Saturday, October 27, 2007

Never think you're great

Glowing reviews are lovely but you have to take them in stride. The minute you start BELIEVING them you're cooked. Because as someone once said, "There are always Romanian judges".

David Isaacs and I wrote the screenplay for VOLUNTEERS (probably playing right now on Spike or the Food Network) and got our first taste of high profile movie reviews. To give you an example of why you can't take them too seriously, here are two reviews from presumably the same movie.

From the New York Times

Published: August 16, 1985

Take a healthy helping of ''Raiders of the Lost Ark,'' a dollop of ''The Bridge on the River Kwai,'' a dash of any Tarzan movie, a soupcon of ''Casablanca,'' a whiff of ''The Wizard of Oz'' and a stunt or two from a favorite Saturday serial, stir frenetically, and if you're lucky enough to have snappy dialogue by Ken Levine and David Isaacs, you may end up with as funny a movie as ''Volunteers.''

….There are lots of snappy exchanges. ''I thought you wanted to be my friend,'' Beth admonishes when Lawrence makes a pass. He replies, ''This is what I do with my friends.'' In refusing to pay his son's debts, Lawrence's father (George Plimpton) assures him that some day he will thank Dad for the gift of self-reliance and for the opportunity to learn to use a walker. It is a particular pleasure to report that although Lawrence naturally falls in love with Beth and goes through plenty of trouble to save her from being turned into a drug fiend, she does not make a better man of him.

Although the movie, which opens today at the United Artists Twin and other theaters, begins with film clips of icons of the early 1960's - John F. Kennedy, Pope John XXIII, Marilyn Monroe, Ed Sullivan - the spirit is very much of the 80's. But a little melancholy may blend with the laughter ''Volunteers'' draws at the expense of those earnest days when a President was urging people to ask what they could do for their country.

On the other hand….from VARIETY


Volunteers is a very broad and mostly flat comedy [from a story by Keith Critchlow] about hijinx in the Peace Corps, circa 1962. Toplined Tom Hanks gets in a few good zingers as an upperclass snob doing time in Thailand, but promising premise and opening shortly descend into unduly protracted tedium.

Hanks plays Lawrence Bourne 3d, an arrogant, snide rich boy from Yale who trades places with an earnest Peace Corps designate when his gambling debts land him in danger at home. Once ensconced in a remote village, contentious couple Hanks and cohort Rita Wilson and ultra do-gooder John Candy set out to build a bridge across a river. Kidnapped and brainwashed by the commies, the gung-ho Candy disappears for a long stretch.

With Candy absent most of the time, Hanks' one-note, if sometimes clever, attitudinizing wears out its welcome after a while. He also is deprived of anyone effective to play off.

Lensed in Mexico, pic features a muddy, truly ugly look. Also present is the most offensively blatant plug for Coca-Cola yet seen in the new era of Coke-owned entertainment companies.


Gail Renard said...

I'd rather see the first film, ta.

Giles Bowkett said...

Good advice in any context. Wish I knew what a Romanian judge was, though. Googling it didn't help at all.

Ken Levine said...

In the Olympics when every other judge gives an athlete a score of 10.0 there's always a Romanian judge who gives him a 4.3.

blogward said...

How much did the eventual story as presented deviate from yours and David's conception?

Dwacon said...

Snappy dialogue will wow 'em in NYC, but will they get it in Des Moine?

(Apologies to David Frost)

Al in Portland said...

But Volunteers will always be given "thumbs up" by Washington State University alums (Yep, class of '77).

RAC said...

Early Tom Hanks. Always a riot. I laughed a lot. You should do a modernized series with a chubby Hanks in the John Candy role.

fitzthecat said...

Hey, John Candy's transformation into a Maoist revolutionary alone is enough to enshrine you in my personal (rather dusty) Hall of Fame. You may list me as a reference.


The Crutnacker said...

Boy, the product placement in the movie has to look like an accident compared to today's movies.

Tezcatzontecatl, said...

"So, did you tie her up and knock her out?"

"No, she did it herself. You shoulda been there!"

D. McEwan said...

Well it's nice that the good review realized writers wrote the lines, while the bad review seemed to think Tom Hanks ad-libbed all his dialogue.

I have a lovely book called THE CRITICS WERE WRONG. It's a collection of scathing reviews of great movies, popular movies (Which often are crap), early reviews of future stars, potshots at major talents, etc. Man, that CITIZEN KANE was a piece of crap. You can learn how terrible ALL ABOUT EVE is, be instructed by John Simon on what garbage ANNIE HALL is, be saved from the horrible fate of sitting through crap like THE WIZARD OF OZ and/or VERTIGO, and worst of all, read why Graham Greene thought my favorite movie, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, stinks!

Movie criticism (and literary, stage, and all other forms of criticism as well) just isn't quite as exact a science as mathmatics, and I speak as someone who has just published a book of movie opinions, many of which will be disputed hotly by Bela Lugosi Jr.

My guess is that there are as many critics embarassed by wonky reviews they've written as there are actors and filmmakers chagrined by their work in lousy movies.

Sebastian said...

I would love to see the Variety reviewer watch both Fantastic Four movies in a row.

His head HAS to exploder after about five minutes into the first one considering all the shamelessness...

Graham Powell said...

(Tom Hanks discovers Rita Wilson tied to a be wearing a wedding dress):

"I had visions of you stripped naked and chained to a wall! Imagine my disappointment."

The Minstrel Boy said...

in the old MTM show lou grant gave mary the rundown on reading reviews. . .he handed her a collection and she opened it to the marked page. . .

if you want good music and good theatre together, put on some mozart and read "pygmalion." do not go see "my fair lady."

the best advice i got on reviews came from harry "the hipster" gibson who said "kid you either can read them all and believe them all or read and believe none of them."

he was right.

Mary Stella said...

attitudinizing = worse use of the inflected form of an intransitive verb ever.

Not too fond of the reviewer using "lensed" instead of "filmed".

I like to think I'm immune to bad reviews. We romance novelists take it on the chin all of the time. Keeps us strong. *g*

miles_underground said...

My two favorite jokes from Volunteers:

Lawrence: Tom! Beth's been kidnapped by a Chinese Warlord and we have to go up river to save her and reluctantly, we need your help.

Tom: I'd have to leave my bridge, wouldn't I?

Lawrence: ...You could take it with you.

That and At's, "Stay back, I know the art of kickboxing!"

Those two and almost every line John Candy says always get me.

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