day. Since so much of our site’s content is lost in other designs,
hampered by ad code messing with the pages, or surrounded by gas and
low on evil, I’m going to start reprinting them for new eyes. You’ll
see classic Smilin’ Jack Ruby, stuff from me when I was relevant, early
Devin, and if there’s a God… some Brian Koukol. So, look for the CHUD
Rerun branding and enjoy. It’s nice revisiting some of this stuff. –
***END OF WARNING***
By Smilin’ Jack Ruby
’tis been a busy season indeed.
you’re in L.A. and you haven’t staggered over to LACMA to
see the touring Diane Arbus exhibit (though, strangely,
some of the same photos [different prints, obviously] are
also on display in the new photography exhibit at
the MOCA), you’re missing out. Should, suddenly, your desire
for artistic photography be whetted and you find yourself
looking for more…more to satiate your newfound
thirst, the new acquisitions exhibit at the Getty featuring
the work of Eugene Atget, Brett Weston, William Garnett
and Milton Rogovin (in particular) is a nice after-dinner
whatever. We’re in the doldrums of the year (I’ve not
paid to see some real CRAP lately) – done with the Oscar
movies and waiting for the summer movies – despite the fact
that Spartan and Eternal Sunshine of
the Spotless Mind just absolutely rock. Beyond
that, it’s mediocrity at the box office until, well, hopefully
someone gets “here to protect” us from bad movies (why haven’t
I simply backspaced over that sentence? Why? WHY???).
Anyway, it’s been a long time since I’ve done a Paying
for the Movies column because, well, I haven’t been
paying for any movies. Then I did, so here we are.
here to tell you about three movies that are, shockingly,
Exactly The Same Movie. All three focus on out-of-step
men who have women who love them, but who they have turned
their back on for one reason or another. Perhaps it’s because
all three men, well – there are no father figures in sight.
All three men – through the course of the movie – are put
through hell because of the goings-on around them.
Weird and, in fact, truly bizarre things happen that
point the men down the path they are to take and in all
three cases, you really have to stretch your own
feeling of believability and love of "movie logic"
to cover the gaps. Most of all, all three men’s
punishment seem to be a direct result of payback for past
indiscretions. Of course, I’m talking about Peter Segal’s
50 First Dates, Mel Gibson’s The Passion
of the Christ and David Koepp’s Secret Window.
probably way too late to review 50 First Dates,
but oh, well. I sat down to review The Passion
and Secret Window and then remembered, ‘Oh,
yeah – I saw Fifty First Dates!‘ Yeah, it’s
that memorable. Does that make it bad? Not particularly,
but I actually enjoyed the Drew Barrymore/Adam Sandler team-up
The Wedding Singer. I really didn’t care
one way or another for 50 First Dates.
introduced to Henry Roth (yet another Adam Sandler-esque
Adam Sandler performance, but as those mean $100 million
to Sony, hey…why not?) as he breaks it off with yet another
girl from the States who came to Hawaii looking for a vacation
and a brief fling with a local who can show her a good time.
Though he’s claimed to be many things, Roth is actually
a veterinarian at a local sea park who enjoys nothing more
than serial dating his way through women and never committing
while hanging out with his Hawaiian best friend, Ula (Rob
Schneider). That is, until he meets Lucy Whitmore (Drew
Barrymore). Henry courts Lucy and they have a magnificent
all-day date, but then the high concept plot kicks in and
she doesn’t remember him the next day.
turns out that Lucy’s had a freak accident and her short-term
memory – anything beyond 24 hours – is gone. Her father,
Marlin (Blake Clark) and brother, Doug (a lisping, oddly
cast, but fine Sean Astin) spend every day hurriedly re-setting
everything so that Lucy never finds out about the accident.
She just keeps living the same day over and over again,
never the wiser. It’s an odd treatment, but it makes sense
to the Whitmore’s who go through a lot to keep the
facade going. Henry, after finding all this out, decides
to make it his mission in life to win Lucy’s heart even
if this means going through hell every day of the week.
