Two things about The Bucket List.


One, The Bucket List could, in one sense, be the latest entry in the “romantic buddy comedy” genre that Justin Shubow identified a few months ago; I quoted bits of his article here and here.

Shubow was primarily concerned with films featuring actors in their 20s and 30s, whereas The Bucket List stars two men who turned 70 during or after their work on the film; but it is striking nonetheless to see how the story goes through some of the standard rom-com beats — including the break-up 15 minutes before the end — and how the Jack Nicholson character explicitly compares the Morgan Freeman character to at least one of his wives, and remarks that he’s never been to a certain restaurant with “a guy” before.

Two, this film just might mark the first time that director Rob Reiner has given up his anti-religious prejudice and, indeed, become a bit more open to matters of faith.

Reiner’s early films, like The Princess Bride (1987) and When Harry Met Sally… (1989), had very minor and very benign jokes at the expense of religion, but his later films turned pretty hostile; Misery (1990), A Few Good Men (1992) and Ghosts of Mississippi (1996) all featured murderous characters who happened to talk about God and the Bible and so on. Ghosts of Mississipi is an especially interesting example because it is based on a true story, and when I interviewed the real-life person on whom the Alec Baldwin character was based (see page 4 of this PDF file), he said he wished the film had had even one scene that acknowledged the positive role that prayer had played in his own life and in the lives of other people who were part of that story.

But now, The Bucket List features Morgan Freeman as a man who believes in God, has faith in a life beyond this one, and quotes something his pastor once told him when it comes time to deliver the film’s inspirational theme — while Jack Nicholson plays the skeptic who openly says that he “envies” people like Freeman. I could say even more about the film’s portrayal of the Freeman character, and how this portrayal relates to the character’s beliefs, but it might mean giving something away; so for now, all I will say is that the film gives Freeman the voice-over, and thus invests his character, rather than Nicholson’s, with the greater moral or spiritual authority.

The film as a whole is nothing to write home about — the premise is implausible, the humour tepid, and the tacky CGI can’t hide the fact that they were too cheap to film the overseas scenes on location — but seen in the context of Reiner’s larger filmography, I can’t help but find this one aspect of the film rather interesting, in much the same way that I found Reiner’s similarly flawed The Story of Us (1999; my comments) rather interesting when it veered in certain existentialist directions.

Let sleeping dogs die.


Jake Coyle of the Associated Press has written an open letter to Hollywood directors, producers and screenwriters, begging them to “spare the puppy dogs.” I can’t say I agree with him; if anything, I have been enjoying the various canine deaths that have graced the big screen in the past few months.

I have nothing against dogs in real life. Dogs are part of my extended family and, once my children are old enough to know what to do with them, dogs will probably be part of my immediate family, too. But in the movies, dogs have traditionally been given far, far more respect than they deserve; like national flags, they have been waved by movie after movie as a cheap attempt to win our sympathies and push our emotional buttons.

Admittedly, my attitude towards Hollywood dogs was forged during the great Disaster Movie Revival of 1996 and 1997, which happened to coincide with that period in my life when I made the transition from student-newspaper editor to full-time freelance writer. In movies like Twister, Independence Day, Daylight and Dante’s Peak, key characters had dogs who found themselves in moments of peril before leaping to freedom, preferably on the edge of a fireball; the humans might have died, but the dogs always lived. Volcano and Speed 2: Cruise Control threw in gratuitous scenes of imperilled dogs who had nothing to do with any of the characters; they were little more than set dressing that barked as the creeping lava or crashing boats got too close to them. Even A Time to Kill, which was neither an action movie nor a disaster movie, gave in to the deathless-dog impulse; in John Grisham’s original novel, the dog is killed when an arsonist destroys the main character’s house, but in the movie, the dog lives. Oh, does it live.

In the midst of all this relentless cynophilia, one filmmaker had the courage to do something different. I refer, of course, to Steven Spielberg, who, in The Lost World: Jurassic Park (pictured above), included a scene in which a cushy suburban family looks out a bedroom window and sees their doghouse dangling by its chain from the toothy jaw of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Whatever deficiencies that film had — and there were many, no doubt — I will always, and forever, love it for that. It was easily one of the best laughs I had that year.

