Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Bradley Cooper Effect: The First Ten Years

A recent temping assignment ended two weeks early, so I decided to do some fall cleaning at home and discovered pages I clipped a decade ago from Rolling Stone's 2005 "Hot List" issue. Bradley Cooper was spotlighted because Wedding Crashers, in which he played the villain, was the biggest comedy of that summer, and his new sitcom, Kitchen Confidential, was about to debut on Fox. 

Here's how writer Noelle Hancock described his character on the series: "Bradley Cooper, 30, plays Jack Bourdain, a reformed bad-boy chef hired to helm a swank Manhattan restaurant." And here's the caption that was placed next to his photo: "Cooper is poised for stardom with Kitchen Confidential." Well, he was poised for stardom—eventually—but Fox canceled the show after only four episodes (nine more were produced but never aired; they can be found on a DVD set that collects all 13 episodes). However, with three Oscar nominations under his belt in the past three years, including one for Best Actor for American Sniper, the highest-grossing movie of 2014, Kitchen Confidential is probably a distant memory for Cooper.

The thing is, though, he's apparently playing Jack Bourdain all over again in the new movie Burnt, which opened Friday. "A bad boy chef resurrecting himself as a Michelin-star chef in London" is how's Anthony D'Alessandro synopsizes the protagonist, Adam Jones, in an article about the film's underwhelming opening-weekend performance at the box office. Maybe if Cooper can convince his Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle director, David O. Russell, or American Sniper's Clint Eastwood to direct him as a bad-boy chef, the third time will be the charm.

In another parallel, I found a 2009 blog post of Noelle Hancock's in which she discusses her time spent with Cooper for the Rolling Stone piece (it covers roughly half a page in the magazine, yet she got flown out to L.A. for it—I doubt Jan Wenner would cover that kind of expense these days, as ad sales continue to shrink for print publications, but what do I know?). After a flirty lunch interview, Hancock let her imagination run wild. "I spent the next two weeks fantasizing about what our life together was going to be like," she wrote. "I couldn't believe I was about to be dating a celebrity. The paparazzi, I knew, would be annoying. They'd follow us down the street, photographing us shopping together and brunching. I figured I'd let them get a few shots in before taking charge. 'Okay guys, that's enough for today,' I'd say. 'Let's shut it down. Thanks!' Our wedding would be featured in InStyle magazine. They'd follow Bradley and me to the playground to photograph us pushing our herd of Aryan-looking babies on the swings. But we'd get through it – together."

Hancock then recounts the next time she saw Cooper, two weeks later at the Kitchen Confidential launch party in New York, where he didn't recognize her until she reminded him about the interview in L.A. So many lunchtime Q&As, so little time to remember everyone you've charmed ...

(For what it's worth, am I the only one who thought Cooper's character in Wedding Crashers was way too much of a jerk for Rachel McAdams to even consider tying the knot with him? She ends up with Owen Wilson at the end of the movie, of course—yeah yeah, spoiler alert, whatever—which is why I found it interesting that in Midnight in Paris, released six years after Wedding Crashers, Owen Wilson's protagonist is engaged to Rachel McAdams, who's way too much of a jerk for him to even consider tying the knot with her. Full circle?)

Last night Saturday Night Live reran its October 10 episode, in which host Amy Schumer devoted part of her monologue to talking about hanging with Mr. Cooper at a celebrity event for half an hour and then wondering, "Am I dating Bradley Cooper? Like, I don't know how Hollywood works, but I'm pretty sure that I'm dating Bradley Cooper. And I changed my Facebook status. Well, I'm like, it's not complicated—I'm engaged to Bradley Cooper."

Ms. Hancock, you're obviously not alone.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The future is now. Seriously, right this minute.

In addition to forecasting that the Chicago Cubs would win the World Series this October, Back to the Future Part II, released in 1989, predicted a "Jaws 19" in 2015. That one seemed like a much more obvious joke 26 years ago, especially after the fourth Jaws bombed in '87, but Universal, the studio that distributed the three Back to the Future and four Jaws movies, had one of the biggest hits of this year with Furious 7, the latest installment in a franchise that appeared to be running on empty after its third film, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, performed poorly at the box office in 2006.

(Much like the fictional "Jaws 19," the Fast and/or Furious series has been refreshingly honest about its age in recent years, especially since other series tend to drop the numbers from their movies' titles after the third installment. For example, compare Fast Five, Fast & Furious 6, and Furious 7 to the fourth and fifth entries in the Mission: Impossible series, Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol and last summer's Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation.)

Now Universal's planning to make three more (and a fourth Riddick movie, presumably to keep Vin Diesel, the star of both franchises, happy). I predict that the inevitable series "reboot" will go into development the day after "Fast + Furious X" leaves theaters.

Now where my food hydrator at, Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis?

Friday, July 17, 2015

Paul Kos

Part of my freelance work for PBS LearningMedia since last October has involved kicking the tires, so to speak, of its online videos to ensure that picture and sound are synced properly, the two-sentence descriptions of the videos don't contain any typos, and so on.

One video I enjoyed watching centers on conceptual artist Paul Kos, who talks about how an artist has to be "in shape" to be creative:

"An artist goes in and out of shape, and by that I mean very similar to being an athlete: When an athlete's in shape, every movement that they do comes intuitively. And in art when you're in shape, ideas are coming faster than you have time to make them. Being in shape is really being able to see accidents; accidents are much more interesting than that which we can contrive while sitting at a desk. But if you're not in shape you don't even see it happening. And when you are, there are accidents all around, probably, every day that are wonderful to take advantage of."

