Skip to main content

And so what if you repeat yourself a lot? It adds emphasis.

Rules Don’t Apply

(SPOILERS) Warren Beatty’s swansong, so it seems. But given that everything he’s made since Bulworth – only Town & Country and this, as it happens – has stiffed, he might have been better going out on a high back in ’98. On the other hand, he might have been even wiser still to call it quits after Reds, and the only great loss would have been the one where he gets to rap (atrociously). But Warren had an itch to scratch on the Howard Hughes front, and it had been festering for decades. The result is a misfire, most definitely, and one suspects the strange structure – a couple of youngsters are the romantic leads while the increasingly erratic Hughes holds court from the side lines – is a consequence of the director-writer-producer-star prevaricating for too damn long. And yet, he’s on undeniably good form in Rules Don’t Apply.

Good old form. Beatty was nigh-on eighty when the movie came out, playing a man two decades younger. A very similar disparity, perhaps not coincidentally, between his being two decades too old for Bugsy Siegel in 1991. That was actually more glaring, though, since Warren’s a reasonably robust octogenarian. Although, in the early stages, with him gauzed by Caleb Deschanel’s sensitive cinematography or draped in bandages, you wonder if he isn’t doing anything and everything he can to avoid the camera interrogating him in the most unflattering manner. He is, after all, so vain.

It's a curiously off-kilter tone he strikes too. His Hughes is someone he wants you to like, even as Howard is insufferably eccentric in his demands for banana nut ice cream and dangerous flying. Beatty offers a particularly unpleasant seduction sequence in which Hughes has his way with young contract would-be starlet Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins), the latter entirely inebriated (the 2016 Alliance of Women Film Journalists EDA Awards – yeah, I know right, how come they aren’t really famous – awarded the movie the Most Egregious Age Difference Between The Lead and The Love Interest, highlighting the 52 years between Beatty and Collins; it won). Nothing terrible there, if he’s intent on critiquing the man, but the picture is so lightweight, it comes across as if he’s entirely ambivalent towards Hughes and his misdeeds.

Amusingly, there’s absolutely zero chemistry between Hollywood’s antiquated lothario and Collins. The latter is fine, but her retro, ingenue-sullied character isn’t an entirely becoming one, even when she gets knocked up and retorts by having the baby. Alden Ehrenreich, cancelled by fanboys everywhere for daring to be Han, fares much better as one of Hughes’ drivers. Indeed, I could see him playing Ray Liotta in another twenty years, once disenchantment and boozes soaks in.

Neither of these characters are terribly interesting when it comes down to it, though. Their forbidden – by possessive Hughes – romance is also curiously defiled by Beatty by having Ehrenreich’s Frank Forbes come in his pants when they first make out. It’s Warren’s way of ensuring the young pretender, even fictionalised, is no match for him, even if he walks away with the girl and the kid (which anyway, Warren wouldn’t want until he was another twenty years older than Frank).

As ever, Beatty has corralled an extraordinary complement of supporting players, including wifey, Alec Baldwin – not quite so extraordinary, since he’s contractually bound to appear in everything somewhere – Candice Bergen, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Martin Sheen, Paul Sorvino, Dabney Coleman, Oliver Platt (back for more after Bulworth) and Steve “serious business, comedy” Coogan. Matthew Broderick fares best, though, as Hughes’ right-hand dogsbody Levar Mathis, waiting on his master hand and foot until finally he snaps (and then goes back for more). It plays well on Broderick’s innately likable subservience (even if we may never get to the bottom of that ’80s auto accident).

There’s some forgettable nonsense about Frank trying to get Hughes to sign on a land deal, while there’s an ongoing case concerning Hughes lunacy involving TWA. Beatty the writer’s problem is that he allows the picture to be all quirk, so there’s insufficient connective tissue to make that quirk work. Want to see some slapstick electric bed adjustment and Frank faced with performing an enema on his boss? And, being a nutter, Hughes tells us “No one has done more than I have to rid Hollywood of communists” or “clarify the extreme danger any Americans will face living near a nuclear test site”.

Beatty’s clearly enjoying himself, but it isn’t enough. He ought really to have made a movie of the Gemstone File, which posits that Aristotle Onassis kidnapped Howard Hughes in 1957; Hughes was held prisoner, suffered a massive brain injury and was regularly injected with morphine while Onassis took over his business affairs (subsequently, Onassis put the assassination of JFK into effect). Perhaps it’s too outré for Hollywood. Instead, we got a rather rote good-boy-Scorsese biopic, and this peculiarly shaped dumpling.

