I Like What I Like…and So Should You

Gerard Butler, Law Abiding Citizen, Adam Sandler, Reign Over Me, S.A. Young author
Law Abiding Citizen, written by Kurt Wimmer (Salt, Total Recall, Point Break), directed by F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton, The Fate of the Furious), starring Gerard Butler (every movie critics love to hate for the last 20 years), came out nearly 8 years ago. I saw it twice opening weekend, in Lincoln Center in NY, with one of my besties – it was a fantastic trip, but I digress.  I’ve written about the film before (on this blog) and I stand by my assessment.
I’ve also written more than once about the disconnect between “critics” and the vox populi. I’m remarking on this again tonight because I came across Law Abiding Citizen on TNT, again, and while I’m always compelled to watch at least a little bit of it whenever I do, I just noticed not just the fact that XFINITY gives you the “Rotten Tomatoes” score of the movies in its onscreen guide, but that the “Tomato-meter” score for Law Abiding Citizen is: critics 25% (which is actually up from about 16% when it was first released) and  “users” 75% (which is also up from its original which hovered around 60). 
Now, there was and is, obviously, a huge gap between critics and casual viewers of the movie, but the real news here is how the appreciation of the movie has grown both with critics and viewers over the intervening eight years. Hell, even imdb.com now has it at 7.4. TNT doesn’t continue to air it every other month because no one likes it or, more importantly for them, because no one is watching.  
Gerard Butler, Law Abiding Citizen, Adam Sandler, Reign Over Me, S.A. Young author, Fate of the Furious
Part of  the renewed appreciation might have to do with F. Gary Gray, who now has two huge back-to-back hits to follow up LAC. It’s only natural for those who suddenly become enamored of a director’s work to check out their back catalogue, and an orphaned or maligned film may gain new fans, particularly among those who may have missed it the first time around.
It’s no secret that I am a Gerard Butler fan. I will forever be convinced that, like other actors of his generation, Matthew McConaughey, until recently, comes to mind, he’s not yet been given the chance to shake loose the trappings of his leading man appearance and become the character actor he really wants to be. And he’s damned good in Law Abiding Citizen. (Sorry, I will always thing Jamie Foxx snoozed his way through the movie.)
While I admit to being a snob to some degree, there are instances where I am willing to dig deep to find something to like in anything I’ve paid my hard earned money to see.
Gerard Butler, Law Abiding Citizen, Adam Sandler, Reign Over Me, S.A. Young author, Gods of Egypt
I even enjoyed Gods of Egypt. I like to think I can see it for what it is: an ode of sorts to the Saturday matinees of old, and particularly the Ray Harryhausen creature-features where the strings and zippers are visible, but the movie we’re watching is just too much fun to care.  Seriously, what the hell is wrong with that? Are we really at a point, as a theater-going, cinematic audience, that we cannot still appreciate a film just for the good time it seeks to provide?
Gerard Butler, Law Abiding Citizen, Adam Sandler, Reign Over Me, S.A. Young author
My point might be an obscure one, but it’s this: Don’t let anyone come between you and what you like.  Even Adam Sandler has done good work. (He’s a victim of his own success, if you ask me, but really, who did?) If you want proof of his talent, beyond his really early films (I admit to laughing at Happy Gilmore, but I go no further with his comedies – there has been some true dreck), check out the dramas like Reign Over Me. But if you are a fan, and there must be quite a few of you, then you get on with your bad self.
History, even as little as eight short years, might prove you right.

Immortality, Baby!

“Marky Mark” Wahlberg has been nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor-Drama. I can’t even believe I just typed that sentence. (Actually, I was going to wait to do this post until next month when the Academy Award nominations are announced. At this point, I predict he’ll be nominated for one of those, too. Recent developments, however, have led me to believe the time is right.)

While I am very happy for this former Calvin Klein Underwear model and erstwhile rapper, and I actually believe that his role as Micky Ward is the role of a life-time and he did a fantastic job, my first thought was not about him at all. My first thought was:

Gerard Butler, you’d better get your shit together.

There is absolutely no reason that an actor of Gerard Butler’s caliber, name recognition and popularity, should not be offered the same types of roles that I see other actors, with less of those things, getting all the time.

I don’t mean to take anything away from Mr. Walhberg, that’s not my point. I say again that I loved The Fighter and he was fantastic in it. My point is that he fought for that role. He knew what it could do for him and what he could bring to it. He believed in his abilities as an actor and as a producer he worked for many years to get the movie made. He watched the lead yo-yo away from and back to him several times, but he wanted it and in the end he made sure he got it. And with that performance, Mark Wahlberg has finally gotten what he’s said he really wanted, respect as an actor.

