J. Edgar: Regular readers may remember that I prize efficiency in a filmmaker: the ability to crank out movies without too much auteurist-perfectionist fuss (or at least well-paced fuss; master of the jillion-take technique David Fincher directed four movies in five years, and even epic tinkerer Terence Malick is on course to deliver a similar number over a similar period, barring editing-room hold-ups). Few apart from perhaps Woody Allen can top late-period Clint Eastwood for efficiency; he’s made ten movies in ten years.
But while it seemed like Eastwood’s quiet, few-take professionalism was reaching some kind of apex circa Million Dollar Baby, since then, especially when dealing with actors less seasoned or self-assured than Morgan Freeman, Hilary Swank, and himself, Eastwood’s productivity has sometimes become workmanlike and sometimes clunky. Think of the embarrassing Oscar-baiting histrionics welded to a decent procedural in Changeling, or the mismatched, uneven story threads of Hereafter. So while Clint at his best would seem like an excellent choice for a J. Edgar Hoover biopic starring Leonardo DiCaprio, I’m not sure about Clint at his average, but maybe DiCaprio’s zeal for playing serious historical figures will give this one some extra kick.
Jack and Jill: I’m going to play Sandler’s Advocate here for a moment. The Internet, etc., has acted like the new Adam Sandler comedy Jack and Jill has hit Squeakquel levels of abominableness, something sent straight from the bowels of hell to torment some unsuspecting moviegoers and film critics (as well as delight other moviegoers, which only increases the torment for the others). Granted, it does, as Mindy Kaling pointed out, look a bit like one of those fake trailers from Tropic Thunder. But I have to say‚and I haven’t seen the movie, because it doesn’t seem like it was screened more than two days ahead of time and I couldn’t justify blowing off a bar trivia date for a Jack & Jill screening—to me, I don’t know, it doesn’t look that bad. I mean, it looks pretty bad. But I’m not sure it looks, and I’m even less sure it actually is, much worse than, say, Grown Ups, or Just Go With It.
Hear me out! First, though on paper it might have sounded more promising, Grown Ups is really, really terrible—the epitome of Sandler’s late period play-a-lazy-rich-guy-and-pretend-he-and-I-are-good-people MO. However dopey and lame Jack & Jill looks, I don’t know, man, it’s kind of nice to see Sandler trying something, even if that something is playing a dragged-out caricature of an annoying lady.
I think just about everyone can agree that the three really worthwhile pure Sandler comedies are Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, and The Wedding Singer. His best work outside of those but within his Happy Madison slapdash-comedy zone involves him going for it on some level. You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, in its goofball vision of international terrorism and the NYC melting pot, goes for it. Little Nicky, for all of its unevenness, goes for it with that horribly unappealing raspy-nerd voice and screwed-up face and greasy black hair. Jack & Jill doesn’t look nearly as inventive as either of those. But it does have a co-screenwriting credit from Robert Smigel, of all people, who helped make Zohan a bit more idiosyncratic and bizarre—far moreso, I should add, than it looked from the trailers (Smigel and Sandler’s sometime cohort Tim Herlihy is on the approved collaborator list, which doesn’t particularly include any of the other dudes in his weird little comedy frat).
So yes, it is patently ridiculous and borderline offensive that Sandler casts twelve-years-his-junior Katie Holmes as his wife. Yes, Sandler’s male character looks like another upper-middle-class jackass who the movie will try to sell as just plain folks. No, Sandler’s track record of the past decade, which includes far more lazy big hits (Anger Management, The Longest Yard, Bedtime Stories) than Zohan-style weirdness, does not suggest greatness or even goodness for Jack & Jill. But odds are, he’s done worse.
Immortals: Seems like Tarsem has decided to play ball; after the eight-year gap between the release of his first big feature (2000’s visually arresting, also kind of icky and lame The Cell) and his more personal follow up (his gorgeous The Fall—granted, a movie that took a long time to make and a little while to get a proper release), he has this Greek warrior-titan-god movie coming out for some quick holiday cash, and then he’s first out of the box with 2012’s dueling Snow White pictures, with his recently titled Mirror, Mirror in March (until Snow White and the Huntsman moves up to come out the day before or something). It’s a Tarsem renaissance!
Immortals is roughly halfway between the loveliness of The Fall and the luridness of The Cell; it’s got the violence of the latter but the playfulness of the former. I have no idea what the Best Buy Bro crowd will think of it; the recruited portion of the crowd at my screening suggests that a few of the money scenes, mostly involving gods battling (and gorily exploding) titans at differing speeds, will connect (then again, sometimes recruited crowds are just grateful to be seeing a movie for free). Despite some speechifying and righteousness, I’m not sure if Immortals is serious enough for the 300 crowd (or rather, the crowd that took 300 seriously). Though I enjoyed the various forays into bonkers territory, I wonder if the director’s supposedly sticky-sweet, visually lush take on Snow White won’t suit him better.
Melancholia: I really want to see Melancholia, because while I’m in and out on Lars von Trier, I generally like sci-fi and Kirsten Dunst and crazy beautiful apocalyptic visions, flavors that I bet go great with von Trier’s aching sadness and/or abject sourness. I couldn’t make the press screenings I was offered, and I’ve been told repeatedly that this movie should be seen theatrically, so I’ve avoided its On Demand availability for what seems like months. Now I’ve been rewarded with the revelation that Melancholia has been booked to play the NYC art house circuit’s terrible default twosome: the Angelika and Lincoln Plaza.
Due respect for their showcasing of high-quality independent and foreign films, but the actual experience of sitting down and watching a movie at either of those theaters kind of sucks. I know theatrical isn’t exactly the endgame with this movie, but if I were Magnolia, I’d be making a bigger deal about how sure, you can catch Melancholia via On Demand, but if you really want the full, lush experience, you should see it during this special limited engagement on a really nice screen where you can drink in the visuals the trailer and advance reviews have promised. That would mean booking it into theaters with actual big screens that actually look and sound good. That would mean the Landmark Sunshine, guys. Not the Angelika, I’m sorry to say. I know it’s hitting both BAM and the Nitehawk eventually, but not this weekend. Honestly, I would rather see it at the AMC in Times Square than the Angelika or Lincoln Plaza; I may have even more waiting to do.