Thursday, January 26, 2006

Huff Puff, Bang Bang

The one thing that this blog is missing - besides spurious investigative reporting, partisan cheerleading,* and the salacious details of my personal life - is a regular feature. Other local blogs run weekly features, taking a break from the serious issues of the day to focus on lighter fare. Every Friday, Abelog talks up the Beatles and ELO, and The Eleventh Hour hits the libations. After an in-depth needs assessment and a careful review of current blog readership trends, the editorial board here at BlogFreeSpringfield has decided to follow suit and run a weekly movie review.

I don’t have any specific knowledge or insight that qualifies me to be a movie reviewer. I like to think that I have good taste in movies, but who doesn’t. What I do have, however, is a gimmick.

While Ebert and Roeper come to you from the balcony,** I’ll be critiquing the theatrical merits of dramatic productions while in a state of exertion as the result of elevated physical activity.

Three times a week, in the wee hours of the morning, I drag myself down into the basement and step on the treadmill for 40 minutes of intense cardio activity (actually, I ride an elliptical trainer but my publicist said that the word “elliptical” doesn’t play well with my target demographic.) To pass the time while running while the world stands still around me, I watch DVDs from our growing collection of movies.

Since the movies usually come from my personal collection, I’m seeing them for the second or third time. The difference in perspective when viewing them from a treadmill versus my customary position (plopped down on the couch with a bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and a bowl of popcorn) is astounding. It could be that the increased endorphins being unleashed in my brain allow me to fathom hidden meaning buried beneath the subtext of the story. But most likely it results from the headphones.

Because I exercise while the rest of the house is asleep, I use headphones so that I can hear above the whirl of the treadmill without disturbing the slumbering souls above me. The combination of the piped-in sound and being affixed in one spot for 40 minutes immerses me into the movie and reveals subtleties that are lost when distracted by such things as swigging.

The most profound difference in watching a movie under these conditions is a more acute awareness of the acting craft. Case in point.

When Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown was released in 1999, critics raved about Sean Penn’s performance. After seeing it for myself, I felt that while Penn was entertaining in his role, the performance failed to live up to expectations. But after watching it again last year in “flagrante exerciso”, I picked-up on many nuances I had missed the first time. I became aware of Penn’s slight mannerisms and bumbling asides that revealed a deeper dimension to the character. It is, after strenuous review, an amazing performance.

This experience of uncovering an artful performance has repeated itself many times: Gene Hackman in the Royal Tenenbaums, Campbell Scott in Roger Dodger, the chemistry between Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation, Scarlett Johansson in the opening scene of Lost in Translation. From the treadmill, these performances shine in a way that transcends that which can be observed during a sedentary viewing.

Unfortunately, the opposite is true as well.

After being convinced by a friend to watch the Color of Money, I witnessed in shocking detail the devastating effect that scientology has had on Tom Cruise. The undercurrent of delirium that pervades his character was too deep-seated to have been conjured up by using Lee Strasberg’s Method Acting techniques, it had to have been real. And it was alternately disturbing and nauseating. As for Iggy Pop’s brief appearance, despite his accomplishments on the rock stage, on film he makes even the reflexive act of blinking his eyes somehow look wooden and unbelievable. To summarize, it would have taken a lot more ale and popcorn than I’m accustomed to consuming to have enjoyed that abomination.***

But enough about that. I’ll return next week with my first review, an exhaustive look**** at Richard Linklater’s $36,000 classic: Slacker. Unless of course I decide to do an in-depth report on how those people who voted for that one guy are destroying society because they’re so stupid and mean.

*Rich Miller has an interesting post on a study that shows that the party faithful are delusional.

**What an obvious and pampered milieu from which to review a movie.

***This sentence may have crossed over into Rex Reed territory. I’ll try to curb the snarkiness in future reviews.

**** Get it? Exhaustive! Because I’ll be watching it while exercising.

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