The Super Bowl halftime show committee continued the trend of picking old fogeys for the musical performance at this year’s game (perhaps a continued trend of conservatism after Janet Jackson destroyed America’s youth by baring forbidden anatomy nearly a decade ago). This year, we got The Who — a fine choice of epic rock classicism, had they not appeared to have been held together with anything more than spit, polish and sealing wax. When Tom Petty played, we tolerated his 30-year old take on “American Girl,” and even seemed surprised when he scratched the bottom of his high notes on “Free Fallin’,” but hearing Roger Daltrey chicken squawk an attempt at “Baba O’ Riley” was only offset by the fact that the audience singing along at home and in the stadium actually aided in masking the pitch-rape occurring on screen. No forgiveness for that, old-timer. You killed your own anthem. Contemporary artists aren’t always a bad choice, as the relatively worthless No Doubt still managed to coax out a decent performance in recent memory (although getting some help from Sting on “Message in a Bottle” might have also masked their awfulness a little), and old-school bands still have the potential to be compelling. Remember U2’s wall of names from 2002? Why can’t an epic, historic performance be the standard for the halftime show of America’s game?
Speaking of TV being taken over by sports, how nice that we all have to wait three whole freakin’ weeks to see what happens between Liz Lemon and James Franco’s 30 Rock version of himself; what happens between April and Andy on Parks and Recreation; whether the love quadrangle will forever keep Chuck and Sarah apart (and if the cold, hard, spy life is corrupting our titular hero) on Chuck; how Sabre will reorganize our beloved Dunder Mifflin way of life on The OfficeCommunity … all so we can watch some Canadians use toilet bowl cleaners to broom furiously at ice in hopes of coaxing a shuffleboard puck into a big green bulls-eye.
Along with the moratorium on television shows, we are conveniently moored in the morass, the grime of the cinematic ghetto gutter known commonly as February, the crevice between Oscar nominations and the award ceremony itself that serves as a nadir of effort and creativity from filmmakers as we all trudge onward, awaiting the sunshine and summer blockbusters, cursing every time we see that sadistic Iron Man 2 trailer.
While on the topic of nadirs of effort, let’s discuss how Martin Scorsese took 3 1/2 years after The Departed to return to Cape Fear territory and give us all a psychological horror film: Shutter Island. We got his take on Solyaris mixed with House on Haunted Hill. As Cape Fear showed us, Scorsese is competent at Hitchcock-esque thrillers, etc., but his forte is clearly with American gangster films. I guess he didn’t slouch in the effort department, seeing as how the film is exquisitely shot and sufficiently creepy, but it’s not the guy’s best work by a Brooklyn mile. Thanks for the three-year wait, Marty.
Scorsese’s longtime collaborator (before he found Shutter Island’s Leonardo DiCaprio, his ’00s icon) used to be Robert De Niro. The American acting icon made his name and his bread and butter off Scorsese films from Mean Streets to Taxi Driver to Raging Bull, Goodfellas, the aforementioned Cape Fear and the criminally (ha-ha) underrated Casino. For no particular reason, let’s salvage February by watching Robert De Niro films. I recently rediscovered Midnight Run and Wag the Dog.
Midnight Run is a 1988 action comedy featuring Mr. “You Tawalking-To-Me?” himself and Charles Grodin, better known as the dad from Beethoven. Yes, an action comedy with buddy-dynamic, De Niro playing a bounty hunter and Grodin his bounty, with Dennis Farina as a mob boss (surprise surprise) and Joe Pantogliano as the miserly bail bondsman setting the goofball-screwball plot into motion. It’s funny for a lot of the reasons Beverly Hills Cop was funny: street-smart types pulling fast ones (whatever that means) over bad guys and cops alike. Bit of trivia? Martin Brest was the same director for both ’80s flicks. He later went on to get a Best Director Oscar nomination for directing Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman, a great flick about a profane-yet-charming blind Army colonel and the boy who loved him. Brest then went even more gutsy and filmed Meet Joe Black, with Brad Pitt playing a peanut-butter-fetishist take on The Seventh Seal’s grim reaper and Anthony Hopkins being as regal as possible while fighting to stay his soul on Earth. What happened to Brest, whose NYU student film was preserved by the Library of Congress as being “somehow more important than Smokey and the Bandit 2?” He made the “Benifer” (remember that celebrity train-wreck?) vehicle Gigli. No one’s heard from him since. Wikipedia’ll falsely list him as dead in a year, tops.
De Niro still lives, and he made the excellent Wag the Dog 10 years after his 12 a.m. jog with Brest, a political satire directed by Barry Levinson. Levinson made some great films like Rain Man and SleepersWag the Dog essentially suggests that De Niro (in the coolest hat and beard ever) can team up with Anne Heche, when she was viably attractive to the under-30 crowd, and screen great Dustin Hoffman to Astroturf the United States into believing in a fake war waged against Albania to throw our scent off a Lewinsky-type scandal. This film occurred before said scandal, so there we have life imitating art and failing. It’s a hilarious satire because pros like De Niro play it straight without mugging for the camera like in Meet the Parents or Analyze This. We also, for once, get a David Mamet script read aloud without sounding like an argument between stuttering epileptics.
A tangent, yes, but considering how many Oscar seasons De Niro has owned, why not revisit some of his lesser-lauded films to pass the time between Valentine’s, the season finale of Chuck and the next good movie season? Or just listen to Who’s Next on repeat to remember what Daltrey used to sound like.