As a very wise poet once said, “Nothing lasts forever . . . even cold November rain.” Among the many things that, it follows, does not last forever is taste for a particular movie. Occasionally, the movie in question becomes dated; some unforeseen historical event comes along and renders movies about pirate radio, the Cold War, or the World Trade Center obsolete. Even then, some of those movies can continue to be cool—The Hunt For Red October, to name one, is a classic that the absence of extant Soviets will never tarnish—as history isn't that particular movie's fault. But worse than that is the case of a movie with no such aging issues that becomes unwatchable due to one of the actors in it subsequently totally fucking it up.
Yes, I bring this up because of Charlie Sheen. I feel like a chump getting sucked into the pop culture vortex like this and writing more about the fuckin guy, but in light of this half-assedly charitable “ain't my fuckin problem” post and the fact that I had to shitcan a post about how awesome Major League is that I'd wanted to do for months because of his fuckin bullshit making it impossible for me to re-watch it in peace, I have to bitch a little bit. I really fucking like Major League. I had a good time with the Hot Shots movies before I grew up (the Hot Shots movies, interestingly, were fucked over twice, second by Charlie's unmasking as a raging penishead, but first by George W. Bush going all Nice Guy Eddie—e.g. “Stop pointing that fucking gun at my dad!”—on Saddam Hussein, thus making Saddam jokes that aren't in the South Park movie a bit unfunny). All his classic old 80s things like Wall Street and Platoon and his previously awesome cameo at the end of Ferris Bueller's Day Off . . . forever tainted by the fact that when, to use the last as an example, Jennifer Grey asks him, “What are you in for?” the first thing that's going to pop into your head is some shit like, “Duh. Winning.” And that fucking sucks, because I used to enjoy that scene. And, not gonna lie, I used to enjoy that Sheen. But, alas, all becomes dust at some point.
There are a number of other movies with which I've had the same thing happen. Let's call this the “turd in the punchbowl” theory. And, since Captain Obvious is driving this spaceship, let's start with a real non-obscure one:
Punchbowl: The Naked Gun
Turd: O.J. Simpson
You can toss the sequels in for good measure, but the first one's the only one I really miss. It came out at kind of a perfect time. I was 9 or 10, still young enough to giggle properly at a good dick/tit/fart joke (actually, scratch that, I still am at 32), but just old enough that I knew who everyone was in the opening scene where Leslie Nielsen simultaneously arrests every geopolitical shithead (Gorbachev counts, I won't believe that's a birthmark until you show me the birth certificate. ZING! MOVIES BY BOWES ™ GETS TOPICAL!) of the time.
I was also old enough to know who O.J. Simpson was. I didn't become a football fan until some years later, but O.J.'s stature was such that I knew exactly who he was. I knew it was a really fucking big deal when Eric Dickerson broke his single-season rushing record, and I knew that Dickerson was Roger Maris to O.J.'s Babe Ruth (Ed. Note: non-sports fans, take the author's word for it, that analogy is fucking gold). And like Babe Ruth, O.J. was a beloved figure, starring in TV ads for years after retiring just like Babe would have done if his bad timing having ass hadn't died before TV took off. So when O.J. showed up in The Naked Gun as a character named Nordberg, a) it was funny because his name was Nordberg, and b) “Hey, it's O.J.!” When he showed up, you smiled. That was just how it was done.
But all that changed in June 1994. First O.J.'s ex-wife and her new boyfriend were found dead. Then everything on the TV started pointing to O.J. having done it. Then he flipped the fuggout and produced an impromptu remake of the Charlie Sheen picture The Chase (coincidence? Fuck that shit, just wait til I tie the Trilateral Commission into this shit right here) that concluded with him getting arrested, lawyering up like a motherfucker (seriously, he hired every single high-profile defense lawyer in the United States except Bruce Cutler; that shit was like the Traveling Wilburys in Brooks Brothers), and dominating every single headline in the known universe for the next year and a half.
By the end of all that, even if he was innocent he never could have played Nordberg again. There's a reason, over 15 years later, anyone of news-watching age you mention it to goes “Jesus Christ . . .” That's because that shit was ridonkulous. It completely changed everyone's perception of O.J. forever. But, check this shit out: before any of that shit even came to light, I'd already had Nordberg ruined for me. THAT'S RIGHT, SPORTS FANS! Ahead of the curve yet fucking again!
What happened, you ask? Quite simple. I was watching one or the other of Naked Gun 2 or 3 (I don't even think I knew at the time) with my mom, in the middle of which the following exchange happened:
Mom: Holy fucking shit, O.J. is coked out of his mind.
Me: Yeah, he . . . wow, he really is.
Mom: What the fuck is he doing?
It kind of weirded us both out to see him that strung out. And he was blatantly strung out. Who knows what would have happened if the whole murder/trial thing hadn't happened, but I do know that it had been a while since I'd watched any of the Naked Gun movies when everything went bugfuck. And it was years more until I could watch any of them again, and even then only the first one that O.J. wasn't in quite so much, and even then I winced like hell during his scenes.
Punchbowl: Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Turd: Jeffrey Jones
This isn't nearly as bad (in the sense of it ruining the movie, it actually is pretty fucking bad), as he was playing the villain anyway, but it lends a weird edge to the movie that it really doesn't need. And, as if it wasn't already bad enough that Charlie Sheen fucked up that one previously awesome scene at the end with Jennifer Grey, Jeffrey Jones had to go and fuck the whole rest of the movie up, practically. How'd he do so? Well, turns out ol' double-J's a pedophile.
In 2003, he was arrested trying to take sexually explicit photographs of a 14 year old, and the cops found a bunch of other CP. He pled down to probation and counseling, and had to register as a sex offender, and then got busted again a few years later for forgetting to re-register. And, if you'll notice, he hasn't been in a whole lot of movies since then.
Why Ferris Bueller's Day Off? Well, look at the way he's on Ferris' ass for the whole movie. His obsession with Ferris seems a bit out of proportion to Ferris' actual “crimes.” Ferris is a bit of a douche, but in a reasonably benign way; he doesn't mean any harm, he just values his own pleasure more than he does his ostensible obligation to obey society's rules. And, because he does what he wants when he wants to, it would stand to reason that an authority figure, say Jeffrey Jones' Edward R. Rooney, might subsequently have a gray hair or two. Furthermore, in a “kids good/grownups bad” 80s movie, you need a villain who's so old he might even be, like, thirty, so having him be a tightass is totally in bounds. Even having him flip his shit and start chasing Ferris all over Chicago, hey, it's a comedy, shit needs to be a little heightened.
But . . . if Edward R. Rooney secretly wants to chloroform Ferris and fuck him in the ass . . . then it ain't really a comedy no more, even if Ferris is a senior. It's fuckin creepy as fuck is what it is. And when you're not laughing at Ferris Bueller's Day Off, it suddenly turns into this picture about this entitled little fuckhead who shanghais his friends into a frantic series of activities that they don't even have time to enjoy—like seriously, how long were they at Wrigley for, a fucking inning?—culminating with the destruction of a priceless work of art. Yeah, that's right, I'm on Cameron's dad's side in re: the '61 Ferrari. Nut up and talk to the old boy, Cam. You and Ferris both should get a foot in your ass for that one. Just, ya know, not Jeffrey Jones'. Because that would be creepy.
Note that, class issues and Cameron being a giant pussy aside, I used to thoroughly enjoy this movie, and I saw it a million times before '03. First time after that, though, I turned into fucking David Denby. My sense of humor is just the same as it ever was, and I'll cut a well-made movie a lot of slack for being politically questionable because, for better or worse, I'm a movie lover before I'm political. The only thing that had changed was Jeffrey Jones.
Punchbowl: The Beaver
Turd: Mel Gibson
Sure, this hasn't even come out yet: “Why the fuck are you being so prejudiced, Bowes? Aren't you the one always harping on your fucking Socratic Buddhist insistence on going in with an open mind?” You're goddamn right I am. But this is a very special case. Let's look at this picture:
(1) It's called The Beaver—lends itself to stupid jokes, but get-past-able.
(2) It's directed by Jodie Foster—lends itself to more “beaver” jokes, but seriously, grow the fuck up.
(3) It's about a middle-aged maybe sorta kinda evil white guy in a suit who can't deal with his life so he talks to people through a hand puppet—okay, this is getting a little stupid, but not irreversibly so. If you put David Straithairn or Richard Jenkins or James Cromwell or James Rebhorn or somebody who fucking rules like those guys in this part it totally works because those guys fucking rule, and if Jodie directs it like one of those Tom McCarthy pictures like The Station Agent where you're like, “I like this movie? How the fuck did that happen, this is the most whimsical-sounding fucking thing ever” it'd be salvageable. I mean, it was one of the legendary unproduced screenplays before Jodie bought it, after all.
Yes, that's a lot of “if”s. The point is, there are variables in this equation that, if given certain values, would result in a good movie. Maybe not the kind of thing you can convince me to see instead of Fast Five—oh, and trust me, I'm doing a post on those movies that will open your fucking Damascus-bound eyes—but something that could, potentially, in this universe, be good.
Add Mel, and the whole shithouse goes up in flames. I saw the trailer last weekend in front of Source Code (which was good, by the way) and I was stunned at how awful the picture looked. And the awfulness all has to do with my complete inability to see Mel as anything other than the guy who says indelicate things about blacks, Jews, and women when hammered and is so Catholic Catholics look at him and go “holy fuck, son, you are fucking old school.” He's doing this terrifyingly perfect Michael Caine impression that was seriously so good I'm wondering whether Michael Caine didn't ADR the shit uncredited because Mel couldn't stop saying the n-word. And, there's all this stuff that would work, like I said, if you had one of those Straithairn/Jenkins/Cromwell/Rebhorn guys. But then there's Mel.
