Another Gripping Insight Into My Work Life

Hard as it may be to believe, I figure many of you faithful readers of the Whatever don’t go out of your way to purchase the Official US PlayStation Magazine — and why not? You have something against good, clean video gaming fun? Well? — and may not see the DVD reviews I place within its pages every month. So in the interest in sharing my world with you, I’m displaying a typical OPM DVD column for you to peruse. These are the ones that appeared in the March 2003 issue (which means it went on sale in February), on account of my deal with OPM gives them a 90-day exclusive on the material, so these are now over 90 days old. Everyone’s happy. Anyway, so here’s how I make a little scratch each month.

Four Feathers
(Heath Ledger, Kate Hudson)

Here’s an interesting curiosity: A film celebrating the British Empire, featuring Heath Ledger from Australia (where the Brits shipped all their nastiest convicts), Kate Hudson from America (which the Brits taxed without representation) and directed by Shekhar Kapur from India (which the Brits ruled for centuries through the cunning use of flags). No wonder it doesn’t quite work. Still and all, it has some good action scenes, and Hudson and Ledger are easy on the eyes, so if you’re in the mood for a Kipling-esque wallow in the Victorian Imperialism (and who among us isn’t?), here you go. No DVD extras announced at press time.
Movie Rating: Two and a Half Stars
DVD Extras: N/A

Formula 51
(Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Carlyle)

Samuel L. Jackson stars in this action film as a kilt-wearing chemist, proving that he is in fact the coolest man in all filmdom, since any other action star trying to walk around an entire film as a scientist in a tartan skirt (even one who’s synthesized a legal drug that gives you a super high, as he does here) would probably be beaten to death by the film’s anguished financiers. The film itself is mish-mashed squidge-up of elements from Trainspotting, Pulp Fiction and their various rip-offs, so if you like that sort of thing, you’ll be entertained, and if not, well, Jackson’s kilt will probably have scared you off already. Extras: A “making of” feature.
Movie Rating: Two and a Half Stars
DVD Extras: Two Stars

Knockaround Guys
(Vin Diesel, Barry Pepper)

This long-delayed flick crawled out of the woodwork after Vin Diesel became the Next Big Thing (or, at the very least, the Next Large Thing. I mean, look at him). Pre-stardom films released post-stardom are often embarrassing moments for everyone involved — they reek of the “I needed the work” vibe — but not this one. It’s a smartly done mob caper-slash-coming of age story, and features a nicely high-powered cast including John Malkovich and Dennis Hopper (Diesel isn’t even the main character — that role belongs to Barry Pepper, as a mobster’s conflicted son). Catch it and be pleasantly surprised. Extras: Commentary track, deleted scenes and the complete screenplay.
Movie Rating: Three and a Half Stars
DVD Extras: Three and a Half Stars

My Big Fat Greek Wedding
(Nia Vardalos, John Corbett)

It cost something like $5 million to make and grossed something like $230 million dollars in the theaters, which makes this film the closest anyone in Hollywood ever got to totally free money. The story is standard-issue sitcom odd-couple love story, this time with a daffy Greek woman and a WASP-y guy, but it’s pretty funny and you can watch it with your grandma, and both of you can enjoy it. And, really, there’s something nice about the fact that the most successful romantic comedy of all time stars a woman (Nia Vardalos, who also wrote the script) who doesn’t look like she’s equal parts silicone, collagen and starvation. Vardalos, co-star John Corbett and director Joel Zwick add a commentary track.
Movie Rating: Four Stars
DVD Extras: Two and a Half Stars

One Hour Photo
(Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen)

It’s Robin Williams continuing his penance for one too many Patch Adams-type flicks, this time by playing a quiet, mousy photo developer who becomes unhealthily attached to a seemingly-perfect family whose film he processes, and then takes it personally when cracks start to show in the family faade. Williams is cool and creepy here, playing the role of the “quiet guy who keeps to himself” to obsessive, clammy perfection; if nothing else, this is the film that finally convinces you to go out and get that digital camera. Williams and director Mark Romanek add their commentary to the DVD, which also includes the usual “making” feature and a Charlie Rose interview.
Movie Rating: Four Stars
DVD Extras: Three Stars

Road to Perdition
(Tom Hanks, Paul Newman)

So Tom Hanks is a bad guy in this elegiac tone poem to depression-era gangsterism, and to the sins of fathers visited on sons (both metaphorically and literally in the case of this film). While you’re watching Hanks go through his paces, you admire his commitment to his craft, the handsomeness of the production, and the gravity of the proceedings. You also realize that Tom Hanks as a bad man doesn’t really fly — Hanks is the modern-day version of Jimmy Stewart, and no one bought him as a bad guy, either. You accept it on the premise that actors have to do something new every once in a while or be bored silly, and you tick off the minutes until it’s done and he can get back to doing his usual thing.

