Ring Around A Volcano
by James Killough
I know, I was supposed to post on Tuesday, but I’m not sure that properly speaking I had a Tuesday. Well, I had sort of one, but it was in Delhi, which wasn’t really a Tuesday in the West, and we’re on a PST time schedule at PFC. I worked flat-out all day, wrapped my last shoot a half hour before I travelled for twenty-eight hours home, eighteen of which were on a non-stop flight from Dubai to LA. We had to skirt the volcano in Iceland and fly south. The journey would have been more of a bitch than it was had it not been for the fact I was able to lie down and get a good night’s sleep, and gurgle when I was awake like a stupefied baby at the gazillion channels of entertainment on Emirates.
I was going to blog from forty thousand feet, but I felt more inspired to watch inflight Hollywood crap. Most of the plane was watching inflight Bollywood crap, which just goes to show that even when given the choice, Indians would rather keep it real with the caca; we will never prevail over them with our cinematic pablum.
Most inflight entertainment is crap that has just been released on DVD, which sort of justifies this mash-up of reviews. In the case of Virgin Atlantic, which is more prone to have a selection of quality films side by side with the crap, they will often screen a British film that has yet to be released in the States, or an American one that hasn’t been released in the UK. That’s what you get when a former entertainment company owns an airline: better contracts with the film companies. Also, Emirates fare is far more prudish than Virgin’s: even if a woman’s nipples can be seen through her nightie, they will be blurred out. And nary a “fuck” or “cunt” can to be heard on any of the gazillion channels. On Virgin, by stark contrast, not only can you hear “fuck” and “cunt” on the entertainment system, but also yelped occasionally from the galley by the classy, sassy bleach-blond, beehived flight attendants from Bristol.
I saw two Natalie Portman films, one of which was delightful crap, No Strings Attached, and the other, which was not crap, The Other Woman, which naturally made a whopping $27,000 at the box office precisely because it wasn’t crap. But it wasn’t as un-crap as Black Swan, one of the few indie films to do so well that some studio execs paused momentarily to consider maybe financing more movies like it, then giggled, shook their heads and went, “Nah.” Portman is credited as an executive producer on both NSA and Other Woman, which is beginning to make her almost as interesting an actress as Meryl Streep.
Let me digress here to explain briefly to civilians what the different producers are on a film. An executive producer is in charge of the financing. Sometimes, as in the case of a small film like The Other Woman, the star whose attachment secured the money to make it will be given this title as a courtesy. Because it made no money, it’s unlikely Portman saw a return on the “points,” or shares, she was given on the back end in lieu of her normal fee.
Ostensibly, a full producer actually makes the film: he or she selects the script, attaches the director as well as the cast and the crew, and as a result collects the Oscar if the film wins Best Picture. I say “ostensibly” because in recent years, executive producers like Bob Yari, who have little to do with the actual filmmaking process, have muscled their way to full producer by withholding money unless they get the credit, but the Producers Guild is coming down hard on that now, thankfully. A line producer is actually in the trenches making the film, the person whose third arm is a walkie-talkie, who is in charge of the budget and scheduling, who answers to the exec producers and the producers, and whose ass is on the line if the film goes over budget. A line producer is often accorded the title of co-producer in studio films, full producer in indies. The title of associate producer is an honorific accorded to a junior someone in the production company making the film, or to someone who thought he was a full producer until a Bob Yari came on board and fucked him out of his position.
These titles apply to feature films. They have a different meaning in TV and commercials.
Before I trash No Strings Attached, my apologies to a dear friend of mine who was one of the producers. What Paramount wants, Paramount gets, and it’s no fault of the people who work for them, unless you’re the film’s director, Ivan Reitman, in which case you are mostly to blame.
NSA was released at the same time Portman’s Black Swan was out, and there is no greater testament to the triumph of quality over crap than that. Having said that, I enjoyed watching both Portman and Ashton Kutcher in NSA, but for different reasons.
Kutcher is my ideal young man. Or younger man, I should say, because he is “no spring chicken,” as my mother once referred to a twenty-three-year-old girlfriend of mine, whom I dragged as a beard to Martha’s Vineyard one summer, when I was still nineteen and trying hard not to be gay. He’s sexy as hell, funny, a prankster, and genius enough to have told his ex-girlfriend January Jones she couldn’t act. Kutcher is to me what Mary Elizabeth Winstead is to our contributor Eric Baker. I’ll watch him in anything; Punk’d is like soft porn for me.
Portman is actually great in NSA. She rises well above the production — the script isn’t bad, either, that’s not the problem. It’s crapmeister Ivan Reitman’s flat, studio-pleasing direction that’s at fault. As Elizabeth Taylor once said about directors when she was handing out the Best Director award, “When they’re good, they’re very, very good. And when they’re bad, I’m dreadful.” This doesn’t seem to apply to Portman. While Kutcher might be my ideal, Portman’s character in NSA is the kind of person I sometimes end up in a relationship with: blazingly smart, uncommonly beautiful, but emotionally retarded and pathologically afraid of intimacy. I know this character very well, and Portman is utterly convincing, and proof that Liz was wrong: you can rise above your director.
