Random Thoughts: Reeve, Rock, Etc.

You may remember this type of column from it's previous title, "Not-so-Deep Thoughts." Why the change? I'm not sure. Maybe I wanted to give myself more credit, or maybe I wanted to discuss Christopher Reeve under a less trivial title. Regardless, the concept remains the same. I have a few unrelated ideas, none of them enough to fill a whole column. So here they are, in no particular order:

The Oscars Rock

Kudos to the Oscars producer Gil Cates for picking Chris Rock as host of next year's Academy Awards show. Billy Crystal and Steve Martin acquitted themselves well in recent years, but the Crystal-Martin-Whoopi Goldberg rotation was growing stale. Rock will bring much-needed energy and spontaneity to a show not known for either. Already critics have expressed doubts as to whether Rock's raw brand of humor will fit the buttoned-down Oscars. I have no worries. Funny is funny, and Rock is one of the best comedians working today. He is a professional who has worked on network television before. Rock also wants to work in movies for a long time and is smart enough not to jeopardize his career by dropping an F-bomb on live TV. He will be able to fine-tune is act just enough so he is edgy without incurring the censors' wrath. Remember, Richard Pryor co-hosted the Oscars twice.

Speaking of the Oscars . . .

No matter who's hosting the Oscars, I may boycott next year's show if the Academy does not nominate Paul Giamatti for his role in Sideways. Giamatti plays Miles Raymond, an unpublished author and wine connoisseur. Miles is recently divorced and a generally unhappy guy. But his friend is due to be married in a week, so Miles takes him for a last few days of hedonism in California wine country. Giamatti evokes both the comedy and the tragedy in Miles' frustration and depression. He gets the audience to laugh at, laugh with and feel for Miles. You may recall that the Academy somehow overlooked Giamatti's terrific performance in American Splendor earlier this year. It's time to do right by him.

Parting Ways

Rumor has it that the partnership between Miramax and Disney may end soon. It's about time. The marriage between the company that at one time was at the forefront of independent film and the conglomerate known for family-friendly entertainment seemed strange from day one. Disney never seemed comfortable being identified with Pulp Fiction, From Dusk Till Dawn, and other violent films. Miramax clearly did not have freedom to distribute the films that co-chairs Bob and Harvey Weinstein wanted. A few years ago Disney blocked Miramax from releasing Kevin Smith's Dogma, and of course this year did the same with Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. As such, Miramax has drifted towards more traditional, safer fare, such as Chicago and Cold Mountain. Its last release was Shall We Dance? Other companies such as Newmarket and Focus Features have eclipsed Miramax in the indie world. It's time for Miramax to go back to doing what it used to do best without interference from on high.

The Force on DVD

For so many years the original Star Wars trilogy was the Holy Grail for DVD owners. I, like many Star Wars fanatics, bought the discs as soon as they became available last month. I've now had time to go through the DVDs thoroughly. Were they worth the wait? The short answer is yes, but I'll elaborate a little with some letter grades.

Film Presentation - Simply breathtaking, with crisp, bright colors and crystal clear sound. It's as if the films were made yesterday, not 21-27 years ago. GRADE: A

Documentaries - Solid, with interesting tidbits, such as the reworking of the Star Wars Death Star battle in the editing room. The documentaries also show screen tests of the principal cast and some actors who weren't picked. At the same time, there's nothing spectacular and too many talking heads falling all over themselves to praise George Lucas. I'm the first one to say that Lucas is a genius; I just don't need to hear it ten times. The primary documentary also had one very dubious claim: that since Lucas had earlier resigned from the Directors Guild of America, he wasn't able to have Steven Spielberg direct Return of the Jedi. Say what? Spielberg hadn't resigned from the guild, and was not prevented from working with Lucas on the Indiana Jones trilogy. If Lucas had really wanted Spielberg for Jedi, and Spielberg was willing, I don't see how the guild could have interfered. Also, GRADE: B

Commentary - A few highlights, but not enough to enhance your understanding of how the films were made. Way too much of sound designer Ben Burtt. Yes, sound played a huge role in the trilogy, and that's worth exploring. But that doesn't mean I need to know about the sound for every single scene. Not enough Carrie Fisher, whose sardonic remarks spice up what is otherwise a very dry commentary. Also, someone should have told The Empire Strikes Back director Irvin Kershner that commentary does not mean describing what is happening in the scene ("So here Luke is frightened as he enters the cave." You don't say?) GRADE: C

OVERALL GRADE: B. The Star Wars trilogy is definitely worth owning, but less for the extras than for the films themselves.

Farewell, Superman

Some thoughts as I remembered Christopher Reeve . . .

People forget just how good Reeve was in the Superman films. He didn't try to impose himself on the role, but rather immersed himself in it, giving audiences what they expected from the Man of Steel: steadfast, understated heroism. But let's not overlook what he did with Clark Kent. Other actors who have played Superman simply performed Kent as Superman with glasses. Reeve created an entirely different character. His Kent was geeky, clumsy, and very insecure. Reeve's portrayal made it more plausible that people would not suspect that Kent and Superman were the same. Reeve humanized an icon without shortchanging him.

Reeve's death brought to mind two lines. The first is from Schindler's List, when, towards the beginning of the film, Schindler says "I want to be remembered for doing something extraordinary." Schindler was then referring to his plan to make a fortune from the war. The second line was from Mark Hamill of Luke Skywalker fame, who in an television interview a few years ago said, "I'd hate to think that the first line of my obituary has already been written." Reeve, like Hamill, tried to move away from the inevitable typecasting and often spoke of his desire to "escape the cape." Post-Superman, he took a variety of roles in diverse fare such as Street Smart and The Remains of the Day. Yet he was never able to break away from Superman, and by the time of his accident, was appearing in straight-to-cable movies. If Reeve had died in that accident, the obituaries would have likely began along the lines of "Superman star Christopher Reeve died in a riding accident today."

After the accident and faced with nearly total paralysis, Reeve could have chosen to withdraw from public life. No one would have blamed him. No one would have thought any less of him. But instead he saw his tragedy as an opportunity to draw attention to spinal cord injuries. Reeve spoke of the need for improved investment in new treatments and possible cures. He became an advocate for stem cell research. He also continued his career in entertainment, moving from acting to directing. Along the way he raised money, not only for research, but also to help other spinal cord injury victims. He became an inspiration to those who shared his condition and countless others around the world. It's surely not the way he would have wanted it, but Reeve did change the first line of his obituary. Like Schindler, Christopher Reeve did something completely different from what he had planned, but it was certainly something extraordinary.

Adam Spector
October 29, 2004

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