The Movie Club

The Movie Club: Taylor Lautner Still Can’t Act
Critic vs. critic.
Jan. 6 2012 2:58 PM

The Movie Club

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Are we drawn to the kinds of movies we watched at an impressionable age?

John Huston and Jack Nicholson in Chinatown.
Growing up in the era of Chinatown set certain expectations

© 1974 Paramount

Stephanie, Dana, Dan:

Stephanie, your love for the ook in the latest Twilight may have something to do with the flagrant lack of ook, and bodily fluids of all kinds, in the films leading up to Breaking Dawn.

I’ve grown increasingly restless with the Twilight franchise, which up until now has practically frustrated the audience into having intercourse on behalf of the characters. I know waiting makes it all the sweeter, but … And I know he’s the easiest target imaginable, but the more Taylor Lautner has to act, the less he seems to be able to. You’d think his salary by now would’ve given him some confidence on camera. He comports himself like a placeholder for the actor they have yet to locate.

I get the appeal of Twilight, and I certainly appreciated Bill Condon’s dizzying birthing sequence—the only real filmmaking we’ve gotten in the series so far. And good for the producers for hiring him to land these last two movies. But it’s not for me. Literally. It wasn’t made for me. But neither was the Harry Potter franchise, which has held its head and its standards high right through to the end. I’ll take surprises and a sense of craft wherever and however I can find them.

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My friend Eric Lindbom wrote with me at the Minnesota Daily once upon a time, in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and while we don’t agree on all sorts of things, we do agree on the eerie, almost apocalyptic unfunniness of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. More important, his feelings about the movies on which he was weaned in the ’70s are also much like my own, and I’ve been wrestling lately with how so much in our wiring as film lovers is completely out of our control owing to timing and luck and the dominant strains in the culture.

Here’s what Eric wrote me a while back: “People are naturally drawn to the movies they saw at impressionable ages, whether it’s old Westerns, John Hughes movies, dumb-ass SNL knockoffs. Well, when I was a young teenager I was seeing (because they were the movies that were showing) The French Connection, Deliverance, The Godfathers, Chinatown, Dog Day Afternoon, Taxi Driver, etc. etc. I suppose I grew to love any movie with an ambiguous or downbeat ending that scuttled audience expectations. I didn’t realize at the time that this was a golden era for American movies.” Slowly coming into our own as writers in the ensuing decade meant considerable reorientation and diminishment of expectations.

I loved a lot of the popular successes that came at the beginning of the blockbuster era : The Black Stallion, for example, and Tootsie. Nothing but commercial, and nothing but wonderful. At the time, the first Alien was dismissed by some as a grim, purely mechanical exercise. Now it looks like Nuri Bilge Ceylan in comparison to something like the Transformers series, which to an entire generation is the symbol of contemporary screen science fiction.

I liked Ghost Town, too, Stephanie, for the record. Really liked it, in fact. But I fear Ricky Gervais is not likeable enough in his dislikeability for mainstream romantic comedy.

Michael

Michael Phillips is a film critic for the Chicago Tribune.

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