Following their verbal dust-up at a recent dinner where George Clooney took exception to some remarks about President Obama by Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn, the latter called Clooney a “money-coddled” actor “living in a bubble” in an interview. Clooney, though, pretty much dropped n-u-t-s in counter-reply, saying among other things in his written response, “I did not attend a private boys’ school, I worked in tobacco fields and in stock rooms and construction sites. I’ve been broke more of my life than I have been successful, and I understand the meaning of being an employee and how difficult it is to make ends meet. Steve is one of the richest men in the world and he should be congratulated for it, but he needs to take off his red, sparkly dinner jacket and roll up his sleeves every once in a while and understand what most of the country is actually dealing with… or at least start with the fact that you can’t make up stories when eight people who are not on your payroll are sitting around you as witnesses.”
Buoyed by deservedly positive word-of-mouth, Fast & Furious 6 topped the box office this past weekend, with a $97 million opening weekend. Yet the sequel also represents something of a turning point for Universal’s brawny, lucrative franchise, as it pivots away from its roots in underground street-racing, micro-skirt ogling and barely concealed homoeroticism (well, OK, those last two still exist) and into a sort of revenge-tinged heist/criminal takedown series, in the vein of The Italian Job.
An important antecedent to the series highly worth checking out, however, is Gone in 60 Seconds. No, no, no… not the 2000 remake starring Nicolas Cage before he lost his battle with hairplugs and Angelina Jolie before she became more fully stabilized, but the original 1974 film from multi-hyphenate H.B. Halicki, which laid waste to almost 100 vehicles over the course of its sprawling centerpiece car chase. If the Fast & Furious franchise has been employment heaven for the small army of sound mixers, digital effects compositors and, yes, stunt drivers who help breathe life into its most gloriously over-the-top moments, Halicki’s movie is a throwback to the days of leaner, meaner, hands-on destruction — before genre cash-dashes became Hollywood studio tentpoles. I write more words about it over at Yahoo Movies, so click here to give it a read.
In 2007, when director J.J. Abrams first started putting together the cast for his reboot of the Star Trek franchise, much attention naturally focused on who would fill out the Lycra uniform of Captain James T. Kirk, embodied so uniquely by William Shatner in the sci-fi franchise’s previous incarnation. Chris Pine was eventually chosen, and minted a star — leading man roles followed in major studio releases like Unstoppable, This Means War, People Like Us and this December’s forthcoming Jack Ryan, opposite director Kenneth Branagh.
Another integral part of the 2009 Star Trek‘s huge success, though (it pulled in $258 million of its $386 million worldwide gross in the United States, best in the series), was in Zachary Quinto‘s casting as Spock. At the time best known for the buzzy small screen hit Heroes, Quinto would win praise for his carefully layered performance, serving as the emotional anchor of the film — a feat he repeats in this week’s Star Trek Into Darkness. There’s a certain track record for him serving as a film’s emotional and moral center, however. Quinto also largely fills that role in J.C. Chandor’s smart, tightly wound Margin Call, on which the actor also made his feature film debut as a producer. I write more words about all this over at Yahoo Movies, so click here for the read.
American moxie and folly are submitted to a mad spin cycle in this week’s The Great Gatsby, writer-director Baz Luhrmann’s characteristically lush and glitzy adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel — still an assigned reading classic for high school and college students across the United States, almost a century on. The Australian-born Luhrmann puts an energetic spin on the material.
His previous collaboration with Gatsby star Leonardo DiCaprio, 1996’s Romeo + Juliet, was a swoon-worthy hit with critics and young audiences alike, to the tune of a $147 million worldwide gross. But it’s the director’s 1992 big screen debut which remains arguably his most enduring treat, if one adjusts to scale for surprise and unexpected vitality. A hyper-stylized, wildly offbeat and culturally specific yet universally appealing comedy, Strictly Ballroom is a movie bristling with verve and youthful energy, and it clearly serves as a marker for the sort of sweeping, outsized ambitions that Luhrmann himself has subsequently pursued over the course of his career. I write more words about it over at Yahoo Movies, so click here to give it a read.
When Jon Favreau decided to step down as director after the first two Iron Man films (he still reprises his role as Tony Stark’s friend and one-time bodyguard, Happy Hogan), there was much hand-wringing amongst fans about what it meant for the future of the franchise. And when writer-director Shane Black signed on for Iron Man 3, some expressed skepticism.
