Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: What became of star power?

I’m sitting here nursing a cold—one that (despite Bold Life movie critic Marcianne Miller’s best efforts of dosing me with tincture of elderberry) has me expecting to see visions of buzzards with fingerbowls at any moment. This is an evening (Thursday) I wouldn’t normally be at home, but owing to the onslaught of this ague, here I am in the company of Humphrey Bogart in In a Lonely Place (1950) on TCM. It’s not a favorite of mine, but it’s not an inapt choice simply because if anyone ever had star power Bogie qualifies, and star power is what I’m thinking about today. The question in my mind is whether or not it actually still exists—at least in anything like the form it once did.

Now, I know there are people who still follow the careers of certain actors and actresses. A few of them are even what you might call morbid about it. I know one person who will go see anything that Johnny Depp is in, for example. I know another who has a similar attitude about Tom Cruise. (I understand the former, but the latter baffles me.) But these are merely two people. It almost certainly says something about the kind of people I know, but I simply don’t encounter the mindset that once prevailed where people went to the movies based entirely on the presence of a star. The days of going to see “that new Cary Grant movie” seem to have largely gone by the wayside.

I’m guessing that there are people who flock to see anything with, say, Shia LaBeouf or Robert Pattinson in them, though the latter has yet to be tested much outside the realm of playing a certain pasty-faced, sparkly vampire. In his case, it may be the character who is the draw more than he is. Certainly that’s the case so far with Daniel Radcliffe, whose one non-Harry Potter effort, December Boys (2007), sank without getting much past the poster and trailer stage.

There are certainly stars who command fabulous salaries—though nearly all of them have taken a hit in recent years, except for Will Smith and, to a slightly lesser extent, Denzel Washington. At the same time, “let’s go see that new Will Smith movie” certainly didn’t apply to Seven Pounds (2008). And Washington’s presence didn’t boost The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009) into the must-see realm.

What of the supposedly safely bankable Tom Hanks? Of late, unless tied to a pre-sold franchise—The Da Vinci Code (2006), Angels & Demons (2009)—Hanks isn’t a shoo-in either. Brad Pitt and all the Oscar nominations in the world couldn’t get The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) to even gross back its cost. The ladies aren’t faring any better. Julia Roberts couldn’t hoist Duplicity (2009) into the stratosphere, and Sandra Bullock didn’t make Premonition (2006) a hit. Angelina Jolie and an Oscar nomination didn’t make Changeling (2008) a winner, either.

I’m the wrong person to go to on the question of what happened to star power for two reasons. In the first place, I’m from the era and the mindset that thinks of movies more in terms of who made them than who’s in them. But more, there’s the simple fact that I don’t get to be an active participant in the question of seeing a movie because of who’s in it, since I have to see just about everything that comes along. Believe me, it’s not from any personal desire that I’ve seen nearly every movie Shia LaBeouf’s been in. No, that most assuredly is about as far from the truth as you are likely to get,

If I was in a position to be more choosy about what I went to see I’m not at all sure that there’s anyone on the screen today whose presence would absolutely insure my presence in the theater. Filmmakers, yes. You trot out a new movie by Pedro Almodovar, Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, Afonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro, Neil Jordan, Tim Burton, Danny Boyle, Michel Gondry, etc. and I’m there. Actors and actresses are not so much of a given.

This isn’t to say that I think there’s anything like a dearth of talent in front of the camera these days. There are any number of performers whose work has consistently pleased me or intrigued me. Johnny Depp comes immediately to mind, but Depp’s presence isn’t enough to get me to sit through Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) again—nor Secret Window (2004), nor Nick of Time (1995)—and it didn’t get me through The Brave (1997) even once. For that matter, I don’t particularly envision a need or desire in the immediate future to re-visit Blow (2001) or Finding Neverland (2004).

Ever since I first saw Chiwetel Ejiofor in Stephen Frears’ Dirty Pretty Things (2002) I’ve been sold on him as one of the most fascinating—possibly the most fascinating—actors around. That was cemented by his performances in Woody Allen’s Melinda and Melinda (2004), John Singleton’s Four Brothers (2005) Josh Whedon’s Serenity (2005), Julian Jarrold’s Kinky Boots (2005), Spike Lee’s Inside Man (2006), Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men (2006), Kasi Lemmons’ Talk to Me (2007), Ridley Scott’s American Gangster (2007) and David Mamet’s Redbelt (2008). That doesn’t mean that I’ve rushed right out to buy Four Brothers, Serenity, American Gangster or Redbelt on DVD. Does it mean I’m straining at the leash to see Roland Emmerich’s impending 2012? I think not. The best thing I can say there is that I hope he bought himself something really nice with the paycheck.

George Clooney—and to a slightly lesser extent, Clive Owen—strike me as the closest thing we have today to old-fashioned movie stars. This does not translate into a desire to festoon my shelves with Batman and Robin (1997), Solaris (2002), Ocean’s 12 (2004), The Good German (2006), King Arthur (2004) or Derailed (2005). The prospect of wanting to see Solaris again is something that I can only imagine involving a battle with insomnia. A desire to see Derailed wouldn’t even be explained by that. That anyone should feel the need to own Batman and Robin is hard to imagine.

I might have made an exception in the case of Amy Adams. Once she truly “made it” with Enchanted (2007) and followed that up with Charlie Wilson’s War (2007), Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008), Doubt (2008) and Sunshine Cleaning (2009), I’d have thought it a possibility. Then came Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian and it went straight to hell. OK, so she redeemed herself with Julie & Julia, but the completist urge is still gone.

There are others who could be brought into play on such a roster, sure, but in every case I come up against the same thing—an ultimate inability to be so loyal to a performer that his or her presence guarantees my desire to see absolutely everything that comes along.

It wasn’t always this way. I can walk over to the DVD shelves and find not just the expected blocks of films grouped by directors—Ken Russell, Richard Lester, James Whale, Rouben Mamoulian, Ernst Lubitsch, Woody Allen, Josef von Sternberg, Pedro Almodovar, Preston Sturges, et al, all have their spaces—but there are shelves devoted to performers as well. Without checking, I know I have groupings consisting of movies with George Arliss, John Barrymore, Al Jolson, Bob Hope, Laurel and Hardy, W.C. Fields, Mae West, Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey, Eddie Cantor and Bela Lugosi—along with specialized teamings like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. There would be others—Maurice Chevalier, Marlene Dietrich, for instance—but they’re included in the groups of specific filmmakers. These others are performers whose work has an appeal that transcends the actual quality of the films that contain them.

What makes the difference? Why am I OK with the most outrageous rubbish as long as it has Bela Lugosi in it—even if he’s relegated to playing one of any number of utterly thankless butler roles? It can have been made for $1.95 and make no sense whatever and I’m still going to watch it. That’s more than can be said for some of the Bob Hope titles on those shelves. Those are merely the expression of the completist mindset. God knows, it’s unlikely that I’m ever actually going to watch How to Commit Marriage (1969), but it’s there. (Whether it would be there if it weren’t found in the Wal-Mart dump bin for five bucks is another matter, but I wouldn’t shell out five bucks for King Arthur, I can tell you.)

To some degree, the answer is simply that these are old friends made in childhood and I cling to them on that basis. I’d be the last person to deny that, but if that was all it took, I’d have shelves packed with Martin and Lewis, the Three Stooges and Abbott and Costello, too. And on that score, it’s one set of Three Stooges shorts, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (because Bela Lugosi’s in it), and zero for Dean and Jerry. (I realize that last might be hard to believe for some folks, but it is nonetheless true.) So there’s something else at work here—call it star power or whatever you like.

I recognize it in other iconic performers who don’t quite happen to suit my tastes so well—Bogart, who was mentioned at the beginning of this is, one. And there are Jean Harlow, Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Edward G. Robinson, Gary Cooper and Cary Grant. All of these find places on my shelves—just not in the completist sense—but I’m not sure I’ve ever turned off one of their movies if they came on TV. Down the road, will I be saying that about Chiwetel Ejiofor and 2012? Will his presence be sufficient to offset the inaninity of a Roland Emmerich end-of-the-world saga? Somehow I doubt it.

Something has definitely changed. It may be that people are more drawn to who made a film than to who’s in it. Our more movie savvy society has seen to that. Or it may be that people are more prone to seeing a type of movie than a star. It’s also possible that it’s strictly the result of a change in the approach with which films are made. With the exception of certain comedians, there are very few movies today that are actually designed as vehicles meant to showcase a star or to showcase what that star “does so well.” In many respects, that’s probably a good thing. It prevents us having such weak tea as, say, My Favorite Wife (1940) fobbed off on us for no very good reason other than the fact that it stars Cary Grant in a pale imitation of the kind of thing he “does so well.” But I can’t help feel that something is lost in the process.

 

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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84 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: What became of star power?

  1. Mary

    WHO is that in the screen still above in the bathtub? Johnny Depp? And what movie is this?! It will definitely be going on my To View list!

    George Clooney: YES!

    Clive Owen: Not so much. Could you attempt to explain his appeal?

    Did you like Amy Adams in Catch Me If You Can? (I know you’re not much of a Spielberg fan.) I remember seeing her in that film and thinking, “Here’s someone to watch!”

  2. Dread P. Roberts

    Very enjoyable article, Ken. Sometimes I like to watch an older B&W movie just to see the way an actor like Cary Grant seemed to command the screen with their very presence. I’ve often wondered if these ‘classy’ actors were rather egotistical. In regards to Johnny Depp, I’ve heard that he was good friends with Marlon Brando in the past; and that Mr. Brando had sort of inspired him to, more or less, stick to roles that he really wanted to play, rather than just cashing in for a paycheck. Of course, actors gotta eat just like the rest of us, so I try to keep that in mind in order to better justify excusing him for things like Nick of Time. Who knows, what I had heard might have just been total BS, but I do think he is a great actor nonetheless.

    Ultimately however, I’m with you as far as going to see a movie because of a particular director, more-so than because of an actor or actress.

  3. Dionysis

    Yep, good article indeed. I think you’ve hit upon something with this: “..it may be that people are more prone to seeing a type of movie than a star.”

    I know that’s the case with me. While I may be somewhat inclined to see a movie based upon the director, that’s rarely the case with respect to any particular ‘star’, although to be sure there are some actors that I like regardless, and may be a bit more inclined to see something with them in it (such as John Cusack, Ed Harris, Russell Crowe and Kate Blanchett to name a few). More influential, however, is the type of film. The current ‘District 9’ is an example. I was intrigued and interested in seeing it even without Peter Jackson’s name associated with it (I plan on seeing it this weekend).

  4. Ken Hanke

    WHO is that in the screen still above in the bathtub? Johnny Depp? And what movie is this?! It will definitely be going on my To View list!

    Yes, it’s Johnny Depp and the movie is From Hell.

    Clive Owen: Not so much. Could you attempt to explain his appeal?

    If you have to ask, probably not. To me, he’s kind of a Brit Clooney — a little more world weary and a little less amused about it all.

    Did you like Amy Adams in Catch Me If You Can? (I know you’re not much of a Spielberg fan.) I remember seeing her in that film and thinking, “Here’s someone to watch!”

    That movie was truly an in-one-eye-and-out-the-other experience for me and I honestly don’t remember her in it. My first memory is Junebug — and that left no doubt that she was going somewhere.

  5. Ken Hanke

    Sometimes I like to watch an older B&W movie just to see the way an actor like Cary Grant seemed to command the screen with their very presence.

    That, I think, is the key. It’s certainly why I find Lugosi and John Barrymore endlessly fascinating to watch. Barrymore never quite descended to the level of trash that Lugosi fell heir to far too often, so it’s more pronounced with Lugosi. There are times in such threadbare nonsense as The Devil Bat where you get the sense that he thinks he can pull the whole presposterous thing together by the sheer force of his will — and damned if he sometimes doesn’t come close to it.

    I’ve often wondered if these ‘classy’ actors were rather egotistical.

    I don’t know. If you were as good at being Cary Grant as Cary Grant was, I’m not at all sure that the ego wasn’t justified. The funny thing with Grant is that, for me, there are only a handful of essential Cary Grant films — The Awful Truth, Holiday, Gunga Din, Only Angels Have Wings, His Girl Friday, The Philadelphia Story, The Talk of the Town, People Will Talk. Then there are some great pictures that he happens to be in — the two Mae West movies, Sternberg’s Blonde Venus — and then there’s the rest, which are okay and enjoyable enough that are made a little better by his presence.

    I do think he is a great actor nonetheless.

    Oh, that’s not open to dispute. At least I wasn’t disputing it.

  6. Ken Hanke

    More influential, however, is the type of film.

    Yes, I think that’s probably come to the most common approach — and it’s a perfectly sensible one, even if like all approaches it has its own set of drawbacks.

  7. Sean Williams

    I’m a literal-minded guy, so I think more about the characters than about the actors who play them. I used to follow Denzel Washington, but so many of his movies are so mediocre.

    “let’s go see that new Will Smith movie”

    I’ve long suspected that I have some genetic disorder that prevents me from noticing Will Smith’s putative charisma.

  8. Tonberry

    I am in the boat of going to see a movie based on the director. I love Amy Adams, but that love would not take me to go see “Night of the Museum 2,” unless it was directed by Guillermo del Toro or some other filmmaker I really respected. When I was younger though, it was always about the stars . It’s rare for me to see a film based solely on star power now a days, and when that rare chance happens, the stars are more on a cult status than a straight up movie star. This is how I discovered “Eagle vs Shark,” because it starred Jemaine Clement (“Flight of the Conchords”), and I’m glad I did, I found it to be a very fun and sweet comedy.

  9. Brian

    The day of DVDs has ended the idea of rushing out to see a movie just because of a particular star. Taking of Pelham 1,2,3? Eh, I like the stars but it looks only average so I’ll wait for the DVD.

    Interesting that the Marx Bros. weren’t on the list of people, though I must confess I don’t have a DVD of Love Happy to complete the collection.