Of course, dogs do die in films sometimes, especially when the filmmakers are trying to show how serious they can be. Josh Brolin played a bad guy in American Gangster and killed a dog to show how nasty he was; and he played a good guy in No Country for Old Men and killed a dog because, well, that’s just how high the stakes were, and anyway, no one was safe in that movie. And then there is a certain other film that came out recently — the film which prompted Coyle to write his open letter, and which I will not name here for spoiler reasons.

But the recent rash of canine deaths still seems pretty anomalous, to me. Last week, I caught a horror film in which something gratuitously nasty happens to a cat in one of the very first scenes. Everyone in the theatre laughed, and, rightly or wrongly, I couldn’t resist turning to a colleague and saying, “I dare them to do that to a dog!”

Sep 12 2012 update: I just discovered that the relevant clip from The Lost World: Jurassic Park is now on YouTube. Enjoy:

The day the son of Will Smith stood still.


My post last night about spotting Keanu Reeves in a local theatre got picked up by a bunch of Keanu fansites — one of which also had a link to this article at Bild.de, which covers a press conference that Will Smith gave while promoting I Am Legend in Germany.

What’s the connection? In the press conference, Smith revealed that one of his sons is making a movie with Keanu Reeves — and after a bit of snooping, I discovered that Jaden Smith, who co-starred with his dad in The Pursuit of Happyness (2006), is indeed one of the three main stars of the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, along with Keanu and Jennifer Connelly.

No word yet on who, exactly, he is playing, though. In the original film, the main child, played by Billy Gray, was the son of the main woman, played by Patricia Neal — but at first glance, you would not expect Jaden Smith to be the son of Jennifer Connelly. Then again, anything’s possible — remember how Jeff Goldblum had a black daughter in The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)?

JAN 14 UPDATE: The Hollywood Reporter confirms the news, and says Smith is playing “the rebellious Jacob, the 8-year-old stepson of scientist Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) who first makes contact with the humanoid alien Klaatu (Keanu Reeves).”

Walk the Line — the extended cut and faith

Johnny Cash was a Christian, and many of his fans are Christian, so when Walk the Line (2005) came out two years ago, the studio made a point of promoting the film to Christians — but a lot of Christians who saw the film, such as Terry Mattingly and the various critics he linked to at GetReligion.org, were disappointed to find that the film gave only the briefest of nods to the role that religion played in helping Cash get his life back together. So it is interesting to note that, according to IGN.com, the new “extended cut” of the film that comes out March 25 will include a featurette on “Cash and his Faith”. It will be interesting to see whether that aspect of Cash is enhanced at all by the 17 minutes that have been cut back into the film, too.

Another “love interest” signs up for Year One

Variety reports that Olivia Wilde is joining the cast of Year One, Judd Apatow and Harold Ramis’s so-called “biblical comedy”, to play “Princess Inanna, the love interest of Black’s character.” Interestingly, June Raphael was hired last month to play a woman named Maya who also becomes involved with the Jack Black character — but Variety says Princess Inanna will be the “female lead”. Incidentally, according to Wikipedia, “Inanna” was the name of “the Sumerian goddess of sexual love, fertility, and warfare. The Akkadians called her Ishtar.” A clue as to the movie’s setting?

More trivial box-office data.

At the rate things are going, it looks like Juno — which was #2 last weekend and #1 every day since! — will gross over $100 million during its entire theatrical run, while National Treasure: Book of Secrets and Alvin and the Chipmunks will gross over $200 million domestically. If that does, indeed, turn out to be the case, then …

… 28 films released in 2007 will have crossed the $100 million line. This is better than almost every year on record, with the single exception of 2003, when 29 films crossed that line. 2002 and 2004 are tied for third place, with 24 such films apiece.

… 11 films released in 2007 will have crossed the $200 million line. This easily beats the previous record of 8 such films, set in 2005. Third place goes to 2002, when there were 7 such films.

… 4 films released in 2007 will have crossed the $300 million line. This beats the record of 3 such films, set in 2002 and tied in 2003 and 2004.

… no films released in 2007 will have crossed the $400 million line. One film per year accomplished this in 1997, 1999, 2002, 2004 and 2006. Star Wars (1977) and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) also crossed that line on their 20th anniversaries.

In other news, No Country for Old Men had $45.3 million in the till as of Wednesday and is thus only a day or two away from passing O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000; my review) to become the top-grossing film ever directed by the Coen brothers. However, it would still be behind the $60.1 million earned by Bad Santa (2003), which the Coens produced but did not direct.


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