Movie Reviews: Hollywood Satires
I loved this movie, in no small part because of Johnny Depp’s performance. I don’t know who first decided that Ed’s main character trait would be unflappable optimism--whether it was the screenwriter, whether it was director Tim Burton, or whether Depp brought that to the performance himself (I wouldn’t be surprised, honestly)--but damn if it didn’t elevate a pretty standard biopic to something unusual and sparkling. Depp did the same in his Oscar-nominated (remember?) performance in the first of the truly silly Pirates of the Caribbean movies. He said, “Pirate? Only if I can play it drunk and gay.”
Just a note on Johnny Depp: this guy is such a fascinating creature, honestly. You just don’t often find a character actor with a face as perfect as his. He is quite beautiful. Jeremy and I saw Public Enemies a few weeks ago and I couldn’t get over it then, either.
Martin Landau was terrific, too, of course, as Bela Lugosi—he won an Oscar, and for a comedy, which almost never happens. His one-sided rivalry with Boris Karloff made me feel somewhat uncomfortable watching Frankenstein the next day (like I maybe should have thrown Lugosi’s Dracula into the mix, too, just to be fair). Incidentally, Lugosi has the most insanely entertaining IMDB page ever. Just read the titles of some of the movies he graced with his presence! (Ghosts on the Loose, The Ape Man, Night Monster, The Corpse Vanishes, Black Dragons, The Wolf Man, Spooks Run Wild, The Black Cat, Invisible Ghost, The Devil Bat, Black Friday, The Dark Eyes of London, The Phantom Creeps ETC.)
Anyway, the movie has plenty to recommend it besides Depp and Landau. It shines a light on the motley crew of actors and producers and Baptist financiers who helped Wood to realize his cracked visions and shape them for the big screen; it does it in that special Burtonian way where viewers feel the need to align ourselves with the outsiders, cheer them on. It’s shot gorgeously in black and white and it even piqued my interest in seeing some of Wood’s notorious flops; so much so that, in a few weeks, when a theater in the area plays a Rifftrax version of Plan 9 From Outer Space, I’ll be there.
More satires from Preston Sturges and Robert Altman after the jump.
I LOVED this movie, and it was one of the very few on the list that I knew were right up my alley, and for whatever reason had just not seen yet. The director, Preston Sturges, is one of my all-time favorites—he does what you might characterize as screwball comedies (sort of absurd fantasies that were really popular in the 30s and 40s) but his have a special twist to them. Some screwball comedies are insufferable in their flighty cutey cotton-candy-ness (see, for example: Topper). Sturges’s have a heart, and a soul, and a brain.
The movie has a terrific story, and it actually feels quite contemporary, too, which is not always a guarantee with movies that are ready to start collecting social security checks. There’s this director played by Joel McCrea who does serious pictures, social commentary pictures, and wants his next one to be about the struggles of the working man during the Depression. His advisors and agents and people (he’s always surrounded by people) ask him what he knows about struggling—he comes from a rich family and now he’s a rich Hollywood director. Easy enough, says McCrea, he’ll just go undercover as a bum.
Well, there’s some hilarity in which the studio won’t let McCrea be alone, and so he hitchhikes along the highway (complete with stick and bindle) while an RV filled with his agents and doctors and reporters trails him by ten feet. He has to go through a bit of a journey, but he does eventually get stuck in a situation where he is alone and desperate. And then, he sees a movie—a cartoon—which makes everyone around him laugh heartily. And he realizes that the man who has been felled by the market and the state of the country doesn’t want to see a hard-hitting documentary about his own problems; he wants to laugh. He completely reevaluates what his career is about and how it serves society. It’s beautifully rendered, funny and smart and touching.
Fun Sullivan’s Travels trivia: The movie Sullivan wants to make is called O Brother Where Art Thou; years later, Sturges fans the Coen brothers used the title for a movie of their own.
A strange film from the mid-90s about a slick movie producer who literally gets away with murder; probably it was meant to be an indictment of the loose morals of Hollywood. It did have some great satirical moments, but I really expected to like it a lot more than I did, though. Tim Robbins was good, I guess, but not as good as he’s been elsewhere (The Shawshank Redemption, notably). It’s a little dated; things move fast in Hollywood, and a lot of actors in there, especially the supposedly exciting cameo players, are people no one cares about anymore. Like, wow! It’s Cher. That’s exciting. They got Cher. (Yawn.) Robbins’s romance with the character played by Greta Scacchi was the worst part of it; it seemed almost mind-numbing. I trust that with the heavy talent behind the scenes of this thing (legendary director Robert Altman among others) the romance MEANS SOMETHING: maybe she’s some pure earth mother figure with her painting and her bralessness.
Whatever, I didn’t care. They were very boring to me, and then the movie decided not to care about the murder plot anymore, and I got a bit angry. I see what they were doing with the ending—the scene where the studio’s movie comes together and it’s a big sell-out made it a meta thing where everything the characters say about the movie in the film also applies to the movie they’re in. I’m not sure this movie earned that kind of cleverness, though, that huge wink after such a basically serious story. Also, the meta thing was done so much better and more subtly in Adaptation (which did, to The Player’s credit, come later).
I guess the movie earns two points: one for probably inspiring Adaptation, which is wonderful, and two for the clip we see at the end, the movie the studio has produced, starring Julia Roberts and Bruce Willis in send-ups of their respective stock characters. That was brilliant, and the best part is you can see the whole thing here without having to watch the rest of the movie. You're welcome!