Saturday, February 27, 2010

Who directed that?


Cop Out is another one of those movies whose title tells you everything you need to know about it. It does indeed seem to be a cop out for its participants, especially Bruce Willis, who looks so sleepy in this poster, you want to give him a pillow and a blanket. And although Tracy Morgan has rehabilitated his good name on 30 Rock, he still hasn't given me any reason to trust him in movies.

And that's all I'd planned to write about Cop Out until I discovered a third, surprising name under those participants. In reading about his recent flap with Southwest Airlines, I discovered that none other than Kevin Smith -- of Clerks, Mallrats, and Chasing Amy fame -- is the director of Cop Out.

That's not who I would have expected. It isn't that Kevin Smith is too good for Cop Out -- he's made his share of duds. Who knows, it's possible Cop Out could even be better than I would expect from Kevin Smith. It's just not the kind of movie I expect from him. Without knowing too much more about it than I've seen in the ads, it seems like another buddy cop comedy in the tradition of 48 Hours, The Man (in which the races are reversed in terms of which one is the doofus, and they're not both cops, but you get the idea), etc. Neither of the lead characters, for example, seems to be a slacker stoner who stands outside of a convenience store. Smith doesn't have to be limited to remaking Clerks for the rest of his career, but I would at least expect the films he makes to be some kind of logical outgrowth of Clerks. Even a movie like Jersey Girl seems like a more logical outgrowth of Clerks than Cop Out does.

And it got me thinking about other directors who have surprised us with the films they've chosen. Naturally, I came up with a list. Such a list, in fact, that I've had to chop it down in the interest of reader friendliness.

So, let's get to it right away. I've done my best to break it into categories, and I've also included a director that should have directed the film in question, followed by the film he/she actually directed that made me think he/she would have been a good choice. (Some of those are kind of arbitrary -- forgive me.) One more note: There is no implied criticism of these movie, some of which were actually great. (And some of which I did not actually see.) They simply struck me as an odd pairing of director and material.

Okay:

The WTF? category:

Wes Craven, Music of the Heart (1999). All those who predicted that a director with over a dozen horror titles to his credit would direct an inspirational movie about music teachers, raise your hand. Should have been directed by: Stephen Herek (Mr. Holland's Opus)

Sam Raimi, For Love of the Game (1999). Similar thing to Craven -- career horror genre director takes the helm of a baseball movie in which Kevin Costner pitches a perfect game. Should have been directed by: John Lee Hancock (The Rookie)

William Friedkin, Blue Chips (1994). Unlike Craven and Raimi, Friedkin was not at the time known exclusively for horror (he directed The French Connection in addition to The Exorcist), but a movie about a Bobby Knight-like college basketball coach, featuring Shaquille O'Neal, still seemed weird. Should have been directed by: Ron Shelton (White Men Can't Jump)

Jim Sheridan, Get Rich or Die Tryin' (2006). What in Jim Sheridan's history of making sociopolitical movies set in Ireland (In the Name of the Father, The Boxer) would have led you to conclude he was a logical candidate to direct a movie based on the life of 50 Cent? Predictably, the results were horrible. Should have been directed by: Allen & Albert Hughes (Menace II Society)

Allen & Albert Hughes, From Hell (2001). What in the Hughes brothers' history of making movies about black criminals (Menace II Society, Dead Presidents) would have led you to conclude they were logical candidates to direct a Jack the Ripper period piece starring Johnny Depp? Unpredictably, the results were quite good. Should have been directed by: Tim Burton (Sleepy Hollow)

Sidney Lumet, The Wiz (1978). Lumet made a career of directing gritty, urban, realistic movies about people who could have really existed, so how the hell did he end up behind the camera of a Motown-influenced reimagining of The Wizard of Oz featuring Michael Jackson and Diana Ross? Should have been directed by: Norman Jewison (Jesus Christ Superstar)

David Lynch, The Straight Story (1999). Lynch, who has produced some of the most disturbing imagery in the history of cinema, directed a G-rated movie starring an old man who drives across two states on his riding lawnmower. Should have been directed by: Carol Ballard (Fly Away Home)

The Money Grab category:

Francis Ford Coppola, Jack (1996). Coppola has actually admitted that he does stupid studio movies in order to help pay for his passion projects and to keep him from going bankrupt, and Jack, in which Robin Williams plays a young boy on a growth spurt, seems about the stupidest. Should have been directed by: Chris Columbus (Home Alone)

Michael Apted, The World Is Not Enough (1999). I don't like to attribute such motivations to Michael Apted, but how else to explain the man primarily known for the recurring series of Up documentaries (7 Up, Seven Plus Seven, 21 Up, etc.) directing probably the worst James Bond movie of all time? Should have been directed by: Martin Campbell (GoldenEye)

Roland Joffe, Captivity (2007). Joffe was once an acclaimed director, responsible for films like The Killing Fields and The Mission. Then what crazy set of circumstances led him to get involved in one of the most despicable, irredeemable torture porn movies that's ever been made? Should have been directed by: David Hackl (Saw V)

