Amazon-provided synopsis of Woody Allen‘s Wonder Wheel, attached to a screening invitation: “Wonder Wheel tells the story of four characters whose lives intertwine amid the hustle and bustle of the Coney Island amusement park in the 1950s: Ginny (Kate Winslet), a melancholy, emotionally volatile former actress now working as a waitress in a clam house; Humpty (Jim Belushi), Ginny’s rough-hewn carousel operator husband; Mickey (Justin Timberlake), a handsome young lifeguard who dreams of becoming a playwright; and Carolina (Juno Temple), Humpty’s long-estranged daughter, now hiding out from gangsters at her father’s apartment.”
A visual knockout, fine. Jaw-droppingly beautiful, okay. But who completely trusts those Blade Runner 2049 reviews? Right now it has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 98 and a Metacritic score of 85. You know you can’t trust critics. You know that a lot of them (especially the super-brainy, balding, dweeby-looking ones) live in tents inside their own rectums, and that many of them write their reviews not for Joe and Jane Popcorn but with an eye toward what their effete colleagues are thinking and saying. You can trust Hollywood Elsewhere to lay it on the line, but who else?
Kevin Maher of the London Times says BR49 is “not without problems” and yet it has a 98% rating? The Village Voice‘s Bilge Ebiri says it “cannot achieve the sublime slipperiness” of Ridley Scott‘s original Blade Runner. Metro UK‘s James Luxford says “the film belongs to Ryan Gosling” and yet I was told by a critic friend that Gosling’s performance is fucking boring.
After scanning the Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes scores, this same critic, not a huge fan of the film, said “I’m stunned that the reviews are this good.” Another critic said, “All I can say after sitting through nearly three hours of this [film] is thank God for Harrison Ford and Elvis Presley.” The latter refers to Ford’s Rick Deckard “living in some weird building somewhere, and among his entertainment options are life-size holograms of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe,” which are “pretty damned cool.”
I walk around in my canary-yellow sneakers like Woody Guthrie or Charles Bukowski and order the occasional hot dog or ice cream cone and rumble down the mean streets of Los Angeles on my scooter hog. I’m a real person and I don’t mince words, and if I like Blade Runner 2049 then maybe it’s got something. But you can’t trust the cloistered film monks. They live in their own world.
Hats off to Lexington-based tech guy Dominic Eardley for switching Hollywood Elsewhere from an ISP that was costing $440 per month to a newbie that’ll cost $200 a month with no loss in quality. I’ve been paying Liquid Web the higher fee for a dedicated server since 2011 or thereabouts, but two days ago Dominic switched me over to a managed WordPress cloud service from an Austin-based company called WP Engine. So far it’s loading quickly and feels just fine. Thanks again to Dominic for pushing me into this.
All in all Doug Liman and Tom Cruise‘s American Made, which I paid to see last night at the Hollywood Arclight, is a spry and frequently engaging drug-dealing dramedy. I felt irked and occasionally disengaged by the jaunty tone but never bored. The movie jumps and hops and bops around like a guy who’s just snorted a three-foot-long line of cocaine, which is appropriate given the storyline, and Cruise does his best to sell and smooth it all down with one of his patented charm-school performances.
It’s based on the real-life exploits of the late Barry Seal, a jowly-faced TWA pilot and risk junkie who began working for the CIA in the late ’70s as a flyover photographer of anti-U.S. Central American guerillas, and then as an arms smuggler and then a cocaine smuggler for the Columbia cartel guys (including Pablo Escobar), and then as a U.S. government informant against the Columbians after he was arrested and facing a 40-year sentence. He was clipped by a pair of Columbian assassins in ’86.
The problem for me was this: I wanted the movie to drill into the hard-core reality of Seal’s increasingly risky businesses and really immerse in the tension and the fear and the sweaty nitty gritty. American Made does this to some extent, but it also tries like hell to entertain the chumps by arching the tone and trying to make a lot of what Seal did seem funny and outrageous in a hoo-hah, can-you-effing-believe-this? sort of way. Every now and then I would chortle or guffaw, but mainly I wanted to experience what Seal’s wild ride was really like, without the tonal concessions to the popcorn-inhalers.
And that’s basically it. I didn’t feel burned by American Made. A fair amount of it intrigues, diverts, distracts, etc. But I didn’t buy a lot of the particulars.
I didn’t believe for a second that Cruise was doing anything more than resorting to the usual tricks and games — he’s basically doing Knight and Day again, playing the same grinning, irreverent sociopath. I didn’t believe Domhnall Gleeson as a laid-back CIA agent, certainly not with his dweeby manner, beanpole frame and stupid-looking Beatle bowl haircut. I didn’t believe Sarah Wright as Seal’s wife — too dishy, too pliant, too young and aerobically toned to be a mother of two and married to a guy who’s at least 20 years older. (In actuality she’s 22 years younger than Cruise, who turned 55 last July.)
Okay, I half-believed the Columbian cartel guys. And with Seal having assisted CIA efforts to arm the Nicaraguan contras and discredit the Sandinistas and having dealt with Reagan administration flunkies like Oliver North, I definitely believed in Doug Liman‘s investment in this story as his attorney father, Arthur Liman, served as chief counsel for the Senate’s investigation of the Iran-Contra Affair.
In his 10.2 New Yorker review, Anthony Lane writes that American Made “joins that small band of Cruise movies, like Magnolia and Collateral, which summon the nerve to dig around — to test the armor of his geniality, and to deconstruct that celebrated grin.” Yeah, I guess so but I wouldn’t get too carried away. American Made is a better-than-half-decent film, but it’s far too jokey and impish to be regarded as an art-movie equal of Magnolia, and it’s way, way below the level of Collateral.
More than a few women essayists (including The Guardian‘s Suzanne Moore, Chicago Tribune‘s Mary Schmich, The Independent‘s Julie Bindel, Fox News’ Penny Young Nance, The Atlantic‘s Sophie Gilbert) have argued, not inaccurately, that the late Hugh Hefner was not a true supporter of women, that he was basically a rich, high-end pimp, and that the sexual revolution he and Playboy promoted totally favored male libidos, etc. Which I won’t argue.
But you can’t say Hef wasn’t a culturally progressive mover and shaker in the ’50s and ’60s. In a self-absorbed, narcissistic way, agreed, and yes, his brand was eclipsed or certainly dated by the women’s movement starting in the early ’70s. But in the era of Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, he definitely moved the needle forward. From Jean Anouilh‘s Becket: “I’m afraid we can only do, absurdly, what it has been given to us to do.” Hef had his cultural moment, his chapter of honorable influence, and he managed it as best he could.