Later in the video we see Kos playing la p├ętanque with a few other men:

"I find [it] really interesting as a metaphor for art for the following reason: There's a little wooden ball, and that's the target. When you make a piece, if you're too conservative you're copying your older work—it's short, it's on this side of being avant-garde. If you go too far culture can't see it, perhaps it's too personal, and it's way out there—you miss it. But there's no excuse not to make one in three fairly good art pieces. The third one should be somewhere in between, and with the right finesse it'll be right on and you hit the target."

Monday, July 6, 2015

a loose definition of "library"

Every day I receive e-mails from websites such as Beyond and Glassdoor that contain job listings. Here are some of the recent listings I've been sent because I initially typed in the keyword "library":

Floor Supervisor, Shoe Carnival (Bloomingdale, IL)

Cocktailers, Food Runners & Dishwashers, Harry Caray's Restaurant Group (Lombard, IL)

Piano Teacher, (La Grange Park, IL)

photo credit: Andy Martinez
Blaster Explosives Handler—Deploy to Antarctica!, PAE Antarctica Contract (Chicago, IL)

Cabinet Sales, Resume Library (Chicago, IL)

Technical Scrum Master, Forbes Technical Consulting (Chicago, IL)

Aww, can't I be a technical scrum master in Antarctica? Everything in life is a trade-off.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

"Highways & Sundowns"

If Hollywood ever attempts a Love & Mercy-style biopic of Gordon Lightfoot's life and career, may I suggest Chris Pratt for the singer's younger years and Bryan Cranston for the later ones?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

To be morally deep, or not to be?

In Last Action Hero, which debuted to disappointing box-office numbers 22 years ago this week, Arnold Schwarzenegger's teenage sidekick, Danny Madigan (Austin O'Brien), points a gun at the movie-within-a-movie's bad guys in at least two scenes.

Because school shootings were rare in 1993, that wasn't as big a deal as it would've been just a few years later, even after the ultraviolent preteen villainy on display in RoboCop 2 (1990)—Danny was at least taking up arms against villainy—but as Anthony Linehan points out on his blog Movie Tie-In Toys, the hand accessory for Mattel's Danny Madigan action figure was a grappling hook, which "hasn't any basis in the movie itself!"

Hook Launchin' Danny was presumably created to placate parents who wouldn't have been thrilled with Heat Packin' Danny, but it was also a form of wishful thinking: audiences never got hooked on Last Action Hero, especially when compared to Jurassic Park, considered its main competition for the summer movie season before anyone had seen either movie. By the end of the year, Jurassic's $357 million gross in North American theaters had cast a T. Rex-sized shadow over Hero's $50 million gross.

(Even two decades removed from its overhyped debut, Last Action Hero doesn't work as an action movie, a fantasy, or a comedy, but it did have potential. Its best line, in my opinion, is spoken by Schwarzenegger's character when he meets the "real" Arnold at the premiere of "Jack Slater IV," their franchise's latest sequel: "You've brought me nothing but pain." Now, there's a starting point for a great meta-movie.)

Incidentally, in an essay on morality in fiction in the winter 2015 edition of Pleiades, Phong Nguyen, the literary journal's editor, states:

I ask my writing students, "What's the difference between Hamlet the Prince of Denmark and an action hero?" Like any good revenge story, the hero gets his man in the last act, at the cost of his own life. But in the meantime, rather than battling the king's goons (though he does accidentally kill poor Polonius), the Great Dane is waging an internal struggle with his conscience. What does it mean to kill a man? What does it mean to die? When the ghost of your dead father comes to you in the night and says, "avenge me," your mission should be obvious. No further thought is required. Vin Diesel or Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson would simply ride in on a motorcycle armed with two pistols or a medieval axe and stylishly polish off Claudius with a cinematic flourish. They may even be right to do so. But they are not afflicted with doubt, or thought, so what we've witnessed is actually mere moral catharsis, the opposite of moral depth.

True, but could moral depth ever produce as memorable a twist on Hamlet's famous "To be, or not to be" soliloquy as the one that's followed by a huge, Elsinore-demolishing explosion in Last Action Hero? Doubtful.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Frank and Nicky and Rudy and Hillary

In 2000 Mark Jacobson interviewed '70s heroin kingpin Frank Lucas for New York magazine. The resulting article became the basis of the Denzel Washington movie American Gangster, and on the eve of its release in the fall of 2007, Jacobson, once again writing for New York, moderated a conversation between Lucas and former rival Nicky Barnes. Here's an excerpt:

from left, Nicky Barnes (photo credit: Tyrone Dukes,
The New York Times/Redux) and Frank Lucas
(PR Newsfoto/BET Networks/Newscom)
MJ: Rudy Giuliani chased both you guys when he was D.A. What do you think about him running for president?

NB: Giuliani would make a good president because he's a principled guy.

FL: When Giuliani tells you something, he means it. But I don't think we're ready for an Italian president. I don't think we're ready for a black president. I don't think we're ready for a woman president, but I tell you right now: I think Hillary Clinton will win this thing hands down.

NB: Hillary will be the next president.

FL: No question about it.

The lesson: Stay in school. Don't do drugs. Don't deal drugs either, but the most successful dealers are usually the ones who don't mess with their own product, so when you look at it that way— SHUT UP, SOCRATIC METHOD, WHICH PEOPLE LEARN BY STAYING IN SCHOOL.

Look, just don't do drugs, okay, kids?