To be fair, Hanks’ performance is good, but Hanks never really lets go like he needs to; even at his baddest here there’s something held in reserve — something that Hanks himself probably wasn’t aware he was holding in. Contrast this performance with Denzel Washington’s luxurious wallow in badness in Training Day: Washington’s performance had teeth, while Hanks’ performance has a pained scowl. A close miss, but at least it’s an interesting miss, and it’s helped along by an ace in the hole: Paul Newman, who plays Hanks’ adoptive father and crime “godfather” — a situation with exactly as much potential for pathos as you might expect. On the extras front, director Sam Mendes offers commentary and deleted scenes with commentary; there’s also a “making of” feature and a photo gallery.
Movie Rating: Three and a Half Stars
DVD Extras: Three Stars

Rules of Attraction
(James Van Der Beek, Shannyn Sossamon)

Let’s make this really simple: If you really want to watch a film of college students acting like angry, hopped-up lower primates, go rent of those videos where they basically post a camera in the French Quarter at Mardi Gras and let people flash the lens at they stumble by. It will have somewhat more plot than Rules of Attraction (which, to be fair, makes slightly more sense than the hopelessly rank Bret Easton Ellis novel upon which it is based), and the characters will be more sympathetic, even as they flash each other for beads and vomit on the sidewalk. No DVD Extras.
Movie Rating: One half star
DVD Extras: N/A

Spy Kids 2
(Antonio Banderas, Carla Guigino)

More pint-sized James Bond-y action with a Latino twist from director-writer-editor-composer-probably-would-handle-craft-service-if-they-let-him Robert Rodriguez. Lots of people find these movies tiring — Rodriguez is immensely creative in a showoff-y way that can grate after about a half hour, and the kid stars of these things aren’t, like, good actors, but when you consider that the average live-action kid-oriented film stinks like a dead rat fresh from a Newark sewer, I’m willing to cut the man a little slack for making the effort not to be boring. Plus, it has Ricardo Montalban! All together, now: “KHAAAAAAAAN!!!!!” Lots of extras, including commentary, stunt and gadget featurettes, music videos, deleted scenes and so on.
Movie Rating: Three and Half Stars
DVD Extras: Three and Half Stars

Sweet Home Alabama
(Reese Witherspoon, Patrick Dempsey)

Sure, we think of that winsome little Reese Witherspoon as just the bee’s knees, but consider that in Sweet, she plays a woman who is all cozy with one man (who proposes to her at Tiffany’s, for crying out loud) but still secretly married to another. Yes, Reese Witherspoon: Wanton, unapologetic adulterer! And yet, people weren’t shocked — they thought it was cute. So, to recap: Probably the most depraved representation of decent sexual relationships in a Disney film since, oh, Pretty Woman (Julia Roberts! A hooker!). Like that will stop you from getting this for your mom. You’re all sick. Extras include director commentary, deleted scenes with commentary, a music video and an alternate ending.
Movie Rating: Three and a Half Stars
DVD Extras: Three Stars

The Tuxedo
(Jackie Chan, Jennifer Love Hewitt)

Jackie Chan as Inspector Gadget, and really, why would anyone in their right mind want that? For the film, Chan dons a spy tuxedo that’s all filled with special effects, but the whole point of a Jackie Chan film is that he is the special effect in itself (yes, I know, he’s getting up there in age. He’s still more flexible than you or me). Also, the plot, involving water striders infecting the world’s water supply, is beyond stupid. I still like watching Chan (he’s always amusing) someone needs to mention to Chan that Hollywood apparently thinks all his fans are idiots. At least there’s the blooper reel to look forward to, as well as deleted scenes and a “making of” documentary.
Movie Rating: Two Stars
DVD Extras: Two and a half Stars


Arty Spooky Athena

One of the most frequent notes I get in e-mail is to the effect of “it’s very nice that you prattle on endlessly about trivial things. But, you know, we’re just here for the pictures of Athena.” Fine, then. Have it your way. Your first picture of the day, hand-colored by Athena herself — yes, she can handle Photoshop. Yes, it scares me too:

The second is kind of a spooky one; I call this my “Sixth Sense” picture of Athena, in that you can just see her saying “I see dead people” in it:

Okay, that’s all you get for today. Now read something of mine. And be thankful.


