moment: McKay as the titular character in Me and
Boy’s Own Adventure
and Orson Welles
by Richard Linklater
is one of those “what if?” stories, in which fiction is blended
with fact to make a “better” tale. I usually hate “what if”
stories. I didn’t hate this one.
In Me and Orson Welles, the situation is this: What
if an aspiring teenage actor happened to be there on Broadway
at the dawn of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre in 1937, cast
in Welles’ fame-making production of Julius Caesar?
Clearly, such a green kid doesn’t belong in this situation.
The secret of the film’s success is that its creators understand
The teenager is Richard Samuels (Zac Efron, of High School
Musical mega fame), who we first meet dozing in his suburban
high-school English class, and then idly wandering the streets
and museums of Manhattan. Restless, bored and eager for experience,
the kid happens on a theater company waiting on the sidewalk
for the arrival of their director. He banters with the actors,
matching wisecracks with enough bravado to earn their respect.
And then Orson Welles arrives, imperious and jocular. The
kid manages to charm his way into a bit part by singing a
breakfast cereal jingle.
Most of Efron’s vast tweener fan base likely have no idea
who Orson Welles is. It’s like that scene in Zombieland,
when Woody Harrelson is aghast that Abigail Breslin doesn’t
know who Bill Murray is.
like not knowing who Gandhi is,” he exclaims.
Gandhi?” she replies.
Here, actor Christian McKay brings to the role a level of
authority, humor, passion and infectious exuberance that would
charm the most ignorant viewer into accepting that “Orson
Welles” is a man of great importance. Those familiar with
Welles won’t be disappointed, either. McKay, who should have
snagged an Oscar nom for this performance, is majestic as
the boy genius of radio and theater.
The kid is enchanted with everything: the company, the old
theater itself, Welles’ radical reworking of Shakespeare,
and Welles. The company offers comradeship and the promise
of sex; Welles represents the lure of glamour and fame. Director
Richard Linklater doesn’t idealize or sentimentalize the milieu;
instead, he shows us how easy it is for a kid like Richard
to do both.
Romance rears its pretty face in the person of company secretary
Sonja Jones (Claire Danes). She’s set her cap on meeting Hollywood
producers; the kid is undeterred. In an amusing moment, he
offers her adventure, romance and wealth—all at the movies,
which is all he can afford. There’s no suspense here, and
that’s all to the good. Their one-week friendship will end
as it is supposed to end.
Oh yes, I forgot to mention that the story takes place over
the course of just one week. Linklater, who knows a thing
or two about using the passage of time to enhance drama, uses
this to great advantage. Every small crisis is magnified.
That the kid’s magnificent adventure ends as quickly as it
began is no letdown. But Me and Orson Welles ends on
a note of melancholy that’s as fully earned as it is a surprise.
Kiss Bang Bang
Paris With Love
by Pierre Morel
just typed From Russia With Love, and luckily caught
my gaffe before sending this to my editor. An easy mistake,
when the actual title, From Paris With Love, is so
obviously a paean to the Bond flicks. In this action-packed
thriller, John Travolta plays Charlie Wax, a CIA operative
who is the yin to the yang of his Taking of Pelham 1-2-3
subway-stealing baddie. Hurtling through Chinese restaurants
and dingy fabric shops, both hands wielding heavy-duty firepower,
Wax is a one man wrecking crew. As bodies of Asian baddies
hurtle down from a spiral staircase, Wax’s new partner, the
decidedly lower level agent Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) asks
just how many of them there are, to which Wax glibly jibes
So, no, From Paris With Love is not exactly subtle,
and yes, it is downright old fashioned in its refusal to try
to paint its ethnic bad guys with any smidgeon of nobility.
Strangely, and perhaps because we’re into cold, brutal February,
I didn’t mind. There was something atavistically refreshing
about seeing two agents work their way through dangerous situations,
ostensibly to stop a major drug cartel from passing off its
lethal product into wider distribution. It was a kick to watch
the duo get hoodwinked by a beauteous brunette (another Bondian
nod), and have to think fast to get back on track before she
assassinates an American ambassador.
The movie belongs completely to Travolta, and I couldn’t help
but wonder if he filmed this after his son’s tragic death,
in which case the bombing around as a badass motherfucker
might have been a cathartic release. In a much less splashy
role, Rhys Meyers is appealing as the agent who wants to prove
his mettle, then spends the remainder of the movie almost
bewailing what he wished for. The scenes in which Reece has
to follow Wax from one dangerous encounter to another, all
the while holding on to a vase full of cocaine, are comic
and understated. Stunningly filmed and edited, From Paris
to Love is the ultimate jolt to the winter doldrums—that
is, if you’ve already seen all the Oscar-nominated films of
last year. Or am I just saying that to preserve some sort
of critic cred?