    Just wondering, but do you not think North By Northwest is essential Cary Grant? Or is that more essential Hitchcock?

  10. Ken Hanke

    This is how I discovered “Eagle vs Shark,” because it starred Jemaine Clement (“Flight of the Conchords”), and I’m glad I did, I found it to be a very fun and sweet comedy.

    Here’s where a flaw exists any “system” for choosing. I was sent this movie by the distributor. I knew nothing about it. I had never heard of the star (until this moment, I still hadn’t). Nothing about the packaging appealed to me in the least. The title didn’t do a thing for me. I have never watched it.

  11. Ken Hanke

    The day of DVDs has ended the idea of rushing out to see a movie just because of a particular star.

    Another possible factor, though I tend to assume that real fans will go see a thing on the screen. This may be a generational thing.

    Taking of Pelham 1,2,3? Eh, I like the stars but it looks only average so I’ll wait for the DVD

    But are you a fan of either? (There is a difference.) I’m okay with Washington, but don’t much care for Travolta myself. Neither one would get me into a theater without some other draw.

    Interesting that the Marx Bros. weren’t on the list of people, though I must confess I don’t have a DVD of Love Happy to complete the collection.

    It was actually an oversight, though I’ve never been compelled to get Love Happy or The Story of Mankind. In the case of the former, I’ve just never come across it. In the case of the latter, one must draw the line somewhere.

    Just wondering, but do you not think North By Northwest is essential Cary Grant? Or is that more essential Hitchcock?

    If it’s essential, it’s essential Hitchcock, but this is one of those movies I’m supposed to like a lot better than I actually do.

  12. Ken Hanke

    I’ve long suspected that I have some genetic disorder that prevents me from noticing Will Smith’s putative charisma.

    I’ve never gotten it, nor have I gotten the claim that he’s an especially good actor.

  13. Tonberry

    I have never watched it.

    It is by no means the greatest film you’ve never seen, and if Clement wasn’t starring in it, I doubt I’d have much interest in a movie called “Eagle vs Shark’ either. Then again…

  14. brianpaige

    Eh, I’m somewhat of a fan of both Washington and Travolta but not to the point of rushing out to see either if the movie looks iffy.

    Here’s a thought: Is it possible to be a fan of someone but never really see any of their movies at the theater? I have seen nearly every movie Jason Statham has starred in and enjoy his work, but it’s mostly either renting DVDs or buying a DVD when it comes out.

    Overall though? This is the era of franchises. Hollywood has figured out how to brand characters and effects, or a studio brand name (Pixar).

  15. It’s an interesting subject. I’ll go see anything George Clooney, Johnny Depp or Ian McKellen are in, but they also tend to involve themselves in projects I’d go see anyway. There are some actors I never fail to enjoy – like Clive Owen, William H Macy or Amy Adams, but their presence alone won’t get me into the theatre. I think the deciding factor is to whether their performance will be enough to provide entertainment, even if the rest of the picture is lacking. There’s a certain level of enveloping charisma that the true movie star possess, where you feel better the minute they walk on screen – McKellen is the ultimate for me on this. The moment he pops up in anything he’s in, my enjoyment of the film shoots up a notch. Same with Bogart, or Orson Welles.

  16. lisi russell

    As I kid I loved the old stars. Especially Sean Connery, Liz Taylor, Hedy Lamarr, Cary Grant, Jean Harlow. I mean, I even went to repeat viewings of Darby O’Gill and the Little People to see Connery. As a near-teenager I never missed a Hayley Mills, Tuesday Weld, Gregory Peck or Alan Bates movie (teenage girls have their reasons.) I had a thing about Bradford Dillman being a great actor. But as an adult? Ed Harris, Depp, Ejiofor, Clive Owen can get me to a film but I won’t be looking to buy action figures of any of them – the love ain’t that deep. Otherwise I’m going to look for directors and crew. Women’s roles are often too awful to create stars, but I’ll see anything with Laura Linney, Julia Moore and Joan Allen (except the new horrid-looking sentimental thing – a Carole Lombard or Jean Harlowe would have inspired me to see any old thing they were in). All in all, I’d rather be watching Oliver Reed again than have to watch Brad Pitt, though he was all right in Thelma and Louise. I do like Denzel Washington, yep, but see a film for his sake? Not so.

  17. Ken Hanke

    Is it possible to be a fan of someone but never really see any of their movies at the theater? I have seen nearly every movie Jason Statham has starred in and enjoy his work, but it’s mostly either renting DVDs or buying a DVD when it comes out.

    I’d guess that makes you a fan, but not a really committed one, since there’s obviously no “can’t wait” factor, no sense of driving 100 miles to see something enthusiasm.

    Let’s look at it another way — who would get you into a theater? Don’t limit yourself to current stars.

    Overall though? This is the era of franchises. Hollywood has figured out how to brand characters and effects, or a studio brand name (Pixar).

    Well, the franchise is just the series movie under a different name. It’s been around for a very long time — just not so expensively or so lucratively. Even that shows signs of faltering. And what is Pixar other than Disney — when all Disney did was animation — for today? The big difference is that we are — or think we are — sufficiently media savvy that we can accept the idea of a corporate entity now. Back then we needed the presence of a single person, even if the idea was largely bogus.

  18. Ken Hanke

    There’s a certain level of enveloping charisma that the true movie star possess, where you feel better the minute they walk on screen – McKellen is the ultimate for me on this. The moment he pops up in anything he’s in, my enjoyment of the film shoots up a notch. Same with Bogart, or Orson Welles

    Interesting. I feel much the same way about certain character actors — and to some extent that term applies to these fellows. Gustav von Seyffertitz, Arthur Edmund Carewe or Edwin Maxwell enliven anything they’re in for me the minute they appear. A director’s stock company can do that, too. Preston Sturges with Robert Greig, Alan Bridges, Frank Moran, Raymond Walburn, etc. Ken Russell with Max Adrian, Murray Melvin, Ken Colley, Graham Armitage, etc. Now, would I actually go see a movie based on these names? That’s another matter.

  19. brianpaige

    There’s something else to consider here. Back in the 30s you could go to the movie and have a blast for a quarter (or whatever it cost). But now? Even at matinee prices do I really want to spend 6.50 on a Transporter movie? At current ticket prices a movie has to be something a bit beyond a typical star vehicle.

    How about Paul Rudd? For a while I didn’t realize that I was going to see various movies he was in (Anchorman, Knocked Up, 40 Year Old Virgin). But then he moved up to starring in other movies like Role Models and I Love You, Man….and I went to see those too. Rudd isn’t quite on that “must see everything” level yet, but he’s getting there.

    The evolution of franchise films is interesting. Back in the 30s-40s franchises were essentially B movies: Charlie Chan, Sherlock Holmes (Universal anyway), Boston Blackie, The Whistler, etc. Star Wars changed all of this, showing that big budget franchises could become event films. And of course comic characters like Superman and Batman, who were in B grade serials in the 40s but were destined to be franchise characters once technology caught up.

