Terrence Malick‘s 10.1.96 draft of The Thin Red Line was tight and true and straight to the point, and it had no alligators sinking into swamps or shots of tree branches or pretty leaves or that South Sea native AWOL section or any of that languid and meditative “why is there such strife in our hearts?” stuff. During the junket round-tables I got Jim Caviezel, George Clooney, Nick Nolte, Elias Koteas, Mike Medavoy and Ben Chaplin to autograph my copy.
“Larry Crowne makes no bones about its attempt to tell an upbeat story,” writes Marshall Fine. “Undoubtedly, at a time when unemployment is soaring and lives are collapsing as a result, some may fault it for taking a sour subject – losing a job in a down economy – and turning it into a feel-good story. But Hanks’ script – cowritten with Nia Vardalos of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame – is about a guy with a positive attitude, with the will and resources to move forward.
“No doubt Larry Crowne will be criticized for all of the things it doesn’t do. It doesn’t address the economic tragedy that Larry’s situation means for so many people. It doesn’t build to a life-and-death climax. It is, instead, a stealth comedy, low-key but consistently satisfying, a movie that focuses on the power of positivity without getting melodramatic about it.”
This is an amazing video. It was posted five or six days ago, and I’ve watched it four times today. It isn’t simulated. A seagull really did scoop up a tiny lightweight video camera and fly away with it. It happened in Cannes. (Initially posted by Awards Daily‘s Ryan Adams on 6.27.)
“Chicago is the great American city. New York is one of the capitals of the world and Los Angeles is a constellation of plastic, San Francisco is a lady, Boston has become Urban Renewal, Philadelphia and Baltimore and Washington wink like dull diamonds in the smog of Eastern Megalopolis, and New Orleans is unremarkable past the French Quarter. Detroit is a one-trade town, Pittsburgh has lost its golden triangle, St. Louis has become the golden arch of the corporation, and nights in Kansas City close early. The oil depletion allowance makes Houston and Dallas naught but checkerboards for this sort of game. But Chicago is a great American city. Perhaps it is the last of the great American cities.” — from “Miami and the Siege of Chicago: An Informal History of the Republican and Democratic Conventions of 1968” by Norman Mailer.
I’m trying to find online the entire opening passage of the Chicago section of Mailer’s book. I don’t mind buying the book again but I’d like to re-read right now the section in which he describes in great detail the killing of steers in the Chicago stockyards and how the aroma from this slaughter used to rise up and make its way up into the city and to some extent affect the town’s psychology. Or something like that. It was out of date when he wrote it (more reflective of the way things were done in the ’50s and before than in 1968) but it’s still lovely writing, and I was looking to read it once again. Alas…
No question about it: the 45-minute Chicago finale of Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon (Paramount, now playing) is absolutely jump-off-a-skyscraper insane. It’s astonishing, exhilarating, relentless, pulverizing…and yes, finally exhausting. Even if you’re a confirmed Michael Bay hater you have to give the guy credit for shooting this stunningly energized and visually giddy CG symphony of madness out of a shotgun and right through your 3D glasses. And none of it amounts to anything more than motion and chaos and fury designed entirely to sell tickets.
I didn’t even see the extra-bright Platinum version (which I’m going to try and see later today) and my mouth was hanging open. I’ve never seen a battle scene that went on this long and with this level of sustained blow-it-to-pieces energy, and in 3D yet…it’s furious, crazybeautiful and a little diseased. And stupefyingly superficial. No thought whatsoever has been put into this film other than Bay saying to his crew, “Push it, faster, crazier …c’mon!” He’s delivering levels of destruction to downtown Chicago that are like 100 9/11 attacks rolled into one. (His cameras naturally ignore the hundreds if not thousands of civilian deaths that would inevitably result from this level of mayhem.) Either way the Chicago finale is one for the books and surely worth the price in itself.
What does the sequence mean? Nothing. It means that Bay had the money to shoot it. What does it tell us about ourselves? That we’re a shallow culture that enjoys seeing shit destroyed and blown up and shattered and splattered all to hell. What emotions does it arouse? None, unless you consider Magic Mountain-level excitement to be an emotion.
That said, some observations and complaints:
(a) The 155-minute Transformers 3 is basically two movies — 100 to 110 minutes of set-up, dialogue, character conflict, action-fortified exposition and blah-dee-blah, much of which is too busy or emphatic and in any case plowed right through me (or around me or over-my-head or whatever) without sticking to my brain or my ribs, and then the 45-minute Chicago payoff. I didn’t care about the first 110 minutes. The movie should have been shorter. 60 or 70 minutes to cover Part One plus Chicago, which would be 105 to 115 minutes, tops.
