MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on DVD: The Rest. Just Go With It; The Company Men; Sanctum.

Just Go With It (Two Stars)
U. S.: Dennis Dugan, 2011 (Columbia)

Okay, here’s Adam Sandler again. He or somebody he knows saw Cactus Flower…

Cactus Flower, you say?

Yeah  —  the 1969 movie comedy, from Abe Burrows’ Broadway hit about a philandering dentist (Walter Matthau), the one where Matthau cons a pretty counter-culture gal he‘s dating (Goldie Hawn, who won an Oscar) into thinking he can’t marry her, because he already has a wife, although he doesn‘t. And then Matthau (a.k.a. Whiplash Willie Gingrich, by God) talks his smitten middle-aged nurse (Ingrid Bergman), into masquerading as that wife, so he can keep Goldie on the string. But Ingrid is in love with him too,  and you can guess the rest.

I. A. L. (“Izzy“) Diamond, on temporary sabbatical from Billy Wilder, scripted it. Gene Saks (a.k.a. Chuckles the Chipmunk, in A Thousand Clowns) directed it. It’s not bad, nothing great, but a pretty funny show, done by pros.

So Sandler likes it?

Sandler likes it.  He thinks it can be remade into a cute funny modern romantic comedy. He’s got his buddy Dennis Dugan to direct — Dennis, the auteur of Happy Gilmore. Sandler can play the Matthau part, now a guy named Danny, but instead of being a dentist (nothing funny about dentists, unless maybe W. C. Fields plays them), he’ll be a hip, very expensive, very rich L. A. plastic surgeon, and the first time we see him, he’ll have a monstrous big hooter on him, which he’ll fix, and then he’ll start fixing everybody else with a bank account, and he‘ll wind up as cute Adam Sandler, cosmetic surgeon and babe magnet.

Who does he want to star with him?

For Goldie‘s part, we’ll get Brooklyn Decker, that blonde Sports Illustrated swimsuit goddess who looks great in a bikini. (Just tell her she‘s got the movie’s Oscar winning part, which she does.) And Jennifer Aniston gets the Ingrid Bergman role. (Just tell her Bergman won Oscars too, bigger ones, and maybe Adam will want to do a remake of Gaslight or Anastasia or Murder on the Orient Express some day. Or “Casa-fucking-Blanca” maybe! “Here’s looking at you, Jen.”) And The Rach’ still looks super in a bikini too. (Memo: Start buying bikinis.)

Now, all we need is a script…

A snap. We modernize, take out the old offensive stuff, put in new offensive stuff. Izzy was great, at least when he was with Wilder, but we got a new Izzy: Allan Loeb. (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.) We write a funny part for Nick Swardson as Danny’s funny, crude cousin, Eddie. (Just tell him he gets to say crude, funny things whenever Brooklyn or Jen wear a bikini. And when they don’t.) We write a funny, sexy part for Nicole Kidman as Jen’s old nemesis Devlin. (She’s already got an Oscar, so just tell her it’s a stretch, and she can be sexy and mean and leer at everybody. And she gets to do a hula.)

I don’t know…

Trust me. So how do we modernize this crappola that Sandler somehow likes? Well, hey, Danny can start off pretending he’s married with other chicks so he can stay unattached, and we get all these beautiful babes parading by. Okay, yeah, that’ll work. But Danny can‘t be as much of a schmuck as Walter Matthau was; he’s gotta have some heart. So instead of Danny trying to con Brooklyn so he can keep schtupping her, like Matthau, we’ll have him actually be deeply, tenderly, crazy in love, and want to marry her, but she sees the wedding ring in his pocket and he has to explain. So he gets Jen to fake matrimony with him, and Jen’s Katherine will have two adorable funny kids, and he’ll say they’re his kids, and she’ll pretend her name is Devlin (after that college rival, played by Nicole). And they all go off to a great-looking beach resort, so we can break out those bikinis. And Cousin Eddie can pretend he’s Jen‘s new boyfriend and come along and leer and wisecrack. And we’ll…

Wait a minute. WAAAA-I-I-I-I-T-T-TT A MINUTE!! You’re telling me that Adam Sandler as Danny is doing all this — lying his head off, pretending he‘s married to Jen, pretending her name is Devlin, pretending his funny, crude cousin Eddie is Jen’s boyfriend, pretending her kids (Bailee Madison and Griffin Gluck) are his kids, pretending he’s going to get a divorce, pretending and lying his plastic surgery ass off, because he wants to marry the gal he’s telling all these outrageous whoppers to?

