Say a prayer for the U.S. moviegoing culture. The public paid $22.5 million to see GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra on Friday, and indications are that it could earn anywhere from $55 million to $60 million by Sunday night. If there was any film this summer that screamed “crap, CG cheeseball, soul-killing, don’t see it!” it was G.I. Joe. And the empty vessels went anyway. This is an omen of desecrations to come. The bad people have won. We’ve all inched closer to the edge of the cliff.
Another visual thing — Uma Thurman‘s red hair, her eyes, the brightly colored pacifier, the yellow mustard background, etc. Katherine Dieckman‘s Motherhood (Freestyle, 10.16), which I don’t even remember having played at Sundance ’09, costars Anthony Edwards, Minnie Driver, Samantha Bee, Alice Drummond and Arjun Gupta.
“I wrote the first sentence — ‘If Dad hadn’t shot Walt Disney in the leg, it would have been our best vacation ever!’ — and the rest was automatic,” recalls John Hughes in a piece about the writing of “Vacation ’58,” which became National Lampoon’s Family Vacation. I’ve always loved Hughes’ original story; I never liked the film all that much.
The original Griswold family
“I used the voice of a boy to cover my lack of skill, and to flatten the big moments. In Rusty’s prosaic language, a ruined vacation and an assault with a deadly weapon upon an entertainment legend enjoyed comparable importance. I called to mind a clamor of relatives, situations, catchphrases, and behaviors. I was mindful of my feelings as a child witnessing phony pop inventions go to hell. I understood that the dark side of my middle-class, middle-American, suburban life was not drugs, paganism, or perversion. It was disappointment. There were no gnawing insects beneath the grass. Only dirt.
“I also knew that trapped inside every defeat is a small victory, and inside that small victory is the Great Defeat. This knowledge — along with a cranky old lady; strange, needy relatives; a vile dog; and everything that could possibly go wrong on a highway — was enough to make a story, plug a hole in the magazine, and get on to the next issue.”
The shouters and shovers at recent town meetings being held to discuss health-care initiatives are “probably reacting less to what [President] Obama is doing, or even to what they’ve heard about what he’s doing, than to who he is,” writes N.Y. Times columnist Paul Krugman.
“That is, the driving force behind the town hall mobs is probably the same cultural and racial anxiety that’s behind the ‘birther’ movement, which denies Mr. Obama’s citizenship. Senator Dick Durbin has suggested that the birthers and the health care protesters are one and the same; we don’t know how many of the protesters are birthers, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it’s a substantial fraction.
“And cynical political operators are exploiting that anxiety to further the economic interests of their backers.
“Does this sound familiar? It should: it’s a strategy that has played a central role in American politics ever since Richard Nixon realized that he could advance Republican fortunes by appealing to the racial fears of working-class whites.
“Many people hoped that last year’s election would mark the end of the ‘angry white voter’ era in America. Indeed, voters who can be swayed by appeals to cultural and racial fear are a declining share of the electorate.
“But right now Mr. Obama’s backers seem to lack all conviction, perhaps because the prosaic reality of his administration isn’t living up to their dreams of transformation. Meanwhile, the angry right is filled with a passionate intensity.”
Charlyne Yi is a fascinating reason to see Paper Heart, a lightweight faux-documentary that costars (in the dreariest, least assertive way possible) Michael Cera. Fascinating because she represents a relatively fresh sensibility among comedians (if that’s what you want to call her), which is to say a comic who’s better at making you cock your head and go “wait…is that it?” than getting laughs.
She’s a kind of shtick-free permutation of a 21st Century Andy Kaufman — a curious comedian whose strangely undeveloped (i.e., arrested) childlike personality is about behavior and conceptual weirdness and being button-cute in a kind of hospital-gown One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest way.
Her weirdness is underlined at the very beginning of Nick Jasenovec‘s film, which opens today, when she’s seen asking several people if they “believe” in love while saying time and again that she doesn’t. That’s interesting to hear from a 23 year-old, but the film never provides a hint about why Yi is so averse to, as she puts in in the press notes, “love at first sight” or any of that “Julia Roberts/English Patient/sobbing in the rain stuff.”
