Saturday, April 30, 2005

Cold Feet, And None Of Our Goddamn Business.

Well, the manhunt is over.

Jennifer Wilbanks wasn't kidnapped, or murdered, or whatever it was the media was hoping for.

She got cold feet.

Happens to a lot of people, though most don't run all the way from Georgia to New Mexico. And now that she's confirmed alive, I think it's appropriate to ask ourselves, the American People, a few pertinent questions:

#1: Is this News? The days of actual investigative reporting are long behind us, and we've since entered the afe of info-tainment, so I suppose it does qualify, given our National lowering-of-the-bar in regards to standards of journalism. But still. People vanish every single day in this country. Is news coverage of these disappearances limited to white women about to be married?
Quick, name the last time you saw an Amber Alert for a black/indian/asian/latino/eskimo/cherokee/whathaveyou baby. Or a national news hunt for any person of any in any of the above categories that was not a manhunt for a criminal.

I'm still waiting.

#2: Is this anyone's business? In the next few days, I expect a flurry of moralistic commentary from all sides regarding Wilbanks' actions. Increasingly, the "News" has become our National Shame Police, reporting on people as if the reporters themselves were somehow above human frailty. The New York Post is the largest offender of its kind here in NYC, and never hesitates to cast judgement on the people of this country.

But is this the sort of thing we want? If these reporters had to face "coverage" of their own, flawed existences, replete with divorce, adultery, "cold feet", bad hair days, and "Terrible" fashion sense, would they still have the holier-than-thou balls to condemn those around them?

I think its mighty bizarre that this woman fled over the entire country because of cold feet, but isn't this a family thing? Should I think anything about this? Should I even know about it? I don't think I should. If I were a member of their family right now, I'd be relieved that she wasn't lying face-down in a ditch right now, but I'd also be embarrassed, and probably very angry. Would I want people in NYC, or Cali, or anywhere other than these families homes, to know and judge on this? Definately not.

If I had any real power, I'd tell the media to lay off these people, right now. They've been through a lot, and they have some difficult things to sort through. The last thing they need right now are online opinion polls asking the public what they think of this mess.

Friday, April 29, 2005

I'm Searchin' For A Heart of Gold

When I was a young lad, of so many, many years ago, I discovered The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The first time I read it, I understood very little of it. English culture and language was, at that point in my life, almost completely foreign. The concept of a "black box with buttons on it" that you held in your hand, and which acted like a book, was too much to wrap my tiny little brain around. The infinite improbability drive? Forget it.

But I loved the weird sense of humor, the character of Zaphod Beeblebrox, President of the Universe and all around slick guy. I loved the idea of death by poetry.

And when I read it again, at 16 or so, I found layers of real meaning, subtle anger beneath Adams' dry British wit, and more meaning in Arthur's quest for the perfect cup of tea, the humor of the name Ford Prefect, and an understanding of what the infinite improbility drive was.

Adams was a rare comic voice. A man who wrote the way Monty Python constructed sketches. His point of view was unique, original, and very, very funny.

So I was pretty thrilled to go catch the film of the book tonight at the Ziegfeld theater here in NYC. The Ziegfeld is an enormous theater, and until IMAX landed, the largest screen around by far. It's the best theater in New York, and if a movie like Hitchhiker comes along, it's really the only place a self-respecting film fan should see it.

And its worth seeing. It's going to piss a lot of people off. It's not quite entirely faithful to the book, taking a long break in the middle of the movie for a pointless subplot that goes nowhere. And yet its also simultaneously chock full of moments lifted wholly from the book.

Hammer & Tongs, the directing duo who filmed this oddball flick, are powerfully talented folk. They're visionary, in the same way that Michael Gondry or Spike Jonze is a visionary. From the design of the film, to the quirks in it, to the pacing, and the angles, and the use of real puppets instead of CGI trickery for the aliens.

In terms of visuals, this film is as innovative, original and whimsical as anything Terry Gilliam's ever done. And I love me some Terry Gilliam.

In terms of performances, well, for the most part, they're good to great. Freeman's Arthur Dent is a perfect English shlub. Mos Def is consistently great as Ford Prefect, and the combination of Warwick Davis and Alan Rickman for Marvin the Depressed Android is inspired and hilarious. Warwick's body language in his scenes is gold.

Less successful is Zooey Deschanel as Trillian. She's a cypher in the book, and she's a cypher in the film as well. Her line readings are flat, and I have no idea why Arthur loves her so much. I'm unsure if it was the direction, or simple miscasting, but she brings the energy down every time she's onscreen.

Sam Rockwell does just the opposite. I love Rockwell. He's a very talented guy, but sometimes he pushes it just a bit too far, and his acting starts to annoy me, rather than entertain. This is the case in The Green Mile, where he plays a convict with such over the top hicksterism that he's painful to watch, and not in the good way. Here, he commits a similar sin, pushing Zaphod in a direction that, in theory I have no problem with, but in execution, is less than the sum of his parts. He's just TOO manic and cartoonish, and the fact that, at other moments, he's perfect as a southern sounding, cool-as-ice nitwit politico makes the performance all the more frustrating, because he's so good for large portions of the film.