Beatty tended to fare best when he was espousing a cause in whatever way, and flounder when he attempted to maximise his commerciality (critically, at any rate). Rules Don’t Apply is about someone who means a lot to him, but he ends up making it about nothing very much. Cynical as Bulworth was, it was an undiluted ad for Beatty’s brand of pure socialism, one he likely – due to blinkered vanity, natch – doesn’t realise is part of the globalist plot. Or maybe he does, despite enjoying the rep of an obsessive eccentric. He does, after all have his very own transgender offspring, thus ticking the requisite boxes for Hollywood slaves from fame to grave.

Perhaps Rules Don’t Apply was in his contract with the devil, rather like Dylan trotting out again to pay his dues. If so, Beatty might have the last laugh on those who persuaded themselves (like Arnon Milchan) to back him. He leaves a slender legacy – fifteen movies since Bonnie and Clyde, exactly four of which you could call better than good – but that’s what comes of being obsessive-compulsive, like his hero Howard, an old breed of hero. There was never a chance he would have signed on for Kill Bill. He wouldn’t have been calling any shots.

Popular posts from this blog

What’s so bad about being small? You’re not going to be small forever.

Innerspace (1987) There’s no doubt that Innerspace is a flawed movie. Joe Dante finds himself pulling in different directions, his instincts for comic subversion tempered by the need to play the romance plot straight. He tacitly acknowledges this on the DVD commentary for the film, where he notes Pauline Kael’s criticism that he was attempting to make a mainstream movie; and he was. But, as ever with Dante, it never quite turns out that way. Whereas his kids’ movies treat their protagonists earnestly, this doesn’t come so naturally with adults. I’m a bona fide devotee of Innerspace , but I can’t help but be conscious of its problems. For the most part Dante papers over the cracks; the movie hits certain keynotes of standard Hollywood prescription scripting. But his sensibility inevitably suffuses it. That, and human cartoon Martin Short (an ideal “leading man” for the director) ensure what is, at first glance just another “ Steven Spielberg Presents ” sci-fi/fantas

The Illumi-what-i?

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) (SPOILERS) In which Sam Raimi proves that he can stand proudly with the best – or worst – of them as a good little foot soldier of the woke apocalypse. You’d expect the wilfully anarchic – and Republican – Raimi to choke on the woke, but instead, he’s sucked it up, grinned and bore it. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is so slavishly a production-line Marvel movie, both in plotting and character, and in nu-Feige progressive sensibilities, there was no chance of Sam staggering out from beneath its suffocating demands with anything more than a few scraps of stylistic flourish intact.

This risotto is shmackin’, dude.

Stranger Things Season 4: Part I (SPOILERS) I haven’t had cause, or the urge, to revisit earlier seasons of Stranger Things , but I’m fairly certain my (relatively) positive takes on the first two sequel seasons would adjust down somewhat if I did (a Soviet base under Hawkins? DUMB soft disclosure or not, it’s pretty dumb). In my Season Three review, I called the show “ Netflix’s best-packaged junk food. It knows not to outstay its welcome, doesn’t cause bloat and is disposable in mostly good ways ” I fairly certain the Duffer’s weren’t reading, but it’s as if they decided, as a rebuke, that bloat was the only way to go for Season Four. Hence episodes approaching (or exceeding) twice the standard length. So while the other points – that it wouldn’t stray from its cosy identity and seasons tend to merge in the memory – hold fast, you can feel the ambition of an expansive canvas faltering at the hurdle of Stranger Things ’ essential, curated, nostalgia-appeal inconsequentiality.

Ziggy smokes a lot of weed.

Moonfall (2022) (SPOILERS) For a while there, it looked as if Moonfall , the latest and least-welcomed – so it seems – piece of apocalyptic programming from Roland Emmerich, might be sending mixed messages. Fortunately, we need not have feared, as it turns out to be the same pedigree of disaster porn we’ve come to expect from the director, one of the Elite’s most dutiful mass-entertainment stooges, even if his lustre has rather dimmed since the glory days of 2012.

Whacking. I'm hell at whacking.

