Posted: November 25th, 2009 | Filed under:Uncategorized | Comments Off
When I first learned Wes Anderson’s latest project would be an adaptation of a children’s book, I initially thought, “I’m not sure kids will appreciate characters with father issues.” The emotional arc of his prior work is too neurotic for young’un consumption (The Darjeeling Limited in particular). I felt a gnawing concern Fantastic Mr. Fox would bore children at best, terrorize them at worst. Much to my surprise, Anderon crafted a superb children’s movie, one that rivals Up as the year’s best. There’s plenty of entertainment for adults, and Anderson fans will easily embrace the quirky stop-motion animation. Here is a Thanksgiving movie both your niece and cranky uncle can enjoy.
Don’t be fooled by the corduroy double-breasted jacket. Mr. Fox (George Clooney) is a creature who remains true to his nature. Sure, he goes through the motions of his newspaper columnist job – that’s all to appease Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep). What Mr. Fox really wants is the opportunity to steal chickens. The foul in question belong to Boggis, Bunce, and Bean (Michael Gambon), the meanest, most ruthless farmers around. With the help of Kylie the opossum (Wallace Wolodarsky) and nephew Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson), Fox steals chickens en masse, bandit masks in tow. Fox’s clumsy son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) is forbidden to come along, yet the boy stubbornly makes a mask out of a sock, and becomes an accessory. At first Fox is happy he can finally fulfill his primal need. Little does he know the farmers have their own plan. Through fearsome technology, Bean and his cohorts systematically destroy the homes of Fox, as well as neighbors Badger (Bill Murray) and Weasel (Wes Anderson). Fox has no choice but to rouse his fellow creatures for a final epic showdown.
I’ve never read the original Roald Dahl book, though I’m certain Anderson and co-screenwriter Noah Baumbach capture the author’s unsentimentality and general loathing of adults. Fantastic Mr. Fox does not condescend to children. There’s no attempt to sugarcoat a character’s motives, and sometimes their actions have brutal consequences. I suspect most kids will identify with Ash best. With optimistic resignation, Schwartman genuinely sounds like a child, and besides, who doesn’t remember feeling excluded by the cool kids?
What’s most remarkable, however, is how Anderson’s filmmaking sensibility translates so well into this material. In his previous features, Anderson somewhat defined his characters through their fashion (eg, Chas Tenenbaum’s tracksuit, Zissou’s red cap and speedo). In a kids movie, such easily identifiable outfits ensure children will more-or-less follow the plot. Anderson is also fond of long horizontal tracking shots, so here the camera flows similarly to how a reader might relish an illustrated book. The dialogue is also full of repeated lines and offbeat humor. Kids won’t appreciate Fox’s pontification, yet there are enough sight gags for young and old alike. All the actors bring enthusiasm to their roles. The familiar voices of Gambon, Murray, and Streep resolutely embody Fox’s world. A veteran like Wolodarsky meekly fits in. At the center of it all is Clooney, who speaks with the overconfident zeal of a genuine hustler.
With Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson realizes his potential as a unique visual storyteller. Using oversaturated browns and yellows, the animation is otherworldly but not alienating, striking but not beautiful, warm but not cute. The rigid movement the characters amplifies the artifice, yet I couldn’t stop admiring the clever visuals. All around the crowded theater, I saw smiling adults and children jumping in their seats. Few children’s movies accomplish such a feat unless they also employ some sentimentality. Yes, Anderson has a loyal fan base who will always adore his every move. I therefore suspect Fantastic Mr. Fox may become his first universally-beloved classic. Oh, and don’t fret, music lovers! As always, Anderson peppers his movie with hits from the sixties, and there’s even a Britpop cameo.
Posted: November 24th, 2009 | Filed under:Uncategorized | Comments Off
Since the success of No Country for Old Men, filmmakers and studios renewed interest in Cormac McCarthy’s seemingly un-adaptable fiction. And just in time for Thanksgiving, The Roadtells the story of a father and son struggling to survive in a dreary post-apocalyptic hellscape. Along the way, they encounter marauders, cannibals, and above all starvation. In some ways, The Road is the most challenging McCarthy novel to adapt. It’s written with esoteric prose, and a highly episodic structure.
