Monday Morning Critic – 1/12

On Tap This Week:
— How to irritate older single women
— How to tell if someone is or is not a movie star
— Top Fives with Mike Noyes
And slightly much more!

Another week, another fun-filled column. With a foot of snow delivered this past weekend to the greater Chicagoland area, sometimes it gets to you. But since this is a chance to write a more personal column, I figure a colorful anecdote about life in the greater Chicagoland area would be a good way to introduce things this week.

Last Friday I was at a local bar, indulging, and the topic of dating came up. It’s a group of mostly single people, outside of my buddy Terry and his wife, and so I was the lone guy in a group of women in their mid-30s who had never been married. And so, of course, all of the faults of the male race were placed solely on my shoulders. It’s the first rule of having the minority opinion in a group that completely disagrees with you that everyone will automatically jump all over you (but not in the good way).

My problem was that I just casually stated that there has to be some give and take, as you don’t’ want to become a “cat lady.” You know what I’m talking about; that old broad who has 200 cats because they never settled down with a good man or woman. Like the one on The Simpsons who throws cats at people and kind of mumble-shouts.

I, coincidentally, figured out that’s perhaps THE biggest insult you can give a single woman past 30 is to infer the cat lady reference. Especially when one owns like three cats; doing the The Simpsons cat lady and simulating throwing a cat apparently didn’t do anything to win me any favors. And so I, in a moment of clarity despite the belly full of Stella Artois telling me it was a bad idea, I opted to take the argument to a completely absurd level.

Crazy Cat Lady Skills Challenge – You can get Lee Corso and Peyton Manning to do the commentary, like the old NFL QB Skills Competition. You get like the best crazy cat ladies from across the country and have them compete for the national title, sponsor by Petsmart, et al. You could have the grey tabby throw for accuracy, toss kittens for distance, etc.

Apparently the part that was incredibly insulting was the mock commentary from Corso and Manning I provided. And my folks wonder why I didn’t get into the really good colleges.

Random Thoughts of the Week

When Chris Rock hosted the Oscars several years ago, he said something then was so true that it still resonates now. Hollywood now, and I’m paraphrasing, is made up of a few select stars and a whole lot of really popular people. “If you want Sean Penn, and all you can get is Jude Law, WAIT!” he famously said. Penn was indignant, due to his perception of Law’s burgeoning stardom and acting ability, it makes the best of sense.

How? Because the big stars of Hollywood carry themselves in a much more dignified manner than people who aren’t stars for the most part. It’s all in the tabloids. Denzel Washington is one of the best actors on the planet, of course, and one of its bigger stars. But how often do you see him gracing the cover of the tabloids?

Never.

Same with Tom Hanks, Nic Cage, Keanu Reeves, Matt Damon, Will Smith, Julia Roberts, Russell Crowe, Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Hillary Swank and a handful of other stars. But that’s about it. It’s a short list that rarely sees additions or subtractions, too.

It’s why Jon Voight, Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall, Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and several other older actors & actresses still headline films. They are movie stars; it’s an event when they are on the screen. It’s a particular feeling when a true movie star is on screen, as opposed to someone who is starring in a movie. That’s the difference between someone who is very popular and someone who is a movie star. And unfortunately in Hollywood they’ve done a spectacular job of creating buzz around someone but haven’t been able to truly craft a star in some time.

Paul Newman’s rotting corpse, for example, is more of a movie star than Jude Law or Orlando Bloom for example. And if Newman’s corpse headlined a film this summer on the same weekend a film featuring Bloom did, ten times out of ten Newman’s film would sell more tickets. And it’d be debatable who the better actor was, too.

It’s becoming a problem, with box office receipts going down, and boils down to one thing: They’ve created a culture of really popular people who rotate in and out, but there are fewer actual movie stars than ever before. For a while it was profitable, as you could recycle people in and out like teen idols on the cover of Tiger Beat, but after a while people want to see movie stars and feel like they’re at an event. Being part of something greater than yourself, something supremely important, is basic human nature.

Look at the most recent Presidential election. You had John McCain, a war hero, and rising star Barack Obama. On the one hand, you have a guy who’s qualified to do the job and likable enough. On the other you have a star that has captivated the world. Who doesn’t want to get behind the star? Its not rocket science by any stretch of the means.

You can talk about policy, et al., but 90% of his appeal was that he had that larger than life persona that McCain didn’t. In any sort of field where your persona matters (politics, sports, film and professional wrestling amongst others) being larger than life is always going to appeal over just being ordinary. You just don’t want to see some guy in a movie. That’s not why you shell out good money for a ticket to anything, much less a movie.

You want to see a MOVIE STAR, not just some guy who’s playing a part.

