We almost had two Samuel L. Jackson snake movies being released within a month of each other — — Snakes on a Plane (New Line, 8.18) and Black Snake Moan (Paramount Vantage, 9.16) — but no longer. Paramount Vantage has decided against opening Craig Brewer‘s Moan in September and in favor of a February ’07 release. Brewer’s script is about a fire-and-brimstone bluesman (Jackson) who tries to cure a sexually promiscuous young woman (Christina Ricci) of her wicked, tawdry ways. Reactions to recent screenings have delivered positive comments but also ones like “quirky”. I wouldn’t be surprised if it debuts at the ’07 Sundance Film Festival in January.
With every new review that comes in, those Rotten Tomatoes ratings of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (Disney, 7.7) keep sinking lower and lower. The overall rating is 52% positive, and the cream-of-the-crop rating is a lousy 40%. My fave quotes so far: (1) “Calling a summer movie ‘action-packed’ is supposed to be a compliment, but there’s nothing so tedious as nonstop excitement.” — Salon‘s Stephanie Zacharek; and (2) “It’s a franchise movie — a product — that is pretending to be a lot hipper than it is.” — Christian Science Monitor critic Peter Rainer.
Werner Herzog has been “Werner Herzog” for 35 years or so, and the Academy waited until yesterday to invite him to become a member? Is it because someone finally noticed that he’s based in Los Angeles and using the same post-production houses and going to the same parties?
Wait, I just figured it: this is a makeup gesture to one of the world’s most visionary filmmakers to apologize for the Academy’s documentary committee failing to list Herzog’s Grizzly Man, the most critically hailed doc of ’05, among the initial qualifiers.
I asked Clerks 2 director-writer-costar Kevin Smith for a comment about the still-slacking-in-their-30s syndrome described in a piece I wrote earlier today called “Party On.”
I started things off a bit flippantly by asking if guys wanking their lives away in their 30s is an indication of the social fabric coming apart, and here’s his reply: “Naah — blame Bill Murray, the original slacker hero. We all grew up watching Stripes. It had an impact.
“I think some filmmakers like me (who aren’t overly creative…or overly talented, for that matter) are afforded an extended adolescence by virtue of what we do for a living. I mean, we basically ‘make pretend’ and get paid for it. So maybe we like to portray that lifestyle cinematically because, at this point, it’s all we know?
“George Lucas, at a young age, painted a canvas with Wookies and Death Stars; some of us can only paint a corner of a canvas with characters who like to talk about Wookies and Death Stars.
“I’ve been writing about these types of characters for twelve years now, so it’s not a trend for me as much as a mantra. For me, I think it has a lot to do with my father, who spent his entire adult life working for the U.S. Postal service, doing the 11 pm to 7 am shift, canceling stamps. Soul-killing work, that, but his generation didn’t have the luxury of picking a dream job or following whimsies; you got married and you got a job, period.
“My generation was the first to be very vocal (not the first to actually live this way, mind you, but to be VOCAL on the subject) about a willingness to ‘play the game’, so to speak, but only according to our own rules. Sort of a ‘Yeah, I’ll get a job, but since it’ll be doing what I want, it’ll never feel like a job.’
“And while, in theory, that’s a good m.o. (and in some cases, like mine, somewhat achievable), it’s not very practical.”
Nikki Finke has posted a clip of Rick Moranis imitating a certain very-hyper Hollywood producer on a Canadian SCTV episode that ran…I don’t know when it ran but figure sometime around ’83 or ’84. It’s a total howl. The guy Moranis is spoofing is almost certainly producer Joel Silver (V for Vendetta, The Matrix) as he was 23 years ago. Moranis worked for Silver when he played a secondary role in Streets of Fire (’84), which Silver produced. Saul Rubinek did another excellent Silver impression in Tony Scott‘s True Romance .
You have to at least give N.Y. Times Allison Hope Weiner props for having the brass to play fast and loose with the rules, obviously at a risk to her reputation. It’s called unbridled hunger. Boiled down, Weiner emphasized her attorney credentials over her journalistic ones to Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles authorities as part of an effort to interview incarcerated wire-tapper Anthony Pellicano on 6.14. Times spokesperson Diane McNulty has told L.A. Times reporter Chuck Phillips that Weiner “identified herself as a New York Times reporter.” After being told by a guard that “only immediate family members and lawyers could see the inmate, Weiner then [said] she was a journalist and a lawyer. “But not Pellicano’s lawyer,” McNulty said. “[She] was very clear and forthright about her intentions and who she was.” Phillips’ piece quotes from the New York Times ethics code as stating that “staff members may not pose as police officers, lawyers, businesspeople or anyone else when they are working as journalists.”