This is what I expect from Gerard Butler. This is what I want for Gerard Butler.

He’s on the right track. He’s acquired a production company with his longtime manager, Alan Siegel, and he’s acted as producer on two films so far, 2009’s Law Abiding Citizen, and 2011’s Machine Gun Preacher.

I’m on the record as having enjoyed LAC and any reader of this blog knows just how biased I am about Mr. Butler, but I have to say that however the film was received by critics, it was an important step in his education. I’m sure the learning experience G had while making that movie was both immeasurable and priceless. (Although, it must be said that the movie did make some money.)

I am of the opinion that his next foray into production, Machine Gun Preacher, would not have gotten made if he hadn’t been attached as an actor, and also if his production company hadn’t gotten involved as well. Now, I have not seen this film yet, but by all accounts it has a great deal more gravitas than most of his other post-300 projects combined. And frankly, that’s what he needs: Gravitas. Or at least he needs to be perceived as someone who possesses this quality.

The film that could give him this in spades, if it is successful, looks to be the next one out of the gate. There had been reports that Ralph Fiennes directorial debut, Coriolanus, will open in some European cities as early as February of 2011. There have already been screenings in London and the word that is leaking out about G is very positive. (In a bit of theatrical serendipity, both Fiennes and Butler have appeared on stage in the play. In fact, it was G’s first professional gig as an actor.) Indeed, just this morning it was announced that Coriolanus will screen at the prestigious Berlinale in early February. (There is some discrepancy as to whether it will show in or out of competition. I’ve seen conflicting reports on this point.) Regardless, this is a very good thing. The Berlin fest is among the world’s top four, in my opinion, (along with Cannes, Toronto and Venice) and it means the world is eagerly awaiting Fiennes’ first directorial effort.

Fiennes is an actor who has gravitas coming out of his ears. Even his years playing a Harry Potter villain have somehow only managed to increase it and one would never associate Ralph Fiennes with a bad rom-com with a high powered co-star desperate for a hit…errr…okay, make that SHOULD never. At least he learned his lesson and stopped at one. Besides, The End of the Affair excuses a multitude of sins. As usual, I digress. The point is that Ralph Fiennes hand-picked Gerard Butler (whose name incidentally helped get the film financed) to play Coriolanus’ antagonist Tullus Aufidius, opposite him.

It will not matter what the general public thinks about this film, especially since most will probably have a hard time finding a movie like this and will have to make the concerted effort to seek it out via “On Demand” and dvd. If critics and industry insiders like and admire this movie, it will go a long way to reshaping Butler’s career path.

The point of this post is that I still see great potential in this man. He doesn’t need to coast on being, for example, ‘the poor man’s Russell Crowe.’ Russell Crowe is a great actor and no matter what else anyone thinks of him with reference to matters not film related, he has achieved a certain status for it. He gets the good scripts and works with the best directors and has projects lined up for at least the next five years. Physically, he may not be in Gladiator form and probably won’t be again, but it doesn’t seem to be important to him (or his career.) He’s still acting and turning in fantastic performances. He’s certainly not resting on the laurels that he earned in that film.

While the gossip rags may taunt him forever about not maintaining his Leonidas physique, it’s time for G to stop resting on the kudos he got for “300.” More importantly, he needs to stop coasting on Dear Frankie, the movie that most of Hollywood thinks of as the one that proved he could actually act, even though very little of the ticket buying public has seen it.

He needs to decide whether he wants to be an actor or a movie star. (I’m sure the latter is much more fun.) I may have gotten this totally wrong, but when I first discovered this guy, I was under the impression that the work mattered to him. Listen to him talk about a role he’s passionate about and you’ll probably feel the same way. Watch “Wrath of Gods,” a documentary about the making of 2005’s Beowulf & Grendel (bit of trivia: WOG is actually the 1st film on which he’s listed as producer, but not with his shingle, Evil Twins) and listen to him talk about that film, including characterization and the movie-making process. Has that artistic fire burned out completely in the intervening five years? (We won’t discuss where the accent has gone.)

Personally, I don’t think so. I don’t believe he likes being more well known for the parties he attends and the models he’s allegedly keeping company with. He’s just living his life, grabbing all the gusto he can. Hell, if I woke up every morning and looked at that face in the mirror and had the readies he has access to, I’d be doing the same thing. (He’s also, in my humble opinion, trying to stave off the march of time, probably for a lot of reasons.)

As an avowed fan of Gerard Butler, I realize my credibility when discussing this subject is already in question. All I can do is assure you, gentle reader, that I do not view this man through any variation of rose-tinted glasses, (although I’d like to view him through those Marc Jacobs shades he frequently sports. For some reason I really like those.) He is not on a pedestal of my making and I am not of the opinion he can do no wrong.

