By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, April 26, 2013 - 0 Comments
I’ve had an eye infection this week. I’ve been waking up with my eyelids glued shut. No wonder. Given some the movies I’ve been forced to endure lately, my eyeballs are finally saying, “Enough! Enough with the crap!” Can’t say I blame them.
This weekend’s box-office becomes a limbo-style race to the bottom as Pain and Gain and The Big Wedding compete to lower the bar for screwball comedy. And you know the wheels have come off Hollywood when you find yourself enjoying a Michael Bay movie about a trio of dimwit bodybuilders more than an all-star romantic comedy featuring Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, Robin Williams, Katherine Heigl, Amanda Seyfried and Topher Grace.
More about the big fat wedding later. First let’s look at Michael Bay’s attempt to make something—everything—other than a Michael Bay movie.
With Pain and Gain, Bay, the architect of such monumental shlock as Armageddon, Pearl Harbour and The Transformers franchise, takes a walk on the wild side. Working with a paltry $25 million budget, he is virtually slumming. And he’s made what for him amounts to a personal film, or at least a personal attempt to make the kind of film he hasn’t had time to make while destroying the world. The kind not ruled by robots or special effects. Continue…
By Jessica Allen - Monday, September 10, 2012 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
Director David O. Russell explains what crabby snacks are and Robert De Niro wore jeans
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, December 9, 2011 at 1:33 PM - 0 Comments
It’s a classic choice. You’re looking for an easy-going, no-brainer date movie. Everyone is raving about The Artist, including me. But it’s silent and black-and-white, and New Year’s Eve is beckoning with all those stars and shiny colours. You wonder if, just maybe, it could be a guilty pleasure. Stop!! Back away from the multiplex!! Don’t let the all-star cast fool you. The glitzy lure of New Year’s Eve, not unlike the night itself, is a trap. This regrettable confection is directed and produced by Garry Marshall, who also gave us Valentine’s Day, and the formula remains the same: movie as celebrity mix tape. Recruit as many stars as possible, throw them together in a gaudy holiday punch bowl of sentimental shlock, and wait for the box office to get high. But watching this movie was like going on a bender and mixing too many multi-coloured drinks. Usually I don’t mind watching bad movies. It’s my job, after all, and even the worst movies tend to offer some some bonbons of pleasure, guilty or not. But NYE, which takes place in NYC, is exceptionally toxic. Waiting for that ball to drop at Times Square felt like an effing eternity.
The script plays like the Hollywood casting version of a computer dating program. Continue…
By Colby Cosh, Jaime J. Weinman, and Richard Warnica - Monday, October 3, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
Miley gets political, the Pope gets stung and Julian Assange gets an autobiography he doesn’t want
No, they didn’t walk home
Two American hikers convicted of espionage in Iran were released after the sultan of Oman posted US$930,000 bail for them. Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal, 29-year-old pro-Palestine activists and former Berkeley classmates, were seized along with a female friend while on holiday in 2009; Iran claims they illegally crossed their border on foot. The woman, Sarah Shourd, Bauer’s fiancée, was freed last fall on medical grounds. Bauer and Fattal’s release, with both in apparent good health, is seen as a political victory for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over hardline clerics in the Islamic republic.
Only in France is having it and not flaunting it a crime. Last week, a court outside Paris fined two women for refusing to show their faces in public. Hind Ahmas and Najate Nait Ali were the ﬁrst Frenchwomen charged under a law that bans full facial coverings outside the home. Passed last spring, the ban was aimed, rather transparently, at France’s substantial Muslim minority. It may also have been an attempt by President Nicolas Sarkozy to shore up his vulnerable right flank. But if anything, the law has galvanized supporters of the niqab. Ahmas told reporters she intends to challenge her fine in the European Court of Human Rights—while Kenza Drider, who also wears the niqab, now says she intends to run against Sarkozy in the presidential election. “When a woman wants to maintain her freedom she must be bold,” Drider told the Associated Press.
