RIORI Vol. 1, Installment 10: Barry Levinson’s “What Just Happened?” (2008)


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The Players…

Robert DeNiro, Sean Penn, Bruce Willis, John Turturro and Katherine Keener.


The Story…

Ben’s a harried film producer, and as his latest undertakings instruct, he’s forced to placate a lunatic director, a temperamental actor and an out-of-control production while also courting a studio head and contending with his ex. Both of them. Just a typical week in the life in ol’ Hollywierd.


The Rant…

First off, sorry. I’m in a pissy mood. My back’s f*cked up, my wife’s mad at me for some offhand comment and Lou Reed f*cking died. Does this set the tone for this week’s review? Yep, and too goddam bad. The wife never cared for Lou Reed anyway. But just wait until f*ckin’ Thom Yorke dies. Then maybe I’ll bleed.

Ahem. Hi!

I know next to nothing about how Hollywood runs. From what little I do know is that it runs on money. Big, stupid money. On a budget that compares only with US Air Force cafeteria expenses. Most of the cinematic casual expenditures come out of our collective wallets in the form of tickets, streaming and popcorn. Who really gets paid through all those ducats? Well, actors for one. Overall, they’re the reasons why we go to the flicks. Sometimes we go for the directors, those who spindle the tales that keep us webbed in. The Spielbergs, the Scorseses, the Lucases…those cats. But you know who really keeps us glued?

The producers. The money behind the money. Money behind the likes of poor Ben…


Ben (DeNiro) is a wayward Hollywood producer who’s reputation is far more valuable than any increment of money he earns on a project. And the word “project” serves as an acceptable epithet for any film that’s gonna tank before it reaches the cutting room floor. As for what has presently been laid at his feet, Ben’s gotta make a marketable film out of an artsy-fartsy ‘aueter’ piece of sh*t. Oy, I’ve seen them many times over. Maybe you have too. Listen, just because they went to Cannes doesn’t mean they’re all winners. Pulp Fiction won the Palm d’Or, for example, a fine piece of f*cking filmmaking if your attention span is that strained. And I liked Pulp Fiction. F*cking Beetlejuice went to Cannes, so shut up. And if you are enamored of Beetlejuice, you take this f*cking blog WAY too seriously.

Anyway, about Ben. He’s been trying to restore his place in the pantheon of power players in Tinsel Town. And failing gloriously. He’s a passing presence in his second marriage, the one with two kids. An offhand glance with his first marriage, the one with the moody teen (portrayed by a pre-Twilight Kristen Stewart). And a total misfit amongst his true family of agents, fellow producers, directors, and petulant actors (Willis and Penn). Hung up and overstretched, what’s a flayed Hollywood producer whose worth more dead than alive can do?

Lose his sh*t. DeNiro is good at that…


One of my favorite films? Taxi Driver. DeNiro is at his epoch at losing his sh*t in that film. Second is Mean Streets. Third is GoodFellas. Fourth is The Untouchables. Fifth is whatever he’s kicking at that time. Sixth is Taxi Driver.

You get the idea.

What Just Happened? is my umpteenth favorite movie of DeNiro kicking the sh*t out of someone. It’s the first for me rooting for Bob to kick himself in the ass. And boy, does he deserve it.

Never have I seen Bob act quite so callous, disconnected and callow as I did in this hour and 45 minutes. And quite humorously too. ‘Though not quite as humorously as most may gage. Barry Levinson’s work has always been funny. Not laugh-out-loud funny, but snicker-worthy. To my immediate mind, the only overtly funny movie the man has ever made was Rain Man and that won an Oscar, so he scored big there. I guess. Well What Just Happened is a loss leader. You saw the cast. You read the goofy plot. It was based on an esteemed producer’s autobio.

This flick barely made a million at the box office. With that pedigree? The hell?

They all must have been in on the joke. This film was culled by said book of the same name, a tell-all in a library of tell-alls. And the Rogue’ Gallery was delicious, too (go fig). Keener as the shrewd agent, sharp as ever, took great relish in cutting Ben down to size. Character actor Michael Wincott, always a stitch, somehow transcended Tarantino and Vincent Gallo in only two scenes. Toss the final edit wheel over this way, please. And do modern film producers really use BlackBerries in this day and age? I dunno. I ain’t a producer. What do I know?

This review has been sh*tty, I know. I’m just too tired, drunk and bent up to give a clean polish here. All I can say is this: it’s probably easier working behind the stage in Hollywood than in front to make a worthwhile statement. If this concept appeals to you, then go stream the film.

Lewis Allan Reed: RIP, 1942-2013.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. Despite all it’s craftsmanship, the film committed a mortal sin. It was boring. Clever? Sure. Amusing? Kind of. Engaging? Hardly.


Stray Observations…

  • “Stress. Builds up. See you later.”
  • Willis looks like a homeless Santa with that beard.
  • DeNiro really trimmed down for this role. What for?
  • “Feet are connected to the soul.” So are shoes.
  • Wait. Is that the Police playing at the funeral?
  • Nothin’ like slaggin’ on ol’ Hollywood at Cannes to get a standin’ O.
  • “Life’s not bad. I’m in France.”

Next Installment…

Bill Murray goes door to door peddling Broken Flowers. Dumbass.


 

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