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Tuesday, 23 March
Meh Squared

I have been reading a book called The Devil's Candy--which I believe was also the title of a documentary film--that is about the legendarily awful film adaptation of Tom Wolfe's holy-fuck blockbuster novel The Bonfire of the Vanities. I was in college when I read the book, and at the time, thought it was just fucking great; and while I've moved on since then, I still think it's a good book and some really biting satire. I don't think it's easy to write an enormous novel filled with a nearly full roster of loathsome people and still be engaging, but I think it helps that Wolfe can be horrendously funny--boiling teeth!--see also the almost painfully hilarious The Right Stuff. For the flipside, take a try at Wolfe's highly anticipated (and wholly wretched) follow-up A Man in Full. You shouldn't have any trouble finding dozens of copies at your local used bookstore.

I went to see the movie with my old college girlfriend, and she was kind of mystified at my anticipation. "Did you read the reviews of this movie? It's like they filmed this thing at a concentration camp built on an Indian burial ground." But I was hopelessly hooked. I had promised myself that the filmmakers wouldn't fuck it all up, and maintained a childlike sense of trust about the whole thing.

They of course fucked it all up.

I'm halfway through The Devil's Candy, and so far luckless director Brian DePalma is looking pretty good, if perhaps willfully naive. He's foisted some pretty offensive manure on us in the past; in fact, it's easier to list his good movies rather than catalog his utter disasters: Carrie, The Untouchables: these are good, well-crafted movies. But good gravy, anything else? The rest of the time, he's unleashing Hollywood pit demons like Body Double, Mission to Mars and Body Double onto unsuspecting audiences who were only looking to eat some popcorn, snuggle with a loved one, and maybe score a nice handjob. I defy anyone to maintain an erection during a terrifying debacle on the scale of 8 MM. (Uh, make that Snake Eyes. I continue to suck.)

There literally isn't anything good or redeeming or funny or non-shoot-yourself about the film version of Bonfire of the Vanities. Tom Hanks was the first star cast, as the broad-chested, hale and hearty bonds trader Sherman. Tom Hanks is about as hale and hearty as a fish stick, but whatever. Next, Uma Thurman--herself not exactly a synonym for DYNAMO ACTRESS--lost out to, of all people, Melanie Griffith for the role of the duplicitous fuck-hive Maria, Sherman's mistress. I'm afraid that I cannot imagine anything more depressing than the idea of losing out on an acting gig to someone as thoroughly useless as Melanie Griffith. It's no wonder that she despondently agreed to let Ethan Hawke fuck her. You do anything when you hit bottom.

The less that is said about Kim Cattrall as Sherman's wife the better. Let's just say that she was fantastically more dynamic as her last role in Mannequin, in which she played a store dummy who unenthusiastically boned the eternally unappealing Andrew McCarthy (aka "I Stare Blankly For A Living").

Then there was the role of the fiery, aged, vituperative judge Myron Kovitsky. Kovitsky is in many ways the least compromised character in the book, a stalwart being in a crumbling world where everyone else is in a desperate hurry to fuck everyone else over if it only means their own salvation. Of course he gets burned in the end, but not in Hollywood. DePalma ended up agreeing to have the wizened, crabby, profane Jewish judge played by: Morgan Freeman, fresh off of his acclaim from Driving Miss Daisy. Now I think that Mr. Freeman is a terrifically great actor, someone with a great interior "life" that he brings to his roles, but this was just awful. His big scene involves him lecturing the courtroom attendees to "be decent to each other!" This from a book that suggests that people are very close to being genetically incapable of being decent.

Let's not even talk about Bruce Willis as the dissipated drunk tabloid reporter Peter Fallows, who in the book is British. Willis isn't a terrible actor, just a terribly limited one, who had approximately none of the chops required of the role. Willis gets better as he ages, but in the same way that you describe your shoes: he just gets more familiar and more comfortable. Good for him, but it's not very helpful when he's ruining your shoe collection. Besides, it's not exactly ringing praise to compare an actor to everyday footwear. Especially when you're tempted to bring up Terence Stamp as a Nike avatar.

