Monday Morning Critic – 11.29.2010 – Angelina Jolie, Lindsay Lohan, WikiLeaks and Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain

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 actually had a really funny bit making fun of the newfound “anti-bullying” movement, one involving a joke involving the state of Alaska and Sarah Palin even, but something stood out late last night that made me revise this column: accused rapist Julian Assange and his Wiki Leaks.

One of the big stories this weekend was a document dump by Wiki Leaks, this time of several hundred thousand documents from ambassadors and whatnot that was not flattering for the government. Again. Now I’m not going to get all political and either gloat at someone’s incompetence in the Obama administration or defend the President, nor am I going get into a First Amendment debate on the whole issue. And I’m not going to say anything in regards to the Gulf War or how it’s incomprehensible to me that Homeland Security can take down some Bit Torrent sites and Wiki Leaks somehow remains up. That’s been written by others in much better ways as I’m not a political pundit, just a movie writer who dabbles as a mediocre movie humorist. But one thing keeps coming to mind. Why hasn’t Assange been am-scrayed?

Listen to me now and believe me later.

One of the things that we do as a country is occasionally shuffling off the mortal coil American citizens doing bad things in other countries. Heck, I can imagine there’s a vain of truth in The Expendables that sometimes mercenaries are hired to take down some bad guys who used to be on our side and our now on their own side. As much as we use the power of the federal government to cop a feel on airport passengers and to protect the copyright of Killers from evil-doers, we don’t use the power to stop this guy on a permanent basis. That Katherine Heigl film could be considered a weapon of mass destruction to others, all things considered, but now’s not the time for rational thought or action.

Leaks will still come out, as not everyone is happy in a governmental situation, but this is putting lives of Americans in danger. So the fact that this guy hasn’t had a mysterious accident or a sudden heart attack is shocking in and of itself. Which leads to me one thing: this guy has something on somebody in power so big that he can get away with it. It reminds of one of my favorite films of the last decade, #15 on my Top 50 of 2010 internal list that got whittled down to 10. Here’s my Top 10, if you’re so inclined.

Remember in The Bank Job where Jason Statham and crew break into a bank to get some naughty pictures being used as blackmail? Somehow, for some reason against any sort of logic or rationality, I have to think Assange has something big. Which is why I have five things he might be holding that would give him the ability to be this big of a doucher. I mean people have been killed by our country for less, far less, and this dude is still walking and talking. So I keep thinking this has to be something so big, and so massive, that if he dies and it gets released that the whole foundation of modern civilization is going to be rocked. Call it:

The Get Out Of A Hangman’s Noose List

5. Star Trek fan-fiction from Louis Farrakhan

Imagine if the whole “black power” movement was started by a guy who wrote stories about Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock sneaking off for a quickie in the turbo lift? You’d see the immediate dissolution of the NAACP and Jesse Jackson might actually have to get a real job.

4. The cure to AIDS

There’s too much money in AIDS walks, and in pharmaceuticals, for this to come out. But it does explain how Kim Kardashian is still alive; I always thought she was just a succubus who drains the talents of those around her. Ray J could’ve been the next Will Smith, but one sex video with her and he’s a VH1 Reality TV star. It’s why she’s inexplicably popular, draining others’ celebrity for her own because she’s devoid of it like in Species but without the praying mantis style finish. That and I always have called her “AIDSy” in relation to her sisters “Fugly” and “Fatty” so it kind of makes sense in a way.

3. William Shatner’s original hairpiece

Everyone knows it isn’t Shatner’s hair, but imagine if his actual hairpiece came out. It’d be mass anarchy … imagine T.J Hooker starring a young Bruce Willis. Trekkies comprise a large part of our Geeky Economic System and with their disillusionment things like Comic-Con would end.

2. The original script to Jonah Hex

Probably the worst film I’ve seen in recent memory, one can only imagine that the original screenplay for this film is the real Weapon of Mass Destruction that we went to war in Iraq over. Saddam was probably going to make his own $100 million version of this with the Iraqi version of Josh Brolin (complete with walrus mustache) in the lead and that can’t happen. Think of the children!!!

1. Pictures of President Obama with a donkey while smoking a cigarette

There’s a $100,000 bounty for a picture of the President with a cigarette currently. Add six zeroes, or complete immunity, for something with him and a donkey with a cancer stick in the air.

If something happens to Mr. Assange in the next couple days I’d be surprised because he has to have something that gives him immunity from repercussion involving American national security. But then again, thoughts like these kept me out of elected office and out of the good colleges.

