Men Who Broaden Goats

Bizarre as it may seem, the comic material in Grant Heslov‘s The Men Who Stare at Goats (Overture, 11.6) is based on reported truth, or more precisely Jon Ronson‘s 2004 non-fiction book about the U.S. Army’s exploration of New Age concepts and the potential military applications of the paranormal. Does the trailer convey a verite element? You tell me.

Trailers always rely on the crudest and broadest selling points, of course, but this one is clearly suggesting that the tone of Heslov’s film may be on the unsubtle and slapsticky side, almost in a Blake Edwardsy sense. Okay, in a sort-of dry and deadpanny vein. The straight-up, no-funny-business look on George Clooney‘s lean and moustachioed face tells you that.

But what about that shot of an animatronic goat tipping over and falling on its side? That’s an Eloi joke on the level of I Love You, Beth Cooper. And the fact that the Kevin Spacey-Jeff Bridges courtroom confrontation about girls and drugs isn’t funny? And that guy running into a wall? And while I’m sure there’s a no-big-deal explanation, why are formally uniformed Army guys shown wearing long sideburns and facial hair in a wedding reception ceremony? This sets off an alarm bell.

All I can tell you is that before watching the trailer, I was semi-pumped about seeing this film in Toronto. I had presumed Heslov, a very smart guy on Clooney’s wavelength and vice versa, would play down the inherently bizarre material and keep it real and let the wackazoid stuff speak for itself. But now, having seen the trailer, I’m feeling a little bit worried. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t be. Maybe this is just a matter of the Overture trailer guys looking to bring in the dumb-asses.

Heslov directed from a script by Peter Straughan. Ewan McGregor costars with Clooney, Spacey and Bridges. Set in Iraq (but filmed in New Mexico and Puerto Rico), it’s about Bob Wilton (McGregor), a reporter working on a story about Lyn Cassady (Clooney), who claims to be a former secret U.S. Military psychic soldier re-activated post-9/11. Bridges is Bill Django, the founder of the psychic soldier program and Lyn’s mentor. Spacey is Larry Hooper, a former psychic soldier who runs a prison camp in Iraq.

37 thoughts on “Men Who Broaden Goats

  1. Ray on said:

    Not to be Eloish, but that trailer works. Sure, it looks broad … but broad isn’t always bad.

  2. McGregor doing an American accent never really works out – I’ll just come out and say it, it distracts the the sh*t out of me. In fact, his American accent is unchanged from The Velvet Goldmine which was bad in ’98. This is payback for Zellweger I guess.

    The movie seems to be channeling the wacky side of David O. Russell & the Coens which in general is a good thing. Howevs, the preview is so broad and the narrator sucking his American accent so badly that I have no sense of what we’re really gonna get except that it is derivative.

  3. Having Clooney saying “Jedi Mind Trick” a couple of times in the trailer to McGregor made me have wooden acting flashbacks.

    I agree with Ray, the trailer is broad, the writing seems conventional, but the cast looks inspired. I do worry that this has a little Leatherheads In Iraq vibe to it though. Up In the Air is the Clooney movie of the moment right now and this will merely be the appetizer.

  4. http://bit.ly/19iHpZ

    Sorry to bring this up again, I fully expect the talkback wrath brigade, and in the interests of full disclosure I’ve yet to catch IGB, but am I alone in thinking the Tarantino is a fruitcake if he thinks he and Paul Thomas Anderson are in a comparable league?

    One of the most original and creative directors of our time vs, eh, Tarantino? Really? Quentintino, REALLY?

    I think the main difference is that Anderson makes movies about PEOPLE with EMOTIONS. Tarantino makes movies about SMART-ASSES with OPINIONS. Good movies? Sure, sometimes. Not comparable though.

  5. The director of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown and Inglourious Basterds can more than hold his own with the director of Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love and TWBB. Imo.

    As for the trailer, McGregor…..why? That role looks made for Mark Wahlberg.

  6. what’s wrong in being blake edwardsy?

    the film seems fun especially with bridges channeling his big lebowski persona.

    jeff, you have to chill out

  7. Has anyone seen the documentary that Jon Ronson made from the book he wrote about this? Interesting stuff, though he has one of the most annoying presences ever put to film. His voice is indescribably wishy-washy. I know that’s a stupid phrase to use, but it fits his voice perfectly.

    And yes, I am having an off day. All lawyers should perish in the fiery pits of hell. I actually wish I believed in hell so that they may reside there eternally.