By Brian D. Johnson - Sunday, May 22, 2011 at 4:35 PM - 1 Comment
Robert De Niro’s Cannes jury awarded the Palme d’Or to Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life this evening, although the notoriously reclusive director was, predictably, not on hand to accept it. “It was a difficult decision,” said De Niro, who said Malick’s picture had “the size, the importance, the tension that seemed to fit the prize.” He made it clear there was some dissension around the verdict, then hastily added it was not a compromise: “Most of us felt the movie was terrific.” The Tree of Life, which stars Brad Pitt as a strict father raising three sons in 1950s America, grafts a coming-of-age nostalgia piece onto a rapturous epic about the creation of the cosmos. It polarized critics in Cannes more severely than almost any other picture (I liked it).
Other films awarded included The Artist, a silent romantic comedy in black and white, which took best actor for Jean Dujardin’s wordless performance as a silent film star whose career is ruined by talkies; and Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, which won best actress for Kristen Dunst’s role as depressed bride coming terms with the imminent annihilation of the planet. In accepting her award, Dunst alluded to the controversy that dominated the final days of the festival, saying, “Wow! What a week it’s been.” She thanked the festival for “allowing our film still to be in competition” after Lars Von Trier was exiled for his inflammatory Nazi comments. De Niro said the decision to ban Von Trier from the festival had no influence on the jury’s decisions, or at least his own views about the film. And he trivialized the festival’s decision to ban Von Trier: “There was some little punishment for the director,” De Niro muttered. “He had to go away or something.”
Meanwhile, Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn won best director for Drive, starring Canada’s Ryan Gosling. It’s a smart, stylish, ultra-violent action art film. (This is an auteur who cites Texas Chainsaw Massacre as his favorite movie of all time.) Refn thanked Gosling generating the project and commissioning him—a relationship they’ve compared to Lee Marvin getting John Boormann to make Point Blank. Gosling told the press: “I’ve always wanted to make an action movie or a superhero movie, but I’m happy I did this film.” He added that he and Gosling will team up again next year in a remake of Logan’s Run. “Next time we’ll do a real Hollywood movie. Let’s get into bed with [producer] Joel Silver, because that’s the ultimate bang.” Look out. A new action hero is on the loose, and he’s Canadian.
Two films shared the second place Grand Jury Prize: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, an agonizingly slow drama by Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan, and The Kid With A Bike, another neo-realist gem by Belgium’s Dardenne brothers, previous Palme d’Or winners. The third place Jury Prize went to actor-director Maïwenn Le Besco for Poliss, a raucous drama set in a police youth protection unit investigating pedophile crimes. Running to the stage on stilettos, she gave a breathless speech so endless and tearful and over the top it sounded like she was trying to achieve orgasm, rather than accepting bronze. Israeli filmmaker Joseph Cedar won the screenplay award for Footnote, his ingenious and strangely thrilling tale of rival father-son Talmudic scholars—one of my favorites. Finally, the Camera d’Or, awarded to best feature debut by a separate jury, went to Les Acacias, by Pablo Gioregellli, an entry in the Critics Week sidebar that managed to escape me.
The most universally loved film that somehow failed to get a prize was Aki Kaurismaki’s Le Havre, a quiet masterpiece that I guess was too modest to impress the jury. It’s also noteworthy that This Must Be the Place—featuring a stunt performance by Sean Penn in full make-up as a retired rock star—came up empty-handed. “I thought Sean Penn was terrific in it,” offered De Niro, who seemed to have settled on “terrific” as the consolation adjective, “but we as a group had to decide.” Whenever De Niro spoke, he hummed and hawed, as if incarnating the jury’s indecision, while affecting so many of his classic shrug/grimaces it looked like he was imitating himself.
When pushed at the press conference, Jude Law, one of the jury members, listed a bunch of other films that were favourably discussed, including Sleeping Beauty, Le Havre, Pater and Papus Habemus. “And the Pedro Almodovar film,” piped up fellow jury member Uma Thurman. Which left just seven of the 20 features in competition unawarded or unmentioned.
The ceremony itself didn’t break from tradition. It’s always an awkward amateurish affair, the glaring exception to a festival that is organized with military precision the rest of the week. The highlight was watching De Niro fracture the French language, with phrases like “Nous avons décidé the best we could” and “J’espère que c’est okay.”