I was surprised by how they decided to end the movie (I,
frankly, liked the ending), the movie is basically just
the first act of a romantic comedy played out over and over
with Roth getting increasingly frustrated. Yes, it’s not
the worst movie ever, but once you get over the high concept
and start picking it apart, it’s not exactly a deep movie.
Groundhog Day – now that’s a good movie about
living every day over and over. 50 First Dates
is, well, just another harmless Adam Sandler romantic vehicle
where his "aw, shucks" persona wins the heart
of yet another former "it" actress and various
other Sandler pals, like Schneider and Allen Covert, show
up in side roles and do their schtick.
the end of the day, there must be something comforting about
going to a Sandler film. You know that it’s not going to
be great, but you know that there’s a chance it’ll be short
and other people will see it, so you’ll have something to
talk about at work on Monday.
out of 10
though I saw it opening weekend, I didn’t want to talk about
The Passion of the Christ until some of the
furor had died down and I’d had a lot of time to think about
it. As a movie, The Passion is a really long
third act to an even longer story. I didn’t think it was
all that interesting – boring at times, in fact – though
it was beautifully shot and I already have a copy of the
that hardly means that I don’t have a lot to say about it.
reviewing The Passion, you almost feel compelled
to present your background on a card so that people know
where you’re coming from. Well, I’m no different. I was
born into an old Lutheran family in Texas, went to church
growing up, Sunday school, the whole nine yards. Ask people
who know me well and they’ll tell you that I actually know
the Bible pretty well. In high school, I started visiting
a number of other churches with friends. I converted to
Mormonism for about a year, took the Aaronic priesthood,
was voted by four Bishops to be President of the senior
class seminary and for my senior year in high school, I
attended seminary classes before school every morning.
I went out on visits with the missionaries and studied the
hell out of the Book of Mormon.
left Mormonism behind when I went to college and started
going to a Catholic Church in Austin. I investigated the
classes to convert to Catholicism and went to a couple of
open houses, but didn’t have the time, unfortunately, to
do more than attend mass on Sunday afternoons. I read heavily
on Islam and dated a girl who was majoring in Sanskrit,
so I spent a lot of time with the Indian student associations
taking part in festivals (Holi’s a blast) and learning about
Hinduism from the inside out. At the same time, I spent
a lot of time talking with one of the Jewish professors
in the Middle Eastern Studies department and learning about
Judaism, which led me to a reformed Rabbi who didn’t mind
my badgering questions about the faith, either.
it all, I’ve always considered myself an atheist with an
interest in history.
was interested in seeing The Passion of the Christ
just because I knew it would be a big hit and make a big
splash on the culture and, of course, out of curiosity.
With all the media fervor behind making this so controversial
the whole world had to see it, who wouldn’t? Would
it be anti-Semitic? Is Mel the anti-Christ? Would I be
driven into spasms of religious fervor because of it (I
have actually witnessed that happening first-hand – at a
speech/sermon being given by Louis Farrakhan almost a decade
turns out that, no, I barely stayed awake through it, but
I did find it anti-Semitic. I do not, however, wish to
simply say, “It’s anti-Semitic!” and then walk away after
dropping that label so lightly. As a little kid growing
up in Texas, frankly, I didn’t know the difference between
a Jew and a Gentile. I barely knew what “Gentile” meant
beyond what was said in the Great Brain books. I
met my first “Yes-I’m-a-Jew” person in high school and immediately
started to date her. If you think two horny sixteen year-olds
talked much of religion, you’re wrong. I think I took her
to see Look Who’s Talking Now and we later
broke up when she left me for another clarinet (she played
clarinet) in the band. I was in the brass section. I knew
what anti-Semitism was simply from reading books – the Nazis
hated Jews, right? Oh, what? There’s anti-Semitism in
Shakespeare? In Dickens? No way! But, even though Shakespeare
and Dickens might not have considered themselves anti-Semites,
Jewish stereotypes contemporary to their writing show up
in their work. Did this ever come up in conversation with
my woodwind brunette? Nope. To me, she was Texan.
college, I learned more and more about Israel, met more
orthodox Jews and started to understand anti-Semitism in
the way you understand not white-on-black (or vice versa)
racism, but cultural or religious schisms – the Protestants
versus the Catholics in Ireland or the innumerable tribal
wars going on in sub-Saharan Africa. Hell, Northerners
hated Southerners during the Civil War and there are many
long, deeply-embedded reasons why somebody considers someone
else an “other.” Finally, anti-Semitism made sense out
of learning more about Judaism and truly understanding what
defined the religion and culture of the people of Israel.
Gotcha. If I can hold disdain for lads who consider Von
Dutch the height of fashion, why not hate someone for wearing
a brimless hate everywhere?
I’m marrying a Jewish girl (you’re all invited!)
next year in Montreal and over the past year plus, I’ve
learned a lot more about the culture (some say “race,” I’m
using “culture,” I suppose, as that‘s where my comfort level
lies). I’ve celebrated Passover and Yom Kippur and had
fun in between. Am I converting? No. Is my fiancee all
that religious? Nah, we’re planning to get married by a
judge who is a friend of the family. Should we breed, our
children will be half-Jewish (or “all Jewish” as, I’ve been
told, “being Jewish” is passed down by the mother – I am
not getting into that in this article, however, as I don’t
fully understand). That’s what makes me look at The
Passion of the Christ differently.
in Los Angeles, particularly near where I live – just south
of the Fairfax district – there are many orthodox Jews.
Long beards, black hats, suits year-round, ringlets (the
fashion of early twentieth century Poland), women with shaved
heads who wear wigs, etc. The prayer shawls are sometimes
glimpsed under the coats, but other times, worn by the men
like shawls around their necks, particularly on the holy
day of Saturday. In The Passion, you see
these – a design which hasn’t changed in centuries – on
the Jewish elders in the film as well as the various other
folks who watch the crucifixion.
yes, in the movie – which, if you’ve missed every review
written about it, focuses on the night before and the day
leading up to Jesus of Nazareth’s (James Caviezel) crucifixion
by the Romans, spurred on by Jewish elders – you have a
Jew (Simon of Cyrene) helping Christ carry the cross (reluctantly,
at first) – the majority of Jews are seen as the villains
who repeatedly demand blood! They pay off Judas
with his thirty pieces of silver, the threaten rebellion
if the Romans – who simply can’t understand why the
Jews would hate one of their own so badly – don’t torture
and crucify Jesus and time and time again, the camera cuts
away to them slo-mo scowling at the soon-to-be-martyred
Christ as he struggles to get up Calvary. The music, lighting
and photography that just is a part of filmmaking combines
to show us – even when words aren’t there to help us out
– that, yes, these Jews are the bad guys. They want Christ
movie has villains. Every audience (well, most people in
the audience) watch period pieces – particularly the one’s
that allegedly have the Pope’s blessing of “It is as it
was” stamped on it (if only JFK got that stamp
– wouldn’t that have rocked?!) – and see them as
literal history as people don’t read anymore. We’ve used
Nazis as villains for years – sometimes, even when it’s
a ridiculous stretch (see: Bulletproof Monk).
It’s been awhile since “the evil Jew” has been a real bad
guy in a story (well, there is that Shaft adventure,
Shaft Among the Jews). It’s like using the “simple
darkie” in a story – something we’ve cleaned out of literature.
this nifty historical example. In the very first Nancy
Drew book, originally, when The Secret of the
Old Clock was published around 1930, there was a chapter
where to sneak into the house, the “black caretaker” is
given – by the criminals – a “bottle of rye.” Naturally,
he drinks it down, passes out and falls unconscious. When
Nancy speaks to him, suddenly, his dialogue changes and
from Nancy’s pert, “So, whatever did happen to you, sir?”
we get a reply in the vein of, “Aw, shucks, Missus! I done
dranked dat bottle dat dem guys done gave me and laws laws
– I woke up jist now!” In 1956, the Stratemeyer Syndicate
went through and under the veil of “changing Nancy’s age”
to 18 so that she could “drive in any state,” they changed
everything else, too. Now, if you read that book (still
in print!), it is a white caretaker who is “struck over
the head” when the criminals want into the house.
was changed because, unlike Mark Twain’s still controversial
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, it’s not considered
a “classic” really, but a book aimed at children, so thereby,
care was taken to remove an antiquated stereotype. Huckleberry
Finn is considered a classic, so thereby it is a completely
different ball of wax. I feel it should be read, but though
it’s not as garish as in the Nancy Drew book (there are
stereotypes all over Huck Finn with comic intent),
“Jim” is still a stereotype people have a problem with.
the most part, “Mamie” stereotypes have disappeared from
our culture (barring the artwork of Michael Ray Charles
and other corridors) and we certainly don’t see them in
films. The brilliant Barbara Neely mystery novel series
plays with the stereotype and it’s actually pretty effective.
