Is the new Universal film anti-marriage or just pro-fun?
I can’t seem to drive two blocks in Los Angeles these days without being confronted with one of the billboards for “The Change-Up,” the new Jason Bateman-Ryan Reynolds body-switching movie opening on August 5. No, I haven’t had a sneak peek at the film, which is directed by David Dobkin (“Wedding Crashers”) and written by “Hangover” writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, but that doesn’t stop me from fuming about its ad campaign.
You know the story, right? Jason Bateman, harried husband and father of two young tots, and Ryan Reynolds, hunky single guy who scores big with the babes, have a moment of envying each other’s life while peeing in front of some kind of enchanted fountain (what, you don’t pee in public fountains with your buddies?). Faster than you can say “Freaky Friday,” the two men find themselves transported into each other’s bodies and lives. This overused premise has practically spawned its own genre, with films like “Big,” “Vice Versa,” “17 Again,” “Like Father, Like Son,” “All of Me,” “Prelude to a Kiss,” and, of course, not one but two versions of the Disney classic, “Freaky Friday.” Most of these films involve switcheroos between adults and children but “The Change-Up” posits a grass-is-always-greener scenario between two adult males.
In truth, I have no problem with another body-swap film. It may not be new territory but it’s a tried-and-true scenario that often provides a lot of funny opportunities for its fish-out-of-water stars. No, my only pre-release beef with the film is the underlying assumption present in the billboards, print ads, and trailers I’ve seen for the film (there is so much promotion for “The Change-Up,” Universal must be hoping that this will be their Big Summer Hit once wizard fatigue sets in). Whatever warm fuzzies that exist in the actual screenplay regarding how we should all be grateful for our lives and the people who love us, the ad campaign has one message only: marriage and kids = misery, gross-outs, and indentured servitude while unencumbered single man’s life = heaven on earth. Really?
I hope I don't seem like Michele Bachmann here. I do have a sense of humor, I swear, and I like raunch as much as the next guy (I loved the original “Hangover” as well as “Bridesmaids”). But constantly having to stare down Ryan Reynold’s self-satisfied mug (who’s really Jason Bateman suddenly finding himself single) as he’s surrounded by thong-wearing hotties makes me want to hurl. And seeing Jason Bateman’s “oh crap, why am I alive?” shrug (who’s really Ryan Reynolds suddenly encumbered with the ball and chain) makes me want to come out of the closet as a very happily married man who vastly prefers my life with my wife and two children (one of whom is still in diapers) over the supposed “fantasy” of having wild sex with a different woman every night. Yuck.
Am I being humorless here? Probably, and I do plan on seeing the actual film which may well be very funny (especially with Jason Bateman in the lead). But I remain offended at the taken-for-granted notion that most married people wish they could go back to dating and the single life. To be honest, I can’t think of anything I’d want less! And I wonder if “Sexiest Man Alive” Ryan Reynolds, whose divorce from Scarlett Johansson was just finalized a few weeks ago, might agree with me.
Completely flummoxes the movie-going public
We run down five possible cures.
No longer having the promise of yet another installment to look forward to, millions of Harry Potter fans are now facing a rather sinister existential quandary. Who or what can we turn to fill that gaping hole in our chests? Not to worry. Here, we run through five of the possibilities, and their associated pluses and minuses:
DISADVANTAGES: As discussed earlier in this space, it’s purportedly the last in its series, so will only delay the onset of the inevitable, crushing separation anxiety and depression for another year.
ADVANTAGES: A trilogy (or quadrology) based on a trio of popular, critically acclaimed Young Adult novels, about precocious kids overcoming adversity, set in a fascinating world of mystery and danger? Sign me up!
DISADVANTAGES: There are only the three source novels. This, too, will have a limited shelf life. Also, while it does contain elements of the supernatural, there is no magic. And while you might want to live in the world of Harry Potter, you most assuredly would not want to live in the post-apocalyptic dystopia depicted herein.
DISADVANTAGES: However, the producers have borrowed a page from their Harry Potter brethren, and have split the final book into two movies.
VERDICT: On the other hand, Jacob Black. Alohamora!
Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter
DISADVANTAGES: It’s just been brought to my attention that this has nothing to do with the upcoming “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.” Too bad.
ADVANTAGES: Is available now on DVD?
Game of Thrones
Is a taste of honey worse than none at all?
Though I don’t consider myself a true Harry Potter fanatic, I admit that I’ve seen all eight of the films on their opening weekends. Sitting at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre yesterday with my Potter-obsessed daughter (already on her second viewing of the film), I did feel a little emotional saying a final farewell to our fearless trio, Harry, Hermione, and Ron. I think it was a highly satisfying send-off (note to film industry: isn’t it time to say goodbye to 3D?), but I still felt the frustration that’s been plaguing me since the second or third film—that the filmmakers were squandering the incredible adult talent they had at their disposal, especially among the older female stars.
