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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Tower Heist


Tower Heist (Two and a Half Stars)
U. S.: Brett Ratner, 2011
Tower Heist. Wheww! That was one hell of a movie. Hell of a movie! Brett Ratner: Rush Hour! Rush Hour 2!!. Rush Hour 3!!! He‘s one moviemaker who can really make a movie move. Didn’t ya think?
Are you kidding me?
No. I had a great time. Chills. Thrills. Laughed my ass off.
You did? (Looks behind.) I hate to tell you this, but it’s still there.
What? Funny, funny, not….But to get back to real humor, I thought Tower Heist, which we just saw, but which you apparently are sneering at now for some stupid reason, was a blast and a half. What’s not to like? Eddie Murphy, man! Eddie! Murphy! My! Man! The Murph-man, back in his clever-smart-aleck-fast-talking-street-guy/Beverly Hills Cop/48 Hours/Trading Places gear. At last. Totally. Doing a classic Eddie Murphy motor-mouth job as that thief/burglar/70-storey-man what‘s-his-name, Slip or Slide or Sloopy, or whatever.

And the rest of the cast. Dynamite on demand. Matthew Broderick. Casey Affleck. Alan Alda. Michael Pena. Tea Leoni…And Ben Stiller.
I’m surprised you didn’t call him Ben! Stiller!
No need. He‘s the class guy, understated, sardonic as all hell. A little neurotic, but not too much. Kind of a brainy British type too, you know. Sir Ben.
I just wanted to give you the benefit of every exclamation point possible.
Thank you, Mr. Above-it-all Smart-Ass. Anyway, didn’t you laugh at Ben? As the posh condo/residence/hotel manager Josh who gets fired and wants revenge? Because Alan Alda — as Arthur Shaw, that Bernie Madoff-type investment guy in Josh’s place, The Tower (as in Trump Tower), is under house arrest by the Feds because he not only screwed all his regular big-money rich clients with a Ponzi scheme, but he robbed all the decent hard-working hotel employees including poor old doorman Lester (played by Stephen Henderson) who tries to commit suicide in the subway. And Josh gets mad and vandalizes Shaw‘s prize possession , a ‘53 red Ferrari he’s got in his living room that once belonged to Steve McQueen.
Alan Alda as the Madoff character! I mean, didn’t you want to kill that guy? What a bastard! Steals everyone blind with his Ponzi scheme including the working stiff hotel staff, then hides millions in his suite while he‘s under house arrest by the Feds, including Tea Leoni as Special agent Claire Danes….
Claire Denham.
Carl Denham?
Claire! Denham!
Whatever. And then Josh, who’s been a sort of kiss-ass to this guy, gets mad after Lester tries to kill himself, and takes a golf club to the red Ferrara that once belonged to Mr. Cool himself, Mr. Car Chase Bullitt, Mr. Cooler King Hilts with the baseball from The Great Escape , Mr. Nevada Smith, Mr. Getaway, the late great Mr. Steve McQueen. Wham! Blam! That’s how to occupy Wall Street!
I’d think you would have loved all that class warfare, you Commie pinko fellow traveler you!
I’m not a Commie. I’m not pink. And I don’t travel. And people that talk about “class warfare” in American political campaigns are complete phonies or morons.
Tell it to Rush Limbaugh! But back with the movie: Josh also gets his brother-in-law (?) fired, Charlie the concierge (played by Casey Affleck) and Michael Pena as the new kiss-ass bellboy Enrique: fired too, because they went with him when he trashed the Ferrari. And so they all get together — the Tower guys, and Mr. Fitzhugh, played by Matthew Broderick as a bankrupt ex-banker who’s being foreclosed and shuffles around in his dressing gown, and Odessa the maid, who turns out to be a safecracker (played by Gabourey Sidibe of Precious). And Josh decides to steal all the money Shaw has hidden somewhere in his room: twenty million maybe! But they need an expert crook because they’re all fairly honest amateurs, so they hire Eddie Murphy. And they all pull this amazing heist where everything seems to go wrong, but not quite.
There, how’s that for a synopsis?
Concise. But too many exclamation points. And I notice you’re talking real fast.
So what?
You only talk fast when you’re not sure of yourself. Or when you‘re trying to con somebody. Like an Eddie Murphy street guy.
Thank you, Mr. Smart-Ass-Sees-all-Knows-all. I’ll try to slow it down so even an ignorant putz like yourself can understand.
Anyway, there’s this great comedy heist scene in the middle of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade…
Okay, stop right there. That’s when the movie really lost me. That cockamamie heist.
