Monday Morning Critic 9.20.2010 – Katy Perry, Over/Under & Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead

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.

“I understand. Junior high must’ve been kind of tough, but it doesn’t give you the right to treat your workers like horseshit, Janice. I know we laugh at you, Janice. We all know you keep a stash of jelly donuts in the top drawer of your desk.” – Wesley (James McAvoy), Wanted (2008)

Someone once that said power is corrupting, and absolute power is absolutely corrupting, but I also think celebrity is corrupting in the same manner. You can tell how long someone is going to be famous for by the manner in which they choose to use their newfound celebrity. The classier you are on the way up the better the odds are that you’re going to stay there (or near it, at least). It’s a matter of being Angelina or Gaga.

Angelina Jolie may be absolutely crazy in terms of how she handles her personal life, adopting kids like most women buy purses, but you can’t deny that she’s using her fame and status to do something good in the world via her humanitarian purposes. She’s going to be a star for as long as she wants to be, probably settling into the Eastwood ideal of being a famous movie star and famous director with the ability to pick and choose her projects. She has the “homewrecker” label from the whole debacle with Brad Pitt but is still with the man AND is hitting a phase in her career where she probably is going to top two major action films in a single year. People come out en masse to see her as an action hero, something few men can pull off nowadays. There’s a certain air of sophistication and class from her that’s rare from a movie star of her fame; she’s one of the few actors of her generation (George Clooney being the other) that feel like genuine stars as opposed to being “really popular people” as Chris Rock would say.

Conversely you can tell Lady Gaga’s 15 minutes of fame are nearing the 13 minute mark by the fact that she has to dress up in meat to further “shock” people who are just starting to realize that a big portion of her songs sound like a teenager who found the best of ABBA, Ace of Base and Madonna and just changed the lyrics up while keeping the background music somewhat intact. Once she runs out of things that are shocking she’s going back to the same Brooklyn neighborhood she came from, like in a musical version of Rocky V except with worse acting. I think you can add Katy Perry to that list. Why?

Because she took time out of a concert to settle a grudge from her past. It’s presented as “fulfilling a junior high school girl’s fantasy” from everyone who’s reported it but as I started reading it I kind of felt sorry for her.

It’s also the same way I feel sorry for the people who go on daytime talk shows for the “I was ugly in high school and you picked on me, now I’m hot, ha ha ha ha” kind of shows Maury Povich tapes once a year in between episodes of “I DNA tested 300 men and no one’s my baby daddy.”

I realize that being successful and famous for being both attractive and a great musician does count for a lot but what I don’t get is feeling that need to rub it in the face of those who wrong you on the way up. I get the idea of wanting to go “ha ha, I made it and you’re stuck working a crummy job with an ugly spouse” and it would seem to make sense but at the same time it should be clear enough that you don’t have to at a certain point. It’s only those uncertain of their career, I think, or uncertain of themselves that they’d have to try and humiliate someone from your past because you can’t let that go.

When Katy Perry is back to obscurity with Russell Brand, struggling to get anyone to hear her music while Brand points out on stage that he was funny in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, it won’t be that surprising. How someone handles their celebrity gives you an idea on how long it’ll last. But then again, thoughts like these kept me out of the good colleges.

Random Thoughts of the Week

I always like to go back and read everything I write once it’s done and published; sometimes there’s some good comedy bits I missed, points I wanted to make and didn’t or things that nag at me and I can’t think why I can’t let them go. Last week I went off on my opinion of Roman Polanski, who I think is the most overrated director working right now, and something struck me.

While we all discuss it, there are certain things that are clearly becoming overrated and some that are significantly underrated nowadays that need to be addressed. And in that manner I present another randomly occurring column event, alongside the Wit and Wisdom Draft, to pull out whenever I’m bored/lazy/can’t think of anything else to write. This will be pretty easy; I’ll give something Overrated, then Underrated, Properly rate the whole process and keep repeating until I run out of time/ideas.

The Kubryk Over / Under Guide to Properly Rating Cinematic Stuff – 9.20 Edition

Overrated: Winning an Oscar

Underrated: Winning multiple Oscars

Properly Rated: I don’t mean to disparage winning the Academy’s highest honor, which is still a really tough thing to win, but winning an Oscar once I think gets treated significantly more than what it is really worth. We debate and make picks (I write three columns a year on the subject), some of us collaborating into pools to gamble on who wins (and who won’t) but yet as soon as they’re done we forget about them. The Oscars have become rather disposable, as it’s seemingly much more about the political aspect of Hollywood than it is about actual talent, but if you can win an Oscar twice that says something.

A significant portion of the better actors working right now have never even sniffed an Oscar nomination, much less an award. This isn’t professional basketball where someone like Kobe Bryant or Lebron James can hold a monopoly over MVPs and All-NBA distinctions by being significantly better than Players #3-10 in terms of talent in the league. What we’re seeing with the Oscars is more indie roles and foreign films get rewarded than anything with a budget over $10 million; ½ the year doesn’t matter and is treated as irrelevant for awards purposes unless it’s for technical awards. So winning an Oscar is like winning the Heisman trophy; if you’re the greatest defensive lineman in the history of the NCAA you won’t win because you’re not a quarterback or running back from some school that has eye popping stats.

Winning once usually means you did one thing: found the right role at the right time, ala Cuba Gooding Jr. or Marissa Tomei. Much like the Heisman, and its history of winners flopping in the NFL, winning the Oscar for anything usually it’s a momentary sign of excellence and that’s all. The last time Gooding was in a film I saw in theaters was a bit part in American Gangster. There isn’t an Oscar curse, per se. Most winners get overrated purely based on the fact they have an Oscar.

The best example is Gwyneth Paltrow: A good but not great actress, she won one in the right role (love interest and muse to Shakespeare) at the right time (late ‘90s) with the right film (Shakespeare in Love) and the right studio head (Harvey Weinstein) with the right marketing campaign (Weinstein convincing enough people with marketing to let his film win a ton of awards over one of the great films of the decade, Saving Private Ryan).

Afterwards the win itself elevates her to “great” but she flounders because she’s not a great actress: just good. There is nothing wrong with that but one role and one Oscar doth not make a great actress in the same way winning the Heisman doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a great football player. In some cases it is, like Kate Winslet or Russell Crowe, but too many times it’s a matter of a gifted performance above and beyond the rest of their resume as opposed to one of many.

To win twice means you’re in the rare elite of gifted actors. Winning once is oftentimes more about luck than talent; ten years from now we’ll cringe when Mo’Nique and Jennifer Hudson are still hyped as “Oscar winning actresses” because they were flavors of the moment. But Spielberg and both of his trophies for Best Director is something special. Sean Penn, Denzel Washington, Jack Nicholson, Hilary Swank, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Tom Hanks, Daniel Day-Lewis and Dustin Hoffman (amongst others) have two golden men on their mantles.

Overrated: Martin Scorsese and Michael Mann

Underrated: J.P Melville

Properly Rated: This is a hard one to do, considering my love for films by Scorsese and Mann, but both are pointed as the “Master of the Crime Film” whenever they go back to the genre that made both famous by plenty who should know better. And Scorsese and Mann are two of my favorite directors. It’s hard to argue against HEAT and Goodfellas, two of the more influential crime films of the past 20-30 years, but they’re also grabbing concepts that are cliché now but were invented by Jean-Pierre Melville (amongst others) during the French New Wave.

Overrated: Indie / Foreign films

Underrated: Summer blockbusters

Properly Rated: I love the art house cinema more than others but I think sometimes the love for the films that don’t have massive production budgets or are filmed in languages other than English gets a wee bit overdone. The thing we tend to forget here in America is that we’re only getting the best of other countries works in our small theatres. It’s one thing to get the Millennium trilogy here, and the then remake The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for fun, but what we don’t get all the crappy films that debut in other countries en masse. It’s one thing to sit through a bad American movie as an American, but when it comes to foreign films we only get the best. Same with the indie world. There are tons, and tons, of awful films in other languages or done outside the studio system and frankly most times we get a lot more quality content from the average studio film than with the average indie or foreign film. For every Mesrine or Thank you for Smoking out there there’s another two dozen more films that aren’t nearly as good that never come close to sniffing the screen or the DVD section.

