About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Cultural Affairs, February 2014

Even by the standards of early year movies, the start of 2014 has been full of a stunning array of must skip movies.

I will include in that list the surprise sensation of February, the Lego Movie,  Surprisingly good reviews, robust box office indicative of strong word of mouth, and if I hadn't been attending with a friend I would have walked out after ten minutes, or retreated to a quiet corner to read on my iPad while the film played,  Thus was just another boring superhero movie with overlong fight scenes, only with Legos. Even at the end, the movie didn't have any charm for me.  Everything is not awesome.

Non-Stop on the other hand was a nice action movie.  Liam Neeson lends gravitas and depth to the role of an air marshall being framed for a remarkably clever feat of airplane crime.  The movie is never terribly believable but is always just plausible enough that I was willing to buy in.  I have no idea how the bad guys got at the pilot, or now they fond out secrets about the people the bad guys were framing, or how the rhetoric of the bad guys matched up with their plot, or why everyone got to lounge around the crash landing site at the end, or any one if a thousand other things.  But the movie moves briskly, has a jaunty score, generated real suspense, and works.  It will do OK at the box office but deserves to do better than that, since it does more in its limited way to entertain than a handful of overlong over CGId over pretentious superhero movies that collect in a day the box office receipts that this will collect over a weekend,

A book just came out called Mad As Hell, which chronicles the making of the movie Network, which I saw in Montclair, NJ in 1976.  In conjunction with the book's release the movie was screened at the Museum of the Moving Image, followed by a discussion between Keith Olbermann and the book's author, NY Times reporter and culture writer David Itzkoff.  The movie holds up well, as good or bad as it was when it first came out almost 40 years ago.  It's very relevant for the science fiction fan, since it's a movie that seemed like science fiction at the time but has essentially come true.  A newscaster goes a little crazy, becomes the initiator of the "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more" catch phrase, and is rewarded by going from fired to being the host of a nightly news loud with segments from a psychic produced live to high ratings in front of a cheering live audience. Until he decides to take on his corporate overlords when they are going to be taken over by the Saudis, which has consequences.

So it holds up, but that means that the first half or two-thirds of the movie are still pretty much brilliant, while the latter sections never quite work as well as the rest of it.  When Robert Duvall leads a meeting where the TV execs discuss killing the now-wayward newscaster kind of like they might discuss changing the producer or the set, it doesn't quite work the way the rest of the movie does.  This is about as near to happening today as the rest of the things the movie depicts were near to happening 35 years ago.  The conglomeritization of the TV business, the resultant pressure on the news departments to make money instead of being loss leader public services, the move toward reality TV, TV becoming a platform for the shrillest voices over the voices of reason.  All of these things seemed unlikely in 1976, especially perhaps to those closest to the events, but were in fact just days away from, one-by-one, coming to pass.  And the movie anticipates these events with scabrous dialogue and brilliant performances and keen vision in just about every way.  But the next step still seems tacked on.  It's so close to being real that it kind of almost seems like a piece with the rest of the movie, but honestly, deep down, my instinct tells me that this is where Paddy Chayefsksy, the screenwriter, went from being a visionary to being as desperate to find an ending for his movie as his characters were to find a way out of the Howard Beale dilemma, so he came up with this.

In any event, it's a film worth seeing if you haven't.

The book was short, so I decided I had hours enough in the day to read the entirety of it, so I did.  I would have enjoyed it more if the gym hadn't been incredibly uncomfortable.  I wasn't working out all that hard, but it was so hot and humid even by gym standards that it wasn't a fun few hours of reading and exercising.  The book Mad as Hell is kind of like the movie it depicts.  Solid for the first two thirds.  Gives good background on the auteur of Network, Paddy Chayefsky, as context for his development of the movie itself.  It serves some nice dish on the casting and production and artistic decisions in the film.  I even got a little teary-eyed at the climax of the movie's story, when Chayefsky invites Peter Finch's wife to the stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to accept his posthumously awarded Oscar.  But the aftermath of the movie,the part that takes us from the vision of Network to today's reality, falls flat.  It's full of too many quotes from the usual suspects to say "yes, work of genius, look what happened" when I feel like a slightly longer second act that talked about the actual of what happened would have been more meaningful.  Don't just have Keith Olbermann tell us how real it all is, but talk about how Keith Olbermann has worked for a variety of conglomerates that have undergone the come-to-Jesus moments about the importance of profit to the business of television for the suits that run the business.  Actuallly write, even briefly, about the real life suits that are like the suits played by Robert Duvall and Ned Beatty.  Actually show how Brian Roberts at Comcast is the third cousin twice removed of the Ned Beatty character, or compare and contrast Fred Silverman,, the person who was closest at the time the movie was released to being the real-life Faye Dunaway.

That book would have diverged a little bit more from being a book about the making of Network to being a book about something a little bigger than just that, but it would have been a more important book that way, more enduring in the manner of Network itself.

My other recent cultural activities include a documentary about the Broadway performer Elaine Stritch, which was worth seeing for a Broadway/Sondheim admirer like I kind of am but not so much for a wider audience than that, and the actual Broadway play Outside Mullingar, from the pen of John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck, Doubt).  The play has a great cast.  Readers of my blog are most likely to know Debra Messing from Will and Grace, but a NYC theatregoer will know Brian F. O'Byrne or Peter Maloney every bit as well.  They act up an entertaining storm that kept me well enough amused.  But I've seen better from Shanley, including Doubt and his recent Storefront Church, and for a play about true love I felt the characters did a better job of talking about their true love than actually showing it in a way that made the outcome personal to me.  So, enh.

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