Originally posted 1 February 2000
Movies: Three Kings, Rear Window, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, Isn\'t She Great, Kestrel\'s Eye, The Terrorist
My brother, the brilliant developer of the SMO site (that's "developer" in the "programmer" sense of the word and not in the "real estate mogul" sense), was in town last weekend. It was bitter cold outside, but that did not stop us from going to see Three Kings at the Worldwide Cinema, a second-run house in Midtown. I had never been to the Worldwide--by the time a movie gets there I have usually seen it already or am not interested in seeing it--but I have been mildly intrigued by the theater for years: all movies there are $4.00 all the time.
Three Kings appeared to be a good bet for the Worldwide. It is directed by David O. Russell, and I really liked his first movie, Spanking the Monkey (which Dan disliked), and Dan really liked his second movie, Flirting with Disaster (which I disliked). Somehow, neither of us had managed to see Three Kings during the first four months it was open in the US, but it seemed likely that one of us would come out of that flick happy.
No such luck. Although we were both pleased to have paid only $8.00 total to see Three Kings, which is set in Kuwait at the end of the Gulf War, neither of us thought the movie was any good. And we both like Marky Mark and Ice Cube--two of the film's main actors--so this flick went very wrong in many ways to leave us both feeling grouchy afterwards.
The opening scene is creative and engaging, and then the movie falls apart. It attempts to demonstrate that war is chaotic and confusing by *being* chaotic and confusing. This just makes for a tedious two hours, punctuated by sand. George Clooney seems exactly like the t.v. actor that he is. I do not watch ER, but during one scene where Clooney lavishes some medical attention on Marky Mark, I could not help but think that he'd learned how to do that procedure on an NBC set. Also, the movie has far too many gross-out graphic wound scenes for my delicate sensibilities.
Here's how Three Kings scored on a scale of 1 - 10 in my categories of analysis:
*Gender: 2. Whaddaya know? Within two minutes of the opening scene, George Clooney bangs one of the two female reporters stationed at a US base camp. Nora Dunn is cast as the other female reporter--and whaddaya know? she's castrating and unreasonable. I don't recall seeing any female military personnel in the film, although I believe the Gulf War had the highest proportion of female combatants of any US-fought military action yet. The Arab women in the film tend to cry a lot.
*Race: 5. There are good Arabs in this movie, and there are bad Arabs in this movie, which, by Hollywood standards, is a nice diversity of Arabs. OTOH, all of the Arabs display a simple-minded fear of Sadam Hussein, and the Arabs play stock characters in general. The movie, however, portrays the army as the relatively integrated institution that it is and, in a major deviation from Hollywood trend, the one main black character does not get killed.
*Shoes: 2. Plenty of bare feet and combat boots.
*Dogs: .5. Part of a dog is seen very briefly, lapping up milk. Do people in Kuwait even drink milk?
*Do things blow up? 4.5. The explosions seem more like gratuitous chaos and violence than heartfelt pyrotechnics.
*Theater floor: -11. We had to move once because the floor was so slickery with ersatz nacho cheese goo that we couldn't sit comfortably without our feet sliding under the seats in front of us, and we almost had to move again because one aisle forward the smell of the ersatz nacho cheese goo was overpowering. Even at $4.00 a head, this is unacceptably disgusting.
I know Three Kings was well received by the mainstream critics, and it made many top-10 of 1999 lists. But I didn't like it, and I believe that the critics who applauded it are willing to herald any crap that has an aura of indie-ness around it.
On Tuesday night, I met my friend Matthew at the Film Forum to see the recently restored Rear Window. Rear Window is not only one of my favorite Hitchcock films, it is one of my favorite movies in general, and I think it is the movie I have seen the most times in my life. The print is stunning, so if this version is playing in a theater near you, dash directly out and see it. The movie features good shoes, amazing clothes and the perfect Mark Cross overnight bag. Plus, a dog plays a central role in the plot. Rear Window is not the strongest on race, and it's complicated on gender, but allowances are made for an excellent screenplay and Grace Kelly.
After Rear Window, Matthew left, but I stayed on at the Film Forum and met my neighbor Rich to see The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, a documentary about baseball's first great openly Jewish player. We had a few minutes to kill before the movie, so we got some of the first-rate popcorn they sell at the Film Forum, and we stood in the lobby eating it gracelessly. Less than an inch into the bag, I saw a sight so frightening that I couldn't speak and Rich had to guess at my look of anguish. "What is it? Are you choking? Do you see somebody? Is it somebody famous? Is it somebody you know? Is it an ex? It's an ex, isn't it?" Matthew H (absolutely not to be confused with the Matthew W who frequently joins me for movies and who had just left the theater) was standing about four feet away from us, reading a postcard. Matthew H and I used to live together, but he had been living in Boston since sometime before we broke up, and we had not spoken in about four years. I said hello, and we had an awkward conversation during which I learned that he's been living about 20 blocks away from me for the past year. I will probably run into him every three days now.
