Welcome to the House of Crouse. By definition the term ‘war dogs’ refers to “bottom feeders who make money off war without ever stepping foot on the battlefield.” In the new film War Dogs Jonah Hill plays Efraim Diveroli, a true to life twenty-something arms dealer who fits that description to a tee. This week Hill stopped by the HoC to chat about the movies and how he gets inside the head of the characters he plays.
Bill Murray became a big screen superstar on the back of loose-limbed performances in comedies like Caddyshack, Stripes and Ghostbusters. By 1984, however, he was tiring of playing the clown and looking to do something with a bit more edge.
When director John Byrum gave him a copy of W. Somerset Maugham’s 1944 novel The Razor’s Edge, Murray responded the very next day. Calling the director at 4 am he said, “This is Larry, Larry Darrell,” dropping the name of the novel’s main character, an enigmatic man on a quest for spiritual fulfillment.
The resulting film bombed, with Roger Ebert suggesting Murray played “the hero as if fate is a comedian and he is the straight man.” Of course Murray has gone on to become a credible and in demand dramatic actor, but the story of a comedian’s rocky leap from farce to drama still rings true today.
This weekend Chris Rock’s new comedy Top Five tells the story of Andre Allen, a fictional megastar trying to jump from silly comedies to Uprize, a serious drama about the slave revolt in Haiti.
Top Five is a new twist on an old story. Many comedians have tried to flick the switch from comedy to drama.
The late Robin Williams effortlessly hopped between genres. In 2002 alone he made three films, the lowbrow laffer Death to Smoochy, bookended by the psychodrama One Hour Photo and Christopher Nolan’s thriller Insomnia.
Will Ferrell, Steve Carell and Jonah Hill are best known for funny movies like Blades of Glory, The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Superbad, but each have stretched their dramatic muscles. Ferrell’s Stranger Than Fiction earned a good review from Roger Ebert who said Ferrell “has dramatic gifts to equal his comedic talent.” Carell’s new drama Foxcatcher looks poised to earn him notice at awards time and Jonah Hill is a two time Oscar nominee for heavyweights Moneyball and The Wolf of Wall Street.
Finally, think Jim Carrey and visions of talking butts and rubber-faced features come to mind but he made a serious run at being a serious actor. Perhaps he was pushed into more thoughtful work when his Batman Forever co-star Tommy Lee Jones told him, ‘I cannot sanction your buffoonery,” but whatever the case in movies like Man on the Moon, The Majestic and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind played it straight. “It’s going to be so hard to talk out of my ass after this,” he said when he won the Golden Globe for Best Actor award for The Truman Show, “but I’ll manage.”
The Spider-Man movies don’t skimp on the stuff that puts the “super” into superhero movies. There’s web-slinging shenanigans and wild bad guys galore, but The Amazing Spider-Man 2 director Marc Webb calls the relationship between Spidey and girlfriend Gwen Stacy, “the engine of the movie.”
The chemistry the real-life couple brings to the screen is undeniable, but it almost didn’t get a chance to blossom. Before Emma Stone landed the role of the brainiac love interest, Mia Wasikowska, Imogen Poots, Emma Roberts and even Lindsay Lohan were considered.
Stone won some of the best reviews of her career playing Gwen in The Amazing Spider-Man — Peter Travers said she, “just jumps to life on screen” — in a role that gave her the biggest hit of her career to date.
Smaller roles in Superbad and Zombieland hinted at her ability to be funny and hold the screen, but in 2010’s Easy A she turned a corner into full-on Lucille Ball mode, mixing pratfalls with wit while pulling faces and cracking jokes. Smart and funny, she’s the film’s centrepiece.
The movie begins with the voice over, “The rumours of my promiscuity have been greatly exaggerated.” It’s the voice of Olive (Stone), a clean-cut high school senior who tells a little white lie about losing her virginity. As soon as the gossip mill gets a hold of the info, however, her life takes a parallel course to the heroine of the book she is studying in English class — The Scarlet Letter.
