2 Things Hollywood Teaches Us This Xmas

1. Hitler was bad.
2. So are narrow-minded jerks.

Thank you!! And I’d been so confused….

I realized last year that, despite a dearth of quality materials – this ain’t New York, folks – I still love going to the movies. Last year was the first in ages, possibly ever, that I’d actually seen every single Oscar-nominated movie before the Oscars. This in itself is a bit of a sham, given that I know that the Oscars are a stupid, archaic ceremony with about as much validity as the sheet I filled out for my high school’s annual “Best of…” poll. (I won “Sexiest Voice” senior year – that’s what was voted on – but the 99% Mormon faculty changed the award to “Best Voice” for print, which caused a lot of people to shake their heads as I wasn’t a particularly good singer. True story.)

Anyway, yesterday, after predictably getting no takers on my offer to go to several different movies, I was free to go catch the rousing Valkyrie on opening day. Sold-out performance, folks, with lots of macho fellows, one of whom nearly hit me in the face with his elbow when he left the crowded theater at movie’s end. Today, Doubt was the entertainment, in which I fully expected to watch Meryl Streep in the process of leaving no piece of scenery ungnawed.

I was pleasantly surprised with both movies. Valkyrie, in addition to the King of Jumping on Things, features a whole bunch of British actors in all their glorious eminence grise-ness: Kenneth Branagh, Terence Stamp, and Tom Wilkinson, who I just can’t get enough of. The movie cribs a lot from the much better Sophie Scholl from a couple of years back, including a verbatim swipe of the line, “You may hang us, but soon you will be hanging from the gallows.” (Then again, maybe a lot of people said that to the Reichstag. I mean….why not?) There’s a lot of stunning camerawork, not all of it the predictable overhead shots that demonstrate that Germans are really good at precise formations (high five, ancestors – oh, except for the Master Race stuff); one profile shot over Wilkinson’s shoulder is unexpected and stunning. The movie has a nice reverence for machinery, which also comments well and not too overtly on the regime, the story’s interesting, and all in all, it’s rip-roaring – ok, reasonably good – entertainment.

Cruise, I’m not afraid to say, is a hell of a good movie star, and he does the stern, charismatic guy with an eye patch and lots of sang-froid very well indeed. The guy is aging beautifully, and he doesn’t have the Please-Love-Me neediness of so many other actors who’ve driven huge box office in the past without fabulous reviews. I changed my tune on Cruise after Magnolia, in which he gives a truly amazing performance. He’s good in Collateral and Minority Report, and he’s good if not great in this. It’s not a huge acting role anyway; he just needs to rock the eyepatch, which he does.

Now of course the movie elides over the fact that the character seems to have clearly bought into the whole Aryan Superman construct pretty much hook, line, and sinker. But overall, not a bad effort. I prefer it to Doubt, which I saw today courtesy of “Cynical? Who, Us?” Miramax, the loathsome Weinsteins releasing yet another picture that would never, ever be made if it weren’t certain to get nominated for at least 3 oscars before slipping into deserved obscurity.

Meryl Streep is marvelous, doing more with her back in the first few minutes of the movie than most actresses can do with 2 hours of faces and hands – though I seem to be the only person who thinks she’s not doing Mommy Dearestf II. She’s so focused, and so living it…I don’t get the universal hue and cry about how over-the-top she is. But then again, I love opera. Philip Seymour Hoffman is good, too, though not given nearly as much to sink his teeth into. Viola Davis, a character actress I don’t recognize, is pretty great in her brief time onscreen. Amy Adams, so great in Junebug, has the thankless job of playing the Nice Nun. Blargh. The script couldn’t be more predictable, as is the shooting, editing, and thesis.

I HATE what passes for good theater any more – Doubt was a play first. It’s all just crap, crap, crap, freaking TV movies stuck inside of prosceniums. This reminds me: Kander and Ebb’s version of The Visit, my all-time favorite play and the basis for my novel Fly, got cited as one of the 10 best plays of last year – but didn’t play on Broadway, just some regional theater. I have long been afraid someone would discover The Visit and do something with it. before I could get the book out. The fire is under my butt: this is the year I have to try to get Fly published or give up on it. Please remember to encourage me.

By the way, I’ve not said a word about Christmas, which was lovely. I love my family, immediate and extended, and am deeply grateful for more blessings right now than any one person deserves. So: Thank You.

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