Random Thoughts of the Week

One of the more overlooked stories this last weekend, something I missed, was perhaps the penultimate sign that Lindsay Lohan’s career as a relevant actress might be officially over. As opposed to unofficially, considering she had a small supporting role in Machete and last headlined a film released into theatres three years ago. How so? The people behind what was supposed to be her big comeback project, a biopic of porn star Linda Lovelace, just fired her for Malin Ackerman in order to get the film into production. No matter how it will eventually be spun by those on both sides, as the indie studio behind it couldn’t insure her and her stint in rehab is set through early January, we can be certain of one thing. Unless a miracle happens, writing off Lohan as a relevant actress might be the prudent thing to do. Why?

She was replaced by a character actress best known for small roles in comedies.

It’s not a slight against Ackerman, who I really like as an actress. But she’s not someone you point to and go “She’s in that? I HAVE to see it now.” She’s a beautiful woman and a talented comedian but she’s a secondary actress so far in her career. If you need someone really good looking for the usual Katherine Heigl drek, or a pretty girl for a comedy, Ackerman’s on that short list because she can be really funny. She’s a nice addition to any film, like Danny Trejo, but you don’t go out of your way to see her. It doesn’t hurt that she’s incredibly beautiful, either, but that’s beside the point. You can tell a lot about an actress or an actor by who replaces them when they fall out of projects.

The most apt comparison I can make right now is with someone who had similar career problems early on and rose above them to become one of the few female actresses who is a legitimate box office draw: Angelina Jolie. It’s in how they moved on from projects that shows how far Lohan’s fallen (and perhaps might not get up). Jolie drops out of Gravity and there’s a handful of A-listers being bandied about to replace her. It says something about Jolie’s status that you just can’t bring in anyone to replace her on a project in the same manner. When the first person behind you for a high profile part is Sandra Bullock it means you’re not exactly someone who can be replaced like a semi-pro football team’s kicker.

It says a lot about Lohan that you can reach into a pool of interchangeable actresses and pull out one without too much of a problem. It’s not like they’re going to have to get Natalie Portman, Rachel McAdams or Mila Kunis for the part because of Lohan’s “movie star” status. They went to the same pool that features Kristen Bell, Ackerman and a handful of others that are known but not A-list, uber-famous yet. It’s about two steps up from an unknown, which has to be a massive slap in the face for Lohan no matter what the “mutually reached conclusion” really was. Why?

The fact that someone who is so far a secondary actress being the first pick to replace her shows that either Ackerman is underrated and in need of a break to show that she can be a headliner or that Lohan wasn’t someone that necessarily had to be in the film in order for it to come into existence. The latter is more likely, but the former is a possibility given the buzz behind some of her upcoming work. When you look at everything behind this project it’s not shocking that she’d be replaced so quickly and easily; this is a film being put into production in under three months, hell or high water, and Lohan would probably not be ready to work by then. Delaying production would cost a good amount of money, which probably couldn’t be made up on the back end with box office receipts and DVD sales by merely having Lohan in it, so finding an alternative ready to go is a must. This is a shame because she once had significant potential to be a premier actress.

Lohan seemingly had the most talent of any actress in her generation and managed to piss most of it away with drugs and partying, more known for being a tabloid star than an actual movie star. At one point she was primed to be the Julia Roberts of the next generation. Now, being as successful as Eric Roberts might not be in the cards for her and it’s not looking good. It’s to the point where her chances of being able to pull off a Robert Downey Junior style comeback, mainly because she never had that overwhelming level of early success that Downey did.

The key thing is to look at her box office receipts, or lack thereof. She’s had three hit films in the dozen or so that have had her as a marquee name. Since Mean Girls left her on the cusp of superstardom in 2004, her high water mark as a star has been the $66 million that the Herbie remake made. Everything else has been remarkably small in what it brought back, most times being money losers. Normally that would be ok if she had a handful of Golden Globes or an Oscar nomination to her credit. With no major awards or nominations to her name, it’s not like she’s in the Sean Penn / Russell Crowe style of film choices that are more geared for awards than for massive box office gains. Her films have been money-losers, even with international box office grosses thrown in, and they haven’t been garnering her awards either. It’s a double whammy that, when combined with substance abuse issues, gives you less weight to throw around.

My guess was that it was probably easier for Muse Productions and Matt Wilder to say goodbye when Lohan adds nothing but headaches (and cost) to the production. I remember watching a video showing her arriving like 12 hours late to a photo shoot, eliminating most of the profit for those behind it, as a sign of bad things to come. If you can’t show up to a photo shoot on time, much less half a day later, your days as a star are going to be over soon. Why? Because costing a photo shoot $100,000 is easier to swallow than when you add two zeroes to it. And that’s where she’s leading to, career wise, and it’s not like she’s adding anything to the mix. It’s the zero-sum game of Hollywood.