  8. I clicked on the link, really intrigued by the strange synopsis. Amazon says that the book hasn’t come out yet– will be released on October 2009. Bummer. I want to read this now.

  9. The book is pretty odd and very funny, although the oddest parts are the ones that converge on the truth.

    BOOK/HISTORY SPOILER
    These guys are the direct pre-cursors to the interrogators who played the Barney the Dinosaur theme over and over at Abu Ghraib to torture detainees. When you realize that what seems like comic farce became government policy it’s like a slap in the face.

    If the film includes those moments, I think Wells will enjoy the payoffs.

  10. The book is pretty odd and very funny, although the oddest parts are the ones that converge on the truth.

    BOOK/HISTORY SPOILER
    These guys are the direct pre-cursors to the interrogators who played the Barney the Dinosaur theme over and over at Abu Ghraib to torture detainees. When you realize that what seems like comic farce became government policy it’s like a slap in the face.

    If the film includes those moments, I think Wells will enjoy the payoffs.

  11. GK London, while I agree with you that Tarantino has yet to make something as really unique as There Will Be Blood, I wouldn’t say it’s an impossibility that it would happen sometime down the pike.

    That said, let’s look at their evolution. Yes, it’s apples and oranges but I think if you reallly take a look at your boy’s body of work there really isn’t that much beyond ONE FILM to convince me he’s really that much better than Tarantino.

    Hard Eight v Reservoir Dogs. No contest. The Dogs eat Sidney for breakfast.

    Pulp Fiction v Boogie Nights. The original almost always trumps the copycat and in this case that holds up. Pulp, hands down.

    Jackie Brown v Magnolia. Both good films. You can see both of them trying to expand their canvas, paint with some different colors. To use a sports metaphor, these films were their “expansion” or “rebuilding” years.

    Now, as I said, I agree There Will Be Blood is a more unique piece of work than the Tarantino projects that followed Jackie Brown, but we’ve yet to see what PTA is going to do next and I’m confident that we haven’t seen Tarantino’s best yet.

    So no, GK, I don’t think Quentin’s a fruitcake for putting himself in the same league as PTA, I think it’s entirely appropriate. Both of them are around the same age and both have at least one masterpiece and a couple of really good films under their belts.

  12. I love BOOGIE NIGHTS, seen it maybe 50 times. Really! But I think PTA is a hack who copies Scorsese (and others) way too much. Everything in BOOGIE came directly from a Scorsese picture. Everything. Specifically GOODFELLAS and CASINO.

    THERE WILL BE BLOOD referenced, copied, stole from, and paid homage to numerous films and filmmakers that came before it. (I love Stephanie Zacharek’s review of that movie.)

    HARD EIGHT had enough material for a 50-minute short, not a 100-minute feature. Pedestrian and predictable, with very little at stake dramatically and narratively. Hell, the whole thing centres around 1) Sydney’s dark secret and how it led to his relationship with the John Reilly character yet nothing came of it, and 2) the “violent” act in the middle which wasn’t that earth-shattering at all for the characters involved. What does she do? Gwyneth simply hits a guy unconscious, and PTA somehow managed to build something around that that really had nothing at stake. At least kill the guy accidentally, and then you’ve got yourself some drama and some potential character work.

    MAGNOLIA was one of those cases where the parts are greater than the sum. I was young when I watched it and thought, “Wow, amazing movie, man. Deep.” But then I grew up.

    PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE was his most original, if not his most infuriating and hollow.

    I still look forward to his movies though. Go figure.

  13. Woops, I was responding to comment #15, but didn’t realise that this page was the Clooney/Goats page, so I do apologise if my comment seems off-topic.

  14. If I’m going off topic I’m sorry but I had to respond to the notion that Paul Thomas Anderson is THAT much better than Tarantino because I think it’s ridiculous.

    But then again, I kind of liked this trailer, so maybe that means I not be smartz liked I thinkd.

    Back to the goats, please.

  15. Steve Kar and “C is for Cookie”,

    Fair points gentlemen, but I come back to the fact that no Tarantino film has hit me emotionally, and Anderson’s films always do. I don’t mind being alone thinking he’s a fruitcake for comparing himself, he is a very good director. I wish he would put his talent to use and give us something truly exceptional. It’s frustrating to watch a Tarantino movie. It’s intensely satisfying to watch an Anderson movie.

