Category Archives: Movies

The Politician And the Movie Star

Michael D. Shear at NYT:

Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas and a potential 2012 presidential candidate, has been getting lots of press recently for his comments on radio shows. The latest? This week, as first reported by Politico, he went after Hollywood star Natalie Portman.

“People see a Natalie Portman or some other Hollywood starlet who boasts, ‘we’re not married but we’re having these children and they’re doing just fine,’” Huckabee told conservative radio host Michael Medved Monday. “I think it gives a distorted image. It’s unfortunate that we glorify and glamorize the idea of out-of- wedlock children.”

Katrina Trinko at The Corner:

In framing the question to Huckabee, Medved had noted that Portman had said during her acceptance speech that she wanted to thank the father of her child for giving her “the most wonderful gift,” and argued that Portman’s message was “problematic.”

“I think it gives a distorted image that yes, not everybody hires nannies, and caretakers, and nurses,” Huckabee said. “Most single moms are very poor, uneducated, can’t get a job, and if it weren’t for government assistance, their kids would be starving to death and never have health care. And that’s the story that we’re not seeing, and it’s unfortunate that we glorify and glamorize the idea of out of children wedlock.”

“You know, right now, 75 percent of black kids in this country are born out of wedlock,” he continued. “Sixty-one percent of Hispanic kids — across the board, 41 percent of all live births in America are out of wedlock births. And the cost of that is simply staggering.”

Laura Donovan at Daily Caller:

During Portman’s Oscar acceptance speech Sunday, she thanked Millepied, saying he gave her “the most important role” of her life.

Medved responded that Millepied “didn’t give her the most wonderful gift, which would be a wedding ring!”

People Magazine reported at the end of last year that Portman and Millepied were engaged. Us Weekly revealed Portman’s engagement ring photos at the beginning of this year. They’re currently still engaged.

Tommy Christopher at Mediaite:

Here’s one humble suggestion. Maybe there would be fewer out-of-wedlock pregnancies if there were more sex education, including abstinence and safer sex. Even Bristol knows that.

Also, stop calling it “wedlock.” Sounds like something you get from stepping on a rusty nail.

Steve Benen:

But in the larger context, hearing about Huckabee’s criticism reinforces the notion that we really are stuck in the 1990s. After all, are there any substantive differences between what Huckabee said yesterday about Natalie Portman and what Dan Quayle said about Murphy Brown in 1992? Other than the fact that Brown was a fictional character, the remarks are remarkably similar.

Indeed, I feel like this keeps coming up. What do we see on the political landscape? Republicans are talking about shutting down the government and impeaching the president; Newt Gingrich is talking about running for president; a Democratic president saw his party get slammed in the midterms; the right wants a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution; conservatives are falsely labeling a moderate health care reform plan “socialized medicine”; and some national GOP leaders are preoccupied with Hollywood and out-of-wedlock births.

Andrew Sullivan:

The general point about the importance of two parents and marriage for children in poverty is well taken. But using Portman as an object of scorn? A woman who is in a loving relationship, is engaged to be married, and who publicly called her impending motherhood “the most important role of my life”?

She seems an unlikely culture war target. And a hopelessly tone-deaf one. Huckabee seems unready to me, or unwilling, to enter the race. And if he doesn’t, we all know what that means …

Robert Stacy McCain:

BTW, in case you didn’t notice, Mike Huckabee badmouthed Natalie Portman. Dude. How stupid is that?

Everybody loves Princess Amidala. Luke Skywalker’s mom, for crying out loud! And why would a conservative trash a woman who just called motherhood “the most important role of my life“?

Oh, wait. I forgot.

Mike Huckabee isn’t a conservative. Just ask Ann Coulter.

Leave a comment

Filed under Families, Movies, Political Figures

No Orcs Were Harmed In The Making Of This Trailer

Steven Nelson at The Daily Caller:

FreedomWorks will host a premier of the trailer for the film adaption of Atlas Shrugged at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Since the novel by Ayn Rand was published in 1957, efforts to produce a film version have been attempted. All failed due to a variety of legal and editorial disputes.

Protagonist Dagny Taggart will be played by actress Taylor Schilling, who previously was the lead character in NBC medical drama Mercy.

Atlas Shrugged has been highly influential within conservative and libertarian circles for its support of laissez-faire economics.

FreedomWorks has been distributing “Who Is John Galt?” signs and merchandise at CPAC, part of an advertisement for a faithful adaptation of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.” Clips from the movie have been playing at CPAC. I haven’t watched them all. I have seen the trailer.

James Joyner:

Last night, the CPAC Bloggers Bash attendees were “treated” to an excruciatingly long preview of the forthcoming “Atlas Shrugged” movie, which will hit a theater near you on April 15. Actually, it’ll just be Part I.  Like the Lord of the Rings, this will be a trilogy.

Judging by the preview, I can fully understand why it took more than two decades to find a studio to produce the flick. This is quite possibly the most boring film ever made — and I include documentaries that are shown in grammar school so that children can request to view them backwards.

Put it this way: I simply do not know enough expletives to adequately express how truly horrible this film was. I would rather be subjected to the “Clockwork Orange” treatment than sit through one part of this. I might well prefer death to enduring the trilogy.

Philip Klein at The American Spectator:

As a long-time fan of the novel and a very discriminating movie viewer, I’ll admit that I’ve had my doubts about this project all along, given its low budget and rushed production schedule. Viewing the scenes that I did – albeit a small sample size – did not assuage my early concerns.

Like the book, the film is set in the near future, though now it’s given the date of 2016. The filmmakers went for a “ripped from the headlines” type vibe, with images of the economy tanking, the country’s infrastructure collapsing, protests raging in the streets, Congress passing statist legislation, and a TV news anchor leading a panel discussion between some of the book’s characters.

The dramatic scenes were true to the book. The problem is that Rand’s characters don’t really speak like normal people, and this can be particularly jarring on film if not handled correctly. I found the dialogue in the parts between Dagny Taggart and Hank Reardon to be unnatural and their acting subpar.

I spoke with some fellow bloggers afterword who thought I was being too harsh and others who were outright enthusiastic about what they saw. I felt compelled to write something given the immense interest in this film, but I’ll withhold further judgment until I see the entire movie, which is the first of a planned three-part series.

Allah Pundit:

If anything, to me it feels too generic, like a promo for some new Fox primetime soap about young, beautiful businesspeople. Think “Melrose Place” meets “Wall Street.” Or isn’t that what “Atlas Shrugged” basically is, plus some loooooooong didactic passages about libertarianism? (Haven’t read it!)

Cole Abaius at Film School Rejects:

Who is John Galt, and does anyone care?

