Thursday, February 20, 2014
I do not own the above image. Copyright Tri-Star Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
Just going to say it: Peter Bart is a moron. Now, why in the world would I call Variety’s editor-in-chief and former Paramount Pictures executive a buffoon, joker, idiot, et cetera? In his post-Oscar nominations column, Bart posed the question: “Ever try toget a critic to smile?” I know what you're thinking: Why the typographical error? Well, dear reader, if you read Bart’s column here, you’ll see that that is how Bart asks the question.
But what you're really asking is if Bart is right. I wish I could say that’s a simple question to answer. I mean, if you ever join me for a movie once, you’ll know the answer is a definite YES. You saw THE LEGO MOVIE right? How does one not smile at the absurd humor of Legos™?
But Bart never brings that up. Bart’s argument is with critics groups and their awards. Two of the most acclaimed movies are 12 YEARS A SLAVE and INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS. Bart argues that audiences, and in turn Oscar voters, prefer uplifting & fun movies while critics “ respond…higher on technique than on entertainment value”. While it is true that the two movies I mentioned are wonderful on a technical level, are depressing at times and not blockbusters in any way shape or form ($52 million combined), the storytelling by the Coen Brothers is the best they have ever done and so near perfect that the viewer has ample opportunity to smile.
So, Mr. Bart, I took your advice and saw POMPEII, a movie made by a (supposed) crowd-pleasing director in Paul W.S. Anderson for purely popcorn-consumption purposes. What I actually saw was a two hour Gladiator-by-way-of-Pearl-Harbor bland, dumb rip-off.
Milo (Kit Harrington of ‘Game of Thrones’ fame) is an orphan child-slave-turned-gladiator from Rome-conquered Scotland. On his journey to Pompeii as a purchased gladiator, he serendipitously meets Cassia (Emily Browning), who herself is her way home to Pompeii, by mercy-killing one of her injured horses. Yes, a meet cute thanks to a dead horse. Once in Pompeii, Milo adjusts to life as a gladiator by being housed with African one-victory-until-free gladiator Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). Meanwhile, Cassia’s father is trying to finish a reconstruction deal with Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland). The cost: Cassia’s hand in marriage.
All this sounds (not) very interesting but what about the stuff that blows up real good? Well, over the course of movie, Mt. Vesuvius rumbles, grunts & groans, causing increasingly more damage that gets decreasingly more exciting. The entire third act focuses on the main eruption, where the action feels less like a volcanic eruption and more like the most expensive Mystery Science Theater 3000 alien invasion. All the while, the above stories have to be finished, by any means possible.
I must admit, I have never seen an episode of Game of Thrones but if Harrington is a main character, I may not want to wash. Granted, the script by the married writing team of Lee & Janet Scott Batchler w/ revisions by Michael Robert Johnson severely lacks in interest in the characters. But Harrington and (to a less extent) Browning aren’t that interesting on-screen to begin with and watching them try to convince the audience that their rich girl/slave boy love is real isn’t captivating.
Who’s supposed to smile during this? Maybe a teenager who has seen maybe 8 movies in his life, 5 of which being Adam Sandler comedies. Kiefer Sutherland was smiling, hamming it up for the camera, channeling his inner Donald Sutherland. Tri-Star Pictures hopes to be smiling from the box office grosses.
But, for once, Peter Bart is right. Film critics, for the most part, will not smile during or after POMPEII. POMPEII represents the cynicism of people like Mr. Bart who believe this is what audiences want. Expensive, underwhelming special effects. Pretty faces. Cookie cutter stories & dialogue. But some people will show up. People always do. But I guarantee you, Mr. Bart, most will not be smiling. There is little-to-nothing to smile about here.
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
I do not own the above image. Copyright Warner Bros. Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
There are times where a movie plays in front of me and my body does stuff that it normally doesn't do at the movies. Sometimes my mouth goes agape, amazed at what I’m seeing. Others I shift violently repeatedly in my seat, through fits of unease or boredom. And every once in a while, I have the urge to stand up & leave, only to realize I have a public service to tell you whether to see a movie or not. WINTER’S TALE performed the trifecta.
In 1916, orphan Peter Lake (Farrell) has pissed off his boss Pearly Soames (Crowe) for the final time. A professional thief, Lake goes off on his own, with a mysterious white horse as his companion. On one of his first jobs, he discovers & falls for Beverly Penn (Brown Findlay), the older daughter of a widowed newspaper publisher. Beverly is dying of tuberculosis and can’t physically love anyone. Will the two star-crossed lovers be able to consummate their new found love? Will Soames find & end Peter’s life first?
Sounds like a straight forward story, right? Too bad the marketing campaign is deceitful. That mysterious horse? It can fly and might be some sort Native American spirit. Mafioso Pearly Soames? He’s a demon whose job is to stop people’s miracles from occurring. The first scene of the movie? Peter Lake walking into modern-day Grand Central Station.
Based on Mark Helprin’s novel and adapted to the screen by Akiva Goldsman, WINTER’S TALE is, to put it simply, a mess. Right out of the gate, it makes no sense. If you are going to place mythical creatures or fantastical elements in a real world setting, you need to have a coherent set of rules. WINTER’S TALE neither has a set of rules nor is it coherent. Crowe’s Pearly Soames’ mythology is particularly confusing. He’s a demon yet he runs a crime syndicate. Was he once human? If he wasn’t, do his lackeys know? Are they demons too? He’s Peter’s boss. How long have they worked together, considering Peter is supposed to be 21? What pissed Soames off? The movie takes place in 1916 NYC. Do normal folks know of their existence? Do they live in fear of their hopes & dreams coming true if it means possibly being confronted by Soames and his ilk?
Similar questions arise throughout the secret, 45 minute third act that is not alluded to in any of the marketing. Lake is still alive in modern-day New York, still waiting for a miracle to happen. I won’t spoil it, but a few moments answer questions while still adding a few more.
WINTER’S TALE looks gorgeous at times. The $46 million budget had to go somewhere I guess. The only thrilling & interesting moment takes place in the dark with a superstar cameo that needs to be seen to be believed.
WINTER’S TALE reminded me of a failed cable television pilot extended to a full feature. It reminds us once again that, yes, Goldsman is responsible for the screenplays to LOST IN SPACE and BATMAN & ROBIN. During the end credits, my wife told me it reminded her of an episode of Supernatural. Well, that explains a lot!