  20. Ken Hanke

    I even went to repeat viewings of Darby O’Gill and the Little People to see Connery.

    This explains much. I’m not sure what, but it’s much.

    Ed Harris, Depp, Ejiofor, Clive Owen can get me to a film but I won’t be looking to buy action figures of any of them – the love ain’t that deep.

    I don’t know. I think I’d cave in on a Chiwetel Ejiofor action figure. The idea alone is too good.

    Women’s roles are often too awful to create stars, but I’ll see anything with Laura Linney, Julia Moore and Joan Allen (except the new horrid-looking sentimental thing – a Carole Lombard or Jean Harlowe would have inspired me to see any old thing they were in).

    I think Exorcism of Emily Rose was the Lucky Strike that broke the Camel’s back for me with Laura Linney. And then there was Man of the Year. And with Joan Allen, I’m just burned out on coming up with variations on saying how good she is in whatever not good movie she’s in this time.

    I do like Denzel Washington, yep, but see a film for his sake? Not so.

    And that’s exactly my point. At the same time, do I have any Oliver Reed pictures — apart from some Hammer horrors — that weren’t made by either Ken, or Michael Winner? I’m not sure that I do.

  21. Ken Hanke

    There’s something else to consider here. Back in the 30s you could go to the movie and have a blast for a quarter (or whatever it cost). But now? Even at matinee prices do I really want to spend 6.50 on a Transporter movie? At current ticket prices a movie has to be something a bit beyond a typical star vehicle.

    But what was a quarter worth back then? All things being considered, the increase isn’t that overwhelming. Actually, it was probably generally less than a quarter then — at least outside the major cities. Children were still a quarter when I was a child (35 cents for Disney) and adults were $1.25. I remember when Tommy came out in 1975 in its special engagement in Quintophonic sound at the unthinkable price of $3. People were outraged.

    The evolution of franchise films is interesting. Back in the 30s-40s franchises were essentially B movies: Charlie Chan, Sherlock Holmes (Universal anyway), Boston Blackie, The Whistler, etc.

    Well, that’s true, but in the case of the Chan films, that’s what they devolved to, not exactly how they started out. And you overlook the Thin Man series, which were always A pictures. The first three Frankenstein films were also A pictures, come to that.

  22. Jillian

    I’ll watch anything starring Paul Newman. I notice that a lot is said of “stars” that came before him and after…not much with regard to his generation, though he spans the periods mentioned. There are some of his 60’s romps that are just too dopey to care much about as movies, but because he’s so stellar in his early work and became such a marvelous character actor in his later work, the mediocrity in the middle doesn’t bother me…seems more about the plots than anything. I do think that a lot of what made stars is the Hollywood hype that the industry created around them, at a time when the idea of our having our own royalty as it were was a new thing. Glam isn’t as impressive as it once was…a card played too often now by too many now. “Star quality” may have actually been the influence of the industry media machine back in the day. I personally don’t get Bogart at all. He’s always Bogart, and kind of depressing at that. But he got press as a star. And perhaps what has helped to carry Newman–though we mustn’t forget his blew eyes, winning smile and charm–is the media coverage of his charity work. I think that what we know of actors, or think we know, definitely plays a part in their overall appeal. I soured on Clooney because I began to see him as an overgrown kid (all those parties and pranks), then favored him again when he got into charity work. I grew up with Newman, and he took me well into middle age…so there’s the longevity factor there as well. He started early enough to be promoted as a star, and managed to hand onto that to the end. I guess if there’s one actor I will go see regardless of any of that, just on merit alone, it’s Meryl Streep. While she doesn’t have the charisma of a “star,” her technique is so flawless it’s fascinating. Her range never ceases to amaze me, and I’ll watch HER regardless of what the movie is doing…though you have to admit, she’s picked more than a few good ones to star in.

  23. Ken Hanke

    I’ll watch anything starring Paul Newman. I notice that a lot is said of “stars” that came before him and after…not much with regard to his generation, though he spans the periods mentioned

    I have immense respect for him as an actor and as a human being, but I cannot think of a single thing I ever went to see because he was in it. He certainly has star quality, but he was never enough by himself to sell me on a movie. Sell my mother? Well, that’s a different story.

    I do think that a lot of what made stars is the Hollywood hype that the industry created around them, at a time when the idea of our having our own royalty as it were was a new thing. Glam isn’t as impressive as it once was…a card played too often now by too many now.

    The industry is still creating hype — never doubt it. You don’t think Hannah Montana, the Jonas Brothers or the Twilight furor just happened, do you? Actually, I think glamour is as glamourous as it ever was — we just don’t see much of it; merely cheap imitations. And, of course, it’s harder to do in an age when we’re savvy enough to realize that much of it’s manufactured.

    “Star quality” may have actually been the influence of the industry media machine back in the day. I personally don’t get Bogart at all. He’s always Bogart, and kind of depressing at that. But he got press as a star.

    Well, I get Bogart — though not as much as I am supposed to — and, yes, he’s always Bogart, which is part of the appeal of the star over the actor. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again — I am much more impressed when someone like Jack Nicholson can take me to the heights with a performance that’s the exact kind of performance he’s noted for. For me that’s so much more incredible than when he does something out of the ordinary like About Schmidt.

    Actually, Bogart’s an interesting example, because he was in movies for 11 years before he really became a star — and that was more the case of the right guy in the right role in the right movie with The Maltese Falcon. Casablanca sealed the deal. But really in terms of a full-blown icon, I think he became that more in the 1960s and 70s when a younger generation discovered him.

    Studios can push anyone they choose to push, but it doesn’t work unless the public buys it. Ricardo Cortez was going to be the next Valentino. It didn’t happen. Sidney Fox was poised and pushed to be a big star. If she hadn’t been in Murders in the Rue Morgue with Bela Lugosi, she’d be forgotten by all but the hardest hardcore cineastes today. Sam Goldwyn spent a fortune trying to convince the world that Anna Sten was the next Garbo. Ever hear of her? Whatever it is that makes a star, these folks didn’t have.

    I guess if there’s one actor I will go see regardless of any of that, just on merit alone, it’s Meryl Streep. While she doesn’t have the charisma of a “star,” her technique is so flawless it’s fascinating. Her range never ceases to amaze me, and I’ll watch HER regardless of what the movie is doing…though you have to admit, she’s picked more than a few good ones to star in.

    Oh, I think she has charisma. I have a funny relationship with her work. I didn’t like almost any of her earlier films. They seemed mannered and pretentious and she always seemed to be trying too hard to me. That changed with The Hours, and I’ve found her stunning ever since (well, there’s Mamma Mia!). One day, I may look at some of her earlier films again.

  24. Ken Hanke

    I’ll pretty much see anything Daniel Day-Lewis is in

    I’m not sitting through The Bounty or Last of the Mohicans again, but I have great respect for his talent.