Director John Hillcoat is nonetheless a good match for the material. His previous effort, The Proposition, was partially inspired by Blood Meridian, another McCarthy novel. The Road was slated for a 2008 release, but delayed so the final cut could match Hillcoat’s vision. The result is a powerful experience, one that should not be considered lightly. A few weeks ago, I had the chance to talk with Hillcoat about The Road, and what McCarthy thought of the final cut.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
How closely does The Road’s final cut resemble what you imagined as you read the book for the first time?
Oh, God. When I read the book, it wasn’t a concrete finished film. At that point, I just had an emotional reaction it. I started to imagine [the film] – it was all coming alive in my head. But I didn’t know about Kodi Smit-McPhee, Robert Duvall, or Guy Pearce. Viggo Mortensen did come at an early stage, but even as I read it, I had no sense of the final cast. That’s too big a leap. In terms of capturing the feel of the book, I’m pretty happy with the film. Still, it becomes something else when different people come in, and you go to the location. Anything you imagine will be always be different than the physical reality. I’m not weaseling out [of your question], that’s just a tough one.
What challenges did you face in adapting the novel?
The book’s episodic nature was a real challenge. It worried me. Then again, when you distill it down, there are key turning points. Beneath [the book's episodic nature], there’s a strong and simple story about a father and son. It starts with the father as the teacher, and then the son becomes the teacher. There is a clear shift, a clear journey. They come against clear and dramatic obstacles. Even though the book is episodic, there’s a real narrative structure. In a book, repetition can be an amazing rhythm in your head, bouncing around for dozens of pages. On film, the repetition is magnified by one hundred. Because it’s physicalized, the audience is eager to move on. A book has a different sort of head space. The original script encompasses a lot more. The movie started at four and a half hours. We had to boil it down to its essence. As soon as things felt repetitious, they had to go. In a real pragmatic way, that’s all we did.
Will any extra scenes be included on the DVD?
Yes. We will include whole chunks. Some of the scenes were left out because I felt they may have been misinterpreted. There’s a certain graphic scene in the book I fought like hell to put in. I said, “Look, if we’re going into this film, we can’t shy away from anything.” I ended up fighting like hell to have it removed. At that point in the film, the scene was totally redundant. It took focus away from the old man, and how the father and son swapped roles. The scene took us back to the beginning of the film. Visualizing the scene in your head, it had a taboo power. On film, it’s like, “Give me a break.” Really, it took the spotlight away from the film’s central relationship.
The scene with the thief crystallized the father/son role reversal. What do you think Michael K. Williams brought to the role of the thief?
Well, I loooove The Wire. Let me digress for one second. HBO and television have gone to a place that’s beyond television and beyond cinema. Anyway, cut to Michael K. Williams. He’s an extraordinary actor – very versatile. What he brought was a specific persona. Garret Dillahunt, for example, personifies a rural, white trash feel. His inspiration was Deliverance. And what Michael K brought, even though it was out in Lake Erie, was a guy with an urban sensibility. It brought in this whole dimension of people moving around, trying to survive and make ends meet. Also, the initial fierceness of his reaction was something he completely brought to the role. Then as the kid pleads with his father not to kill him, you see a real transition into vulnerability. He brought that whole dynamic shift in an original, visceral way.
How collaborative are you with composers Nick Cave and Warren Ellis?
Very. We go back a long way. I’ve known Nick Cave since I was teenager. He’s scored every film I’ve worked on, and he’s written for me. And I’ve worked on Nick’s music projects. Warren Ellis is one of Nick’s great collaborators, so I’ve also developed a relationship with him. We start talking about the score sometimes even before there’s script. That’s how Nick Cave got to write The Proposition. We talked so much about this score for an outback Western. We were both fed up with the time it was taking to write the screenplay, so I asked him to give it a try. It’s a very organic collaboration because it starts so early. There’s preparation and discussion, of course, then they watch the film afresh. I don’t show them rushes or anything. That’s what they react to, and that’s when the score takes shape. It’s an unusual process – nothing like the way films are traditionally scored.
Has Cormac McCarthy seen the movie?
Oh, yeah. A few times!
What did he think?
Well, I am a huge fan of his. Blood Meridian was the main influence on The Proposition. In our first conversation, he helped release the burden from me. He understands the difference between a book and a film. He didn’t ask for a script, I didn’t volunteer one. He said, “I’m just here to help in any way.” He came to set with his son, who was calling him, “Papa.” [McCarthy's son] clearly co-wrote the book. It was all building to this point where we’d show him the film. It was a nerve wracking experience. Joe Penhall, the screenwriter, and I flew to New Mexico and showed it to him. The lights came up, he mumbled something about going to the bathroom, and he disappeared for, like, twenty minutes. Joe and I thought, “That’s it. We’re finished. We’ve jumped off the cliff and we’re gonna smash to pieces.” Then he came back and said he loved it. We had a seven hour lunch, and he drove us to the airport in his old, beat-up Cadillac. He didn’t miss anything from the novel other than four lines of dialogue.
What were those lines?
The boy asks, “What would you do if I died?”
Then the father says, “I’d want to die, too, so you could be with me.”
“So I could be with you?”
“So I could be with you.”
It was a beautiful thing to say, and prefigures what’s to come. You know, there’s a reversal later in the dialogue. He also helped with the voice over. He’s so precise – his notes talked about single words. He didn’t miss the fetus scene or any of that stuff. He recognized the movie worked in its stripped-down form. Yeah, he’s seen it a couple of times. I’m going to San Antonio tomorrow to spend the day with him. It’s humbling because I know The Road is such a personal book for McCarthy.
Given the movie’s oppressive tone, what was the mood like on set?
A lot of black humor. Whenever possible, the whole crew encouraged Kodi to behave like a kid. The locals thought we were in insane because we’d be cursing the good weather. There was a lot of perversion, which is what you’d expect.
Sure. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me!
Posted: November 20th, 2009 | Filed under:Uncategorized | Comments Off
The “watch test” is one of the simpler, more reliable metrics I use to determine whether a movie is any good. A bad movie will typically cause me to check my watch within the first hour of its start time. Conversely, a movie is pretty damn awesome if it prevents me from checking my watch at all. I share this with you because I checked my watch within the first thirty minutes of Chris Weitz’s New Moon. I imagine those who cherish Stephenie Meyer’s books will find the experience rapturous, especially since they’ll know precisely what the characters are thinking. I haven’t read the books, so I found its plot perplexing and its character development absurd. Twilight is by no means great, but it eased you into its world, and thereby provided a context for novices. New Moon, on the other hand, would be better if Weitz pasted Meyer’s writing into the frame. It’s the dullest teenage romance I’ve ever seen.
You better have watched Twilight five bazillion times because New Moon wastes no time with back story. Bella (Kristen Stewart) and her 109-year old vampire boyfriend Edward (Robert Pattinson) are in love as ever. She just turned 18, so mortality weighs heavily on her mind. At her birthday party, another vampire gets a little too aggressive with the bloodlust. Edward protects her, and inadvertently causes some collateral damage. As a result, Edward takes Bella to the woods, whereupon he delivers devastating news: he’s leaving town, and can never see his love again. The abrupt break-up renders Bella catatonic for months, and only American Indian Jacob (Taylor Lautner) can pick up the pieces. Of course, once they develop feelings for each other, Jacob also says he can never see Bella again (at least he’s staying in town). This is all too much for Bella, who attempts suicide. And now, through some bizarre telepathy, Edward erroneously believes Bella is dead. This is all too much for Edward, so he wants to kill himself so he heads to Italy so the Head Vampire Guy can kill him but before that he has to…
Fuck it, this is all too much. Bella reunites with Edward at the last moment. Oh, and Jacob becomes a werewolf.
I thought Chris Weitz would be a good match for this project. He worked on the American Pie movies, so he has some idea on how an exaggerated universe can symbolize teenage sexual hysteria. Yet he fails to capture any tension, dramatic or otherwise, and every tragic scene is tediously inert. The actors aren’t much help – they cannot find new ways to express the single emotion required of them. Halfheartedly Pattinson glowers, Stewart pouts, and Lautner broods. Even a talented character actor like Michael Sheen fails to find compelling dimensions for his character.
