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Thursday, Feb 14, 2008


Casting is crucial to the success of a film. Just ask anyone who suffered through 2006’s god-awful (no pun intended) remake of The Omen. While audiences could live with Liev Schreiber as the Gregory Peck replacement - barely - in the modern day Antichrist thriller, Julia Stiles sunk every scene she was in. Like a teen mother trying to play grown up in a world where the rules of engagement are beyond her brief years, she diluted the danger in all facets of the copycat creep out. The same thing happens in the new sci-fi stinker Jumper. Between a bafflingly bad Hayden Christensen and a Stiles-like Rachel Bilson as his romantic interest, we wind up with fiction more specious than speculative. 


One day, a teenage David Rice learns two very hard life lessons. One is that, no matter how hard he tries, hot chick Millie is a difficult amorous pursuit. The other is that he can actually teleport. Leaving his abusive father and the no man’s land of Ann Arbor, Michigan behind, our hero heads to the big city, robs a bank, and begins his life as a jet setting jerkwad. Fast forward eight years and an elite group of investigators, led by the white haired hitman Roland, are trying to track David. They don’t really care about the robberies or high living. They want to destroy his special gift - and him along with it. With the help of fellow ‘jumper’ Griffin, and a reconnection with his adolescent crush, David hopes to escape the squad’s evil clutches - even if it means taking the battle across time and space.


Jumper is junk, a halfway decent premise destroyed by some of the worst hiring choices in the history of motion picture personnel. In a realm which sees Michael Rooker, Diane Lane, Samuel L. Jackson, and an unrecognizable Tom Hulce as an afterthought, we get a trio of talent that’s one-third winning. Only Billy Elliot‘s Jamie Bell inspires any interest. His character crackles the way the others stumble and fall. The rest of the triptych is indeed downright poisonous. Christensen proves he’s the worst actor working today by turning David into a one note non-entity. He’s so uninvolving that even terminal insomniacs find his efforts snooze-inducing.


But it’s nothing compared to OC cupie dolt Bilson. Looking like a bad computer photo reconstruction of what Maxim thinks is attractive, and using her open eyed performance style for everything from happiness to hurt, she’s wish fulfillment as the walking dead, a plot point that can’t payoff because we could care less what happens to her. She shares no chemistry with her costar (not that Christensen could combine scientifically or sensually with any breathing human) and constantly reminds us of how hackneyed the overall approach to this project is. Something with this large a scope needs actors of equal size. Bilson and Christensen are incredibly small community college thespians at best.


Yet there are other issues here besides the hired help. Liman never lets the movie’s mythos work for him. We get one of the most convoluted ‘us vs. them’ set ups ever, a situation that hasn’t been relevant since the Knights Templar took on The Priore of Zion to protect Da Vinci’s load. Of course, Jumper treats it all like a very special installment of Highlander. Granted, a rivalry between ethically unsound teleporters and the paladins’ religious zealotry (they destroy these gifted individuals because only “God” should wield such power - like the decision on who lives or who dies, right?) reeks of a bad period piece, but Liman has been known to rise above routine material before. Here, he just skips the ideology all together.


This makes Jumper a very superficial ride, one that doesn’t do much more than expand on the whole bi-location concept - and then it telegraphs every idea before it arrives. When Griffin “jumps” a car along the streets of Tokyo, we know that’s going to come back and play a part in the conclusion. Similarly, a statement about an individual’s attempt to move an entire building is nothing but more forced foreshadowing. Liman apparently doesn’t care that everything plays passive. As a director, he never gets the weight behind the events, instead relying on flash and occasional handheld camera chaos to sell the spectacle. A moment when a British double decker bus threatens Jackson should be an iconic eye popper. Instead, it comes across as a sloppy CGI experiment.


It’s the kind of thing that happens time and time again here. Griffin and David battle over a detonator, bounding off the side of a skyscraper and fighting in freefall. Yet the minute they leap, the effect seems fake. And since Liman is using a quick cut editing style to suggest tension, the visuals are rendered pedestrian at best. Jumper should look like an epic, sequences highlighting the cosmic consequence of people randomly relocating around the planet. Besides, the novel by Steven Gould gave David a more heroic bent. Sure, he participated in criminal activities. But he also thwarted hijackers and other agents of evil along the way. Here, he’s just a materialistic moron, more concerned with sexual conquest and buckets of krugerrands than world events.


And why just Earth? Why would an individual with the ability to teleport anywhere reserve their abilities to this particular planet? Instead of gathering more greenbacks, David should be stealing suits from NASA and running around the galaxy looking for extraterrestrials, or at the very least, a broader set of individual horizons. The self-centered egotism exhibited by our lead (and in some small ways, by the paladin killing Griffin) suggests that Jumper knows its equally selfish fan base all too well. Instead of helping the human race, it’s clear your typical geek squad would simply streak over to the Skywalker Ranch and hobnob with their buddy George - or better yet, rob the filmmaker blind.


The lack of clarity combined with the horrendous onscreen talent turns Jumper from a film with potential to a Sci-Fi Channel direct-to-DVD special. Its imagination and drive is buried in a bumbling sense of narrative which never knows how to handle its thrills, and when combined with the unclear elements in the fantastical, the whole scenario sinks. There is clearly a kernel of intrigue at the center of this story. Too bad Liman, and the lamentable choices he made for his cast, completely derail Jumper’s prospects.


 


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Wednesday, Feb 13, 2008


Don’t you just hate the false sentiment, the “love them or else” aura that surrounds this so called holiday of love. Ever since marketers discovered that people respond well to social and cultural peer pressure (“everyone is giving diamonds, so why not you, you jerk!”), the most minor of calendar calls has been magnified to maximize shame, and guilt-related spree spending. Valentine’s Day is no different. Where once little kids gave scraps of paper with semi-clever compliments (“Bee My Special Friend” with mandatory bumble), or chalky little candies, the pre-post-proto-modern mindset reels at anything less than designer chocolates, mutant sized bouquets of flora, and a sting of ‘oh so’ precious stones.


There is a way to get back at all this lovey dovey horse hockey and preserve the spirit of merriment and festivity, however. Instead of worshipping yet another questionable saint, why not simply strike the sacrosanct and go gratuitous. Those completely in touch with the practical and the profane know that the perfect antidote to lace and frills is lechery and thrills. And nowhere are such baser instincts better represented than in the world of exploitation. Among the naked bodies and whip whelped backsides, in between the depravity and the debauchery, there’s a chance to have your cake and smear it all over your sex partner too.


“Vile-entines”, as we purists refer to it, can be a ‘whenever’ experience. Any day can be a grindhouse day. Yet what better way to acknowledge your left field obsessions than with flesh feasts from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s? Isn’t that better than a Build a Bear? While not all drive-in fodder finds its way onto the big picture, if one categorizes the many objects de amore available, the possibilities become far more manageable. Like the song once said, if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with. And with that, here are ten carnal classifications that would make any defiant romantic weep with wanton joy:



Love of SATAN


While the traditional holiday adores the cherub and the cutesy, the antithesis celebrates the demonic and the blasphemous. Since most relationships end up as a living Hell anyway, why not cut out the middle man (or woman) and simply give the Devil your direct attention. Whether it’s a trip to the Asylum of Satan, a quick game of statues with Satan’s Children, a how to guide in worshipping the Beast from Satanis: The Black Mass, or a romp with Sinthia: The Devil’s Doll, there are at least 666 ways to leave your lover…for Lucifer. Besides, fire and brimstone are far more practical gifts.



Love of DRUGS


Everyone needs to feed their head now and again - and no, we aren’t talking about BOOKS, Grace Slick. If unforgettable films like Ghetto Freaks, Alice in Acidland, The Hooked Generation, and Psyched by the 4D Witch have taught us anything, it’s that the best way to turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream is through the ingestion of massive amounts of dope. Opiates, be they injected, snorted, or smoked, just make sense this time of year. After all, how else will you get through the endless saccharine emotions and suggestions that you’re less than a lothario without coughing up cash.



