January 30th: Not an awful lot…

39. What Just Happened (Barry Levinson, 2008)

Popular perception is that Robert De Niro has been coasting, phoning it in, since his 1995 double of Michael Mann’s Heat and Scorsese’s Casino. Looking at the filmography it’s difficult to argue and I doubt that this self-satisfied Hollywood insider story will change any minds. De Niro is Ben, a movie producer with a series of problems to deal with. His latest release is test screening abysmally due to a dog being shot but the director wants to keep the ‘dark edge’ and his film due to start production starring Bruce Willis is halted when big Bruce decides he wants to keep his ‘Grizzly Adams’ beard. The beard issue is based on the story that Alec Baldwin refused to shave his beard during production of The Edge for fear that he would look fat. It’s this sort of mild scandal that if you were a regular reader of Variety you may find wryly amusing in What Just Happened. Unfortunately this is no scathing insight into the Hollywood dream machine, it’s a cheeky glimpse. The drama isn’t dramatic and the comedy is underwhelming. If you’re thinking of watching this film – don’t. Instead find a copy of Robert Altman’s brilliant The Player, a much more involved and brave film.

January 20th: Mickey Rourke was gorgeous back in the early 80s

31. Diner (Barry Levinson, 1982)

Over the course of a week six friends make some pretty important decisions and go through a few life-changing events. Diner stars some very fresh-faced young talented actors Steve Guttenberg, Ellen Barkin, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon and Paul Reiser. Set in 1959 it takes in these friends as they begin to move into adulthood and the mistakes and confusion influence their choices. But that’s an incredibly dull way of describing the film. It doesn’t do it justice. What’s really impressive about Diner is the extent to which you can fall in with this group of friends, how far you feel part of their dynamic. It reminded me of the similar scope and effect of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused – shamelessly nostalgic without resorting to mawkish sentimentality. There is a genuine warmth and friendliness about the film that creates a sensation of belonging. It keys back into your life and reminds you of the dynamic you can have with a group of friends, with the lads (sadly I can only really approach this one from the male perspective folks). The films conclusion is the payoff, Levinson just lets the camera drift over the friends interacting. It’s beautiful and brilliant – it should remind you that your friends are a constantly evolving group and that every now and again you could look around them and just enjoy the banter.