Black’s only other directorial experience, after all, was 2005’s Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, a snappy, noir-ish crime comedy starring Val Kilmer, a fresh Michelle Monaghan and… Iron Man himself, Robert Downey, Jr. That experience no doubt helped him seal the Iron Man 3 gig, but the $15-million-budgeted Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang — at the time barely more than a belated professional thank you from producer Joel Silver and distributor Warner Bros. for Black’s screenwriting work on the hugely profitable Lethal Weapon series — is more than just a quaint little curio. I write more words about the film and its charms over at Yahoo Movies, so click here for the fun little read.
An unapologetically bawdy blast of florid, drugged-out kidnapping, violence and steroid-addled dark comedy, the bizarre true crime tale Pain & Gain, Michael Bay‘s first non-Transformers flick since 2005, nudged out holdover Oblivion at the top of the weekend box office, pulling in just over $20 million. It’s part of the caffeinated wing of the “Idiots Behaving Criminally” subgenre, reminiscent in fits and starts of colorful movies like Savages, Domino, Wild Things, True Romance and Very Bad Things.
A somewhat smaller profile yet no less genuine antecedent highly worth checking out, however, is 1996’s Bottle Rocket, which not only served as the debut of director Wes Anderson, but also the first screen appearances of brothers Luke Wilson and Owen Wilson, the latter of whom penned the script along with Anderson. If male adolescence and indeed its extension into twentysomethinghood is a disorienting combination of bravado and insecurity, Bottle Rocket illustrates, in an amusingly idiosyncratic way, the deep feeling and fraternity attached to it all. I write more words about the similarities and differences between the films over at Yahoo Movies as part of a recurring new feature, so click here for the read.
All signs point to Tom Cruise‘s newest science-fiction action flick, Oblivion, a collaboration with Tron: Legacy director Joseph Kosinski based on the latter’s unpublished graphic novel, making a significant splash at the box office this weekend. It’s a gorgeous-looking blend of several dystopian greatest hits, such as The Matrix, Total Recall and The Island. Yet Oblivion also echoes a few smaller movies. So for those seeking either a cinematic aperitif to Oblivion or a comfy home video capper to a sci-fi double-header, check out 2009’s Moon, the directorial debut of Duncan Jones, who earlier this year was announced as the director of the film adaptation of the Warcraft videogame series, taking over for Sam Raimi. I write more words about the similarities (and differences) between the two films as part of a new regular feature over at Yahoo Movies, so click here for the read.
The Kickstarter campaign for a Veronica Mars movie, with the “we’re-in” stamp of approval from Kristen Bell and creator Rob Thomas, has as of this moment raised over $1.5 million dollars from just under 23,000 people, or a little over $66 per person, averaged out. This puts them over three-quarters of the way toward their goal of $2 million for a summer shoot, which they will likely pass less than 24 hours after first announcing the possible project. Mark your calendars with this date, because this represents a sea change (and not totally for the better) for studio-controlled niche projects. The only question is which big-name cult-appeal title gets the treatment next… Twin Peaks, perhaps?
With both a look at the new Blu-ray set and the theatrical release of the fifth Die Hard installment, A Good Day to Die Hard, on deck for later this/next week, it’s time to take a glance back at the ratings controversy that engulfed Live Free and Die Hard back in 2007. No such kerfuffle this time around, which speaks to Fox getting some things ironed out in advance. Still a strange one, though, that very public fight, especially given all of the terrible dubbing on display in the movie.
The topic of this forthcoming memoir, Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them, actually came up when I interviewed Frank Langella a few years back (he was working on it even then), and despite the obvious relish with which he spoke of delving back into his early years, and various relationships, I confess I’m a bit struck by some of the specific bits (affairs with the much older Rita Hayworth and Elizabeth Taylor, plus saucy, suggestive phone conversations with Bette Davis) and news regarding its imminent arrival.
