a seemingly random journey through cinema's heart of darkness. so to speak.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

P.S. Ken Jennings is no more

Of course, had you listened to NPR this afternoon, you would have already known that. (Sorta. The words they chose barely qualify as "coy.") That said, can I please scream Quiz Show? Right in time for the end of sweeps week, Jennings becoming a boring know-it-all (not my words) -- friggin' "Fed Ex"?! (Yeah, delivery men only work four months a year, dumbass.) Regardless, I salute you.

So, Thanksgiving weekend was a bust, activities-wise. No one told me that if you work 40 hours a week and hold down a job, you, like, get tired and can, if the opportunity arises, spend the whole days at a time "vege-ing." Saw very little over the four-day marathon, and illegally downloaded even less. (At least I have Spinal Tap's immortal "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight" on my hard drive.)

Of the bunch, The Stepford Wives remake was the mom-sating offering. As though it needed reiterating, it's a near-disaster: barely 70 minutes of glib Paul Rudnick one-liners and footage cut within an inch of its life, followed by a protracted twist ending so transparently re-shot that the actors even look older. Not that the Bryan Forbes original was some masterwork of subtle horror. (Like, say, Rosemary's Baby, Ira Levin's other woman-in-peril schlockfest.) In fact, it's deadly dull, with bland Katherine Ross barely mustering up enough energy to make us worry about her turning into a robot. (Paula Prentiss, though, could eat Bette Midler for breakfast.) But this is still one of the great missed opportunities: here was a chance to satirize the backlash against feminism, though all Rudnick & co. satirize is the idea that anyone would want to remake the film in our ever-trashy era. Assholes.

I penned a review of Ousmane Sembene's transporting female genital mutilation pic Moolaadé for the Weekly, so I'll let you wait till then. Though I never did get around to writing words -- any words, I believe -- on Sideways, which I took a second helping of at Harrisburg's meager, but welcome, equivalent of an art house movie theater. (Tiny room, broken-spring-heavy chairs, rows that barely make room for legs, no slope, screen always in the cinemascope position...it's good to be home.) While I'm hardly jumping up and down about it, it's almost obnoxiously appealing, movie-izing a kind of geek I don't think has ever received the movie-ization. That realm of geekdom is the wine geek, and there's no shortage of hilariously arcane tidbits littered about (so stems are what give it its color!), delivered with the correct mixture of awe and deprication. As the increasingly unhinged nerd, Paul Giamatti delivers his most lived-in turn yet: I loved his seamless blend of class (he pronounces all his consonants, and correctly says "croissant") and self-destructive vulgarity, equally at home talking vino and nustling up to a Barely Legal. Also, again needlessly reiterating the plenty iterated (sorry), Thomas Haden Church is one funny motherfucker -- don't think I don't remember you from Wings. While it's plenty absorbing and quietly trenchant throughout, the second viewing rendered the last twenty minutes -- or at least up to the tacked-on but still restrained hopeful ending -- my favorite section of the movie: there's not a lot of movie that really get that feeling of having your heart (and dreams) smashed and then having to endure the company of friends, all while on the road. (It's not fun.)

The biggest gain -- and it's a sizeable one -- was getting back on track with the westerns of Anthony Mann and James Stewart. Winchester '73, purchased on a whim, is pure psychological quagmire bliss, with a treasure trove of characters bouncing off one another, all connected by the passing of the titular rifle. "Yeah," you're saying, "I already saw that one. It was called The Red Violin. And I loathed every second of it." But you're wrong: Mann all but ditches the gimmicky structure halfway through (right around the time a young Rock Hudson pops up as an injun), turning his focus onto the mental damage it has wrought. Most of it's on Stewart, and I have to say he's the most unsettling crazed asshole in screen history: who but Mann (and, afterwards, Hitch) realized that his good-naturedness was only an inch from deranged obsession, nearly foaming at the mouth to get what he wants? The Man From Laramie is every bit its equal, only more ambitious: Mann holds the balls in the air with such clarity, yet such precision, that Stewart's quest -- again, to avenge a relative's murder -- extends to the very land itself. Neither is as vivid -- or as tortured -- as the loneliness of the five-actor Naked Spur, but it does cement Mann as every bit the equal of Hawks and Ford -- and probably the former's superior. So the weekend wasn't a huge wash.

Also, this just in: Jeremy, my novellist pal, has successfully bested National Novel Writing Month. Maybe he'll even post the news himself one of these days.

* And contains what is for the author the "funniest moment of, like, ever": after Virginia Madsen's come-hither monologue, none-too-subtly preaching to the richness of middle aged women, Giamatti respons with a three-year pause, followed by a shrug and "Yeah, I like other wines, too..." Perhaps you had to be there.


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