I'd recommend this movie to people simply based on the fact that there is a scene where the cast is transformed into animated yarn dolls, but its also a strong tribute to Adams, and a startlingly original and exciting visual film that any fan of the aforementioned Gilliam, Monty Python, or risk-taking film will enjoy.

I think Adams would have dug it. And most importantly, I think a lot of people will read the book after they see the movie. And that's good for everyone.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Cool Hand Luke: An Appreciation

Man, Paul Newman is one cool guy.

As I'm getting older, I'm beginning to appreciate the past more and more. The music I'm listening to is a pretty straight diet of old blues, country, blue grass and spirituals, the books I'm reading are, for the most part, history, and the films I'm watching haven't been on the New Release shelf at Blockbuster for months. Sure, I still see new films, and I appreciate them, but they're rarely the big studio pictures. I'd rather see one Primer than ten different Ashley Judd movies that somehow all have the same plot.

So, when I do go to the flicker shows, It's usually for some behemoth of a film that really demands a viewing on the big screen. I'm seeing Hitchhiker's Guide at the Ziegfeld tomorrow, and I think that's going to be fantastic.

But, when it comes to what I'm renting from the store these days, I'm finding myself reaching back instead of contiuing forward. I'm tempted to go all crotchety-old-man, and say that the past was better than the present. But that's not true. We tend to lionize the past, and there were just as many lousy films made back in the day as there were good ones.

Still, there's something about older dramas that just seems more intimate, more affecting, than most of what we see from the Studios these days.

Example numero Uno:

Cool Hand Luke

A few months back I rented Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. I liked it a lot, despite the neo-psychedelic Burt Bachrach moments. If you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about. A pretty damn fine Western is galloping along on the backs of two madly charasmatic lead actors (Newman and Redford), and then suddenly, the forever 70's sound of Bachrach is invading from all sides, turning said Western into something the Beatles might have approved of in the Sitar strumming, Opium smokin' days. There's a loooong choral number in the middle of the film that seems like it goes on for ten minutes. And it's maddening.

I liked Newman in the film so much that I decided to try another one he's famous for. Cool Hand Luke is a fairly traditional old school drama. At moments, its a little too traditional. Older films can have a stiff, stagey quality to them, with over the top acting and false notes. They also tend to move along a lot slower. It's hard not to notice these things. For the most part, though, the movie is still very watchable.

The story's not dissimilar to the Shawshank Redemption. Lucas Jackson (Newman) gets sent to a chain gang camp for cutting the heads off parking meters in a drunken stupor. He's got two years in the clink for this (and causes me to wonder about the penal system. He cuts the heads off of parking meters and gets two YEARS?), and its evident from the start that Jackson's a different cat than the other cons serving their time. He is, like Tim Robbins' Andy Dufresne, a bit of a troublemaker.

But this isn't the Shawshank Redemption. Its a darker, more complicated film. Yes, there's some over acting. Yes, its slow in parts. But Cool Hand Luke tells some pretty devastating truths in some pretty understated ways. It's closest kin that I can think of might be Nicholson's One Flew Over the Cukoo's Nest.

And there's some pretty sharp funny bits, too. Carl the Floorwalker's speech to the inmates on their first night in the bunks (Anyone who gets up without askin' goes in the box, anyone who doesn't remember their number goes in the box, anyone who doesn't remember a ridiculously complicated laundry system goes in the box, etc, etc) is like a precursor to the Simpsons, or Family Guy. THose shows both pushed joke times far beyond what could be considered funny, yet that somehow made the joke funnier (See: Peter Griffen rocking and holding his knee for what feels like a full minute) , and that's what this film does. It starts out as kind of funny in its repetition, then becomes monotonous, and then pushes out beyond that, becoming hysterical in its sheer length.

There's also the famous egg eating scene, which is fun, though again, much more subdued than anything you'd see today.

But ultimately, Cool Hand Luke is a good, solid older film because its unsettling. What, exactly, is the message of the film? If you haven't seen the film, I recommend that you do. I don't want to spoil the end for you, and I won't. Needless to say, Luke doesn't end up quite like Robbins at the end of Shawshank. No sunny field and Wise Old Morgan Freeman for him.

Can people escape themselves? Can they escape society? Can they change?

I'd say yes. Cool Hand Luke says no.

Lost In the Wilderness

If you're still checking back in here, I apologize for my absence.

Law School is swiftly coming to a close, and I find myself two-finger typing this out from underneath a mound of over-priced legal texts.

I hope you all are being good to each other.

I'm going to post some stuff tonight, and I'm going to try to be a little more regular about it in general. It's nice to have feedback on your thoughts. Thanks to all who've given it on mine.