I was very sorry to hear of the passing of Don LaFontaine. Few people knew his name but everyone knew his voice. He did the narration for more than 5000 movie trailers. You’ve heard him say it dozens of times: “In a world….” The trailers were not always enticing, but his voice always was, familiar, inviting, almost intimate. I will miss having him adding so much excitement to the anticipation of coming attractions.
I love this spoof with LaFontaine and his colleagues.
Kevin McCarthy, aka BDK, interviewed me on this radio program this weekend and we talked about a wide range of topics from Metallica to whether it is ever appropriate to use the n-word to Clint Eastwood as actor and director. It was a lot of fun and I look forward to returning to talk to him again in two weeks.
By coincidence, two publications ran similar articles this week about the difference between what we think we want to see and what we actually sit down to watch.
Entertainment Weekly’s Mark Harris asks readers to fess up about the television shows they record and never get around to seeing. We all do it. Some critically acclaimed show comes on television and at some level we feel that we should get at least partial credit for having it on our DVR. But then, somehow, even when we’re at home with time to spare, we end up watching some dumb reality show instead of “eat your spinach” fare like “Generation Kill” The snob theory is that the Internet, reality television, minisodes, and the general dumbing down of everything have so completely turned our brains into mush that we’re now incapable of sitting down and concentrating on anything that actually requires our sustained, undivided attention. The slob theory is that we the people have a sixth sense that allows us to stay away instinctively whenever a piece of pop culture is boring or overpraised or ”pretentious” (the all-purpose label of abuse that too many people now apply to anything that seems smart and difficult).
I think Harris is closer to the truth when he says we have a kind of sullen resistance to movies that either tediously tell us what we already know or dangerously tell us what we don’t want to know about a topic we desperately want to be rid of. All that is reinforced by a sort of smug, why-bother tone to much of contemporary pop culture commentary that is more comfortable applying the word genius to I Want to Work for Diddy than to something that involves, say, a level of actual creative brilliance. And yes, a TV show like Generation Kill that requires your sustained, undivided attention is, on some level, work. And work is the opposite of what entertainment is supposed to be all about, right?
That is probably what’s behind Netflix syndrome — either you watch it within 24 hours after it arrives or it sits around for a couple of months. On Slate, John Swansberg invited readers to share their shame over the red envelopes gathering dust. It happens to all Netflix subscribers eventually. Your buddy the film buff drags you to a revival of Antonioni’s L’Avventura. To your surprise, you find yourself rapt. Upon returning home, you log in to your Netflix account and move La Notte, the second film in Antonioni’s ennui trilogy, to the top of your queue. It arrives a few days later, just as L’Avventura’s spell is starting to wear off. You watch Anchorman instead. You totally still want to see La Notte … but now you’ve mailed Anchorman back and here is Ghost Rider–starring Nic Cage! La Notte can wait. And it does. For weeks. You’re never quite in the mood to watch it, but you can’t quite bring yourself to return it, either.
Ready to confess? Send in your tales of long-held, never-watched Netflix rentals to email@example.com.
And for some thoughts on what those never-watched DVDs at the bottom of your Neflix queue say about you, see this great piece from Slate by Sam Anderson.
It isn’t so much that they have updated or re-invented the brilliantly acidic Claire Boothe Luce play that was adapted for a classic 1939 movie; they completely misunderstood it. The surface details of the original may need updating but its essential message and mordant wit are timeless. This version, in the works for more than a decade, is soft-focus but high-gloss, substituting empowerment for devotion. It is entertaining but it has a bitter aftertaste.
The original, the musical remake with June Allyson, and the new version all center on Mary Haines (Meg Ryan), who seems at the beginning to have it all — a beautiful home, a great job, good values, a loving family, and a lot of women friends, and who discovers that her husband is having an affair with a girl from the perfume counter. The original was written at a time when the daily lives of New York society women were as unknown and exotic to the men in their lives as to everyone who did not live on 5th Avenue. Each character was an example of one of a range of different coping mechanisms for the pampered birds in their silver cages. Without a single male in the cast, the story was told in women-only settings like an afternoon bridge game, a luxurious day spa, elegant stores, and a Nevada ranch-full of women establishing their six-week residency as the only way back then to get a divorce. Most of the characters were silly, selfish, cynical, or alone. And Mary painfully learned that “pride is a luxury a woman in love can’t afford.” Her husband and family must come first.
In this Oprah-fied version, it’s still an all-female story, and sistahs are doin’ it for themselves. The diamond rings on their fingers are gifts the women exchanged with each other. Mary says that she lost her job, her husband, and her best friend, and it is the best friend she misses most. And Mary’s great revelation comes from asking herself not what is best for her family but what she wants.
Some worthwhile thoughts about the way women lose themselves in what Oprah calls “the disease to please” are lost in the new-agey self-absorption of tasks like making a collage of magazine cut-outs to define your dreams and transforming your life by straightening your previously adorably curly hair. In the original, a woman’s heart got a make-over. Here, it’s just her hairstyle. And the actresses, who have the benefit of great genes and the finest cosmetic treatments in the world, have the chutzpah to do a post-credits coda reminding those of us in the audience who are not out at the parking lot already that inner beauty is what matters.
The all-star cast is sublimely watchable, especially Mary’s close friends: Annette Benning as a harried single magazine editor, an ever-pregnant earth mother (Debra Messing), and the spirited gay friend (Jada Pinkett-Smith). Bette Midler shows up as a brassy multi-married agent and the femme fatale behind the perfume counter is Eva Mendes. There are some clever in-jokes for fans of the first version and the able cast knows how to give the dialogue from writer/director Diane English snap. But the script makes the same mistake its characters do — it tries to do too much and to be whatever everyone wants.
This movie is less true to the original than it is to the girlcrush/shopping fetish “Sex in the City.” Instead of wit we get quips. Instead of poignant conversations about love and loss we get wisecracks and shoe shopping. “What do you think this is, some kind of 1930’s movie,” one character asks. We wish.
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