Monday Morning Critic 8.30.2010 – Elin Nordegren & The Tiger Principal, Michael Cera’s Scott Pilgrim problem and The Lives of Others

Every Monday morning, InsidePulse Movies Czar Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings an irreverent and oftentimes hilarious look at pop culture, politics, sports and whatever else comes to mind. And sometimes he writes about movies.  With the changeover to the new version of Inside Pulse Movies, he apologizes for being a little bit late.  But the column is pretty good, though, he thinks.

With news that Tiger Woods and his now ex-wife Elin Nordegren are now official caput as a married couple, there’s hope that Tiger can once again go back to being the greatest golfer ever and Ellen can be another hot divorcee in Florida with too much money to play with. The whole sordid mess that began last Thanksgiving is now officially over to some degree. The future in all of this isn’t too hard to predict, either.

Elin has given her first big official interview about how “horrible” the whole thing was. Expect this to be the first in probably a long line of interviews firmly establishing herself as the sole, wounded party in all of this. It would be almost appropriate that the big weeping grand finale on Oprah firmly establishes her as the biggest victim of the last century. This will be the scorned wife’s version of Schindler’s List, I think, except of course without the whole pesky “genocide” thing to make it tragic. And you’re only kidding yourself if you think she won’t do the big weeping interview with anyone besides Oprah; there’ll be a book about her “experience” and nothing sells books like crying on Oprah for millions of housewives.

Tiger will still wind up as the greatest golfer of our time but has lost that ability to be beloved in his prime like Michael Jordan was. Jordan was a first rate womanizer, like his good friend Woods, but managed to keep it under wraps until after his playing days were officially over and his ascension from relevance was complete. His divorce, and the allegations of serial adultery that followed, wasn’t a big deal because Jordan was nothing more than an aging spokesman and business owner when all his epic poon-houndry came out.

Woods has completely destroyed his image while in his prime in the span of less than a year so thoroughly that the only other professional athlete who has come close is Lebron James. It leads me to one thing, however. I think people are going to miss out on the greater thing that has been established in the last couple years: that celebrity cheating has created its own certifiable scale that can confirm whether or not it was a good or a bad thing. For better or worse we now have an official standard of how to handle our perceptions about celebrities and athletes when it comes to their adulterous behaviors when in the midst of their careers.

Listen to me now and believe me later.

Part of being a celebrity, with the money and trappings that usually come with it, is that the rules change in how they get handled. Lindsay Lohan would be serving hard time if she hadn’t been a tabloid star, et al, and while it’s not necessarily a good thing it’s part of human existence. Those at the top get away with more and pay fewer consequences for things than the everyday normal person. Adultery amongst the regular population is a near unforgivable sin; we kind of expect it out of the rich and famous. They might have more but they also have a greater temptation for the sins of the flesh; we are human, after all, and it takes a stronger person than most not to indulge. But how they indulge and with whom generally establish the degree to which they’re going to be treated.

And it’s almost always the men, too, because any woman who cheats on a spouse 99 times out of 100 destroys her image. It’s remarkably sexist, I admit, but unfortunately that’s life when you get famous. Meg Ryan cheats with Russell Crowe and it’s much more massive than if it was the reverse. Women who are successful who stray from their marriages get lambasted in a way their male counterparts never do. It’s a double standard that stinks but weirdly enough I picked up on it during one of the biggest infidelity scandals of our time: Jolie-Pitt-Aniston.

I first noticed this whole mess during the whole bloated Jennifer Aniston-Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie love triangle that left one marriage ruined and Pitt upgrading from a Friend to Lara Croft. In all of this Aniston had her profile raised and Jolie earned a reputation as a home wrecker, but the one thing no one pounced on was that Brad Pitt was a married man who cheated on his wife and came out relatively unscathed. Why? Because he cheated upwards, that’s why. People can overlook adultery from the rich and famous if it’s with someone above their current spouse’s scale.