On the one hand, I give them credit for hiring the A-list British actresses in the first place. Most of these women have strong theatre backgrounds as well as successful film careers and they bring nuances to these characters that must have made author J. K. Rowling squeal with delight. But why oh why do most of these dames barely get a line of dialogue in the later films, if they’re there at all?
Look, I realize that the filmmakers were doing their best to follow the complex and plot-heavy events of Rowling’s books as best they could, including what Emma Thompson called "a conveyor belt of characters"—anything less would have produced an insurrection from the legion of Potterphiles waiting breathlessly for each cinematic offering, their dog-eared copies of the novels clutched tightly in their Muggle hands. But oh, look at this list of my five favorite adult women in the series and tell me you wouldn’t appeal personally to J.K. Rowling to give them more screen time:
Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith). J. K. Rowling has said that she was picturing Dame Maggie Smith as she was writing Professor McGonagall so it’s only fitting that Smith was offered this role. In the early films, when Harry, Hermione, and Ron were young students, McGonagall had way more to do than later in the series, but any appearance she made in a film was a welcome delight. Her screen time in the final film may be brief but she is given some splendid business to do and provides an emotionally satisfying throughline. Minerva taught transfiguration at Hogwarts (her ability to turn into a cat was seen less and less as the series went on), acted as head of Gryfindor House, and ultimately, after Dumbledore’s death, became the school's Headmistress. Smith's Professor McGonagall was a vital hub in the series. Though often exasperated by the mischief-making of our trio, she was well aware of the bigger picture and in the end she was always there for Harry and his friends. The film that most prepared Maggie Smith for this role? Surely, her Oscar-winning performance in 1969 as an influential private school teacher in the wonderful "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie," from which her famous line could be paraphrased to “Give me a wizard at an impressionable age, and he is mine for life!”
Molly Weasley (Julie Walters). As played by the wonderful Julie Walters, Mrs. Weasley is the strong, sassy, shlumpy, protective, and very loving mother we’d all love to have—indeed, she was the only nurturing mother figure Harry Potter knew throughout his childhood. Molly had seven children including Ron, her twins, Fred and George, and her only daughter, Ginny. She is a comforting presence in all of the films and, while I don’t want to give anything away to those who haven’t yet seen the film or read the book, let’s just say Mrs Weasley has a surprising role in the final denouement between Harry and Lord Voldemort. Again, without revealing too much, she also ends up "closer" to all three of our young leads than anyone else in the series. Julie Walters made a name for herself playing down-to-earth working class girls, not that unlike Molly Weasley (despite Molly’s magical powers), and is probably best known for playing the title role in "Educating Rita" on the stage and then on film opposite Michael Caine. She is one of the true hearts of the Harry Potter series.
Sybill Trelawney (Emma Thompson). I would watch anything that Emma Thompson is in and she must have had a field day playing jittery Sybill Trelawney with her gigantic coke-bottle glasses and ridiculous fright wig. As Divination Professor at Hogwarts, Sybil is a mess, but she was the one, after all, who first made “The Prophecy” about Harry Potter that set all of the events of the series into motion. When Dolores Umbridge fired her from Hogwarts several films back, both Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall, not Sybill's biggest admirers, came to her aid. Thompson, busy with other projects, only shot two days on the final film, but joked that the Harry Potter films employed every British actor in equity, including her sister Sophie who is in the final film. I am a huge fan of Thompson’s Oscar-winning version of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” which featured a number of other Harry Potter players including Umbridge and Severus Snape.
Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton). I don’t think I can find enough words of praise for Imelda Staunton’s chilling portrayal of Dolores Umbridge, a maddening bureaucrat from the Ministry of Magic. Staunton’s sickly-sweet, well-coiffed, pretty-in-pink cheerfulness was a tremendous counterpoint to her party loyalty, cruelty, and thirst for power. Despite her appearance, she was, in many ways, as sly and dangerous as the Dark Lord himself. Umbridge's machinations at Hogwarts echoed the unfortunate events occurring in U.S. education under the dreaded No Child Left Behind Act. Umbridge insisted on drilling the Hogwarts’ students in boring abstractions instead of allowing them to practice real magic, the same way our own government policies have emphasized drill-and-kill instruction over experiential hands-on learning. Imelda Staunton can do no wrong in my book, and it was a delight to see her reappear in Part 1 of the final film, still using her bureaucratic powers to stifle creativity and make everyone around her miserable.
Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter). Unlike Staunton’s seemingly demure and well-dressed villainess, Helena Bonham Carter’s fabulous turn as Bellatrix Lestrange owed nothing to subtlety. Can you say Bat Shit Crazy? Oh, how I adored Bonham Carter in this role. Sometimes I think the actress has been with her boyfriend Tim Burton for so long that she has started to look like a character from one of his films, as she does here as the Goth-like Lestrange (not that different from how she often appears at awards shows). In her Merchant Ivory days, Helena Bonham Carter starred with both Maggie Smiith and Emma Thompson, always playing the porcelain-skinned demure English lass, but lately she seems determined to shock audiences with her larger-than-life freak show roles. (On the other hand, I thought she was wonderful last year as the Queen Mother in "The King’s Speech," light years away from her maniacal Bellatrix.) Next up for Helena is a role in the film version of the 1960s supernatural soap, "Dark Shadows," again directed by Tim Burton and co-starring Johnny Depp. I’m in!
Holy horcruxes, what a group! Though the Harry Potter series has yet to snag a single Oscar nomination for its actors, these five women have racked up 15 Academy Award nominations on their own along with 4 wins. And they weren't the only pedigreed actresses in the films. That list included Gemma Jones as Hogwarts’ matron, Poppy Pomfrey; Miriam Margolyes as Professor of Herbology, Pomona Sprout; Helen McCrory as Bellatrix’s younger sister and Draco’s mother, Narcissa Malfoy; Fiona Shaw as Harry’s horrid Muggles aunt, Petunia Dursley; and Miranda Richardson as conniving Rupert Murdoch-like reporter, Rita Skeeter. Seeing many of these women appear in the final film with little or no dialogue I wanted to propose a whole new series of films to Warner Brothers that would detail the back stories of each one of them in turn. My only question to the casting agents? What, you couldn’t find any room for Dame Judi Dench?
Also, a movie about wizards does well, or something...
Ron Weasley No More ...
With Emma Watson's Hermionie driving so much of the exposition in the 'Harry Potter' films, and Daniel Radcliffe in the title role to carry the burden of the storytelling, Rupert Grint's contributions as Ron Weasley might originally have seemed less important or functional -- best-friend duties, the occasional bit of comic relief. But the last laugh was Grint's -- his Ron not only provided real heart and humanity to the series but also served as the audience's stand-in, giving moments of pretention a good puncturing and giving moments of awesome power honest reactions. We spoke with Grint in New York City.
These films are always going to be a part of your life, but you have a last round of press for this film. When are they not going to be part of your schedule? When will they stop being something you think about every day?
Grint: Not sure, really. Of course there'll be (the) DVD after this, I'm sure. Eventually it's going to stop, and this really is going to be over. It's going to be a distant memory, which is quite hard to come to terms with. It has been my every day -- my every year has revolved around these films. Now they're over. It's a very weird feeling.
The producer was saying earlier that they went back and reshoot the epilogue because they couldn't quite get the makeup to look right. Did you find that to be the case?
Grint: Yeah, I looked hideous. I felt it there was a quite of a lot of processes to try different things, pulling what would really work. It was a very, very big thing to gradually watch yourself age in front of a mirror. I think the second attempt they got it balanced a lot better. It was a very strange thing to film, having kids and fat suits. Very, very weird. It was good fun.
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'There's nowhere in the world I can go that isn't somehow touched by this film ...'
Of all the actors discovered for Harry Potter, none's faced a more complicated path from youth to stardom than Emma Watson. Originally ambivalent about success -- at one point stating she might leave the series, then trying to juggle a college education -- Watson seems to have settled into life as an actress and newly-minted glamour girl, even signing on as a new "face" for L'Oreal cosmetics. With her newly-shorn locks evoking memories of Jean Seberg or Mia Farrow, Watson met the press in New York in a feathered Givenchy dress to talk about the end of Harry Potter, global stardom and what's next.
On her last day and last shot for the series:
The last shot we did was this strange moment where we dive into the fireplace in the Ministry of Magic. It was actually for 'Part I,' not 'Part II.' Dan, Rupert and I, one by one, jumped onto these blue safety mats, basically; that was the shot, that was it. It seemed like a strange one to go out on, but David made the point that we were leaping into the unknown. It was a perfect metaphor for what we were about to go into. It's so funny, I can't tell you how I felt when we were shooting it -- I think I was numb.
On when it hit her the hardest:
It's so funny; this film obviously was incredibly challenging for me. It really pushed me as an actress, but at the same time, I was able to use a lot of my own genuine emotion that I felt about loss and all of it coming to an end. I was able to bring how I was feeling to the role. A perfect example of that is the scene when we stand on the bridge after the battle and before we flash forward. I remember really feeling exactly how Hermoine would be feeling, which is, 'Wow, this is all coming to an end; look at everything we've achieved.' The set was built looking out over Leavesden studios, which is where I grew up, essentially, and spent the last 12 years. Not much acting required, really. It was all there for me.