Not unlike William Hurt, Langella is an intellectual heavyweight who can cut an intimidating figure if he so chooses, quoting Shakespeare and other works to test the depth of your reading list, and comfortable arguing a question to test your mettle. In the twilight of his years, he’s obviously been put in a somewhat
reflective position, starting with the in some respects sublime Starting Out in the Evening, as well as Frost/Nixon, which he played on both stage and screen. Langella only dishes dirt on those who have passed, but a lot of folks were in his estimation “a bore,” it seems, which I think again reflects his interests and basic personality. (He has to be a cat person, I’m guessing.) I also don’t imagine there’s a chapter on Cutthroat Island… though I’m sure that would be kind of awesome too, actually, if there was.
Over at The Wrap, Joshua Weinstein has up a piece on movie aggregators, and whether they “matter,” looking at Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and Movie Review Intelligence. It’s a nice but not particularly deep or instructive thumbnail-type read, mainly because it doesn’t get into the substantive failings — or shortcomings, at least — of each aforementioned site.
Aggregators are enormously important, of course, because they can both help connect readers to new writers and allow them to more easily follow their favorites. The oldest, biggest and unarguably most populist is Rotten Tomatoes, of course, in which all critics (500-plus, they say) are created equal. Metacritic (which is owned by CBS Interactive) assigns scores to its 44 polled critics, as well as to their reviews; the greater a critic’s stature, the more influential that critic’s opinion is on the overall Metacritic score. Movie Review Intelligence, meanwhile, rates and weighs its supposed 51 polled publications (though there seem to be a lot more on its site) by readership.
While providing some modicum of sifted elitism that places it above the riff-raff of bloggerdom (one assumes no honest Tea Partier could check either of these sites), neither of the latter two sites seems to have hit upon quite the right formula. While the more manageable numbers allow for greater shades of grey in their filmic rankings (as opposed to Rotten Tomatoes’ yea-nay system), they hardly seem inclusive or representative enough, geographically or culturally, for a true, digital-age canvassing.
And what of their measurements — for MRI, how frequently are readerships audited, and by what means? Is a print subscription base the same as readership, and/or how is that stacked up and weighed against more discretely measured web traffic? (Their critics roster, meanwhile, is littered with infrequent contributors to name-brand publications.) Even more elusive is Metacritic’s somewhat dodgy notion of “stature.” Is it a zero-sum game? As one critic’s stature or star rises, does another’s have to necessarily wane? Who watches the watchmen, in other words — sitting astride the cultural world as arbiters of approved opinion?
The best formula, as yet untapped, seems somewhere in the middle. Like it or not, as full-time single outlet perches further dwindle, film critics and those otherwise professionally assaying culture will become de facto free agents, employed full-time by a small(er) number of outlets but also free (and wise) to write on their own, and/or pitch out special pieces. Rotten Tomatoes might do well to bring in a nominal multiplier to its formula, to apply to heavy-volume reviewers who see and write about more films annually. But its system (even with more rigorous application standards than it first had in its heyday) is still the most egalitarian and useful, and ergo not by accident the most popular with consumers. It astounds me that, given all the hyper-generational advances in SEO and other arenas on the web, movie aggregator sites have not done a better job in tweaking their formulas and managing their own growth. Hopefully they turn an eye toward that in the short-term future, because social media massage is not a skill set with which all writers are naturally equipped. For The Wrap’s full read, click here.
It’s at least somewhat telling when an accredited film critic has to actively reach out and loudly, repeatedly shake a penny can to try to track down any screening information on a huge studio summer
blockbuster with a nine-figure publicity and advertising budget, right? I mean… at the very least, in a state-of-the-industry sort of way. A lot of studios should just hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign on their doors for the first eight or nine months of the year.
So I’m late to the party on this whole Blake Lively hacked nude iPhone pictures story, the absolute tamest of which appears above. Apparently after the first set of photos surfaced (some — smartly? artfully? — with her eyes obscured), the enterprising “hacker” who released these floated a second batch of T&A shots, and a couple fairly indisputable posed, fully-clothed pictures with the same backgrounds. So while a Congressman teeters on the brink of likely resignation for some nude cell-camera snaps (and admittedly idiotic behavior), a starlet with a big summer movie on the horizon watches her Google quotient spike, and probably moves up a couple dozen spots on whatever new hot-chicks-young-guys-wanna-bang list Maxim is currently composing.