    But as I said, that’s just me.Appreciate civil discussion.

    Back to trying to kill a goat WITH THE POWER OF YOUR MIND!!!

  16. Rothchild, am I to answer or did I get the joke?

    Repetition is one of the fundamental fundamentals of comedy.

    IB then, if you must beat a horse to death. The horse is a nazi by the way.

  17. Those jokes may not look funny out of contest, Jeff, but they do come straight from the book – the CGI goat was a bit much, but they actually were trying to put goats to sleep with their minds and trying to run through walls through sheer willpower, among other things. Makes you wonder why no one ever is allowed to speak about wasteful military spending.

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to the movie, even though Heslov is untried as a director.

  18. I would be worried. Forget about spoon-fed, this looks like it goes right for a Tititcut Follies style forced feeding. And I’m tired of “based-on-a-true-story” movies about “reporters” in search of a “story.”

  19. The use of the overused “More Than a Feeling” took it down about 10 notches for me. And there are only 9 notches. I had to put in an extra one just for this. It chafes.

    But if they’d remove “The” from the title I’d consider moving it up 2 notches. And if they moved “The” 4 words to the right, I’d add 3.

  20. For those who don’t know, Heslov is Clooney’s best friend, and goes back with him many years.

    Trailer looks funny. I like it.

  21. Listen to the sarcastic tone in which Clooney & Co. deliver the line “It’s okay. We’re Americans. We’re here to help.”

    My father spent over two decades overseeing American Aid to Africa and Central America. He put himself and his family at great risk so an orphan in Africa might not go to bed hungry that night.

    Radical, lunatic-fringe, left-wing, ultra-liberal, unpatriotic Hollywood bastards.

    Nobody’s going to see your shitty movie.

  22. Jeff, I love this site, but if I ever read the word “Eloi” on here again it’ll be about a million years too soon.

    You’ve driven that one so far into the ground that in a million years it’ll be fossil fuel.

  23. Looks like a remake of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind to me…

    GKL: QT also thinks he’s better than Orson Welles, and his fans agree, because they’ve never seen anything from Welles or Anderson, which is why they believe that QT is so original.

    Cookie: “Hard Eight v Reservoir Dogs. No contest. The Dogs eat Sidney for breakfast.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HgbSAL8OKY

    “Pulp Fiction v Boogie Nights. The original almost always trumps the copycat and in this case that holds up. Pulp, hands down.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ZKgptV4GmQ&feature=response_watch

    Kar: “Really! But I think PTA is a hack who copies Scorsese (and others)”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ZKgptV4GmQ&feature=response_watch

    “HARD EIGHT had enough material for a 50-minute short, not a 100-minute feature. Pedestrian and predictable, with very little at stake dramatically and narratively.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xCGSWJDfLM

  24. Y’know – it’s so easy to just ignore Mowkeka; her puerile rants are silly blanket condemnations of “the libruls” and such are subliterate and/or debunked circa 2003.

    But her post above really deserves some scrutiny for two key reasons:

    1) ” ‘Listen to the sarcastic tone in which Clooney & Co. deliver the line “It’s okay. We’re Americans. We’re here to help.’ ”

    While I have every suspicion that this quote shall be presented ‘ironically’ in the film when it is within context (and not stand-alone in a trailer,) there is no way on God’s green earth that one can discern a “sarcastic” tone to Clooney’s earnest reading of the line.

    When one’s political prism so strongly affect’s one’s ability to view films – causing one to *actually hear tones and inflections which are not actually present* – one has lost all credibility in the area of film criticism. I imagine that this is not a problem, as Mowkeka had no credibility in that area to begin with; and,

    2) The line itself is an obvious play on the famous Ronald Reagan quote/joke from 1983 (iirc): “The nine most dangerous words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’”.

    Seeing as Clooney was reading his line earnestly, while Reagan’s delivery of his joke was dripping with sarcasm, I imagine that your anger at Reagan is no less intense.

    And seeing that Reagan’s line is far closer in consequence to your father’s (alleged) services, Reagan may have been pointing his finger at your father directly. In any event, far more than clooney, Heslov, or anyone else alive today. And, of course, your side is the one which keeps stoking the anti-government flames in this country since Reagan.

    But what did Reagan understand, after all? He was a creature of Hollywood, and therefore an unpatriotic looney.

    [Baby Wingnuts: even too stupid to grok their own wingnut history.]

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