MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland

20W2O: 19 Weeks (minus 5 days) To Go – Season Of The Switcheroo

I’ve been noticing a trend this award season. There are movies – from the best to not-the-best – that suggest that you’re going to see one movie… and end up seeing something altogether unexpected.

This doesn’t mean that the audience suffers. There is something wonderful about going in one direction and then being pushed somewhere else unexpectedly. The audience has to do some work. They have to be on their toes.

The classic of this genre is Saving Private Ryan, which bludgeons you with one of the greatest graphic war sequences ever put on the big screen… and then spends 2 acts with some soldiers you like looking for a missing soldier. Spielberg said at the time that the opening was meant to take the audience out of seeing war the way they traditionally do in a war film. And he succeeded in that goal. But when it came time for Best Picture, I think that people allowed themselves to see the opening sequence as a stunt and the rest as “just” a good film… while the rollicking fun of Shakespeare in Love was just a good story, well told… straight as an arrow.

It’s not just award movies. People will get surprised by Skyfall, I think very positively. I would say that Skyfall is the film with the most spoilers that audiences won’t see coming – unless they read reviews prematurely – and will not want spoiled. Those surprises are a joy… so unexpected that they are still enormous fun when seeing the film a second time. But this is not your father’s Bond movie. It’s not even the movie you might expect from the last two, dark, Bond films.

Magic Mike was a Soderbergh film about a young man realizing his life is not what he once thought it was and who considers his options quite seriously… while stripping down at night. Plenty of genre fun, but it’s truly a drama, not a night out with the Sex & The City girls.

And then we get to the awards season (though Bond could be a surprise contender in various categories this year)…

DreamWorks/Disney has smartly started pushing their television campaign away from the idea that we are getting an Abraham Lincoln biopic in Lincoln and are now gently delivering the message that this is a movie about the 13th Amendment with Lincoln at the center. It’s a fascinating story and is very reflective of where politics still are in this country, on whatever side of the political spectrum you live. But to be honest, it took about 20 minutes watching the film for me to realize that the focus had been narrowed to the degree it is. And I think that some of the less than ecstatic reaction the film has been saddled with has been a function of that surprise.

Flight is a movie about an extremely high-functioning alcoholic. The plane, which makes for a masterful 30 minutes of rock ’em – sock ’em cinema, is really just the backdrop, forcing him to face what might be his bottom.

I have my theories about The Master, but even if your theory doesn’t agree with my theory, it seems pretty apparent that most people walk to of the theater with no theory at all, except for the one that says they got conned by the hype. I feel strongly that those people are wrong. But I also completely understand why they feel like they’ve been beaten into submission. The Master is a puzzle and though it delivers all the elements it promised in ads and the like, it doesn’t deliver a story that any audience could have anticipated or in most cases, understood.

Anna Karenina? Expect a lush, period epic. Well, you get a lot of that. But it’s set in a theater that’s falling apart, with the traditional style of sets set within that unexpected space. This throws a lot of people. And some thrown or not, will find it pretentious. I quite liked it. But it’s a movie of many surprises, not the least of which being that Joe Wright looks to create that lushness in the faces of some beautiful, really fine actors.

Life of Pi is a trippy sea cruise of survival and remorse. Okay… an oversimplification. But should Fox tell people that they are going to spend the majority of their time in this film with a teenage boy and some CG animals floating along on a boat?

Bill Murray means big comedy. Uh, no. Not in Hyde Park on the Hudson. This is much more a Laura Linney movie than a Bill Murray movie. Now… Murray is terrific. But he’s inside a character, not bringing the Bill Murray touch to your favorite wheelchair-bound former president.

I did some shooting for The Impossible today and the poster has the family at the center of the film before the tsunami on top and a shot of Ewan McGregor looking for his family below. But what’s the biggest star in this film? The tsunami. It’s certainly the right move not to try to make people think they are getting a disaster movie here. But talk about burying the lead! This is another film where there is a little set-up before the tsunami and then a never-before-seen-on-film kind of tsunami sequence that alone is worth the price of admission. But again… 2/3 of the film is post-tsunami.

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2 Responses to “20W2O: 19 Weeks (minus 5 days) To Go – Season Of The Switcheroo”

  1. molly'sdad says:

    David – Not sure if it’s award worthy – but add HOPE SPRINGS to that list. Whoa – a funny sex comedy with Magic Meryl fellating a banana! Grumpy Old Man Tommy Lee being cute. And Steve C. for some biting irony. Well, no. It’s actually a very serious, heartfelt, moving look at what happens in a marriage after 35 years when a husband and wife don’t talk to each other. And no longer want the same things. But how can a studio sell that to a crowd wanting DEVIL WEARS PRADA, JUILIE AND JULIA and MAMMA MIA?

  2. movielocke says:


Quote Unquotesee all »

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