  25. Fran

    I am a bit surprised that Meryl Streep didn’t get some mention in this consideration of stars that draw people to movies. While I may not have seen all of her movies, she is certainly someone that has drawn me to see movies I probably wouldn’t have noticed or gone to see otherwise.
    I also like Sigorney Weaver and she will draw me to a film. I have a friend who is drawn by Jodie Foster and I guess I have seen many of her films and like her, as much for the films she chooses to be in as for her as an actor perhaps. And about those childhood star friends, I actually went to see a teen-type movie a couple of years ago only because Julie Andrews was in it.

  26. brianpaige

    I actually quite like Ricardo Cortez, but he was never really going to work in the Valentino vein. His work in the original Maltese Falcon is good stuff (not quite Bogart, but an interesting and different take on Sam Spade). Also enjoyed him in The Phantom of Crestwood.

    Sidney Fox though? Yeah she wasn’t much. The fact that she actually got top billing over Lugosi in Murders in the Rue Morgue still baffles me.

    To some extent I do agree about Bogart mostly just being Bogart. He’s certainly one of my favorite actors, but in a role like Phillip Marlowe I preferred Dick Powell. I guess it was because Bogey was mostly being Bogey, while Powell was actually playing the character Phillip Marlowe.

  27. It is by no means the greatest film you’ve never seen, and if Clement wasn’t starring in it, I doubt I’d have much interest in a movie called “Eagle vs Shark’ either. Then again…

    Your loss.

    At the beginning of the decade, someone did a study on whose face would sell a video the most. No surprise that the answer was Denzel Washington. Nowadays I’m sure it would be Will Smith.

    I think that the difference between modern times and the golden age of Hollywood is that movies used to be built around the stars. With most of the bankable actors now getting much less than their usual 20 million dollar asking price I believe that the star system is dead.

  28. Ken Hanke

    And about those childhood star friends, I actually went to see a teen-type movie a couple of years ago only because Julie Andrews was in it.

    Assuming it was one of the Princess Diaries movies, you have no idea how lightly you got off.

  29. Ken Hanke

    I actually quite like Ricardo Cortez, but he was never really going to work in the Valentino vein. His work in the original Maltese Falcon is good stuff (not quite Bogart, but an interesting and different take on Sam Spade). Also enjoyed him in The Phantom of Crestwood.

    The Phantom of Crestwood is one of the “great” overlooked movies. I like Cortez just fine myself (you’ll get a whole other view if you talk to people who worked with him), but he just didn’t quite click with the public. Now, I understand him changing his name from Jacob Krantz to Ricardo Cortez, but can anyone figure out why his cinematographer brother changed his name to Cortez too? And why insisted on keeping the first name of Stanley, which seems incongruous?

    Sidney Fox though? Yeah she wasn’t much. The fact that she actually got top billing over Lugosi in Murders in the Rue Morgue still baffles me.

    Well, the Laemmles were determined to make her a star is the only explanation — apart from the fact that she was rumored to be “involved” with both Uncle Carl and Carl Jr.

  30. Ken Hanke

    With most of the bankable actors now getting much less than their usual 20 million dollar asking price I believe that the star system is dead.

    Well, the star system as such died with the studio system, but star power isn’t quite dead. It’s just got a bad cold — one that it might have caught for asking and getting stupidly high salaries. These things tend to run in cycles. It could well make a recovery.

  31. brianpaige

    Just wondering but what did Cortez’ coworkers think of him? Didn’t like him? Maybe that’s why he played sleazebags so well. Even his Sam Spade is much seedier than Bogart’s. He was also really good as a dirtball in Flesh and Midnight Mary. Curiously he was actually a fairly upright guy in Torch Singer with Colbert.

  32. Ken Hanke

    Just wondering but what did Cortez’ coworkers think of him? Didn’t like him?

    Of the few I’ve talked to (there aren’t that many left — including the ones I’ve talked to at this point), that’s the kindest way of putting it. Even Kay Linaker — who had little bad to say about anyone — absolutely couldn’t stand him.

  33. Piffy!

    [b]nor have I gotten the claim that he’s an especially good actor. [/b]

    He’s the new Bill Cosby, dontchaknow. The safe Black man.

  34. Ken Hanke

    He’s the new Bill Cosby, dontchaknow. The safe Black man.

    That’s the general feeling, it seems.

  35. Tonberry

    Your loss

    Question: Am I losing out on “Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus,” or not?

  36. lisi russell

    Can you send the Ken-man a copy of Oliver Reed in Werewolf or anything Winnerish? He misses him. Anddo you have Roadto Mandelay? Talking of star power, I’d go see anything with the unsung Aunty Moo Russell in it. Alas, that’s not going to happen as she only made one film. This discussion is great – I have no idea who Cortez is andwill have to study him now. Bogart is an endless hero because of those lovely melancholy eyes, all tattered and torn by life. (His tics help, too.) Hurrah to the woman who went to see Julie Andrews! Meryl Streep is good when you revisit those early movies – a perfectionist, yes, but also amazingly fluid in catching the winds of the moment. Same stuff as Daniel Day-Lewis. I’d go see a film with them. Mickey Rourke sold The Wrestler – but can he do it again with a role less perfectly tailored to him? Star power is internal – some kind of red energy that draws us in. Its development, alas, has been handed on from the businessmen studios to tabloid development, and knowing too much about Lindsey Lohan or
    even Miley Cyrus and that Twilight narcissist – just by subliminal bombardment from headlines – can really depress me. I used to go see anything Philip Seymour Hoffman or Bill Macy were in (for the films they chose) but Synedoche pretty much completed that quest. The safe black man – that made me laugh! What happened to Djimon Hounsou? (In America) Now that’s a man with star power.

  37. luluthebeast

    “Well, the star system as such died with the studio system, but star power isn’t quite dead. It’s just got a bad cold—one that it might have caught for asking and getting stupidly high salaries.”

    I agree with you here. I think part of the problem today is that the “stars” don’t get all of the side training that they did under the old studio system. The vast majority of actors these days, when you see them speaking in public or on a talk show usually both look and sound like idiots and can’t even get three words out without an “um”, something you rarely saw in old interviews of studio-trained stars. It takes the gloss off of “star power” and just leaves you hoping they do a good job in the movie.

  38. Kevin Deany

    Very interesting essay Ken. I noticed this trend too, after seeing a series of trailers last weekend and not one mentioned any of the actors in the film. Not one. “Surrogates” stars Bruce Willis, but his name is never mentioned, nor is anyone else.

    I thought I saw Dennis Quaid in the “Legion” trailer but I don’t know who else is in there. No cast names were listed. Same for “Zombieland”. There’s Woody Harrelson, but who else? There was also a trailer for some vampire flick with John C. Reilly. Did I get a glimpse of Salma Hayek?

    Now I doubt any of these actors could be considered big stars, or box office draws (though Willis was a few years ago), but I found it striking that no actors were named in any of the previews. I guess the studios figure the concept is the star now, and not the actors.

    There are a ton of actors I like from the Golden Age that I will watch in anything. I’ll watch Errol Flynn, my favorite actor, in anything. His peformances have held up remarkably well.