Oh, Grow Up

A new study from my alma mater the University of Chicago suggests that most of us think that someone doesn’t really get grown-up until around the age of 26:

“According to those surveyed, the average age someone should marry was 25.7, and the age for having children was 26.2. Most respondents considered parenthood the final milestone needed to reach true adulthood… Nearly 1,400 of those surveyed last year were asked to answer the questions about adulthood.

They were asked to rate the importance of seven stages of transition into adulthood – from attaining financial independence to getting married and having children. They also were asked to specify the ages at which those stages should be achieved.

For categories other than marriage and having children, the average ages were: financially independent, age 20.9; not living with parents, age 21.2; full-time employment, age 21.2; finishing school, age 22.3; and being able to support a family, age 24.5.” — Associated Press

This survey pretty much codifies something that’s been my own personal opinion, which is that being a “kid” pretty much lasts these days until you’re about 25 — which is, you can screw around (or screw up) any time before that age and not really have it count against you in the court of general opinion (opposed to say, a court of law, so you still can’t drink and drive). Try it for yourself: Which is worse — a 24-year-old slacker, or a 28-year-old one? Easily, the 28-year-old. The 24-year-old one slides by on the “well, he’s still got time” thing, but when you look at a 28-year-old farting around, the feeling is “clock’s ticking, dude.”

I also think there’s a psychological edge to the 25th year, in that if you wanted to be considered much of a prodigy in anything, you had to get it done before the age of 25. By the time I was 25, I was a nationally syndicated film critic and humor columnist, which made me feel pretty good about myself (and the movie reviews, at least, were pretty good), but I hadn’t written the Great American Novel, which was something I figured I’d have done by then. Which is not to say I hadn’t tried. I’ve got a couple of attempts hidden in my files. You don’t want to see them. The one thing I can note is that they’re very short, because it became clear within about ten pages that I had no clue what I was doing. Now it looks like my first novel will be published just short of my 35th birthday, and I’m good with that. I’m not a novel prodigy, and it’s not the Great American Novel. But it’s a Pretty Good American Science Fiction Novel, and now I feel like I have a clue. So it’s worked out pretty well. Anyway, once you get over 25, you worry less about doing things on a timetable and worry more about doing them well.

Personally, I felt reasonably adult when I was 26 — I’d just got married, and had been working and supporting myself for a few years by then — but the first time I felt irrevocably grown up was shortly after I got laid off by AOL in 1998. Krissy and I had been just about to make an offer on a house when I got whacked, and we had to make the choice between retreating, grabbing a less expensive apartment and waiting until I had a certain and stable income before we got a house, or deciding to take a leap of faith, buy a house and assume that we’d make it work. We took the leap of faith, and as Robert Frost once said about a similar situation, it made all the difference. I’ve never had reason to believe I was anything less than a grown-up since then, even when I’m playing video games. And as I said, it’s not like I didn’t feel like a grown-up before then. It was just the crystallizing moment that showed where my brain was (for the record, I think Krissy was all grown up at least a couple of years before me, a mildly embarrassing fact because she’s a year younger than I am. But let’s not get into that now).

I’m nt a professional sociologist, but I don’t think there’s much of a downside of people having an extended adolescence. Yes, it leads to more time for people to make asses for themselves, as amply shown by the explosion of Girls Gone Wild videos, but the whole point of being young is to get most of the “I’m Making an Ass of Myself” energy out of your system, so that when you finally slide into true adulthood you can focus on the pleasures and responsibilities of being all grown up without the additional urge to make an ass of yourself later (a process known as the “Mid-Life Crisis”). If the end result of six spring breaks in Cancun and Daytona Beach instead of two is that you say that’s something I don’t need to do again after the last one, then by all means, have six spring breaks. When you hit 43 without freaking out and breaking up your marriage to (take your pick) date a 21-year-old Hooters waitress or fondle the hot young assistant gardener, your spouse and your children will thank you. Be young, have fun, and then go on. It’s nice when it works that way. And it takes a little bit longer, it’s probably worth the investment.

Just, you know, not too long. Remember: 24-year-old slacker — okay. 28-year-old slacker — tick tick tick tick tick tick tick, baby.

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