I mean, it was okay up to the point when they‘re planning the job — even though I thought it was pretty ridiculous when Ben Stiller whacked the Ferrari, not apparently realizing he was going to get himself and his buddies fired in the middle of a national jobs crisis. But then, when Ben starts planning this absurd multi-million dollar robbery, and pulls in Eddie Murphy, just because he sees him getting arrested, and because he know he’s a crook from Queens and the neighborhood, the whole movie for me turned into instant baloney…I mean that hire-the-black-guy-for-the-crime-stuff stuff was bad enough in Horrible Bosses — another overrated comedy — but what
sense did it make here?
Get a guy to help you rob 20 million dollars under the noses of this crook Shaw and the Feds because you see that guy getting arrested by the neighborhood cops? Really? That’s a recommendation? To me, that would make Eddie/Slide the thief you don’t want to hire. And then Slide tests all the other guys in the gang by having them rob at least 50 dollars worth of stuff apiece in a local mall? Give me a break. Why not go out and hire a pickpocket in Times Square, who gets busted, to help you rob Fort Knox and then have everybody else audition by singing “You’ve got to pick a pocket or two” from Oliver!?
He was just trying to get their wallets.
Eddie Murphy. At the mall. He was just trying to get their wallets.
Maybe. You’re too kind. But why did the writers — who were they, Jeff Nathanson and Ted Griffin (they’ve got their names on some good, or at least profitable movies) — why did they have Josh get fired in the first place? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have him at least pull this really complicated robbery as an inside job, when he‘s still manager and can manipulate all kinds of stuff in the Tower? Wouldn’t that be more fun to watch? Instead, he‘s outside and persona non grata at the hotel, and they seem to lose a guy to the opposition when Charlie gets hired back by the Tower for God knows what reason. The fact that they even get into Shaw’s penthouse is some kind of miracle.
Yet somehow this gang of idiots manages to dupe the Feds into thinking Shaw‘s hearing has been switched to Thanksgiving, so they can pull the heist during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. Which they do.
I tell you: Words fucking fail me. And then, all of a sudden, this out-to-lunch gang, which already has everything going against it, start bickering among themselves and Eddie Murphy tries to double-cross everybody, which they should have guessed would happen, and it turns out the money is in the Ferrari….
Spoiler Alert.
Spoiler Alert. Whenever you give away an important plot point in a website, you‘re supposed to say “Spoiler Alert.” Because you’re ruining the movie for some helpless movie fans who don‘t know about the Ferrari and about what an irresponsible jerk you are.
What are you giving me? Spoiler Alert my eye! It’s in the goddam trailer! The whole world knows this movie has a scene where they‘re dangling on a red Ferrari out of a 70-something story window of something that looks like Trump Tower.
Yeah. But they don’t know why they’re dangling.
Are you demented, or what? It’s a heist movie! They’re committing a heist! Everybody knows that. What do you think people think is going on? That they’re working as free-lance window washers, but they can‘t find their window washer’s platform? That they’re making some kind of crazy getaway that went horribly wrong?
Maybe. Or maybe it’s a diversion so they can sneak out the back way and hitch a ride on the SpongeBob SquarePants balloon.
Pathetic. Pathetic. Anyway, so they dangle it out the window, 70-something stories up, and they’re dangling from it themselves, Eddie and Ben and Matthew Broderick who has vertigo or something. But somehow nobody in the city of New York looks out their window across Central Park West or looks up at Trump Tower or The Tower or whatever it is, that day. So nobody knows what the hell is going on up there, including all the cameramen and photographers prowling around everywhere. Or any passing helicopters or low-flying planes. Or inquisitive pigeons. I repeat: Give me a break.
Aren’t you getting a little technical? I mean, it’s only a movie.
Yeah, that’s what they all say.
Well, its true isn’t it? Geeze, lighten up! Besides maybe they were all watching the Macy’s parade. Maybe they were mesmerized by Snoopy and Kermit. Maybe the ghost of Steve McQueen showed up and clouded their minds.
Uh, huh, Sure. They were watching the Macy’s parade live or with coast to coast television coverage and half of New York on the streets right below, and all those buildings facing the Tower and nobody sees Ben Stiller and Matthew Broderick and Eddie Murphy hanging on to a red and gold Ferrari dangling out of a skyscraper window 78 or so stories up and then crashing into another window. This is all a complete mystery to the entire city of New York, who have all gone mysteriously blind, including the one cop they left to guard the penthouse…
He was knocked out by Gabourey Sidibe, as Odessa.
I repeat: the one cop they seemingly left behind to guard the place. All except for the gang who can’t dangle straight — but especially all those other feds who got suckered into going to a hearing that doesn’t exist.
And, by the way, why does this clown Shaw, this so-called warped genius of financial crime, have twenty million dollars hidden in his living room in a valuable red Ferrari that might get impounded anyway? He might as well have hidden it all in his teeth.
