Monday, January 27, 2003

The Movie I Watched Last Night LVI
The Blair Witch Project
To help pass time while reading magazines on the Big Blue Couch on Friday night, I popped in The Blair Witch Project. While I wish I'd originally seen it back in 1999 without having read so much about the movie, the film holds up well to my first viewing in the theaters. Several aspects of the film resonate with me: the need to document experiences; a fascination with lost, bizarre local history; and stomping around in the woods -- or city, for that matter -- looking for things you've read about. This viewing, I felt like they gave the interview segments with locals short shrift and that, outside of the scene at coffin rock, the history was poorly presented. I also didn't connect as much with the decay of the filmmaking trio's friendships as they got lost deeper and deeper into the woods. So I was pleasantly surprised when they finally started discovering the totems, they stumbled across the abandoned house in the night, and the movie proceeded to accelerate to its relatively anticlimactic, though satisying, end. As a faux documentary, this was done pretty well. As a horror movie, I'm not so sure. Has anyone seen the sequel? Is it a waste of time, or does it build on the witch mythos and back story?

Between the Lines
A surprisingly solid all-star cast populates this little-known 1977 movie that tells the tale of a small, scrappy alternative newspaper in Boston -- the Back Bay Mainline -- that's on the brink of being bought out by a larger, corporate publisher. Riffing on the evolution of the once-proud Real Paper into what is now the Boston Phoenix media empire, I wonder how loosely based the movie is on the alt.weekly scene in Beantown. The story, while slightly cartoony in its portrayal of the stereotypical independent journalists and the stories they pursue, is an engaging look at how a media merger affects the content of the paper, as well as the relationships among the staff. And it's the staff -- the cast -- that amazed me here. Jeff Goldblum plays a manic, down-on-his-luck rock critic who, in one scene, gives a "performance artist" who shows up at the office demanding to be interviewed a run for his money. Bruno Kirby, almost unrecognizable, plays a hapless newbie who can't quite write, and who gets stomped for trying to out a local record bootlegger. You've also got actors who went on to be in L.A. Law and Taxi. Stellar. A great, unsung media movie. If you work in journalism at all, check this out. The issues surrounding mergers remain, although the romantic portrayal of what it's like being an independent journalist is a little dated.

Shallow Hal
I never would have paid money to see this in a theater, much less rent it, but there it was on HBO on Saturday night, a night I was trying to stay in to read and have a quiet night at home for a change. So I watched it. I enjoy Jack Black, who I thought was relatively mellow in this movie, and I was pleased by the people he surrounded himself with in the movie. Nice to see Kyle Gass in the movie, and even Jason Alexander was quietly present in the movie. The gist of the story is that Black's character, Hal, gets trapped in an elevator with the motivational speaker Tony Robbins. After Robbins works his mojo, shallow Hal now only sees what's really inside people. Homely, good-hearted people appear beautiful. And duplicitous, beautiful people are seen as haggard and ugly. The jokes of the movie, which could have been much more aggressive and slapstick, are based on the premise that now Hal's only attracted to fat and ugly people who are good and pure inside. Enter Gwyneth Paltrow's character. Seen as a slim, shapely, beautiful woman, she's actually quite large. Chair-breaking large. They fall in love before Robbins' mojo is removed and Hal is able to see things as they really are. While I didn't buy his conversion and undying love for Paltrow's roly-poly Rosemary, I was touched by his affection for the children in the pediatric burn ward. I was also intrigued by the parallels to The Sixth Sense because I couldn't always tell whether I was seeing characters as Hal saw them or as they really were. In the end, an OK movie, but one torn between wanting to be a comedy -- and wanting to be a message movie. It doesn't quite succeed as either.

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