Weitz must have seen the shortcomings of his cast because he substitutes acting with eye candy. The male leads are frequently shirtless (the audience at the screening, mostly tweens, swooned each time this happened). Come to think of it, New Moon certainly looks great, and the special effects are impressive. Either way, it is pointless to jazz up the story with CGI wolves and slow motion battle – without characters to root for, the action amounts to little more than calisthenics. Perhaps my aggravation is on an institutional level. I cannot fathom why an immortal would find a teenage girl appealing. Yes, I know Twilight devotees can fill the missing holes, and that’s precisely the problem. It is difficult to make a movie with an omniscient narrator, so here the audience must do the heavy lifting. For those not in the know, New Moon amounts to little more than attractive actors staring intently. That’s not even enough material for a thirty second commercial.
It’s no coincidence Edward is able to recite Romeo and Juliet on command. Meyers and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg want Shakespeare’s famed couple in the back of their audience’s mind. But unlike the titular star-crossed lovers, Edward and Bella are incapable of joy, and are limited by the inadequate vocabulary of the typical American adolescent. Next time Rosenberg should deepen the Shakespeare resemblance by giving the actors soliloquies. At least they’ll have more to do than look as bored as I was.
Posted: November 18th, 2009 | Filed under:Uncategorized | Comments Off
It’s difficult to describe Tommy Wiseau’s The Room to a novice. To categorize the movie as merely bad is to do it a disservice. It is transcendentally inept, a movie so amateurish it should be required viewing for anyone brave enough to endure. At first you merely think it is funny, like a dumb youtube video, and then the horror sets in. You realize The Room lasts for 99 minutes. Desperation is both inevitable and necessary. While watching it, you’re in awe of how a director could so drastically misunderstand human behavior, and how others could think such a movie would be a good idea. By the end, you’re thankful for the experience, and perhaps a stronger person for how you persevered.
Needless to say, such a cathartic movie has gained a cult following. Since its 2003 release, die hard fans of The Room piled into midnight screenings. There are even communal rituals that make the viewing experience marginally less taxing (the Onion AV Club provides a helpful Viewer’s Guide to The Room). Not a moment too soon, The Room makes its way to E Street, with midnight screenings on November 27 & 28, as well as Dec 4 & 5.
When I was offered a chance to interview writer/director/star Tommy Wiseau, I jumped at the opportunity. He’s on the short list of directors who helmed a true-blue cult classic. Certainly someone capable of writing The Room is a bit idiosyncratic. Wiseau is cagey about his personal life, and scheduling the interview was a bizarre process. He requested a list of questions in advance, and the corresponding e-mails contained his trademark sentence structure. Due to technical difficulties, I cannot transcribe the phone interview (it was illuminating, to say the least, and certainly made me rethink my conception of Wiseau). I can, however, provide his written responses to my list of questions. With some formatting for clarity’s sake, here is a complete reproduction. I recommend you read Wiseau’s answers aloud.
Alen Ziberman /Interview “The Room” Tommy Wiseau November 11, 09
BYT: How would you describe The Room to those unfamiliar with your work?
TW: RELATIONSHIPS! You can laugh, you can cry, you can express yourself but please don’t hurt each other.
BYT: The movie has two midnight screenings in Washington [ed. note: Now there are four]. What do you think is the ideal setting to watch The Room?
TW: On the big screen in theater that’s is the best way to see “The Room” and have a fun with it. You have to see it at least 4 times.
BYT: Have you ever been to Washington, DC? What are your thoughts on the city?
TW: No, I never been in Washington, DC, but some day I will. Because “The Room” connects, I may attend maybe a screening of “The Room” for Q & A. I think everyone should see Washington, DC the same way everyone should see “The Room.”
BYT: Will you attend the Washington screenings of The Room? If so, what can your fans expect?
TW: The answer above!
BYT: What about San Francisco inspires you?
TW: No, I inspire myself everyday of my existence on this planet earth.
BYT: How does The Room’s plot resemble your personal life, if at all?
TW: No, but we all can relate to “The Room.” We have many Lisas, many Marks, many Dennys, many Johnnys, and many other characters from “The Room” in the world. “The Room” connects people.
BYT: Your movie has quite the cult following. How do you feel about the audience participation aspect of The Room?
TW: I love it!
BYT: Are you aware of the subculture of mockery that surrounds The Room? Can you comment on it further?
TW: I don’t see that way.
BYT: When an artist releases their work to the world, what ownership should they have over it? Should you have a say over how audiences interpret The Room?
TW: You can laugh, you can cry, you can express yourself, but please don’t hurt each other.