Love of PAIN


If you believe in duality, there is a cause for every effect, some nausea for every naked exploitation actress. Logically then, for all the pleasure around, there has got to be some pain. No one knew this better than the late, great, degenerate Michael Findlay. Via his massively mean spirited Flesh Trilogy (The Kiss of Her Flesh, The Curse of Her Flesh, The Touch of Her Flesh), he created the serial killer slasher film and a perfect advertisement for the seductiveness of sadism. Granted, people do get hurt under this sort of sensuality, especially around the throat, cranium, and breadbasket. But just like a romantic tattoo, a scar is forever.



Love of the SUN


Nudists know best - especially when it comes to stripping off the skin covering and letting the Milky Way’s largest power source bathe their bodies in Vitamin D giving (and malignant melanoma causing) sunlight. Worshipping said source of all bio-chemical existence is the main point behind such epidermis exposing efforts as Nude on the Moon, Gentlemen Prefer Nature Girls, Goldilocks and the Three Bares, and The Naked Venus. Of course, the reality of such a lifestyle choice involves stigmas, occlusions, hirsute happenstance, and lots and lots of moles. They say the human form unsheathed is a beautiful thing. We’ll take their word for it.



Love of BURLESQUE


Matronly-like seductresses doing a bawdy bump and grind. Baggy pants comedians cracking wise. Singers rejoicing in the fine art of melody trashing. All this, and much, much less can be yours if you just let efforts like A Virgin in Hollywood, Too Hot to Handle, Varietease, and Teaserama be your exotic dancing guide. The one time cultured repast, considered quite swanky for sub and urban swells, now resembles grandma getting dolled up in a rather inappropriate manner. Still, if glamour and seduction is an art, then these pancaked pack mules are the very definition of Victoria’s Secret - and perhaps they should stay that way.



Love of HILLBILLIES


Since they’re raised in the backest of backwoods, guided by parents who may be related both legally and genealogically, rednecks are a wonderful repository of unrequited (and un-hygienic) passion. Whether it’s the full figured farmer’s bride in such rural rube classics as Sweet Georgia or Jennie: Wife/Child, or sexually wound up offspring like The Pigkeeper’s Daughter or Tobacco Roody, the results are always the same: more indirect animal husbandry; more kin on kin canoodling; more moonshine inspired spooning. And the occasional trip to the outhouse, just to make sure everything - and everyone - stays good and regular.



Love of the OVERLY AMPLE BOSOM


Chesty Morgan is definitely the cover girl for Vile-entines Day. Lacking much of Betty Pages’ allure, and none of Pat Barrington’s siliconed savvy, this Polish immigrant by way of some industrial sized lingerie is a dead eyed body double sold for her excessive skin only. Attractive in a perogies-producing, earnest Eastern European manner, Ms. FF turned standard sexploitation like Deadly Weapons and Double Agent 73 into crazed cult classics. And if she can do that to the most overdone and derivative of ‘60s/‘70s sleaze, imagine how she can perk up your love life - either that, or your gag reflex.



Love of ROBOTS


While the main premise of the film centers on your typical mad medico trying to resurrect the dead with some special white powder (hey - it worked for Liza Minelli and Andy Warhol), there is a musical interlude in the middle of Swamp of the Ravens that suggests automatons and arousal go hand in hand. As a sweaty longue lizard squawks about his ardor for an amiable android, we see him grope and ogle a mannequin. At least it all seems very innocent. The creepy pervert in Doris Wishman’s Indecent Desires fondles a child’s doll to get his jollies. Now that’s just sick!



Love of PROSTITUTION


Ladies of the night…women of ill-repute…street slags…brothel babes…you nickname them, Vile-entines just eats them up. In films like The Hookers, The Agony of Love, and The Love Merchant, girls giving it up for cash and the pimps pushing them are semi-respectable reflections of a society gone soft and squishy. The easy access to paid passion is always given its main moral comeuppance, but along the way we experience the dueling dichotomy of supply and demand wrapped up in being a whore. And then there are those honeys who think they’re beyond the whole “name your price” predicament. Too bad they can’t see the forest for the Johns.