Okay. So what happens later when they’re married? What happens when Brooklyn goes to the office and sees Katherine, or bumps into her on the street and calls her “Devlin?” Or when she’s introduced to Cousin Eddie at the wedding? Or when she starts talking to Danny’s friends or relatives and starts asking about his ex-wife? Or when she asks Danny where his kids are, why they never come around? Or when she asks if she can help him send off his alimony and child support checks? Or if she bumps into one of his old girlfriends and they start comparing notes? Or when the National Enquirer calls and wants to see the wedding and birth certificates? Is he going to keep on lying for the rest of his damned crazy phony-baloney life?

Yeah. Yeah…You know something? Who needs the aggravation? I’ve got an alternative suggestion. Danny  just sweats a while, goes over to Eddie’s to talk it over, and then he tells Brooklyn (or Palmer, her movie name) that he was just carrying around Eddie’s wedding ring for him, which Eddie thought he might use some day, or which belonged to Eddie’s mother, or something like that, and he accidentally stuck it in his pocket. You don’t believe me, ask Eddie.

But that doesn’t sound like a very funny movie. Even if we bring back Adam as the Wedding Singer for the reception. It sounds like kind of a dog, kind of pointless. “Eddie’s Wedding Ring.“ Yeccch.

Ya think? So: Alternative Suggestion Number Two. We don’t have Danny coming up with all this garbage because he wants to get married.  We keep him a schmuck out for nookie and high times until the very end, when he pulls the old switcheroo. He even goes after Nicole, right after he sees her hula. Hubba hubba, Nicole baby! And then it all blows up in his face and he reforms, and he gets down on his knees and says he’ll never lie again, and he pulls out the wedding ring, and Jen forgives him, and Brooklyn forgives him, and Nicole hugs him, and he’s finally a nice guy, and we maybe get a cameo for Brad Pitt as the hula judge. (So we ask him. I know he just came out with The Tree of  Life or Death or whatever it’s called, and he think’s he’s Daniel Day-Lewis. But how the hell can it hurt?) And everyone lives happily ever after, even Eddie. Okay! Break out the bikinis for that DVD featurette.

I don’t want to watch that movie.

You don‘t want to watch that movie? We’re even. I didn’t want to watch this one. So, what do you say we try “Casa-fuckin’-blanca” instead? Tell Nick Swardson he’s the one who gets to say “Round up the usual suspects!”

Now, let’s just pray Adam doesn’t see Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein 

Extras: Commentaruies with Sandler, Dugan, Swardson and other filmmakers; Many featurettes; Promo material. 

The Company Men (Two and a Half Stars)
U. S.; John Wells, 2010 (Weinstein Company/Anchor Bay)

Three executives at a vast Boston-based conglomerate called GTX, caught in the opening crash of the G. O. P.‘s Great Recession, see their careers derailed or destroyed when their company’s callous, greedy, phlegmatic CEO, James Salinger (played viciously and perceptively by Craig T. Nelson), starts closing divisions, cutting jobs and downsizing with a vengeance. Those company men are 37-year-old yuppie Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck), Chris Cooper as 50-something longtime original employee Phil Woodward (about to get caught in the crucible of ageism), and tough but compassionate 60ish Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones),  who started the company (as independent shipbuilders) with Salinger, but is about to find out he’s no safer from the current economic mess than anyone else — especially when he proves too tough, and too compassionate, for the tastes of his  oldest friend, that same Salinger.

The Company Men is the first theatrical feature written, directed and produced by longtime TV writer-producer John Wells (a multiple Emmy winner for shows like E.R. and The West Wing), and it’s the kind of drama that, back in the ’50s would have been rolling off the typewriters of Rod Serling or Reginald Rose. (In fact, Serling told a similar story about corporate brutality in his breakthrough ’50s teleplay Patterns.)