BYT: You have done many interpretations of The Room (book/play/movie). Why did you choose to use different vehicles? Which do you feel most accurately depicts your vision?
TW: As your readers probably know that a book is a book, play is a play, and a movie is a movie. The reason I changed in my thinking is that I always like to make a movie, plus at the time I had a vision how I like to do it. Before starting working on the movie, I did intensive research about people, life, etc. My plan is still publish my book “The Room” and my plan is do the musical play base on “The Room” on Broadway in NYC.
BYT: Do you feel you’ve been trapped in by The Room’s success? Do you feel comfortable being defined by it?
TW: First what is a SUCCESS? “Simplicity is the virtue of success.” –Tommy Wiseau
I think everyone like to have a success in life, so your question in sense is leading to put down, why you do this? You should know negative create negative, what is behind the words? In today society everyone would like to have a success and understanding, etc. My plan was to make a film for people to enjoy it.
BYT: What upcoming projects do you have planned?
TW: Currently I’m working on “The Neighbors” sitcom, and a vampire movie, and other projects. (Broadway show base on “The Room” and to publish “The Room” book)
BYT: What filmmakers inspire you?
TW: No one influence me but I have a great respect for the work of Elizabeth Taylor, Orson Wellles, Tennessee Williams, James Dean, Marlon Brando, and others. They are dealing with human behavior and relationships, as I am, for better tomorrow.
BYT: While growing up, did you ever watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show?
TW: Your question leads to a private matter.
BYT: Did you attend a midnight screenings that featured audience participation?
TW: If you refer to “The Room” the answer is “Yes.”
BYT: What was your opinion of the experience?
TW: I already answer: YOU CAN LAUGH, YOU CAN CRY………………
BYT: What, in your humble opinion, is your lost masterpiece?
TW: No comments!
BYT: What are your thoughts on gun control?
TW: No comments!
BYT: What advice can you give to up-and-coming filmmakers?
TW: First you have to have 20% then 40%, 60%, 80% and finally 100% of your project. I’m calling it “Wiseau’s EXECUTION 101. Anyone can apply this formula for any project or any work, including looking for employment. In my opinion many filmmakers have good ideas but the execution of them it’s very complex and they expect too much. I’m not here to judge anyone but you have to do much research as well as you should be detail oriented person about particular subject, issue or situation.
Posted: November 11th, 2009 | Filed under:Uncategorized | Comments Off
The Messenger, opening this Friday, tells the story of two casualty notifiers serving in the US Army, and the families who learn their loved one died overseas. It’s a somber project, one that actor Ben Foster and co-writer/director Oren Moverman take seriously. Foster and Moverman were in town late October to promote The Messenger for this year’s IMPACT film fest. While visiting DC, they also had time to meet with members of Congress and soldiers at Walter Reed Medical Center. Moverman, Foster, and producer Lawrence Inglee sat with me to discuss The Messenger, as well as Obama’s timely vigil at Dover Air Force Base.
BYT: How did your involvement with the project begin?
Lawrence Inglee: Alessandro Camon, who is the co-writer of the script, came to Oren with an idea to make a movie about casualty notification officers. It was at a time when pictures like the ones we saw yesterday at Dover [Air Force Base] were illegal. It was a very powerful suggestion, a very powerful premise. And then Oren and Alessandro brought the idea to me. From there we raised the money to get the script developed and turn it into a motion picture.
BYT: I read in past interviews all the notification scenes were unrehearsed. What was your biggest challenge in filming them?
Oren Moverman: The biggest challenge was to know when we got them. We were pretty headstrong about the way we made them. We knew were going to do it unrehearsed, throw everyone offset, leave a minimal crew, follow [Foster and Harrelson] around, do the whole thing in one take, and not introduce the notifiers to those being notified, so that everything is a surprise and spontaneous. But then you do it, and there’s no real articulate way to say whether it works or not – you just have to feel it. The shots weren’t a few seconds - it could have been anywhere from three to eight minutes. Also, [the scenes] were so draining so there weren’t a lot of possibilities. We’d do them a few times and that’s all we’d get. I never watched the actors. I had a portable monitor and only watched that, even if I had to move around with the cinematographer. All I was doing was imagining it on the big screen.
BYT: How was this week’s experience at Walter Reed Medical Center?
