Wednesday, February 28, 2007

If you’re lost you can look and you will find me...

Nicholas Meyer has a strong imagination. He, quite frankly, is everything that is right about the Star Trek films. (Yes, I said it.) More importantly, let’s not forget the humor of his Company Business [1991] and the comprehensiveness with which he penned perhaps the only Sherlock Holmes pastiche to bob above a sea of impersonations.

One of my goals, if one to which I have failed to devote too much energy, is to view every film written or directed by Mr. Meyer, at least once. To that end, I was very pleased when a coworker lent me his VHS copy of Time After Time [1979].

Time After Time happened to be atop my list of unseen Meyers. I mean (forgive me, but), it’s H. G. Wells chasing Jack the ripper through the folds of time!

I must admit, however, to being disappointed. The time machine is revealed and explained with only cursory attention, basically nothing more a standardized suspension-of-disbelief plot mechanism. I have come to expect more. However, this is certainly a very excusable complaint—it is a film, after all. Sadly, however, the vehicle was made with apparently very little effort to place it in the late 19th century.

Far worse, however, was Mr. Wells himself, played so sympathetically by Malcolm McDowell. Mr. McDowell does a creditable job, but the job he has been given is not that of practically reproducing Herbert George Wells. The dialogue and indeed the story itself preclude any real resemblance to Wells’ (rather less personally sympathetic) essence. (Don’t get me wrong, the geek in me loves and respects Wells as an imagination and a writer, but the soul in me vaguely resents him as a person at this point.) Oh, they got the broader strokes right: Humanist, socialist, hazily naïve wit. But the very nature of his naivety is essentially a reverse image of what it should be. And where is the chauvinism? And, wait, he comes out of this experience cleansed of his utopian forecasts? So why was he still propounding them decades later?

I am almost certainly being too harsh; this is not a particularly bad film (certainly not when contrasted to the average thriller of our era). But neither is it a film of the pseudo-historical brilliance I had hoped and expected. My too-high hope in such fictionalizations is that their aberrations from known fact will actually explain and not contradict historicities, to the point that no historian could systematically rule out the fiction.

But, as anyone who has seen Time After Time can tell, the filmic Wells’ largest sin is his failure to realize in practice what he has himself stated in theory (not to mentioned observed with his own eyes): that the machine can go backward through the course of time and not just forward. Lunkhead.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Hope Awakened; or, “You’re cheating on a vegetable!”

I’ll admit it: I had given up on chick flicks. Let’s be honest, now, just how many good romantic comedies have been made? I said honest!

As an over generalization, no one is honest about these films. Chicks tend to give all such flicks a free pass (thus dubbing the films), and guys tend to have made up their collective mind even as the title is told to them. Shameless. Let’s have none of that, shall we?

I am a male, but I have no qualms about this list: Pride and Prejudice [1995], Sense and Sensibility [1995], and You’ve Got Mail [1997] are fantastic examples of what cinema should be. Some have argued that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind [2004] is a chick flick, and if they are correct it is also a darn good one, if one that more guys are likely to finish watching than girls. As long as we are blurring the lines, Fiddler on the Roof [1971] seems to have a significantly larger fanbase among the female of the species, and is probably the best film ever made.

So, you see? I was a believer. I honestly enjoyed these films. But all good things must some to end, as they did to some extent when my female friends learned of my strangely inclusive tastes and began recommending other “great” movies. Julia Roberts, I know you (having appeared in some fine movies of other genre) must have made some good chick flicks in your time, I just can’t think of any. With the exception of say, Sabrina [1954 & 1995], I’m not sure I’ve ever actually seen a good romantic comedy upon an actual recommendation from an actual chick. But even this was not enough to snuff the spark of hope completely. No, that was reserved for a little ditty entitled...

Sleepless in Seattle [1993]. Ugh. What can I say? It is utter tripe, entirely lacking in the depth, imagination, genuineness and ingenuity, humor and heartfeltness of what many consider it’s heir, You’ve Got Mail. If even the name of Ephron, so conspicuously attached to second film, does not ensure quality in a romantic flicker, nothing can.

But hope can be restored and faith regained. As I have seen. While You Were Sleeping [1995] is that reformation.

The TV ads from way back when it was released stuck in my head. I’ll admit to not having been particularly impressed, but the images were memorable and the periodic references I crossed over the years put this film somewhere on my to-watch list. Albeit not very high up.

Well, with a string of “guy movies” in my recent viewing (and the failed attempt to pass Cinderella Man [2005] off as a chick flick), I knew I had to add something feminine to the roster as an appeasement to she-who-so-often-watches-films-with-MortI. So, with low expectations, I rented While you Were Sleeping to balance out an action piece.

What I found was very surprising. O.K, it does not have the richness of character that a loyal adaptation of Jane Austen boasts, nor the profundity of Nora’s Ode to AOL. But it may well qualify as supreme comedy-of-errors, not to mention one of the best screwball comedies.

Sandra Bullock’s character (supposedly, I shudder to think, intended for Demi Moore at one point) is a lonely (yes, that is hard to believe) CTA worker, a young spinster-in-the-making complete with cat. But when she saves her would-be fiancé’s life (she’s never actually spoken to the man) her shy nature and his family’s (the late great “Frank Barone” is daddy Ox) flamboyant one plunge her into a soap-opera storyline of which she could have only dreamt. My no-spoiler ethics prevent my saying anything more (though advertisers had no such qualms at the time), but I promise the film is far more hilarious than the above can possibly convey.

To recap, if you’re a chick you’ve probably already seen it. Good for you. If you’re guy, don’t hesitate. And don’t let that lip stray from straight with anything but joyous laughter: there is hope for a night of popcorn and movies with the better half, and this is it.