Sunday, September 16, 2007

SATURDAY NIGHT SPECIAL

Another Saturday night…

The weekend just doesn’t mean what it used to. I know, I know, when you become an adult (and I’ve been one now for a couple of years) many things don’t look the same as they did from the vantage point of a wild and crazy youth. But even through love and marriage, new jobs, tragedy, too much work, not enough work, and blessed parenthood, it always seemed as though there were enough hours to carve away 17 or 18 of them (not counting straight shots of sleep, the very best reward) to do with what we (or I) would on a Saturday and Sunday.

Ever since I went back to school, though, the weekend, as it has been traditionally defined in my mind, has officially lost its meaning. Saturdays, and often Sundays (and much of what’s left of the day during the week) must now be devoted to the time-consuming, exhausting, mentally challenging pursuit of the credential that will unlock a whole new chapter in my life as a teacher.

Saturday nights like this one, however, and the one that came around this time last week, are often the only time I'll have (for at least the next year and a half, most likely) to devote to my all-time favorite pursuit— that of sitting my ass down in front of a big screen at some local cineplex, waiting for the lights to go down (and the incessant “pre-show entertainment” to come to a merciful end), and hoping for the best.

These days, when I get less than the best, as happened last Saturday, I end up a little foul in the temper department. I remember not going to the movies for a couple of months after my first daughter was born, and when I finally did get a chance to go out and relax with a picture, I made the terrible choice to see Jet Li in Romeo Must Die. Last Saturday a Herculean study project prevented me from making it to the drive-in club tailgater (apparently it was a huge success—there should be pictures up soon), so I decided to treat myself to a splashy action picture to make myself feel better. I had a choice between 3:10 to Yuma, which is what I would have seen at the drive-in that night, or the tempting new action comedy Shoot ‘Em Up with Clive Owen, Monica Bellucci and Paul Giamatti apparently sending up (and outdoing) every action movie and action movie cliché on the books. I was tired, Shoot ‘Em Up was shorter and undoubtedly more caffeinated, so I went with guns and irony.

After about five minutes of Shoot ‘Em Up’s relentless and knowing disregard for coherence, and its insistence that the only good parts of the post-Hard-Boiled action movie occur when weapons are blazin’ outrageously, I knew I’d made a mistake. The cast is having fun, but the movie plays too cynical by half, with a sense that it thinks its about twice (or even three-and-a-half times) more exciting and fun than it actually is. I’ve seen all the same action thrillers that writer-director Michael Davis has, and none of them were as cluttered and annoying as his straight-up send-up. Clive Owen is a can’t-miss chunk of action sculpture that most ladies (and quite a few men) won’t want to ignore. Monica Bellucci functions the same way for those of us who long for the days when Sophia Loren was routinely captured in motion pictures wearing the slightest, sexiest wardrobe the costumers could concoct, though Davis never finds anything comparably witty to do with her stunning figure the way Christopher Gans did in his loony werewolf action thriller Brotherhood of the Wolf. And who knows, even Paul Giamatti’s Elmer Fudd to Owen’s carrot-chomping, indestructible Bugs Bunny superhero might end up tickling someone’s fancy. Alas, not mine. I got as much joy from gawking at Bellucci’s image on the one-sheets and in stills than I got from any two actual minutes of Shoot ‘Em Up. She’s the only reason I would recommend anyone go see it, even taking into consideration that deliberately absurd, again not-nearly-so-funny-as-the-filmmakers-seem-to-think-it-is sex scene between Owen and Bellucci where humping and two-fisted gunplay get all tautologically tangled up with each other. In the end, Bellucci gets off, and Owen gets to come both literally and metaphorically, but I ended up feeling cheap and used.

Tonight, however, I rectified that mistake, and after I finished this week’s all-day paper-writing session, I made my way out to see 3:10 to Yuma. This has been a very good late summer for dismantling my preconceived notions about adaptations of Broadway musicals and now remakes of movies than were pretty damn good to begin with. I’m speaking, of course, about Delmer Daves’ original 1957 version of Yuma, starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin as a hardened killer and the beleaguered rancher who signs up to deliver said villain to the train that will take him to prison. Daves’ movie was an outdoor western with an interior sensibility—the scenes I remember from it most were the ones that took place in dusty saloons, cramped dining rooms and quiet, shadowy hotel rooms. The sense of claustrophobia the movie imparted went well with the psychological taunting Heflin undergoes at Ford’s hands in the name of a sense of personal justice and morality. Director James Mangold’s remake features scenes that are structural correlatives of those memorable sequences from the 1957 film, but they are welded to a visually expansive template that emphasizes, post-Leone, post-Eastwood, the treacherous topography (rendered frighteningly beautiful by cinematographer Phedon Papamichael) that actively reflects and contains the wary gamesmanship of Ben Wade (this time played by an insinuatingly entertaining Russell Crowe) directed toward the weary, stubborn Dan Evans (Christian Bale, as subjugated to his physical performance as ever, and brilliant all around). Mangold tests the patience of those of us who routinely complain that if directors and studios continue to insist on tampering with the past, then they should make a pact to remake only movies that were failures to begin with and leave the memories of the good ones alone. With his version of 3:10 to Yuma (again based on the short story Elmore Leonard undoubtedly didn’t get paid enough to write 50-some years ago), Mangold has demonstrated how a good remake of a good movie is done. He’s trumped all us whiners by making a movie that is, in its own way, as good as Daves’.