If he had borked someone like his children’s nanny or Snooki from the Jersey Shore, Pitt would’ve suffered some long term damage to his reputation and maybe his career that would take a while to repair (if ever). But he went from someone who was America’s sweetheart (2nd string) to America’s #1 sex symbol. It’s seemingly a forgivable offense, weirdly enough, and the one thing that’s always amazed me is that Pitt has come out of this figuratively smelling like a rose. How is this possible? Because he followed the proper way to commit adultery per my scale of explanation:

The Tiger Principal: The Six Layers of Celebrity Cheating

It’s relatively simple to understand how this works. If you’re a 4 or a 5 you can only go up and maintain your celebrity status as is with a scandalous affair with someone at the same level or higher as either yourself or your spouse. Anything lower than that and you risk damaging your career, of course, because people may not say it but you think that if you’re the best at what you do you should be able to do “better than that.” So if you’re a moderately famous screenwriter married to a struggling actress, you have to find at least as famous as yourself to maintain that weird status quo. On this scale groupies don’t count because it’s almost expected for a rich athlete like Woods to plow through a Denny’s waitress; we allow a certain amount of adultery for situations like this when we evaluate a celebrity in a sex scandal. What we don’t allow is for a higher profile affair with a lower profile person.

Look at Jesse James, Sandra Bullock’s ex-husband; he went from a soon to be Oscar winner (and beloved American icon) to a gal with big boobs who’s famous in the fetish community for being tattooed. He went even lower than his own status as a moderately famous celebrity, down to a cult celebrity, and it would be ok (since he’s slightly famous for something) if he wasn’t married to America’s sweetheart (1st string). You don’t go that far down on Sandy Bullock, man, when it comes to chasing strange tang without suffering the consequences. It’s like trading your franchise star for a late round draft pick; you have to get more than the bare minimum, fire sale price.

6. A List Actor / Famous Athlete / President of the United States of America – Tiger is the world’s most famous golfer, and one of the best known athletes period, he’s at the top of the good chain when it comes to anything. The guy wrote a check for several hundred million in his divorce, so it’s not like he’s hurting for anything. So if he pulls an A-Rod and cheats on his wife with a Kate Hudson type it’s understandable in an odd way. The President can also cheat on his spouse but it has to be with someone as mega-famous as he is; it’s why people don’t have a problem with JFK laying the wood on Marilyn Monroe but did when Bill Clinton got his jollies with an intern. President Obama could cheat on Michelle with tennis star Serena Williams and it wouldn’t be as huge a deal as if he and Megan Fox had an affair.

5. Rich business person / Ranking Politician – The one thing money buys more than anything else in this world is access. The CEO of a large corporation has a bit of an easier time getting Tiger Woods to take his call than you or I. The same goes with political power. You may not be a millionaire as a higher-ranking elected official, though most tend to be, but if you’re a Senator you have a significantly easier time getting access to the highest levels. So a rich and famous businessman or politician being able to live out a childhood dream and shag a Hollywood starlet behind his wife’s back is understandable; Tiger, on the other hand, can’t go “moose hunting” with Sarah Palin or Nancy Pelosi because he’s more famous than she is. It’s a step down for him.

4. Famous Musician – Being a famous recording artist isn’t quiet what it used to be in the post American Idol era of musical fame and fortune. Tiger Woods pursuing side action with Mariah Carey or someone along those lines is a step down the chain because we don’t value musicians like we did 10-20 years ago. So Tiger cheating on his wife with Nick Cannon’s wife, or Carrie Underwood, is a step down the ladder.

3 Famous but not Significantly High Profile Celebrity – This is where Aniston was before the Pitt-Jolie scandal essentially made her career. She was famous from Friends but hadn’t had a hit movie where she headlined it. Still hasn’t, by the way, but Pitt clearly was the higher profile of the two at the time. So he can go up to someone of Jolie’s stature and it’s not that big a deal but someone on that level can’t cheat on below their stature. Ethan Hawke cheated on Uma Thurman with their nanny, as did Jude Law on Sienna Miller; both may have been famous actors married to other famous actors but you don’t cheat on another famous actor with a nanny without suffering repercussions.

2. Adult Film Star / Anyone with the term “Fetish” in their Description – This is where Tiger got in trouble because a good number of his mistresses came from the world of pornography. It is a fantasy for some guys to hook up with someone who gets paid to participate in gang bangs but it’s really sleazy to cheat on your wife with someone with severe daddy issues. That is unless you’re on the bottom rung of celebrity mistresses. It’s what doomed Jesse James; it’s one thing to schnook a model behind your wife’s back, it’s another to schnook one who appeals to people whose tastes in porn are still socially unacceptable.

1. Reality TV Show Participant – Tiger Woods throwing his marriage away to see J-Woww and her, ahem, J-Wowws is pretty much unforgivable in terms of image-wrecking. You don’t see guys like Pitt or Woods leaving their wives for people desperate for their 15 minutes of fame; you can do way better than someone who makes a living off of train-wreck style programming for MTV or VH1. We view these types as kind of the fringes of celebrity, like how circuses used to have freak shows. Yeah you might get famous and/or rich for being a woman with a full beard, but you’re still a circus freak. Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino may be banking on his fame from Jersey Shore, to the tune of allegedly $5 million this year, but no matter what he does in life he’ll always be that ripped loser from a reality television show. He could win a Nobel Prize for discovering a cure for cancer and he’ll have his introduction prefaced with “Nobel Prize winner and formerly the star of Jersey Shore” for better or worse no matter what he does with his life. Heck, he could end up being a mid-manager at some insurance company and he’d still be called “Finance Manager and former star of Jersey Shore.”

As much as everyone wants to say celebrities “are just like us,” they really aren’t. The rules that apply to a cell phone salesmen having an affair in the suburbs with the girl in the food court don’t apply to someone who top lines a film or captains a professional sports team. At least now we have a scale in which we can judge their tastes in mistresses by. But then again, thoughts like these kept me out of the good colleges.

Random Thoughts of the Week

Normally after the length of my completely unnecessary but usually funny opening I’d leave out a random thought of the week about cinema, and I was totally going to as well, but a couple of random web posts got me thinking. Both were about Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, one of my favorite films of 2010 (so far) and one of the many films that’s been critically beloved but has become an epic box office disaster after much buzz early on as well as good word of mouth.

It debuted weakly and has dropped like a boulder in the ocean ever since en route to maybe $60 million in total box office grosses internationally; my guess is that it’ll wind up close to breaking even with DVD and rentals having to explode (and massively big sellers on DVD rarely come from films that make less than $200 million domestically) for this to be anything but a failure. And then something caught my eye.

First Jenny Rushing posited something from the Alamo Drafthouse in Texas on the Face Book about why people are seeing Vampires Suck, amongst others, before the Michael Cera headlined film. And then I read on The Wrap riffed on the subject as well, imploring people to see a film I gave four stars to. And something in the latter kind of stuck out to me: Michael Cera isn’t a movie star or a leading man, period, and the film’s commercial appeal is not what it could be because of it.

It’s not about whether or not he can open a film or whether or not he’s a draw. He’s just the non-Jewish version of Jason Schwartzman and is headed towards being just another character actor / sidekick in the comedy world. He’s Danny Trejo without the rap sheet or tattoos, Terry Crews without the muscles or David Schwimmer without the receding hairline and inherent creepiness that comes from a guy who looks like a pedophile. Schwimmer has a lot of talent as a comedic director but he looks like the kind of child rapist that Roman Polanski is, like he’d be the guy driving a rapist van and it wouldn’t be out of place.

As always, listen to me now and believe me later. Or, since I’ve already used that this week, perhaps listen to me a little bit later and believe me well after that.

The one thing that always interests me about film is the marketing. Scott Pilgrim had a really clever marketing campaign, and from all accounts a terrific video game based off the film, but the thing in noticed most was that the film’s star was the one thing the marketing campaign really didn’t mention all that much. Yeah he was on the poster, and was in the trailers prominently, but it wasn’t “THIS FILM HAS MICHAEL CERA, SEE IT BITCHES” that a real star like Denzel Washington, Sean Penn, Russell Crowe or Christian Bale et al, would get. It was more akin to “Hey this film is really wild and this guy’s in it,” always interesting in and of itself as a marketing strategy. The fact that Cera wasn’t being pushed to the moon, instead of the film’s style and it’s cast of evil ex-boyfriends (amongst others) were promoted much more. That’s telling in and of itself.

