For films that are not…franchises or did not quite work the way they were intended to, the summer’s crowded movie schedule has created a cruel, cruel world,” writes N.Y. Times reporter David Halbfinger. “If you come up with a movie that doesn’t hit, the consequences are as dire, if not more dire, than they’ve ever been,” said Adam Fogelson, president of marketing at Universal Pictures, which experienced those dire results with Evan Almighty after succeeding with the modestly budgeted Knocked Up.”
J.K. Rowling‘s monumental, spell-binding Harry Potter epic “is deeply rooted in traditional literature and Hollywood sagas — from the Greek myths to Dickens and Tolkien to Star Wars — and true to its roots, it ends not with modernist, Soprano-esque equivocation, but with good old-fashioned closure: a big screen, heart-racing, bone-chilling confrontation and an epilogue that clearly lays out people’s fates,” writes N.Y. Times book reviewer Michiko Kakutani.
“Getting to the finish line is not seamless — the last portion of the final book has some lumpy passages of exposition and a couple of clunky detours — but the overall conclusion of the series and its determination of the main characters’ storylines possess a convincing inevitability that make some of the pre-publication speculation seem curiously blinkered in retrospect.
“With each installment, the Potter series has grown increasingly dark, and this volume — a copy of which was purchased at a New York City retail outlet today, although the book is embargoed for release until 12:01 a.m. this Saturday — is no exception. While Rowling’s astonishingly limber voice still moves effortlessly between Ron’s adolescent sarcasm and Harry’s growing solemnity, from youthful exuberance to more philosophical gravity, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is, for the most part, a somber book that marks Harry’s final initiation into the complexities and sadnesses of adulthood.”
Here’s a Baltimore Sun review, also posted today.
Here’s a phone interview I did last week with No End in Sight director Charles Ferguson. You might want to read the various reviews on the NEIS site, and maybe my post about it earlier this month before listening.
No End in Sight director Charles Ferguson (l.), former Iraq Ambassador Barbara Bodine (middle) and U.S. Marine Seth Moulton (r.) at a press conference in Park City last January.
Believe it or not, 20th Century Fox suits have decided that a reaction story I ran yesterday — i.e., the one about Radar‘s Alan K. Raymond seemingly being wrong about a threatened Chicago Film Critics Association editorial boycott of Fox films (except for reviews) because I’d been told that the matter had been put to bed — crossed some kind of line, resulting in their telling me a couple of hours ago that they’re out of business with Hollywood Elsewhere.
I wasn’t even going to mention the CFCA situation until Raymond’s piece came along. I spoke to Fox publicity about this matter last week and exchanged a series of friendly, no-big-deal e-mails. There really wasn’t much of a story, but I felt I’d throw my two cents in when Raymond filed. My little piece was fair, honest, factual (as far as I knew) and reasoned. It was written calmly, which is more than you can say about Fox’s response to it. Emotions are clearly running high over there.
I simply sought to clarify and update an article that I understood to be at least somewhat inaccurate. To try and clear the air….you know? I even included a suggestion that Fox should “isolate those online journalists who have behaved fairly and honorably” should be given the courtesy of earlier screenings. Constructive, no? I then added a final truthful statement, which is that “my understanding is that this approach is being looked at with a degree of receptivity.”
Fox’s irate reaction apparently came from my including a belief (one backed up by a rudimentary understanding of how Fox marketing and publicity is structurally run) that Fox’s exec vp publicity Breena Camden had passed along and/or instituted Fox’s “tough” and restrictive screening policies regarding online reviewers and feature writers (i.e., the source of the CFCA’s frustration), and my calling these changes “very sweeping and bludgeon-y.”
By being “tough” about this issue, which is driven by concern about early reviews, “no one in upper management can say [Camden] is not taking strong action,” I wrote. Forgive me, but my understanding of corporate culture is that employees are occasionally obliged to demonstrate to those above them that they are doing their job in some sort of assertive, take-charge way (as opposed to being a jellyfish and just going with the corporate flow). Saying no or “wait until later” to certain online reviewers and feature writers — whether Camden decided this policy herself or passed along a high-up order — and restricting L.A. onliners and other media people to a night-before screening of The Simpsons Movie is clearly a demon- stration of willfulness.
I’ve pushed things in the past. I’ve been nervy and provocative and thown grenades. But yesterday’s piece was nothing. It was a waltz, a cup of tea…a 2.5 on a scale of 10 in terms of controversy. Sometimes it’s a good idea to take a couple of steps back and chill down, which is what I’m going to do. I’m not going to suggest this policy to others. They can make their own moves.
Everyone knows that Sideways screenwriters Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor worked on a rewrite of I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry before it was “Sandlerized.” Well, I finally got my hands on a copy of Payne and Taylor’s version — a 136-page revision [dated 8.24.05] of a script originally written by Barry Fanaro based on a treatment by Lew Gallo, and what I read wasn’t at all surprising. Theirs is a much better piece. [Warning: Chuck and Larry spoilers ahead.]