Pointing out what probably a handful of others already have, does the timing of all this not seem suspicious to anyone? With Warner Bros.’ mega-budget The Green Lantern about to alight this week, this is certainly one way to
share steal the spotlight from Ryan Reynolds. Lively, who gave quite nice supporting turns in both The Private Lives of Pippa Lee and last year’s The Town, isn’t getting much juice in her new movie’s trailers, but complementary tabloid campaigns can most assuredly serve as propellant and boost a career that already has its own loaded fuel tanks of ambition. So… does this really pass the smell test as an innocent accident?
Look, I’m not saying this is some shadow studio promotional gambit. I’m just sure that the PR folks saw them and did some high-fives in the office, because it probably meant they instantly got all the Lively “juice” (stories) they could reasonably expect to attach to the movie and then some, all without her having to submit to a litany of questions about what it was like to (presumably) smooch Reynolds and work in front of a green-screen. I’ve said before that probably the worst thing in the world to be is an 18- to
26-year-old girl with designs on leading actress Hollywood studio parts, because every single day of the week, 365 days a
year, about a dozen new scorching hot aspirant starlets get off the
Greyhound bus or disembark at LAX from their one-way fare from Podunk, Idaho, chomping at the bit to unseat you. So when actresses of a certain breed — those who’ve experienced some success, let’s say, and are eager to still get passed to the Sundance gift suites — see Khloe Kardashian trip her way into demi-celebrity (“Thank goodness my sister made a sex tape with Brandy’s brother!”), well… they’re more apt to take matters into their own hands. And sometimes those matters might be their breasts, that’s all I’m sayin’.
Damn, not sure I’m going to have time to bang out a full, proper Super 8 review prior to opening day, actually (unless someone knows of a way to freeze time and space, in which case call me). But I caught it today, and really, really dug it. Amusingly, my good friend who caught it with me hated it. We didn’t come to blows, however. I think he just wanted more Kyle-Chandler-in-commando-mode, which the film definitely isn’t. It is what it is, and it wears all its narrative and technical inspirations unashamedly on its sleeve.
It’s a disorienting mixture, at once weird and also completely understandable, this emotional outpouring and very public celebration of the American military’s coordinated strike take-down of Osama bin Laden, who has been the United States’ boogeyman for almost the last full decade. There will be much dissection in the coming days and weeks about the impact of this news on American markets and missions moving forward, but don’t the events of the last 24 hours, and revelations that this raid had been in the planning stages for many months, at the very least lend extra credence to President Obama‘s statements that both he and the country have better things to do than continuously re-till the earth of stupid, trumped-up (ahem) xenophobic charges and pointless culture wars? In hot times with so much political rhetoric targeted for gain at those with short attention spans, there’s a tangible, counterbalancing value to the zen cool of someone like Obama, who sets a goal and then, you know, actually works to achieve it.
I was going over first trimester releases with an editor recently, hashing out some details on a compendium of film reviews, and Just Go With It came up. I stared at the text. Nothing. Was this a direct-to-video flick starring Hilary Duff? No, even those have more memorable titles these days, it turns out. I bore down, since the title clearly prescribed the film’s genre. Still nothing. Only two months removed, and I could absolutely not place it as the movie starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston. (Or featuring Dave Matthews awkwardly squeezing a coconut between his legs, if you will.)
This is the curse of blandly innocuous movie-phrase titling — films that bear no particular or special relationship to their rah-rah moniker, which could be interchangeably used to describe a dozen or more other movies. Studios, which thrive on gimme-putt decision making, think they’re giving the masses what they want and making it easy for them when they tab pabulum as such, but in actuality they’re just making it more difficult for audiences to seek out their product in ancillary markets, removed from the blitz of opening weekend marketing. (Of course, sometimes, certain writer-directors also don’t help matters. I’m looking at you, James Brooks). Specificity and distinctiveness matters in a title, even when you’re just looking to lazily tap a demographic vein.
There wasn’t really a place to get into this in any sort of legit review of Just Go With It, but one of the more interesting things about the movie — apart from Nicole Kidman‘s hula dancing, and Dave Matthews ostensibly picking up a coconut with his butt cheeks through his pants — lies in its use of music.
Excepting the occasional diversions and quasi-artistic noodling to be found in the likes of Punch-Drunk Love, Spanglish and Reign Over Me, the comedies of Adam Sandler have provided some of the most reliable and consistent studio commercial returns of the past decade — and mostly for Sony, where Sandler’s production company is housed. But both because they’re comedies — ringing up ticket sales instead of racking up little gold statuettes — and because Sandler still pads around in T-shirts and cargo shorts and doesn’t yet have a kid old enough to pimp out in his or her own projects, his clout goes under-reported. He wields it softly, in other words.