Overrated: CGI explosions

Underrated: Real explosions

Properly Rated: One of the more annoying things about the summer blockbuster season is that stuff doesn’t blow up like it used to. One of Stallone’s complaints before The Expendables was how “CGI muscles” had changed everything and nearly took the action genre with it, as anyone could be an action hero. But I think he was wrong in that because I’ve always felt the grand changeover in action films came from the use of CGI instead of practical effects for blowing stuff up en masse. A good explosion in a movie should make your bones rattle instead of just look pretty; that’s the beauty of actually blowing it up instead of doing it with a software program. When John Woo blows up a hospital in Hard Boiled you feel it in a way CGI doesn’t allow you to. CGI may allow you to anally violate the laws of physics for a while, like in this year’s The A-Team, but it doesn’t get the blood flowing like seeing a massive explosion made by the pyrotechnic guys.

Overrated: James Franco

Underrated: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Properly Rated: There’s always one actor that’s hailed as the best of his generation, or the next great dramatic actor, and one who actually is. 15 years ago Johnny Depp and Leonardo Dicaprio held those spots respectively. And for all the hype around James Franco, the admitted weak link of the first Spider-Man franchise, he’s never had that brilliant performance that makes you stand up and notice. Allegedly his role in the new Danny Boyle film, 127 Hours, but I won’t believe it until I see it.

Joe Gordon-Leavitt has been consistently been great in nearly everything he’s been in. Seemingly a lifetime away from his role as the kid on Third Rock from the Sun, Leavitt made a number of great indies (especially Brick, one of the best of the decade) and was terrific in one of the year’s best films in Inception. Rumored to be taking up the part of The Riddler in the next Batman franchise, partly based on the mutual love between he and Chris Nolan, he’s one of the best actors working today. Franco has the looks but hasn’t shown anything that says “I’m a great actor” and is currently doing a run on a soap opera as an evil performance artist named “Franco.”

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This Week’s DVD – Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

You got to love Marissa Tomei. Unlike most actresses past 40, she doesn’t have a problem with getting completely naked on camera. Unlike Diane Lane, who did it once to get noticed and has been clothed ever since, Tomei will go buck naked for the right role and is in such amazing shape that she ought to be given great roles in every film. She is a great actress as well, so she should be getting great parts for the sake of getting great parts, but the fact that she has no problem with nude scenes is awesome. And in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead she’s completely naked in a sex scene in the opening scene.

She’s mid coitus with her husband Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) but also in the midst of an affair with his brother Hank (Ethan Hawke). Their parents own a jewelry store in a small suburban mini-mall that presents itself as an opportunity for the two to square away some debts they owe to nefarious sources. Hiring a third man to pull off the job, tragedy strikes when it gets violent and the gunman and the boys’ mother kill each other during the robbery. The film follows the two’s guilt in handling the situation and, as in any crime film, the ending is never pretty.

The film’s main calling card, outside of being named after a semi-famous Irish saying, is that it isn’t shot in a traditional manner. Using different perspectives, and messing with the timeline, the film is presented with several scenes using different perspectives from different characters. It lends a different story-telling aspect to the manner and gives a bit of a variance to the narrative. It has a ridiculously strong cast, too, and Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead would’ve been a contender for an Oscar as a crime film if not for being released at the same time as No Country For Old Men which overshadowed this film significantly.

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

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole – Zach Snyder does animation.

See It – This could be interesting, I admit, and Snyder hasn’t missed on a film yet. I don’t imagine this will be his first.

The Virginity Hit – The guys behind The Last Exorcism do the same thing with some teenagers losing their virginity.

Skip It – It is one thing to do a sex comedy, but the whole fake documentary bit has gotten weak and I don’t expect this to reinvigorate it.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps – Gordon Gecko comes back to warn everyone about the pending recession in 2005 in the same way Not Jason Bourne proved that the Iraq War was “based on a lie” in The Green Zone except without the violence. And probably another dozen quotes for douche bags to use.

Skip it– Oliver Stone has been on a streak of having everything he touches turn to crap. World Trade Center was his only hit amidst his usual grand standing and now his back is against the wall. He has two Oscars but even guys with that much talent can’t skate by on talent alone; even Woody Allen has to make a film that is profitable. So Stone is doing what a desperate man in his situation would: take a classic and make a sequel to it because it’s nearly guaranteed to be a hit.

You Again – Kristen Bell and Jamie Lee Curtis find out that a family member is marrying into a family of their rivals.

See It – The trailer looks noxiously bad but it does contain a great concept I think could be interesting for some exploration.

Do you have questions about movies, life, love, or Branigan’s Law? Shoot me an e-mail at 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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