Just as crappy as NSA was Ron Howard’s The Dilemma, starring Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Jennifer Connelly and Winona Ryder. Okay, I get how cast attachments get films greenlit, but this is Ron Howard, who sits atop the Hollywood crap heap. So, Ron, why two fat men flabbing up the screen? Maybe Vince, at six-foot-five, carries his weight so well that no one at Universal noticed how hard he’s been hitting the pie shop, as they say in the UK. There was a time when Vince was close to Ashton Kutcher in my estimation, back in Swingers days. Oh, how royally I would have sodomized him then. Now I just think how I wouldn’t have the strength to hoist that white whale around the bed, despite working out five days a week. As for the perpetually limp Jennifer Connelly, her finest moment will always be being skewered on one end of a double dildo bum-to-bum with another chick in Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For a Dream, a film I loved so much I drove around Hollywood afterwards frightening passersby by rolling down the window and belting “BUT I LOVE HOW I LOOK IN THE RED DRESS!” I really like Winona Ryder, except I keep patting my wallet to make sure it’s there whenever she appears on screen.
The best thing about The Dilemma is Channing Tatum, who has great comic timing that isn’t exploited enough in his movies, and who should really consider making the tattoos he was sporting in Dilemma permanent. It’s like he’s in a completely different film that was accidentally cut into this one.
Casino Jack, starring Kevin Spacey as the sleazy Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff was decent, but decent because it was informative and so summed up the audacious idiocy and moral corruption of the Bush Jr. years. Like Portman, I’ll watch Spacey in anything, not just because he’s a damned fine actor for an American film star, but because he broke the heart of a blazingly smart, uncommonly beautiful, but emotionally retarded ex of mine who broke my heart. My ex’s ex is my friend, know what I mean?
I’ve never been attracted to Russell Crowe because, regardless of his talent, you just know he’s a cranky, boorish Aussie drunk who’s a pain in the ass to work with. And he’s an almost bigger porker than Vince Vaughn. Still, Paul Haggis’s Three Days Later had it’s gripping moments, even though I’m sure the original French film it was adapted from was far better. The problem is again in the direction, and also because of a common script problem: the second act lags. Given that Haggis also adapted the screenplay, and that he’s won an Oscar, it would have been impossible to tell him what to do. The normal, healthy tug-of-war that goes on between a writer and director goes away when they are the same person, and a film can really suffer as a result. As a writer/director myself, what you need is a no-nonsense producer to bitch slap you, but as a former Scientologist, Haggis may feel he’s “clear” of bitch-slapping producers. (Haggis recently left the Blessed Church Of Coco Puff Nutjobs after thirty-five years as one of their top performers because they tolerate gay bashing. So kudos to him for that. But, still, Paul: thirty-five years? Even I wouldn’t go that far for my career.)
Based on a true story, All Good Things, starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst, was extremely accomplished, riveting, beautifully shot, lovingly made, and did a whopping $600 K at the box office, which unfortunately is the kind of bottom line that prevents worthy films from getting made, despite the fact that studio cack tanks just as often.
Yes, I viewed a lot of crap in on that eighteen-hour flight, enough to rival my bowel problems from Delhi Belly. But there was some good stuff, too. I was about to watch the Justin Bieber movie because Our Chelsea Handler likes him so much, and Tuttle’s boyfriend Scott went to see it and enjoyed it, but the trailer made me feel like I was being forced at gunpoint into pedophilia when I just don’t find kids sexy. And Bieber’s music makes me scowl.
Michel Gondry’s foray into Hollywood crap with Green Hornet was just too unforgivable to watch past the first twenty minutes. I might no longer be a teenager, but I’m sure even as a teen I would called it a piece of shit.
Seth Rogen, who starred in Hornet, on the other hand, usually has all my attention. I go through different, weird phases of sexual attraction, and there was a period when I liked gnarly looking chunky guys with an underbite, until I found out you had to hang upside down like a bat to kiss them properly. As my friend John Wood the Plumber once asked with a look of revolt, “How can you like guys with a face like a foot?” I thought Rogen in 40-Year-Old Virgin was smokin’. I even blurted out to some friends of his at a dinner party, “I think Seth Rogen so fucking hot!” After which there was a polite silence, a couple of quizzical looks, and one of them said, “We’ll be sure to tell him.” Following Green Hornet, however, our love affair has sadly concluded.
Overall, my trip to India was like visiting the future under construction, a vast difference to returning to this, a great civilization in what seems to be inexorable decline. It used to be the opposite when I returned from there: the jolt would be such that in a single plane flight I would be catapulted back from an unchanging, eternally ancient country, where people still wore the same clothes they had for millennia, into the excited churn of the invincible, arch-cosmopolitan West. Who woulda thunk it? Not me, for sure.
Thus grind the wheels of karma.