  39. Dread P. Roberts

    I just had a little bit of a self-realization revelation about the subject at hand. When I was a wee little lad, Harrison Ford was more or less my hero. He was usually playing some variety of the scruffy underdog tough guy persona that, for some reason, I found appealing. Maybe it’s because I knew I would never look like a buffed-out, steroid induced Schwarzenegger type of tough guy. But if I was like Harrison Ford, I could be normal (maybe even a little clumsy) and still get the girl and save the day in the end. As a kid, I used to want to see anything new that he was in, regardless of what the movie was about – even then I knew his movies pretty much all had a similar sort of theme. Somewhere along the way through pre-teen land, things changed; I quit wanting to be Indiana Jones, and started to see him as just an actor who enjoyed giving menacing glares to the bad guy on camera, while possibly wiggling his finger in disagreeable contempt. But there was a time when he had star power.

  40. Ken Hanke

    Can you send the Ken-man a copy of Oliver Reed in Werewolf or anything Winnerish? He misses him. Anddo you have Roadto Mandelay?

    I’ll send you a long overdue e-mail on all this. But I do have Mandalay around here somewhere.

    Meryl Streep is good when you revisit those early movies – a perfectionist, yes, but also amazingly fluid in catching the winds of the moment.

    As long as I don’t have to watch that Dingo Ate My Baby movie.

    Its development, alas, has been handed on from the businessmen studios to tabloid development, and knowing too much about Lindsey Lohan or even Miley Cyrus and that Twilight narcissist – just by subliminal bombardment from headlines – can really depress me.

    A lot of this goes hand in hand with the tendency — especially now — to confuse fame with notoriety.

    I used to go see anything Philip Seymour Hoffman or Bill Macy were in (for the films they chose) but Synedoche pretty much completed that quest.

    Have we found a movie we disagree on? I really like Synecdoche NY.

    What happened to Djimon Hounsou? (In America) Now that’s a man with star power.

    And he still does, but his movie choices — Eragon, Never Back Down — show the kind of career sense not seen since the passing of John Carradine.

  41. Ken Hanke

    The vast majority of actors these days, when you see them speaking in public or on a talk show usually both look and sound like idiots and can’t even get three words out without an “um”, something you rarely saw in old interviews of studio-trained stars.

    No argument there, Chester. I used to make fun of Darryl Hannah for not wanting to go on talk shows to plug Splash because she was sure they’d make all kinds of fish jokes she wouldn’t get. After seeing some of Sandra Bullock’s interviews, Hannah seems wise to me. And then there’s always Keanu…

  42. Ken Hanke

    I noticed this trend too, after seeing a series of trailers last weekend and not one mentioned any of the actors in the film. Not one. “Surrogates” stars Bruce Willis, but his name is never mentioned, nor is anyone else.

    There seems to be a lot of this. The Lovely Bones has a pretty impressive cast, but if anyone’s name was up there it was just Mark Wahlberg’s and I’m not even sure about him. I guess it’s a case of selling the product and not the star. It certainly isn’t like the days when a new Chaplin film could be sold by sticking out a cardboard Charlie with the words “He’s here” on it and everyone knew who it was.

    I guess the studios figure the concept is the star now, and not the actors.

    It would certainly be in their favor as a bargaining chip. (Exactly why early producers resisted the star system at the beginning of moviemaking.)

    I’ll watch Errol Flynn, my favorite actor, in anything. His peformances have held up remarkably well.

    Most of them certainly have, but as much as I like Flynn, I don’t think I need to see, say, Escape Me Never again. (We won’t even discuss Cuban Rebel Girls, but then I don’t know anyone who’s ever had the chance to see that.)

  43. Ken Hanke

    Somewhere along the way through pre-teen land, things changed; I quit wanting to be Indiana Jones, and started to see him as just an actor who enjoyed giving menacing glares to the bad guy on camera, while possibly wiggling his finger in disagreeable contempt. But there was a time when he had star power.

    Not sure if this isn’t simply a case of — for want of a better word — outgrowing something. And actually, when you watch him — if you must — next to Shia LaBeouf in that last Indiana Jones movie, he certainly retains at least relative star power.

  44. Dread P. Roberts

    And actually, when you watch him—if you must—next to Shia LaBeouf in that last Indiana Jones movie, he certainly retains at least relative star power.

    It’s not that Harrison Ford doesn’t maintain some degree of star power (I certainly think he’s a good enough actor to ‘hold his own’ on the screen), it’s just that he seems like a bit of a ‘one-trick-pony’ so to speak. He’s got one type of character that he plays really well, and he usually gets cast in a role that seems to suit that character perfectly. Like with anything, there are exceptions to the rule – I found his role as the villain in “What Lies Beneath” to be a bit of a refreshing change of pace for him. But maybe, just maybe, capturing essentially one type of character to duplicate, is part of the key to “star power”. It makes the actor instantly identifiable, the audience knows what to expect, and they can feel more comfortable around, and trust a familiar face. I think that might also be part of why Johnny Depp seems to have never quite reached that level of stardom. He too sporadic with his performances, always wanting to reinvent himself, and play a different type of character. Sure, it could be argued that, as of late, he’s sort of become labeled as Tim Burton’s sidekick, who plays the whacked-out, eccentric character(s); but there is still a lot of variety to be found, so he’s harder for people identify than someone like Harrison Ford (not that the two are in any way comparable actors).

  45. Dread P. Roberts

    The Lovely Bones has a pretty impressive cast, but if anyone’s name was up there it was just Mark Wahlberg’s and I’m not even sure about him.

    I’m pretty sure that the only name mentioned is Peter Jackson. In fact, I think that perhaps in the opening credits for “District 9“, Peter Jackson’s name is the only one mentioned as well, even though he was only a producer. But if we are indeed in a time when directors and producers are more marketable then actors, then why not? I vaguely remember a time when Spielberg’s name seemed to be on everything, no-matter how small of an impact he actually had on the movie. Look at how poor Henry Selick can’t seem to get out of the shadow of Tim Burton ever since the marketing for ‘Tim Burton’s’ The Nightmare Before Christmas. And now it looks like the same thing might be happening w/ Shane Acker’s “9“. Granted, if I was an up and coming director, I certainly would NOT mind for someone like Tim Burton or Peter Jackson to help me out.

  46. Rufus

    I am a bit surprised that Meryl Streep didn’t get some mention in this consideration of stars that draw people to movies. While I may not have seen all of her movies, she is certainly someone that has drawn me to see movies I probably wouldn’t have noticed or gone to see otherwise.

    OUT OF AFRICA cured me of this notion long ago!

  47. Kevin Deany

    Well, I’ve seen “Cuban Rebel Girls” and it’s every bit as dismal, seedy and grainy as you can imagine. It’s arguably the most depressing final film from any actor or actress. So you’re right and I’ll amend my statement to I’ll watch almost anything Flynn is in.

  48. Ken Hanke

    It’s not that Harrison Ford doesn’t maintain some degree of star power (I certainly think he’s a good enough actor to ‘hold his own’ on the screen), it’s just that he seems like a bit of a ‘one-trick-pony’ so to speak. He’s got one type of character that he plays really well, and he usually gets cast in a role that seems to suit that character perfectly.

