baumbach‘s Greenberg, Roman Polanski‘s The Ghost Writer, Charles Ferguson‘s Inside Job, Kate Davis and David Heilbroner‘s Stonewall Uprising; Vikram Jayanti‘s The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector.
As well as True Grit, The Conspirator, The Social Network, Hereafter, Mesrine: Killer Instinct, The Fighter, Everything You’ve Got, The Tree of Life , The American, London Boulevard, and possibly The Way Back, Somewhere, Conviction, Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps; Love and Other Drugs, and Paul Haggis‘ remake of Pour Elle.
Queenan is right about one thing: there hasn’t been any kind of 2010 version of Sideways. Not even close.
There’s nothing especially wrong with Brigitte Berman‘s Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel (Metaphor, 7.30) except that it’s (a) a half-hour too long, (b) utterly lacking in dramatic judgment, and (c) way too obsequious. It feels or plays like a Playboy-commissioned blowjob documentary intended to glorify Hefner’s rep (which it does) but which is mainly or currently intended for viewing by stockholders and potential investors.
The intent was solely to catalogue and promote Hefner as a cultural revolutionary (whch he absolutely was in the ’50s and ’60s) and a steadfast advocate of various liberal causes (sexual freedom, opposition to racism and Vietnam War, marijuana use, etc.) over the last 55-plus years. Which it does. And which is fine. Hefner deserves to take a bow for this. He absolutely did stand up and open a lot of doors and take stands against some very ugly and repressive things in our culture.
But the doc is too admiring to be interesting. And it doesn’t acknowledge the obvious, which is that while Playboy, the high-toned, politically liberal men’s skin magazine that Hefner launched in 1953 and which still thrives (or has at least survived) today, was on the barricades of the sexual revolution in the ’50s and ’60s, it gradually became a symbol of female repression and sexist old-fartism in the ’80s and beyond.
The main issue for me is that Berman fails to provide a sense of drama by refusing to tell Hefner’s story in a way that delivers an up-and-down arc, which all lives have. In broad strokes the stories of successful power-trippers are all the same. There’s always the hunger, the struggle, the rise, the success, the glories, the cresting and then the gradual fall-off. Orson Welles knew this when he filmed the fictionalized story of William Randolph Hearst, but Berman refuses to even consider it in her story of Hugh M. Hefner. Gradual decline, decreasing importance, creeping irrelevancy…what?
Playboy peaked in terms of cultural and political vitality from the mid to late ’50s through (maybe) the mid ’70s. But it gradually lost its edge due to (a) various competitors (which the doc completely ignores) stealing the sexual pizazz factor, (b) the culture having embraced much of the hedonistic philosophy that Hefner and his Playboy philosophy advocated, (c) the women’s movement exposing its repressive aspects, and (d) internet porn. To watch Berman’s doc you’d think that nothing ever changed except for the fact that Hefner got older but wiser, and the Playboy empire just kept movin’ and groovin’ on.
Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel is a nicely done doc for what it is. It’s kinda fun to get on the train and take the sexual history trip and watch all the cool old footage. But I would have felt rooked if I’d paid to see this. Berman is just not interested in drilling all that deeply; she just doesn’t try that hard. She doesn’t even mention the Hefner musical that went into screenplay form that almost…well, could have gotten made but died on the vine.
As initially reported some 40 days ago by “Page Six,” Piers Morgan — a sharp and fairly aggressive British journalist and TV personality — is taking Larry King‘s CNN gig. I’ve never watched Morgan interview anyone of any substance (he always seems to be talking to women who are famous for being famous, who’ve never actually “done” anything) but he seems like he may be a bit nippier than King.
The 45 year-old is a former editor of News of the World (’94 to ’95) and the Daily Mirror (’95 to ’04). His Wiki bio says he “quickly gained notoriety [in the mid ’90s] for his invasive, thrusting style and lack of concern for celebrities’ right to privacy, claiming that they could not manipulate the media to further their own ends without accepting the consequences of a two-way deal.”
Dinner for Schmucks “is not a great movie, or even a coherent one, but in nearly every scene it draws laughter from an impressively eclectic array of sources, both obvious and new. People fall down, things break, funny accents are used, crazy misunderstandings occur, and an impressively high number of witty, bizarre and outrageous lines are uttered. It is less a full-scale comic feast than a buffet of amusing snacks, and while it does not necessarily exalt or flatter your intelligence, it doesn’t treat you like an idiot, either.” — from A.O. Scott‘s N.Y. Times review.
People voted for Barack Obama because they wanted transformation, a house cleaning, religious uplift, fervor. Instead he became Jimmy Carter — moderately progressive, mild accomplishments, turn the other cheek, currying favor with Republican scum, mildly mellow, Bush lite in terms of Afghanistan, etc. What people wanted (and still want) is the kind of moral clarity and righteous hellfire that Rep. Anthony Weiner let go with on the floor of the House yesterday afternoon.
