Sometimes I wish I were Pete Hammond of Maxim magazine. Well, not really. But gushing over everything has served PH splendidly. When you open your newspaper or watch TV, in the ads, Hammond is hysterically positive about six or seven movies. Anything that is going to open.
Hammond is the hemorrhoidal reviewer. His only purpose is to put fannies in the seats for the studios in the opening week.
If a movie is mediocre or less, Hammond is quoted in every crude, bombastic ad. The man has never seen a movie he won't flack for. The public isn't aware that he is a supercilious adjunct to the industry. They just buy his ad agency blather. The mindless meet the mindless.
Recently I could have used some of Hammond's venial -- or is it venal? -- aptitude. I had a critical dilemma that Hammond would never have.
A few weeks ago I spent an hour with director Robert Benton in Los Angeles. Benton was promoting his latest film, Feast of Love.
Benton has had a wonderful career, highlighted by his Oscar for directing Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), which won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Benton is an actors' director, getting memorable performances from such stellar actors as Meryl Streep, Sally Field, Dustin Hoffman, et al. One of Paul Newman's best performances is in Benton's Nobody's Fool (1994).
Benton and I really hit it off. The interview was fun for both of us. But there is a pothole on the best of highways. Partway through our interview, Benton asked me to turn off my tape recorder. Ah, oh. Then he asked me what I really thought about Feast of Love. Where was Pete Hammond when I needed him?
I was a critic caught in the headlights. But I didn't blink.
If I had the Hammond gene, I could have said, "It has the power of Kramer vs. Kramer." It doesn't. Or I could have said, "Morgan Freeman and Greg Kinnear are masterful (sic)." They aren't. Or I could have said, "It's a love feast." It isn't.
I know truth is overrated. But if you don't have money, fame, power or Maxim magazine, truth may be all you have.
How do you tell someone his baby is ugly? You don't. Even I, who's lacking in social graces, knows that. But, he asked.
I didn't say his baby was ugly. I just said it was cinematically challenged. Fortunately Benton is an artist, so one's contrary "truth" doesn't baffle him. He actually seemed grateful for my insight. That man really knows acting.
For quite a while Benton has loved the novel The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter. Unfortunately, although he usually writes or co-scripts his movies, Benton came into the project after the script by Allison Burnett was done.
It is a mediocre script, which only a Hammond could love. Burnett does away with all the edges of Baxter's novel. Burnett completely failed in his adaptation.
There is no way director Benton could have saved Burnett's script, except to start over. The screenplay was Benton's dead albatross. Can one make a good movie out of a bad script? I don't see how. Benton's task was to try to restore some of Baxter's original sensibility. But that task proved to be an unenviable, perhaps impossible, task.
Feast of Love is a multi-layered -- layers of baloney -- tale of pursuit of love. Bradley's (Greg Kinnear) wife leave him for a lesbian relationship. Then he turns to another woman, who leaves him for another man. At least it's equal cuckolding.
Meanwhile Harry (Morgan Freeman) sits around, like a serial voyeur, idly commenting on life. In the book Harry is a Jewish professor of philosophy. In the movie he's an African-American professor of English. From personal experience, I know how logy English profs can be. It's not a happy change.
Even less happy is that the movie moves the setting from Ann Arbor, Mich., to Portland, Ore. This means the big football game in Feast of Love is changed from Michigan versus Ohio State to the Portland State Vikings versus who-knows-who.
All the movie's changes are sappy.
There are some moments of good acting. Benton loves the talent and creativity of Radha Mitchell, who plays Bradley's second squeeze, Diana. Benton admires her ability to create meaningful gestures. Meaningful dialogue also might have helped.
Morgan Freeman, who does some narration, shows that despite his honeyed-mellifluous voice, he can't elevate Burnett's sour verbiage. Banalities remain banalities, no matter who is speaking them.
I've got it! I've enthusiastically got a tagline for Feast of Love -- "Feast of Love is a movie for bulimics. It may make you throw up!"
Eat your heart out, Hack Hammond.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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