Recently Rated Movies #62: Extry! Extry! (Just Don't Read Below the Headlines...)

Be warned, movie makers! I am the one (and probably the only one) reading the newspapers within your films.

One of the strangest and exceedingly dumb fetishes that I have picked up in the course of watching movies obsessively for most of my existence is a fondness for reading beyond the headlines anytime there is a frantically spinning blur onscreen that finally settles into an image of a newspaper announcing something of particular importance to the plot of the film. I don’t know when I started doing this. I only know that I have done it for a while now, but only recently did I recognize that it was more than just an accidental thing.

Frankly, it angers me when the filmmakers don’t go beyond merely slapping up some giant letters in a headline to give us the news. In this age of the DVD and the DVR (following the age of the VCR – three media which home audiences are fully capable of pausing and reviewing), it would seem to be a natural thing to give the viewer a little something extra and attach some actual text to the story touted by the headlines. After all, Jon Stewart often throws up lightning quick text in the middle of some of his skits, which he knows full well will have his loyal viewers backtracking to catch every hidden joke and often horrid pun.

George Clooney and his cohorts should have caught on to this in Leatherheads. At numerous points in the film, newspapers splat against the screen featuring updates on the various storylines in the film. And yet, if you focus not so much on the headlines and try to read a couple of the lines in the stories below, especially in the columns directly attached to the sub-headlines, you will only be endlessly disappointed. Not that there would be much to gain from reading these lines, but it would help to sell the illusion that one is reading a real newspaper. But, no… the text is only that from the most generic of news stories, and ones most likely on the front of the real newspaper onto which the fake headlines were dropped.

Of course, George – whom I admire greatly, and perhaps far more than most modern film personalities – probably had nothing to do with the creation of these sections of the film, and probably doesn’t give half a squat what anyone thinks about newspaper headlines at any point in the production of Leatherheads. He probably cared more about, you know, creating and completing the film. It’s one of those "director-y" things that directors do. What he probably should have cared more about was whether his noble attempt at updating the ‘30s style screwball comedy actually worked or not. Sometimes, though, when dealing with such stylized material, it is hard to tell whether it plays well to the audience, even if you are hitting all of your marks properly. Screwball is exceedingly tough to pull off. That’s why it is rarely done anymore. Sadly, while there are flashes of brilliance where one feels it is just about to blow open in a huge way, transcendence never quite occurs. While there is much to recommend in Leatherheads, it is only an average attempt.

In fact, as an extra on the DVD release, someone should insert a headline for the film that reads “LEATHERHEADS ACTUALLY MADE OF PLEATHER!” You would read this headline, and say, “Hey, that sounds interesting. Obviously, the film disappointed this reviewer. You know, I’ve been thinking about seeing that film. I should read the review and check out what he has to say!" And so, you drop your eyesight to the story below. But instead of finding out just where the film goes slightly askew, you read instead a story about, say, movie headlines that do not lead to actual stories pertaining to the headlines. You will be disappointed just like I was. You will say, “Hey! I went out of my way, thinking that perhaps the filmmakers went the extra mile to make this seem like the real deal, and all I got was superficiality and the feeling that I have been gypped!”

Precisely…

Leatherheads (2008)
Director: George Clooney
Universal, 1:54, color
Cinema 4 Rating: 5

The Forbidden Kingdom (2008)
Director: Rob Minkoff
The Weinstein Co., 1:53, color
Cinema 4 Rating: 6

Baby Mama (2008)
Director: Michael McCullers
Universal, 1:39, color
Cinema 4 Rating: 5

Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears A Who!
(2008) Directors: Jimmy Hayward & Steve Martino
Twentieth Century Fox, 1:28, color, animated
Cinema 4 Rating: 7

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