Lesser of Two Weevils
1. Russell Crowe, we love him. He’s been a ton of fun to watch on the big screen ever since his turn in L.A. Confidential. He oozes a sludgy undercurrent of Bryronic heroism in all of his films. And the guy simply has range. I mean, I thought Opie’s A Beautiful Mind was completely up to its ears in a dubious brand of schizophrenic, romantic schmaltz, but you could hardly find fault with what ‘ol Russell did with the slops! And hell, the guy carried Scott’s hyper-gauzy Gladiator, holding his head up high in a film that felt more like he was the spokesman in a series of ads for SUVs or a designer perfume, a criticism that I've seen crop up more then once in regards to the more recent stylistic choices (some might say bombardment) Scott deploys in his films. It’s that Bruckheimer super-sheen, I think, the dull bombast of highly refined images bathed in the coolest of earnest blues that ultimately satisfy the very same craving that comes with eating lunch while leafing through the latest junk-mail catalogue to get jammed in your mailbox courtesy of Sharper Image. Some of the product on display are kinda cool but most seems dumbly audacious, which is to say, trinkets. When you’re done, of course, it gets tossed in the recycling bin. Gladiator is a $100 million dollar trinket.
My sister, with whom I share an affinity for the tabloid wanderlust found in the pages of People or Vanity Fair, was once so smitten by Crowe that she found herself, suddenly, the owner of the debut CD by his band, 30 Odd Foot of Grunts. (“But Russell, come on man, you have to be on the front cover!” “Ah, my Aussie friends…if I must.”) That’s why it is to her that I most strongly recommend a viewing of his newest, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. The director, Peter Weir belongs to Hollywood’s set of glossy thinkers, (Steven Soderbergh, Michael Mann. Philip Kaufmann) those directors who have managed to sneak some storytelling ambition into their Cineplex hack work. You get the THX, an A tiered star, the increasingly detailed special effects (here, there’s some wonderful dark and stormy night stuff), the stadium seating and, thankfully, enough lines of clever dialogue and commendable acting (the film has a number of surprisingly humorous moments) that you actually have a little something to savor when the credits are rolling.
And Crowe? His best on screen moment here involves a pun and a couple weevils. It’s a sly moment that catches you off guard. He also sings a number of sea-chanteys. He leaps with swords, looks through telescopes, plays the violin, and defeats the evil French, because it’s assumed that the French are the current enemy we can all agree on. (Note: somebody recently told me that had this film remained more true to the historical record, Crowe would have been chasing after an American ship and not a French.)
2. I’m currently reading and having more fun with Dennis Mcnally’s Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead then it probably deserves. In 1980 Mcnally was made the official historian for the band. (After Jerrry had read and been so impressed by Mcnally’s Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation and America and made it so.) I’m about half way through, and while there are the occasional dips into the excesses of band and roadie minutia, for the most part McNally's is cookin' with gas and tells the bands story well. He’s keenly aware that the most interesting story behind the Dead lies in their relation to the West Coast counter-culture scene of the 60’s, (more then half the book rightly focuses on those years alone) long before they went on to become the 90’s premier franchise for reliving the 60’s experiment. In those formative years the band was often surrounded and encouraged by the likes of Ken Kesey, Neal Cassidy, The Hells Angels, Owsley Acid, The Summer of Love, The Diggers and hundreds of other characters and episodes that gave that decade its lysergic texture.
3. I made a couple CD-R mixes with a group of teenagers last week that’ll eventually be played as the background music to a community open house for the youth development organization (The Home Project) I’ve been interning with. I had met with the teen’s a couple weeks before and told them to all bring in a mess of their favorite CD’s. These included Michael Jackson’s Bad , Missy Elliot’s Under Construction, OutKast’s, Speakerbboxxx/The Love Below and the soundtrack to Queen of the Damned. As we burned selections from those CD’s and others, I learned from my younger friends that Jessica Alba has DSL. It’s very naughty.
4. Why in the world is anybody going to see Cat in the Hat? How many years later will it be before the toddlers of today wake up and realize that Mike Myers is not the droid they're looking for? First the Grinch, and now that psychedelically inspired Cat! (In the early 90's rave scene, that zany, red and white and ever-so-slightly drooping cylinder of a hat was a staple alongside glow sticks and whistles.) Is any adult leaving the theater after sitting through Cat in the Hat with any genuine sense of satisfaction other then that of having kept the kids sated for 90 minutes? It’s a bit like spending an hour and a half confined to the underbelly of a cash registrar, isn’t it?
5. In honor of the upcoming final installment of Peter Jackson’s brilliant Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Return of the King, Cathy will be referring to our neighborhood as the Shire. I, on the other hand, will be known simply as Gandalf. I will treat little people with great tenderness and nobility. This will only last until the release date of December 17th, after which we'll both revert to our mundane little lives.