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Mortdecai and the Critical Backlash Mass


Mortdecai didn’t deserve all the hate thrown at it when it came out. It’s not a great movie, but it wasn’t anywhere as bad as the reviews which told everyone it was the second coming of Hitler, instead of a modern Pink Panther caper that sucked a lot less than the Steve Martin Pink Panthers.

But Mortdecai fell victim to the critical backlash mass.

A successful actor or director becomes known for one gimmick. The gimmick is irritating, but initially it’s also entertaining. Like Johnny Depp doing a wacky character, Robin Williams going for cheap tears instead of laughs or George Lucas making CG Star Wars cartoons. Then the backlash builds with every movie until it blows.

And it blows all over a movie that might not even deserve it. Like the critical backlash mass building against Robin Williams over Patch Adams and exploding over Jakob the Liar. Or Johnny Depp in Mortdecai.

The hate had built up with the fourth Pirates movie that no one outside China wanted. It hissed to a boil with Dark Shadows and The Lone Ranger, both flopped, and then exploded in violent rage with Mortdecai.

Depp’s Charlie Mortdecai is the weakest part of the movie, but also the part that holds the rest of the movie together. The script isn’t great and the movie could have used a bigger and longer climax (one of the few movies these days that you can say that about), but most of the working parts were okay. Visually it looked good. The cast was good, especially Paul Bettany’s Jock. And most of the jokes worked okay if you like them big, goofy and obvious.

But all the parts rubbed up against Depp’s Mortdecai. And Depp wearing wacky outfits and makeup already rubbed too many critics raw. Imagine Mortdecai with Jim Carrey in the lead and it could have been even more annoying, but it wouldn’t have been showered with the same amount of critic rage. They reacted to Depp’s Mortdecai as an extension of every annoying mannered character from Willy Wonka to Sweeney Todd.

Mortdecai needed its own Peter Sellers. An actor who could just dive into the role sincerely, instead of prancing around with a mannered, “Look at me, I’m acting so goofy” air of an unfunny class clown in a high school production of Pirates of Penzance. Maybe Robert Downey Jr. could have done it. But Depp can just do exactly what he’s been doing since that long forgotten good Pirates of the Caribbean movie. It’s all he’s ever going to do now.

But Mortdecai was still fun. It wasn’t a great movie. Or an especially good one. It wasn’t even Hudson Hawk. But it was up there with a decent Moonlighting episode. What happened to it is the difference between viewing movies on their own or as part of a dynamic cultural dialogue. And that’s how critics, and everyone is a critic now, see them.

Mortdecai stopped being its own movie and became an extension of Depp’s other wacky movies and that became an extension of a trend in movies that had to be stamped out.

Depp recovered and went on working. Big actors are hard to take down. And Black Mass was just more of the same. And there’s an unfunny Depp video as Trump and another Pirates of the Caribbean sequel.

It’s the shakiest movies that are easiest to take down. Movies with no built in audience anyway. Like a caper about a wacky British art dealer and thief. Or a movie in which Adam Sandler plays a cobbler who can become other people. The stars go on, but the blowback destroys a smaller fun movie and the careers of smaller, maybe fun people.

Is anyone going to let David Koepp direct again? Would Tom McCarthy’s carer have survived if Spotlight hadn’t been in the can? Critics find a release in lashing out at annoying actors for being annoying, but the actors don’t go away, the people who took a risk and tried to make a different kind of movie and were lucky enough to get a major star to sign on, only to be wrecked by his backlash, who more often go away.

David E. Kelley Killed Robin Williams


David E. Kelley did a lot of horrible things to television, but this was the first time that he killed a man.

Forget Parkinsons, money problems or alcohol. Go rewatch the first episode of The Crazy Ones and you’ll know why Robin Williams slashed his wrists with a penknife and then hung himself.

Even watching an episode of The Crazy Ones is enough to make most people contemplate suicide.

Imagine you’re Robin Williams and your job is to spend a week playing the head of an ad agency whose big ambition in life is to get the fat girl from American Idol to sing about hamburgers.

You signed on to a TV show because you needed the money and now you realize you’re being paid $165,000 to shoot a 23 minute McDonalds ad.

