Jul 31, 2010

The End Of Civilization As We Know It, in three easy-to-remember steps

Joe Queenan fills a lot of space in the WSJ today repeating one of the oldest journalistic tricks in the book: compare recently released piece of schlock A with much-loved and time-tested classic B and conclude that recently released piece of schlock A isn't as good. Voila! The End of Civilization As We Know it in three easy steps. Thus,
In a millennium that has thus far produced precious few motion pictures in the same class as "The Godfather," "Jurassic Park," "Casablanca," "Gone with the Wind," "My Fair Lady" and "The Matrix," there is a knee-jerk tendency to throw up one's hands and moan that the current year is the worst in the history of motion pictures. But 2010 very possibly is the worst year in the history of motion pictures. Where once there was "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," there is now "Robin Hood," prince of duds. Where once we could look forward to "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "The Last of the Mohicans," we can now look forward to "Dinner for Schmucks" and "The Last Airbender."
You see? It's a neat trick once you get the hang of it, endlessly repeatable. Instead of Citizen Kane... Twilight: Eclipse. In place of Apocalypse Now... Jonah Hex. According to Queenan, what has been missing from this year's films is one of those alt-Hollywood sleepers in the vein of Crazy-Heart-My-Big-Fat-Greek-Wedding-Slumdog-Millionaire-Amélie-The Wrestler-The-Hurt-Locker. Oh, that kind of movie.
2010 doesn't have one of these movies. "The Kids Are All Right," arguably the most heartwarming lesbian romantic comedy ever, is trying to fill that slot, but whatever its merits, it's no "Sideways," no "March of the Penguins."
This is undeniable. The Kids Are Alright is no March of the Penguins. Or Sideways. The last time I looked, it was no Snow White, The Wild Bunch or Full Metal Jacket, either. All it had was a couple of lesbians and some lousy kids. No penguins, no unpublished authors, no princesses, no cowboys, no full-scale representation of the Vietnam war staged at the Beckton gasworks in East London. None of that. Just lesbians and kids, lesbians and kids, like they're the centre of the goddamn universe all of a sudden. What a lousy stinkin' year for the movies it is.

Jul 30, 2010

Why can't our actors act more like movie stars?*

'"The Seyfried syndrome" is how one LA producer describes the increasing trend for young Hollywood stars to mix making big blockbusters with appearing in low-budget indie films.... The low-budget indie movie has joined non-stop paparazzi scrutiny and the unruly hairstyle as essential components of young Hollywood stardom... Now you'll see young heartthrob Zac Efron move from High School Musical to headlining Me and Orson Welles... "With a teen star attached we can secure the funding to get the movie made and they get a shot at being taken seriously," says one agent. "For them it's liberating to be in a film where they experience creative freedom and not have a studio breathing down their neck".' — The Independent

Entirely regrettable. There may be some people for whom the thought of Robert Pattinson as the young Salvador Dali, or the marquee meeting of Orson Welles and Zac Ephron, brings on a hot flush with tingles, but not me. Young movie stars need opportunities to 'act' about as much as cinemagoers need a chatty neighbour. They ought to be kept from as many opportunities to flex their method muscles as possible — physically restrained, if necessary. Nothing good can come of it — only dreary putty-colored 40-watt pictures like What's Eating Gilbert Grape (did we ever find out?) the Molly-Ringwald Tempest, Dead Man, The Basketball Diaries, Marvin's Room, Little Children (oh God), Half Nelson, Welcome to the Rileys, almost the entirety of Johnny Depp's ouevre post Scissorhands and pre-Pirates (with a very honorable exception for don Juan de Marco), and (by the sounds of it) the forthcoming Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling marital-purgathon Blue Valentine. And I would exchange the entirety of Leonardo's Di Caprio's collaborations with Martin Scorsese for anyone of his escape scenes in Catch Me If You Can. A few people can act as well as Di Caprio, but few still can turn on the star wattage to that level, and nobody combines the two better right now. Maybe Angelina.

* To be sung-spoken, in Rex Harrison fashion, to the tune of Henry Higgin's 'Why Can't A Woman Be More Like A Man?'

Quote of the Day: Brian McFayden

"I'm just saying that you're a beautiful woman, and I would, like, that, the bath, I mean, your, the way you made....What I'm trying to say is.... you were drawing a bath for yourself.... and I was thinking.... that's awesome" — news anchor Brian McFayden forgetting his capacity for speech after Christina Hendricks mentions taking a bath

Jul 29, 2010

REVIEW: Dinner For Schmucks (dir. Roach)

"I’m not sure what you get from shifting the whole thing to the world of Los Angeles private equity, not a field that is world famous for its air of intellectual brinkmanship; or from giving the lead role to Paul Rudd, who happens to be one of the most affable, easy-going invertebrates on the planet. “That’s messed up,” he protests when he first hears about the scheme; and just in case we miss his principles the first time, here they are again: “that’s messed up” says his girlfriend Julie, who is played by French-born actress Stephanie Szostack, presumably on the principle that if you are to ransack a country’s most venerable farceur traditions you may as well grab their most winsome, button-nosed actresses while you’re at it. Once a new job is waved in front of him as bait, Rudd succumbs, thus turning the film from a story of comic deliverance visited on a snob who richly deserves it, into a story of comic deliverance visited upon someone who isn’t a snob but pretends to be one, although really — truthfully? — he should know better. Now, I am not the biggest fan of Hollywood’s insistence that everyone on screen be the proud recipient of a gleaming character arc, leading them from the error of their ways and into a well-lit, carefully irrigated world of moral beneficence, but even I could tell you that if you start introducing characters who should know better into the equation, all the fun goes out of the thing. Driving down the street one day, Tim run his Porsche into a sad sack in a windbreaker called Barry Speck (Steve Carrell) who dusts himself off — Carrell actually brushes his palms, as if getting up from press-ups — and takes the occasion to show off his collection of stuffed mice dioramas. Tim has his idiot. Or does he? Steve Carrell’s movie career has been so fitful of late that his fans have been forced into rare, retrospection, revisiting the delights of The Forty-Year-Old Virgin as the film that both minted and perfected the Carrell persona — a fortysomething late-starter with a streak of old-fashioned gallantry behind his collection of comic-book figurines. Alone amongst the current crop of comedians, he doesn’t play stupid — he’s way too quick, a venal schemer in The Office, whose fine features twitch with intelligence — so I would be fascinated to learn what thinking lay behind casting him as a stone-cold dumbkopf. Carell dons some rabbity false teeth and a pudding-bowl wig, the same worn by Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber, but Carrell has not, thus far, modeled his career on the plasticine antics of Carrey, so why start now? “He’s a tornado of destruction,” says Rudd and you think: no, he’s not. Carrell is and always will be the guy standing in the path of the tornado, his hand raised and a stapler attached to his tie." — from my review of Dinner For Schmucks for Slate

Jul 28, 2010

The Movies of My Life: 1967-2010

So I recently went back and worked out my top ten movies for each year that I've been alive. The results were sobering, inducing a few mild intimations of mortality, an increased awareness of the swiftness of time's Winger chariot and all that, combined with a renewed determination not to miss the gems under my nose. Did I know, for instance, when I staggered out of Blue Velvet, smoking furiously, that it would create such a long wormhole in space-time? It still feels like something I dreamed last night. I found myself agreeing with the Oscar winners for Best Film seven times out of 43, which seems about right (Chariots of Fire, Ghandi, Out of Africa, Rain Man and Driving Miss Daisy: all toast. How satisfying to rectify that particular imbalance in the force.) With the beasty Brits-in-white-linen gone, Spielberg is free to take his rightful place, topping the list five times; Coppola does twice, Scorsese twice, and everyone else — Eastwood, Mann, Mallick, Kubrick, Lynch — once. The real revelations: just how fond I am of the short-story perfection of Five Easy Pieces; the irresistable case Halloween made for itself (it was up against The Deer Hunter: I've never rated Cimino as highly as some. There's a self-pitying, masochistic streak I find unbecoming an artist of his ambitions. Same with Stone, only more so.); the enduring tonal strengths of The Right Stuff; Back to the Future's peppy ingenuity; the slinky feel for period in Dangerous Liaisons (Pfeiffer comes out strongly in this list); the still soulful glow of The Double Life of Veronique; Nil by Mouth's haggard intensity; the sheer number of great performances in The Contender (Oldman's best plus Bridges plus Allen plus a perky, calculating Kathryn Morris); the sweet-sour companionability of Knocked Up; the operatic mysteries of Birth. I've thought a lot about Pauline Kael's comment about great movies often not being perfect, something I've always taken to mean, 'don't mind my griping, I just can't turn it off.' I take her point: some of the very best movies have very bad movies inside of them, like Apocalypse Now. Equally, I think Badlands is as close to perfection as the movies get.