By Brian D. Johnson - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 4:27 PM - 1 Comment
Day One at the Cannes Film Festival is jam-packed. We begin with a press screening for the opening night gala, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, followed by three back-to-back press conferences. The French used to believe in lunch. Hey, it’s a new world. Woody explains how he struggled to come up with a script to match his title, Midnight in Paris; then Bernardo Bertolucci, recipient of an honorary Palme D’Or, mused fondly about Last Tango in Paris; finally we had our ritual audience with the Cannes jury, whose president, Robert De Niro, was about as responsive as a waiter in Paris, as he lived up to his legendary capacity to say absolutely nothing in as few words as possible.
Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, by the way, didn’t show. The French First Lady, who has a recurring cameo in Allen’s film as an amiable tour guide, sent her regrets. When Allen was asked how he came to cast her, he said, “One morning I was just having breakfast with the Sarkozys and she walked into the room and she was very beautiful and very charming and charismatic. I said ‘Would you like to be in a movie? A small role, just for fun.’ She said I would like to be in one of your movies because I’d like to tell my grandchildren one day I was in the movie.’ She was everything I hoped she would be. She’s not a lawyer or a diplomat even though she’s married to a political man. She’s from a show business background. She came in and did the part very gracefully. It was fun. It was a nice experience for her, I’m happy to say. She was very happy with how the film came out and very happy with the way the cameramen filmed her.”
We never got to ask Woody how he just happened to be having breakfast with the Sarkozys.
For Woody Allen, Cannes is by now almost as familiar as Manhattan. Midnight in Paris, his 44nd movie, is his fifth to open the festival. Like Vicky Cristina Barcelona, it’s another postcard-pretty valentine of auteur tourism, with Americans falling into foreign hands, though it lacks the character work (or fireworks) of VCB. But it was warmly received here. With its unabashed francophilia, it could have been made for Cannes, and who knows, maybe it was. Midnight in Paris is, quite proudly, a mere bagatelle, a lightly satirical conjuring of 1920s Paris, set in the context of a crumbling 2010 marriage between two well-heeled American tourists, Gil (Owen Wilson) and Inez (Rachel McAdams). Time travel makes it happen.
Wilson’s naturally disingenuous, slightly stammery delivery makes him a perfect Allen surrogate. McAdams, who has a habit of being consistently better than her material, shines in an unsympathetic role as his nagging fiancé—Canada’s sweetheart is cast against type as a Republican who’s overly impressed by their shallow friend, pedantic know-it-all played by Michael Sheen. Wilson plays a familiar Allen protogonist, a frustrated novelist who worships the past and is aching to escape the hackdom of Hollywood screenwriting success. He deserts Inez and her friends each each night to walk the streets of Paris—where at the stroke of midnight he’s magically spirited away into the émigré salon-monde of the ‘20s. He mingles with the likes of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dali, Buñuel, Picasso and Gertrude Stein, and falls for a dreamy Marion Cotillard, the next best thing to Edith Piaf. Aside from the abrasive chemistry between Wilson and McAdams, the movie’s pleasure lies in its greatest hits parade of coy cameo impersonations, from Alison Pill’s Zelda Fitzgerald to Adrien Brody’s Salvador Dali. Around every burnished corner of this closeted period film is a fresh surprise. Welcome to Woody Tussaud’s House of Wax.
Allen has become a casting virtuoso. He can get Oscar winners like Brody, Cotillard and Katherine Bates to fill out minor roles. But at the press conference he positively gushed about landing Owen Wilson: “Owen is the opposite of me. I’m very Manhattan, very East Coast. Owen is very West Coast. He personifies that in his whole demeanour. He’s relaxed and he’s a beach lover and this gives the character an enormous dimension that I could never have given it, nor could I have written it for another actor.”