It’s easy to put up with a hard to manage actor if they put people in the seats or if they bring you prestige by being nominated for and/or winning awards regularly. It’s easy to replace someone when they don’t add either of those things and ultimately that’s what Lilo has ultimately become: expendable. But not in the awesome, stuff blows up kind of Expendable. Expendable in the way Rambo once opined: if she’s invited to be in the movie, and doesn’t show up, we won’t notice. She’s a flavor of the month long since passed, famous now for her problems and only known because she’s a favorite in most people’s celebrity death pool. In mine she’s getting 3:2 odds on a cocaine overdose, down from the 4:1 she was getting a year ago.

Inferno was maybe her last chance at being a relevant actress after years of uninspiring films that didn’t go anywhere with audiences or critics for a long time. She may be talented, and she may yet prove everybody wrong by mounting the greatest comeback in the history of cinema, but it’s looking pretty bleak now.

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This Week’s DVD – The Fountain

With Darren Aronofsky committing to do Wolverine 2, I thought it’d be fun to go back to a film I felt got overlooked back when it came out: The Fountain

I actually reviewed it in theatres, all the way back in 2006, and then eagerly picked it up on DVD. But I never got around to actually watching it on DVD again … until now. That is a perk of having to watch something out of my bin of crap I haven’t watched yet every week; sometimes you get rewarded for a random pick out of a spinning shelf.

This was a passion project for Darren Aronofsky that took significantly long to be able to get into production. At one time it was to star Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett and cost twice as much, but Pitt would pull out to do Troy seven weeks before production was to begin. Going back to the well, and having Russell Crowe pass on the film, Aronofsky managed to get Hugh Jackman on board alongside Rachel Weisz (replacing Blanchett) with 50% less money to make it. But it did inspire one of the things I really enjoyed about the film; its ability to not look dated.

The film follows Izzy (Rachel Weisz), a woman dying of brain cancer. Her husband Tom (Jackman) is a research scientist frantically looking for a cure. He’s also a man in the future, flying on a tree in a bubble reflecting back upon his life. Connected to the tree, he’s guiding it to a dying star. He’s also Tomas, looking for the Tree of Life as a Conquistador for the Queen (Weisz), searching for immortality in order to win her hand. It’s a 90 minute look at the nature of life and death but four years later it holds up remarkably.

It comes down to two things: a great story and practical effects. Aronofsky had been working on this story for a long time and it’s easy to see why he’s gone in his current direction. Once you do a passion project it gets easy to take on other work, like a Wolverine sequel or a docudrama of sorts about a professional wrestler. He did the film probably nearly exactly how he pictured it in his mind, I think, because this isn’t a passion picture done cheaply. The effects are pared down but his vision comes through; it’s about a man dealing with the inevitability of death and trying to cheat it over three lives. I always thought of the Conquistador storyline as the fiction, the astronaut as his current reality and Tom the scientist as the reflective look back upon his life. It’s a film you watch and have to think about for a long time afterwards; a good film that’s a quiet, contemplative piece does that. But it’s the effects that still impress me most.

Anytime you have a film that is loaded with a lot of special effects eventually it’ll look dated if it’s not done right; Aronofsky, mainly for budget reasons, used more practical effects and four years later the film still looks stunning when it has to. One of the beauties of practical effects is that they rarely age in the same computer effects do. It’s why explosions look better when they’re actually explosions, as opposed to CGI; when someone has to take the time and make them they feel authentic in a way a guy with a keyboard can’t.

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 Warrior’s Way – Kung fu fighting in the old west breaks out, Stephen Chow style. Except without the intentional comedy.

Skip It – Not screened for critics in a wide release, this has a good cast but just looks noxious in previews so far.

Black Swan – Natalie Portman is a ballerina about to appear in “Swan Lake” who apparently has some sort of psychosis. Mila Kunis shows up to kick it into overdrive with a hot lesbian sex scene. Limited Release.

See It – I’m seeing this tonight for review and so far the buzz on this has been palpable. It’s being touted as one of the front-runners for Best Picture and Natalie Portman is the lead runner in an absolutely disgustingly loaded Best Actress field.

I Love You, Philip Morris – Jim Carrey is a gay con man trying to keep up his relationship with another con.

Skip It – Jim Carrey does one of two films: big grossing comedies or films that scream “give me an Oscar.” This looks to be a combination of the two as he continues his desperate quest for prestige.

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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