Maddow Blog’s Laura Conaway posted the following at 10:35 this morning: “The House yesterday voted down a measure to provide $7.4 billion in health care for 9/11 responders made ill by their work. It’s an outrage, and Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) stood up and got outraged about it: “It’s Republicans wrapping their arms around Republicans, rather than doing the right thing on behalf of the heroes! It is a shame…a shame!”
The bill 9/11 health care bill needed a two-thirds majority to pass — here are the yays and nays.
In a 7.30 piece called “Lure of The Dark Side for Bright Young Things,” The Independent‘s Tom Teodorczuk explores the syndrome of younger big-name actors (Kristen Stewart, Amanda Seyried, Robert Pattinson, Zac Efron, Amber Heard, Emma Roberts) making low-budget indie flicks alongside tentpole blockbusters.
The pattern, of course, is that the mob that pays to see these actors in tentpole flicks usually avoids their indie-ish outings. It’s not the stars they’re interested in as much as the moods and colors and exhilarations that big movies tend to deliver. Name-brand stars matter to some extent when appearing in a primary-color movie made by a big studio, but they’re secondary to the films.
The article ends with an agent saying that “the movie’s now so much the star in Hollywood that the trend for [young actors] to go off and do indie movies will proliferate…[but] the challenge lies in getting their fans to be as interested in paying to see the movies as they are in looking at the on-set pictures online.”
Agent Translation: The majority of under-35 moviegoers (i.e., “Eloi”) are looking for fundamental drug highs every time they see a film. They want sweeping, heavy-impact movies that carry them along on a powerful North Shore wave that won’t require a lot of energy to catch — movies that will excite, induce awe, make them laugh or get them to feel strong emotions. But they don’t seem to have an interest in doing much heavy lifting on their own, which is what indie films tend to ask of its audience, or muddling through ambiguities, which is also what they sometimes require.
Some indie flicks tie things together in a nice red bow at the end, but many of them say “here are some characters and a story and a milieu, but don’t expect to be spoon-fed like a baby. We’ll give you a little help here and there, but you have to bring the elements together on your own and…you know, think it out and talk it out with your friends.”
In short, indie-ish films tend to treat moviegoers as thinking, semi-educated adults while big studio movies (which the exception of films by Chris Nolan, James Cameron, Michael Mann, Ridley Scott, etc.) tend to regard audiences as children looking for rules and guidance.
It’s perfectly allowable to take shots at Get Low and thereby lower its Rotten Tomatoes rating to 88 and Metacritic rating to 78. But I’m having trouble comprehending how any critic could say to himself or herself, “Wow, this film really deserves to be slammed and I’m going to tear it a new asshole.” I know that feeling and the qualities that tend to motivate it, and, trust me, Get Low doesn’t deal those kind of cards.
(l. to r.) Bill Murray, Lucas Black, Robert Duvall in Aaron Schneider’s Get Low
Aaron Schneider‘s period drama is one of those laid-back fable movies — not quite “real” but carefully done and honestly rendered as far as it goes and therefore real enough. Set in 1938 backwoods Tennessee, it feels polite and quiet and connected to the gentler aspects of life. There are no sudden jolts in the story, and no child molester characters, no malicious toothless hillbillies or murderers or moonshiners, no shotgun yokels, etc. It takes its time and doesn’t push too hard (although some of it feels a little on-the-nose), and knows what it’s doing every step of the way.
Get Low is a restrained and atmospheric soft-shoe shuffle about regret, decency, nightmares and making amends, and about one ornery old dawg (very nicely played by Robert Duvall) finding a measure of peace at the end of the road. It’s about clean, elegant dialogue and exceptional, pitch-perfect acting all around, especially from Duvall, Bill Murray (as a considerate, fair-minded, moderately greedy undertaker with a certain Murrayish wit about him), Lucas Black (as Murray’s solemn assistant) and Sissy Spacek (as the sister of Duvall’s…I’d better not say). It’s slowishly paced, but fittingly for the time period and milieu.
The sharpshooters, some of whom are fans of Todd Solondz (if you catch my drift), are primarily complaining that Get Low is too mushy, too cornball, too formulaic, too folksy, too obvious, too unsubtle, too underlined. For them, they mean. They wanted a less conventional, less recognizable, more off-kilter sort of deal.
Well, I know from mushy, cornball, formulaic, folksy, obvious, unsubtle and underlined, and trust me, these guys are being way too picky. Get Low flirts with a faintly cornball vibe from time to time, but the nip-nippers are almost accusing it of being Mayberry R.F.D., and that’s ridiculous. Its a lot closer to the kind of material that the late Horton Foote used to write.
The fact that Get Low will almost certainly wind up as one of the ten Best Picture nominees is especially bothersome to some. Slant‘s Nick Schager writes that “one can practically hear the Oscar telecast’s orchestral music cuing up at the close of Robert Duvall’s every scene in Get Low, what with his role — as a mysterious hermit in 1930s Tennessee who plans to stage his own funeral before his death — the type that’s been designed, down to its measured beats of dialogue, to garner year-end accolades.”
Maybe so, but I know when a film is being relatively honest and straight-shooting and doing everything it can to get it right by taking things down a notch and not forcing the issue, and Get Low is one of those films.