There’s a trend in movies about GenX guys in their early to mid 30s who’re having trouble growing up. Guys who can’t seem to get rolling with a career or commit to a serious relationship or even think about becoming productive, semi-responsible adults, and instead are working dead-end jobs, hanging with the guys all the time, watching ESPN 24/7, eating fritos, getting wasted and popping Vicodins.
I’m thinking of four soon-to-open films that deal with this subject front-and-center: Kevin Smith’s Clerks 2 (Weinstein Co., 7.21), Tony Goldwyn’s The Last Kiss (the remake of Gabrielle Muccino’s Italian-made hit, adapted by Paul Haggis and due for release by Paramount on 9.15), You, Me and Dupree (Universal, 7.14) and The Groomsmen (Bauer Martinez, 7.14).
(l. to r.) Owen Wilson, Kate Hudson, Matt Dillon in You, Me and Dupree (Universal, 7.14)
There have probably been fifteen or twenty other films that have come out over the last four or five years about 30ish guys finding it hard to get real.
The 40 Year-Old Virgin was basically about a bunch of aging testosterone mon- keys doing this same old dance (with Steve Carell’s character being a slightly more mature and/or sensitive variation). Virgin director-writer Judd Apatow has made a career out of mining this psychology.
Simon Pegg’s obese layabout friend in Shaun of the Dead was another manifes- tation — a 245-pound Dupree.
Prolonged adolescence is an old pattern, of course. The difference these days is that practitioner-victims are getting older and older.
Martin Davidson and Stephen Verona’s The Lords of Flatbush (1974) dealt with this pattern to some extent, but the characters (played by Sylvester Stallone, Henry Winkler, Perry King) were in their mid to late 20s, as I recall.
Barry Levinson’s Diner was also about guys who want to keep being kids, but his Baltimore homies were all under 30. (Was Mickey Rourke’s character older?)
Putting off life’s responsibilities is a deeply ingrained pattern among European males, or certainly Italian ones. Federico Fellini’s I Vitteloni (1953) was about a group of guys pushing 30 who do little more but hang out and get into dumb situations in their home town on the Adriatic.
Why are immature attitudes among 30-something guys so persistent these days? Is this a breakthrough or a virus? Is it a reaction to overpopulation? Is it because the culture is telling them, “It’s okay, bro…we’re with you no matter how immature you are as long as you keep spending money on goods and services”?
Men who came of age in the 1920s and ’30s knew they had to start acting like adults and getting jobs and taking care of their families when they were just out of college.
With World War II and Korean War service eating up their early 20s, young men of the 1940s and early ’50s had to get down by their mid 20s, although many got going earlier.
When I was a pup in the 1970s the deal among pothead libertines, free-thinkers and alternative-lifestyle types was that you could mess around and duck the hard stuff in your 20s, but you absolutely had to grim up and get it together before you hit 30 or face eternal shame.
Now the GenXers have lifted that barrier and taken the I-still-want-to-fuck-around- with-my-friends-and-get-loaded-and-play-video-games aesthetic into their early to mid 30s.
What’s going to happen with GenYers? Or with my kids’ generation? Are they going to delay getting down to it while still grappling with adolescent behavior issues when they’re 40 and over?
(l. to r.) Kevin Bacon, Mickery Rourke, Daniel Stern, Timothy Daly in Barry Levinson’s Diner
Obviously we’re looking at some kind of fraying of the social fabric, a rise of a culture founded upon impulsive kick-backing and avoiding the heavy lifting and preferring to channel-surf through life rather than actually live it.
Maybe we’re headed toward a culture in which guys will never grow up, ever, and women will start running things more and more. Ladies, it’s okay with me.
If you’re going to try and reach the unhip masses by advertising a mock-satiric snake movie with an on-the-nose, way-too-explicit poster and thereby ruin the fun of it…if that’s the deliberate plan, then you should really ruin it like the Europeans have here. But if you want to half-ass it, do it the New Line way.
A couple weeks from now, I’m guessing, we’re going to start seeing pieces about how Steve Carell is messing with his funnyman handle by playing a suicidal gay gloomhead in Little Miss Sunshine (Fox Searchlight, 7.26).
The lead graph of these pieces will be a rhetorical question — will those who loved Carell’s broadly funny shtick in The 40 Year-Old Virgin (and who can’t wait to see him in Get Smart) go for the mixed-bag, funny-dark humor in his latest film?
Steve Carell doing the old leaping-from-the-van action in Little Miss Sunshine
I’ve said a couple of times before that Carell’s performance in Little Miss Sunshine is his best ever. He’s ten times funnier in this than he was in Virgin. Funnier because he’s playing an ascerbic, very bright Marcel Proust scholar — one who feels quite real and fleshed-out. The laughs may be fewer in Sunshine, but when they happen they seem richer and more invested in something tangible.