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Speaking of whining, there was a point to trotting out all my woes at the beginning of this post, and that is to apologize, in retrospect and in advance, if the offerings on SLIFR have or will come to seem somewhat skimpier than usual. I look over the past few months and quietly cringe at the amount of real writing that has been committed to these electronic pages. But I’m living in a different world now, at least for the next year, one that is defined by all that I must do in order to achieve, for myself and my family, the kind of goals that will allow us to find a better place or ourselves in this world, a place whose exterior is more comfortable and productive in general, and whose interior resembles the peace of mind best reflected (for me, anyway) by the picture of that boy sitting dockside with a fishing pole in his hand. I hope I can continue to strike a balance between what I want to do (write copiously for this blog) and what I must do (which, come to think of it, qualifies as a “want-to-do” too, thank God). I have not yet “gone fishin’,” but someday I hope I will. Until then, I thank you for sticking around and hoping that I come up with good reasons for you to continue to do so as I walk through this very interesting and challenging phase of my life.

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Coming soon: My picks for the 25 Best Foreign Language Films, my own answers (FINALLY) to Mr. Shoop’s Summer Quiz, a very special interview with an SLIFR favorite, an announcement about a special screening tied to that interview, AND the much-anticipated Winter Quiz (Professor TBA), and God knows what else!

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9 comments:

Jonathan Lapper said...

Dennis,
You're the only blogger I know who can average two or three updates every two or three days and think you're being skimpy. Sure some of them are small ( a you-tube link, a mention of another blog, a plug for a drive-in event that most would love to go to but can't) but many blogs put up a one paragraph review or said youtube link and let it sit for two weeks before updating again. The only other major blogs that update more than you would be Scanners (and given Jim's other duties I have no idea how he manages to update so frequently) and The Shamus (Bad for the Glass) who seems to update by the hour (and I'm really starting to love his music posts as I'm sure he knows from my comments).

I think many of us are trying to get to a place in our lives where love and work are one and the same. For me personally that's writing, music and making (and of course watching) movies but right now life has stopped me from doing anything other than the writing part. My guitar has languished so long I can barely remember simple chords, my keyboard collecting dust, my computer filled to it's hard drive capacity with unedited digital film shot long ago.

Life and work get in the way of a lot of things but they also make us who we are, teach us and give us the experience necessary to understand what's important and what's not.

Glad to see you have found out what is important enough to you to sacrifice some things you enjoy in the knowledge that the rewards gained will outdo anything that has been (only temporarily) lost.

And I can't wait to see the final poll of foreign films on Wednesday. I think all of us will be posting that day with what we sent in and in what order.

I also await your next quiz with great anticipation.

Cheers

Sal said...

Your a good man Dennis Cozzalio

Bob said...

As probably the most nationally recognized non-known-big-name-pro cinephile blogger, and definitely one of two or three best bloggers of the gang regardless, you really should be proud.

If I were going to school, presumably employed in some way a good chunk of the time (teaching, I'm guessing...not the easiest gig in the world), and ESPECIALLY if I had kids at the same time, I really wonder if I'd be able to do any of this at all, and certainly not as well as you've been managing it.

Of course, you've now shamed me into posting more as I'm actually a bit un(der)employed at the moment, and only just considering getting started substitute teaching, having been C-Bested and fingerprinted. (Has teaching officially become the last refuge of desperate writers' these days?)

Oh, and "3:10 to Yuma" really was pretty darn good...but a bit too speedily edited for my taste, and I'm not sure if they sold the ending as well as they could have.

Cinephile said...

Dennis,
Your blog is one of the things that made me want to blog-- but that's not your fault. (: It is a constant source of inspiration, enlightenment and enjoyment, and you should never feel guilty about (*gasp*) taking time out for your life. As someone who also teaches, I feel your pain about the lost weekends, but you are working towards something wonderful, and if your blog is any indication, you will be a fabulous teacher. Best of luck!

Ted Pigeon said...
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Ted Pigeon said...
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Ted Pigeon said...

Hopefully I'll be seeing 3:10 to Yuma early on Saturday morning. Your comments give me more incentive to make that happen, Dennis. And although I am many years your junior, I definitely relate to your position. Being a full-time (medical) writer, part-time student, and full time husband and home owner, I am amazed I find time to watch movies and write about them to the extent that I do; those who read my blog are aware that I like to write... a lot. You'd think I have time to pump out these posts, when in reality, I don't. That's why I had a rather bittersweet grin on my face as I read this post. At the end of the day, you and I and many other bloggers just love writing and movies too much, which (for me at least) keeps me compelled, if not always inspired, to continue writing, reading, and movie watching whenever I can. I'm looking forward to keeping my reading up on your blog, since you fill a unique space in our little film blogging community.

Peet Gelderblom said...

Oh Dennis, you have no idea how much I sympathize! I'm trying to get this Directorama thing off the ground while my Danish in-laws are coming over for a week and our kitchen is being replaced, with a son who needs help with his homework and several projects at work eating up my brain.

You're not alone, man. Really, you're doing a mighty good job and it's quality - not quantity - that'll keep us coming back!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Test!