I asked Allen if Wilson’s rom-com romance with McAdams in Wedding Crashers had anything to do with him pairing them again. “I’d seen Rachel in a film with Owen years ago,” he said, as if the title escaped him, “and I thought she was sensational. She was beautiful and sexy and funny and a wonderful actress, and I wanted to work with her. And the opportunity came up. I didn’t like the fact that they had worked together before. That was a negative to me. I figured people will think, ‘Oh, it’s Owen and Rachel again.’ But I felt there’s nothing I could do about it. They’re both great and I want them both. I wanted to get Rachel at any cost, and I was very lucky to get Owen. I’ve always been lucky with casting. The truth in casting is to hire great people, let them do what they do, don’t interfere with them too much, and then when they’re great, take credit for it. I’ve done this for many years and it works like a charm.”
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, March 18, 2011 at 2:17 PM - 1 Comment
In the aftermath of the awards season, we scan the bleak horizon of new releases as if looking for signs of spring in frozen ground. Slim pickings. But this week boasts a surprisingly decent crop, and something for every taste. A scintillating Bradley Cooper is wired on super smart drugs and spars with Robert De Niro in Limitless; Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbinder breathe fresh life into the classic bones of Jane Eyre; and Seth Rogen brings his gruff charm to the role of chain-smoking, superannuated E.T. in Paul, opposite Brit buddies Simon Pegg and Nick Frost .
Paul is the weakest of the three films, a forced marriage between sharp English wit and the broad overkill of SNL sketch comedy. But even though this ramshackle road movie is less than the sum of its gags, there are ample laughs, while Pegg and Frost (who wrote the script) have some priceless moments as comic book nerds agog in the redneck wilds of America. For more on Paul, go to my video review.
Limitless, meanwhile, is an unadulterated blast. Rising star Bradley Cooper (The Hangover) makes a meal of his first leading role, cast as Eddie, a down-and-out writer who stumbles across a miracle drug—a transparent little pill that harnesses 100 per cent of his brain power and makes him super-smart. Eddie finishes his book in days, learns to play the piano overnight, masters foreign languages in a flash, and embarks on a business plan to conquer Wall Street. In his pharma-fueled rampage, there’s more than an echo of the ’80s cocaine craze that made various masters of the universe feel invincible, but the dream drug in Limitless, called NZT, seems vastly superior to any of its recreational antecedents. NZT won’t make you high; it just makes you “clear.” It seems like the perfect drug—as long as your stash doesn’t run dry—then things get nasty. Limitless is the kind of drug-porn flick that carries a vicarious kick. You can’t help but think: “I’ll have what he’s having.” And behind the quick wit and instant gratification lies the hot pulse of a crime movie—it has the ingenuity of soft-core Tarantino as various gangsters battle to control the NZT supply in a quest for world domination.
This brain candy fantasy is directed with eye-candy flair by Neil Burger (The Illusionist), who turns the camera into an omniscient space arm for Eddie’s quicksilver mind. But big credit goes to screenwriter Leslie Dixon (Hairspray, The Thomas Crown Affair). Her whip-smart script, adapted from a novel called Dark Fields, races along like a house-on-fire wit, convincing us that Eddie is as miraculously smart as he’s supposed to be. Her dialogue raises everyone’s game, including Robert De Niro’s. He’s cast as an old-school tycoon who uses Eddie’s wizardry to finesse a historic merger. De Niro has been on cruise control for years, but here he suddenly seems engaged, challenged.
Although Limitless is very much a guy movie—about men trying to stoke their unlimited ambition with an unlimited fuel supply—Abbie Cornish, who shone in the underrated Bright Star, makes the most of an underwritten role as Eddie’s love interest. As for Bradley Cooper, he’s made his career playing cold-blooded alpha males, kinda like an American Christian Bale. Here he’s cast in a heroic, sympathetic role, but the unnatural glare of those electric blue eyes animates the story’s Faustian theme with an ungodly glint of ambition.