The film itself, while remarkably brilliant, works with Cera in the lead because Scott Pilgrim is inherently a character playing the “Michael Cera” role both in the comic book and in the film. You could’ve substituted a number of other actors in that part but if you’re going to have a “Michael Cera” role you might as well see if you can get Michael Cera to do it first before going after someone else. It’s like the “Rae Dawn Chong” role in ‘80s films; if you’re going to do that role you might as well get Ms. Chong to play it, hence the reason why she’s in nearly every ‘80s film. And if someone like Jesse Eisenberg had been cast as Scott Pilgrim we’d all think “hey, he’s playing the Michael Cera role” and no one would’ve batted an eye. Cera didn’t do too much to make the character an iconic one only he could’ve played like Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, for example. Scott Pilgrim, for better or worse, is a stock character. And I don’t mean that as disrespectful to Cera.

I like Cera as an actor, and many others do, but he’s not the guy people want to go out and buy a ticket to see en masse. He’s a “plus one” to a bigger star in a film like this. The movie star may not be as consequential to box office grosses as they used to be but they still matter; people tend to forget that in a day and time when the movie star’s ability to draw crowds to a multiplex by having their name on the marquee is not what it used to be. Being known, and being a name, are two very different things. Kevin Connelly is known, mainly for his work as Eric on Entourage, but he’s not a brand name like any of the big stars that cameo on that show or the man (Mark Wahlberg) upon whom the show is based off of. It’s the difference between being recognizable on the streets to being someone who you’d pay money to see them perform and Cera is the former, not the latter, despite what his status would seem to indicate.

Cera’s career as a consequential movie star was supposed to take off with Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Youth in Revolt coming in the wake of smash hits Superbad and Juno. But in hindsight Cera wasn’t the thing that brought people into the theatre to either Superbad or Juno. The former was made when anything Judd Apatow touched was remarkably funny and drew $100 million for any film he was associated with almost automatically. The latter was better known as the “Oh My God Ellen Page is freakin’ amazing” film that garnered intense word of mouth. It was also one of the best films of the decade mainly because Page gave a career making, and perhaps defining, performance. My mother, who I sometimes use as a gauge on the spread of a film’s buzz, said she was going to see it because “I heard the girl in it is incredible.” Cera was in it, and was quite capable, but you hardly heard anyone say that you had to see that particular film because of him. Page was the draw who elevated everyone in it, pure and simple.

So what’s left? Nick & Norah made a tidy $33 million worldwide on a $10 million budget and Youth checks in with an $18 million total box office haul against a budget of the same amount. Not exactly stellar numbers, even if DVD sales on the latter got it close to profitability and the former made a decent sized profit based on the minimal budget for a studio film. No one made money off Year One, where he and Jack Black headlined, except maybe the catering staff. It all comes to down to how Cera was rated back when he was anointed a star, which was significantly higher than he actually was. He was significantly over-rated at that point in his career, the post Juno era, and now that he’s been on his own he’s falling back down to Earth as a draw. This is where he ought to be properly rated; a guy who has a small following but isn’t going to be someone who brings in crowds.

Cera’s big claim to fame was being on the “funniest show that no one watched,” Arrested Development. That might’ve been the problem all along as Cera wasn’t exactly a massive star waiting to break out like John Travolta after the first season of Welcome Back, Kotter. You can tell, watching that show, Travolta was going to be a massive star the minute he’s on the screen. He has that “it” factor you can’t teach or coach out of someone. It translated to Saturday Night Fever and Grease being insanely massive hits and him becoming one of the biggest actors in the world in a remarkably short period of time.