Burr Steers, 17 Again (2009). Remember that really cool movie starring Kieran Culkin that kind of reminded you of The Catcher in the Rye, called Igby Goes Down? Yeah, that was also Burr Steers. Here he's directing a movie in which Matthew Perry becomes his 17-year-old self in the form of Zac Efron. In this case, though, I think Steers just needed the work, as it was his first directing job in seven years. Should have been directed by: Garry Marshall (The Princess Diaries)

The Crazy Flexibility category:

Ang Lee, The Hulk (2003). We probably already knew at the time that Ang Lee was capable of anything -- in fact, I wrote here about how he's never made the same movie twice. Still, The Hulk seemed like a stretch even for him. Should have been directed by: Brett Ratner (X-Men: The Last Stand)

Joel Schumacher, The Phantom of the Opera (2004). I don't want to pay Schumacher too big of a compliment, because he's often a hack, but man is that guy diverse in his movies. This may be the ultimate example, and it's actually pretty good in my opinion. Should have been directed by: Rob Marshall (Chicago)

Tom Tykwer, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006). Tykwer hasn't had a long enough career yet to really qualify, but this movie was so different in style and substance from his other brilliant film, Run Lola Run, that it just had to be mentioned here. Should have been directed by: Francis Ford Coppola (Bram Stoker's Dracula)

Darren Aronofsky, The Wrestler (2008). Given that he'd just directed the extremely dreamy, out-there duo of Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain, who knew Aronofsky could be realistic so damned effectively? Should have been directed by: Sean Penn (The Pledge)

The I Didn't Expect That From That Actor category:

Sarah Polley, Away From Her (2006). Who would have thought an actress in her 20s, who appeared in such films as Go and The Sweet Hereafter, could have such an uncommon command over the emotions involved with Alzheimer's disease? Should have been directed by: Penny Marshall (Awakenings)

Ben Affleck, Gone Baby Gone (2007). Just when you thought Affleck was about to have no career whatsoever, he directed this gritty police drama based in Boston, always believable and with great performances (particularly his brother Casey). Should have been directed by: James Gray (We Own the Night)

Todd Field, In the Bedroom (2001). Todd Field, until then, was just a character actor most people would never have even heard of, appearing briefly in Eyes Wide Shut and with a larger role in Walking and Talking. I'd heard of him, which is why he made this list. Should have been directed by: Paul Schrader (Affliction)

Jon Favreau, Iron Man (2008). Made was terrible, Elf was wonderful and Zathura was not very good, but none of those prepared me to see Favreau's name on a summer tentpole superhero movie. Should have been directed by: Stephen Sommers (G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra) Eh, why not?

The I Didn't Expect That From That Non-Actor category:

Fred Durst, The Education of Charlie Banks (2007/2009). As the Limp Bizkit frontman, Durst made a career of posturing on stage, so a generally sensitive film about an intellectual college student was the last thing I was expecting from him. Should have been directed by: Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down)

Davis Guggenheim, An Inconvenient Truth (2006). When he directed Al Gore's movie, Guggenheim's only previous directing credit was on a feature called Gossip, which was one of those interchangeable horror films that came out around the same time as Urban Legend. Should have been directed by: Errol Morris (The Fog of War)

The I Didn't Expect That From That Gender category:

Mary Harron, American Psycho (2000). Given the violence, some of it towards women, of Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), I was surprised that this would be directed by a woman at all, though perhaps that was the only way to convince people it wasn't wrong in the head. (It is supposed to be a satire). Should have been directed by: Roger Avary (The Rules of Attraction)

Betty Thomas, Private Parts (1997). Similar rationale as American Psycho, only this time it's about the famous sexist (or is he just playing one on TV?) Howard Stern. The movie actually portrays Stern in an uncommonly sensitive light, if you haven't seen it. Should have been directed by: Milos Forman (Man on the Moon) Eh, why not?

Ridley Scott, Thelma & Louise (1991). Given the macho subject matter of most of Scott's films, it seemed surprising that he'd be able to get inside the heads of two rebellious women so effectively. Should have been directed by: Jocelyn Moorhouse (Proof)

The Double Feature category:

Woody Allen, Anything Else (2003)/Match Point (2005). The first was marketed as such a teen comedy, it did not even include Allen's name in the advertising campaign; the second contained nary a joke, existing as purely a thriller, set in England no less. Should have been directed by: Peyton Reed (Bring It On)/Anthony Minghella (The Talented Mr. Ripley)

Richard Linklater, The Newton Boys (1998)/The Bad News Bears (2005). Linklater took a break from his normal milieu of philosophizing among talkative bohemian slackers to direct a period peace about bank robbers and a remake of a beloved baseball movie for kids. These could have gotten an honorable mention in the "Money Grab" category. Should have been directed by: Les Mayfield (American Outlaws)/Stephen Herek (The Mighty Ducks)

Okay, that's about enough of that.

I'd love to hear any others you might think of ...