Monthly Archives: December 2002


…AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAILERS: One of my favorite parts of going to the movies has always been the previews, even prior to my former job of test-marketing movie trailers. Before “Gangs of New York” the other night I saw two compelling ones: Since GONY is about the hero trying to kill the villain, whose name is Bill, it only followed that the film be preceded by the teaser for “Kill Bill,” Quentin Tarantino’s first new movie in over five years. I must say it looks good, using kung-fu as a stand-in for QT’s usual blaxploitation homage.
Another trailer I saw impressed me much, much less: it was for “The Life of David Gale,” an anti-death penalty propaganda film which despite appearances is based neither on a true story nor a John Grisham novel. ‘David Gale’ stars Kevin Spacey as a death-penalty-fighting college professor (apparently based on Northwestern’s David Protess) who gets framed for murder, is convicted, and then is sentenced to (you guessed it) the death penalty. So with two days left until he’s due to be executed, it’s up to intrepid reporter Kate Winslet to uncover the evidence to clear him.
Like “The Contender” and “Three Kings” before it, “Life of David Gale” appears to be making an impassioned, polemical political argument based on events that are completely fictional. We don’t know who the bad guys are in this movie, but apparently they’re so pissed at David Gale for being against the death penalty that they committed a murder and pinned it on him just to get the perverse joy of seeing him executed- instead of just cutting out the middle man and killing Gale themselves.
A previous Hollywood treatment of this issue (1995’s “Dead Man Walking”), was also told from a left-wing perspective (the principals, after all, were Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, and Sean Penn), but its script actually managed to call the issue down the middle, and it ended up being one of the best movies of the ’90s. “Life of David Gale” looks to have nothing but propaganda on its mind, manipulation on the level of an earlier Spacey vehicle, “Pay It Forward.” The only thing that could possibly redeem the film for me would be if Gale turned out to be guilty, but based on the trailer I’m guessing that’s not the ending.
And besides, Kate Winslet is the female lead, and she’s playing an American. We all know Kate is a thousand times sexier with a British/Australian/New Zealand accent…

ROGER DODGER: Roger Ebert’s Top

ROGER DODGER: Roger Ebert’s Top Ten list is out, and he picks Spielberg’s “Minority Report” (?) as #1. Ebert’s been known for off-beat choices, from “Dark City” in 1998 to “Monster’s Ball” last year, but as much as I respect him as a critic it’s hard to imagine what he was thinking picking ‘Minority,’ which according to most observers wasn’t even the best Steven Spielberg movie of the year.


RAINDROPS KEEP FALLIN’ ON MY HEAD…: George Roy Hill, the director of one of the greatest films of the 20th Century (“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”) died today at the age of 81. Hill, I learn now, was a Minneapolis native who graduated from Blake, a Hopkins prep school; he later attended Yale and was a member of the Whittenpoofs, a well-known glee club. Hill won numerous Oscars in 1973 for “The Sting,” which like “Sundance” starred Newman and Redford, and also directed the ’70s comedy classic “Slap Shot.”


GET IN THE RING: Caught “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” over the holiday. It’s unquestionably a masterfully created picture, under the skilled thumb of Peter Jackson (director of one of my favorites, 1994’s “Heavenly Creatures”). But as someone who never read any of the books, I repeat my objection to the first film, which was that I had no idea what was going on half the time- which bearded hero was which, which grotesque villain was which (I just call them all “the evildoers”), and in the climactic battle scene, which army was where at any given time.
Funny- I always thought I was a geek growing up- but I never read or collected comic books, I never played Dungeons & Dragons, never was into that renaissance/role playing stuff, and I never as much as opened a Tolkien book. Is that why these movies were made- to make non-LOTR readers such as myself feel better, in retrospect, about their high school experiences? I’m reminded of an exchange from a “Friends” episode:

Chandler: Didn’t you ever read “Lord of the Rings” in high school?
Joey: No, I had sex in high school.

Oh, and one other thing: Frodo and Sam. They’re gay. Don’t even try to deny it; not that there’s anything wrong with it, no question about it- gay. Whether it’s Sam’s jealousy over Frodo’s flirtation with Gollum, Frodo mounting him with sword drawn, or the scene at the end where they almost kiss and have make-up sex, this subtext couldn’t be more obvious. Why doesn’t he just give him the damn ring already?


SATURDAY NIGHT’S ALL RIGHT: Over the holiday I finally finished “Live From New York,” the mammoth oral history of “Saturday Night Live” written by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller. Like all great showbiz books, it offers just the right amount of historical exposition, artistic analysis, and behind-the-scenes gossip. And the book is refreshingly honest about the show’s ups and downs over the years- after reading it, it’ll be hard to ever respect Chevy Chase (or Janeane Garofolo) again. Doing for SNL what Biskind’s “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls” did for ’70s Hollywood, the book sheds all sorts of light on pop cultural touchstones that we thought we knew all about- I can’t recommend it enough.


“A VERY DISAGREEABLE MAN WITH LITTLE GOOD IN HIM WHO WILL NOT BE MISSED:” The preceding (by Canon Michael Dittmer of a parishioner) was selected in the book “More News of the Weird” as the cruelest funeral eulogy in history, but the New York Post may have surpassed it with its editorial yesterday about the recent passing of noted Brooklyn-based black supremecist Sonny Carson: “In fact, Sonny Carson contributed nothing to the betterment of this city. He was a racist, a demagogue and a thug. New York has lost nothing by his passing.”
Ouch. Imagine what they’ll have to say when Hillary Clinton dies…