There has to be a story behind this (or a series of stories) but instead this made-up (or at the very least unconvincing) doc-with-marionette-sequences presents Yi as some kind of plucky little chipmunk-cheek alien with a pixie grin and nary a thought of any depth or consequence, or any kind of semi-developed curiosity. She doesn’t seem rooted in any sort of recognizable experience. She’s like a cyborg programmed to be “different” for its own sake. And that voice…my God! It’s like she decided years ago that she didn’t want to move past the emotional state of being eight or nine years old.
Every little girl knows something about love — families and pets and rock-star worship start them out, and then sooner or later, usually by the time they’re 16 or 17, they start to experience a semblance of the real romantic version (with a boy or a girl…whatever). It’s a common enough thing that if a woman turns 23 without having ever felt or tasted, even briefly, that curiously heightened state of hormonal-and-spiritual arousal, and in fact has come to a decision to be foursquare against it as a concept, then you’re talking about someone with a relatively unique history, and one you’d like to hear about.
You look at Yi and figure, okay, she’s not conventionally “hot” so she hasn’t had much action so far, and she’s obviously invested in being a curio type so naturally she would create a character who’s atypical but still…there’s nothing here except nerditude. Not in the film, at least, because it provides no answers, no layers, no payoff…zip.
What happens is that she half falls in love, puppy-dog style, with Cera, the biggest and nerdiest 20something one-tricky-pony in the film business. Really — the sameness and underwhelmingness of the man is almost stunning. He has this clever deadpan/dorky space-cadet thing going on — obviously very bright, a little bit “cute”, a little smartass, a little aloof/withdrawn and topped with a mall-nerd haircut that infuriates me. He was perfect in Superbad — wise, sly, an almost transcendent figure — when paired with the hyper, motor-mouthed Jonah Hill. He was agreeably whatever in Juno but since then seems to have…I don’t know, calcified or something.
Which isn’t to say Cera isn’t lightly likable and “appealing” in a bright-but-vacant sense, but I predicted last September that he might be two or three years from being over, and I see no reason to back away from this. He doesn’t do anything other than radiate that same old Cera-ness , over and over and over. You have to do more than this to stay in earth orbit. You can’t just be a zone case.
But I say again that Yi is worth watching and reacting to. She’s got an original vibe that deserves your contemplation. I’m not sure that she has anything to say or put across other than odd quirk, but she’s got something, whatever it is. Something a bit more, I mean. An otherness that you can’t quite dismiss. Or which at least is more interesting than Cera’s.
It’s extremely rare when a main-title sequence (a) conveys the tone, style and milieu of the film to come, (b) suggests what the story will be about and even hints what kind of person the main character is, and (c) uses music that underlines what’s being “said.” This almost never happens, but it did 15 years ago when Tim Burton put together the opening-credits sequence for Ed Wood.
I’ll never forget a report about the 1995 L.A. Film Critics Award ceremony that described how the film’s composer Howard Shore cut critic Andy Klein to the quick when Klein praised his music for suggesting/embracing the dryly satiric tone of Burton’s movie. Shore’s music obviously does this, and yet he resented anyone thinking he’d composed anything that would make sophisticated viewers smirk. Amazing.
Mafia hit-man biographer Phil Carlo has reportedly declined to sign a deal with producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura to make a film of The Ice Man, a portrait of ruthless mob assassin Richard Kuklinski, because he “couldn’t stomach the idea” of Channing Tatum in the lead.
Channing Tatum; former mob hitman Richard Kuklinski
Carlo has told Page Six that Ice Man was optioned by di Bonaventura 18 months ago, and that the producer had recently asked to extend the contract so he could complete financing for the film. But he couldn’t handle Tatum-as-Kuklinski.
“This is not the guy to play one of the most feared killers of the 20th Century,” Carlo is quoted as saying. “I think Mickey Rourke would really be good. He’s got that sense of danger, and there’s a similarity between the two. But it’s not Channing Tatum.”
I doubt if di Bonaventura’s thinking was as callow and insipid as Carlo implies. Stories like this always miss (or deliberately ignore) key complexities and side issues, but let’s assume for a moment that this one is substantially correct.