    Well, that too can be star quality — and knowing your limitations. There’s a certain kind of star who is already playing a role before the role starts (Cary Grant comes to mind), so that what you’ve got is actually Archie Leach playing Cary Grant playing Cary Grant. I believe this is a bigger accomplishment than it probably sounds.

    I’m pretty sure that the only name mentioned is Peter Jackson. In fact, I think that perhaps in the opening credits for “District 9”, Peter Jackson’s name is the only one mentioned as well, even though he was only a producer. But if we are indeed in a time when directors and producers are more marketable then actors, then why not?

    Well, in the case of District 9 you never heard of anybody else! You might be right about Lovely Bones, though I think the book’s author was mentioned. And while I can see the basic concept, why not mention the stars as part of the package?

    Look at how poor Henry Selick can’t seem to get out of the shadow of Tim Burton ever since the marketing for ‘Tim Burton’s’ The Nightmare Before Christmas. And now it looks like the same thing might be happening w/ Shane Acker’s “9”. Granted, if I was an up and coming director, I certainly would NOT mind for someone like Tim Burton or Peter Jackson to help me out.

    Well, with Selick it was almost inevitavle, but it hasn’t helped that the banner on the Chicago Tribune front page for that day’s edition called Coraline Tim Burton’s new film. With this Acker person…we’ll see. Nothing about the trailer excites me and calling this fellow “visionary” based on what? One short film? I’m skeptical. And I’m skeptical that 9 is going to be confused with a Burton film, but we’ll see.

  49. Ken Hanke

    OUT OF AFRICA cured me of this notion long ago!

    I probably don’t want to get into the middle of this, but I don’t want to sit through that one again either.

  50. Ken Hanke

    Well, I’ve seen “Cuban Rebel Girls” and it’s every bit as dismal, seedy and grainy as you can imagine.

    All the same, if you were within reach, I’d shake your hand just for the accomplishment of actually seeing it.

  51. brianpaige

    I didn’t think it was that hard to find Cuban Rebel Girls, but it’s just…who would want to?

    Here’s someone who tries to be a serious actor but seems more like a traditional movie star: Leonardo DiCaprio. Scorsese has tried to mold him into a serious DeNiro type actor, but I’ve never been able to 100% buy it. Maybe he’s too much of a pretty boy? As in I couldn’t take him seriously beating up goons in The Departed, while I had no such problems with Matt Damon in that film.

  52. Fran

    “I probably don’t want to get into the middle of this, but I don’t want to sit through that one again either.”

    Well, since I was let off so lightly on Princess Diaries, you get to comment all you want to. And I have to admit that I don’t need to see Out of Africa ever again. But that doesn’t change my thoughts of Meryl Streep. And then there is Katherine Hepburn. And I think that maybe some folks would go to a movie to see Harrison Ford. I don’t think I would include myself in that group, but I’m just sayin….

  53. Here’s someone who tries to be a serious actor but seems more like a traditional movie star: Leonardo DiCaprio. Scorsese has tried to mold him into a serious DeNiro type actor, but I’ve never been able to 100% buy it. Maybe he’s too much of a pretty boy?
    DiCaprio used to irritate the shit out of me, but over the last seven years I’ve love every performance I’ve seen from him: Catch Me If You Can, The Aviator, Gangs of New York, The Departed. Revolutionary Road I did not care for at all, but I don’t put that down to his performance.

  54. Ken Hanke

    I didn’t think it was that hard to find Cuban Rebel Girls, but it’s just…who would want to?

    Completists. Actually, I admit to never having made much of an attempt to find it, but let’s see, I probably first heard about it in 1970 or 71. In all that time, I never saw it show up on TV, at a rep house, at a college or for sale by a bootlegger. That suggests some degree of obscurity.

    Here’s someone who tries to be a serious actor but seems more like a traditional movie star: Leonardo DiCaprio. Scorsese has tried to mold him into a serious DeNiro type actor, but I’ve never been able to 100% buy it.

    Jeremy addressed this already. I might not be quite as fond of DiCaprio as he is, but he has been okay with me at least since Gangs of New York. It’s interesting you refer to him as a “pretty boy,” because while I found him callow as a younger actor, I still don’t find him even slightly attractive.

  55. Ken Hanke

    And I think that maybe some folks would go to a movie to see Harrison Ford.

    Some,yes, but the turnouts to Hollywood Homicide and Firewall suggest the days of Ford as box office insurance are pretty much over. Come to think of it — though I’m not sure I blame the actor — Ford’s in the one Roman Polanski picture I actively dislike.

  56. Rufus

    And I have to admit that I don’t need to see Out of Africa ever again. But that doesn’t change my thoughts of Meryl Streep.

    Far be it from me to dwell on the negative, so I won’t mention MAMMA MIA!

  57. Ken Hanke

    Far be it from me to dwell on the negative, so I won’t mention MAMMA MIA!

    La Streep goosed by a goat will live long in the memory, though.

  58. Dread P. Roberts

    I might not be quite as fond of DiCaprio as he is, but he has been okay with me at least since Gangs of New York.

    I started to take DiCaprio a little more seriously around two years prior to Gangs when The Beach came out. I know a lot of people don’t like that movie, but I thought DiCaprio did a pretty good job, and being the huge Danny Boyle fan than I am, it’s a proud part of my collection nonetheless. I also think that his collaborations with Scorsese have been a wise career move, and have brought to life some of his most respectable work. I’m actually looking forward to Shutter Island partially because of the Scorsese/DiCaprio collaboration. The duo working together haven’t disappointed me yet.

  59. Ken Hanke

    I started to take DiCaprio a little more seriously around two years prior to Gangs when The Beach came out. I know a lot of people don’t like that movie

    The Beach resides in one of those stacks of movies that need to be seen, but have yet to be seen.

    I’m actually looking forward to Shutter Island partially because of the Scorsese/DiCaprio collaboration.

    I’m just interested to see what Scorsese does with something that at the very least appears to have horror film elements in it.

  60. Dread P. Roberts

    The Beach resides in one of those stacks of movies that need to be seen, but have yet to be seen.

    This is one of those obscure movie situations where most people I know don’t like at all, but I absolutely love it (kind of like the The Brothers Grimm). I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t like it; although now I’m rather curious as to your opinion (I would like for someone to better explain the why, other than saying something like, “DiCaprio sucks”). I actually liked this movie so much, that I went out and got the book, which coincidentally turned me on to the writer Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Sunshine).

  61. The Beach resides in one of those stacks of movies that need to be seen, but have yet to be seen.

    Even a Boyle misfire is worth seeing Ken.

  62. Ken Hanke

    This is one of those obscure movie situations where most people I know don’t like at all, but I absolutely love it (kind of like the The Brothers Grimm).

    Well, I like Brothers Grimm a lot, which has nothing to do with whether I’ll like this, I suppose. Perhaps we can move this one up to the stack of things that need watching.