Love of VIOLENCE


Roses are red…and so are clots of bloody gore! In keeping with the ‘heartfelt’ sentiments of the season, rivers of clarets have come to symbolize what this sleazoid celebration is all about. Whether it’s the old school splatter of Blood Feast (complete with gratuitous conversational innuendo), the subtle slaughter of Doctor Gore, or the live child birth footage from such reddened roadshow classics as Street Corner and Damaged Goods, sluice signifies the best of what this holiday has to offer. And there’s no better way to get close to your potential lover than via a quick trip with a meat cleaver through his or her alimentary canal.


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Tuesday, Feb 12, 2008


You want proof that there’s no God. Want incontrovertible evidence that 99.9% of Hollywood executives have their heads so far up their rectums that they could read Variety through their urethra? Word has just come down that William Gibson’s classic cyberpunk novel Neuromancer is being made into a movie. No, that’s not the incriminating facet. It seems a certain talent free actor has been tapped to play the iconic role of Henry Dorsett Case. It’s a performer so pathetic he makes Keanu Reeves’ turns in the downright rip off Johnny Mnemonic look like the work of Sir Laurence Olivier. That’s right, everyone’s least favorite waste of Star Wars space, Hayden “One Broken Note” Christensen is rumored to be the front runner for the part. Apparently, it all depends on how his upcoming sci-fi spectacle does at the box office. Oh if only it were that easy.


In the realm of ridiculous action stardom, where for every Bruce Willis we have a dozen Nicolas Cages, sulking Skywaker is the absolute worst choice no matter the role. He’s dead eyed and uninvolving, like a trip to the zoo the day after the animals committed suicide. Since Tinsel Town usually thinks with its wallet first, crotch second, and aesthetics dead last, it’s no surprise that this Canadian klutz keeps getting hired. George Lucas’ lamentable prequels made a mint, and the last time anyone checked, Christensen is still riding that rail all the way to the next casting call. Who cares if he was laughably bad as a kind-of Bob Dylan in Factory Girl? It doesn’t matter that Awaken took a dirt nap at the turnstiles. With only a few warm notices for his work in Shattered Glass, he’s a hack of happenstance, someone with more luck than the entire Hilton clan put together.


So he’s perfect to fill the steroid stretched shoes of past punch and jurists. There is definitely a more brain addled Schwarzenegger element to his work, a thinking as his second language aspect that makes him incredibly blah onscreen. Even better, Christensen loves to accent that plainness by tossing out random drawls. Sometimes, he’s from Texas. At other moments, he’s a native New Yorker. And then there are times when his stilted speaking style suggests a medieval knight dropped on his head one too many times. Placing him in a period piece - and what else is the Wars universe except one big backlot recreation of reality where the digital replaces dysentery - allows the so called actor to prove his patheticness. He indeed suffers from one of those telling talent atrophies - the “m’lady” syndrome.


By its very nature, Old English is supposed to suggest history. Contemporize any of this dialogue and you destroy the illusion almost instantly. Certain known names have struggled with m’lady’s speechifying malady - Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel…basically any Method icon of the last 30 years. But no one is as uncomfortable as Christensen. All throughout the prequels, whenever called upon to address his paramour Padme, his painful approach to titles of recognition made him sound like a stroke victim relearning words all over again. It was even worse in Factory Girl, when his faux Zimmerman poet was seemingly reduced to a junior high nerd phonetically stumbling over multi-syllable vocabulary words.


But all occupational therapy aside, Christensen’s biggest flaw is his abject lack of magnetism. Actually, he does own some performance polarization. The minute the lens hits him, the lack of ability automatically repels the camera. This is crystal clear from his work in Doug Liman’s lamentable Jumper. With a premise that promises more than its horribly hackneyed cast can provide, this sloppy sci-fi stinker weeps at the throne of previous speculative spectacles. It’s not just that the Bourne Identity/Mr. and Mrs. Smith director decimates a concept with a great deal of potential, but somehow, he let Christensen on the set to add insult to stupidity.


