“Speed is not the key to web success. It is the power of writing and tone and analysis and the draw of personality. Same as it ever was. Defamer breaks very little, but it is fun to read. Same with La Finke.” – MCN‘s David Poland in a short piece about this morning’s discussion of growing web power on AMC’s Sunday Morning Shootout between hosts Peter Bart, Peter Guber and Variety columnist Anne Thompson. Of course, you can’t see clips from this morning’s show on the SMS website — that would be too helpful. And if the webmasters have decided to re-broadcast this morning’s show, they’re keeping it a secret.
“We don’t care about cinematography or great acting or anything like that,” says Mr. Skin‘s chief “sexecutive” officer Jim McBride to N.Y. Times guy Andrew Adam Newman. “We’re concerned about the nudity — who’s naked, and what they show.”
Mr. Skin “had revenue of $5.3 million last year, primarily though $29.95-a-month subscriptions,” Newman reports. “With more than 175,000 revealing pictures and video clips of about 15,000 actresses (yes, only actresses), the site drew 2.9 million unique visitors in June, according to comScore, the Web traffic tracker.”
Five or six years ago a Film Threat guy let me use his Mr. Skin password for about a year, and access to that damn site consumed ruined my concentration. Several days of good writing time went right down the drain. Even if I had time to burn I’d never blow $29.95 monthly in order to quietly ponder the ski slope of Charlize Theron‘s breasts. Spending hours on that site don’t get you nowhere, don’t make you a man.
“Homer Simpson, the oafish paterfamilias of America’s favorite dysfunctional family, emerges from his big-screen debut a bona fide Hollywood action hero,” begins a confusingly written London Times review (dated 7.22) by James Bone.
“At the start of The Simpsons Movie, Homer’s dreams of glory are limited to helping his new pet pig to walk upside down on the ceiling while singing ‘Spiderpig, Spiderpig’ to the Spider-Man theme song.”
Why would anyone want to see a movie that’s even briefly interested in a guy who wants to walk his pet pig upside down? Is Bone putting us on? Is he insane?
“But when the adopted swine gets him into bigger trouble than even this celebrated screw-up has ever experienced before, he falls under the influence of a chesty Native American woman he calls ‘Boob Lady’ and undergoes an uncharacteristic epiphany that galvanizes him into action for the good of his by-now estranged clan.”
Does anyone reading this understand what the previous paragraph means apart from the name ‘Boob Lady’ and the reason she’s called that?
“By the time the witty final credits roll,” Bones goes on, “Homer outshines even Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has been elected president and ordered great harm done to Homer’s home town.”
How has Schwarzenegger done great harm to Homer’s home town? Isn’t Bone obliged to at least hint at what this “harm” may amount to?
“The Hollywood action theme helps the hit cartoon series, after 18 seasons on television, to land its death-defying leap to the big screen with panache. The result is a postmodern parable about an environmental scare that is at the same time hilarious and horrifyingly poignant. But thanks to an unexpected glimpse of Bart’s genitalia, this is a postmodern parable with a ‘pickle shot’.” Horrifyingly poignant?
No Reservations (Warner Bros., 7.27) had a nationwide sneak last night, so it’s fair game to write about it. Except I don’t know what to say. It’s one of the most puzzling “meh” movies I’ve ever seen. It didn’t do anything to me or for me. I didn’t hate it, love it or like it that much — I just sat there, waiting and watching and hoping for something to happen, checking my watch two or three times as I sat slumped and vaguely sneering. And then it ended. And then the audience clapped for three or four seconds.
It tells a nice-enough love story about a selfish, hard-wired chef (Catherine Zeta Jones) gradually falling for her deceased sister’s daughter (Abigail Breslin) and — we all know the drill — becoming a better, less neurotic, more emotionally giving person. Her growth arc happens with the help of an amorous good-guy chef (Aaron Eckhart) whom she otherwise sees as a threat due to his having been hired at the West Village restaurant where she works, hence making her feel irate and threatened, because he’s warmer and more nurturing with Breslin than she is.
I know this story chapter and verse, having seen the 2002 German film that No Reservations is based upon — Sandra Nettlebeck‘s Mostly Martha — two or three times. It became a favorite among upmarket moviegoers, hip foodies and the like. Here’s my original review.
The problem is that No Reservations is a touchy-feely-foodie movie that won’t let you feel anything. Director Scott Hicks has delivered a pro-level job — well paced, smoothly composed, agreeably acted (except for two performances) — but nothing happens. And absorbing this strange nothingness is a very weird deal. You’re watching a “heart” movie that says all the right things about parenting, love and great food, and it’s all rote and bloodless — a movie going through the paces.
