There are no X-Box 360’s left in the entirety of America. Don’t have one yet? You blew it. Somehow, a mere 4 days after the season’s big-ticket kiddie gift was released, the good ol’ US of A has managed to consume the entire first run of Microsoft’s new video game system. Not a new story (I am old enough to remember the Cabbage Patch Kids debacle of the mid-eighties), but still somehow completely indicative of the season; if Hollywood tried to cash in on the phenomenon, as they did in Governor Schwarzenegger’s craptastic Jingle All The Way, you know that the popular post-Thanksgiving shopping orgy has transcended tradition to become a mindless ritual. Not that I am complaining too much; aside from the occasional traffic jam near the entrance of Wal-Mart, the mad-dash to “buy! buy! buy!” tends to leave a nice void in the movie theaters. Sure, Hollywood is banking on the holiday season to deliver the big revenues and somehow rescue an abysmal year at the box office, but not quite yet. You’ll notice hardly anyone is rushing to release their cash cows in the late November/ early December window; we’re all too busy fighting one another for the best retail deals* and running to see Harry Potter continue his run as the most boring character ever to be franchised. No, the big movies are just on the horizon, hazy in the bleary-eyed distance like an oasis in the parched, cracked landscape; like a mirage, cinematic greatness often remains an illusion.
I don’t mean to be a Grinch or a Scrooge, but seriously, how much holiday shopping can you do? How many times can you confront the endless volume of human traffic and still maintain your sanity? The holiday season is a wonderful time of year to actually do some good and give, especially this year when so many people are in so much need, but instead of watching your fellow man devolve into a slack-jawed automaton while waiting in line at the utterly worthless customer service desk of the local Best Buy franchise**, may I suggest a trip to the movies? Who knows, you may find it to be a gift you give yourself, and there’s nothing wrong with that. God, I can’t believe I typed that last sentence.
This year’s holiday films seem to be an interesting mix of compelling stories that are destined for Oscar props, but I wouldn’t know; I haven’t seen any of them. Unlike my insider friends who have spent the entire fall attending press screenings and trying to out blog one another about which films are destined for success, I haven’t seen anything since In Her Shoes (which I liked quite a bit, actually). What kind of cinephile film blogger am I? The snobby, elitist douche-bag that Armond White recently excoriated? *** Outsider pretender to filmic insight? Loser? I don’t really care. Placing tongue firmly against the inside of my cheek, The Back Row Manifesto presents our Sights Unseen Holiday Film Preview.
I can’t be sure, from what I understand, this is Eugene Hernandez’s favorite movie of the year, so I assume it’s actually pretty good because hey, I trust Eugene. In the film, which I haven’t seen despite two chances to catch it in Toronto (I was saving it for theatrical release), apparently Heath Ledger breaks Jake Gyllenhaal’s heart by not domesticating their cowboy love, only to have his own heart broken by tragedy. At least that’s what happened in Annie Proulx’s amazing short story. Joking aside, this one is gonna be good if they stick to the mood of the original story and from all accounts, it’s excellent. I can’t wait to trick my step-mom into seeing it!
I watched the original, restored 1933 version again on the indispensable Turner Classic Movies while I was home in Michigan for Thanksgiving, and it was really terrific. I got to meet Fay Wray at the Hamptons Film Festival a few years back, and that was a thrill, but it was really startling to see how beautiful she looked on the restored print. Of course, none of this has much to do with Peter Jackson’s re-make, but this is another film I really am excited to see if for no other reason than the killer hi-def trailer on the Apple site. Suddenly, I love my Quicktime! Wow. I sort of wish that I could set up two screens and play King Kong side by side with Matthew Barney’s Cremaster 3 because I am convinced these two films are cut from the same thematic cloth. Also, I wonder if Jackson uses Frank Zappa’s version in the film. Jeff Bridges cameo?****
The Doggone Girl Is Mine: Peter Jackson's King Kong
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe
As a child, I loved the Chronicles of Narnia books. Sure, I was an atheist by age nine (sorry Grandma!), but I had a thing for witches and evil queens; my first crush (and probably sexual attraction, period) was on the evil witch in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty which, aside from explaining my constant desire to ogle goth-girls, might go some way toward explaining why I liked Bill Melendez’s tepid animated TV version from 1979. That White Witch was HOT!. Tilda Swinton? Also hot. So, this one should be good too. Of course, if it means having to engage in some neo-conservative culture war debate just to see this film in a theater, forget it. Please god, let there be no Christian pamphleteering! If there is some right-wing agenda behind this movie, let me go on the record and state that I’m only going because I find witches sexually attractive. That oughta shut them up.
Oooh, Witchy Woman: Andrew Adamson's The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe
Memoirs of a Geisha
Chicago meets Farewell My Concubine set in Japan starring a Chinese actress and directed by an American. Um, I’ll wait for the DVD. This one has Shipping News "written" all over it. Pun intended!
Hm. Loved the original movie, saw the play on Broadway and had a lot of fun… But is Susan Stroman as a film director able to top Mel Brooks’ best film? I know the musical numbers are kitchy fun on the stage, but I am not sold on how this one might translate to the screen. That said, I’m sure my mom will drag me to it at Christmas after her bridge playing friends tell her how fabulous it is. What would Christmas be without seeing a movie you don’t really want to see simply to appease a loved one who is trying to “connect” with you by “doing something you like?” Pass the eggnog.
In all seriousness, this is the film I am most interested in seeing, if only to be proven wrong. After not enjoying Melinda and Melinda, I wondered aloud if the end might not be near for Woody Allen, one of my favorite filmmakers. But I spoke just a moment too soon; Match Point played Cannes and announced a revival. I was thrilled to hear that the film echoed Crimes and Misdemeanors, one of my favorite of Allen’s films. Fast forward five months, when I saw the trailer at a screening of Shopgirl, and was shocked at how completely un-Woody it was; someone in Dreamworks’ marketing department has decided to stop marketing the artist. Just listen to the music being used in that trailer!!! Is this the end of Woody Allen as a brand? Has Dreamworks just proven the auteur theory to be invalid? Trailer tweaking aside, the “affair leading to murder to protect the marriage and lifestyle” plot is clearly lifted directly from Crimes and Misdemeanors, but it looks like there is no comic relief at all. That in and of itself might make it all the more interesting. Compelling to see where this film will take Woody.
Love-Love: Woody Allen's Match Point
Have a great season at the movies and Happy Holidays!
*Note to shoppers: If people are throwing $300 laptops into the air, it’s best to just walk away. If an entire laptop computer is cheaper than an iPod, it’s probably not of such high quality that it is worth getting the your ass kicked. I like a bargain as much as the next guy, but I’m just sayin’.
**Trust me. It’s grim. Shudder.
*** Any chance he and Andy Rooney can fight to the death on pay-per-view? That would be some must-see TV!
**** The 1976 poster is quite interesting… Airplanes, the World Trade Center… Creepy.
Ride 'em Cowboy: Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain