I love Bill Maher’s attitude and comedy and watch “Real Time” without fail.
But I was totally stumped as to why he would devote a half-hour last week to an interview with Ron Howard. Especially on a special-edition show where the other half-hour was devoted to a one-on-one interview with Gore Vidal.
How do they even equate?
I mean, I sort of get it: Maher hurled brickbats, smashed icons and otherwise gave the finger to religion with his audaciously funny documentary, “Religulous,” last year. He has a constant stick up his ass about religion – and Howard has just directed a sequel to “The DaVinci Code,” which caused consternation within the Catholic Church. The new film, “Angels & Demons,” is sure to ruffle Vatican feathers as well.
But it’s not as though Howard is an iconoclast himself; he just happens to be directing a movie that caused controversy – not because he believed in its ideas but because it was based on a best-selling book and was a guaranteed box-office smash.
So why would Maher kiss Ron Howard’s ass, giving him the one-on-one treatment as though he were a major filmmaker? What – wasn’t Joel Schumacher available? Is Richard Donner dead? God knows there’s a long list of hacks of similar mediocrity.
I hate to be harsh about Howard. When I see him on TV, despite the beard and bald dome, I still see Opie and Richie Cunningham and Winthrop Paroo in “The Music Man” and even the snarly teen in “The Shootist.” (Whereas my 17-year-old son, who was watching Bill Maher with me, admitted that Howard just looked like “somebody’s dad.”) I’ve interviewed Howard a number of times over the years (beginning with “Cocoon”) and he’s always been gracious, articulate and friendly.
But a major filmmaker deserving of that kind of attention?
Please. That’s the kind of hagiography I expect from Turner Classics (which actually did run a Richard Schickel-produced career retrospective of Howard last year.)
Howard is a highly competent middle-brow movie director. Nothing wrong with that. Given a film as rousing and over-the-plate as, say, “Apollo 13,” Howard can hit it out of the park. (I still believe Howard deserved the Oscar for that film far more than Mel Gibson’s overlong, overrated “Braveheart”). Even last year’s “Frost/Nixon” showed that Howard had a mastery over a certain kind of material and an ability to work with actors that can’t be denied.
Give him a sweet-natured comedy – “Splash,” “Parenthood” – and he’s all over it. On the other side of the ledger: “Willow.” “The Paper.” “Edtv.” And – can I even type this without gagging? – “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
For that matter, there’s “A Beautiful Mind,” which gave mental illness a heroic Hollywood gloss – and “The DaVinci Code” itself, as lumbering a thriller as you’re likely to find. Even Tom Hanks looked bored during that one.
Perhaps some critic in the distant future will look back and crown Howard the king of some school of filmmaking that has yet to be recognized or named. It will be a stretch, even then.
But, for the moment, Howard is simply a successful commercial director. He’s no visionary, no ground-breaker, no voice-of-a-generation.
C’mon, Bill Maher – we expect you to be a little more discriminating than that.