Jumper is by far the worst work in the actor’s already dismal canon. We are supposed to believe that a shy, geeky like dork who pines for a girl he’ll never impress discovers his secret ability to teleport, leaves his abusive home, robs a bank, and becomes a jet setting playboy who eventually gets said gal. Right. The internal logic links that fail along the way from plot point A to B are enough to undermine the entire structural integrity of cinema. Even worse, Christensen’s character is fashioned into a pouty anti-hero, the kind of smug, “do anything” dude who can threaten the lives of hundreds, commit all manner of thought and actual crime, and yet feel absolutely ambivalent about the risk and/or ethics. 


The rest of the narrative is a knotty combination of unexplained context (as a ‘jumper’, Christensen’s David Rice is born with an inherent enemy, the fierce fundamentalist ‘paladins’ led by Samuel L. “Mail Me That Script” Jackson) and misfired stunt sequences. It’s clear from the work behind the scenes that Liman is a little light in the white knuckle, edge of the seat kinetic loafers. A chase through various locations around the globe - including several vertical and horizontal shifts - should be more exciting .Instead, it often plays like a gerbil having a seizure on the editing button. Besides, Liman approved Christensen (as well as his biological alter ego, the OC awful Rachel Bilson) for his lead. Clearly, the man has limited intellectual or aesthetic capacity.


The main facet of the film’s premise is something called a bi-location scar. It’s like a black hole in temporal space that sucks in the ‘jumper’, instantly transporting him or her to a designated place in their mind. Christensen’s deficient daring-do functions in the same way. The minute he appears in a scene, entertainment and all sense of believability are leeched out of the material, replaced by a void of uninspired dullness. You can literally see the CGI skipping pixels and dying a digital death. From his Terminator as turd crewcut to the dark circles around his Satanically slack eyeballs, Christensen commands a certain surreal kind of respect. It’s not based on what he does as a celebrity. Instead, we marvel at how completely insidious and vile true evil can really be.


Now some may believe that this is too much hating on a half-shaped hunk who really didn’t ask to be George Lucas’ whelp of a whipping boy. They will point out decent things he’d done (look for the list to be about one item long) and suggest that more time in front of the Panaflex is needed. Eventually, they say, he will produce some interesting work. Frankly, that’s a lot like the whole monkey and typewriter analogy, except that the chimps have more of a chance at channeling Shakespeare than Christensen does. This is why his hiring (make that ‘proposed’ hiring) to play Case seems so senseless. It’s a reach far beyond his already proven paltriness. Besides, it dooms Neuromancer before it even begins, leading those already familiar with Gibson’s pioneering novel to fear the worst (the ‘who’s who’ for Molly Millions is enough to give purists nightmares now).


And that’s because Christensen, for all the snark, has yet to prove himself anything other than an incredibly lucky bastard. Had an irradiated lemur been cast as Anakin Skywalker, the prosimian would have his choice of starring roles. Money and cultural meaning can do that to any actor. Sadly, it’s the audiences who will have to suffer with such cinematic strategizing. Jumper will not add to the actors’ legitimacy, except when it comes to putting pesos in the suits’ pockets. Few will recognize it’s the premise doing the profiteering. Instead, Christensen will get all the decidedly incorrect credit. And our long national acting night terror will continue.


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Monday, Feb 11, 2008


If we are to believe the whispered scuttlebutt (since confirmed by major media outlets), the four month old strike by the Writers Guild of America against motion picture producers and studios is about to be settled. No major fanfare. No glorious announcements of victory or statements of solidarity. As public interest waned (actually, it peaked about two days after the walkout was announced) and individual sweetheart deals were brokered, the erosion of purpose finally signaled a surrender. It was never a question of who blinked first. Instead, it became a battle of wits between two entities undeniably bereft of same. The corporate conglomerates wanted to sit on their never-ending pile of profits. The writers wanted to up their residual ante, if only a skoosh. In the end, it looks like both sides got what they wanted - sort of. Since there is more than enough money to go around, who cares about a few percentage points, right?