For all I know, “meh” is not actually a word, but somehow it perfectly describes the new Atlas Shrugged trailer. This movie has been through true development hell – detailing every incarnation would be a long, strange trip, but for some reason, no one’s ever pulled the trigger on it until now.

Its 40 year ride through development, through Brad Pitt and Russell Crowe, through Angelina Jolie and Charlize Theron, has deposited it here – without any big stars and split up into three films.

Tbogg:

Before I begin, no post about Atlas Shrugged is complete if it does not include this:

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.- KF Monkey

So, for your Friday evening’s viewing pleasure (courtesy of DougJ  aka A Writer At Balloon Juice, LLC) and pretty much everyone else who has stumbled across this youtube nugget: Atlas Shrugged: The Movie, coming soon to cinema emporium hopefully nearer to you than me.

Trains. Who in America doesn’t want to see more movies with lots and lots of trains in them? And industrialists talking about money and profits. And trains. Let’s go to the imdb description:

A powerful railroad executive, Dagny Taggart, struggles to keep her business alive while society is crumbling around her.

As we can see from the preview, Dagny is going to shut down her train business and that will make America fail. Because America’s trains …. well, I guess they power iPhones or make porn or something. And we all know that America cannot live without those things.

According to someone at imdb who seems to be in the know:

Rand’s dramatic classic comes to the screen after decades of endeavor. Although on a tight budget, it is well cast, and the story is given a modern setting to appeal more to today’s audiences.

If they wanted to update it to appeal to modern audiences then the trains would change into big robots are start fighting each other amidst shit blowing up. Then they could have gotten Michael Bay to make this film. It would still be shitty, but at least it would make money.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Movies

“Star Wars… Nothing But Star Wars…”

Michael Lind at Salon:

On the left, technological optimists were replaced by Rousseauian romantic primitivists. In the 1970s, Green guru Amory Lovins promulgated the gospel that “hard” sources of energy like nuclear power are bad and that called for a “soft path” based on hydropower, wind and solar energy. Other Green romantics decided that even hydropower is wicked, because it is generated by dams that despoil the prehuman landscape.

The New Left of the 1960s and 1970s longed for small, participatory communities, and rejected the giant organizations that New Deal liberals had taken pride in. In the 1980s and 1990s, new urbanists converted most progressives to their nostalgia for the ephemeral rail-and-trolley based towns of the late nineteenth century. GM foods, which New Deal liberals like Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson would have embraced as a way to feed multitudes while sparing land for wilderness, were denounced by progressives who favored “heirloom” turkey and melons that the Pilgrims might have eaten. The increasingly reactionary American left, disenchanted with nuclear power plants and rockets and suburbs, longed to quit modernity and retire to a small town with an organic farmers’ market and an oompah band playing in the town park’s bandstand.

A similar intellectual regression to infantilism took place on the right in the late twentieth century. Between the 1930s and the 1970s, conservatism was defined by big business anti-statism, not by neotraditionalism. The Republican opponents of New Deal Democrats shared the New Dealers’ faith in science, technology and large-scale industry. They just wanted business to keep more of its prerogatives.

Contrast Eisenhower-era business conservatism with the religious right of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and other evangelicals and fundamentalists in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. By 2000, an entire national party, the Republicans, was intimidated by religious zealots. No Republican presidential candidate could support legal abortion or criticize the pseudoscientific “creationist” alternative to evolutionary biology. Hatred of biotechnology, in the form of GM foods and human genetic engineering, was shared by the regressives of the left and the right. First a Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, then a Republican, George W. Bush, sought votes by claiming he had been “born again” with the help of Jesus, something that no president before the 1970s would have claimed.

Today optimism about science and technology is found chiefly on the libertarian right. At least somebody still defends nuclear energy and biotechnology. But in libertarian thought, science and technology are divorced from their modernist counterparts — large-scale public and private organizations — and wedded to ideals of small producers and unregulated markets that were obsolete by the middle of the nineteenth century. Libertarian thought is half-modern, at best. To its credit, it does not share the longing of many on the left for the Shire of Frodo the Hobbit or the nostalgia of most of the contemporary right for the Little House on the Prairie.

If there was a moment when the culture of enlightened modernity in the United States gave way to the sickly culture of romantic primitivism, it was when the movie “Star Wars” premiered in 1977. A child of the 1960s, I had grown up with the optimistic vision symbolized by “Star Trek,” according to which planets, as they developed technologically and politically, graduated to membership in the United Federation of Planets, a sort of galactic League of Nations or UN. When I first watched “Star Wars,” I was deeply shocked. The representatives of the advanced, scientific, galaxy-spanning organization were now the bad guys, and the heroes were positively medieval — hereditary princes and princesses, wizards and ape-men. Aristocracy and tribalism were superior to bureaucracy. Technology was bad. Magic was good.

The Dark Age that began in the 1970s continues. Today’s conservatives, centrists, progressives — most look like regressives, by the standards of mid-20th century America. Tea Party conservatives argue that federal prohibitions on child labor are unconstitutional, that the Fourteenth Amendment should be repealed, and that the Confederates were right about states, rights. Religious conservatives, having lost some of their political power, continue to their fight against Darwinism. Fiscally conservative “centrists” in Washington share an obsession with balanced budgets that would have seemed irrational and primitive not only to Keynes but also to the 19th-century British founder of The Economist, Walter Bagehot. And while there is a dwindling remnant of modernity-minded New Deal social democrats, most of the energy on the left is found on the nostalgic farmers’market/ train-and-trolley wing of the white upper middle class.

Here’s an idea. America needs to have a neomodernist party to oppose the reigning primitivists of the right, left and center. Let everyone who opposes abortion, wants to ban GM foods and nuclear energy, hates cars and trucks and planes and loves trains and trolleys, seeks to ban suburbia, despises consumerism, and/or thinks Darwin was a fraud join the Regressive Party. Those of us who believe that the real, if exaggerated, dangers of technology, big government, big business and big labor are outweighed by their benefits can join the Modernist Party. While the Regressives secede from reality and try to build their premodern utopias on their reservations, the Modernists can resume the work of building a secular, technological, prosperous, and relatively egalitarian civilization, after a half-century detour into a Dark Age.

Cathleen Kaveny at dotCommonweal:

It strikes me that this new two-party system would also leave many Catholics without a home –for obvious reasons, which we DON’T need to discuss here. In other words, THIS IS NOT A POST ON ABORTION.

But the underlying question, which I DO want to discuss here, is what is the Catholic idea on progress?  It strikes me that it is complicated. Any ideas?

Andrew Sullivan

Daniel Larison:

One of the things that Lind’s preferred states all have in common is that they are expansive, bureaucratic, centralized states ruled by autocrats or unaccountable overseers, and they are capable of extracting far larger revenues out of their economies than their successors. Obviously, Lind finds most of these traits desirable, and he seems not terribly bothered by the autocracy. In the case of the UFP, one simply has a technocrat’s utopian post-political fantasy run riot. Indeed, the political organization of the Federation has always struck me as stunningly implausible and unrealistic even by the standards of science fiction. It was supposed to be a galactic alliance with a massive military whose primary purposes were exploration and peacekeeping, and which had overcome all social problems by dint of technological progress. If ever there were a vision to appeal to a certain type of romantic idealists with no grasp of the corrupting nature of power or the limits of human nature, this would have to be it.

Lind’s article is not very persuasive, not least since his treatment of the change from antiquity to the middle ages is seriously flawed. Lind writes:

But few would disagree that the Europe of Charlemagne was more backward in its mindset, at least at the elite level, than the Rome of Augustus or the Alexandria of the Ptolemies.

Nor are the great gains of decolonization and personal liberation in recent decades necessarily incompatible with an intellectual and cultural Dark Age. After all, the fall of the Roman empire led to the emergence of many new kingdoms, nations and city-states, and slavery withered away by the end of the Middle Ages in Europe.

Well, count me among the “few” that would disagree. For one thing, the “Europe of Charlemagne” was also the Europe of the Byzantines, and under both the Carolingians and the Macedonians later in the ninth century there was extensive cultivation of literary and artistic production that significantly undermines claims that this was an “intellectual and cultural Dark Age.” This was an era of substantial manuscript production, and one marked by the learning of Eriugena and Photios. The Carolingian period was actually one of the more significant moments of political reunification in Europe prior to the later middle ages, but it is true that Charlemagne and his successors did not have a large administrative state apparatus at their disposal. The Iconoclastic emperors in the east were hostile to religious images, but in many other respects they cultivated learning and drew on the mathematical and scientific thought that was flourishing at that time among the ‘Abbasids. Obviously, we are speaking of the elite, but it is the elites of different eras that Lind is comparing. The point is not to reverse the old prejudice against medieval Europe and direct it against classical antiquity, nor we do have to engage in Romantic idealization of medieval societies, but we should acknowledge that this approach to history that Lind offers here abuses those periods and cultures that do not flatter the assumptions or values of modern Westerners. For that matter, it distorts and misrepresents the periods and cultures moderns adopt as their precursors, because it causes them to value those periods and cultures because of how they seem to anticipate some aspect of modernity rather than on their own terms.

Ioz on Larison:

I understand that Gene Roddenberry’s retromod vision of the future had Kirk kissing Nichelle Nichols, but even before the stylish sixties gave way to the weird, hierarchical, technocratic dictatorship of The Next Generation, the United Federation of Planets played barely the part of a supernumerary. The governing organization always seemed to be Starfleet, whose motto . . . to boldly go . . . and shoot with lasers . . . Their missions of exploration always seemed to lead to armed conflict, and the bold, interracial, transspecies future had as a model of its money-free, egalitarian, merit-based society something more or less directly descended from the British Admiralty, circa Trafalgar.

Meanwhile, if we must read Star Wars as something other than someone talking that old hack and fraud Joe Campbell a leeeetle bit too seriously, then let me just remind you that the “advanced, scientific, galaxy-spanning organization” was an evil empire run by a cyborg monster and an evil wizard, and that in almost every visual detail its model was not the New goddamn Deal, but the Third fucking Reich.

Ross Douthat:

So here’s my question: What did Lind think of the prequels? Because in a sense, George Lucas addressed nearly all of Lind’s issues with the “Star Wars” universe in movies one through three. (I am bracketing the more creative interpretations of those films …) Queen Amidala of Naboo, Princess Leia’s mother, turned out to be an elected queen, who moved on to senatorial duties after serving out her term as monarch. (How a teenager managed to navigate Naboo’s version of the Iowa caucuses remains a mystery …) The once-mystical Force was given a scientific explanation, in the form of the “midichlorians,” the micro-organisms that clutter up the bloodstream of the Jedi and give them telekinetic powers as a side effect. And the lost Old Republic that the rebels fight to restore in the original films was revealed to be , well, “a sort of galactic League of Nations or UN,” with the Jedi Knights as its peacekeeping force and the lightsaber as the equivalent of the blue helmet.

For Lind, then, I can only assume that watching the prequels was an immensely gratifying experience. And for the rest of us, the knowledge that Lind’s prescription for “Star Wars” helped produce three of the most disappointing science-fiction blockbusters ever made should be reason enough to reject his prescription for America without a second thought.

Leave a comment

Filed under Go Meta, Movies

Been Through The Movies With A Character With No Name

Erik Hayden at The Atlantic with the round-up. Hayden:

The options could hardly be starker for Labor Day movie-goers. On one hand, there’s the blood-stained Machete, which seems to revel in the number of body-parts it dismembers for the pleasure of audiences. And, of course, there’s also that European-tinged, art-house hitman movie with the relatively unassuming poster of George Clooney furrowing his brow. What’s that one about, exactly? It appears that nearly half of our nation’s finest critics lost their patience with the slow-burning film before trying to figure that out.

The film itself, directed by 2007’s Control helmer, Anton Corbijn, takes its cues from Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1975 landmark The Passenger and builds upon the book it’s adapted from, Rowan Joffe’s A Very Private Gentleman. It follows a international hitman (George Clooney) whose real name is unimportant , and who quietly delivers all that’s expected of him (the closest thing to a spoiler is that the film is fraught with “butterfly symbolism”).

Christopher Orr at The Atlantic:

In his latest film, George Clooney plays an international hitman variously addressed as “Jack” and “Edward,” though we’re given little reason to imagine that either name has attached itself to him for long. In the hilly Italian hamlets where the bulk of the story takes place he’s known best, and most evocatively, as “The American”—which is also, for simplicity’s sake, the title of the picture.

The protagonist’s name, in any case, is largely incidental: Clooney is playing Clooney. (As if there were anyone else we’d genuinely prefer him to be.) He works here on the somber edge of his personal spectrum, more Solaris than Leatherheads. But dour or droll, he remains contemporary cinema’s most effortless star, and this easy magnetism is the primary engine driving director Anton Corbijn’s low-key, European-style thriller. Evoking Steve McQueen rather than his customary Cary Grant, Clooney is less Everyman than every man’s idealized self: stoic yet not unfeeling, bruised but unfaltering. Sadness lurks in the crinkle of his crow’s feet, but flickers of hope as well.

Dana Stevens at Slate:

For all the demands it will place on the viewer’s attention span, though, The American doesn’t start slow. It kicks off with an absolutely killer cold open in a snowbound cabin in Sweden, where the American of the title, Jack (George Clooney) is romancing a lissome Scandinavian honey. Their postcoital stroll turns unexpectedly violent—a development that’s all the more frightening for taking place in absolute, snow-muffled silence. Jack goes into hiding in Italy, instructed by his superior Pavel (Johan Leysen) to lie low for a while. (We never do learn exactly what kind of organization Jack works for—is he a CIA agent? An international operative of some kind? A mercenary?) A tiny hillside village in Abruzzo becomes Jack’s temporary home. Again on the instructions of the mysterious Pavel, Jack—who, apparently, is a world-class gunsmith—begins working on a special custom-designed weapon for a female assassin (Thekla Reuten).

The entire middle section of the film consists of long scenes of Jack alone in his pensione, machining gun parts. For recreation, he drinks brandy with the local priest (Paolo Bonacelli) and seeks the favors of a prostitute, Clara (Violante Placido). This part of the movie may lose many viewers: Hey, I didn’t pay 12 bucks for a George Clooney spy movie so I could watch the man sit silently in front of a lathe! But Corbijn’s bare-bones reduction of the spy genre to its constituent parts has its own dry, spare charm. By the time that gun is finally built, we know a lot more about Jack’s character than we did going in, and we’re keen to see what the weapon will eventually get used for.

Given that—even in character as a gaunt, brooding, emotionally remote assassin—George Clooney is George Clooney, Clara the prostitute soon falls in love with him. (It doesn’t hurt that he uses his brothel time to give her sexual pleasure.) The prospect of a new life with this adoring, implausibly softhearted young woman begins to crack Jack’s shell, and he entertains the possibility of retiring from the business after he finishes this one last job ….

It’s a testament to Corbijn’s directorial gifts that a movie featuring “one last job,” a taciturn loner, and a hooker with a heart of gold could feel as crisp and unusual as The American. Corbijn’s aesthetic choices are consistently unexpected: He films the Italian hill town where Jack holes up not as an Under the Tuscan Sun-style postcard, but as an intriguing set of geometric patterns. And Lord, what a relief to watch a movie, thriller or otherwise, that isn’t scored to within an inch of its life. (When it does appear, the music, by Herbert Gronemeyer, is appropriately contemplative.)

John Nolte at Big Hollywood:

Anyone looking for a thriller will be quickly disappointed. Director Anron Corbijn isn’t interested in action. At all. As a matter of fact, Jack’s pursuers are as easy to kill as red-shirted “Star Trek” crewmen. This is a mood and character piece experimenting with silence and stillness in the hopes of making large the small moments, movements and gestures that come from a character too emotionally isolated and permanently on guard to offer up anything else.  Chatter and exposition and back-story would only betray the essence of this character, which means that it’s up to Clooney fill in the pieces using only his screen presence. Thanks to his first truly outstanding and Oscar-worthy performance, Clooney not only accomplishes this, he also draws us in wanting to know more. Who is this man? What made him who he is?  Will he redeem himself?

Unfortunately, it’s here where the story finally collapses.

Okay, so there’s nothing cinematically subtle about a fallen man at a crossroads in his life and at the same time befriended by the extremes of priest and prostitute. But that doesn’t mean the idea at work there can’t be interesting. The problem is that like the rest of the thematic track you’re deceived into believing the film is laying, it’s all a cheat. Not a single thematic element goes anywhere or even attempts to assume any kind of meaning. Jack might be handsome, worldly and refined, but he also happens to be a sociopath. To root for him, to want Jack to become Edward and get out from under the sins of his past, we have to see something worthy of redemption.  But we don’t, and still the film roots for him, which is especially obvious in the melodramatic climax.

“The American” dares to burden itself (and us) with the heavy symbolism of priest, prostitute, and butterfly, not to mention Jack’s unforgivable crime, but then doesn’t have the courage to deliver on what it means – other than (snore) the futility of it all. This makes for a numbing third act and turns the hushed moments and clipped dialogue and lingering stares into something worse than pretense. Slowly, what once drew you in devolves into cold disappointment and watch-checking tedium — at least until the credits roll, at which point you’re completely numb.

No matter how good the acting, lovely the locations, pretty the cinematography or pregnant the pauses; no matter how much you might tart something up with the whiff of self-important existentialism, just as black is the absence of color, indifference is not a theme — it’s the absence of theme. Nihilism is not art. Nihilism is the absence of art. Which isn’t to say that this subdued and self-consciously quiet examination of the barren existence of an aging hit man tired of looking over his shoulder is without merit. What the film is without, however, is a point – which appears to be the point, which means that we have here is a deliberate act of artistic cowardice.

Todd McCarthy at Indiewire:

The tone of the film recalls the fine, spare 1970s work of screenwriter Alan Sharp in the perennially underrated “Night Moves,” “The Hired Hand” and “The Last Run,” the latter especially because it involved an American criminal dragged out of his retirement in a European village. The fact that John Huston started directing “The Last Run” (he was replaced by Richard Flesicher) and helped write “The Killers” establishes a Hemingway connection; like the hunted figure in “The Killers,” Jack/Edward knows what’s coming but doesn’t know when or from where, leaving him only with the choice of how to deal with it philosophically.

The emotion, such as it is, comes at the end of a very long fuse, when everything that the man has kept so tightly bottled up comes boiling to the surface; Jack/Edward has one shot at possibly escaping his presumed destiny and Clooney indelibly catches the character’s desperate anxiety and fearful hope as he tries to slip through the eye of the needle. You can see the blood rise to his face with his long-suppressed emotion and it’s a sight to behold.

Stephanie Zacharek at Movieline:

Watching The American, it struck me how unusual it is, in contemporary movies, to see a love scene involving a man and a prostitute that’s both carnal and tender. The unspoken wisdom is that these things have to be presented as something tawdry and dirty, because, heaven forbid, we’re not supposed to approve of them.

But even Corbijn’s approach to nudity is refreshingly nonjudgmental and unfettered; he isn’t looking for approval or disapproval, but simply to draw out feeling. Before the screening, a colleague and I wondered aloud why the studio releasing The American, Focus Features, waited until two days before the movie’s opening to show it to critics. The assumption most critics make when a studio “hides” a movie is that it’s lousy. But as we waited for the movie to start, I suggested that maybe Focus had kept the movie from us because they had something with no rapid-fire editing or shaky-cam, because the story makes sense, because the visuals show some thought and some care.

As it turned out, that’s exactly the kind of movie I found The American to be. And in this climate, how is a studio supposed to sell that? The movie’s distinctive qualities aren’t the sort of thing that generates buzz, and I’m beginning to fear that even word of mouth, of the “It’s boring” variety, may come to hurt it at the box office. Perhaps that’s what happens to a movie that asks you to see instead of just look. I hope not.

Leave a comment

Filed under Movies

“I’m Pat F*cking Tillman.”

Andrew O’Hehir at Salon:

The death of Pat Tillman, the National Football League star turned Army Ranger who was killed by friendly fire — or “fratricide,” as the military puts it — in Afghanistan in April 2004, was a strange event in recent American history. On one hand, Tillman’s death was covered far more extensively than those of any of the other 4,700 or so United States troops killed in the Iraqi and Afghan combat zones. To put it bluntly, he was the only celebrity among them.

On the other hand, Tillman’s story remains poorly understood and has little social resonance. As a colleague of mine recently put it, Tillman didn’t fit, either as a living human being or a posthumous symbol into the governing political narratives of our polarized national conversation. That’s true whether you’re on the right or the left. If he struck many people at first as a macho, hyper-patriotic caricature — the small-town football hero who went to war without asking questions — it eventually became clear that was nowhere near accurate. Yet Tillman was also more idiosyncratic than the equally stereotypical ’60s-style combat vet turned longhair peacenik.

Mind you, Tillman might well have become a left-wing activist, had he lived longer. He had read Noam Chomsky’s critiques of U.S. foreign policy, and hoped to meet Chomsky in person. But as Amir Bar-Lev’s haunting and addictive documentary “The Tillman Story” demonstrates, Tillman was such an unusual blend of personal ingredients that he could have become almost anything. It’s a fascinating film, full of drama, intrigue, tragedy and righteous indignation, but maybe its greatest accomplishment is to make you feel the death of one young man — a truly independent thinker who hewed his own way through the world, in the finest American tradition — as a great loss.

Eric Kohn at Indie Wire:

Narrated by Josh Brolin, “The Tillman Story” tracks the uneasy investigation into the reality of the player’s death launched by his family in the wake of an official attempt to celebrate him as a hero. Each step of the way, the corruption grows slightly deeper: The military waits until after Tillman’s funeral before declaring that he was killed by friendly fire, but his parents and siblings determine that the story runs even deeper than that. An unnaturally humble public figure, Tillman never revealed his intentions for going to war—but a twisted publicity campaign launched in the wake of his death assumed otherwise.

The government turned Tillman into a hero, elevating his posthumous stature while burying the atrocious errors that led to his death. Recounting the events through interviews with the Tillman family and previously classified government documents, director Amir Bar-Lev provides an exhaustive account of the wrongdoings at hand. It’s not the sole definitive version of the story—Jon Krakauer’s “Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman” came out in 2009—but by framing the story as a conspiracy thriller, Bar-Lev finds a natural cinematic hook: Coming across like “The Manchurian Candidate” as a ghost story or “All the President’s Men” with civilian journalists, “The Tillman Story” is loaded with dramatic potential.

Bar-Lev assembles the story with layers of media, old and new. He finds a compelling plot point in the contrast between the mainstream Tillman narrative and his family’s background struggles.Voice-overs accompany footage of Tillman’s stone-faced relatives at a massive memorial held in the Arizona stadium where he used to play for the Cardinals. They express their frustration on the soundtrack while news cameras capture it on their faces. Distraught over the elevation of Tillman to the level of a trite patriotic symbol, their anger drives them toward detective work. “He didn’t really fit into that box,” exclaims Tillman’s mother, Mary, sounding both mournful and disappointed that the country her sons served let them down.

Kurt Schlichter at Big Hollywood:

Call me fussy, but I prefer that my conspiracies and cover-ups actually involve conspiracies and cover-ups.  The Tillman Story, a new leftist documentary on football player turned Army Airborne Ranger turned friendly fire casualty turned symbol of…something…posits a massive conspiracy to do…something…and an enormous cover-up of…something…but never quite explains what.  However, there are lots of ominous shots of George Bush and Karl Rove, so we can somehow gather that whatever it is is, in some way, all Bushitler’s fault.

This is a bad film, both in its execution and its intent.  As a lawyer, it insults my intelligence.  As a veteran, it insults my professionalism.  As an audience member, it failed me as a film.  Pat Tillman, first seen in footage sitting nearly silently in a studio, begins the film as a cipher and ends as a cipher.  I know little more about the man or his motivations than I did coming in.  All I know is that I could not wait for it to be over.

This over-praised documentary is based on the premise that there was an enormous, mysterious conspiracy surrounding the death of Pat Tillman, which is a problem for the filmmaker since it is clear there is no giant, mysterious conspiracy surrounding the death of Pat Tillman.  The filmmakers cannot explain who conspired, or what they conspired to do.  Was there a cover-up?  Of what?  The film desperately wants there to be one, as does the family – perhaps that would give them the story the producers need and generate the meaning the family wants.  But, as the film demonstrates beyond all reasonable doubt, there isn’t one.  This is a story of mistakes, not malice.

Pat Tillman died in a tragic battlefield accident.  That happens – young men, powerful weapons, and “the fog of war” all combine to make fratricide a terrible and ever-present reality of infantry combat.  I know nothing about the circumstances of Tillman’s death other than what the film showed (including several instances where the camera focused on Army investigation documents that revealed information the filmmakers did not highlight).  But what the film shows makes it clear that there are no “unanswered questions.”

John Nolte at Big Hollywood:

On May 3rd, 2004, a memorial for Pat Tillman took place in San Jose’s Municipal Rose Garden. Tillman was posthumously awarded the Silver Star and both his family and the whole world believed he had been killed in a Taliban ambush during a brave attempt to draw their fire in order to save his own men.  Just a few weeks later, the Army would come forward to acknowledge that this narrative was wrong and that Tillman had been killed by friendly fire.

At this point, the question that came to my mind was why would the Pentagon and the Bush Administration voluntarily come forward and uncover their own conspiracy? The film makes no mention of any outside pressure on the Pentagon from the Tillman family or even the media to get the bottom of anything. Meaning that at this point everyone believed the initial report and apparently all the Administration and military had to do to keep us all believing was to keep their mouths shut.

So the question is: If the idea was to use Tillman’s death for nefarious pro-war purposes, why just a few weeks after the memorial service would those with the most to lose from doing so, voluntarily kick over a political hornets’ nest by telling the truth? Why not milk the situation for as long as possible and for as much propaganda as possible, especially with a presidential election just five months off? At the very least, why not save all the political heartache and fallout this revelation was sure to bring (and did) and stall until after Bush is reelected?

A producer once told me that whenever you have a film character open a refrigerator door you either have to show them close it or include the sound effect of the door closing, or else the audience will get unsettled thinking the door has been left open. Bar-Lev’s refusal to address or explain why a supposed-group of conspirators would of their own volition blow the whistle on their own supposed conspiracy leaves that door open. And no fancy camera move or sinister scoring is going to close it.

