Friday, June 02, 2006

Movies opening this week

The Break-Up (Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Aniston, Jon Favreau, Joey Lauren Adams, dir. Peyton Reed)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
A few weeks ago, the comments on this post on Dave Kehr's blog evolved into, among other things, the rather unexpected discussion of whether or not Peyton Reed can be considered an auteur. Having seen and thoroughly enjoyed Reed's first two films (Bring It On and Down With Love), I counted his presence as the director of this film one of its few positives as I went into the screening. And given that I thought the movie was, on the whole, pretty bad, I'm inclined to blame factors other than Reed (a weak script, movie star leads who are more concerned with their images than with good storytelling, studio meddling) for its failure, just as I was inclined to give Reed the credit for his earlier successes. Why? Well, I suppose at least part of it is a desire for there to be auteurs making mainstream movies like this, for there to be someone behind the camera who's more than a hired hand, who's making conscious and informed stylistic decisions that reflect a personal style and an interest in creating a unique artistic oeuvre. Reed may not be that guy, but I think that you can spot an element of personal style in his work, even in this film, which is largely a failure. Reed is obviously enamored of breezy '60s romantic comedies, as evidenced by the Rock Hudson/Doris Day pastiche of Down With Love, but also the light and female-centric tone of Bring It On. The Break-Up, too, is a relationship movie, a "chick flick" if you care for that vulgar term, and it too treats stereotypical female desires seriously and respectfully. On the other hand, as one of the commenters points out on Kehr's blog, you could just as well consider writer Jessica Bendinger the auteur of Bring It On, and in fact I was much more excited to see her latest film, Stick It (which she both wrote and directed) than I was to see Reed's. And, of course, Stick It is much more stylistically similar to Bring It On than Down With Love or The Break-Up are.

I don't necessarily have a point here, inasmuch as I can't really say whether I consider Reed an auteur or not. I do think that the rejection of auteurism in the face of increasingly anonymous directing styles for Hollywood productions is too extreme a reaction; all you have to do is look at the resume of someone like Donald Petrie to see that even degenerate hackery can be a sustainable personal style in modern Hollywood. For my money, I'd pick John Stockwell as the modern stealth mainstream auteur, and I think his personal style is evident to anyone who watches his films. But I also think that the idea of writers as auteurs nowadays can theoretically carry nearly as much weight when we're talking about mainstream Hollywood product (and not, say, Charlie Kaufman). Bendinger, for example, has a pretty cohesive filmography, full of light, fun movies for and about teen girls (The Truth About Charlie notwithstanding). And for quite some time I looked forward to the latest project from writers Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, who penned the clever and entertaining scripts for Legally Blonde and Ten Things I Hate About You. Then again, they also wrote She's the Man; perhaps we ought to blame that one on the director. Wide release

The Omen (Liev Schreiber, Julia Stiles, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Mia Farrow, dir. John Moore)
Speaking of auteurs of modern mainstream cinema, Armond White considers John Moore to be the heir to Sam Peckinpah, but to me this film just establishes him as the king of the pointless note-for-note remake (his 2004 version of The Flight of the Phoenix was similarly redundant). Really, there is nothing new here, and there are several shots lifted directly from the 1976 Richard Donner original, which is generally considered a horror classic but which I found rather dated, cheesy and awkward. This version doesn't improve on any of that, and Liev Schreiber is certainly no Gregory Peck (although there's a certain joy in watching Mia Farrow play the exact opposite of her legendary role in Rosemary's Baby). Of course, to get back to the auteur discussion, maybe it's not all Moore's fault - he used the same screenplay as the original (with a few tweaks by an uncredited script doctor). What I was really curious about in seeing this movie was the alleged abuse of 9/11 imagery, something that Moore specifically added to this new version, but it amounted only to a single image at the very beginning of the film, and to me seemed like much ado about nothing. I mean, sure, it's sort of cheap to use the image of the World Trade Center coming down as a gimmick in your crappy horror movie, but it's not like images of real tragedies in other countries haven't been used as shorthand for "things are bad" in numerous other movies over the years. Because it's "our" tragedy, we think we're special, but the outrage to me is deeply hypocritical and lends a political weight to this film that it just doesn't have. Wide release, on Tuesday (6/6/06, har de har)

1 comment:

Reel Fanatic said...

I'm being dragged to 'The Break-Up" later today, but not terribly looking forward .. didn't realize it was made by the director of "Bring it On,' though ... maybe there is hope!