Peter Biskind — a former Premiere magazine editor and longtime journalist who wrote the fascinating, endlessly entertaining book about the 1970s American movie scene, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls — recently published a biography called Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America.
I’ve yet to read the book, which, among other things, apparently tells us that Beatty might have slept with more than 12,775 woman — a number that doesn’t include “daytime quickies, drive-by blowjobs, casual gropings, stolen kisses and so on.” But I have read David Thomson’s incisive, beautifully written review of Star in the May 13 edition of The New Republic.
Thomson, as astute an assessor of movies and movie history as one is likely to read, takes on Biskind’s presumptive title/premise, which assumes that anyone still cares about Warren Beatty, an actor who has made only five (mostly little-seen and in some cases mediocre) movies over that last quarter-century. (A better book title might have been Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced Peter Biskind.) I’d be willing to bet that 90 percent of the moviegoers under the age of 30 currently taking in Iron Man 2 at the multiplex couldn’t pick Beatty out of a lineup — and that’s assuming they’ve even heard of the guy.
The question of Beatty’s cultural relevance aside, Thomson saves his most intriguing (or wistful, depending on your point of view) commentary for the state of contemporary movies. As Thomson sees it — and I largely concur — Hollywood is no longer a place where talented, ambitious actors and filmmakers like Beatty can thrive: “It (Star) shows why, once upon a time — before AIDS, before Polanski, before special effects and monster budgets — a great-looking guy with his wits about him might think it would be fun to make a movie. And so it was, even if fun is a boy’s sport.”
He concludes with a spot-on, if ominous, summation: “Now the fun has gone out of American film. The rush of celluloid no longer lives and moves or believes in its own ninety-minute sensation. It isn’t even celluloid, and it’s never ninety minutes. Warren Beatty begins to seem like Norma Desmond."
Speaking of current Hollywood, right on cue a pair of recycled movies open this week: the SNL-inspired comedy MacGruber and the fourth and supposedly final installment in the Shrek franchise.
Elsewhere, we have a strong pair of smaller films opening this week: a romantic thriller from Argentina and the latest damning documentary from filmmaker Alex Gibney, the guy behind Taxi to the Dark Side and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.
CASINO JACK AND THE UNITED STATES OF MONEY — Overloaded to the point of diminishing returns, Alex Gibney’s soup-to-nuts examination of super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff doesn't know when to cut bait. Audiences already numb to the staggering scale of America’s ongoing governmental corruption will have a tough time digesting the cynical climate of greed that allows Abramoff’s manipulation of congressmen and senators to continue under radical neoconservative rule. (Read full review here.) (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — Cole Smithey (Not Rated.) Grade: B
MACGRUBER — Saturday Night Live skits have made for pretty mediocre (at best) feature-length movies over the years. Will MacGruber be any different? Surprisingly, early buzz is positive. (Opens wide Friday.) — Jason Gargano (Rated R.) Review coming soon
THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES — Deserving winner of the 2009 Best Foreign Film Oscar, Argentinean writer/director Juan Jose Campanella’s The Secret in Their Eyes is a gripping mystery film layered with canny cultural, political, psychological and romantic elements. (Read full review here.) (Opens Friday at Esquire Theatre.) — CS (Rated R.) Grade: A
SHREK FOREVER AFTER — The revitalized Shrek Forever After tosses our ogre friend and his Far Far Away pals into another homage to It’s a Wonderful Life. This is a friskier, less bombastic Shrek, one that has fun with concepts like Shrek having become such a predictable celebrity that annoying kids ask him to “do the roar.” (Read full review here.) (Opens wide Friday.) — Scott Renshaw (Rated PG.) Grade: B-