(b) The dialogue for the various Autobots and Decepticons has always been dreadful; ditto the voice-acting of this. The movie stops dead with every line these guys say to humans and to each other.
(c) John Turturro gives the best supporting performance. That is to say, he seems to be genuinely enjoying himself as opposed to just collecting a paycheck.
(d) Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (i.e., Megan Fox‘s replacement) is relatively okay, but she wears tall heels all through the film. Running like hell and climbing and falling down the side of a teetering glass building and scrambling for dear life over rock and rubble…in heels! Bay production assistant: “Michael, I know you like actresses to wear heels but c’mon, this is absurd, man…having Rosie wear heels through all this actionis like making her wear a formal gown with a diamond tiara. Why not make her wear a bikini while you’re at it?” Bay: “You wanna get fired? I like her in heels, she’s an incredibly hot ass-babe and she’s not wearing footwear that doesn’t look hot…end of discussion.”
(e) On top of which Huntington-Whiteley towers over Shia LaBeouf with her big heels on, and that…oh, that’s right, I’m not supposed to say that women standing taller than their boyfriends doesn’t work as well as being the same height or being slightly shorter.
Harrison Ford has allegedly told a Details inteviewer that Shia LaBeouf was a “fucking idiot” for publicly criticizing Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull in a May 2010 interview with L.A. Times writer Steven Zeitchik.
Nope, wrong. LaBeouf was being refreshingly honest about what everyone and his cousin believes was probably the worst of the Indiana Jones films, and he waited two years to say what he thought so what’s the problem?
Ford has a bit of an old-school attitude about this stuff, but let’s clarify that he hasn’t called LaBeouf an overall walking-around idiot. He’s saying — incorrectly and unfairly, I feel — that LaBeouf acted like one when he shared his true feelings about Crystal Skull. Most of us would agree that trashing the film during the promotional lead-up to the opening would have been stupid on LaBeouf’s part. But he spoke to Zeitchik two years after the film opened in May 2008 so who cares?
Two minor corrections for A.O. Scott‘s “Critics’ Picks” commentary about the 1957 classic Sweet Smell of Success: (a) Scott adds a nonexistent “The” to the title; and (b) Clifford Odets‘ screenplay is not “based on a novel by Ernest Lehman” but a Lehman novella called “Tell Me About It Tomorrow,” which originally appeared as a 1950 short story in Cosmopolitan magazine.
If the novella was ever sold in perfect-bound book form it’s not purchasable or even referenced online. Newark Star-Ledger critic Stephen J. Whitty informs, however, that it was published “as a Signet tie-in paperback in June of ’57 with a collage of photos on the front and back cover and an 8-page movie-still insert. It was called ‘Sweet Smell of Success and Other Stories’ by Ernest Lehman, which sold for thirty-five cents. I found mine for a couple of bucks years ago at a used bookstore.”
For my money the best account of the making of this classic film appeared in an April 2000 Vanity Fair article written by Sam Kashner. It was later included in Graydon Carter‘s “Vanity Fair‘s Tales of Hollywood: Rebels, Reds, and Graduates and the Wild Stories Behind the Making of 13 Iconic Films” (Penguin), which came out in ’08.
I love Scott’s description of Martin Milner‘s Steve Dallas character as “perhaps the whitest and squarest jazz musician in the history of cinema.”
The Times tech team continue to irk and infuriate. They refuse to play ball like everyone else in two ways. One, they don’t allow you to embed the code of this particular “Critics Picks” selection on YouTube, and two, the embed code for their own Times page version is constructed with all kinds of needless white acreage and copy below the video image. Please allow the image to be posted as a stand-alone rectangle without any of the doo-dads.
The War Horse teaser has all the well-known earmarks of a Steven Spielberg film, you bet. It totally reeks of his paintbox. I’m still holding out hope that the film, due in late December, will primarily be a horse-POV drama and secondarily about the people who love and use and exploit him. (Teaser initially posted by the Film Stage.)
The only dialogue in the teaser is spoken by A Prophet‘s Niels Arestrup.
This, I feel, is one of David Poland‘s best swipes at mainstream entertainment writer-reporters, particularly the L.A. Times‘ entertainment staffers who see themselves as providing a higher grade of professional-class writing-reporting than the online blogging community.
“It just goes to show you, surveys are skewed by the questions as much as the answers,” Poland comments. “The above is an ad for awards advertisers from the LA Times. I would rephrase: What kind of entertainment awards coverage are you looking for? (a) The same old stale stuff, written by angry, jaded employees of a bankrupt corporation who don’t ask challenging questions, but sometimes do trend pieces based on off-the-cuff poorly considered notions someone spit up like a hairball over coffee? Or (b) Thoughtful, provocative ideas that are not steeped in the need to cover massive overhead by selling millions of dollars in ads to the studios by writers who are not outnumbered by the ad sales team?”