It drives me absolutely batshit when I read the delusional ramblings of women who see him as perfect, simply because he is beautiful, and verbally spew their virtual wailing and keening and rending of clothes across the internet because of the bad rap his acting and his antics have gotten lately. He’s a grown man, he can and will do what he wants regardless of what I think and I’m pretty sure his ‘soul’ will survive if the self-appointed guardians stopped guarding it. (He is not now, nor has he ever really been “Erik.”) That sort of behavior diminishes all of us who consider ourselves fans (with an ‘F’ not a ‘PH.’)

I say all that by way of disclaimer. The hopes I have for G are inspired by the potential I have seen and still see in him. The movie business is capricious at best. It can all change in an instant. I have touted the talents in previous posts of two of Butler’s recent co-stars, Tom Hardy and Michael Fassbender. While I grant you they are younger than G, like him they have both been toiling away at their craft for many years, and yet suddenly they are two of Hollywood’s hottest “It Boys.” Despite amazing performances in several critically acclaimed indies like “Hunger” and “Fish Tank,” it took a small role in a film like Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” to catapult Fassbender into the mainstream. For Hardy, it was Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.” Wahlberg had quietly been accumulating an impressive list of credits over the course of the last fifteen years, but I believe his big moment started with “The Departed,” directed by one Martin Scorsese and continues with the words “…Award nominee.”

I’d just really like it if one of these days someone sat down and wrote the line: Gerard Butler has been nominated for a Golden Globe…or an Academy Award.

Now, that’s immortality baby!

thanks for reading…

*Click Click*

In Defense of Law Abiding Citizen

Law Abiding Citizen, Gerard Butler, F. Gary Gray, movie, photo

Last week,  the Urban World Film Festival  took place in New York. I saw a photo somewhere online and it reminded me that one year ago, the festival featured the US premiere of “Law Abiding Citizen.”  I realize that it may be a little late for this, but the film has been on heavy rotation on Starz for the past month or so, and even though I own it on dvd, I’m compelled to stop and watch whenever I happen upon it. There are some things I’d like to say, and since I’ve created a forum for myself to do just that, I’m going to.

I remember when LAC was first released, being very discouraged by all of the negative press the film received. It felt as if a lot of the ‘old school’ film critics had decided they were all, as an entity, not going to like it. The best reviews (and some of them were surprisingly literate and thoughtful) came from small little nowhere papers or media outlets. To my mind, there just has to be a reason for the disparity between critics and what the audiences were saying. How is it possible that one film can score a lousy 22% with critics and an 84%with the public?*

It seemed to me that it had something to do with not being able to accept anything at face value enough to just enjoy the elemental thrills of a movie like LAC. Are “critics” so jaded that they are afraid of a purely visceral experience?

There was even one critic** that I read, who admitted to having turned down a chance to see a screening and yet still exhorted moviegoers to skip it. He based his opinion solely on his dislike for the lead actor as a person, even though the example he cited (which he linked to) is so tame it’s laughable.  (More to the point he seems, along with a lot of other people, to be holding Gerard Butler’s post-300 resume against him. I’m generally not one of those people. While I may scratch my head at some of his choices, I’m not privy to his thought processes. I can only surmise. I do think he chooses movies for a lot of reasons: some are brave or bold and come from the desire not to be pigeon-holed and to constantly challenge himself.  Some of them come down to loyalty and the desire to work with friends. In any case I think every actor who signs on the dotted line after reading a script is taking a leap of faith, putting himself, his reputation and his career into someone else’s hands and trusting that they will take good care of those things. There had to be something on those pages that made Gerard Butler think these were movies worth making, worth devoting months of his life to and since it has never been called into question that he brings 100% to every project he tackles, it seems to me that other people are letting him down. JMHO and as usual, I digress.)

I’ve (tried) to make this point before. Professional critics, so called, are also human beings. A review can be influenced by any number of factors including whether he or she had a fight with their significant other that morning or there was a traffic jam on the way to the theater, or they didn’t have time for a martini before the screening. Some are notoriously predisposed to certain genres or to disliking certain actors. (To name names, EW’s Owen Gleiberman, who has gotten increasingly cranky in general over the years, was being quoted everywhere, including the aforementioned piece, because he disliked the lead actor’s “mush mouthed bravura.” That had nothing to do with the movie itself, but because Mr. Gleiberman couldn’t get past Gerard Butler’s speech patterns, to him, it was a bomb.)

If the trailer, the genre, the actors, the director, etc etc. don’t interest you, you are certainly free to keep your hard earned money and not spend it on a ticket. That is your prerogative and your right. You should, however, abstain from passing judgment until you do so.

The predominate words used by paying customers who’ve seen this film are “gripping”, “edge-of-your-seat” and “thrilling.”