Not that this will stop square-peg journalists and their editors from running “Carell is stepping out of the box” pieces. They know, after all, that a lot of people out there like their movie comedians to be funny in a broad and familiar way. These are the good folks who just say no when comedy stars turn up in quirky dark-current laughers, as Jim Carrey found out when he made The Cable Guy.
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It may be that even Christina Applegate, Carell’s Anchorman costar, is feeling a bit alienated by Little Miss Sunshine‘s in-and-out tonality. She addressed the crowd before it played last Sunday night at the LA Film Festival closer, and all she did was snip, snip, snip about how unusual it was and that it goes into dark places, blah, blah.
And then I spoke to a critic friend the next day and he was saying, “I dunno… Carell does a lot of moping in this thing…it may not go over.”
This was after he read my rave review, which I put up the following day (7.3). He also said, “I guess we saw different movies.”
I responded by saying, “You are once again holding down the fort on a small island with three cocoanut trees for sustenance, and a few kindred souls for company.”
And he said, “Well, I’m not sure what that means. Are you presuming that I think that anything that’s popular is bad, or that I like movies that only a `few kindred souls’ like and dislike all else, or that any movie that isn’t popular is bad?
“How do you know that Sunshine will be a hit? Have you done a measurement? I have absolutely no idea how many folks will like Sunshine, and neither does any- one else.
“What I mean is, you need to consider the possibility that it might tank when it opens.”
And I replied, “What this means is that when a film like Sunshine has actual recognizable humanity and doesn’t act like The 40 Year-Old Virgin but gets laughs and at the same time has the character and cojones to rapel down into the caves of darkness only to climb back out and be hah-hah funny again…that’s really unusual.
“You can’t just sit there and go ‘Gee, I don’t know….it didn’t work for me and people in general may hate it.’
As if this needs to be pointed out, a scene from The 40 Year-Old Virgin
“The basic theme of Little Miss Sunshine is that as fucked and miserable as families may feel in each other’s company, they’ll stand up and support each other when dealing with the outside world. That’s a basic truism — families all over the world are like this — and don’t take this the wrong way but you have to be made of silicon chips not to recgognize that.”
I had written earlier that “people went apeshit for Little Miss Sunshine at Sundance last January, and again last Sunday night.”
And this guy replied, “‘Apeshit’ is a wildly exaggerated term. I’ve seen ‘apeshit’ only a few times recently — maybe Me and You and Everyone We Know at Park City’s Raquet Club, and portions of the Palais audience for Babel or Volver. I shouldn’t have to tell you that the Sunshine audiences in Park City or at the Wadsworth last Sunday in no way provide sober gauges for how it’ll be received by real audiences.
“Do you really think that an auditorium full of people from Fox Searchlight, big Fox, and the Los Angeles Film Festival is going to be less than abuzz over that movie?” this guy continued. “I had the distinct impression that there were ‘laughers’ (those nefarious paid folks strategically placed near press during early screenings) seated behind us, and I recognized one outside after the screening.
“Fox Searchlight has has paid good money for bad before — this would hardly be the first time that’s happened, particularly a deal done at Sundance. It may, on the other hand, also do well on its investment. I don’t know, and neither do you and neither do they.”
And then I replied, “You’re speaking as if movies are dice and they may tumble around and come up seven, or they may come up snake-eyes.
“If people don’t like something when it plays in Wichita, then what can you or me or Fox Searchlight do about it? Nothing. But this film is not a pair of dice on a Vegas craps table. It’s a movie with a pulse — a kind of organism with a certain astuteness, a certain alchemy, and a very particular comic tone. (Why am I pointing this out to you? Why don’t you see this?)
“This movie is funny and yet full of raw family material. I’ve got kids, and some- times they do scream and rant and say how much they despise their parents. Seven year-old girls at the dinner table would want to know why their uncle tried to commit suicide, and a lot of them would find it fairly silly that he did so because a love affair with a student fell apart. And every other family has crusty old curmud- geons who tell their sons to fuck themselves and that they can say anything they want.
“And there are hospital bureaucrats who are unfeeling monsters. And there are wicked Orange County witches who live in that horrid Jon Benet Ramsay world. And there are positive-attitude assholes who constantly spout about always winning but who tend to exemplify the other side of the coin. Family members do fight all the time, and wives do attack their husbands as soon as they lose a source of income.
“A lot of it is horrible…despair, gloom, helplessness…and yet it all can turn on a dime and be funny the next minute. It’s a matter of the filmmakers recognizing life as it often feels and behaves and then putting it all together in a darkly ironic, half-comedic, very lifelike form.”
Then the guy said his wife didn’t much care for Sunshine, and that worried me.
“If you don’t like something or don’t think it will go with the general public…well, I can deal with that. But your wife scares me. Your wife and Applegate…a couple of wild cards.”