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, March 18, 2011 at 8:00 AM - 3 Comments
The industry that has always liked its superheroes simple has had a brainstorm
If there was a pill that would make you super-smart, would you take it? Sure you would. I’d pop one right now if it would help me find my way to the next sentence a little faster. That’s what happens to the protagonist of Limitless, an ingenious new thriller about mind-doping. Eddie Mora (Bradley Cooper) is a deadbeat author crippled by writer’s block. He runs into an old acquaintance who slips him a designer drug called NZT, a transparent little pill that’s like Viagra for the brain. It’s said we use just 20 per cent of our grey matter; this pill activates the remaining 80. With instant access to his brain’s entire data bank, and all neurons firing at warp speed, Eddie finishes his book in a flash, learns new languages overnight, masters martial arts, seduces women with blinding charm, and cooks up wily algorithms to become a Wall Street wizard—brokering the biggest corporate merger in history with a crusty old-school tycoon (Robert De Niro). As with most drug trips, there’s a downside: the movie begins with a flash-forward of Eddie perched on the ledge of a skyscraper, about to jump, with a trail of dead bodies behind him.
Harnessing a magic bullet to conquer the world is a fantasy older than Faust. But Hollywood traditionally favours the muscular variety. It likes its blockbusters dumb, its superheroes simple. Genius is always suspect, the stuff of psychopaths and mad scientists. Even Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man has to gird his brilliance in a clunky suit of robotic armour. Lately, however, the movies have become infatuated with the notion of pure brain power. Last year’s most ballyhooed summer blockbuster was Inception, Christopher Nolan’s twisty thriller about spies who use their mental prowess to invade dreams. And 2010′s most critically acclaimed hit was The Social Network, in which teen egghead Mark Zuckerberg outflanks Harvard’s jocks to create Facebook. (Portrayed as the Marco Polo of geeks, he’s as much villain as hero. But in a jiu-jitsu feat of media spin, the real-life Zuckerberg used the movie as a foil, emerging as a philanthropic crusader while airbrushing his image on Oprah and Saturday Night Live.)
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, October 15, 2010 at 9:30 AM - 0 Comments
Hallowe’en is still two weeks away, but there’s a lot of weird stuff going on at the movies this weekend. Matt Damon sees dead people in Hereafter, Helen Mirren fires a machine gun in RED, Robert De Niro goes mano-a-mano with Edward Norton in Stone, and John Lennon discovers his mother in Nowhere Boy. My favorite of these three movies happens to be the smallest—Nowhere Boy, which dramatizes a narrow but crucial slice of John Lennon’s life as troubled teen, just before the formation of the Beatles, when he’s torn between the aunt who raised him and the mother who abandoned him. The other films are loaded with Oscar-pedigree talent, but they’re a mixed bag:
Hereafter is a well-crafted curiosity. In this ruminative drama about life beyond the grave, Clint Eastwood flexes some metaphysical muscle and shows that, at the age of 80, an old dog can still learn some new tricks. The story, scripted by Peter Morgan (The Queen), interweaves stories of three unrelated characters in three countries, whose fates inevitably mesh in the final act—an American psychic trying to hide his powers from the world (Matt Damon), a French anchorwoman who survives a near-death experience in a tsunami (Cécile De France), and an English boy trying to contact his twin brother from beyond the grave. Whether or not this three-ply narrative works is debatable, but the film is highly watchable, luxuriously composed, and (aside from the spectacular scene of the tsunami) distinguished by its subdued tone, which marks a radical departure from the melodramatic torque of Eastwood’s recent movies. Next to RED, which exploits the novelty of geezers kicking ass, the thoughtful modesty of Hereafter, a movie by the granddad of ass-kicking geezers, seems refreshingly mature, if unsatisfying. For more on Eastwood’s movie, go to my story in this week’s magazine: Matt Damon sees dead people.
Directed by Robert Schwentke (Flightplan, The Time Traveller’s Wife), Red is an action comedy about an eccentric crew of CIA retirees, and while there’s no question that it “works,” at least on its own terms, it struck me as an extravagant waste of time. Based on a cult graphic novel from DC Comics (is there no end to cult graphic novels?), it’s about a retired group of elite secret agents who are forced out of retirement when their former employer, the CIA, targets them for assassination. Apparently, they know too much. Led by a hard-core operative named Frank (Bruce Willis), they get the band back together, go on the run, and set about exposing a massive conspiracy. Along for the ride is an innocent civilian (Mary Louise Parker), who is taken hostage by the amorous Frank in a screwball scenario that resembles the one in Knight and Day.