The latter is a disposable human being; plumbing for the great waste system that some would say defines modern Hollywood. The former is the meal ticket by which the studios sustain themselves. But the lines can get a little fuzzy, especially in an era where the media is all around and the line between personal and professional lives mix more often than we would like them to.

How can you tell which is which? That’s the $64,000 question.

With the power of media, as well as coverage on all sources, it’s always tough to really determine who is a movie star and who isn’t. Rock thought if you were a substitute for someone more famous, you’re not a star and the production of a film should wait until said star is available. While his best example involved himself and the aforementioned Washington (“If you want Denzel Washington, and all you can get is me, WAIT!”), I think that’s maybe not the most stringent of criterion.

I think it needs some refining, maybe a clarification of definition if you will. Why? If you can’t get Tom Cruise, but you can get Christian Bale, it’s not like replacing Cruise with Tobey Maguire. You’re still getting a front line actor who draws money as opposed to merely replacing him with a guy famous for wearing tights.

I think we need a test, a series of qualifications to determine whether or not one is a movie star or merely another passing fancy. Well, I’ve crafted one. And it’s a simple one. Name an actor. If any of the following are answered yes, then they’re not a movie star. Simple as that, no grand formula or charts to go by, but complicated enough to make you think and compare. Call it “Kubryk’s Guide to Movie Stardom.”

If you can answer any of the following criteria in the positive, you’re not a movie star:

1. You have a sex tape – If your bedroom exploits can be seen by a five-year-old in Wasilla, Alaska, at 3am on a trashy internet site then you are not a movie star. See: Colin Farrell

2. Your movies do not make money – If you can’t cross $100 million domestically on a consistent basis, then you’re not a movie star. See: Johnny Depp

3. An MSN article on your dating life received more views than your last movie sold tickets – I think it’s great the George Clooney bangs cocktail waitresses by the dozen. More power to him as I wish I could pull that off, I readily admit my jealousy in that aspect of his life. But when more people read about his latest fling with a blonde at Mandalay Bay than saw Leatherheads in theatres, you can’t call him (or anyone else in a similar position) a movie star. See: George Clooney

4. People call you a great actor, yet you have not made a movie more than a dozen people have seen in the last three years – If an actor makes nothing but small, independent features followed by one big film every five years to remind people you’re still alive, you’re not a star. Part of being a movie star is making films that lots of people see on a consistent basis. Robert Redford didn’t become a star by making dozens of films that line the IFC lineup in the On Demand portion of any competent satellite service. And if you can’t act in a film that’ll be seen by more than three people, you’re not a movie star. See: Ed Norton

5. You are a prime candidate for The Lazenby Syndrome – George Lazenby starred in perhaps the best story of the Bond franchise, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but anyone who sees the film always says one thing: “That was great, but it would’ve been perfect if Sean Connery would’ve stayed on as Bond.”

If you’re in a film that edges on greatness and you’re the part people want replaced to make it a gem, then you are not a movie star. See: Ryan Philippe in Breach

6. You starred in a Uwe Boll film – If you slummed it with the man responsible for most of the worst films of the last two decades, you’re not a movie star. See: Christian Slater

7. If you’ve released a greatest hits music album, yet never had a hit or been a popular music act – Movie stars always seem to dabble in sports and music, usually with hilarious results, but it’s always even more hilarious when a greatest hits album is released. If you started out as a musical artist and then became an actor, like Will Smith, then it’s understandable. He was HUGE as a rapper before he became one of the biggest movie stars in the world. But if you developed your own vanity band, never got a top 20 album, and THEN opted to release a greatest hits album, then you honestly can’t call yourself a movie star.

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See: Bruce Willis (hat tip, Cracked.com)

8. You have a Blog – There’s nothing worse than hearing a celebrity talk about their politics or their personal life. Honestly, I couldn’t give a crap either way about who someone famous votes for or what they think of Global Warming. Hollywood espousing politics is nothing new, but if you’ve ever headlined a major Hollywood film and had a web log going on any site then you’re not a movie star. See: John Cusack

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This week’s DVD: Mafioso

La Cosa Nostra is a tricky subject to cover in film. The best films featuring them are legends of cinema like Goodfellas and The Godfather, endlessly quotable and hard to stop watching no matter what point you walk in on. Then there’s crap like 1991’s Mobsters with Richard Grieco and Christian Slater acting like Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Siegel if they were aging 80s teen idols. What’s always interesting is seeing a foreign film that looks at the mob, and there’s no better vantage point than from the country where the Mob was invented: Italy.

1962’s Mafioso, Alberto Lattuada’s finest hour, is the story of a man visiting his family in Sicily and getting more out of it than he ever imagined. It’s a great film, too.

Antonio (Alberto Sordi) is the manager of a car plant who has made good. Originally from Sicily, he migrated to Milan and is now the head of production at the plant with a beautiful wife and two lovely daughters. When he goes back home for a vacation, and a favor to his boss to hand something off to the local Godfather, Antonio finds himself owing a favor to the Don and is forced to do something for him in his stead.