Beyond the much-reviled Bamboozled, mass market
black stereotypes are looked down on (though it could be
argued old stereotypes have merely been replaced by new
ones, but that’s another ball of wax). After a number of
protests, the Arab-in-a-kafiyyeh with an AK-47 stereotype
from movies like True Lies have gotten a lot
of attention as well and we’re moving back into the world
of drug lords from South America and the like.
when was the last time you saw a Jew as the bad guy? How
about last week in Starsky & Hutch? With
comedic intent, Reese Feldman – Vince Vaughn’s character
– is Jewish and, in fact, one of the set pieces takes place
at his daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. Was it a Jewish stereotype?
Not really – just a funny bit like the racial humor in,
say, Blazing Saddles. It pokes fun at stereotypes,
which, I think, is good. Sometimes identifying something
that is a stereotype is pretty fun and healthy to the culture.
it’s been awhile since I’ve heard the old term “Jews are
Christ killers” in colloquial speech.
sounds hopelessly antiquated. The kind of thing that was
yelled at a Barry Goldwater rally by a Strom Thurmond supporter
four decades ago. Remember, John F. Kennedy was the first
Irish Catholic President and boy howdy, there were his opponents
plugging the whole, “Well…will his allegiance be to the
U.S. or to the Pope in Rome???” the way the English wondered
about their various monarchs in centuries past. Sounds
silly and old-fashioned. We’re past that. But then along
comes The Passion of the Christ reminding
us – “Oh, yes – Jews are Christ killers.”
for that, Mel. In my suburban high school, I don’t think
I ever heard that phrase. I think I read it somewhere in
college and like those great propaganda books of the fifties
and sixties with titles like What We MUST Know About
Communism and other pamphlets circulated by the John
Birch Society, it seemed like a throwback. “Wow, we’ve
come a long way, everyone!” But then Mel Gibson did the
cinematic equivalent of digging up the long-buried hatchets
of the past.
if a movie director from the twenties or thirties came along
and made a movie that showed the Native Americans as nothing
but “bloodthirsty redskins” whose sole mission in life was
to kill the innocent white man and desecrate the corpse.
Full of crazy scenes where every Indian on screen is wearing
a Chief’s full war bonnet, where women and children were
scalped on screen, where the Indians just completely embodied
that mid-19th century stereotype. Now, imagine a nine year-old
watching this movie. A nine year-old who was raised in
the suburbs and has never really seen an Indian and here
is a movie purporting to be history. What do you think
the FIRST thing will be that pops in this kid’s head if,
say, the following week somebody walks up to him and says,
“Yes, I’m an Indian.”
reading about The Passion of the Christ, you
hear all about all these different church and family groups
going – kids of all ages pouring into The Passion.
Hell, at my theater, the trailers were for Garfield
and Two Brothers, both kid movies. Imagine
a nine year-old watching this movie (which, assuredly, will
go on television “uncut” – aired by some brave cable
station over Easter in 2005 or something with a press release
announcing how “important“ it is to show the movie when
they really just know how much money can be made). A nine
year-old watching this and seeing this kind of rabbinical
dress – shades of which is still worn by orthodox Jews today
– and seeing that this “history” shows them as bloodthirsty
lunatics who want nothing more than to find someone who
will betray “the good guy” so they can torture and murder
him. Imagine this suburban kid has never really met anyone
they knew were Jewish and this is their first introduction.
What do you think the FIRST thing will be that pops in this
kid’s head if, say, the following week somebody walks up
to him and says, “Yes, I’m a Jew.”
for me, I have to imagine the person saying that is my own
Mel Gibson anti-Semitic? I don’t know. Never met the guy.