Cera was allegedly funny in it from what both people who were devoted fans have said about it; I watched it twice and thought it was the worst show I’d seen in a long time. Like noxiously bad. I’m not the only one because it didn’t draw people in to watch it. Good programming will usually find an audience in this day and age, perhaps a golden era of television, so for a show to get such rave reviews and not find an audience usually means it’s not that good. Firefly is about the only exception I can find to that rule. Cera didn’t really stand out, either, and seemed like just another guy. Nothing more, nothing less.

When a supporting star from a show no one watched branches out, finds success by being in the right role at the right time and then doesn’t draw the same crowds afterwards we have only thing we can decide: that they weren’t a star to begin with. It’s not that Cera has made bad film choices outside of Year One; even that is somewhat forgivable any time you hear the phrase “starring Jack Black” in a film’s promotional material. He’s made three good films to one bad one as a lead actor (Paper Heart doesn’t count as it’s a documentary, allegedly) so he has good taste in scripts and parts.

For better or worse Schwartzman is the best career comparison because both play similar stock characters; there’s always going to be a need for a skinny dork with good comic timing. For comic actors who can bring in crowds there will always be a need for a sidekick to play off of much like Batman has Robin. Guys who are draws like Seth Rogen will always need somebody to help out their cause. It’s not a bad career to have if you can get it; not everyone can be a leading man, sometimes for better or worse you are a character actor.

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This Week’s DVD – The Lives of Others

One of the interesting things since the fall of Communism is that there are plenty of film-makers willing to give an insight into what life used to be like behind the Iron Curtain. It adds to another perspective for those who only experienced being in the U.S for the Cold War.

The Lives of Others follows life in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany. Part of me gets a little worried about that; nothing was scarier than watching the World Cup and seeing a number of Germans clad in all black singing the national anthem with zest. The film follows secret police captain Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe) as he investigates a playwright (Sebastian Koch) accused of sowing dissent. What follows is a look into the world of the Stasi, the East German secret police, and abuses of power in a dictatorship, that give us an insight into the world of the Communist dictatorship.

Beating out heavily favored Pan’s Labyrinth, which seemed like a foregone conclusion, The Lives of Others deserved that Oscar because it’s a tremendous film about the dark side of communism we never saw but could only speculate on back when it was happening. It gets almost uncomfortable at times to see the institutionalized abuses of power the Stasi use and how casual they are in discussing them. A period piece, it gets all of the little details of the era correct

Strong recommendation.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

The American – George Clooney is a hit man doing one last job before going into retirement, yada yada.

Skip It – The buzz on this film is remarkably awful as well as having trailers and promotional pieces that are dull and unimpressive. I like Clooney and usually he’s money for films like this but even Michael Clayton, which had similar buzz and bad promotional materials, still felt like it had something special waiting to happen in it (and it did). This has none of that.

Machete – Danny Trejo goes from generic bad guy to Mexican super-assassin for his buddy Robert Rodriguez.

See It – It seems odd that a fake trailer designed as a lead in for Grindhouse could end up as a feature length film but Hobo with a Shotgun is in production and will probably get released into theatres. My feeling is that Trejo has pictures of Rodriguez with a donkey, thus him getting his own film after being known for being a badass with a distinctive look, but it could be an interesting look back at the heyday of the exploitation era. Rodriguez does have a knack at making interesting films, even if they’re not very good at times, so this could be an interesting experiment.

Going the Distance – Justin Long and Drew Barrymore exploit their real life relationship on the big screen.

See It – It’s always interesting to see couples bring their real lives onto the big screen, especially two people with as much talent as Long and Barrymore. With romantic comedies being the last bastion of story-telling in Hollywood, this looks it could be interesting applying the rom-com formula to a long distance relationship.

A Woman A Gun and a Noodle Shop – The Chinese remake the Coens’ classic Blood Simple.

See It – It’s always interesting when American film makers remake foreign films, but the one thing that doesn’t happen nearly enough is foreign directors taking a crack at American films in serious ways (as opposed to cheap cash-ins). Taking a great film like Blood Simple and taking a serious crack at it from another perspective in another culture is fascinating to me. In limited release.

Do you have questions about movies, life, love, or Branigan’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.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @MMCritic_Kubryk.

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