There are no words for how screwed you feel.

Now that Robin Williams is dead, the cast of The Crazy Ones is bitching about him.

His antics infuriated the cast, even though he had been hired to try recreating the madcap spirit of “Mork & Mindy,” on which he often riffed unscripted, the source said.

He also indulged himself by taking his pet pooch, a rescued Pug named Leonard, to work.

“He brought it everywhere with him,” the source said. “When he wasn’t filming a scene, he was holding and petting and fawning over the dog.”

Williams — who last year said he signed on to the series because he wanted “a steady job” to help pay alimony to his two exes — ­often complained that he hated the show’s unedited daily rushes.

He also griped that he “had a bad feeling” about the lack of chemistry on set, while the rest of the cast blasted his constant need for attention, the source said.

He was right. The cast had no chemistry. Everyone except Gellar was so bland and blank they could have come from a modeling gig.

Watching The Crazy Ones was like watching A Night in the Museum except that the statues never came to life. Robin Williams was the only living man.

It’s no wonder he killed himself.

It wasn’t his fault that the miserable David E. Kelley sitcom failed. Robin Williams without a script could have been ten times funnier than David E. Kelley’s miserable project, but he walked away feeling like he couldn’t even make a sitcom work.

David E. Kelley’s hackery killed Robin Williams.

One Hour Photo – Robin Williams Goes Dark

From the moment Sy Parrish (Robin Williams) emerges on screen an aura of the kindly shopkeeper emerges on the screen, the friendly uncle all the children love and the warm persona that has taken Robin Williams through so many family friendly films– but underneath it is layered something else. Something deeply unnerving that is at the heart of the movie. Robin Williams has often traded in the former but far less often in the latter and the man that finally emerges from underneath, the real Sy Parrish is a disturbing mixture of both.

Alternating between creepiness and kindliness, Parrish at once inspires a mix of sympathy, pity, unease and downright revulsion. Sy Parris works behind the counter developing photos at SaveMart, a WallMart type superstore overseen by a ruthless and unfeeling manager, Bill Owens (Gary Cole) who is distinctly uncomfortable with him. Sy Parrish is dedicated to what he sees as his art, the development of photos. The photos are stolen moments, happy narrative passages in the lives of strangers which Sy Parris makes his own by duplicating their photos and lovingly lingering over them.

One Hour Photo on DVD – Horror in Development

What Dreams May Come – Visions of Death, Hollywood and Richard Matheson

Richard Matheson has often been adapted by Hollywood, at least in comparison to other writers of his genre, but the adaptations often take a rather different road than his original work. The late 1990’s saw film adaptations of two of his novels, “Stir of Echoes” and “What Dreams May Come.” While the film version of “Stir of Echoes” was lauded for its skillful and suspenseful storytelling, the film was overshadowed by the similarly themed and far more successful “The Sixth Sense.” The contrast in some ways betrays why Richard Matheson’s novels are so difficult to adapt to film. Hollywood specializes in simple answers to questions. Matheson’s work tends to avoid the simple answers in favor of a recognition of the grayer areas of human existence.

Unlike the adaptation of “Stir of Echoes” which was highly critically praised, the film adaptation of “What Dreams May Come” generally took a critical pounding. Some of it was not the movie’s fault. Robin Williams was just coming off a “Best Supporting Actor” Oscar for “Good Will Hunting”. In the aftermath his movie roles in “What Dreams May Come” and “Patch Adams”, essentially movies blending tragedy with an uplifting message for a feel good moviegoing experience were bound to be reviled. This is not an uncommon experience for Academy Award winners and then destroy expectations and open the door for a certain amount of Schadenfreude by going on to star in mediocre roles and take a beating for it — Halle Berry is one recent example. The situation was compounded by the appearance of Cuba Gooding Jr, another Oscar winner who had already begun a career of capering like a deranged elf through a series of disposable roles that required very little from him except to grin compulsively. Tied together with the movie’s huge budget and heavy reliance on special effects, “What Dreams May Come” made an almost irresistible target for critics and pundits eager to pound away at what they saw as another piece of Hollywood excess in a saccharine wrapper.

Read more here What Dreams May Come – Beyond Death on DVD

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