The fact is, though, a small fortune has to be spent on the soundtracks for Sandler’s comedies — music is used in goosing fashion throughout his movies, and frequently to quickly summon up a nostalgic feeling when the terrible direction of Dennis Dugan has made for some awkward juxtaposition of scenes. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sony were doling out a healthy seven figures on music clearances alone for of his films, even though there’s typically no obvious soundtrack tie-in as with something like The Wedding Singer. In Just Go With It, there are no fewer than three dozen pop music cues, including a couple Police songs and a lot of newfangled mash-ups, the most intriguing of which might be the commingling of “Every Breath You Take” and Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars,” an Internet sensation from a couple years back. That’s not the only way to measure Hollywood power — getting whatever tunes, in variety and amount, one wants. But it is a handy indicator.
Full review to soon follow this week, but it’s worth noting that No Strings Attached — in addition to having the easy-on-the-eyes appeal of Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, the latter shirtless almost as much as in Spread — possesses the truth of a coarse exhalation. I tried to touch on this a bit in my review, but — word count and all — it was difficult to elucidate in such a necessarily cramped space. The movie’s plot, of course, charts the difficulties two pushing-thirtysomethings encounter when they try to make a go of mutual-use casual sex. It’s directed by Ivan Reitman and written by a woman, so while it flirts with vulgarity occasionally the tone is never really what one would call full-on gross-out/shock.
The problem with so many films charting the ups and downs of young adult relationships, however, is that they must fit within the confines of a PG-13 rating, which is patently ridiculous and runs counter to reality. Or, conversely, if the movies are R-rated (as is the case with No Strings Attached), they veer so heartily over to the other side of the road as to seem cheap and gimmicky in their language. Reitman, though, instinctively knows the value — the necessary weight, the appropriate moment of deployment — of profanity in this sort of context.
So when Emma, Portman’s character, seemingly screws up her chance with Adam, Kutcher’s character, after coming around and warming slowly to the notion of a relationship, and exhales, simply, “Fuck,” it is an at once funny and heartrending encapsulation of her weary, romantic hopelessness. Crocodile tears, or “Rats!” or other language that pussyfoots around this reality simply does not work. Thankfully, No Strings Attached isn’t attached to outmoded mainstream niceties.
Tangentially, one interesting thought Megamind raises is how movies like to make easy use of known pop and rock songs, but
always frequently take care to work up creative bridge-to-bridge edits or other choral snippets, to get the emotive/cathartic “meat” of a tune while scrubbing any lyrics that are either potentially offensive or overwhelm/run counter to the moment being presented in the film. Megamind does this fairly liberally, since it works in two cuts of AC/DC and a healthy dose of Michael Jackson‘s “Bad,” but the moment that most stood out to me was its sound mix tweak of Guns ‘N Roses‘ “Welcome to the Jungle,” which of course has a monstrous, get-pumped opening riff. The movie dips its complementary audio track and pumps up the dialogue mix at a couple key moments, making sure characters’ lines cover the lyrics, “If you got the money, honey/We got your disease” and “I wanna watch you bleed.”
See me guest on Geek Week’s First Dollar Gross on Justin.TV
I returned to First Dollar Gross this week, sitting in with Damon Houx, Luke Y. Thompson and E! Online’s Peter Paras Monday afternoon to discuss the latest entry in the Saw franchise, Saw 3D, as well as the fall film season. And, oddly enough, Max von Sydow in Flash Gordon, 3-D conversions in general, and the Hellraiser series. Hey, that’s what happens when you talk… things come up.
The embed code is acting a bit screwy, alas, but I sat
in with Todd Gilchrist, Jen Yamato, Luke Y. Thompson and Damon Houx yesterday, for the live, streamed web show First Dollar Gross, hosted by the folks over at Justin.TV for the Geek
Week crew. We got into the sequel to Paranormal Activity (which I missed out on, thanks to Paramount’s aggressive campaign of critical non-engagement) and Clint Eastwood‘s Hereafter, as well as Mel Gibson getting booted from the sequel for The Hangover, and more. It’s here, if ya need/want it. We’ll be doing it again next week.