There were some indirect repercussions, however, reflections and indicators that exposed the transparency of motives on both sides. All deadlocks between management and underlings usually revolve around dollar signs - either in amounts paid out or paid toward other benefits. Squabbles over working conditions and the like are usually reserved for the manufacturing sector, or overly ambitious novels by historically hewed authors. Only sports figures finagle over agency, allegiance, and aftercare. The WGA demands - and the recent Director’s Guild deal and upcoming Screen Actors action - were all about revenue streams: where they are, how much there could be, and the potential payout once the ephemeral wildcatting had begun. Yet after all the accounting, after audits and attributions are made, there are some leftover lessons to be learned. While not inclusive of everything the Writer’s strike showed us, they may be the most lasting impacts.


Nobody Cares About the Golden Globes Anymore
When the completely out of touch Grammys usurp you as a primary, palpitating concern amongst overprivileged superstars, it’s perhaps time to hang up your self-congratulatory backslapping once and for all. The fake front Hollywood Foreign Press Association saw the WGA give them the picket line kibosh, and the resulting press conference crudeness proved how totally irrelevant the award now is. With neither Best Picture winner geared toward an Oscar duplication (Sweeney Todd wasn’t even NOMINATED by the Academy, mind you), it was the pointlessness of the entire concept that caught everyone’s eye. Without the fancy dress dinner and star powered ambience, without the awkward banter between presenters and equally uncomfortable speeches, without its typical place as the premiere indicator of future trophy triumphs, the Globes looked decidedly low rent. No wonder the other shows cancelled or caved at the bargaining table. The last thing these other Emperors need is another example of their underwhelming and irrefutable nakedness. 


The Art of Negotiation is in Fact Fingerpainting
Back in the days when management hired plank carrying goons to break the spirit (and the heads) of striking workers, backdoor deals in the dead of night were how compromise was accomplished. But in the months since the writers took up the placard, most of the wheeling and dealing has been done in very open, very inappropriate forums. From newspaper columnists with “exclusive” rights and insight into the process to YouTube videos and other viral elements meant to explain positions, very little actual talking took place. Anyone who wonders why the strike lasted so long can view this peculiar parley’s scattered approach and realize this ain’t no Pirates of the Caribbean. Captain Jack Sparrow and his buccaneer brood aren’t arriving anytime soon to smile and wink their way through the bargaining. Serious negotiations call for serious attitudes and approaches. Apparently, the new business model is to whine and walk away. Then you can do both in public, over and over again.


The Digital Age = The Death of Unions?
Harlan Ellison used to warn that, once a writer started undervaluing his or her efforts, there was no stopping the exploitation of the work by publishers and producers. This has been the cornerstone of the WGA’s position - the new online entertainment domain, with its multiple permutations for delivering content, has the potential to rob the creative element of their rightful ownership, copyright, and residuals. But there’s a catch many don’t realize, a blowback that offers little comfort - the medium they are marching over is inundated with unpaid “professionals”. From bloggers to recently ‘retired’ print critics, the Internet survives on, and for the most part thrives on, the use of genuine ‘free’-lancers. So how do highly paid scribes, already sitting on ever-fattening paychecks for their initial efforts, convince a compromised audience that their point is valid? In essence, they don’t. As long as their coffers are covered, few outside the fold care. It’s like the ritzy Lexus owner pulling into Wal-Mart. They’re happy to support the cheap and easy access to what they need. But they’ll be damned if they’ll take up the cause of the underpaid employee delivering it.


TV Will Still Love It Some Reality
Even as many “popular” shows close shop, waiting for the day they can bring back their double digit script squads and pay them outrageous fees to come up with feeble sitcom fodder, couch potatoes are proving that they prefer the tangy taint of non-fiction foolishness. Shows like The Moment of Truth and Bad Girls Club have been far more buzz worthy in recent weeks, while the return of a surefire stalwart like Lost felt like an anticlimactic afterthought. When push comes to weekly drama shove, audiences will turn over to see whores (both male and female) acting inappropriate time and time again. This month alone offers another Survivor, more American Idol, a pre-summer return of Big Brother, another Flavor of Love (a show now intentionally mocking itself), more balding Brett Michaels, and enough variations of all the above to keep your typical TV addicted Nielsen family in faux reality hog heaven for the next few weeks. By then, the writers will be back doing what they do best - not that anyone will notice.