Stone is laugh-out-loud funny in Easy A, but her breakout film was a serious drama.
In The Help, she plays Jackson, Miss. native “Skeeter” Phelan who comes home from four years at school to discover the woman who raised her, a maid named Constantine (Cicely Tyson), is no longer employed by her family. Her mother says she quit, but Skeeter has doubts. With the help of a courageous group of housekeepers she tells the real story of the life of the maids, writing a book called The Help.
The Flick Filosopher called her performance, “on fire with indignation and rage,” and she moved from The Help to a variety of roles, including playing a femme fatale in Gangster Squad opposite Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin, and lending her trademark raspy voice to cave girl Eep in the animated hit The Croods.
The 25-year-old actress is living her childhood dream of being an actress but says if performing hadn’t worked out, she would have been a journalist, “because (investigating people’s lives is) pretty much what an actor does.
“And imagine getting to interview people like me,” she laughs. ‘’It can’t get much better than that.”
Superbad is Porky’s for a new generation. It’s a throwback to the teen comedies we used to love before John Hughes got his hands on the genre and smoothed out the rough edges. It’s rude, has no boundaries and is laugh out loud funny.
Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Brampton, Ontario born Michael Cera) are BFFs with just weeks to go before their high school graduation. In the waning days of their high school careers they decide to launch a full scale mission to land girlfriends and get some much needed experience with the opposite sex before heading to college in the fall.
When the class hottie Jules invites them to a party, they’re thrilled. There’s just one problem, she asks them to bring alcohol. That’s were their nerdy friend Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) come in. He’s the classic pencil necked geek and a chick repellant, but he’s the only one with a fake ID and access to booze.
The bulk of the film follows the exploits of this trio as they try and score alcohol so they can in turn score some girls. Underage, but blinded by their sex drives, they risk it all against slacker cops, a maniacal homeless man and jealous boyfriends to track down booze for their dates. It’s the stuff that parent’s nightmares are made of.
Superbad is shouldn’t work as well as it does. It’s the kind of coming-of-age flick Hollywood has been churning out for years, but it has a few things going for it that make it worthwhile.
First, it was co-written by Knocked Up’s Seth Rogen, who also plays one of the cops. Rogen and childhood pal Evan Goldberg penned Superbad while still in high school, and like Knocked Up the raunchy humor here plays off the more human aspect of the relationships between the friends. The kids in American Pie were funny, but unrealistic in unrealistic situations. Ditto Road Trip and most other teen comedies made in the last ten years, but Superbad succeeds because it treats its characters like real people—albeit real people who do crazy things because they are ruled by their hormones.
The script is smart and funny, the direction solid, but it is the three lead actors, Hill, Cera and Mintz-Plasse that really sell this movie. Hill’s comic timing is bang on; Cera, so excellent as George Michael on the late, great Arrested Development is in top deadpan form as the straight-laced Evan while Mintz-Plasse, in his first acting role, could give Anthony Michael Hall a run for his money as the King of the Movie Nerds. These three play off one another really well, building a believable relationship that is by turns hilarious, by turns touching, but above all convincing.
Super funny, and super vulgar, Superbad is the funniest movie I’ve seen in a long time. I’m McLovin’ It! (You’ll have to see the movie to get the joke.)
Will it be lights, camera, action as usual in Hollywood in 2009? Yes and no.
Heroes triumphing over gloom and doom on the big screen have been Hollywood’s bread and butter for more than eight decades. But does the world’s dream capital have what it takes to survive a recession?
Absolutely, says Patrick Corcoran, director of Media and Research at the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO).
“Right now movie theatres are doing remarkably well,” says Corcoran, who spoke to CTV.ca from North Hollywood, Calif. In fact, according to NATO’s data, box office admissions have gone up in five of the last seven recessions.
“From the beginning of September, when the credit crunch really took hold, to the beginning of December we’re up 15 per cent in box office and 9 per cent in admissions. That’s compared to the same period last year,” says Corcoran.
