Archive for April, 2006
Robert B. Parker
I’m not one of those knee-jerk people who think that the topic of 911 shouldn’t be handled by Hollywood. After 4 years of certain politicians using 911 demagoguery of the issue to keep the country scared for their own political gains, it seems strangely fitting that Hollywood would finally get around to tackling this issue. Let’s face it, everyone remembers what happened in New York, yeah, I know that’s a major observation on my part, but stay with me.
On that fateful day, I was here in Washington, DC. I remember all the panic and false news reports that came out – like fires at the Capitol and on the mall. Some of my fellow co-workers were too scared to even catch the metro home instead they opted to walk 5 or 10 miles. There was so much misinformation that day, that after awhile I turned it off, and almost immediately became desensitized to the coverage. Part of me felt like a heartless bastard for feeling the way I did, but the other part was like enough.
The weird thing about that day beyond all of the poor news coverage and rumors presented as fact was the idea that I always felt like the people on United 93, true American heroes, seemed to have been lost in all the coverage of the Pentagon and World Trade Center. I honestly don’t remember much of any mention of what happened with that flight – at the time. The coverage was like “A plane went down in Pennsylvania, now back to New York.”
For this reason, I don’t agree with people who say that it’s too soon for a film about 911. I think the timing couldn’t be better, people may remember the Twin Towers or the Pentagon but if you are really honest with yourself, how often do you hear about the people on United 93? How often do you hear those cockpit recordings, or hear from family members of that fateful flight? Hardly ever, if you see 911 family members it’s people families from the Twin Towers or Pentagon victims, never anyone from United 93. These people deserve a chance to be in the spotlight and if it takes shameless, vilified, heartless bastards in Hollywood to do it, then so be it.
Perhaps this is a film that only an outsider could have made, and that’s why British Writer/Director Paul Greengrass was the perfect choice for this sensitive material. The director best known for the action packed Bourne films returns to his “Sunday Bloody Sunday” roots to create one of the most stirring and intense moving going experiences of
He does it not using typical Hollywood techniques or conventions no he strips the film down to its starkest, most realistic elements. Whether he was sensitive to the subject or just to scared to go over the top; regardless of the reasons behind it, the decision to film this in a stripped down documentary style format works extremely well here.
Paul Weitz directed on of my top 50 favorite films of all time, Hugh Grant’s “About A Boy,” so when the opportunity came up to participate in a roundtable interview with him came up, I had to pounce. Paul lived up to my expectations; he was fun, witty, and ready to talk. We discussed everything from politics to project greenlight’s Chris Moore.
Were there some gags that you came up with that were too dark for the film?
Not really, one problem that I have with satire is that it’s very easy to detach from it because you don’t care about the characters. With this movie the end affect is that it is relatively shocking and perverse. I think one of the most perverse things about the film is its apparent optimism amongst the cynicism. There wasn’t anything cut because of it being too dark. It does reflect my belief that even if a film has a lot of cynicism in it, it still has hope for its characters.
There’s a sweetness in all of your movies, no matter how outrageous they get. Many people have tried to copy your style, but leave this out. Can you talk about Dennis Quaid as a character actor?
The fact is that most prominent actors of a certain age have already played the President, so I was lucky to get him before he did. I was doing publicity for “In Good Company,” with him I kept on looking at him, picturing him to see if he looked like a President, specifically our current President. One night over beers I asked him if he wanted to be in this movie, and he said sure, even though there was no script. He classifies himself as an Independent, and swears he’s going to get audited.
The really weird thing about this movie is that the two most sympathetic characters are the President who is portrayed as an idiot, and the bumbling, show tunes, terrorist Omer. It’s kind of odd that these are the two characters that the audience relates to the most, and who get redeemed at the end of the movie.
American Dreamz is more satirically broad rather than strictly character based, unlike most of your previous films. Is that more a representation of you and the times that we currently live in?
I think it was just a reaction to my own odd feeling that I would wake up in the morning and be stressed out about how the administration is handling terrorism, then I would go to sleep worried about whether Constantine would be voted off American Idol. Oddly, this is the most grown up material that I’ve dealt with. My model was how Second City Comedy handles it.
The movie was a funny commentary on America’s obsession with fame. Why do you think America’s are obsessed with fame?
One of the core aspects of American identity is the fact that everyone has a dream, and largely that’s looked at as a positive thing. The problem is that it makes it impossible to deal with reality. I think the obsession with fame is that it makes people feel that they are better than they appear. I think that part of Celebrity culture is that we used to romanticize celebrities and think of them as perfect, now we like to tear them down. We like to feel that we’re two seconds away from fame.
This is a two part questions: 1) All of your movies to date have been comedies that have a strong romantic element, whether it’s broad comedy like “American Pie” or more subtle fare like “About A Boy” what is it about this genre of filmmaking that attracts you? And part 2) Have you ever considered doing something else, like an over the top action movie?
It is addictive sitting in a theater and hearing people laugh. I kind of dread the parts of the story where people aren’t laughing. I’m not sure this is a good thing for a filmmaker. Any good comedy will have a range of broad and subtle comedy. This one obviously is more broad than normal. I think that when you are in really dramatic situations in real life, there’s sort of gallows humor around it.