Make way! The King draws near! Make way for the king!

Todd Gilchrist finds himself dangerous close to having a critical opinion about Scott Pilgrim Versus the World over at Cinematical. He starts out okay.
"Even though I can't help but pre-emptively understand if some of my colleagues argue that it's too generationally narrow or even attention-deficient to leave a lasting impression, I really, really liked Scott Pilgrim, and think that it's one of the most technically astounding and yet personally resonant movies of the year."
A little too concerned with the other cars on the road but proceed.
"Michael Cera plays Scott Pilgrim, a dubiously-employed 22-year-old who entertains rock star fantasies as the bassist of The Sex Bomb".
So far so good. Then: disaster strikes! He's not sure if he likes Cera's performance. Eeek!
"Michael Cera has played a variation of this character before – several of them, in fact – and he sometimes fails to provide the resilience and indefatigable determination (instead contributing his trademarked Charlie Brown-style feckless optimism) that Scott needs to see his romance with Ramona through to the end."
Oh Sweet Jesus. No! You mean he's a fey, passive-aggressive pencil neck who couldn't act his way out of a chip packet? No! Surely not! Quick. What to do?
"But what's most surprising is how the movie sneaks up on you, and how it seems to know that these are its shortcomings, particularly at the beginning of the story. That I was initially bored by his dating life with Knives feels intentional in the context of the film's ending, and that he is sort of infuriatingly inactive becomes an integral part not only of the character but his eventual journey, both physical and emotional, as he navigates adversaries and obstacles of both varieties."
So Cera's infuriatingly inactive but it's integral to "his journey," and the dating scenes are slow as a setting cement but it's "intentional." For crying out loud. It's not Francis Ford Coppola we're dealing with here and even Coppola might just be able to hold himself together if Cinematical let slip with the occasional frown. But no, apparently Edgar Wright is so sensitive a creative flower that every comment must come sugar-coated, ever criticism soft-pedalled, every barb softened and proferred atop a bed of pink fuschia petals as the critic backs out of the room, blushing, curtseying and promising absolute fealty to his liege. What are these guys so terrified of? Why are they even reviewing? I want to smooth the matted hair from their troubled foreheads and tell them 'it's okay, you know. They're called opinions. It's perfectly natural to have them. It's a great idea, in fact, especially if you want to review movies. I think Cera is a little over-used myself. There, see? That wasn't so hard was it....'

Jul 27, 2010

BEST FILM of 1967: The Graduate

1. The Graduate A
2. Belle de jour A-
3. Point Blank B+
4. Bonnie And Clyde B+
5. Playtime B+

BEST FILM of 1968: Planet of the Apes

1. Planet of the Apes A-  
2. Rosemary's Baby B+  
3. Where Eagles Dare B+ 
4. Stolen Kisses B+  
5. 2001: A Space Odyssey B- 

BEST FILM of 1969: The Wild Bunch

1. The Wild Bunch A
2. Midnight Cowboy B+
3. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice B+
4. A Boy Named Charlie Brown B
5. Army of Shadows B-