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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com

Wilmington on Movies: Entourage

 

ENTOURAGE (Two Stars)

U.S.: Doug Ellin, 2015

Entourage-4

I never caught any of TV’s “Entourage” — the hit Hollywood-set comedy-satire about a movie star from Queens and the three hometown buddies who get dragged along (like Elvis’ Memphis Mafia) in the wake of his rise to fame and riches. But it always struck me, from its rep and reviews, as a show I might enjoy, just as the movie that‘s now been inspired by that TV series, struck me as something that might hand me a laugh or two (or even three). Which just goes to show how gullible I can be.

I can’t speak to the show, yet. But I thought the movie — which I understood going in would be politically and sexually “incorrect” — would at least also be sharp and irreverent and “inside” and funny and good-looking, and it turns out to be none or little of the above, and especially not (very) funny and not (especially) good-looking — despite having more breasts than a Perdue Chicken warehouse. And despite being shot (fuzzily) in yachts off Ibiza and all over a lot of storied Hollywood hot spots and landmarks (from Century City to Musso and Frank’s). The movie sometimes seems like a Hollywood tour bus, but without the gabby tour guide — some of whom have funnier jokes.

The original show was based on a real-life entourage: the buddies and bros of genuine movie star Mark Wahlberg. And that gang actually shows up here, along with Wahlberg, in a slightly longer star cameo than the dozens of others (Liam Neeson scowling in a car, Jon Favreau gabbing with pals, Pharrell Williams at a party, Warren Buffet being chauffeured in a studio cart, and Jessica Alba, Mike Tyson, Andrew Dice Clay, Mark Cuban and Kelsey Grammer), who pop up entertainingly, but not quite as gracefully or amusingly as the big star cameos in Robert Altman’s and Michael Tolkin’s genuinely sharp, funny and good-looking backstage Hollywood classic The Player. Wahlberg is one of the producers of both the show and the picture (which, like a smart businessman, he uses to plug Ted) and maybe if he and his crew had been on longer, or if director-writer Doug Ellin had figured a way to weave the two entourages together, the movie might have improved. But no such (fuckin’) luck.

As it is, Ellin — who also wrote the TV show and directed a half dozen or so episodes — has brought back the original entourage: Adrian Grenier as the horny young movie star Vincent Chase, Kevin Dillon as his hornier old brother and B-movie actor Johnny “Drama” Chase, Kevin Connelly as his even hornier best friend and manager Eric “E” Murphy, and Jerry Ferrara as his also pretty damned horny driver and go-fer and aide Salvatore “Turtle” Assante). Ellin has continued the twisted and lasciviously soap-operatic plotlines from where the show left off four years ago.

Also reappearing, from the show’s very dense dramatis personae, are some of the scads of women and sex partners the guys spend a lot of their time knowing or pursuing: including Emmanuelle Chriqui as Eric‘s now pregnant ex-girlfriend Sloan McQuewick, Constance Zimmer as Dana and Debi Mazar as Shauna. And, of course, the guy who reportedly wound up being the real star of the series: Chicago’s own Jeremy Piven as Vince‘s sleazy, smarmy but extremely well-dressed agent Ari Gold, who has now become a sleazy, smarmy but incredibly well-dressed studio CEO. (Perrey Reeves is also back as Mrs. Ari.) There are also some new characters, notably Billy Bob Thornton (best actor in the movie) as Texas gaziggazillionaire Carson McCredle, who is the main investor in Vince‘s latest movie, and Haley Joel Osment as Carson’s horny and also obnoxious son Travis, whom Carson sends to Hollywood to make sure his money is being spent wisely (which is like sending an accounting team of foxes to manage a henhouse). Emily Ratajkowksi plays herself, supposedly Vince‘s latest inamorata.

The new story into which all these characters, and more, and the dozens of cameos, have been shoe-horned, involves the movie in which McCredle has invested and in which Vince is starring and also, on his insistence, directing, and which Ari, despite understandable qualms, gets for him — and on which Vince has already run over budget. It’s a $100 million-and-counting contempo-action-disco-horror movie called “Hyde,” which seems like a sure-fire stinker, but which, bad as it sounds (and, in a few quick clips we see, bad as it seems to be), winds up being…

SPOILER ALERT

“awesome” according to studio head Ari, as well as a critical sensation and a mountainous box office hit.

END OF SPOILER

Having the guys do a cruddy-sounding project like Hyde actually strikes me as a potentially funny idea, but only if Hyde actually were the cruddy-sounding and derivative mess it portends. Yet part of the problem with the movie, as many have noted, is that it’s as much a wish-fulfillment fantasy as it is a dark satire. The movie laughs at these guys, but it’s still always rooting for them to win, jerks as they may be, even at the expense of what might be some funny scenes and seriously funny jokes.

Back in Hollywood’s Golden Age, even hampered by the Production Code, the best comedy writers were often more than ready to take potshots at their own studios. Writers like Billy Wilder, Preston Sturges, or Ben Hecht could cheerfully bite off the hands that fed them, in classics of backstage satire and expose’ like Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, Sturges’ Sullivan‘s Travels and Hecht’s hilarious, neglected Woman of Sin, the last episode of the 1952 Actors and Sin — in which the director-writer’s daughter Jenny played a 9-year-old who becomes a best-selling pirate romance novelist and the script-writing sensation of Hollywood.

That great comedian-scriptwriter W. C. Fields wielded a similar anti-studio scalpel in his late, acidulous classics The Bank Dick and Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, and in more recent times we’ve had The Player, Steve Martin’s Bowfinger, Barry Levinson and David Mamet and Hilary Henkel’s Wag the Dog and the Coen Brothers’ Barton Fink, all of which scathingly and sometimes hilariously sent up new and old Hollywood. These very knowing writers knew when and where to cross the line and either stick in the knife or indulge the audience’s dreams (you might argue that Sturges was even adopting the studio‘s viewpoint in Sullivan‘s Travels) — just as Comden and Green and Kelly and Donen knew it and did it in that greatest of all Hollywood satires, and warmest of all Hollywood valentines, Singin’ in the Rain — which fulfilled as many wishes as it skewered phonies.

Entourage isn’t as sure of itself, and that’s part of why it isn’t as funny. The movie’s comedy would be a lot sharper, if more of it came at the expense of these guys, instead of at the expense of everybody else around them. (That’s less true of Ari and Johnny “Drama,” who are more comic characters than the others are.) It would be funnier if we could laugh more often at the guys‘ ineptitude and dubious moviemaking and their inability to keep their cool in a crisis, if we didn‘t have the feeling that they, and the writer behind them, were bragging about their zooming careers and sexual conquests.

Instead, they’re presented as all-around winners, who get in a lot of crazy, sexy scrapes. The movie becomes a kind of lewd Thank Your Lucky Stars or a sex-crazed It‘s a Great Feeling — and, in those two all-star Warner Bros. ‘40s shows, both Eddie Cantor and Jack Carson were far more willing to seemingly trash themselves and joke about their images for laughs. Entourage has its moments, but a lot of it feels like being swaggered and slobbered over by a boastful drunk whose stories aren’t a tenth as funny as he thinks. It’s as if the Entourage crew got to do a 100 million dollar remake of “Springtime for Hitler,” and this time, they got not only got the same implausible box office smash that original producers Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom managed back in 1968, but they also won the Pulitzer Prize, 17 Oscars (including sound editing), plus the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, and then married (and cheated on) every hottie this side of the Hollywood sign. And topped it off with cocktails at Michael’s and a yacht race to Ibiza. I’m just kidding of course.

 

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Wilmington

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin