Somewhere deep inside this movie, like the little tiny pea in the bed of the princess, is an idea that could have been an interesting movie. Unfortunately, as with that bed of the princess, it is smothered in 20 mattresses of awful and 20 more mattresses of just plain dumb. Warning: the screenplay is by Kim Barker, who was also responsible for the execrable “License to Wed.” Two strikes and Barker should be out for good.
Sandra Bullock produced, so she is responsible for both Barker and casting herself in the lead role, plays Mary Magdalene Horowitz, a cruciverbalist (constructor of crossword puzzles) who has gone way past endearingly quirky and well into the land of the annoying oddball. It could be kind of goofily charming that she wears the same red boots all the time. It could be sort of intriguing that she has some of that Adam-style social dyslexia. But instead she is the kind of person who recites endless random arcana and then, when told to be quiet, lists several entirely audible synonyms for silence. As happens so often in this movie, she gets the letter but not the spirit of what people are saying to her.
So, when she sees Bradley Cooper (the title Steve), a news station cameraman, she immediately jumps on him, which he quickly realizes is too good to be true. He scrapes her off like gum off the bottom of his shoe, and she then commits career suicide and follows him to a series of increasingly un-funny news stories he is covering. Even the always-welcome appearances of top character actors like Beth Grant (glammed up for once), Thomas Haden Church (as a cliched self-centered television correspondent), Ken Jeong (relatively calm for once), D.J. Qualls (bringing class to a barely-written role), and the delightful Katy Mixon (doing more than I would have thought humanly possible as a cliched hick) cannot breathe any life into this soggy story. The best that can be said about Cooper is that he escapes unscathed, a tribute to his true talent and star power.
Bullock is producer, too, and once again she seems to gravitate toward roles that run contrary to conventions of romantic comedy, and I respect that. She likes to play characters who are socially clumsy (“Miss Congeniality”) or incapable in relationships (“Forces of Nature”) and she does not always go for the happily ever after pairing off at the end of the movie. But here the story spirals past edgy into disturbing, with comic references to an infant’s deformity (and the idiocy of the public response) and an accident involving deaf children. While the film is making fun of the media circus about the rescue, it commits the same crime it is satirizing in its treatment of one of the children. The problem with this movie is not the cluelessness of Bullock’s character; it is the cluelessness of the script.
It goes to 11.
Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth”) has made a documentary featuring three generations of guitar gods: Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), The Edge (U2), and Jack White (The White Stripes). But it is not about the musicians. It is about guitars, and passion, and hearing, and sticking it to the man, and art, and music, and the sublime that brings all of those things together. It is a joyous yowl from the depths of existence that soars to the ears of the celestial choirs, where it makes them pause and smile and, if such a thing is possible for angels, envy the humans who get to make such sounds and even those of us who get to listen to them.
We spend time with each of these musicians. The archival clips are surprising and delightful and it is pure pleasure to see these men return to places and instruments that are especially meaningful to them and to listen in as they talk to each other and demonstrate their comments with riffs and techniques. They say that successful musical performers fall into three categories: rock star, performance artist, and musician. These three men are above all musicians. At times they seem to embody music itself, with aural imperatives mortals can only gasp at. Their utter commitment is moving and inspiring. Rock on.
Here are my thoughts on fall movies:
Sept 24 “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” Director Zach Snyder is known for striking visuals (“300” and “The Watchmen”) so his first family-friendly film, the 3D animated story of Kathryn Lasky’s owl warriors should be something special.
Oct 1 “The Social Network” “The West Wing’s” Aaron Sorkin tells the story of the internet phenomenon that went from a student’s dorm room program to put the school directory online in 2002 to a worldwide phenomenon linking 500 million people, with half of them checking it every day.
Oct 8 “Secretariat” Every autumn brings us some tale of athletic triumph and this is the triumphant tale of the horse that won the triple crown in 1973, setting records still unbroken. Diane Lane plays the owner dismissed as “a housewife” and John Malcovich is the trainer who “dresses like Superfly.”
Oct 22 “The Company Men” A year in the life of three men who’ve been downsized from office jobs, with Ben Affleck, Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, and Maria Bello.
Nov 5 “Megamind” Brad Pitt and Will Ferrell provide the voices for this animated story of superhero vs. supervillain — and supervillain vs. even bigger supervillain.
Nov 19 “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1” The final chapter of the Harry Potter series is so big they made it into two movies. In this one, the final battle begins!
TCM has come out with a terrific collection of four of the all-time best classic murder mystery movies, the TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: Murder Mysteries, featuring:
“The Maltese Falcon” Humphrey Bogart, Sidney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Mary Astor are after the item in the title, a jewel-encrusted sculpture. Double and triple cross has never been better or more entertainingly portrayed. An indispensable film, number 23 on the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 American films of all time.
“The Big Sleep” William Faulker worked on the screenply but the oppressive gothic overtone of the narration is straight from the Raymond Chandler novel in this story so filled with corruption and plot twists that when director Howard Hawks wrote to Chandler to ask him who had committed one of the murders and he admitted that even he didn’t know. The repartee between Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart sizzles.
“Dial M for Murder” One of the nastiest plots ever put on screen, this claustrophobic thriller stars Grace Kelly and Ray Milland. It was originally shot by Alfred Hitchcock in 3D and you can almost feel Kelly’s desperate hand reaching out of the screen — the hand holding those very sharp scissors.
“The Postman Always Rings Twice” The camera is in love with Lana Turner in this movie, made when she was at her most delectably seductive. Poor drifter John Garfield doesn’t have a chance in this Tay Garnett-directed version of the James M. Cain novel about the plot to kill an inconvenient husband. One mystery? The meaning of the title, which is not explained in the book and which has provoked some interesting theories, one of which is mentioned in the movie.