His business is his business. Is The Passion
anti-Semitic? I don’t know – is Huckleberry Finn
racist? Is The Merchant of Venice anti-Semitic?
How about Our Mutual Friend? Was that their intent?
That said, are they the vehicles with which we look back
into our literary history and see blazing stereotypes that
we would rather have lost to the sands of time? Yes. Reading
them now makes us realize how far we’ve come. Seeing The
Passion of the Christ makes me realize it might
not be as far as I might’ve once hoped.
out of 10
review of writer/director David Koepp’s new one, an adaptation
of Stephen King’s novella, Secret Window, Secret Garden
entitled simply Secret Window, is a fairly
easy thing to write: the film is mediocre, but without Johnny
Depp, it would be unwatchable, so Depp’s interesting…
– that’s the entire review.
let me back up just in case you haven’t figured out the
whole movie from the trailer. Sadly, I read the King novella
back in the day and knew some of the film’s secrets,
but didn’t remember it well enough to ruin the whole thing
(or whatever stayed close to the original text). The movie
revolves around a writer as many of King’s more mid-level
tales that have made it to the big screen have, such as
The Dark Half and Misery. Mort
Rainey (Johnny Depp) is a writer of crime fiction that has
a lot of secrets in his past and is just, in general, a
pretty quirky guy. That said, his wife Amy (Maria Bello)
cheated on him with Ted (Timothy Hutton – also in The
Dark Half) and after breaking it off with Mort,
has gotten serious with Ted. Because of this, Mort can
barely get up in the morning so depressed is he and he certainly
can’t write. But, his trouble is just beginning.
of nowhere, a hick named John Shooter (John Turturro) shows
up and claims that Mort – several years before – ripped
off his story “The Sowing Season” in his tale, “Secret Window.”
At first, Mort is a little unsure as he reads the story
and it is pretty similar to his own, but when they check
the dates, it seems that Mort’s story was actually published
a couple of years before in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.
Shooter doesn’t believe him, but promises to leave him alone
if Mort can just produce this magazine. Of course, this
becomes incredibly difficult (ah, the plot) and Shooter
becomes more and more murderous in his intent at getting
back at Mort and those around him.
David Koepp – the great screenwriter – has fashioned a movie
around the improbability that a back issue of a magazine
cannot be gotten ahold of. Now, Ellery Queen’s Mystery
Magazine is still for sale and, I’m sure, you can order
back issues from the publishing house or, better yet, simply
call them up. Hell, one phone call to the New York Public
Library or the Library of Congress could clear up this little
mystery. It’s not like it’s from the distant past either.
The issue they need is about a decade old. With a little
effort, the internet and a phone book, you could get somebody
to overnight you a copy.
Mort relies first on getting his own personal copy out of
his house – which his ex-wife now lives in with Ted. When
that plan goes up in smoke, he tries to get his hands on
his agent’s copy, but that takes the entire rest of the
movie. There are so many ways – if this is the problem
of the movie – that that could’ve been solved. That – and
the fact that there really isn’t that much suspense to the
piece no matter how much they attempt to ratchet
it up – is what makes Secret Window pretty
said, you don’t sit in your seat twiddling your thumbs.
Johnny Depp gives the kind of performance that makes even
a bad movie watchable (think Rodney Dangerfield in My
5 Wives or The 4th Tenor). His Mort
has more ticks and twitches than Depp’s Hunter Thompson
in Fear and Loathing (a Thompson book sits
on Mort’s coffee table at one point) and though conventional
wisdom suggests watching a writer-write in a movie is a
damn boring thing to do, Depp keeps your eyes busy just
watching him go.
the end of the day, Secret Window is a sub-par
thriller that’s trailers pretend to be something that it
isn’t that has a great opening tracking shot and a fun performance
by Johnny Depp. That said, it’s less entertaining than
most Stephen King adaptations including some of the straight-to-video
out of 10
idea what the next Paying for the Movies will be
as I’m seeing more and more press screenings of flicks.
Some people have told me that Taking Lives
was really good, though others have said it’s dreck, so
I might as well wander in and see it because I liked the
trailer (Why lie? I like looking at Angelina Jolie).