For the movie’s troupe of serious actors (Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, Mary Louise Parker, Rebecca Pidgeon) Red‘s blockbuster sandbox seems an excuse to goof off. They appear to be having a blast slumming with Bruce, chewing scenery and brandishing machine guns. Helen Mirren devours her role as an aging Mata Hari with evident relish—when you’re too old to be a Bond girl, Red must seem heaven-sent. And she’s by far the best thing in the movie. But the over-amped conceit of grumpy old spies soon wears thin. Malkovich is especially grating as a bug-eyed paranoiac. After over-acting his way through Secretariat as a preposterous Québécois speaking bogus French, this once lethal actor seems in danger of debasing his currency with compulsive mugging. And although his performance is beyond the pale, he’s emblematic of a syndrome that affects the entire cast. Each actor seems lost in his or her own movie, and they seem to be having more fun than the audience.
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, December 3, 2009 at 8:00 AM - 4 Comments
A critic explains why he sat dry-eyed in ‘Titanic’ but wept with De Niro in ‘Everybody’s Fine’
Robert De Niro and I had a good little cry together the other day, which came as a bit of a shock. He’s not the kind of guy you’d expect it from. Neither am I. But I should have seen it coming. The occasion was a screening of De Niro’s new movie, Everybody’s Fine, a Hollywood remake of Stanno tutti bene (1990), starring Marcello Mastroianni. De Niro plays a retired blue-collar worker who lives alone and tries to reunite with his grown children eight months after his wife’s death. They fail to show up for a holiday dinner, so he sets off on an impromptu train trip to surprise them, visiting each in turn. But he is the one who’s in for a surprise. Turns out everybody is not fine. I saw the film at a press screening with a gang of jaded critics, and you could hear them sniffling in the dark. Which is a rare thing.
Actors like to say that tragedy is easy and comedy is hard. But from where I sit, it’s often the other way around. As a critic, it’s dead easy to figure out if comedy works because it triggers a physical response. When a movie makes you laugh out loud, you can’t really turn around and claim it’s not funny. Even thrillers have a visceral impact, as your stomach clenches or a chill runs down your spine. But the impact of tragedy isn’t always so tangible. I don’t know about you, but at the movies, as in life, I find it much easier to laugh than cry. It’s not that I remain emotionally aloof. I can be deeply moved by grand tragedy—pictures like Schindler’s List, Titanic and The English Patient—but hardly ever weep when I’m supposed to. Then I’ll be watching some dumb romantic comedy, stubbornly resisting the formula, only to be ambushed by tears when the guy finally declares his love for the girl after chasing her down in an airport or train station. What’s up with that?
Well, I have a theory or two. In a theatre, laughter is public and, unless you’re bawling like a baby, crying is private. The cinema is just about the only place I can cry—it’s safe, dark and cheaper than therapy. Even so, the conditions have to be perfect. Surprise is key: the tears have to sneak up on me. That’s why banal romantic comedies work. As I become disengaged and start to daydream, my emotional defences drop. Take The Proposal. After I’d become convinced the movie was dreck, in the final act, like clockwork, my eyes moistened as Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock made good on their marriage of convenience. But my heart was really going out to the actors, who rose above the cliché of their own typecasting to generate genuine chemistry. Continue…
By Ian Halperin - Friday, June 12, 2009 at 12:20 PM - 0 Comments
‘Everything you wanted was available at Guy’s parties— drugs, the best music, the wildest sex’
Laliberté’s annual Grand Prix party in Montreal every June attracted A-listers from all over the world. The Sunday night after the big Formula One race, Laliberté would host a bash at his sprawling mansion in Saint-Bruno that would usually end up lasting a few days. It became the highlight of the year for the world’s jet set crowd. Years later, Laliberté had to move the party to an airport base because of recurring complaints by neighbours about the incredible noise level and wild partying. Everyone who attended was awed.