That growth, according to Corcoran, is linked to the nature of the fall releases consumers have had to choose from in 2008.
“Last year during the autumn there were a lot of heavy dramas in the theatres — movies about Iraq, a lot of independent films that were eating each other’s business. The box office was truly terrible,” says Corcoran.
“What drives the box office is what’s available at the theatres,” says Corcoran. “If there are movies that people really want to see, they’ll go out and see them regardless of the economy.”
Great Depression didn’t stop movie-goers
Of course, studio execs are the first to tell us that even in the midst of the Great Depression, when more than a quarter of the population in the United States was out of work, people still managed to scrape together the pennies it took to go to the movies.
Today’s a different story.
According to a recent survey done by Forrester Research, those aged 25 to 34 were the most willing to sacrifice a night at the multiplex or premium cable if money gets tight. High-speed Internet was the main thing they couldn’t live without.
Maybe rising Baby Boomer numbers will compensate for that trend? But in the U.S. alone there are 60 million homes with high-speed connections. With endless entertainment choices available today– free movie downloads topping the list — will Internet-age consumers still rush to the movies?
Corcoran believes they will.
“Even when people are cutting back, movie theatres will still have the advantage. People will still want to get out of the house and in a recession movies are the least expensive form of entertainment,” says Corcoran.
Biz battens down the hatches
Driven by that mentality, studios are sinking more than a half-billion dollars into productions for their 2010/2011 calendars – and that’s despite the ongoing threat of a SAG strike, something that could cost big studio productions as much as $500,000 a day.
“Hollywood is never going to go away,” says Canada AM critic Richard Crouse. “Every time something bad happens people say it’s going to be the death of movies. Then everyone runs to see ‘The Dark Knight’ or “Shrek the Third” and these movies make hundreds of millions of dollars.”
The figures don’t lie. In 1929 – the start of the Great Depression — Hollywood raked in $720 million. In 2007, that figure exploded to $9.6 billion.
Who knows? In December of 2008 Jeffrey Katzenberg, the CEO of DreamWorks Animation, told a Toronto audience that 2009 would the year of 3D. Maybe that hot trend will help pad Hollywood’s coffers with even more mega-millions?
But in an era where the cost of making and marketing movies has become astronomical and studios are facing huge credit crunches, less risk and more care on the spending side of the industry will be the modus operandi in Hollywood for the foreseeable future.
“Hollywood will survive. But I don’t think we’re going to see as many $20-million paycheques for stars,” says Crouse.
Studio co-productions will also be on the rise.
“Ten years ago it would have been unheard of to see Warner Bros. and Paramount working together on a big movie like a ‘Benjamin Button,'” says Crouse.
In May of 2004, in fact, Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures joined forces to get this $150-million film onto the silver screen.
As Corcoran says, “When you’re worried about protecting your bottom line you go to co-productions to spread out the risk and costs up front.”
Superbad is super-successful
Finally, those like Judd Apatow who can churn out comedies on the cheap could become Hollywood’s top dogs in 2009.
“In tough times like these good, fun stories are what Hollywood wants to see,” says Corcoran.
Moreover, Hollywood will want films that can turn a huge profit — something Apatow proved he could do with such films as 2007s “Superbad” (budget: $20 million, worldwide take: $$169,871,719) and “Knocked Up” (budget: $33 million, worldwide take: $219 million plus according to boxofficemojo.com).
As Crouse says, “We’re headed for a period where we’ll see a lot of safe filmmaking. You won’t see Zac Efron doing Hamlet. But you may see him singing and dancing in a remake of ‘Footloose.’ It’s ‘High School Musical’ a year later. But the movie is essentially the same thing.”
And for those looking for riskier movie fare? “The really interesting stuff will come from independent films,” says Crouse. “You won’t see anything remarkably different coming out of Hollywood studios for a long time. Not until things turn around.”