Witness (1985) (SPOILERS) Witness saw the advent of a relatively brief period – just over half a decade –during which Harrison Ford was willing to use his star power in an attempt to branch out. The results were mixed, and abruptly concluded when his typically too late to go where Daniel Day Lewis, Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro had gone before (with at bare minimum Oscar-nominated results) – but not “ full retard ” – ended in derision with Regarding Henry . He retreated to the world of Tom Clancy, and it’s the point where his cachet began to crumble. There had always been a stolid quality beneath even his more colourful characters, but now it came to the fore. You can see something of that as John Book in Witness – despite his sole Oscar nom, it might be one of Ford’s least interesting performances of the 80s – but it scarcely matters, or that the screenplay (which won) is by turns nostalgic, reactionary, wistful and formulaic, as director Peter Weir, in his Hollywood debu

Are you telling me that I should take my daughter to a witch doctor?

The Exorcist (1973) (SPOILERS) Vast swathes have been written on The Exorcist , duly reflective of its cultural impact. In a significant respect, it’s the first blockbuster – forget Jaws – and also the first of a new kind of special-effects movie. It provoked controversy across all levels of the socio-political spectrum, for explicit content and religious content, both hailed and denounced for the same. William Friedkin, director of William Peter Blatty’s screenplay based on Blatty’s 1971 novel, would have us believe The Exorcist is “ a film about the mystery of faith ”, but it’s evidently much more – and less – than that. There’s a strong argument to be made that movies having the kind of seismic shock on the landscape this one did aren’t simply designed to provoke rumination (or exultation); they’re there to profoundly influence society, even if largely by osmosis, and when one looks at this picture’s architects, such an assessment only gains in credibility.

Is this supposed to be me? It’s grotesque.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022) (SPOILERS) I didn’t hold out much hope for The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent being more than moderately tolerable. Not so much because its relatively untested director and his co-writer are mostly known in the TV sphere (and not so much for anything anyone is raving about). Although, it has to be admitted, the finished movie flourishes a degree of digital flatness typical of small-screen productions (it’s fine, but nothing more). Rather, due to the already over-tapped meta-strain of celebs showing they’re good sports about themselves. When Spike Jonze did it with John Malkovich, it was weird and different. By the time we had JCVD , not so much. And both of them are pre-dated by Arnie in Last Action Hero (“ You brought me nothing but pain ” he is told by Jack Slater). Plus, it isn’t as if Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten have much in the way of an angle on Nic; the movie’s basically there to glorify “him”, give or take a few foibles, do

That, my lad, was a dragon.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) (SPOILERS) It’s alarming how quickly Peter Jackson sabotaged all the goodwill he amassed in the wake of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. A guy who started out directing deliciously deranged homemade horror movies ended up taking home the Oscar for a fantasy movie, of all genres. And then he blew it. He went from a filmmaker whose naysayers were the exception to one whose remaining cheerleaders are considered slightly maladjusted. The Desolation of Smaug recovers some of the territory Jackson has lost over the last decade, but he may be too far-gone to ever regain his crown. Perhaps in years to come The Lord of the Rings trilogy will be seen as an aberration in his filmography. There’s a cartoonishness to the gleeful, twisted anarchy on display in his earlierr work that may be more attuned to the less verimilitudinous aspects of King Kong and The Hobbit s. The exceptions are his female-centric character dramas, Heavenly Creat

Gizmo caca!

Gremlins (1984) I didn’t get to see Gremlins at the cinema. I wanted to, as I had worked myself into a state of great anticipation. There was a six-month gap between its (unseasonal) US release and arrival in the UK, so I had plenty of time to devour clips of cute Gizmo on Film ’84 (the only reason ever to catch Barry Norman was a tantalising glimpse of a much awaited movie, rather than his drab, colourless, reviews) and Gremlins trading cards that came with bubble gum attached (or was it the other way round?). But Gremlins ’ immediate fate for many an eager youngster in Britain was sealed when, after much deliberation, the BBFC granted it a 15 certificate. I had just turned 12, and at that time an attempt to sneak in to see it wouldn’t even have crossed my mind. I’d just have to wait for the video. I didn’t realise it then (because I didn’t know who he was as a filmmaker), but Joe Dante’s irrepressible anarchic wit would have a far stronger effect on me than the un

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.