OM: As always, it’s amazing, inspiring, and angering. All the emotions you can imagine. Most of the guys we saw came back from Afghanistan recently. For some reason, we get the horrible numbers of those killed in combat, but don’t get exact numbers of wounded, which adds up to tens of thousands. These guys are amazing. They all consider themselves the lucky ones, and talk about how fortunate they feel to be alive. It’s a long process ahead of them and it’s going to be quite painful. The big question is if we’re going to remember they’re there.
BYT: Ben, you had a strong rapport with your co-star Woody Harrelson. Did you spend time together offset, or was it all in front of the camera?
Ben Foster: Yeah, well, you gotta shake the ghosts out at the end of the day. We were all pretty inseparable, all four of us.
LI: Still are!
BF: Yeah, still are. We’re dragging this fucker out. *laughs* We’re going to be opening hardware stores in 30 years with this movie. Woody is an exquisite human being, and getting to work alongside someone I admired for so many years was a remarkable experience. I’d look into his eyes and we’d feel terrifying things together. I love the man.
OM: He loves you, too.
BYT: Earlier this week you met with Hunter Biden to discuss The Messenger. Do you think it’s a coincidence President Obama visited Dover Air Force base days later?
OM: Since we’re not politicians, we can talk in more abstract terms. We feel like we put something in the ether. Obviously, it was funny for us to take credit for the visit. I do believe [the Dover visit] was planned before we shook the hands of Joe Biden. *laughs* He said, “Hello, how are you?” and that’s all we got from that meeting. I don’t think he learned we did a movie about casualty notifications, and then said to the President, “We should go to Dover.” Sometimes you have to print the myth. It was so timely – you saw that Harrelson’s character says, “They should have the funerals on TV.” We feel very connected to this moment, so hopefully our film can enter the conversation on some level. The people who came to the movie last night, like Hunter Biden, are talking about it in relation to the big decisions. That’s why we like opening the movie in DC, this is where the decisions are made. We’d like the decision makers to be made aware of the lives they’re impacting.
BYT: How was working with Samantha Morton?
OM: How is like working with… oh God, I don’t have a metaphor for it. She is sublime, one of the greatest actors on the planet. We all fell in love with her. She is remarkable person and artist. What she did in on set blew our minds. There’s a nine-minute take in a kitchen where Ben and Samantha are trying to connect. She tells him what we call “the widow story.” What you saw in the movie is the rehearsal. [Ben] was watching her as we were, in awe of her understanding of human nature as well as human behavior. She’s a force of nature.
BYT: Ben, how did your time at Walter Reed influence your approach to your character?
BF: It’s hard to separate the character and myself. It continues to affect my experience as a human being. And having the opportunity to work through some of these very difficult questions is a gift. Going to Walter Reed is something, particularly those who live in DC, should do. They should thank our soldiers, and see it up close. It’s amazing how many opinions there are floating about. These people claim to be well-informed when they’re cynical and chilly. They know nothing of what it means to be a human being, serving your country, and coming back missing limbs.
BYT: Have any soldiers there seen the movie?
OM: Their reaction has been strong and very powerful. We get a lot humbling gratitude when they thank us for making this movie. We tried very hard to get it as right as possible. In terms of representing the army and soldiers’ lives, 99% of what we did we got right.
BF: We had tremendous support from the army. Paul Sinor, the Lieutenant Colonel who was head of casualty notifications for two years, was on set every day. He kept us in line, but we did fudge a little bit. Now they bring a chaplain to notifications. By getting rid of the chaplain, we could pay a little more attention on the relationship between Stone and Montgomery.
BYT: I haven’t heard of that. For how long has the chaplain policy been in place?
OM: In the last year or so. You know, there is a lot of experience gained over the past eight years. [The army] is constantly trying to make the notification process better. I don’t want to over-praise the army, but they’re good at looking where things went wrong, working out the next level of fixing them, only to work out the next level after that. They’re very aware and open of problems in the notification process. They send a chaplain when they can. There is some leeway with the chaplain – he or she is allowed to touch the person [being notified]. But you can’t do the job well…
OM: … because of the nature of what you bring to the doorstep. The only way you can do this job well is by eliminating the need for it, but that’s going to take a while.
BF: I don’t see that happening… ever. I’d like to believe in some kind of utopia, but that’s a load of shit. There’s always going to be war, and there’s always going to be notifications for as long as we’re on this planet. We can accept the fact that there will be losses. Addressing the problems at home with compassion is the only way to improve things.