Film Writing Will Still Suck
Let’s face it - none of this is about quality. Writers are not worried about delivering coherent characterization or inventive narrative concepts to your next Cineplex jaunt. Instead, we’re back to square one in the aesthetic battle - money - and the last time anyone checked, the size of the payout had very little to do with the quality of the script. Studios don’t buy screenplays based on how wonderful they are artistically. Nor are they purchasing product they feel will appeal to a limited segment of the often marginalized movie-going population. Filmmaking is a gamble, and only high rollers get the massive box office returns. So studios love to hurl large quantities of cash at the most mediocre of ideas (or worse, journeymen who’ve managed to luck into a leftfield hit or soft market moneymaker) and nothing the WGA is doing will change that. Instead, this is just about that cold hard cash coming out of your wallets - which by the way is the only say we have in this upper crust pissing match.


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Sunday, Feb 10, 2008


Now, over three decades and a billion jaded movie experiences later, it’s hard to explain the impact Jaws had on those who first experienced it. As any film fan will tell you, Universal didn’t expect much from the project. The book by Peter Benchley was indeed a bestseller, but it was a terribly tawdry read, more Peyton Place with sharks than a pulse pounding actioner. The director, a certain tenderfooter named Steven Spielberg, was more accustomed to doing TV films. In his naïve, novice way, he thought it would be simple to film the complicated story on the actual waters of the Atlantic Ocean. And then there was the cast - a relative unknown group of struggling stars that had solid credentials, but very little turnstile twisting face value.


All of that changed when the first few moments unfurled. By the time Chrissie was crunched up like so much skinny dipping granola by our unseen aquatic villain, audiences were indeed hooked. But it took a classic line delivered by an equally iconic actor to really sell the situation. Decked out in a season hiding slicker (the Summer film was shot in deepest winter), rugged tan, and lawman like glasses, Police Chief Martin Brody manned the Orca’s chum bucket with a sense of immature consternation. When boat Captain Quint demanded he keep the slurry line going while Oceanographer Matt Hooper manned the engine to go slow ahead, Brody was pissed. “Slow ahead?” the words echoed. “I can go slow ahead. Come down here and chum some of this shit”.


And with those words, viewers got their first major glimpse of 25 foot sea beast Bruce, the great white devil at the center of Jaws’ story. And at that moment, Roy Scheider became an instant member of cinema’s indelible icons. An already mature 42 when he made the proto-blockbuster, the seasoned stage and television actor was better known for his episodic work than his feature films. While he had starred alongside Gene Hackman in The French Connection and proved his tough guy mantle in 1973’s The Seven-Ups, it would be the timeless fish frightmare that cemented Scheider’s status. He never went on to top the popularity of his work in Spielberg’s popcorn perfection, yet his career would remain one of grace, gravitas, and gumption.


Born Roy Richard Scheider on 10 November 1932 in Orange, New Jersey, sports would dominate the future thespians young life. By the time he hit college, he was already the proud owner of a broken nose (the emblematic feature was his only reward after a stint in the Golden Gloves competition) and an adventurous spirit. Studying drama at both Rutgers and Franklin and Marshall, he spent some time in the military before finally foraying into performance. He even won an Obie Award (the off Broadway equivalent of a Tony) for his work in Stephen D, and was part of the New York Shakespeare Festival company. Early film roles, however, found him wallowing in grade-Z schlock (Curse of the Living Corpse) and minor supporting parts (Star! , Paper Lion).


In 1971, he was lucky enough to costar alongside Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland in the controversial award winner Klute. He was so memorable that, from there, William Friedkin hired him to play Det. Buddy Russo in Connection. That turn would earn Scheider his first Academy Award nomination. It would also threaten to typecast him as a tough as nails NYC cop. His role in The Seven-Ups, as Det. Buddy Manucci seemed to stress that possibility. But when he was tapped by Spielberg to play the transplanted New Yorker charged with keeping Amity Island safe from an unusual string of shark attacks, Scheider sensed something was about to change. Though Jaws would be one of the most grueling shoots of his entire career, it raised his professional profile drastically.