Stephanie Zacharek at Movieline:

Bar-Lev — whose previous directing credits include the 2007 My Kid Could Paint That — trusts his instincts enough to know that he doesn’t need to embellish or intensify any angle of this story to make it more dramatic or more affecting. His treatment of Tillman’s parents is particularly low-key. Dannie Tillman, who has since written a book about her son’s case, speaks at one point about how uncomfortable it is to be a parent grieving intensely and privately in the midst of a grand and glitzy public outpouring of grief. Against that, Bar-Lev shows footage of Dannie, Patrick Sr. and Marie standing stiffly and politely on a football field as earnest speeches are made and marching-band music is played. At one point, incomprehensibly, a team of prancing and high-kicking dancers line up before them, a truly weird way of honoring a fallen soldier.

The Tillman Story is often painful to watch, even when the images in front of us are nothing more than military documents that have been marked, by Dannie, with a highlighter. Dannie was given thousands of pages of official reports and documents by the U.S. military, a sea of pages with every significant name or detail blacked out; the presumption was that once she started going through this material, she’d simply become exhausted and give up. But with Goff’s help, Dannie unearthed many of the more excruciating secrets surrounding her son’s death, notably the fact that the soldiers responsible for it (their story isn’t told here, and appears to be wholly shrouded in secrecy) explained their actions by saying, “I was excited,” and, “I wanted to stay in the firefight” — details the U.S. military wouldn’t be particularly eager to publicize, for obvious reasons, and which can only intensify a parent’s suffering.

Bar-Lev recently lost an appeal to have the MPAA ratings board change the rating for The Tillman Story from an R — for the movie’s use of, as the ratings board so delicately puts it, “excessive language” — to a PG-13. That’s particularly cutting considering that one of the most piercing revelations in The Tillman Story is that Tillman’s last words, shouted out as a last-ditch effort to keep his fellow soldiers from shooting at him, were “I’m Pat f*cking Tillman.” Sometimes the use of an expletive, beyond being a sticking point for a group of de facto censors, really is a matter of life and death.

Leave a comment

Filed under Af/Pak, GWOT, Military Issues, Movies, Sports

Julia Finds Herself Eating, Praying, And Loving

Sally Mercedes at The Stir:

Eat Pray Love, starring Julia Roberts and her hunky companions, opens this weekend.I already have tickets, so I wanted to know what to expect, but the Eat Pray Love reviews are all over the place.

Katrina Mitchell, CBS News:

[T]he best alternative to a pampered getaway might to [sic] indulge yourself vicariously in Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey of self discovery.

Dezhda Gaubert, E! Online:

While the movie is touching in all the right ways, it doesn’t leap off the screen the way Gilbert’s wry voice jumps off the page.

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times:

“Eat Pray Love” is shameless wish-fulfillment, a Harlequin novel crossed with a mystic travelogue

Kim Conte, The Stir:

The movie […] succeeds where the book fails. Instead of telling the story about one woman’s very specific path to spiritual enlightenment and self-discovery, it imparts a more universal tale about the search for love.

So, basically, you’re going to love it or hate it. You’ll either cry because you’re moved or completely bored. Good to know!

Robert Levin at Film School Rejects:

In Eat Pray Love, Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) eats, prays and loves, while gliding through some of the world’s most beautiful settings. Populated with gorgeous people, vivid scenic vistas and picturesque multicultural happenings, the film would make an ideal promotional spot for its primary locations of Rome, India and Bali.

Glee co-creator Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s best selling, autobiographical self-help book (his directorial debut) gets the surface details right. Seen on a big enough screen, the pictures of Rome’s ornamental city streets, India’s sweat soaked ashrams and Bali’s lushly vegetated countryside provoke the sort of all-encompassing awe that in many respects defines the cinema.

But when it comes to the narrative woven around the scenery, the movie starts flat, stays flat and never recovers. Cast wrong and structured lazily, Eat Pray Love lacks the strong dramatic pull needed to sustain a 133-minute production. Mired in a milquetoast aesthetic obsessed with trendy “healing” tropes (meditation, close-ups on delicious looking pasta, Javier Bardem etc.) the movie rarely deviates from the genre’s standard path.

Eric Snider at Cinematical:

Among Julia Roberts‘ many talents is the ability to be likable even when she’s playing a character who isn’t. She’ll star in something dreadful like Runaway Bride or Mona Lisa Smile, and despite what a shrill stereotype the character is, Roberts herself will be infectiously pleasant.

This skill is taxed to its limits in Eat Pray Love, in which Roberts plays a privileged, self-absorbed narcissist who takes a year-long vacation to “find herself.” (You’re always in the last place you look, amirite?) This lady, Elizabeth Gilbert (also the name of the author from whose memoir the film was adapted), isn’t happy married, isn’t happy single, isn’t happy ever. She figures she needs to spend some time with no one but herself. Speaking as one who has spent 140 minutes with her, I would advise against that.

Dana Stevens at Slate:

Few actresses can telegraph pleasure as well as Roberts, which is why the “eat” portion of the film, in which her character packs away so much Roman pasta that her jean size soars from 0 to 1, is the most enjoyable of the three. But for those who haven’t read the book, it won’t be easy to grasp how and why Liz gets to Rome in the first place. A rushed and cursory setup has her breaking up with her husband (Billy Crudup) and embarking on a doomed affair with a young actor (James Franco) with little apparent motivation; both men, and in fact every male character in the movie, seem handsome, charming, and besotted with her. We know Liz has hit rock bottom because she tells her publisher, Delia (Viola Davis), “I’ve hit rock bottom,” not because we’ve accompanied her on the way down.

Prozac would be considerably less overprescribed if more writers had publishers like Delia, who lets herself be convinced that a book advance large enough to finance a year of world travel will be just the thing for what ails Liz. (It’s a flaw of both the book and the film that the negotiation of this contract is glossed over so hastily. There’s no shame in having landed a sweet book deal, and having the financial underpinnings of Gilbert’s trip made plain would help to mitigate the audience’s resentment at her barely acknowledged privilege.) Once in Italy, Liz takes language classes, wanders around in cute outfits gandering at fountains, and orders marvelous meals with an assortment of international friends, while Martha Stewart’s food stylist hovers just off-screen with a spray bottle of liquid glycerin. This part of the movie is my favorite because it’s an unabashed glossy travelogue; as viewers, we’re not asked to do anything more than acknowledge the irrefutable fact that il dolce far niente looks like a lot of fun.

The “pray” section, in which Liz seeks spiritual solace in an Indian ashram, is a tougher sell. Watching a person meditate makes for less than dynamic cinema, and the ooglety-booglety inner journeys that Gilbert describes in the book are hard to bring to life on the page, let alone on-screen. The dramatic interest of the India chapter comes from Richard (Richard Jenkins), a fellow spiritual seeker and recovering alcoholic from Texas who befriends Liz with mystifying alacrity—minutes into their first conversation, he’s already bestowed on her an affectionate nickname. Jenkins, a fine character actor, invests Richard with an easygoing gravitas, but I never got around the essential phoniness of the Liz/Richard relationship. His character seems to exist for the sole purpose of dispensing folksy epigrams about acceptance and faith. The one scene in which Richard does get a chance to tell his own story is a nakedly manipulative play on the viewer’s emotions. This scene is meant to show that Liz and Richard have reached a new level of trust with one another, but it marked the moment when I stopped trusting the movie.