UNRELATED HORSESHIT

Disappointing phrases heard this weekend, #1:

(Man at the bar, evidently talking about a friend): I guess he had HIV. I wish he woulda told me. (Long pause.) So I coulda shot him.

I really try not to hate everyone, but sometimes it's hard.

#2:

(Skot approaches store. The electronic eye opens the door for him. Two young women are standing close by.)

Is my butt opening that door? My butt always opens doors. I point my butt at doors, and they open.

I opted not to respond to this, despite the screaming of my brain.

THIRD-HAND THINGS

I got this one from the wife. She was talking to a sorta-friend, who recently had to attend a funeral. There was evidently a little girl there, who was the picture of good behavior for the entire service. At least until the end, whereupon she turned to her mother and hoarsely whispered (referring to the coffin prominently displayed), "When do they open the big box so we can get our presents?"


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Comments

Pardon my pedantry, but Snake Eyes was DePalma's crappy movie with Nic Cage (as opposed to 8MM).

Comment number: 004493   Posted by: rhorsman on March 23, 2004 07:08 AM from IP: 198.179.227.50

Crap. You're right. I think 8 MM was a typically horrible Joel Schumacher movie, huh?

Comment number: 004494   Posted by: Skot on March 23, 2004 07:39 AM from IP: 140.107.123.110

IMDB points the finger at Schumacher. Actually I enjoyed 8MM as a piece of melodrama, but I dig where your coming from here.

Comment number: 004495   Posted by: rhorsman on March 23, 2004 08:35 AM from IP: 198.179.227.50

Ugh: "you're".

Comment number: 004496   Posted by: rhorsman on March 23, 2004 08:44 AM from IP: 198.179.227.50

To know all is not to forgive all; it is to despise everyone. (Quentin Crisp) Sounds like Wolfe feels much the same way; I'll have to read him.

Comment number: 004497   Posted by: senn on March 23, 2004 10:37 AM from IP: 137.53.85.134

I like it when you're all thoughtful like this. The coffin thing made me sad.

Comment number: 004498   Posted by: SJ on March 23, 2004 10:51 PM from IP: 216.231.50.124

When you say "The Devil's Candy," do you mean "The Devil's Playground"? Great documentary.

Comment number: 004499   Posted by: Ariel on March 24, 2004 07:47 AM from IP: 67.24.231.38

At my grandmother's funeral, my four-year-old daughter didn't hoarsely whisper, she projected to the four corners: "What's in the box?"

Best part was, it was more appropriate than all the rest of the syrupy eulogy and religious prattling. Nanny would have laughed till her teeth feel out.

Comment number: 004500   Posted by: Jena on March 24, 2004 08:30 AM from IP: 216.123.204.106

I liked The Devil's Candy, but the masterpiece of the genre is Final Cut by Steven Bach -- the day by day account of how Michael Cimino's post-The Deer Hunter project Heaven's Gate destroyed his career and the studio. Very much worth your time.

Comment number: 004501   Posted by: alkali on March 24, 2004 08:58 AM from IP: 162.90.97.61

In defense of De Palma (caveat: most of his movies feature some form of misogyny): "The Phantom of the Paradise," "Blow Out," "Scarface," "Dressed to Kill," "Carlito's Way," and "Femme Fatale."

Beyond that and the two you mentioned, it's terrible going. Which is a shame. Because, if you can get past the unsettling feeling that you're watching something made by a guy opening his trenchcoat to expose himself, when his films work, De Palma's one of the most exciting visualists of our time. (I submit the subway chase in "Carlito's Way," the entire first hour of "Femme Fatale," the masterful museum section of "Dressed to Kill," and the innovative transitions in "Phantom of the Paradise" as immediate examples that come to mind.)

Comment number: 004502   Posted by: Ed on March 24, 2004 04:48 PM from IP: 12.99.104.155

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