Yancey’s had flu for a week and I’m Barely Employed Bertha (rolls right off the tongue, don’t it?) so time together has become a bed-in of the asexual variety. Since we’re a. products of our (respective) generations and b. not John and Yoko, no revolutions have been planned nor questions of a deep philosophical nature deliberated. Instead, we’ve been on the sacrificial lamb, drowning our snot and sorrows in new DVD releases to spare others the horror of deservedly deleted scenes. Oh, such lofty superheroes we in pajamas be.
The theme: Love and Life in the Disappointing Face of Mortality. Or: When We Realize Even Superheroes Aren’t Superheroes. All movies I saw last year, and with the exception of Sideways, all movies I loved when first I saw them. The test, then: Did they make us feel sicker and sadder in our time of woe? Or (marginally less pathetic): Were they better the second time round?
Turns out Sideways is an ideal renter, though I balked at joining its fan club when it came out last fall. Former TV star Thomas Haden Church’s gummy schtick fares better when returned to its rightful size screen. You can linger in the sun-dappled Tuscany-by-Cali wine country with the time you’ll save after skipping the split-screen montages, and you can piece together Paul Giamatti’s best performance by editing out the too-long sadsack sequences. (Everything after they return from wine country is overkill.)
As for the extras, they confirm what before I’d only suspected: Alexander Payne is a smug prick. Most DVDs include deleted scenes without much fanfare from directors, possibly because they’re embarrassed by what typically amounts to dirty underwear, but Payne precludes the whole of them with an enormous typed essay that fills three different screens. Not to mention that he introduces each individual deleted scene (each duller than its predecessor) with a loving homage in the same shitty font. It’s a testament to his fairly exceptional wit that his films are as good as they are, given that he’s clearly never learned that art flourishes when you kill your babies. Hey, Payne, KILL ALL YOUR BABIES. Consider him told.
Ready for umpteenth bad lead regarding this flick? I heart I Heart Huckabees even more the second time around.
Everything lives inside that movie that I could ever want.: french farce; ‘60s psychedelia; big, hard spiritual questions about meaning and responsibility tossed into the air like a pizza pie that never flops. J’heart heart heart Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman as the good-parent existentialist detectives (a sort of reprise of Tomlin’s eye-twinkling acid mommy in director Russell’s Flirting with Disaster); Jude Law as the smarmy fuck we all know he prolly really is (LA gossip was he fired his agent and manager after Chris Rocked him at la Oscars); Marky Mark earnest as you want him to be, rasping out critiques of capitalism and petroleum use and existentialism with all the indignation of a nine-year-old boy straddling a dirt bike, which, incidentally, he does; Jason Schwartzman, so hangdog highlarious as the floundering environmentalist that his Rushmore performance will never be dismissed as a fluke ever again; and, may it please the court, Naomi Watts putting her normal stridency to good use as the former model slouching toward enlightenment in overalls and a lil bonnet and a mud-smeared face. If only all movies could hit you on as many levels as this one. It manages to hit all the stages any spiritually thirsty Westerner undergoes on a quest for enough peace of mind to tolerate the mundanity of the mall — from the initial revelation that everything is connected, to the dawning that pain’s inherent to being alive, to a reconciliation of that whole process. Only, the journey is rendered shorter and smarter, which is what movies are supposed to do for us.
As for the extras, note in particular the extra Huckabees commercials. I never liked her before, but I kind of have a hard-on for Watts now. Girlfriend is (a) good sport.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was better first time round. The ‘50s-style science fiction still melds well with the philosophy MA jokes; Winslet’s performance is still only bested by Imelda Staunton’s Vera Drake in the annals of 2004; and it’s still the best Charlie Kaufman movie yet, which is saying rather a lot. Sunshine is a fantastically original movie that has a heart rather than a navel. But on another viewing, clever occasionally slides into cloying, complacent, and other c words. Second time in, it’s harder to ignore Jim Carrey’s selfish performance, in which he sucks up all the air in his scenes. And once you know the story’s outcome, the plotline devolves into Jack and Chrissy land occasionally. Truth told, so stir-crazy was I by the time the film itself finally ended, I didn’t even watch the extras.
Spanglish was the most underrated movie of 2004 and the extras go a long way toward suggesting why. The movie as an event proved an interesting case study of how critics can sink a movie. (Sideways reviews showed how critics could make a movie, as Times critic AO Scott pointed out.) Its reviews tanked, mostly focusing on what was perceived as Téa Leoni’s gross caricature of an insecure wife, and director James L. Brooks’ cultural imperialism despite his obvious good intentions. The fact that a very sharp, very decent movie had been made was overlooked.
There’s not a bad performance in the lot, including those from Leoni, a real 40s-screwball movie dame, and Cloris Leachman, boozily teaching torch songs to her young grandson. Even man-of-the-house Sandler lays aside his idiot savant mugging for this film, though the good cop-bad cop dynamics between him and Leoni grated, as did the zero sexual chemistry between man-of-the-house Sandler and Paz Vega as his Latina maid. Watching it at home meant I could hide in the kitchen during their love scenes; it’s embarrassing how Sandler’s not enough of a grownup to summon a response in or for a woman as formidable as Vega.
Brooks’ roots lie in some of the best sitcoms ever made, and the weaknesses and strengths of Spanglish betray those beginnings: an immediate emotionality, snapdragon dialogue, strong but strangely two-dimensional characters, and a tendency to be pat — as if conflicts needed to be wrapped up before the commercial break. When we watched the deleted scenes, Yancey drawled out: “I can see why he’d want to delete scenes that showed other sides to the characters.” Fair enough. Rare are the deleted scenes that suggest a far better movie ended up on the cutting floor. But then again, I’ve not watched the Gangs in New York DVD.
Also of note: a special featurette on how to make chef Sandler’s egg sandwich. Practical!
I saw The Incredibles at Thanksgiving with my sister and her boyfriend, and we girls who’ve only studied Spanish kept whispering “incroyable!” in a French accent over and over. It was too good to compliment in only one language.
It was nice to take in the movie itself again, not surprisingly as director Brad Bird made Iron Giant, the only other animated movie worth watching over and over. But we were much more obsessed with the extras, which took more than an hour to watch in full. Included is a ‘50s style cartoon of the Mr. Incredible and Frozone, which you can watch with Mr. Incredible and Frozone’s commentary (Craig T. Nelson and Samuel Jackson, respectively; sweet Georgia Brown). Also included are “cast” bloopers such as when Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) gets too elastic — she’s just so wacky — and a vignette narrated by author Sarah Vowell who, bizarrely, provides the voice for Violet, about the similarities between her character and Abraham Lincoln. This DVD’s comedy is as layered as, well, Arrested Development. Incroyable.