I loved the film, of course, but what’s beautiful about it is the setup. The film’s finale, when Antonio has to do a job for the Godfather, is riveting but it’s in the film’s opening two acts where the film takes shape. This is a light comedy for the most part about a man coming home to a family and a life he had long since been removed and insulated from. As he adjusts back to life in Sicily, Antonio finds himself trying to straddle the world he has come to know and the world he was born in. It makes for an interesting viewing in the first hour, when Antonio is comically struggling to fit back in and keep his family apprised of the differences between the world they know and the world their father grew up in.

And when he has to repay a debt to the Godfather it goes from light to tight as a wire, seamlessly moving from light comedy to tight thriller as Antonio ventures deep into a world he once was a part of. Whereas his early experiences were light chores and work for the Don, such as being a lookout, to being involved much deeper than that. It’s fascinating to watch

Awful Trailer of the Week

Steve Martin really has fallen. He used to be the funniest man alive. Now he’s urinating on Peter Sellers’ grave by making awful Pink Panther films. He’s made a sequel.

A sequel with twice the stars and half the laughs of the original. I smell BIG MONEY!

Top Five Challenge

As always, our goal is to ask a member of the Inside Pulse family a question involving an answer that is five-fold. This week’s subject: Popcorn Junkies and DVD Lounge contributor Mike Noyes.

Mike’s wife is a great lady, but unfortunately we sometimes in the Secret Staff Writers Forum make fun of Mike because she sometimes dictates his movie going behaviors. And I even got in the act on the phone once, commenting to Mike that he must’ve gone after her for looks because “her taste in movies sucks.” So in this vein, we have to needle Mike into answering the following question:

Mike, your wife sometimes dictates your movie going behaviors. Which five films did you go with her to see ended up being ones you enjoyed?

Being a movie guy, I watch a lot of movies. I’m also married. Luckily my wife loves watching movies as much as I do. However despite this common interest, within lies much conflict. One of her favorite movies is Grease for example. When going to the theater we try to pick movies we both like, but that doesn’t always work out. Many times my wife has put up with films I wanted to see. Sometimes it goes the other way. Here are five films my wife dragged me to that actually ended up liking.

1. Little Children: This is certainly a film I never would have bothered to go out of my way to see. If left to my own devices I probably never would have gotten around to renting it. But I was quite surprised at how good this film was. Great story and amazing acting.

2. Four Christmases: I like Christmas movies and I like Vince Vaughn but this film didn’t strike my fancy. However, it did my wife, so we went and saw it and I’ll be damned if I didn’t laugh my ass off. Not a great film, but a fun one.

3. Revolutionary Road: Like Children I assumed this would probably be a good movie, but I didn’t care to go see it. I was quite pleasantly surprise to find it one of the best films of the year.

4. Cassandra’s Dream: I like Woody Allen, but after Match Point I was worried with the direction he was taking with his films. All that changed with Dream. I really loved this film.

5. Intermission: I certainly never would have seen this fantastic indie flick if my wife hadn’t dragged me a long. It has a lot of great characters with wonderful acting on all parts. I superb little gem.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and Northwestern University Co-Eds with low standards at the Rhythm Room

Hotel for Dogs – A hotel with dogs in it and kids have to save them or something like that.

Skip it – Your IQ will drop 20 points by watching the trailer alone.

My Blood Valentine 3-D – Some guy kills people in a small town. And it’s in 3-D!

Skip It – There was a Friday the 13th film that had the same premise, the whole “It’s in 3D, kneel before Zod and buy a ticket” deal where the whole point of the film is to get the jump moment by using the third dimension. Yawn. If the film was any good they wouldn’t be hyping the 3-D as its main selling point.

Notorious – The life and times of Chris Wallace, the rapper known as the Notorious B.I.G.

See It – I was never a huge fan of rap, but “Hypnotize” is one of my favorite songs of all time. Probably will end up being a typical musical biopic, of course, but the gangsta rap era of music in the ’90s is fascinating to begin with. This is the true cowboy era of gangsta rap before it became a fad, when “The Chronic” by Dr. Dre inspired millions of youths to drop a beat and Biggie Smalls is definitely worth the time investment.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop – Terrorists take over a mall in a fiendish plot to do something. It’s up to a fat guy on a Segway to stop them!

Skip ItDie Hard in a mall? Come on, Kevin James, do a film that doesn’t’ revolve around you being overweight.

Do you have questions about movies, life, love, or Brannigan’s Law? Shoot me an e-mail at Kubryk@Insidepulse.com and you could be featured in the next “Monday Morning Critic.” Include your name and hometown to improve your odds.

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