Lane redux: ‘Tower Heist’ & VOD

The wit of Anthony Lane, like the sex life of Grace Kelly, is one of those refined but rustic matters that we can admire readily, and dissect in detail, but never really hope to understand.

Or emulate, alas.

But he’s fun to imitate.

Here’s the lead of Prince Anthony’s review of Tower Heist in this week’s New Yorker (November 7):

At the risk of invoking Freud, you have to wonder why movie stars are attracted to big, long films about towers. “The Towering Inferno” had Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Faye Dunaway, and William Holden; it also had Fred Astaire and O. J. Simpson, a pairing so exquisite that Luis Buñuel must have wished he’d thought of it first. Now we have “Tower Heist,” which features Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Alan Alda, Casey Affleck, Téa Leoni, Matthew Broderick, and Judd Hirsch. None of these, I concede, are up there with Fred Astaire, but, then, who is? What counts is safety in numbers—actors mustering together to lend bulk and momentum to a tale that they know to be dumb. The difference is that in 1974 they got away with it.

Lane does credit Tower Heist with one “pleasingly brazen image”—of a car dangling off the high rise—and concedes that “this cruddy movie” has one perfect moment: Mathew Broderick’s scene after he’s lost his job at Merrill Lynch, and his apartment, and ends up, in a cheap motel, pondering becoming a male prostitute. The director, Brett Ratner, late of the Rush Hour trilogy, has a style, Lane writes, in which “early Fellini is less easy to detect than that of Cuisinart.”

He’s a bit arch, I’ll give you that. But Lane gets as sincere as he gets, and as passionate, when he next takes on the spectre of video on demand (VOD). In an experiment, Tower Heist is being offered to half a million households weeks after its theatrical debut—for a mere $59.99 each.


One’s immediate reaction to this news was: sixty bucks! For a Brett Ratner movie! It’s like one of those cafés in Weimar Germany where a glass of beer cost you four billion marks. The stakes were raised considerably by reports that NATO was incensed by this latest move in the battle of VOD. For one heady morning, I was under the impression that air strikes would be launched on Universal. Only then was it explained to me that NATO stands for the National Association of Theatre Owners, who regard the “Tower Heist” experiment, and similar ventures, as the thin end of a deadening wedge. Download a Ben Stiller movie in Atlanta, and you wind up, a few years later, with a nation of vacant auditoriums. Moviegoers will still watch movies; they just won’t go.

Lane agrees: VOD is the death of cinema, and he explains what will be lost. Were I in my old haunts I’d surely mourn with him. For years I’d leave our farm and drive twenty minutes to our small town’s Cineplex beside the mall, or even more cheerfully shoot downtown to a cozy boutique theatre. What was wunderbar was to teach and then amble across campus and catch an early movie and then wing back to our hilltop. My experience of watching Charlie Kaufman’s Jungian masterpiece Synechdoche, New York owes everything to seeing it, two or three times, in that little art house.

But now I’m in the city, actually somewhere amidst hundreds of acres, maybe thousands, of suburban sprawl, and haven’t got my bearings yet. There’s a Rave16 fifteen minutes away, but the heavy, fast-moving traffic often gives me pause.

So I cocoon, happily.

Because for once this late adopter, thanks to our daughter, suddenly possesses a “smart TV,” not only with high def flat-screen but capable of streaming from Netflix and Amazon, plus CinemaNow, whomever that is. And I can listen to Beatles Radio, or Dylan Radio, or Alison Krauss Radio, whatever’s my whim to create, on Pandora. So I’m consuming lots of movies, and while it isn’t cinema, Tony, it beats a couple years of scarce moviegoing while this country mouse adjusts to the city.

Yet, I know, by the time I join Anthony Lane in his VOD boycott, cinema will have shrunk—actually I don’t think it will die completely—knocked off its loop by the aimless bombardment of streaming digital technology.


Filed under film/photography, humor, Lane—Prince Anthony, metaphor, MY LIFE

3 responses to “Lane redux: ‘Tower Heist’ & VOD

  1. Love this commentary, Richard! Has Lane ever liked any movie he’s reviewed for the NYer? I read his reviews because I like his writing but not as a way to decide what movies to see. And his take on VOD is priceless – especially the part about NATO. There’s something appealing about the idea of airstrikes on a movie studio. I came of age during the time when people said, “I’m going to the movies” and it meant a small or large theater (I remember the Fox in San Francisco) where only one movie was showing and we dressed up to see, for example, Ben Hur. There were ushers, too! I went to the local movie house every Saturday with my dime to get in and a nickle to buy a Sugar Daddy, which would last through the entire matinee that started with a newsreel and cartoons. Now we have theaters showing 24 movies and there are fewer and fewer I care to spend ten bucks to go see. And that’s if I sneak in my own Sugar Daddy! What do I watch on VOD? Old movies like The High and the Mighty – and TV shows like Law & Order. And my friends used to call me a movie slut . . . .

    Thanks for writing. I really enjoy your blog.

    • Thanks, Verna! Yes, he has liked a movie, and when he does, I really take notice. But I enjoy the review more if he hates it! He actually says nice things about the second movie in this week’s review, Melancholia, saying it’s why the loss of cinema will be tragic, though he’s kind of flip in his admiration.

      As a kid I used to love Pauline Kael’s reviews, but even then she seemed kind of full of it, or at least full of herself, to me. Lane is just witty, a rapier to her bludgeon, and laughs very appropriately at pop culture. I mean, is watching Hollywood movies worthy work for a grown man? He makes it so, but he has to review, or chooses to so we can laugh, some real dreck.

  2. Richard, you always bring something worthwhile to my attention! I read the New Yorker movie reviews, but don’t always pay attention to whether David Denby or Anthony Lane is reviewing–and now I will! I went back and read the Tower Heist review and enjoyed the actual writing — rather than just trying to see if I’d like the movie. I see what you mean about Lane. Now I’ll tune in more when he’s reviewing. I did go to see Margin Call based on David Denby’s review, and I’m glad I did — it’s a little slow, but fascinating given the financial implosions on Wall Street we’ve had to endure. I’d recommend it.