Friday, October 17, 2008

Shall We Laugh While Rome Burns?


James wants me to prove women have written successful male action flicks, like Leigh Brackett (“Rio Bravo,” “The Big Sleep,” “Hatari!”and “Empire Strikes Back”), Phillippa Boyens and Fran Walsh (“Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “King Kong”), and Diana Ossana (“Comanche Moon”, “Streets of Laredo” and of course the famous “Brokeback Mountain” – Action? Well, at least a male-dominated plotline).

Colleen wants me to defend my stance that “The Women” didn’t stink, that a middle-grade chick flick with some decent moments was good enough for me to enjoy it, and that I did say there was still a fashion show, just not the half-hour version of the original. (See last entry.)

What to do? Which flank do I shield?

Meanwhile, our economy slurps like a six-year old on a milkshake, guttering and sputtering on its way down the national drain; bigots and fear-mongers crawl out of the American woodwork, seemingly on cue for election mob scenes; and nationwide, tiny ageist gnats equate a lifetime of public service with frailty. As I listen to my daily radio and TV coverage, I begin to wonder if the rest of the world still exists.

Anyone else need a good laugh?

I’m tired of fighting. I just can’t get it up today. Today, I miss Katherine Hepburn and her leopard.

In honor of the bleakest October in recent memory, I’m relying on pratfalls, hopeless treasure hunts, and hard rock grandmothers to get me through. Comedy. You remember laughing, don’t you?

I offer you a modern classic first – “The Money Pit” (1985) – a movie I flat-out adore. If you haven’t seen a “2 week” home remodel drive Tom Hanks to the 3 minute-long Best Hysterical Laugh Ever Filmed, you have robbed yourself of one of cinema’s greatest moments of release. Feeling like Fate’s plaything? A dandelion seed rushing ahead of the whims of a hurricane? Tom knows. And his frazzled lover and co-investor/schmuck, Shelley Long, finds her own cracking point when a cooked turkey soars through the air into her tub. Admit it. You’re intrigued. (Done it? Check out Cary Grant and Myrna Loy – one of the best frantic/straight man combos – in “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House” from 1948 – the inspiration for “Money Pit.” Seriously. More of a slow build than the frenetic Hanks/Long version, but it holds up.)

From the old and well-known to the new and obscure: “King of California” and “Young at Heart” (both 2007 releases). “King” stars Michael Douglas and Evan Rachel Wood – in a surprisingly age-appropriate relationship. Douglas scruffs himself up (sort of Don Quixote-retro) to play Charlie, a recently released mental patient, father to Wood’s Miranda. Charlie upsets Miranda’s apple cart from the moment he returns to their home. Practical, 16-year old Miranda’s been working at McDonald’s and forging her absent parents’ signatures so she can hang on to the house and feed herself. What guidance does Charlie offer now that he’s back in the picture? A treasure hunt. For Spanish gold. Hidden under the local Costco. If you’re already smiling, go ahead and rent it. A small, goofy movie with well-rounded performances and a young heart, “King” deserves a much wider audience than its “limited-release” art house spin through theaters gave it.

Speaking of ‘young,’ “Young at Heart” follows a real-life rock cover band. It plays in prisons. Concert halls. Across Europe. And no member is less than 70 years old. You thought you were accomplished. These singers master tunes from their grandchildren’s generation in just a few weeks: “I Feel Good” by James Brown, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” by the Stones, “Road to Nowhere” by the Talking Heads. And should you be afraid that it’s simply a feel-good, look-at-how-clever-the-old-folks-are film, the individual stories of chorus member’s lives are there to lift it out of sentimentality into reality. Not all the members survive the shooting schedule. Many have outlived their friends and families. The group not only forces them to keep alert and active, it (and their friends within it) gives them something much more important – a reason to get out of bed everyday. If you like your belly laughs tempered by sincerity, this is the pick for you.

I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t try to shove a few classics down ya’. We’ll end with a slew of them, just in case you’ve already seen everything above. In honor of the brilliant, recently departed Paul Newman, I’m pushing one of his rare – and wonderful – comedies: “A New Kind of Love” (1963), starring his real-life bride Joanne Woodward, who earned a Golden Globe nom for her ‘mod’ role. Woodward’s character Samantha struggles with the impossible mid-century expectation that a modern girl be both ‘cool’ and ‘experienced,’ and yet somehow still ‘a nice girl’ the day she gets married. (Norman Krasna’s wonderful “Sunday in New York” with Jane Fonda, also walking the ‘virgin’ vs. ‘virginal’ line came out the same year.) Samantha (Sam) wants to be a grown-up, not a little girl. She wants to respect herself in the morning. And she really, really wants Paul Newman – a sign of sanity in any woman. So she creates a double life. In one, she’s a Parisian libertine, incapable of shame; in the other, she’s plain old Sam, a hack fashion designer (hear that, Coll? fashion!) who gives an offering to the saint of virgins – so that she won’t be one any longer. Throw in crackling chemistry between Woodward and Newman, the beautiful Thelma Ritter and a self-deprecating Eva Gabor – and you’ve got a vintage evening. (Woodward and Newman made one other comedy together, “Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys” in ’58, with Joan Collins as a sexpot, Woodward as Newman's anti-nuclear missile activist wife and Tuesday Weld in the part of “Comfort Goodbody” – haven’t seen it, but I’d love to hear if you have!)

If you just can’t wait for your Netflix to arrive, you can always go to their site and watch “Born Yesterday” or “His Girl Friday” online. Two of the funniest films ever made. Which you’ve probably seen. But worth watching again if Friday was unbearable. (If you watched the DOW, this means you.)

Put down the pistol. Pick up a root beer. It'll bubble when it comes out your nose. Two for one chuckles.

Go laugh until the Depression passes.