Once Liz has checked spiritual seeking off her travel to-do list, she heads to Bali, where an old medicine man (Hadi Subiyanto) takes her on as a student and amanuensis. Amid the island’s lush jungles and libidinous expat parties, she meets a crinkly-eyed Brazilian businessman, Felipe (Javier Bardem), whose bossa-nova mix tapes might as well be titled “Have Sex With Me Right Now.” But Liz, still damaged by the wreckage of her past two relationships, takes a while to respond to Felipe’s advances.

Christian Toto at Big Hollywood:

“Pray,” based on the real exploits of author Elizabeth Gilbert, spends plenty of screen time on the main character’s soul search. Audiences may need to stretch during the film’s bloated running time, but despite the relaxed pace we still don’t adequately feel Liz’s pain.

The movie can’t be bothered to paint her marriage in anything but comically fleeting terms, using its dissolution for some quick laughs. And Crudup is left looking wounded and silly in the process. Who wouldn’t leave this sap? Better yet, who would begrudge herself for fleeing?

Roberts shapes Liz in a way lesser actresses simply couldn’t. She buries her “Pretty Woman” smile long enough to make us care about Liz’s plight, even if we can’t point to any particulars regarding her grieving process.

The film’s romantic angle comes so late in the story it’s a wonder it’s able to resonate at all. Credit Bardem for making the moments matter. He’s instantly relatable, a divorced man eager to resume his romantic life and not shy about showing his affection for his grown child.

Yes, the two kiss on the mouth – platonically, of course – and it’s as sweet a screen moment as you’ll see in the entire film.

What’s missing in “Love” is a sense of surprise. Yes, the Italian city scapes are beautiful, and yes, the food looks so delicious you’ll want to stop the movie and run to the nearest, best Trattoria.

But who couldn’t write such scenes?

The India sequences are equally predictable, down to the cute and cuddly old dude who allegedly possesses all the wisdom in the world – but has very few teeth.

“Eat Pray Love” deserves credit for its storytelling patience and having the smarts to install Roberts in the lead role. But those unfamiliar with the famous book will likely wonder what the fuss is all about.

Linda Holmes at NPR:

I’m not particularly interested in Eat Pray Love, I have to tell you. I own the book; I have not brought myself to read it. I might see the movie. I might not.

But I am rooting for it to become a giant smash hit, because maybe that would mean I would never have to read another “Is Julia Roberts Dead Yet?” piece as long as I live. (Or, for that matter, a piece like “Why Does Everyone Hate Julia Roberts?”, which claims that you can tell from Roberts’ smile that she’s a bad person, and that having had three — THREE! — well-known boyfriends before her husband raises the reasonable suspicion that she is “a bit of a man-eater.”)

I want to keep this reasonably short, because we covered this when Duplicity came out, but it’s worth noting a few issues with, for instance, this effort to evaluate her prospects.

The entire idea that Julia Roberts built her career as a rom-com queen is a questionable one. During her original period of popularity, she also made Steel Magnolias, Sleeping With The Enemy, Hook, and The Pelican Brief. Chuckle at Mary Reilly all you like — The Pelican Brief made 100 million bucks. Erin Brockovich made about $125 million. Audiences have never showed any unwillingness to see Roberts in anything except romantic comedies. She may or may not want to return to them. She may or may not need to.

1 Comment

Filed under Movies

The Michael Keaton Comeback Continues…

Stephanie Zacharek at Movieline:

Adam McKay’s comedy The Other Guys has a lot going for it: Even though it mines perennial cop-buddy-movie material, it doesn’t feel generic or strained, and unlike other recent comedies — Dinner for Schmucks pops to mind — it never descends into grating self-consciousness. Forget impressing us with its cleverness; it’s happy to seduce us with its dumbness, and when McKay and his performers — chief among them Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg and Eva Mendes — dangle that shiny lure, damn it if it doesn’t work at least half the time.

But The Other Guys isn’t easy to peg. It’s not a comedy that loosens you up and mellows you out; it works by needling you progressively into a state of anxiety. I walked out of the thing with my nerves humming. Part of that has to do with the chemistry between its two stars, Ferrell and Wahlberg. They’re an uneasy yet inspired match: Ferrell is Allen Gamble, the most timid New York City cop imaginable (he was transferred over from forensics accounting), who’s happy to sit at his desk whenever an urgent call comes in over the radio. His partner, Wahlberg’s Terry Hoitz, is a thundercloud with a badge who can’t wait to get out there and prove his stuff. The problem is, he’s already proved it: A hothead with a gun, he gained renown in the force after shooting Derek Jeter by mistake. (Jeter himself appears in a tiny, amusing cameo.)

At headquarters, Alan and Terry sit opposite one another — Alan tapping away at his computer, Terry perpetually tapping his leg. Alan annoys his officemate first by absent-mindedly humming the theme from S.W.A.T., then moving on to I Dream of Jeannie. Terry responds to these happy-go-lucky tics by blowing up. He calls Alan a fake cop before progressing to even harsher, if inane, insults: “The sound of your piss hitting the urinal — it sounds feminine to me!” he blurts out. He’s cooped up in the office, and he hates it. “I am a peacock! You’ve gotta let me fly!” he tells the world, or at least the office.

Rob Hunter at Film School Rejects:

The Other Guys is Adam McKay’s fourth feature collaboration with Ferrell, and while its ranking among Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Step Brothers will vary from viewer to viewer there’s no question that the duo remains one of the best comedic relationships in recent Hollywood history. (For the record, I’d place it second in their combined resume.) McKay, who also co-wrote the film, does a fantastic job milking every scene for laughs like they were ‘La vache qui rit’ Babybels. (I swear that made sense when I typed it.) The humor isn’t story based but instead comes from all corners… jokes, running gags, and brief detours into insanity fly fast and loose. We get some fun at the expense of action movie tropes during car chases and shootouts, a priceless re-definition of the term ‘soup kitchen’ involving homeless folks having an orgy in a Toyota Prius, a flashback to Gamble’s college years with Ferrell intermingling with much younger co-eds, and if you thought laughs associated with TLC died in Honduras eight years ago guess again my friends.