Jim Taylor, Alexander Payne
As anyone who’s seen Sideways and Election might expect, the Payne-Taylor is way more invested in realism — recognizable human behavior, logical bits and plot turns, real-seeming textures. It’s obviously a “comedy” but the tone is less slap- sticky, more naturalistic. Several scenes in the film are in the Payne-Taylor also, but there’s no question that I would have liked their version, had it been shot, a lot more.
For one thing it’s much less of a Sandler-esque ego trip (i.e., his Chuck character hasn’t nailed his girlfriend’s sister and he doesn’t enjoy group-sex with a private harem). The girlfriend who chews out Sandler’s Chuck in that early scene [see review below] is merely angry at his aloof and uninvolved manner — his lack of emotional sincerity. And Payne-and- Taylor’s Chuck doesn’t seduce a female hospital doctor but a sexy TV reporter who’s been covering one of the fires he’s helped put out. (Sandler obviously felt that making Chuck into a kind of flamboyant Brooklyn cocksman was funny, but in so doing he damaged the credibility…weird.)
A lot of the scenes that made it into the final film are leaner and tighter in the Payne-Taylor version. Where the Sandler-produced, Dennis Dugan-directed movie often feels goofy and fuck-all (like that idiotic scene when the middle-aged house- cleaning woman wakes up between Sandler and David James in their bed), the Payne-Taylor feels disciplined.
There are “refrains” (like Larry saying “going in alive” and Chuck adding “and coming out the same way”) that I don’t remember from the film. Okay, maybe they’re in there and I need to take more Gingko.
I know for sure that the Payne-Taylor is more particular in this and that quirky or interesting way. In the screen version there’s a scene in which Jesica Biel’s Alex invites Sandler/Chuck, whom she believes to be gay, to feel her breasts, and just before he does she says they’re 100% real. In the Payne-Taylor script she says to Chuck that they’re fake — saline-solution implants — and that they were given to her by a “jerk” plastic surgeon.
A little later in the film there’s a Chuck and Alex foot-massaging scene, but for some reason Sander and Dugan didn’t use a fascinating bit in which Alex asks Chuck why he’s a fireman, and how this affects the way he behaves and sees things. Chuck goes into a riff about how he always notices fire-safety violations and susceptibilities in restaurants and other commercial establishments, and then he ticks off seven danger signals that he’s noticed in Alex’s apartment. It convinces you that Chuck is a very alert, very serious fireman. (I called a Universal publicist to make sure my memory wasn’t remiss, and she agreed that this dialogue isn’t in the film.)
There’s a scene in which Larry’ seven-year-old daughter asks Sandler, who’s been put on a different shift than her dad, if she can sleep with him in Chuck and Larry’s conjugal bed. He hesitates and says okay. The little girl says she loves him, and he says “me too.” Is this scene in the movie? I don’t think so. Not in the bed, at least.
In the movie there’s a big courtroom finale in which Steve Buscemi‘s character dares Chuck and Larry to kiss in order to prove they have a passionate relation- ship. They don’t. But in the Payne-Taylor script, they do. Unconvincingly. The fact that they don’t have a passionate sexual relationship has been made obvious. But the next morning, when Larry admits they’re not gay, Payne-Taylor has him give a short speech that I don’t remember from the film. Roughly, perhaps, but not word-for-word.
“We’re not gay,” he begins. “But that doesn’t mean we’re not married. We have friendship and loyalty and genuine affection. Hell, we even love each other. The only thing we don’t have is sex. Well, if you want to invalidate every sexless marriage in this state, I hate to tell you but you ain’t gonna have very many married people left.”
The sum-up slam-dunk speech given by the fire-station chef (played by Dan Aykroyd in the film) is tougher and more eloquent in the Payne-Taylor. And a Mayor character (the script is set in Philadelphia) gets involved with settling the insurance-benefits situation, partly out of fear of political blowback.
And in the Payne-Taylor, Larry’s 11 year-old son Eric, whom the film tells us is almost certainly gay because he’s always singing and tap-dancing to Broadway show tunes, is revealed to be happily straight with a new girlfriend called Toni.
It’s not just me. I’ve thought and thought about this, and I know a Payne-Taylor version would have gone over better than the one opening on Friday. I know it. Certainly with the critics and the genuinely serious comedy fans (i.e., the ones who own DVDs of Some Like It Hot and Tootsie and Flirting With Disaster) and high-thread-counters everywhere.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (Universal, 7.20) is the ultimate yaw-haw straight guy comedy about gays. That’s a way of saying it’s a chowderhead thing (i.e., made for chunky guys who slurp down pitchers of beer at sports bars and wear low-thread-count T-shirts) that’s not very hip. That’ll be no problem at all for 85% or 90% of the viewing public, but what will take it down with the somewhat more thoughtful 10% or 15% is that it’s a creative house divided.