Rourke would be great in such a role, but you’d have to get the budget way down due to Rourke not being a marquee name, and is in fact far from this. Except di Bonaventura isn’t interested in making a low-budget film about a cold-hearted killer because he wouldn’t make his usual fat fee if he did. A veteran big-studio exec and high-powered producer, di Bonaventura is a very smart and shrewd guy but he’s mainly about making the big bucks first and a movie that works on its own terms second. He needs a hot actor like Tatum in the lead to persuade big investors (who never care about the story or the director or other creative elements — they regard movies solely as product) to invest in the first place.
Kuklinski “was a notorious contract killer who worked for the Gambinos and boasted about having murdered more than 200 men,” the story reports. “He earned his ghoulish nickname because of his method of disguising the time of death of his murder victims by chilling their bodies in an industrial freezer.”
In 1997, or some five or six years after the flop of Curly Sue and his retreat from Hollywood, the late John Hughes shared his concerns about the malignant effects of the film industry upon family and friends with female pen pal Alison Byrne Fields.
“John told me about why he left Hollywood just a few years earlier,” Fields writes in an 8.6 blog post called “Sincerely, John Hughes.” “He was terrified of the impact it was having on his sons. He was scared it was going to cause them to lose perspective on what was important and what happiness meant. And he told me a sad story about how, a big reason behind his decision to give it all up was that ‘they’ (Hollywood) had ‘killed‘ his friend, John Candy, by greedily working him too hard.”
In other words, Candy’s death at age 43 from a heart attack and cardiac arrythmia wasn’t, in Hughes’ opinion, primarily due to his being severely overweight and having been a smoker most of his life. In fact, Hughes believed that Candy might well have survived if Hollywood hadn’t maliciously forced him to constantly perform as the star of various movies, for which he was presumably well paid.
That’s interesting. I never knew that. But this is what genius-level auteurs do — they create their own worlds by investing in them whole-hog.
Candy’s Wikipedia biography — obviously suspect in the wake of Hughes’ just-revealed opinion — claims that the extremely bulky actor “had been making a significant effort to improve his health in the last year of his life, [having] recently quit smoking” and making progress at losing weight. “His family had a history of heart disease, and he had been warned by doctors several times before to reduce his weight, but Candy had trouble doing so.”
Just about every Nancy Meyers movie involving a female lead of a certain age begins with Meyers saying to herself, “Wouldn’t it be wonderfully satisfying and exciting if…?” The romantic fantasy in It’s Complicated (Universal, 12.25) is that after a foxy older divorced woman (Meryl Streep) begins seeing an attractive new guy (Steve Martin) her re-married, somewhat girthy ex-husband (Alec Baldwin) gets the hots for her and starts cheating on his younger wife (Lake Bell) as they begin an extra-marital affair.
I don’t buy this any more than I bought the basic plot of Meyers’ Something’s Got To Give (Jack Nicholson‘s randy music executive falling for Diane Keaton‘s affluent screenwriter as she’s courted by Keanu Reeves‘ young physician). In real life a guy like Baldwin would cheat on his new 30- something wife with another young ‘un. The point is that Meyers’ films are always about comfort — i.e., about upper-middle-class affluence (i.e., shiny copper pots hanging in the kitchen), attractive lighting, bright chatter, and an attractive older female lead getting to express how strong and soulful she is in the third act.
I sometimes have a mildly good time at Meyers’ films. I know I’m going to enjoy Streep and Baldwin’s performance in this latest one — Streep especially. (The trailer suggests that Martin’s character has been made overly congenial and agreeable — i.e., no edge.) I just wish that the stories and characters that Meyers invents would be more palatable.
And I wonder how the idea of Baldwin-as-a-romantic-lead is going to go down. I love his manic wit but over the last 12 to 15 years Baldwin has been packing on the pounds and playing nothing but rascals and hyper madmen. He’s a great personality but there’s no peace in him, certainly not on-screen. Women of whatever age rarely see a guy of this type as a great catch. They might run around for a bit with a Baldwin-type guy, but when it comes to longterm scenarios they seem to prefer mild-mannered smileys who provide shelter and comfort — i.e., oak trees + a day at the beach.