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Run over by a trailer
September 11, 2008 - Rick Chatenever
A curious fact of modern life is the way it keeps getting harder to find the line between what we call entertainment and what we call reality.
This political season may mark the watershed when we stop trying. Clips from late-night TV hosts are now regular parts of the week’s political coverage. Satirists Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are recipients of the prestigious Peabody Award, once reserved for broadcasting’s highest achievements of public service and education.
For its part, the election seems to be working to provide material for them. It feels like a new reality show —“So You Want to Be a Vice President.”
Granted, I’m not a good judge of these matters. I grew up going to movies and still prefer their version of reality to the real kind.
So, when John McCain announced Sarah Palin as his running mate, and the story came out about her pregnant, unwed 17-year-old daughter, I thought, aha, a clever ploy to capture the “Juno” vote.
And now that the Democrats seem so flummoxed by the whole Sarah Palin phenomenon, my suggestion would be to send Emmy-winning writer-comedienne — and Sarah Palin lookalike — Tina Fey out on the stump, and hope that voters start getting them confused.
To escape such dangerous musings, I sought my usual form of relief last weekend. I went to the movies.
It didn’t help.
Filmmakers have politics on their minds, too. Comedy or nightmare, take your pick — if you can tell them apart. And that was just the trailers.
First came “Burn After Reading,” a new comedy from the ever-ironic Coen brothers. Still flush with all the prizes they won for “No Country for Old Men,” this CIA sendup reunites them with their “O Brother Where Art Thou” star, George Clooney, and their “Fargo” heroine, Frances McDormand.
Since Frances also happens to be the wife of a Coen brother, this is more of a Coen family production, with Tilda Swanton, Brad Pitt and John Malkovich like distant cousins.
They take turns casting doubt on the middle name of the Central Intelligence Agency in this reportedly wiggy romp about a couple of dimwit spa trainers who hatch a scheme to blackmail the CIA ... only to wind up on the receiving end of some major retaliation.
It takes an Oscar — well a nomination at least, or having a movie named after you — just to get into the game with this crowd. But the two-minute trailer was still more fun, and a hard act to follow, for the actual movie I had come to see.
But first, CIA-type stuff was also on the minds of some more Oscar heavyweights — Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio and director Ridley Scott. They’re more into blowing things up than making jokes in the upcoming pyro-techno “Body of Lies.”
No, I take that back. Russell Crowe is into deadpan, CIA humor, like observing just how easy it would be for our terrorist enemies to end civilization as we know it, or saying, “oops” when he accidentally blows the wrong target sky high.
It probably takes an actual agency operative to really get the joke.
The producers of “Blindness” are also into the entertainment value of the end of civilization as we know it. Their new plague-du-jour thriller is set in the near future when a mysterious disease renders its victims sightless ... except Julianne Moore, who obviously has her work cut out for her when it comes to leading the blind.
After more fast-paced, exploding action from Mark Wahlberg, Jason Stathairn and yet another sequel to “Saw,” I was feeling pretty beat up and run over by all the trailers by the time “Bangkok Dangerous” took the screen.
It was destined to become the week’s top hit at the box office — go figure — but “Bangkok Dangerous” felt like a trailer, too, only stretched out to last as long as an actual movie.
In this English language remake of the directing Pang brothers’ first version, Cage barely goes through the motions as a hitman stricken with a bout of conscience after going to Bangkok to pull off four assassinations.
Whether this is because his character is a heroin addict, or because Cage can do parts like this in his sleep is unclear. Bangkok, in all its sultry, sleazy splendor, is as interesting as the human characters in the story, and adds to the humid mood of the whole thing.
Ironically, there’s even a political subplot here. Assigned to kill the mayor, the assassin looks through his high-powered scope and sees the looks of hope and love on the faces in the crowd.
It was a good thought. But it didn’t help.
• Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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