Monday Morning Critic – 9.19.11 – The Graduate, Taylor Lautner & Abduction

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.

This weekend’s releases mark a lot of things, including the official start of prestige season with Moneyball, but the one thing that stands out most to me is that we’re going to see the first big look at the final of the Twilight kids in their own film outside that franchise. How Taylor Lautner’s generic action thriller Abduction does will show how much longer in the spotlight he has, I think, when he’s not playing Jacob Black.

Don’t know which one of the Twilight kids that Lautner is? This guy, the one with like every abdominal muscle showing no matter what he wears:

We know where Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson will end up once the Twilight films end; back in the indie world, making good films that are more about acting and awards than box office results. Stewart was a burgeoning actress after some fairly substantial resume for her age, including a brilliant turn in Into the Wild. Pattinson had a minor role in the Potter series but had enough indie work to be an established actor. Both may not have been as famous as they are now but they were known to a certain degree; they had begun the process of building long careers in acting.

Twilight ended up becoming much more of a phenomenon than I imagine either had imagined it would end up and I can see why the two have a sort of reticence when they discuss their lives and their careers. Neither expected to become major names because of the franchise because they were actors, first, and had done substantial work before it. This was another role in another film, I imagine, and I think they never expected the film to ever reach the sort of franchise heights it ended up turning out.

My impression has always been that both Stewart and Pattinson took it for a studio job and studio perks, as opposed to the indie world, and it sort of mushroomed into something much bigger than anyone every thought. The Twilight Saga can be counted for being one of the truly fan-driven franchises as opposed to sequel-driven franchises. It wasn’t designed like a comic book film, with a sequel in the queue, and while I make it fun of regularly I can say this: Twilight fans truly put their money where their mouth is when it comes to the films. This is something no one, especially Stewart and R-Pats, knew when they lensed the film.

Lautner, on the other hand, has made his career because of the Twilight franchise and that’s what fascinates me about Abduction. After a small part in a Cheaper by the Dozen sequel and a title role in The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, Lautner stepped into the franchise and this’ll be the second time he’s been in a film not involved with the franchise. The other was Valentine’s Day and that was a blink and you miss it role, though, and was a film overflowing with much bigger stars than he is.

Now we’re up with Abduction, a fairly generic action thriller with a predictable plot. It’s got a low budget at $40 million, as well, so expectations aren’t as high as if his first major vehicle had a budget of three times that. He’s the big star but he has a number of recognizable faces, plus John Singleton is directing it so it has a chance at being a fairly decent film. But what’ll I be interested in most is the film’s box office gross.

$20 million seems to be the ballpark of any film at #1, since Rise of the Planet of the Apes hit $54 million or so it’s a rough average of every film that’s debuted #1 ever since that film, and that’ll be a tough proposition. You have a film with Brad Pitt debuting as well as an R-rated action film aimed at the same audience with Jason Statham and Clive Owen in The Killer Elite.

If Lautner can’t find an audience on his own now, we can almost presume that he’s got the similar sort of fame that Daniel Radcliffe does: being famous for being a character. This weekend’s box office grosses will be very interesting to see and I’m curious where Taylor Lautner’s Abduction pops up.

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This Week’s DVD – The Graduate

When my father retired from teaching after 35 years, he did what any teacher did: take out all the stuff he acquired and left in his office to bring home. Outside of the accouterment acquired over almost four decades of being a physical education teacher to K-5, from awards to the armful of books he wrote (that paid for me and my brother to go to college, coincidentally), were a couple things that intrigued me. My father’s things provided an insight into my father that I never was able to see before when I glanced through them; he had left them on the dining room table when he brought them home and curiosity got the better of me. He had a handful of records from the ‘70s that lent me some insight into my father as a young man. And one thing stood out, even more than the copy of “Sgt. Pepper” that was in mint condition (and screaming “sell me” on eBay, too):

A copy of the soundtrack to The Graduate.

My father isn’t one to hold onto films or anything cinema related, so the fact that he picked up the soundtrack back then and kept it all these years intrigued me. He’s of the camp that once you see a film that you don’t need to watch it again; it’s where we differ in that regard. So the fact that a film so affected him that he opted to pick up the record piqued my attention. My father doesn’t do things like that lightly.

I had no interest in tracking down a copy of The Graduate until this point, either. It was a case of a film being great but when you have a big collection and (at the time) probably a hundred DVDs still on the “bought but haven’t watched yet” list some things get shoved aside. So I picked it up the next weekend fully intent on watching it.

That was 2006.

Yeah … just managed to grab it out of the library and watch it for this week. Why the time gap? Equal parts laziness and the sheer amount of titles I had to view that had already been purchased. It’s why I started this bit of the column nearly three years ago; I went from an entire rack full to nearly cleaned out now. That’s progress and thus I finally got to this film.

The Graduate is a coming of age film from the ‘70s. Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) has just graduated from college and is now relaxing afterwards. Captain of the track team, amongst a handful of honors, he has no clue what he wants to do with his life. He settles into a bit of a routine; he lounges by the pool all day and spends many of his nights at a hotel banging Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), the wife of his father’s business partner. And it’s a fairly comfortable existence until he meets the girl of his dreams (Katherine Ross).

The problem is simple: that’s Mrs. Robinson’s daughter.

Thus goes Benjamin’s quandary in the film. Can he successfully woo her when everything around him is pushing him away from her? When she opts to marry someone else, he opts to make one last crazy effort to convince her that he’s the one for her. But will she ditch everything for him?

And I can see why this would hold a place in my father’s cinematic lexicon; this is a coming of age film from which you can see from which every film-maker who’s tackled the subject has cribbed from. This film’s a lot like The Maltese Falcon in that regard; everyone’s been trying to one up it ever since.

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

Moneyball – The story of how sabremetrics changed the way baseball is viewed

See it – The first real Oscar bait of the year has that “it” factor. Plus when you get Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman in the same film, you have magic.

Adbuction – The werewolf from Twilight takes on the CIA or something

Skip it – Who’d have thought that the guy behind Boyz n the Hood would be a director for hire?

The Killer Elite – Clive Owen kidnaps Robert De Niro. Jason Statham doesn’t like this and decides to Statham it up.

See it – Jason Statham never delivers brilliance but he never really has poor films, either. Perfectly acceptable entertainment is what it looks to be and you can’t argue against that.

Dolphin Tale 3D – A dolphin gets hurt and Morgan Freeman fixes it or something.

Skip it – Family films tend to suck and this probably will follow suit.

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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