Marathon Man followed, the newfound A-lister standing astride acting maverick Dustin Hoffman as the sibling catalyst for all the diamonds and Nazis intrigue. He then turned down the role of Michael Vronsky in Michael Cimono’s Vietnam drama The Deer Hunter, believing the script was illogical and implausible. Robert DeNiro ended up with the part. Reports claim that Universal was so angry about his stance and consternation (he even reneged on his contract) that he was forced to appear in Jaws 2 as punishment. It was not his most memorable work.


There was another film for Friedkin (the Wages of Sin remake Sorcerer), that second dip into dorsal fin territory, before the role that would come to redefine who audiences thought Roy Scheider was literally fell into his lap. When despotic stage director Bob Fosse found newly anointed Academy prima donna Richard Dreyfuss wanting in the role of Joe Gideon, he realized his egomaniacal epic needed a new leading man.  He immediately said “Goodbye” to his star and went looking for a singing/dancing reflection of his onscreen, autobiographical self. Oddly enough, he wound up picking Dreyfuss’ costar, the man who endemically complained about the rotten fish buffet he was forced to serve up.


Scheider was the first to admit that he was the completely wrong choice for 1979’s All That Jazz. While his resemblance to Fosse was frightening, he was practically tone deaf and had a self-described pair of two left feet. Weeks of intense training as well as careful song reconstruction in the studio resulted in one of the stand out tour de forces in the actor’s canon. Jazz would go on to become one of 1979’s most critically acclaimed films, and while the Academy chose to ignore it in favor of the family drama Kramer vs. Kramer (it got to share the loser’s circle with Apocalypse Now - not the worst company to keep), Fosse’s vision has since stood the test of time.


Oddly enough, it appeared as if Jazz jinxed Scheider’s fortunes. While he worked consistently (Blue Thunder, 2010, 52 Pick-up), he never eclipsed his performances from the ‘70s. In fact, by the end of the ‘80s, he was resorting to direct-to-video filler (Night Game) and off the radar independents (he was very good in David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Naked Lunch). He would eventually reteam with Spielberg for a project about a futuristic underwater science vessel (SeaQuest DSV), but the F/X heavy TV drama failed to capture the imagination of audiences. It was back to the ‘Bs’ then, popping up occasionally in minor roles in mainstream movies (The Rainmaker, The Punisher).


Schieder never stopped acting, though. When the news of his passing at age 75 was released this past Sunday 10 February, the Associated Press quoted longtime friend Dreyfuss as follows:


“He was a wonderful guy. He was what I call ‘a knockaround actor’. A ‘knockaround actor’ to me is a compliment that means a professional that lives the life of a professional actor and doesn’t’ yell and scream at the fates and does his job and does it as well as he can.”


He also never shied away from his past. When DVD arrived, allowing actors to offer their often unheard perspective on the films they appeared in, Scheider was there for interviews and commentaries. His insights into the directing styles of now legendary filmmakers (he once called Fosse “a real SOB”) added a great deal to the historical legacy of cinema. He also participated in the 2005 Jawsfest celebration which saw many in the cast and crew return to Martha’s Vineyard (where the film was shot) to share memories and memorabilia with fans. His contributions to the convention (captured by filmmaker Erik Hollander in the Scheider produced The Shark is Still Working) were a major part of its success.


As an actor and an activist (he championed environmental causes), Scheider was never known to back down. Even during times when the freezing waters off the Maine coast threatened to chill everyone to the bone, he jumped in and did his job. Rumor has it that Spielberg needed 75 takes of the sinking Orca to get said all important final shot right - and the angular actor was there for every one. While family and friends will remember a man who was dedicated in all pursuits that struck his fancy, those of us mulling middle age will never forget his turn as Chief Brody. If anyone could make it safe to go back in the water, this well meaning peace officer had the ability. Quint will just have to find someone else to do his dirty work now.


 


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