  63. Ken Hanke

    Even a Boyle misfire is worth seeing Ken

    I’d have taken that at face value if I hadn’t seen A Life Less Ordinary. Has anyone ever seen the Vacuuming Nude TV film?

  64. Dread P. Roberts

    Well, I like Brothers Grimm a lot, which has nothing to do with whether I’ll like this, I suppose.

    You are correct in this assertion; the two have nothing in common with one another, other than the fact that I think both are underrated.

  65. brianpaige

    To clarify, I don’t think DiCaprio is a bad actor. He’s actually become a pretty good one. What I meant earlier is that he never 100% convinces me in a role. As in it always seems like “Leonardo DiCaprio playing the character” rather than the character.

    As far as The Beach goes, it’s been a long time since I saw it on HBO. I remember thinking it started reasonably strong but then meandered in the 2nd half to the point where I stopped caring.

  66. I’d have taken that at face value if I hadn’t seen A Life Less Ordinary. Has anyone ever seen the Vacuuming Nude TV film?

    One of his best works.

  67. Ken Hanke

    As in it always seems like “Leonardo DiCaprio playing the character” rather than the character

    Maybe it’s my basic nature, but I am almost always conscious of the actor, so this isn’t really a criticism I can weigh in on. I do not, by the way, consider this a bad thing, since I am fully capable of being entertained and moved while being still being aware of the actor as the actor. I’m trying to think of instances where this isn’t true for me and all I’m coming up with is Sean Penn in Milk. There must be others, but that’s what’s occurring to me.

  68. Ken Hanke

    One of his best works.

    You mean the nude vacuuming movie, right?

  69. Dread P. Roberts

    I remember thinking it started reasonably strong but then meandered in the 2nd half to the point where I stopped caring.

    I’ve heard this assessment before, as well as similar things like, “it begins to drag and becomes tedious”. These are perfectly reasonable arguments, which I can sort of understand to an extent. But my take on this is that there is a shift – and a very necessary one, at that – to a more sinister and menacing tone, once the youthful, fun and fancy-free (basically selfish) prevailing attitude becomes replaced by the bitter realization of reality, and the responsibility that it accompanies. This ‘shift’ in the movie can make the proceedings almost feel like two different movies, but I really don’t think one would work without the other. This ‘shift’ is also the key to what I liked about DiCaprio’s performance in this instance.

    I should probably clarify that this is by no means my favorite Danny Boyle movie, and even though I thoroughly enjoy it and like to defend it, The Beach ultimately really belongs more in a class of ‘admiration’ for it’s depiction(s) of sociocultural allegory. I suppose I like this movie in an equal sense to how I like Boyle’s Trainspotting.

  70. Ken Hanke

    I should probably clarify that this is by no means my favorite Danny Boyle movie, and even though I thoroughly enjoy it and like to defend it, The Beach ultimately really belongs more in a class of ‘admiration’ for it’s depiction(s) of sociocultural allegory.

    Well, I’m going to try to get to it in the next week or so — possibly even in the next few days depending on circumstances.

  71. lisi russell

    Just to clarify, Ken I loved Synedoche. I found it completed my obsession with anything new Hoffman is in – I can just go back and see it again.

    Danny Boyle is T’Other Ken’s favorite director, by the way, of the moment. And his favorite star, he says, is the aborigine in 30 Canoes (also in Walkabout). And Dorothy Lamour because of unsatisfied lust.

    I will go see anything with River Phoenix in it, but alas, there are no news movies coming from him.

  72. brianpaige

    Will you go see anything with Joaquin Phoenix? Although there might not be any more new movies with him either, haha.

  73. lisi russell

    Hi, Brian. Nope, not with Joaquin. (Although Gladiator was great.)
    Maybe I’d go see Joaquin sing his rap songs if they were playing next door for a cover charge of $10. Or bake him some cookies if he ends up at Bellevue.

  74. LYT

    You know, it’s weird to say this, but Arnold Schwarzenegger had that kind of star power. You go to any movie he’s in, you know exactly what you’ll get…though every once in a while, you actually get better than you expect (Total Recall, T2, etc.).

    There aren’t really any action stars like that now, though Jason Statham is getting there.

    Actors all want to be multifacted now, so you can’t depend on them to deliver that certain thing every time. In some ways, the star power thing could be seen as a limitation to those who want to be truly versatile, like Depp.

    “I’m just interested to see what Scorsese does with something that at the very least appears to have horror film elements in it. ”

    -Cape Fear, no?

  75. Ken Hanke

    Just to clarify, Ken I loved Synedoche. I found it completed my obsession with anything new Hoffman is in – I can just go back and see it again.

    At the same time, I’m not sure how often I’d want to see it. I’ve only watched it twice — and I think that’s because it disturbs me.

    Danny Boyle is T’Other Ken’s favorite director, by the way, of the moment.

    I can’t really argue the choice, but then there’s Wes Anderson and Michel Gondry and Almodovar and Alfonso Cuaron and Julie Taymor and Neil Jordan and Baz Luhrmann and…goodness knows who I’m forgetting at 2:30 in the morning.

    And his favorite star, he says, is the aborigine in 30 Canoes (also in Walkabout).

    David Gulpilil (and I think you or Ken added 20 canoes). He’s in Luhrmann’s Australia, too.

    And Dorothy Lamour because of unsatisfied lust.

    She’s kinda retired, but don’t tell Ken. If only they’d bring The Jungle Princess out on DVD! All movies should end with a monkey stampede — and if this movie were more widely known, that would be common knowledge.

  76. Ken Hanke

    Or bake him some cookies if he ends up at Bellevue.

    Oh, I’m real skeptical of this baking claim.

  77. Ken Hanke

    You know, it’s weird to say this, but Arnold Schwarzenegger had that kind of star power. You go to any movie he’s in, you know exactly what you’ll get

    Although I never “got” his charm — it just seemed like an inability to act — I could hardly dispute that he obviously had star power.

    In some ways, the star power thing could be seen as a limitation to those who want to be truly versatile, like Depp.

    I blame “the method” for this.

    -Cape Fear, no?

    Does it qualify if your only response was laughing? (Especially the speaking-in-tongues death scene that sounded like a drowning tobacco auctioneer. I truly expected that to end with “Sold American!”)

  78. You mean the nude vacuuming movie, right?

    Yes, but part of the credit goes to an amazing performance from Timothy Spall.

  79. Ken Hanke

    Yes, but part of the credit goes to an amazing performance from Timothy Spall.

    This thing is generally available, right?

  80. I will go see anything with River Phoenix in it, but alas, there are no news movies coming from him.

    Technically there is a newer River film out. The director of A NIGHT IN THE LIFE OF JIMMY REARDON a couple of years back reworked the film, changing the overall tone. He was selling it himself and I’ve been meaning to order it.

  81. This thing is generally available, right?

    I was stocking it, but I think it is now OOP. It was cheap… $10.

  82. Ken Hanke

    I was stocking it, but I think it is now OOP. It was cheap… $10

    It’s probably still in the “available from these sellers” realm on Amazon then.

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