“I have attended the finest parties all over the world, but nothing that compares to this,” says Myra Jones, a Milan-based fashion model who experienced several of Laliberté’s parties. “Everything you wanted was available at Guy’s parties—drugs, the best music spun by famous DJs flown in from Europe and the U.S.A., and the wildest sex you could ever imagine.”
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, October 30, 2008 at 4:23 PM - 0 Comments
Having just read ‘Why I Blog‘, Andrew Sullivan’s nicely crafted piece in The Atlantic—explaining how blogging must be uncrafted and reckless because it’s typing as live performance, the extreme sport of written journalism—I will try to remind myself not to craft my online reviews as if the fate of our culture depended on it, and try to stream some stream ‘o consciousness criticism. At least for today. Because I’m in a hurry. And as I understand it, online that’s a good thing.
When I see films at festivals, sometimes I have to see them again to refresh my memory or calibrate my opinion, while trying to remain true to first impressions, which are valuable. I saw Zack and Miri Make a Porno at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and What Just Happened? at the Cannes Film Festival in May. They’re both satirical comedies about filmmaking of a sort, but from opposite corners of the industry. Robert De Niro and Seth Rogen would appear to have much in common, but both play amiable losers trying to make movies while their lives are in a shambles. And my feelings about both films fall into that netherworld of opinion dreaded by critics and readers alike: indifference.
Zack and Miri Make a Porno, a Kevin Smith comedy starring lovely Elizabeth Banks and cuddly Canadian stoner dude Seth Rogen, is quite forgettable. I know this because, even though I saw it barely two months ago, it has gone right out of my head. I suppose I should make an effort to see it again, so that I could figure out exactly why it was so forgettable, but it was memorable enough that I’m really in no hurry to repeat the experience. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, October 30, 2008 at 12:00 AM - 0 Comments
A showbiz satire starring De Niro as a veteran who’s losing his grip is all too close to home
It was a shock to see Robert De Niro and Al Pacino do the Top 10 list on Letterman last month. Seated in clubby leather armchairs against a backdrop of books, like a couple of old coots presenting Masterpiece Theatre, they took turns rhyming off “The Top 10 Reasons I Like Being an Actor.” They were promoting Righteous Kill, a formula cop thriller that would come and go with barely a ripple. The bit was amusing enough. But it was as if they’d decided the only way to salvage some dignity from their latest paycheque movie was to submit to a self-deprecating send-up of themselves sliding into their dotage. (De Niro had the best line: “If you do a scene where you’re eating pudding, they often let you keep the pudding.”) It was all rather sad. Not so long ago, it was a huge deal to see these two titans of the method share a scene together for the first time, in Heat (1995). Now they’re reduced to talk-show shtick.
Last year in a GQ interview, director Francis Ford Coppola, who had worked with De Niro and Pacino in their prime on The Godfather movies, accused them, along with Jack Nicholson, of getting lazy and playing it safe. “They all live off the fat of the land,” he said. There’s a tradition of decadence and apathy among American acting legends, from Orson Welles to Marlon Brando. But despite frittering away his pedigree with dumb comedies like Meet the Fockers and Analyze That, De Niro has retained some of his mystique. That’s because, unlike Al and Jack, he’s not a natural ham bone. His default mode is stoical reserve, as if he’s put his talent away for safe-keeping. And he has a permanent air of world-weary resignation that suggests the good roles have deserted him rather than vice versa.
These days, with his Tribeca Film Center, De Niro is more of a producer and real-estate honcho who acts on the side. He seems to have lost his passion for it. But in his new movie, What Just Happened?, he gives his most appealing performance in some time, and that may be because he’s playing a frustrated producer. For once, De Niro is not squandering his pedigree so much as lamenting the state of a commercially driven industry that has made it irrelevant.
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, May 27, 2008 at 6:21 PM - 0 Comments
So in the end, how was Cannes? As I’m writing this, at 36,000 ft. somewhere above Greenland, I realize I’ll need a response for that question by the time I get back. The short answer: the weather sucked, and it wasn’t a banner year for films, but there were some good ones. They still need time to settle. As much as critics grumble about the quality of the films when we’re racing around the festival, by the end of the year, they’re usually starting to look pretty good. Some final reflections: Continue…