Anyway, I can barely remember The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, because I was stewing throughout the movie, worried that I had had popcorn in my teeth and on my lips while speaking with Matthew. (Rich kept leaning over and saying, "Stop stewing already"; I guess my distress was palpable even in the dark.) Even thus distracted, I'm pretty sure the movie isn't that great. It's ordered chronologically, and it should be organized around the themes it keeps reviewing. Also, the movie gives very little sense of the baseball world at the time (the 1930s and 40s), and it has only one dog, seen briefly. ESPN did those 50 one-hour SportsCentury specials last year, and they were a lot stronger than this flick. Since ESPN did not consider Greenberg to be one of the top 50 athletes of the 20th Century, however, we have little cinematic choice for learning about the guy. I wouldn't steer you away from seeing TLATOHG, but I'd recommend that you go in with low expectations. Alternatively, any old story about Kurt Warner, although he's a gentile, will undoubtedly move you deeply.
On Friday night, I went by myself to see Isn't She Great at the Sony megaplex on 68th Street. It was ridiculously cold that night, and it turns out that New Yorkers are worse weather wimps than I'd realized. Despite having a lineup of a dozen new movies, the theater--normally packed to the rafters on weekends--was only about as crowded as it gets on a slow Tuesday night. So it was pretty much me and about a hundred and fifty gay men seeing Bette Midler's latest.
We all like Bette, so it's too bad that Isn't She Great isn't great. The movie, which is about the novelist Jacqueline Susann, cannot decide whether it wants to be funny or serious, campy or intellectual, about the hair or about the clothes. Nathan Lane plays Irving Mansfield, Susann's husband. Lane and Midler obviously have the chops to do a great campy film together, but the movie is so indecisive, it can only let them each have a few absurdly funny lines, and the chemistry between them is flatter than a matzoh.
Giving credit where it's due, there are outstanding opening credits, and Stockard Channing is hilarious (although her campiness would have played better if the movie had just embraced that mode). David Hyde Pierce is also good, and although he plays an uptight WASP, he manages to depart from his role as an uptight WASP on Frasier.
Here's how Isn't She Great scored on a scale of 1 - 10 in my categories of analysis:
*Gender: 7. The movie is about a strong woman, and she isn't a hooker nor is her role as a mother the central theme of the film.
*Race: 2. WASPs receive the brunt of racial stereotyping in this flick, although there's a Spanish-accented cleaning woman in one semi-humorous scene.
*Shoes: 3. There are some good shoes in this movie, but they are seriously overshadowed by the clothes.
*Dogs: 4. Jackie and Irv have a poodle, and there are a handful of dogs seen in the park.
*Do things blow up? 0. Noooo.
To make amends for having thrown good money after bad Hollywood trash, on Saturday night I went to see two offbeat, truly independent movies. I began by meeting Matthew (W(!)) at the Film Forum to see Kestrel's Eye, a Swedish film about, uh...well, it's not technically *about* anything. It's 86 minutes of close-up footage of a family of falcons, interspersed with views from the birds' rooftop perspective. There's no dialog and no music. It's meditative and mysterious. It was warm in the room, and I dozed a little. I don't think I missed anything.
After Kestrel's Eye, Matthew and I walked down to the Screening Room to meet Rich. Rich and I attempted to buy tickets for The Terrorist, an Indian movie, but it turns out the Screening Room has an annoying policy of not selling tickets more than an hour before show time. We complained. They were unmoved. With an hour and a half until The Terrorist was supposed to begin, the three of us decamped to Walker's for drinks and a snack. Walker's is way, way more pleasant on weekends than it is on weekdays, and we enjoyed ourselves despite a large, neighboring table's gathering 'round a laptop to watch live UFO footage via some sort of Webcast.
Matthew opted not to see a second movie that night, so Rich and I said goodbye and walked back to the Screening Room, where we immediately bumped into an ex-girlfriend of his. I tell you, this town is a minefield of failed relationships waiting to haunt you around every corner. M, by herself, was on her way into The Terrorist, so we all sat together. Fortunately for everyone, Rich and I are not dating, so this scene was less awkward than it might otherwise have been (although I spent half the movie mistakenly convinced that the man who sat down in front of me during the previews was Darryl).
Basically, we all went to see The Terrorist because John Malkovich had said a bunch of laudatory things about it in an article that ran in the Arts & Leisure section of the Times a few weeks ago. Malkovich saw the movie as a part of an 8-day film festival in Egypt, and it sounds like most of the other movies he saw were weak. In that context, I too might have been blown away by The Terrorist. As it was, I thought it was a good film, a tense film, even a daring film. It reminded me of Satyajit Ray's movies. I liked it. I was not *totally* dazzled by it. But I recommend it.
I don't recommend running into your ex at a movie you are trying to concentrate on. Rich and I have had to spend the last couple of days drinking Scotch and hugging our dogs to get past the movie-going events of the week. Hopefully, our heads will be sufficiently cleared by the time the neo-noir series starts at the Film Forum later this month. Stay tuned, and meantime, feel free to mouth off about this SMO or your favorite brand of recuperative whiskey in the comments section below.