Skip to main content

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

Rules Don’t Apply
(2016)

(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.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Maybe he had one too many peanut butter and fried banana sandwiches.

3000 Miles to Graceland (2001) (SPOILERS) The kind of movie that makes your average Tarantino knockoff look classy, 3000 Miles to Graceland is both aggressively unpleasant and acutely absent any virtues, either as a script or a stylistic exercise. The most baffling thing about it is how it attracted Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell, particularly since both ought to have been extra choosy at this point, having toplined expensive bombs in the previous half decade that made them significantly less bankable names. And if you’re wondering how this managed to cost the $62m reported on Wiki, it didn’t; Franchise Pictures, one of the backers, was in the business of fraudulently inflating budgets .

I must remind you that the scanning experience is usually a painful one.

Scanners (1981) (SPOILERS) David Cronenberg has made a career – albeit, he may have “matured” a little over the past few decades, so it is now somewhat less foregrounded – from sticking up for the less edifying notions of evolution and modern scientific thought. The idea that regress is, in fact, a form of progress, and unpropitious developments are less dead ends than a means to a state or states as yet unappreciated. He began this path with some squeam-worthy body horrors, before genre hopping to more explicit science fiction with Scanners , and with it, greater critical acclaim and a wider audience. And it remains a good movie, even as it suffers from an unprepossessing lead and rather fumbles the last furlong, cutting to the chase when a more measured, considered approach would have paid dividends.

You seem particularly triggered right now. Can you tell me what happened?

Trailers The Matrix Resurrections   The Matrix A woke n ? If nothing else, the arrival of The Matrix Resurrections trailer has yielded much retrospective back and forth on the extent to which the original trilogy shat the bed. That probably isn’t its most significant legacy, of course, in terms of a series that has informed, subconsciously or otherwise, intentionally or otherwise, much of the way in which twenty-first century conspiracy theory has been framed and discussed. It is however, uncontested that a first movie that was officially the “best thing ever”, that aesthetically and stylistically reinvigorated mainstream blockbuster cinema in a manner unseen again until Fury Road , squandered all that good will with astonishing speed by the time 2003 was over.

We’re looking into a possible pattern of nationwide anti-Catholic hate crimes.

Vampires aka John Carpenter’s Vampires (1998) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter limps less-than-boldly onward, his desiccated cadaver no longer attentive to the filmic basics of quality, taste, discernment, rhyme or reason. Apparently, he made his pre-penultimate picture to see if his enthusiasm for the process truly had drained away, and he only went and discovered he really enjoyed himself. It doesn’t show. Vampires is as flat, lifeless, shoddily shot, framed and edited as the majority of his ’90s output, only with a repellent veneer of macho bombast spread on top to boot.

White nights getting to you?

Insomnia (2002) (SPOILERS) I’ve never been mad keen on Insomnia . It’s well made, well-acted, the screenplay is solid and it fits in neatly with Christopher Nolan’s abiding thematic interests, but it’s… There’s something entirely adequateabout it. It isn’t pushing any kind of envelope. It’s happy to be the genre-bound crime study it is and nothing more, something emphasised by Pacino’s umpteenth turn as an under-pressure cop.

Maybe I’m a heel who hates guys who hate heels.

Crimewave (1985) (SPOILERS) A movie’s makers’ disowning it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s nothing of worth therein, just that they don’t find anything of worth in it. Or the whole process of making it too painful to contemplate. Sam Raimi’s had a few of those, experiencing traumas with Darkman a few years after Crimewave . But I, blissfully unaware of such issues, was bowled over by it when I caught it a few years after its release (I’d hazard it was BBC2’s American Wave 2 season in 1988). This was my first Sam Raimi movie, and I was instantly a fan of whoever it was managed to translate the energy and visual acumen of a cartoon to the realm of live action. The picture is not without its problems – and at least some of them directly correspond to why it’s so rueful for Raimi – but that initial flair I recognised still lifts it.

Remember. Decision. Consequence.

Day Break (2006) (SPOILERS) Day Break is the rare series that was lucky to get cancelled. And not in a mercy-killing way. It got to tell its story. Sure, apparently there were other stories. Other days to break. But would it have justified going there? Or would it have proved tantalising/reticent about the elusive reason its protagonist has to keep stirring and repeating? You bet it would. Offering occasional crumbs, and then, when it finally comes time to wrap things up, giving an explanation that satisfies no one/is a cop out/offers a hint at some nebulous existential mission better left to the viewer to conjure up on their own. Best that it didn’t even try to go there.

You absolute horror of a human being.

As Good as it Gets (1997) (SPOILERS) James L Brooks’ third Best Picture Oscar nomination goes to reconfirm every jaundiced notion you had of the writer-director-producer’s capacity for the facile and highly consumable, low-cal, fast-food melodramatic fix with added romcom lustre. Of course, As Good as it Gets was a monster hit, parading as it does Jack in a crackerjack, attention-grabbing part. But it’s a mechanical, suffocatingly artificial affair, ponderously paced (a frankly absurd 139 minutes) and infused with glib affirmations and affections. Naturally, the Academy lapped that shit up, because it reflects their own lack of depth and perception (no further comment is needed than Titanic winning the big prize for that year).

You cut my head off a couple of dozen times.

Boss Level (2021) (SPOILERS) Lest you thought it was nigh-on impossible to go wrong with a Groundhog Day premise, Joe Carnahan, in his swaggering yen for overkill, very nearly pulls it off with Boss Level . I’m unsure quite what became of Carnahan’s early potential, but he seems to have settled on a sub-Tarantino, sub-Bay, sub-Snyder, sub-Ritchie butch bros aesthetic, complete with a tin ear for dialogue and an approach to plotting that finds him continually distracting himself, under the illusion it’s never possible to have too much. Of whatever it is he’s indulging at that moment.

I dreamed about a guy in a dirty red and green sweater.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) (SPOILERS) I first saw A Nightmare on Elm Street a little under a decade after its release, and I was distinctly underwhelmed five or so sequels and all the hype. Not that it didn’t have its moments, but there was an “It’ll do” quality that reflects most of the Wes Craven movies I’ve seen. Aside from the postmodern tease of A New Nightmare – like Last Action Hero , unfairly maligned – I’d never bothered with the rest of the series, in part because I’m just not that big a horror buff, but also because the rule that the first is usually the best in any series, irrespective of genre, tends to hold out more often than not. So now I’m finally getting round to them, and it seemed only fair to start by giving Freddy’s first another shot. My initial reaction holds true.