BYT: What are your plans after you leave DC?
OM: Tomorrow we’re opening the Savannah Film Festival. It’s going to be one freaky opening. I don’t know if people will show in costumes, but I hope they don’t.
BF: Oh yeah, it’s Halloween, right? I bet we’ll have one girl in a bee costume. What about you, what are your plans?
BYT: I have a Muppet costume.
BF: Which Muppet?
BYT: I’m going to be Dr. Bunsen Honeydew.
LI: I always forget his name!
BF: Do you have someone going as Beaker?
BYT: You know what? My Beaker has swine flu.
BF: *laughs, imitates Beaker, snorts like pig*
OM, LI: *laughs*
BYT: Thanks for this, guys. Enjoy the rest of your day!
BF: No problem.
OM: Don’t mention it.
Take a moment to think about soldiers overseas this Veterans Day.
Posted: November 9th, 2009 | Filed under:Uncategorized | Comments Off
Grant Heslov‘s The Men Who Stare at Goats feels like a wasted opportunity. When a movie begins with the title card (and I’m paraphrasing), “You wouldn’t believe how much of this story is true,” perhaps expectations are set unfairly high. With a fantastic cast and an outlandish concept, there were ingredients for a truly subversive comedy. Rather than develop the bizarre characters, screenwriter Peter Straughan takes the easy route, substituting sight gags for observant humor. The movie achieves its modest goals – consistent chuckles, and a chance for serious actors to behave stupidly. Not even the year’s best recurring joke can save it from pleasant mediocrity.
Ewan McGregor plays Bob Wilton, a Michigan-area reporter who goes through the motions of his job. When Bob’s wife leaves him for his editor, he re-envisions himself as a war-time correspondent, and ships off to Kuwait. He can’t get permission to cross the border into Iraq, and grows frustrated as other journalists share war stories. Killing time at a hotel bar, Bob meets Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), a government contractor. Bob recognizes the unusual name; in the preceding year, a supposed psychic spy (Stephen Root) mentioned it. When the two realize they have a mutual acquaintance, Lyn tells Bob he’s a former Jedi Warrior of the First Earth Battalion, a section of the army focused on psychic combat. Bob accompanies Lyn to Iraq. They’re quickly taken hostage and eventually get lost in the dessert. Meanwhile, through flashbacks, Bob narrates the story of the First Earth Batallion, led by New Age headcase Bill Django (Jeff Bridges). Soon Lyn reunites with his former commander, as well as nemesis Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey). The psychic spies try to recapture the glory of their First Earth days while Bob watches in slack-jawed befuddlement.
If there is one thing Heslov knows, it’s that silliness is best delivered with a straight face. With steel-eyed resolve, actors hurl themselves into walls, attempt invisibility, employ “the sparkly eyes technique,” and yes, stare down goats. In the context of the US military, such behavior is funny, though only on a superficial level. As Heslov and his screenwriter explore their world, they do not consider their character’s motivations. It’s amusing to watch decorated hero act like a cast member of Hair, but it’d be more satisfying to understand why a decorated war hero would behave in such a way. That is not to say, however, the actors do not go for broke. No one is better than Spacey at portraying a brainy jerk, and here he serves as a good foil for Clooney, who again expands his breadth as a character actor. And there is real conviction as Clooney tells Magregor how to become Jedi Warrior. By the way, I’m convinced Magregor’s involvement with the movie is purely an attempt at stunt casting. Lyn stops short of mentioning Obi-Wan Kenobi, yet the frequent Star Wars references are always hilarious. The only weak link is Bridges, who comes off as a watered down version of The Dude.
I’m unsure whether the First Earth Batallion was real, or whether Cassady really annihilated a goat with his mind. I don’t doubt a similar unit once existed – military logic has a way of getting out of hand quickly, as the Defense Department routinely demonstrates. Frankly, I don’t care if the story is true precisely because Heslov and Straughan squander a great premise with puerile humor. In a way, The Men Who Stare at Goats is appealing in a manner similar to the New Age movement. It’s intriguing to think that ordinary men are capable of superpowers, even if the idea is totally implausible. And like the New Age movement, the movie (wrongly) believes novelty alone can sustain one’s attention.