Adam Sandler, Kevin James
The Chuck and Larry dialogue says all the right humanistic things — i.e., that everyone but especially red-blooded heteros need to show respect and support for gays — but a good percentage of the jokes are of the rib-poking “eewwww!” variety about what gay guys say and how they behave and decorate their homes, and what they do with each other in private. Jokes, in short, that say gays are different and prissy and into icky sexual practices facilitated by substances in tubes.
This is a flagrantly hetero film. The women characters are almost all hot-to-trot sex bunnies who are totally devoted to servicing Adam Sandler’s “Chuck,” a Brooklyn fireman-slash-sexual conquistador. Let’s get one thing straight — fireman got laid like rock stars in the weeks following the 9.11 tragedy, but otherwise the unattached ones live hit-and-miss sex lives like anyone else. Sandler’s Chuck isn’t just an exception — he’s Warren Beatty‘s Shampoo character without the guilt, and then taken to almost Daffy Duck-level extremes.
The first time we meet Chuck he’s coping with a hot-and-saucy girlfriend who’s enraged because he’s schtupped her sister behind her back. Chuck claims he couldn’t tell the difference in the dark. Then the sisters devolve into a rivalry about which one is hotter, i.e., more pissed at each other than they are at him. I was like…what?
Ten or twelve minutes later Chuck is recuperating in a hospital room from a fire-fighting accident, and talking to an attractive doctor like she’s a pole dancer….c’mere baby, sit on my lap, etc. She’s enraged at his crude disrespect and walks out the door. Five minutes later she’s not only schtupping Chuck in his Brooklyn apartment, but taking part in a group scene with three or four other girls. Again…what? How is depicting Sandler’s sexual prowess in absurdly overwrought terms “funny”?
Chuck and Larry is about a scam in which Chuck and Kevin James’ “Larry”, old pals who work as firefighters out of the same station, pretend to be gay so James, a widower with kids, can receive insured benefits. Sandler and James have to lie and lie and lie all through it, but they finally come clean at the end. In this sense the film adheres to a classic formula know as the Three D’s — desire, deception, discovery. Some like It Hot used this exact same formula, but my God, what a difference in the execution!
The basic problem is that there’s no interest on Dugan or Sandler’s part in a story that even occasionally passes muster as something that could conceivably happen, or in characters you can half-accept as occupying the actual world outside. The action and dialogue are all about dumb schtick. Sander and Dugan are saying to the audience, “You don’t believe this stuff and neither do we….obviously. But you know what? You don’t give a shit because we’re being funny, right? That’s all that really matters.”
As it turned out, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry didn’t make me laugh once…not once. (To be fair, others in the Mann Chinese 6 audience were lapping it up. Even Jett was laughing.) It’s going to make decent money this weekend, somewhere in the mid 20s.
What I was looking for, I guess, was something that was really and truly outrageous, something that would make you go “oh my God, I can’t believe I just laughed at that.” Then it hit me — the film has to take its closeted attitudes (gay guys are cool but also a little bit ewww!) and turn them around.
There’s no question that the film’s strongest single impression (for straight guys, at least) is when Chuck takes a long look at Jessica Biel‘s near-naked ass. (Director Dennis Dugan milks the moment with two extended close-ups.) It suddenly hit me that this magnificent object d’art could have been deployed to a truly subversive and stand-out bit along the lines of that scene in Brokeback Mountain when Heath Ledger flips over Michelle Williams in their marital bed, etc. I trust I don’t have to explain myself any further, but think about this — the ewww! factor would suddenly be addressed in a different light, and an especially different light if Biel’s character turned out to be…well, if not “receptive” then at least open to the action.
The always-likable Sandler is appealing enough but James is the better performer — steadier, more planted, less smirky. The film also makes it clear that Biel doesn’t have much acting ability. She’s been told to exude a cheerful, go-along attitude with everything that Sander, James and the plot throw at her, but there’s nothing extra going on.
I knew I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry would be a problem early on when James and Sandler and their buddies get on their firetruck and arrive at a burning building, and the flames coming out of the windows look exactly like the flames on the Universal Theme Park “Backdraft” attraction. This is a typical Dugan move — he doesn’t care if hundreds of thousands of people have seen those boring, gas-generated fires, or made jokes about them after seeing them in Ron Howard‘s Backdraft. Ten year-old kids in Kabul know real infernos don’t look like this, and Dugan waves it off. This is the blade of grass that tells you what kind of film Chuck and Larry is.
Sicko director Michael Moore, who will again appear on Wolf Blitzer‘s “Situation Room” later today, is pointing out that CNN has admitted that “they did indeed fudge at least two of the facts in their coverage of my film and apologized for [this].
And yet “no apology seems to be coming for the rest of their errors,” Moore adds. These days, to get the mainstream media to admit they were wrong is rare; to get them to admit it twice, as they have with Sicko, I guess should be considered a whopping victory. Will they eventually apologize for the rest, or for their reporting on the war? Will the Cubs win the World Series this year?”