In Case You Missed It
Boulderganic Fall 2009
Student Guide 2009
Boulder Weekly Sweet 16 Anniversary
Summer Scene 2009
Best of Boulder 2009
Annual Manual 2009
Newspaper of the Future
Kids Camp Guide 2009
Wedding Marketplace 09
Student Guide 2008
Best of Boulder 2008
Annual Manual 2008
Join Our Mailing List
|April 23-29, 2009
• The state of print media
by Michael Phillips
• Efron ... again
by Michael Phillips
The state of print media
by Michael Phillips
Like Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic, State of Play compresses a British television miniseries into a stand-alone American thriller and does a pretty good job of it. It’s best to see the remake first and catch up with the 2003 BBC miniseries afterward. That way you can enjoy the new version for what it is — a sleek, reliable Hollywood package, wrapped in a mournful last hurrah for print investigative journalism — instead of experiencing it through the prism of its superb predecessor, which came from a different era, one in which movie characters didn’t go out of their way to remind audiences that “nobody reads the papers anymore.”
Brad Pitt was originally scheduled to play the wizened, disheveled newspaper reporter on the trail of the biggest scandal since Watergate.
His last-minute exit from the project cleared the path for a better actor, far better suited to adjectives like “wizened” and “disheveled.”
Russell Crowe (above) is the star in question, portraying Cal McAffrey, star journalist and resident crank at the fictional Washington Globe. His old friend, a U.S. congressman (Ben Affleck), sets the narrative in motion. When the congressman’s aide is killed in a mysterious train-platform accident, the politician crumbles in public, while heading an investigative committee looking into the shadowy doings of a Blackwater-type private defense firm known as PointCorp. He confesses to an affair. This goes down poorly with the congressman’s wife (Robin Wright Penn), with whom Cal once had relations. (The miniseries brought the reporter and the politician’s wife together in the present tense, adding fuel, plus conflicts of interest aplenty, to the story’s fire.)
State of Play begins with a seemingly unrelated murder of an African-American teenager, who, we’re told early on, had some sort of connection to the dead woman. Intrepid Cal pursues these strands, aided by a Globe staffer (Rachel McAdams) from the dreaded interloping online division. “She’s young, she’s cheap and she churns out copy several times a day,” harrumphs the editor, played by Helen Mirren, pounding another nail into our hero’s soul.
Director Kevin Macdonald brought a bright, hot palette to the murderous corruption of Idi Amin’s regime in The Last King of Scotland.
Here the director goes for cooler, more overtly sinister tones, punctuated by sudden bursts of violence. Macdonald handles these well: The prologue and a later assassination hit us hard, and quickly. The script cuts several corners in the interests of concision, and it’s too bad the actor originally announced for the role of the congressman, Edward Norton, couldn’t work out his schedule.
Affleck’s just OK; he seems to be struggling for gravitas and a way to activate his character’s dilemma. Everyone else, though, is very good. The kind of acting Crowe does here won’t win awards and doesn’t scream for attention. Yet it serves the thriller conventions as well as the old-warrior-journalist clichés in style.
Are audiences cooling to ’70s-style paranoiac entertainment? These days we like our paranoia on the grandest possible scale — nothing less than the threat of planetary extinction will do. On the other hand, I take heart from the Bourne trilogy. The Bourne films succeed both as pop art and big moneymakers, partly because they’re practically abstract in terms of narrative, and yet there’s a brain — as well as one foot in a complicated geopolitical world — and a moral compass guiding the action. State of Play isn’t a kinetic fireball like the second or third Bourne installment; like its protagonist, it’s defiantly old school, Three Days of the Condor bleeding into All the President’s Men.
Not everyone will be interested in State of Play’s depiction of the End Times of daily newspapering, but the differences between Paul Abbott’s original teleplay and the new script, a many-hands affair (one of the hands being Tony Gilroy, of Duplicity and Michael Clayton), are fairly staggering. I’m not giving anything away by noting that the miniseries and the film version end with nearly identical images, that of newspaper presses churning the hard-won truth. The difference in tone, though, is striking. In 2003 the climax struck a triumphal chord. In 2009, it’s more like an elegy.
back to top
by Michael Phillips
Zac Efron, looking cool, is movie enough for the makers of 17 Again, a halfhearted fantasy that stars Efron in a role cryogenically frozen around the time of C. Thomas Howell’s ’80s heyday. He plays a high school basketball star who has everything going for him.
His college sports career gets derailed by his girlfriend’s unplanned pregnancy. This 1989 prologue doesn’t last long, but the Boy George and Vanilla Ice references are intense.
Twenty bittersweet years later, Efron’s Mike O’Donnell has turned into a defeatist schlump played by Matthew Perry, who peddles erectile dysfunction pills for his drug company and devoutly wishes to return to his teen glory days and change a few things. Up pops a magical whiskered janitor played by Brian Doyle-Murray who zwaps Mike back into his younger self (Efron). Though a dork inside, he’s mack-worthy Zac on the outside, infiltrating his kids’ classes under a transfer-student guise.
At one point, because the film is intent on the yummification of its star, Mike — a near-middle-ager in the body of a 17-year-old — finds himself in a very sticky situation with his own daughter (Michelle Trachtenberg). This film’s target audience wasn’t born when Back to the Future came out, but some of you village elders may remember Lea Thompson giving Michael J. Fox the Oedipal willies.
A comparable scene in 17 Again, which is full of scenes disadvantageously similar to scenes in other films, had the kids squirming and “eeeeewwww!”ing like crazy.
What they weren’t doing was laughing much. The movie, which makes high school seem only slightly less grim than Lord of the Flies, tries to deal with teen sexuality and social pressures, but it’s the same old song, sung out of key. The standard venal cliques are in place. If a film recycles images of the psychopathic jock boyfriend with the soul of a date rapist, or the Bratz-knockoff slutettes setting the fashion standard for the girls, at some point it risks not just reusing and commenting on these tropes, but reinforcing them.
The movie’s heart, of course, is with poor addled Mike and his kids, but 17 Again works only fitfully to make the Efron/Perry character worth a story. I enjoyed Leslie Mann as Mike’s neglected wife, puzzled about why she’s repelled/attracted by her son’s charismatic friend who keeps coming around to help out with chores. But just as Mann was too good for Drillbit Taylor, she’s too good for this.
Efron’s fans may enjoy the film, simply because Their Guy is in it, and he dances a little. However, younger admirers of the High School Musical movies are likely to ask a lot of questions, out loud.
They certainly were at the promotional screening I attended. Mom, what’s going on? Mom, what’s a condom? Mom, what does “MILF” stand for? Call the High School Musical films what you will, but they weren’t conflicted about who their audience was. 17 Again, directed with a heavy hand by Burr Steers (who wrote and directed the Rushmore knockoff Igby Goes Down), pulls a laugh or two out of Thomas Lennon as Mike’s smarmy, socially maladroit pal, Ned. But one or two isn’t many, and on the whole I’d rather watch George Burns and Charlie Schlatter in 18 Again! again.
back to top