Twenty-seven million dollars. Flat. That's what After Earth, Will Smith's new science-fiction epic/offspring-stardom delivery system, grossed at the box office this weekend. Plainly, this is a disaster. Once upon a time, Will Smith wouldn't get out of one of the many mahogany beds in his 25,000-square-foot "sylvan Shangri-la" for that kind of money. Today, he may be left wondering what went wrong. To put the number in context, 16 films released this year have grossed more than $27 million in their opening weekend, and that includes the January thriller Mama, which starred Jessica Chastain and two feral moppets; 42, a period piece about a baseball player starring an actor you have never heard of; the long-shelved and mostly disliked fairy tale reboot Jack the Giant Slayer; and this weekend's no. 2 entry Now You See Me, a movie about magicians who rob banks. It is barely June.
Now, nearing 45 years old, Smith remains a massive movie star, a beloved icon of '90s nostalgia, and a purveyor of enjoyable "clean rap." But he may find himself at a crisis point.
Look over here. But don’t look close or for too long. There is wreckage and confusion and sadness in the filmography of Edward Norton. But it wasn’t always this way.
Think back to a time when Stuttering Aaron Stampler was climbing over the witness stand to snap a prosecutor’s neck. Think back to Lester “Worm” Murphy getting his face rearranged by a room full of angry sheriffs for dealing from the bottom of the deck. Think back to the bottom of Derek Vinyard’s heel before it destroyed someone’s dental plan. Think of The Narrator unleashing his inner Tyler Durden while ruining Jared Leto’s pretty face. Or think of Monty Brogan screaming “Fuck you” at the whole of New York City, America, and himself. Those violent, strange, exciting people were all Edward Norton. You remember Ed Norton, right? Actor? White guy? Bookishly handsome? Great at playing — against type — sociopaths, washouts, and drug dealers? The scabs of society? You’re forgiven if you can’t recall the man many once considered the next De Niro or Hoffman. That’s because, in the past decade or so, he has been very bad at making movies. Today, Norton appears as Retired Col. Eric Byer, a shadowy government operative in The Bourne Legacy, his highest-profile role in more than four years. Next week, he turns 43. Forty-three! The boyish, boiling-with-rage, Yale-trained Brando wannabe is aging.
Transitions of power are rarely smooth — just ask Egypt — so no one expected The Office to weather the loss of Steve Carell unscathed. But few could have predicted how quickly the long-running sitcom would devolve from “Must-See” to barely watchable.
Now toplined by an awkward alliance of the eager-to-please Ed Helms and the phoning-it-in James Spader, the show has struggled mightily to redefine itself in its eighth season. But it’s not the new internal power structure that’s solely to blame. The departure of Michael Scott — and Carell’s goofy, glue-like charisma along with him — has exposed foundational rot of the sort not usually seen outside of Schrute Farms. As the show returns with new episodes this week, it’s high time to leave the safe, reflective comforts of our hair rooms and examine just what went wrong — and determine whether there’s any hope of turning things around.
If we’re being honest, The Walking Dead doesn’t really need our help: The show remains a ratings juggernaut (6.6 million tuned in to find out just what was inside that barn in Sunday’s midseason finale — an audience almost three times the size of the one that tunes in to the average cocktail party at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce) and a cash cow for money-starved AMC. (All that extra Hyundai loot isn’t hurting, either.) But creatively, the show is stuck in quicksand more treacherous than the stuff that conveniently surrounds Hershel’s sanctimonious chicken farm. In the deeply flawed seven-hour arc that just concluded, the showrunners — including now-departed behind-the-scenes boss Frank Darabont — attempted the tricky task of simultaneously expanding the world and constraining it, putting more focus on the tortured inner lives of the still-living protagonists while limiting their movements to a single, horsey setting. This decision proved disastrous in two ways. First, the show’s cranky leads proved themselves unable to carry the increased storytelling load, collapsing like cheap card tables into an unpleasant morass of sour looks, repetitive arguments, and bullet-wasting. We’re all for character development, but the more time we spent with these people the more we wanted to see them develop into zombie chow — particularly the show’s doomy Bermuda Triangle of overheated pathos, Rick, Shane, and Lori.
Jersey Shore needs to evolve or it will die. Sure, ratings are the highest they've ever been, and MTV and the cast are printing money, but to turn this short con into a long con, adjustments must be made. Ask Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, or UGG boots — when the flashbulbs are firing the brightest, the praise is the loudest, and the money is coming in the money-coming-iniest, you're in the most danger. You get complacent and believe in your own inflated value so much that you don’t anticipate the inevitable cultural recoil that will soon send you into irrelevancy, bankruptcy, or worse, Celebrity Apprentice. But don’t get bummed out, MTV Suits, Jersey Shore fans, or Snooki and the rest of the guido gang. We have six suggestions that will extend your stay in the zeitgeist and all the way at the bottom and in the bottom-right quadrant of the New York magazine Approval Matrix. OK, maybe the bottom-left quadrant. But New York readers aren’t paying your bills anyway. The people paying your bills aren’t exactly “readers.”
On the occasion of tonight's Season 4 finale, here are our six suggestions for how to fix the show, listed in order from “OK, I could see that” to “man, they must do a lot of peyote at the Grantland office.”
MTV may not air many videos anymore, but they do continue to air video award shows: The 2011 VMAs, the 28th iteration of the self-congratulatory celebration, will air this Sunday night. While ratings for the ceremony have ticked up in recent years, the anything-goes, carnivalesque excitement that once surrounded the event (“Put the tape in your VCR!”) has mostly wafted away in a haze of cheap Jersey Shore cologne and Twilight cameos. And on paper this year’s show promises a new low: desperate, cred-seeking nominations for bottom-of-the-buzz bin acts Tyler the Creator and Kreayshawn, a head-scratching outer-space theme seemingly dreamed up during a bad acid trip (“That idea of transporting you on a journey through a space-time continuum of music” — put down the bong, Doug Herzog!). Most damning: the festivities will be without a host this year — and nothing is worse than a free-form party without someone there to pour the drinks and/or least make fun of the Jonas Brothers. (OK, scratch that. No host is actually better than a repeat of the Chelsea Handler racial follies from a year ago.)