The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Saturday, December 06, 2003  

As In, Movies I Won’t See

While reading the papers’ weekend supplements yesterday I encountered two movies I’ll miss. Miss as in, “I won’t see them,” not miss as in, “It’s a shame they’re gone,” namely “The Last Samurai” and “Angels in America.”

I’ll miss “The Last Samurai” in large part because, as I’ve said before, I don’t enjoy seeing films in theaters. In fact, I’ve seen only one movie in a movie theater in the past four years. But that’s my neurosis.

Regardless, I even doubt I’ll catch “The Last Samurai” when it hits the video stores. First, I’m not a fan of Tom Cruise. Second, the whole project kind of gives me the creeps. And third, I happened to read Stephen Hunter’s review in the Washington Post yesterday.

If my own neuroses and instincts weren’t enough, Hunter’s piece, “Dances With Swords,” easily the most intelligent review of the film I’ve seen yet and one that makes me pine for the words of the late Pauline Kael, will steer me clear in perpetuity.

I’ll also miss “Angels in America,” set to appear on HBO. That’s in large part because, as I’ve said here in the past, I don’t get cable TV. (“Echo,” anyone?)

I missed the show on Broadway, missed as in, “I didn’t see it and didn’t try to see it,” though I should add that I’ve missed pretty much everything that’s been on Broadway during my adult life and, to be honest, I feel I’m no less a person because of it. (After all, this is a business that as of late is pinning its hopes yet again on the likes of Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane. Need I say more?)

I recall only too well the brouhaha surrounding the initial Broadway run of “Angels in America.” I cringe when I think about it. No, I’m not having an Andrew Sullivan moment, getting all set to spew the usual McCarthyisms, including McCarthyisms, or reverse McCarthyisms, about McCarthy.

Rather, it’s because I remember someone, and I forget who it was -- and I’m afraid to Google it because I’m worried it might turn out to have been a completely odious figure like Hilton Kramer -- warned at the time to steer clear of films and plays that the most enthusiastic of reviewers and fans insist upon abbreviating into a single-word appellation.

“Angels in America,” which was then, is still, and apparently forever will be referred to as, simply, “Angels,” as in, “Have you seen ‘Angels’ yet?”, is a prime and enduring example of this strange quirk.

Even if Kramer said it I think it’s a good rule of thumb, ranking right up there with my rule about “chick flicks,” issued last June upon the release of “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood”:

No matter how tempting the film may appear, never pay to see a movie that is promoted with trailers that include a scene of three or more women sharing a bonding moment in their underwear. (See also “Practical Magic.”)

Then there’s Meryl Streep, a fine actress and all, but one who, from a p.r. perspective, really shouldn’t be allowed to speak when off set or off stage. Besides, as you may have heard, the thing runs for six hours. Six hours? There aren’t many things that can keep my attention for six hours, and I’m not ashamed to say that a Broadway show adapted to cable TV is unlikely to be one of them.

Anyway, here’s a nonsensical quote from Streep I picked up in yesterday’s Philadelphia Daily News that confirms my apprehension about the whole pretentious-actress/six-hours thing:

I think you should watch three hours, and then watch three hours. Now that they write things on the bottom of your television screen, for all the people that are just surfing through and they see one episode, maybe you should have, like on a fax, “Page 3 of 6,” so that you know you’re on 3 of 6. So you know you’ve got to go back and watch 1 and 2, and you know you’ve got 4, 5 and 6 ahead of you.

You just know when Streep threw out that unscripted line that the flack in the room got all fidgety and started coughing and tapping her foot and crossing her arms and leaning forward and tilting her head to one side, trying to catch the reporter’s eye, and then finally interrupted with a really smooth and casual line like, “Meryl, did you want something from the buffet?”

Oh, and if all that weren’t enough, I have just two more words: Emma Thompson.

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