I might as well just say it — Catherine Zeta Jones sinks this movie. She plays a brittle, bitchy, control-freak chef with pronounced anger issues, and there’s just no warming up to her. I didn’t like her from the get-go, although I felt much differently about the same character when she was played by Martina Gedeck in the ’02 version. I don’t want to go out on a limb but this may have something to do with Zeta Jones not having the chops or emotional range to handle a part like this. She’s a costar, not a star. And she always plays selfish avaricious types who have no regrets about their natures. Here she’s trying to sell regret, and it’s a no-go.
The reason I couldn’t get into her performance last night is that I believe that I know who Catherine Zeta Jones is, and her acting did nothing to change this opinion. I think she’s basically an operator who plays selfish bitches in movies (the drug dealer’s wife in Traffic, the gold-digger in Intolerable Cruelty, the floozy in Chicago) and who’s made some profitable deals off-screen — that T-Mobile thing, selling kid photos to the tabs, marrying Michael Douglas. A lawyer friend I know calls her a “capitalist pig.” That’s a little harsh. She’s just one of those women who want what they want and get it.
The other bad performance in this film is from Bob Balaban, who plays CZJ’s therapist. He’s the one who says, “The best recipes are…” No, I can’t say it, can’t repeat it. But it’s absolutely one of the worst lines ever written. It’s so on-the-nose if makes you want to jump in front of a cab.
I wrote this five years ago: “Far from radical or earth-shaking, Mostly Martha won me over partly because it does no more than take a familiar situation — an egotistic single person suddenly saddled with the responsibilities of parenthood — and twist it around some. It’s basically a culinary Kramer vs. Kramer with a European mood, a subplot about romantic love, and a delightful emphasis on the preparing of exquisite food. I’m thinking, in fact, it may be the most succulent, sensually appetizing, food-trip movie since Big Night or even Babette’s Feast.”
This is an accurate description of what No Reservations is, and at the same time is not. It has all this great-looking food, but the aromas and tastes just aren’t there.
Aaron Eckhart is okay as the chef boyfriend, but Sergio Castellitto was far more engaging in the German version. Charm is a hard thing to quantify or manufacture, but when a person has it, you know it.
Thirteen months after Chicago Tribune managing editor Jim Warren gave Michael Phillips the job of senior film critic and downgraded the venerated Michael Wilmington to a second-string position, Wilmington has apparently resigned. Some kind of contractual go-away, buy-out deal. I know not why.
Departures of major writers are always political, but was this a budgetary matter? Another sign of a weakened newspaper in the face of internet encroachment? Or a personal decision on Wilmington’s part to head for some greener pasture? I don’t know the particulars, but Wilmington is the latest addition to a growing list of credentialed boomer-generation film critics — sharp, highly knowledgable cineastes who got their start in the Pauline Kael-dominated ’70s and ’80s — who’ve left their positions at big-time papers. Wilmington’s a good man, knows his stuff, deserves a berth or a book deal.
“This is goodbye and thanks to the people with whom I’ve worked for the last 14 years,” Wilmington wrote his colleauges a few days ago. “I’m leaving the Tribune, and I’ll relax a little before starting some writing projects I’ve put off for too long. I’ve appreciated the privilege of using the Tribune‘s pages to tell people about movies good and bad. I’ve also appreciated the vibrant Chicago film culture and audience that always made my work a pleasure.”
“It’s no wonder that Michael Bay is gun-shy,” a 7.22 Telegraph profile observes. “Newsweek has said he embodies ‘Hollywood’s capitulation to mindless, meaningless razzle-dazzle — a poster boy for the death of cinema.’
“The New York Times described Bad Boys as ‘stitched together, like some cinematic Frankenstein’s monster, from the body parts of other movies’. In a recent episode of Entourage, the mention of Bay’s name as the director of the main character’s next film drew on-screen groans, the implication being that even fictional creations don’t want to work with him.”
“Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of South Park, have made a running gag of deriding Bay, starting a song in their film Team America with the line, ‘I miss you more than Michael Bay missed the mark when he made Pearl Harbor‘ and having a character quip in one episode of their cartoon series, ‘Job has all his children killed, and Michael Bay gets to keep making movies? There isn’t a god.'”