I have a friend who is a correspondent in Iraq and she says there’s a lot of humor in Bagdad all the time. That’s been my experience, that whenever something serious is going on there are people making jokes. I do think there are things that are inappropriate and that aren’t suited for comedies.
In terms of doing an action movie it would freak me out to do something where people are casually shooting each other.
Do you think comedies don’t get the respect that they deserve?
It’s a temptation to feel that way. But I think people generally like their medicine to taste bad. So if people are having a good time at a theater they don’t think that there’s anything substantial to it. You can’t have your cake and eat it to, so it’s ok for me that comedies aren’t looked at being as important as dramas.
You have been a fairly successful director over the years, and there’s a tendency for directors to get bigger and bigger budgets, but this film has a really small budget. How did you handle the challenges of working with such limited resources?
This is the tightest schedule that I’ve had since American Pie. The way you get by in Hollywood is not by being successful, but by being able to work with lower and lower budgets and making the studios an offer that they can’t refuse. If you come to them with a movie that has Hugh Grant, Mandy Moore, Dennis Quaid, Willem Dafoe and all these other people for a price that’s cheaper than what a major star gets paid, you can get a green light no matter what the material is. I think people get addicted to the status of a bigger budget, its trap that I hope to avoid.
Was it liberating working fast and lose?
Working fast is kind of good. It adds a certain energy to it and it’s more of a mental challenge. I think work expands to fit the amount of time given it. I don’t think there was anything that I left out due to lack of time.
I wanted to talk a little about the selection of music and all the show tunes included it in. How did you think about it, and what did it contribute to the film?
Well the last two films had soulful singer and songwriters to the track, which is probably what I most listen to. With this one I wanted to do something really different. I just loved the idea of creating a terrorist, who we knew exactly why he was a terrorist (because his mother was killed by an American bomb), but I wanted to make him as goofy as possible. I wanted him to be as na
Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8PM, Marisa Petroro is one of the lovely models charged with the responsibility of opening briefcases on the hit NBC primetime game show, ‘Deal or No Deal’ hosted by Howie Mandel. Marisa Petroro, however, is more than a beautiful face: she is a talented actress as well as a true survivor in the deal of life.
Even when she was a child living in New Jersey, Marisa Petroro knew she wanted to be an actor despite the fact that she was somewhat on the shy side. Petroro says her mother was very supportive of her desire to be in the limelight, which helped her tremendously to overcome shyness and to succeed in her goal. “My mom started taking me into New York every weekend for classes, to find an agent, and to enter me in auditions for commercials.”
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The irrepressible host that everyone loves to hate, American Idol’s Simon Cowell stars in, Paul Weitz’s latest comedy “American Dreamz” wait a minute, that’s not Simon, that’s Hugh Grant imitating Simon. I’m so confused. “American Dreamz,” as the song goes, that’s “Dreamz with a Z” is a parody about the most popular show on the planet, American Idol.
This film is almost a meet and greet, or homecoming, for the Paul Weitz “comedy troupe,” as it features a cast that has appeared in his numerous other films including Hugh Grant who starred in Weitz’s “About A Boy,” Chris Klein who was in Weitz’s “American Pie,” and Dennis Quaid who starred in last year’s “In Good Company.”
In Dreamz, Vincent Chase’s girlfriend Mandy Moore is Sally Kendoo a smalltime girl who has dreams of becoming a big star. Behind her squeaky clean, white trash image is a woman who will do anything to get ahead and make her dream come true. When slimy host Martin Tweed (Grant) meets her, he’s instantly taken with the conniving little minx and decides to take her under his wing. Tweed attempts to rig the contest by pushing the terrible Muslim broadway singer, Omer (Sam Golzari who steals the film) to the top spot, so that Sally will win the contest.
The only problem is Omer, is not only a wannabe singer, but he’s also a bumbling member of a terrorist cell who is sent to America because the leaders don’t want him around. When the leaders discover that the President of the United States (Dennis Quaid) is going to help Tweed judge the final two, they hatch a plan to assassinate him.
All of the actors in this film do what about you expect them to. No one really branches out beyond their basic stereotypes. Hugh Grant is at his Hugh “Grantiest,” Klein is almost the same in this as he was in “American Pie” and in a strange way, Quaid’s President reminded me of his In Good Company character, only a little more bumbling, and playing a straight man to Willem Dafoe’s manic impersonation of “Dick Chaney.”
Most of the bits with Omer in the Terrorist camp, at home with his American-Muslim relatives, and singing on stage were hysterically funny, while everything having to do with the Presidential assassination should have been excised all together.
Dreamz is a hard film to review as it’s not so much a movie, but a collection of bits strung together to give you a close proximity of what a film should be. But then that’s the case with most parodies, look at Scary Movie 4 as a reference. Whether you like the film or not will be based solely on whether there are more laughs than not, luckily Dreamz has it’s moments of Weitz’s dry humor that makes the film work.
Dreamz is a disappointment, but it’s a Paul Weitz – who gets a pass from me because he did one of my top 50 films, “About A Boy,” plus I love all the Omer bits, and last year I announced that I’m a big Hugh Grant fan, so for those three reasons alone, it worked for me.
EM Grade C+
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Originally Posted 5/21/06