Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Lonely Man

Here's the release poster for July's The Incredible Hulk, with Edward Norton's denims-and-knapsack evoking parallels with the '70s TV series and tossing any memory of the '03 Ang Lee version down the memory hole.

The promotions for this one have really been almost non-existent for something that's meant to be a big summer blockbuster, especially in comparison with the full-on blitz currently underway for Marvel stablemate Iron Man.

This might end up being the smartest way to go with this. By eschewing the highly-hyped approach of the Lee film, which ended up imploding when the movie underperformed, they're no doubt trying to play it low-key in hopes that word-of-mouth will carry the day.

Of course the big assumption there is that word-of-mouth will be good. With the $150 mil that Marvel has sunk into this thing, they'd better hope so.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Laying the Smackdown

That's how you do it.

The Politics of Cynicism

The past forty-eight hours have really been a textbook example for me of just how much of a cesspool our current political discourse is and has been for far too long. First, Barack Obama makes comments in a San Francisco fundraising dinner last week that addressed the growing discontent across large swaths of this country, after jobs and opportunity have been systematically stripped away through decades of economic malaise.

This isn't rocket science. And anyone who's had to look at a paycheck chopped to bits by ever-increasing taxes, while filling their tank with $4 a gallon gas understands exactly what he was talking about. The only "mistake" he made was to bring up the issues of spiritual and personal security -- God and guns -- that those facing financial difficulties seek solace from in lieu of a disinterested government.

These remarks were on-point, insightful, and when stripped of context or subtlety were exactly what the nuance-free Hillary Clinton campaign needed to broad-stroke Obama as an ivied "elitist" while painting herself as a gun totin', beer swillin' Average Josie. It's the kind of contortionism that would make a Circe de Soleil acrobat wince, and sadly it's right in line with what we've come to expect from her campaign. Just when I think the wink-wink-nudge-nudge cynicism of the Clinton camp can't sink any lower, they find a new depth to plumb.

What Obama said may have been unartful, and I'd even disagree on that score, but it was fundamentally true. And it's a discussion that's not only worth having, but must be had. However, Team Clinton has decided that instead of attempting to address the economic problem at the heart of his argument, instead of putting a discussion on the table that would make it easier for any Democrat to score in a general election, it's easier to borrow a page from the GOP "dirty tricks" manual and play up tried-and-true wedge issues. And once again, political expedience takes precedence over all else.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Charlton Heston, RIP

Rare indeed are the personalities who can be described as "legend" or "icon." With the passing of Charlton Heston at the age of 84, the world of cinema and the world at large has lost someone for whom even those terms are perhaps too small.

While in recent years most probably knew him best from annual Easter airings of The Ten Commandments, or perhaps his latter-years role as president of the NRA, for me Charlton Heston will always be George Taylor, the wayward time traveller at the center of 1968's Planet of the Apes (celebrating its fortieth anniversary this year).

It's hard for me to convey just how much of an impact the original Apes had on my ten year old self when I first saw it, or the impact it has continued to have for the innumerable times I've seen it since. The deliciously dystopic tale, with its juxtaposition of biting social satire and edge-of-your-seat chills, with Heston as the misanthropic astronaut forced to become humanity's last champion, is grim sci-fi at its very best.

Clad for most of the film in a torn loincloth and acting against performers in rubber ape prosthetics, Heston plays the embittered Taylor with total conviction, lending every frame utter credibility. The movie's final image of the humbled Heston collapsed in front of a decayed Statue of Liberty remains one of filmdom's truly indelible moments.

This was the power of Charlton Heston the actor: to make his on-screen alter egos larger than life, yet riven with human complexity. During a staggering six decade career, the chiseled, gravel-voiced star, an Oscar winner for 1959's Ben-Hur, played cowboys, crusaders, rogues, royalty, and historical figures ranging from Moses to Andrew Jackson to Brigham Young. Even in small parts, like a self-reflexive cameo in 1993's Wayne's World 2, he brought his trademark gravitas.

Though he took a political turn towards the right in his later years that I strongly disagreed with, there's no question that Heston accomplished a great deal in his life, including his fight for civil rights alongside Martin Luther King. He even went so far as to lead the Hollywood contingent in the 1963 march to Washington and King's "I have a dream" speech.

It's for this reason that I found the actor's final film appearance, as himself in Michael Moore's 2003 documentary Bowling For Columbine, so difficult to watch. Under verbal assault by Moore for his stewardship of the NRA, Heston, confused and unsteady, already suffering from the Alzheimer's that would eventually claim his life, was portrayed as out-of-touch and racist. It was simplistic and unfair, and a far cry from the screen persona that had cemented his place in history.

Ultimately, Heston was simply too large a personality to be easily categorized. He was the quintessential movie star, one of the last remaining standard-bearers from a simpler time, and it's doubtful that Hollywood will ever see his like again.