“Live-action 3-D has been, at least since Avatar, a briar patch for filmmakers and a headache for audiences,” says N.Y. Times critic A.O. Scott. But Michael Bay‘s Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon, he says, “is one of the few recent 3-D movies that justify the upcharge. Mr. Bay clearly enjoys playing with the format, which is also to say that he takes it seriously. A lot of glass and metal comes flying at your head, and you feel surrounded, plunged into a universe governed by new and strange laws of physics.
“Nothing you see makes any sense at all, but the sensations are undeniable, and kind of fun in their vertiginous, supercaffeinated way.”
Larry Crowne (Universal, 7.1) is a mild-mannered, lightweight, reality-skirting, cruise-along feel-good movie about a mild-mannered, trying-to-always-feel-good nice guy in his early 50s (Tom Hanks) who loses his job at Walmart…UMart, I mean, and has to find ways to live within new economic limits without getting angry or depressed or turning to drink or doing anything unattractive or unlikable, which, as we all know, is way outside Hanks’ wheelhouse.
So Mr. Crowne buys a scooter and decides to take some classes at a small community college and kinda gets going with a couple of women in a very mild sense, one a fellow student (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and the other his public-speaking teacher (Julia Roberts), and starts to wear darker, cooler-looking threads and gets a nice hip haircut and regrettably sells his home and generally avoids anything that even remotely resembles that gnarly little bugger called “drama.”
Larry Crowne, in short, is about butter not melting in anyone’s mouth. Not in Hanks’, Roberts’ or Mbataha-Raw’s mouth…well, okay, maybe in Bryan Cranston‘s mouth because he’s playing another bothered guy (i.e, Roberts’ no-account husband) who has, in this instance, alcohol and big-boob issues. Otherwise the concept of butter melting under any circumstance is never considered in this thing, and I mean not even as a theory.
Larry Crowne is about being open and good-natured and saying “sure, I’ll try it” and “why not?’ and “today is the first day of the rest of my life” and all that. It almost gets there from time to time, but most of us go to a film like this expecting to absorb a kind of Jerry Maguire-like vibe, and this movie doesn’t want to know about even trying to be a Jerry Maguire for 45-and-olders. It doesn’t begin to compete with the emotionality of that 1996 Cameron Crowe film.
Larry Crowne is also self-portraiture. It’s a portrait of a moneyed, honeyed LA culture that doesn’t let anything in that’s bad or difficult or threatening. It’s about the mellow, gentle, agreeable, Playtoney, positive-minded liberal-affluent membrane that Hanks, the film’s star/director/co-writer, and Nia Vardolos, his co-writer, live in along with Hanks’ wife Rita Wilson and his various producers and enablers and all the others who helped Hanks make this little mind-fable flick.
I didn’t believe for a millisecond that in real life a woman as young and beautiful as Gugu Mbatha-Raw — easily the film’s biggest ray of sunlight — would even flirt with a nice schlub like Larry Crowne, an ex-Navy lifer who toiled as a cook for 20 years before getting hired by UMart. Women this hot never go to community colleges and buzz around on scooters with hot-headed Latino boyfriends (Wilmer Valderrama). They roll with the highest level of players — rich guys and artists and photographers and producers and artists and politicians. Mbatha-Raw’s character pays attention to Larry Crowne because Hanks hired her to do this — end of story.
I’ve seen mild-mannered French movies like this. A middle-aged guy suffers a downturn of some kind, and then quietly rebounds and starts putting it all back together and keeps his sense of humor and even gets lucky with a pretty girl or two. It would probably feel a little more charming if it had been made in France and…you know, spoken in French with English subtitles and all that.
I wasn’t twitching in my seat as I watched Larry Crowne. I wasn’t convulsing with pain. I was just like….oh, okay, I get it, fine…Tom Hanks really needs to be liked and likable and that’s why this movie is the way it is.
Larry Crowne is about telling nice lies that aren’t entirely lies because they’re pleasant and friendly and nice to think about, and about showing us a world that doesn’t really exist except in Tom Hanks’ and Nia Vardalos’ head.
There isn’t a single moment in Larry Crowne, which is fundamentally about dealing with a lack of money and security, that delivers the kind of resonance contained in this lyric from Randy Newman‘s “It’s Money That I Love”:
“They say that money / Can’t buy love in this world / But it’ll get you a half-pound of cocaine / And a sixteen-year old girl / And a great big long limousine / On a hot September night / Now that may not be love / But it is all right.”
Not very likable, but obviously reflective of the world out there and the way people really are.