One of the biggest obstacles in creating a good buddy-anything movie is finding a pair of actors with chemistry capable of  playing off each others strengths to the benefit of the film as a whole. Ferrell and Wahlberg succeed pretty well here. Fans of Ferrell’s particular style of goofiness and comedic charm will be reminded why they find him so damn funny, and newcomers to the Ferrell fold (located right below his perineum) may find themselves adding his back catalog into their Netflix queue. And Wahlberg has already teased his comedic chops in I Heart Huckabees, Date Night, and The Happening, but this flick confirms it. His funniest bits are more passive compared to Ferrell’s flat-out zaniness, but he still garners big laughs. The scene where he’s first introduced to his partner’s bombshell wife (Mendes) is five straight minutes of his perfect reactions and delivery.

The supporting cast is just as successful at extracting laughs from your gullet and add to the non-stop barrage of chuckles. Coogan is joined by Eva Mendes, Rob Huebel, Rob Riggle, Damon Wayans Jr., Dwayne Johnson, Samuel Jackson, and Michael Keaton. Even Ice-T gets to be a funny man via some sharply written narration. They’re all on top of their game here, but Keaton in particular shows that he still has the brilliant comedic timing that first made him a star. There’s no excuse for his absence from the big screen.

Scott Tobias at Onion AV Club:

It’s a testament to Will Ferrell’s comic genius that his movies are any good at all. Ferrell isn’t a satirist or an observational humorist, and he isn’t comfortably confined within the guardrails of a script, even a well-written one. His natural outlet is the sketch comedy of Saturday Night Live, where his gift for digressive silliness could be packaged into five- or 10-minute bits. So a good Will Ferrell movie, like the inspired buddy-cop comedy The Other Guys, gloms together enough clever riffs and random funny business to overcome the inevitable lumpiness and dead ends. It helps that Ferrell’s regular collaborator, director Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers), has a visual panache that’s rare in Hollywood comedies, and especially useful when shoot-outs and car chases come into play. Cop Out this ain’t.

[…]

Great casting takes The Other Guys most of the way: Ferrell draws a wealth of good material from his character’s oddball ineffectuality, and he partners perfectly with Wahlberg, who’s always best at his most incredulous. In the role of their commander, Michael Keaton finally gets a chance to return to the unhinged comedy of his early films, and Coogan is appropriately oily as a preening moneybags-type who charms people with Broadway tickets and cucumber water. Some running gags get stretched to the breaking point, like Ferrell’s unaccountable ability to attract hot women (Eva Mendes plays his wife) and a story from his past, but McKay gives the film enough structure and style to keep the action moving. And as in the best Ferrell vehicles, if a joke fails, several disarming and original ones always follow in short order.

Josh Levin at Slate:

Left alone, Ferrell and Wahlberg struggle with the constraints of a well-worn genre. What happens when a mild-mannered accountant and an insult-heaving hothead try to put the screws to a rapacious, scheming capitalist (Steve Coogan)? Pretty much what you’d expect, including the car chases. With The Other Guys‘ comedy kingpin under wraps as a strait-laced “paper bitch,” McKay et al. needed to give the less yuk-inducing Wahlberg the gift of better lines. But Wahlberg doesn’t say anything memorable the entire movie, perhaps on account of the movie’s PG-13 rating—his tough-talking cop in The Departed was a lot more fun to watch, thanks to the 50 different ways he had to say Go fuck yourself. By the time Ferrell sheds his tie and gets manic, the movie’s formula has gotten a little too stale to salvage.

In fairness to McKay and Ferrell, their movies are properly evaluated less as coherent narratives than as sequences of quotable nuggets. Even so, The Other Guys has too few quotable moments—I’m partial to Ferrell’s inspired rant about how a pack of tuna could stalk and devour a pride of lions—to fill the gaps between the big laughs, which are yawning compared to Anchorman and Talladega Nights. One big reason for this deficiency is that the supporting cast doesn’t offer enough support after Danson and Highsmith’s untimely passing—Eva Mendes just stands around looking pretty, while Michael Keaton’s captain does little else besides unintentionally quoting songs from the TLC back catalog.

At times, The Other Guys‘ cop clichés get shoved aside for a critique of the financial world, as Coogan’s slimy, Bernie Madoff clone defrauds his investors of $32 billion. Strangely, the movie saves its sharpest critiques for the closing credits, when a series of slick charts and graphs detail how Ponzi schemes work, how the ratio of CEO-to-employee salaries has skyrocketed, and how much AIG executives have received in bonus payouts. If it was a little more ambitious, The Other Guys could’ve been the funniest episode of Planet Money ever. Instead, it’s just another cop comedy.

Vic Holtreman at Big Hollywood:

Anyway… I didn’t go in to The Other Guys expecting much (I think that the buddy cop/action film parody was done to perfection with Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz), but I was mildly surprised to find myself chuckling throughout and laughing out loud more than once.

Until John pointed it out in the aforementioned story, I didn’t know the political affiliations of Adam McKay or anyone else behind the film – but having been educated I went in forewarned and expecting to be beat about the head with political potshots.

The movie was actually funny in parts, which as I said, I didn’t expect. The plot MacGuffin was that a billionaire lost $32 billion from an investment fund and had to find some “sucker” to replace it before the news got out and crashed the stock of the firm for which he managed it. By the end we find out who the sucker is, but while this is the “mystery” to be solved by the two protagonists (Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell), it never feels like the focus or driving force of the story – just a device around which the exploits of our two main characters can revolve. They focus on it right towards the end and that’s the end of it (you think).

But then the credits start to roll with 1960s style graphics and some overlaid text describing what a Ponzi scheme is with some simple 2D animation. From there they go on to start listing the biggest Ponzi schemes starting with the first major one from the 1920s(?) that cost investors $15MM and then on to Bernie Madoff and his $60+ billion. THEN it continues on comparing CEO/executive pay to the average worker in an elevator graphic showing the multiple back to the early 20th century (7X I think?) to present day with a dramatic pause where it jumps from 100X to 300X in the last few years (complete with images of CEOs as fat cats relaxing by the beach). Then on to the average person’s 401K value in the 1990s, to a couple of years ago, to today (huge drop, of course).

It was like being pummeled – as if the credits were designed by Michael Moore. On the bright side (I suppose) the credits also slammed the TARP bailouts.

What’s odd is that I really didn’t feel like there was much of a political slant in the film itself – you could either interpret Will Ferrell as the even-keeled, kind-hearted Liberal or the nice-on-the-surface yet repressed Conservative.

But the end credits… I could NOT believe the studio signed off on tacking something like this to the end of a comedy. If this had been at the end of Oliver Stone’s upcoming Wall Street 2 I wouldn’t have batted an eye, and it would have been very appropriate. But you’d think with a comedy they want people to walk out laughing and happy to recommend it to others – this will leave people walking out most likely angry, regardless of whether one is on the Left or the Right (for different reasons, I would think).

Leave a comment

Filed under Movies