Playboy, the Hugh Hefner biopic that Brett Ratner is supposed to direct sometime soon (next year?), is being scripted by John Hoffman, who most recently wrote Queen of the Jews, a piece about former Miss America Bess Myerson that Bill Condon will direct.
This presumably means that the musical biopic approach — first attempted by 8 Mile screenwriter Scott Silver — is out the window. Hoffman’s rewrite is reportedly being penned right now. Late last month Variety‘s Michael Fleming wrote that Ratner and Hoffman found a way to [tell Hefner’s story] that pleased [producer Brian] Grazer and the 81-year- old Hefner…in a meeting at the Playboy Mansion [in mid to late June].”
This is probably for the best. Attempting any kind of musical would be a stretch for a guy of Ratner’s interests and abilities. But two days ago someone slipped me Steve Baigelman‘s rewrite of Silver’s musical version, and a fairly recent one at that with a stamp that says “received by Imagine story dept.” on “Feb. 02, 2007.” And I was kind of wowed. Sink or swim, success or failure, this would be a real movie.
It’s a crazy screenplay, all right — a surreal dreamscape thing that would be more suited to a guy like Terry Gilliam — but it’s also smart, imaginative and out-there. It uses the notion of music and dance as a metaphor for the heady hormonal tonic of sexual liberal-ization in the 1950s and ’60s, when Hefner’s Playboy magazine became a symbol of the loosening of the repressed puritan ethos that America lived under until the first tremors happened in the late ’40s and early ’50s.
Okay, it may have been deemed too crazy but at least it’s up to something fairly bold and brassy — a kind of All That Jazz mixed in with a little Pennies From Heaven seasoning, a touch of The Purple Rose of Cairo and a sprinkling of Charles Dickens‘ “A Christmas Carol.”
It starts in 1985 — the year that Hefner had a stroke that led to a curbing of his houndish pursuits and a general reevaluation of his life. A 59 year-old Hefner is hosting a huge Playboy mansion party and yet — the entire movie essentially happens inside his head — feeling a little empty and sardonic, singing “Is That All There Is?,” the Peggy Lee standard.
He’s then startled to see a 26 year-old version of himself talking to one of his girlfriends. Old Hef and young Hef talk their life over (the latter assuming the upper hand), and from there the younger Hef takes us on a song-and-dance tour of Hef’s formative years in Chicago — his repressed childhood, living with his wife Mildred in his parents’ home, a fledgling cartoonist, a frustrating life as a copywriter, spending $9000 to publish the first issue of Playboy in 1953 (i.e., the one with Marilyn Monroe‘s nude calendar pix).
It starts to fast-forward around the two-thirds mark, shooting through the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. It then moves past ’85 and into the present, ending with an 80 year-old Hef and replay of “Is That All There Is”?
All of the songs in Baigelman’s script are several decades old — mostly background music for the World War II generation. “Witchcraft” (Frank Sinatra), “Got The Moon In My Pocket, Got a Dream Up My Sleeve”, “I Never Knew Heaven Could Speak”, “Nasty Man” “All The Way” (Sinatra makeout song), “Fool That I Am, For Thinking You Loved Me Too”, “You’ve Got to Accentuate The Positive”, “As Time Goes By” and “Pennies From Heaven.” There are two boomer cuts — “And When I Die” (Blood, Sweat and Tears) and “I Got lIfe” (from Hair), plus Prince’s “1999” and Edgar Winter‘s “C’mon and Take a Free Ride.”
Hoffman’s non-musical version will either be a linear biopic (i.e., a boilerplate “this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened” approach). Or some kind of time-flipping, 8 and 1/2-ish, Hefner-looking-back movie — i.e, the Baigelman musical screenplay without songs. Or something else I’m not seeing.
For a few hours there (i.e., before I re-read the trade stories about the Hoffman rewrite), I thought Ratner might actually be planning to direct the Baigelman. That would have been one hell of a move. My respect for Ratner shot up several notches. Then I realized it’ll be something else. I wrote and called Ratner this morning to make sure the Hoffman version will be music-free, but no reply…yet.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry dipped 5% from Friday to Saturday, but the expected Sunday night tally will nonetheless be about $34,775,000, which will make it the weekend winner. Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix will be a close second with a projected $33,209,000. And Hairspray was off 15% from Friday to Saturday, and is now looking at a weekend total of $28,729,000 instead of Saturday morning’s projected figure of $30,367,000. How much of the general Saturday falloff was due to the much-discussed coast-to-coast cocooning of Harry Potter fans reading the latest novel (“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”) all day yesterday?