You, Me and Dupree (Universal, 7.14) may or not be “the funniest movie of the summer” (here’s what the Hollywood Reporter ‘s Kirk Honeycutt and Variety‘s Justin Chang have to say), but I need to strenously argue with Mark S. Allen‘s assertion that it’s “relentlessly honest.” I’ll explain why in a day or two.
“I’d go easy on the sympathy angle for Night,” a guy has advised me. “I’ve seen Lady in the Water and it’s an utterly fascinating portrait of a man’s fragile, out-of-control ego. As a story, it’s worthless. As a director, Night used to be able to create a sense of apprehension with the best of them. Now, he can’t even summon that.” Hold up…I didn’t say anything about the film, or my support or sympathy for it. I said I respect Michael Bamberger‘s book about Night, and Night’s courage in exposing himself so nakedly. “[Disney chief] Nina Jacobson nailed everything wrong with the movie and Night did nothing to fix it,” my correspondent continues. “When you cast yourself as a writer whose ‘great thoughts’ will be ‘the seeds of change,’ that a young man will hear these great thoughts and become president and lead a great reform, then you are setting yourself up for ridicule. And when you make the movie’s bad guy a film critic, a man who would be ‘so arrogant as to assume the intent of others,’ you are setting yourself up for a stake-burning. But then, he will be able to delude himself that the critics have it out for them because he dared to agitate them. And I say all this as someone who wanted to like the movie. God knows Hollywood needs original voices telling original stories. But, clearly, Night needs to listen to other voices besides the ones rattling around in his head.”
N.Y. Daily News columnist Lloyd Grove has been hearing about Miami Vice director Michael Mann‘s “maddening post-production process — screening the film at least once a day, then obsessively adding and subtracting dialogue, pauses and even frames, then redoing all the changes.” Maddening? That’s what all perfectionists do when they create something they want to be “just so.” (That’s how I write when I’m doing a big piece.) Grove is also hearing this process is “a desperate effort to fix the unfixable.” That’s not what I’ve heard at all from a very bright guy who’s seen the film. We’ll all see soon enough. “All of us agree this is a brilliant movie from the first frame to the last — a great Michael Mann movie,” Universal co-chief Marc Shmuger told Grove in the same piece.
“I feel like Santa Claus,” Disney distrib chief Chuck Viane has told N.Y. Times reporter Sharon Waxman about the Pirates 2 bonanza. “I’ve been in more auditoriums this weekend watching movies, and to see how much fun people are having is worth the whole price of how tired I am.”
Remember that “Trapped in the Closet” episode on South Park that eviscerated Scientologists and especially Tom Cruise for being…how should I best put this?…guarded about his personal proclivities? TV Academy members have nominated the episode for a possible Emmy in the category of “outstanding animated program award.” The meaning of this seems clear. The TV Academy membership hasn’t suddenly turned bold and irreverent. It’s that Cruise is seen as a diminished force in this town and people aren’t scared of him like they used to be. Can anyone imagine this nomination happening five years ago?
Where can A Night at the Museum (20th Century Fox, 12.22) go past the inanimate-objects-coming-alive premise unveiled in the trailer? That’s the question you’re left with after watching it. Pic stars Ben Stiller as a hapless Museum of Natural History night watchman (is there any other kind in a film like this?) who “accidentally lets loose an ancient curse” that blah, blah. It sounds fun, looks like fun…but in a lightweight Jumanji way. Amd keep in mind that the dreaded Shawn Levy (The Pink Panther, Cheaper by the Dozen, Just Married) is directing.
Let’s imagine that an arrangement is made for a good writer to pen an intimate book about N.Y. Times book reviewer Janet Maslin — who she really is, the struggle to write well, her innermost fears and anxieties, her day-to-day life. And the writer hangs 24-7 with Maslin for weeks and months on end, and Maslin finds the courage to confess everything…not just her bright-lady insights about this and that literary or New York-y subject, but the deep-down, inner child stuff.
The book that would result, trust me, would almost certainly resemble Michael Bamberger ‘s inside-the- head-of-M. Night Shyamalan book, The Man Who Heard Voices (Gotham, 7.20). That is, if Maslin has had the courage to really open up with the writer, and if the writer had decided in advance to describe Maslin’s inner life as fully and intimately as possible, and without judgement.
And yet Maslin has viciously slammed Bamberger’s book in her N.Y. Times review as “a new high-water mark for [celebrity] sycophancy…not just a puff article but a full-length, unintentionally riotous puff book.”
Her beef is that Bamberger is too admiring of Shyamalan’s life and lifestyle; that he hasn’t been circumspect or judgmental or smart-assed enough. What she’s missing — dismissing — is that Shyamalan let Bamberger into his insecure inner sanctum without restrictions, and what came of this is, naturally, not surprisingly, a portrait of a vulnerable egoistic guy with problems — a guy with a deep belief in dreams and voices (as all creative types need to be) but with control-freak tendencies and a need for a certain kind of approval that requires being not just rich but fully understood by colleagues; a guy with demons and uncertainties like anyone else, but amplified by the power he’s accumulated as a big-time Hollywood director.
Take off the armor and we’re all scared and anxious and messed up in this or that way, including Janet Maslin. The difference is that Shyamalan has the courage to confess this and Bamberger has the focus and the honesty to just lay it down as he heard and felt it, and all Maslin can write in response is distaste. How very big of her.
It’s funny, but for all HE’s disappointment over Pirates 2 — the film, not the money it’s making — there’s no shaking the enjoyment I’m still feeling about two elements: Bill Nighy‘s octopus-faced Davy Jones (which I singled out in the initial review), and that awesome CG moment when Jones’ ship, the Flying Dutchman, does a submarine dive beneath the waves.
If I were nine or ten years old I would be going back for seconds just to relish stuff like this. But because I’m an adult of some aesthetic refinement, sitting through the entirety of POTC2 in a theatre for a second time isn’t an option. Solution: dig on the Dutchman with my remote when the DVD comes out.