Is the movie preposterous? Of course it is! That’s hardly the point. If you went into the theater looking for a documentary or a tutorial on ‘how to get justice from the criminal justice system’ then I can understand why you might be upset. The real question, the only question, should be is it entertaining? The answer: Hell yes it is!

No matter how many times I’ve seen it, I’m still fascinated by Clyde’s vivisection of Clarence Darby. His description of what he plans to do to this breathing lump of excrement is priceless. It’s what we think we’d like to do in his situation to the millionth power. The scene is designed to recharge the audience that, after the opening scenes of brutality, has been lulled into believing they knew Clyde. It’s over the top and it works.  “Your heart is beating so fast…Me too!”

I could say that the scene where Clyde strips off and waits for the police is like a butterfly shedding its chrysalis, that he is casting off his old life and stepping consciously into another, naked as the day he was born…but that would be a tad twee. I get what the scene is about, that Clyde’s plan hinged upon his making it to jail alive and therefore he didn’t want any gung-ho rookie shooting him because they thought they saw a gun, etc. etc. But let’s be honest, I enjoy watching that scene over and over because I like watching Gerard Butler take his clothes off. (What’s more, whatever lofty reason they came up with to justify it in the script, Producer Butler knew that. I have no problem with that.)

I still enjoy the exchanges between Clyde and his cellmate, Dwight Dixon, (“Nice bed.” “Thanks, it’s a single.”) right up until the moment the steak bone slashes through the air.

And of course, there is one scene that makes me jump every single time I see. I know it’s coming and I think I’m prepared and it still gets me. (In case there are still a few readers of this blog who haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil it here. Those that have seen it know what I’m talking about.)

But for me, the entire movie comes down to one line and it belongs to Jamie Foxx’s Nick Rice: “You even THINK about touchin’ my family…”

The whole movie is encapsulated in that one scene. At a point where we should by now have abandoned crazy Clyde in favor of righteous Nick, we hear these words from the supposed ‘good guy’ and we get it. We understand not only why Clyde did what he did, but that any ordinarily ‘law abiding citizen’ might have done the same when faced with a similar set of circumstances. When does ‘touch {her} and I’ll kill you’ or something similar, stop being an empty threat and become real? How far do you have to be pushed? If you had been failed the way Clyde, an ordinarily ‘law abiding citizen,’ felt that he had been, and if you had the means to not only exact your own carefully plotted forms of retribution, and at the same time impart an object lesson to those whose jobs it should have been to protect and defend said citizens, would you?

Some have said that all of that goes out the window by making Clyde an ex-CIA black ops weapons specialist. I look at it as ‘careful who you fuck with.’ Just because someone looks like Casper Milquetoast, doesn’t mean that’s who they really are. If you ask me, that’s a valuable life lesson.

Now, having said all that, I do have a problem with the ending. If I give director F. Gary Gray credit for trying to say “Look, anyone can become a killer under the right circumstances” then I still have a problem with the WAY Nick Rice “killed” Clyde Shelton***. If he’d done as the CIA spook suggested and walked in to the cell and ‘put a bullet in his brain’ in order to stop Clyde and his killing spree, I could have understood that. What didn’t make sense was having Nick very deliberately plan Clyde’s death and then stand there and have a conversation with him, in essence torturing him the way that Clyde had tortured others. In that moment, he truly did become the monster he’d beheld. Sure Clyde had killed two of his colleagues, probably what amounted to ‘friends’ in Nick’s world, but still, on balance, weren’t Clyde’s losses still greater? Clyde had not touched Nick’s wife and daughter, in fact he had told him that he could have at any point, but very deliberately chose not to. Nick’s actions, in my opinion, were just as ‘over-the-top’ as he perceived Clyde’s to have been…and more importantly, out of character.

It is a flawed film, but all things considered, I still think Law Abiding Citizen is a good little thriller. It’s a movie I would have seen even if Gerard Butler hadn’t played Clyde. I think it’s one of those movies whose reputation will only get better as time goes by. Frankly, I think that can be said of a lot of Butler’s ‘post – 300’ oeuvre. For example, a handful of people saw “RocknRolla” in the theater. It was dismissed as “Lock Stock 3” by critics when it came out and yet I see references to it all over the web, every day, not only from critics who have rethought their positions, but people who wish they’d seen it when it came out. I fully expect this to happen to LAC.

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*rottentomatoes.com “Tomato-meter” the weekend of LAC’s release 10/16-18/09 (average audience rating 7.9 out of 10)

**Ben Barna, BlackBookmag.com

***Did we see him die? Did we see his charred corpse? No we didn’t, so I’m holding out hope he’ll make the planned sequel. Lol