Weirdly, I can watch old Mel movies no problem. I just watched Lethal Weapon 2 again recently and it ruled ass just like it always did. Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome too. Same thing, I'm sure, next time I watch Payback, which I do every few months because Payback is the most underrated crime pictures ever and Mel owns in it, I don't care how racist he is. In fact, this is a wrinkle in this theory: Mel being a case where a guy can own sufficiently that his indiscretions—and don't think I'm blowing off his racism, anti-Semitism, and misogyny, Mel fucked up, and he is at best a deeply troubled person and at worst a fucking asshole—don't affect perception of his past performances. They do, however, cast a pall over the future.
I'm still going to see The Beaver, but I'm going to be fucking drunk, and I may get kicked out of the theater. More on this as it develops.
Finally, The People vs. Larry Flynt. And Courtney Love.
I know this post seems like I'm going after low-hanging fruit, but this movie, in 1996, was right up near the top of my best of the decade list to that point. It's the best performance of Woody Harrelson's career; he manages to be a total asshole yet come off as vaguely—if cynically—heroic (this is independent of the real Larry Flynt creeping me the fuck out). Milos Forman does one of those good Sidney Lumet “get a good script and stay the hell out of its way” directing jobs, but with a couple more flourishes. Edward Norton showed he was more than just the kid from Primal Fear, which is important because he went on to be quite awesome in several things that I'm very glad exist.
But, you'll recall, one of the big things everyone was on about when TPVLF was out was Courtney Love's performance as Larry Flynt's wife. As good as she was—and despite what all the cynics were saying like “well she's just running around naked and then getting strung out and dying, that's not acting,” fuck that shit, she did a good job—the degree to which her performance was considered a revelation depended entirely on how convinced one was that she'd legitimately “cleaned up her act” in real life.
Courtney Love's life story is both crazy and largely apocryphal, but suffice to say, whichever wild-ass stories you choose to believe, she had extensive experience with drugs, and was both married to a major rock star and later one herself upon the release of her band Hole's Live Through This. Her public persona, a seemingly out-of-control train wreck, was an act at times and an uncomfortable reality at others. The lasting impressions of her, up until 1996 or so, were of smudged makeup, torn stockings, bruises, uncontrolled emotional outbursts, incoherent speech, behavioral non sequiturs.
I was a pretty big fan of hers. I had a t-shirt with her photograph on it that I wore until it fell apart. The last great MTV period of my teenage years was when “Doll Parts” was on all the time, and I would sing along. Especially the line “I fake it so real I am beyond fake.” Shut up, I was 16.
That line says a lot about what started souring me on her, though. When she “cleaned up her act” while promoting The People Vs. Larry Flynt everyone was talking about how she'd made so much of herself, and that all that loud, abrasive, indelicate, unladylike shit was behind her. But that was what I'd liked about her. As much ambition and media savvy went into the creation of herself as a celebrity, there was always a vulnerability and a sense that even if part of her star persona was a pose, there was something real at the core.
I didn't get mad at her for “selling out,” that quaint old notion 90s indie people had that joining the system a priori meant surrendering everything meaningful in one's work. First of all, Hole was already on Geffen, that Rubicon had been crossed, that die was cast. Even at the time she was reinventing herself as a more conventional Hollywood celebrity, I was like, “okay, this is a new chapter in Courtney, didn't see this one coming, but okay, good for her.” It seemed as though she was doing it of her own volition, and like any good progressive, I support a woman's right to choose.
It was afterward, when she didn't get an Oscar nomination, and semi-dropped the “respectable” persona, that I started going “wait what the fuck.” First of all, her music got fucking terrible (leading to a lot of nasty rumors that Kurt Cobain had written all the songs on Live Through This, because it was good, she was married to him, and we all know chicks can't write good pop music blah blah blah) and she was never in another good movie. She, on the other hand, continued to act as though she was a massive star, and gradually the disheveled, incoherent, “on drugs” Courtney came back out, though in this new context it seemed less rebellious and more as though she was clinging to a moment that had passed. And that's sad.
I haven't tried watching The People vs. Larry Flynt in a really long time, and in fairness, it's not just Courtney. Larry Flynt only seems impressive in the movie because it's a well-made movie, he was more out for himself than he was any noble 1st amendment shit, and Hustler's fucking lame. The larger part of it, though, is watching Courtney in it desperately trying to be someone else but still being trapped in the same old fucked-up part. Maybe it's the movie itself that briefly only seemed profound until you thought about it for a second. Even if it was still good, I wouldn't be able to tell, though.
Anyway, I'm sure there are others. I guess there's a point somewhere about not confusing the artist and the art and about how I should take that to heart. Bizarrely, this never happens to me with Woody Allen. It barely fazes me with Roman Polanski. Hell, I could even compartmentalize about Ronnie Reagan; Bedtime for Bonzo was fun. You never can tell who's going to come along and fuck up for you. The only thing that's certain in life is, well, you get the idea . . .