It’s good to see somebody sticking it to the corporate establishment for their entrenched selfishness, their blank-faced brutality toward their employees (and toward society as a whole), and their longstanding sins of ageism, obsession with the stock market, and social irresponsibility. 

 Company Men is an unabashed message drama, but it has some flaws. There are people who are suffering much, much more from the bilked, ravaged economy, than the desperate execs we see here. Wells does a good job of needling the guys at the top, of sketching in the milieu, laying down the table stakes, and giving us a large gallery of mostly well-cast and well-played characters — including all above, plus Bobby’s wife Maggie (Rosemarie DeWitt) and her blue collar carpenter brother(Kevin Costner). Special kudos to Jones (as usual), to Nelson, to DeWitt, to Cooper (who plays Woodward like a walking raw wound) and to Costner.

Especially Costner. His part here, independent builder Jack Dolan, in fact, reminded me a bit of my own Swedish-American Wisconsin carpenter grandfather Axel Tulane — who designed and built (by himself, almost) two houses, the second when he was in his 70s. Costner made a good, younger Axel, I thought — though  Grampa was funnier, more jocular and more congenial than Jack. A better carpenter too. 

Sanctum (One and a Half Stars)

U.S./Australian: Alister Grierson, 2011 (Universal)

In Sanctum, a terrible movie shot in an amazing natural wonder, six hapless characters/explorers, mostly Australian, are trapped in the Esa-Ala caves of Papua, New Guinea. Those Esa-Ala caves, at least, are really something. One of the world‘s largest underground cave systems, they’re captured here both by state-of-the-art 3D cameras that keep prowling past the stony walls, diving into the rivers, and by microphones that pick up every natural sound, every splash, every dying scream, and, unfortunately, every line of dialogue.

But, for all the good that director Alister Grierson and producer Andrew Wright and their unfortunate choices for co-writer and story writer (themselves), get out of the deep splendors of Esa-Ala, they might as well have shot everything in front of a papier mache cave wall, beneath plastic stalactites, and in the studio tank, or wherever Edgar Ulmer was when he made the 1966 cheapie, The Cavern.

Except for its cinematography,  Sanctum is a truly bad movie, a torment to sit though. I saw it first myself at 7 p.m., February 1, on the night of the great recent Chicago snowstorm, supposedly the third worst day of weather in Windy City history, and I was actually thankful to escape into the blizzard, which had better lines.

Sanctum’s story, supposedly inspired by a real-life underground exploring experience of producer/story-writer Wright, sends the main characters down into the caves, for a pointless-sounding expedition retracing an exit route. Along for this strangely unprotected jaunt (tracked somehow by mysterious monitors) is the cave-obsessed, tyrannical head spelunker Frank McGuire (Richard Roxburgh), his more idealistic and endlessly grinning son, Josh (Rhys Wakefield, a hot Australian TV star), the sleazy, babbling American moneyman Carl Hurley (played by Welsh actor Ioan Gruffud), Carl’s hot girlfriend Victoria (Alice Parkinson), and Frank’s mournful-looking pal Crazy George (Dan Wyllie).

These people do a lot of jabbering and screaming. Then they plunge down the cliffs and into the caves, only to be trapped there when an unpredictable tropical storm (no reliable weather forecasts in Papua, apparetly) floods the caves, seals up the exit, and forces them all to find another way out. All the while, Frank keeps bullying everybody, acting like he had a stalactite shoved up his sanctum sanctorum. But every once in a while, in a laudable gesture toward cultural literacy, ubermensch Frank recites a bit of his favorite poem, Samuel Taylor Coleridge‘s lyrical dream-epic “Kublai Khan,” savoring lines like “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree/ Where Alph the sacred river ran, through caverns measureless to man, down to a sunless sea.”

 Ah, Coleridge! If I were Roxburgh, I’d savor them too. They’re fifty times better than the rest of the lines he’s got. And I’ll bet Coleridge could have maybe directed  a better underground action movie too. Even on opium.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon