Peter Appleton (Jim Carrey) has it made. His screenwriting career is on the rise his first movie's just been made and he's got a cute girl. Life is good--until the House Un-American Activities Committee mistakenly fingers him as a Communist and he quickly falls from the A-list to the blacklist. Getting dumped by both his studio and his girl is nothing a little drinking can't remedy but after drowning his sorrows he nearly drowns himself when he decides to drive drunk and his car veers into the river knocking him unconscious. When Peter comes to he can't remember who he is or where he came from so he's taken in by the kindly people of Lawson a burg stuck in time and still mourning the loss of many of its sons in World War II. They mistake him for Luke Trimble one of their long-lost boys who went MIA in World War II and are overjoyed at his return. Luke's father Harry (Martin Landau) whose zest for life had dwindled so much that he let his beloved movie house The Majestic fall to ruin but with "Luke's" return he plans to reopen it. Celebrations abound. Peter-as-Luke even returns to his relationship with fiancée Adele (Laurie Holden). Meanwhile Peter may have forgotten who he was but the Feds haven't and they're on his tail.
When Carrey's given the right material like he was with The Truman Show he can exhibit moments of greatness. The Majestic doesn't give Carrey the leeway to show his quirky sensibilities demanding that he play it straight throughout the movie (there are a few--too few--glances at humor that Carrey doesn't play up). To bring off the kind of schmaltz this movie oozes Carrey had to bring something of an edge to his character. Instead Peter is neither likable nor unlikable coming off as a bland confused schmo until the climactic end which after two hours of his weak personality is wholly unbelievable. Landau is unexciting as a caricature of the sad sentimental old man without hope--you want to sympathize but there's something faintly chilly about him. Holden's liberated-woman lawyer might have played better in a contemporary movie; she looks and acts too much like a modern-day actress trying to portray a woman of the '50s.
Was this some kind of vanity project dreamed up by a director too taken with his own greatness and past success? Was Frank Darabont envisioning an It's a Wonderful Life for the next generation? (Psst…it's likely the majority of the modern moviegoing public doesn't know who Frank Capra is and could care less especially when the movie is as slow and as completely unbelievable as this one.) Apparently Darabont's in love with his own direction because hardly a moment goes by without some lingering reaction shot. Darabont took an intriguing story about amnesia and mistaken identity and slathered it with sap. Old-fashioned period stories can be lots of fun but it's imperative they be able to keep a present-day audience's interest by including a bit of modern wit and pace. Unfortunately this sticks to the straight-and-narrow. Nobody's going to buy the two-dimensional main characters the shiny happy townspeople or especially the schlocky my-country-'tis-of-thee finale. In its favor The Majestic's ultimate message is a nice one. The movie does have its heartfelt moments and its '50s feel is authentic if a little polished.
"Almost Reel is one of the decade's best columns!"
-- Harlan Sanders, The Silver Spring Post-Dispatch
"When I read last week's Almost Reel I laughed, I cried. It was better than Cats."
-- Lew Lautin, National Internet Review
A couple of weeks ago, Columbia Pictures (part of the evil Sony empire) admitted that they'd been using a fictitious movie reviewer, "David Manning," to supply some of the glowing phrases that we see attached to each and every film that comes out of Tinseltown.
"Manning" heaped praise upon such unworthy fare as A Knight's Tale, The Animal and Hollow Man.
If you're anything like me--and if you are, those Air Supply albums are still a guilty pleasure--you're not at all shocked or surprised. Hollywood employs some of the slickest marketing professionals this side of big tobacco, another bastion of corporate responsibility.
There are a few small thoughts that come immediately to mind that should mitigate any sense of outrage we the public may feel at this duplicity.
1. Movie studios are in the business of "pretend." The one product movie studios manufacture is, well, movies, which more often than not are made up. Is it so much of a stretch to us that the studios would make up their own glowing reviews?
Look at it this way: were any of us really shocked that Mike Tyson took a bite out of Evander Holyfield's ear? Sure, there are rules in boxing, but the primary goal of the sport is to turn your opponent's face into a bloody pulp. Mike decided to use his teeth instead of his fists. The means may have changed, but the ends remained the same.
I think you can see how the parallel applies to movies, only with a lot less ear-biting and blood. (Assuming, of course, you're not the producer of three high-profile bombs in a row. If so, watch out--I hear Michael Eisner has sharp teeth.)
2. Movie studios lie all the time. Do bears, bare? Do bees, be? Of course, they do. (Apologies to David Addison.)
Not every movie the studios put out can actually be worth your hard-earned eight bucks, yet the studios only make money if you buy a ticket. In fact, movie studios rank right up there (or is it down there?) with the used car industry on level of truthfulness.
3. Movie studios often pay lots of money for blurbmeisters from all over the country to come to lavish junkets, all for the sake of a nice review. The studios often wine, dine, and give away free movie merchandise (which sometimes means expensive luggage and perfume) to reviewers as part of these junkets.
We the public are just not as attuned to the commonly used euphemisms that those reviewers employ. Although by now I think everyone knows that if a film is plastered with quotes such as "One of the year's/decade's/century's best movies" or "a nonstop roller coaster ride" avoid it like the plague.
Other words that are a real clue to a movie's suckiness include "triumphant," "glorious," "mesmerizing" and "this year's insert movie title here."
So studios tried to cut out the middleman and write their own over-the-top reviews for mediocre movies. Who are we to quibble?
After all, it's the assumption of the movie studios that in this great society we've created the public at large is simply a repository for disposable income, controlled by insect-sized intellect. The public can't possibly discern the difference between the review of a veteran movie screener and the review of my 4-year-old niece.
Astute members of the American citizenry have actually proved that point rather nicely for the studios. Ten (ten--as if one wouldn't have been enough to get the point across) class-action lawsuits have been filed alleging that some of the public has been duped by movie reviews from critics who have been richly wined and dined on studio-paid press junkets.
One of the quotes cited by the attorney representing the plaintiffs compared the John Travolta dud Battlefield Earth favorably to Star Wars. Another review raved that The Perfect Storm is "one of the best movies of all time."
Who are these people that believed those reviews, and where do they live? I have some property in Florida that I'd like to sell them. These rubes are a Wall Street cold-caller's dream.
"Hello Mrs. Smithee? I have a stock that's this year's AOL! It's a triumphant stock, with a glorious upside. It's just going up, up, up and will be one of the year's ten best performers! You say you want 1,000 shares? I'll put you down for 2,000."
Of course, one has to wonder why Columbia Pictures execs thought they had to make up anything. As Washington Post movie critic Desson Howe put it, "This country is overpopulated with helium-filled movie critics who like anything."
Personally, I don't like just anything. There has to be some gratuitous violence.
As for the marketing geniuses at Columbia, don't cry for them.
The two-man brain-trust that made up these phony blurbs e.g., calling A Knight's Tale's Heath Ledger "this year's hottest new star," have returned to work after a 30-day unpaid suspension, presumably to bigger offices and bigger paychecks.
All right, you pressured me into it. I admit it, I wrote those reviews at the top of the column myself. Columbia Pictures here I come!
In a lighthearted riff on Homer's epic poem set in the Depression-era South verbose
charmer Everett Ulysses McGill (George Clooney) and two dimwitted cronies (John
Turturro Tim Blake Nelson) break free from a Mississippi chain gang only to face
a long series of trials including a trio of seductive laundry-washing sirens
and a fearsome one-eyed Bible salesman (Homer's Cyclops of course creepily portrayed
by John Goodman). Unlike the original Ulysses Everett also must contend with
pursuing cops Southern-friend politicians and the KKK if he is to prevent his
less-than-faithful former wife (Holly Hunter) from marrying a rival suitor.
Leading goofs Clooney Turturro and Nelson gamely get into the Three
Stooges-ish tone of the piece with Clooney in particular delivering a
winking self-mocking turn that must be his broadest screen performance to
date. Nelson ("The Thin Red Line") is also a riot as a mild-mannered yokel
for whom every slow-moving thought requires visible effort. Disappointingly
Coen veterans Goodman Hunter and Charles Durning have less to sink their
teeth into than in previous outings with the brothers.
Writer-director Joel and writer-producer Ethan Coen rack up yet another enjoyable
romp featuring all of their signature elements - playfully stylized camerawork
offbeat music colorful characters distanced by dripping irony. Evoking the road
comedies of the '30s and '40s this easygoing comic adventure has an old-fashioned
flavor and (for a Coen picture at least) a relative lack of graphic violence
that links it to the brothers' underrated 1994 Frank Capra homage "The Hudsucker
Proxy." Amusing as it is however "Brother" rarely achieves the same hilarious
heights as previous Coen laughers such as "Raising Arizona" and "The Big Lebowski."