Well, I repeat, schmucko, it’s only a movie. Alda’s not Madoff; he may get off. And I thought that car stuff was great! The red Ferrari dangles from 70 stoeies up! SPOILER ALERT The red Ferrari goes down an elevator shaft! END OF ALERT. I mean, I don’t care what you say: That was exciting stuff.
It’s a comedy, for Cripes’ sake. I suppose you think everything that Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton or the Marx Brothers or Steve Martin or Woody Allen did makes sense. Or Laurel and Hardy going across that suspension bridge with a piano in Swiss Miss and bumping into a gorilla.
Sure it does. And if it doesn’t make sense, at least it was funny. Look, this is a heist movie! It’s a comedy, sure. But it also comes from one of the all-time great, clever-plot-twist, clever-mechanism, crooks-at-work genres: from movies like Rififi and the Asphalt Jungle and The Killing. Or, if you want comedy, from The Return of the Pink Panther and Topkapi and The Hot Rock. Or even the Oceans 11 remake, which Ted Griffin co-wrote. It needs to be better, smarter.
Brett Ratner says somewhere that his models for this movie were The Hot Rock (which was by William Goldman from a book by Donald Westlake), and The Taking of Pelham One-Two-Three (the original with Walter Matthau) and The Anderson Tapes (which Sidney Lumet directed). And all of them were adapted from well-written books by smart people, and all of them were exaggerated. But they all made sense. On their own terms.
 Well, I think Tower Heist makes sense. On its own terms.
What sense? What terms?
The terms of a movie that wants to make us laugh and have a good time — a movie where a bunch of amateur crooks, except for Eddie Murphy, break into a penthouse and dangle a red Ferrari over the street, where somewhere there’s a parade going on, with SpongeBob SquarePants. The movie creates its own little world! A world of spills and chills and thrills and Snoopy balloons.
This is ridiculous. You’ll swallow anything. You‘ll even swallow a maid named Odessa — as in Odessa. the city in Battleship Potemkin, and the Odessa Steps — instead of Odetta, which is an actual woman‘s name.
Sure I would. Odessa. Her parents were probably Eisenstein fans. And besides nobody could swallow….
Don’t say it. Spoiler alert! You’re as bad and ridiculous as the jokes in that damned movie.
Look, you’re the one who‘s ridiculous. You’re the one who’s pathetic! I‘m just out to have a good time. Tell me you didn’t laugh when Tea Leoni got into some heavy drinking with Ben at the bar. You laughed didn’t you?
I smiled. More at Tea than the script.
Well, what do you want? What was wrong with the script? It had laughs, it had heart. It had thrills. It had spills. It even had dialogue.
And it made some political points. It’s anti-financial swindle. It’s anti-Wall Street greed. It’s exactly the kind of comedy script with contemporary references and a social conscience you keep asking for, you putz. Now it comes along — in a really slick professional job by comedy experts with a great cast — and you complain because somebody‘s dangling red Ferraris or cracking safes without enough setup for you. You’re not satisfied unless it’s by Stanley Kubrick, or it’s Rififi with subtitles, or it’s The Pink Panther, with Sellers. Phony!!! Ingrate!!!
I don’t want it to be directed by Stanley Kubrick or starring Peter Sellers. I’m not asking for miracles. I just want it to make sense.
It doesn’t have to make sense! It’s making money!
Okay. On financial matters I can’t compete with you, Mr. Alan Alda. And anyway, I’m sick and tired of arguing about this. But I’ll give you one point, The movie does try to make a political statement, sort of. It does have protestors. It does say that it’s wrong to cheat working people and steal all their money. It is against Wall Street greed. It even has Dylan Ratigan from that lefty channel MSNBC as one of the newscasters — though they probably should have had Michael Moore. And Alda is pretty damned good as the Bernie Madoff guy. He’s got the sleaze. He’s got the smarm. He makes you want to go out and occupy Bank of America or Trump Tower or the Koch Brothers mansion — if they have a mansion.
But you still didn’t like the movie.
I didn’t laugh at the movie.
Not even at Eddie? Not even Tea? Not even the red Ferrari?
No. Tell you what. I laughed at Tea. A little. And Eddie. A little. And Alda. More of a regular recurring grin. And Broderick. A smidgen. Not the red Ferrari though.
The red Ferrari killed me and it killed the audience. We laughed our asses off. (Pause.) You schmuck. I just handed you a punch line and you totally ignored it!
Okay. Some day, you know, you may really need a punch line. (Pause.) Hell of a movie, though! Tower Heist! Hell of a ride! Ya think?
If you say so, Mr. Alda.
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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