Monday, April 28, 2003

Red Dragon v. Manhunter

Some thoughts while trying to not obsess about the computer solitaire game the KEEPS CHEATING ME SO I CAN’T GO TO BED. (Yes, yes, we are developing a nice little obsessive compulsive tic that requires I beat solitaire before I go to bed. And I’ve got to beat the four different solitaires on my Palm Pilot in sequence to have a good day at work. I tell you, I’m about two degrees separated from needing live chicken blood and the earth from a graveyard harvested under a full moon to get dressed in the morning….)

Rented “Red Dragon” on Friday night. In a fit of typical maleishness, slept through good portions of it. Went back the next morning and watched it while wifey-pooh and the fruits of my looms were out. While I was grouting. You know, if you’re ever too scared of a movie to fully enjoy it, just watch it while you’re grouting. There’s nothing like polishing that skim coat of grout off tiles 400 times to dull the terrifying effects of a movie.

Of course, try writing a review of said scary movie at 1:30 in the morning in a house full of various and sundry sounds. Not good times.

Not that Red Dragon was particularly scary. Actually, I didn’t find it at all scary. Or in the least scary. Or the teensiest bit scary. Well, perhaps Ed Norton’s pathetic attempt at Wil Graham was scary. Yeesh. I hold no particular grudge against Ed Norton. I haven’t seen American History X, so I can’t see him as a tough guy. I did see him in that god awful film with Ben Stiller and Jenna Elfman, where he plays a nice guy priest, and I think I’ve seen him in some other films where he basically plays a nice, dull, young man.

But Wil Graham ain’t a nice young man. He’s a tortured, world-weary veteran of mayhem, death and destruction. Ed Norton as a world weary detective able to see through the eyes of a homicidal sociopath – I’d rather be forced to sit and watch Al Gore speeches, for goodness sakes.

Now, perhaps had I come to this movie as a “Red Dragon” virgin, then perhaps I could’ve bought the whole thing. But I didn’t. You see, Manhunter, the 1986 version starring William Peterson (“Hey. Ain’t that the movie with Grissom?” Says wifeypooh. Pretend not to shudder…. Pretend not to shudder…. “Ah, yes… It is…”) is perhaps one of my favorite movies of all time. And Red Dragon, for all it’s production values, for the valiant consistency with the printed material, just, well… sucks. Let’s do a tale of the tape and compare these movies side by side, Manhunter from 1986, and Red Dragon from 2002.

Wil Graham: Ed Norton (02) vs. William Peterson (86). ADVANTAGE: Manhunter.
Manhunter came along at a very impressionable time for me. And William Peterson’s portrayal of Graham, combined with his role in “To Live and Die in L.A.” and the HBO Bull Durham rip-off “Long Gone” remain the trifecta of crusty, world weary, macho dude role models. There’s a scene in both versions where Graham is talking to Freddie Lounds, feeding him the B.S. story meant to draw the Tooth Fairy into a trap. Peterson-Graham (I keep trying to write “Grissom”) comes off as contemptuous of Lounds and impatient with the whole charade. Norton-Graham practically giggles like a school-girl comparing notes with Lounds (played in 02 by Phillip Seymor Hoffman, who is very good). You do the math.

Lecter: Sir Anthony Hopkins (02) vs. Brian Cox (86) ADVANTAGE: Manhunter.
Ah, yes, you say to me. Obvious proof the boy has flipped his lid. Sir Anthony is a member of the Royal Shakespeare theater… Sir Anthony has been knighted by the Queen… Sir Anthony was in “Remains of the Day” a costume drama period piece you actually liked! All these things you say to me. I respond: true, all of the above. I say to you: Sir Anthony chewed so much scenery in this movie (and Hannibal) that I needed a sympathetic dose of Maalox. He’s become a caricature of himself. And his accent has become weird to the point of distraction. What the hell is it with that phony southern affectation he does from time to time? And he looks absolutely awful. In one of the DVD extras the director says that Hopkins put on 30 pounds for the role – was it to try and bloat up so the wrinkles wouldn’t show so prominently? This movie was supposed to take place before the other two! Sir Anthony playing Lector has become like Jack Nicholson to me, just playing the same character on autopilot. Cox WORKED to give us Lector, and it’s much more satisfying.

The Tooth-Fairy: Ralph Finnes (02) vs. Tom Noonan (86). ADVANTAGE: Manhunter.
Well, Duh. The Tooth Fairy is supposed to be a scarily deformed man who is shy and awkward with others. Tom Noonan is freaky. Uber freaky, as our good friend Shaggy would say. I mean that little scar on Finnes-Dolarhyde’s upper lip is supposed to be enough to turn him into a serial killer? Puh-leeze. And Finnes accent?! Ye Gods. Between Finnes and Anthony Hopkins it’s a murder-the-generic-american-accent fest. Plus, Ralph Finnes spends entirely too much of this movie naked. Now, I don’t need to see that. I really don’t need the scene where Finnes-Dolarhyde has his morning-after dialogue with the dragon (the dragon wants him to off Reba, Dolarhyde thinks about blowing off his own head instead). When Finnes-Dolarhyde comes bounding up the attic stairs, we are treated to…. Well, you know… Suffice it to say: Damn you Ralph Finnes, for making me feel inadequate to a cleft-palate homicidal sociopath bedwetter. Like I needed to feel any more insecure.

Crawford: Harvey Keitell (02) vs. Dennis Farina (86). ADVANTAGE: Silence of the Lambs.
Okay, okay. I like Harvey Keitell. I loved him in Reservoir Dogs, and I haven’t seen The Bad Lieutenant, so I don’t get PTSD flashbacks from seeing him on screen. Farina from Manhunter loses points for doing that god awful “The Inlaws” series last year. Sure, that’s not fair, but nobody said life was fair. Of course, both of these Crawfords are far inferior to Scott Glenn’s portrayal in Silence of the Lambs. Scott Glenn rocks. Jeez, they brought back Frankie Faison as Barney the Orderly, why did they feel the need to change Crawfords each movie? Bastards.

The obligatory girl in trouble, Reba: Emily Watson (02) vs. Joan Allen (86). ADVANTAGE: Push
Actually, thinking about this, I’m going to change my mind. Joan Allen gets the nod here, for one particular scene. The tiger scene is in both movies, the scene were Dolarhyde brings Reba to “see” a tiger. It’s during this part of the movie where Dolarhyde gives us a glimpse of his suppressed humanity and we begin to root for him, just for a moment, to be able to get himself out of his psychosis. Joan Allen really sold this scene, laying on the tiger to hear it’s heartbeat, caressing the tiger in this, perhaps not so, subtle foreshadowing of her laying with a far more dangerous creature later in the movie. Emily Watson basically pats the tiger, and listens to it with a stethoscope. Ho hum. Just another day at the office, fondling a ten foot long tiger. (Actually, the tiger in Red Dragon seemed a lot less sedated that the tiger in Manhunter. Perhaps Ms. Watson was afraid of being eaten. Perhaps Ralph Finnes had yet again taken off his clothes and was prancing around naked just off camera. Either way, she doesn’t really communicate the sensual nature of the contact, and what it means to her. So, we gotta give this category to Joan Allen and Manhunter.

Graham’s wife: That chick who Josh Lymon gets down with on West Wing (02) vs. Some oldish haggard blonde (86). ADVANTAGE: Manhunter.
In the story, Graham’s wife has a 11 or 12 year old son from a previous marriage. The relationship between Graham and the boy, how the boy learns about Graham’s past and begins to fear him just a bit, really shows us how different Graham is from us, and maybe how much he is like the men he chases. The wife plays very little role in this whole thing, so it’s not exactly a juicy role for an actress. You’ve just gotta be the Mom and wife figure. So, if you don’t bring anything to the party, please be sure to just not pee in the punchbowl. Josh Lymon’s girlfriend fails miserably in this regard, distracting me throughout the movie with thoughts like: hey, this chick is my age, what’s she doing with a 12 year old? And: hey, is the kid the lovechild of her relationship with Josh?, etc etc.

(editor’s note: Acutally, Ms. Mary-Louise Parker would have been 27 when she had the twelve year old in question. She just looks hotter than you. Kal’s note: I would hope freakin’ so.)

Ambiance: Silence of the Lambs look-alike (02) vs. Miami Vice look-alike (86). ADVANTAGE: Miami Vice baby!
Michael Mann, he of Miami Vice and MTV videos, directed Manhunter, and it shows. Everything is that clean, modern 1980’s look. Lots of white, very antiseptic. The soundtrack is moody and synthesized, except for the use of Iron Butterfly’s “Innagoddadavida” during the climactic scene. Red Dragon is very visually similar to Silence of the Lambs, with the sort of world-right-after-a-rainstorm look. It’s much more consistent with the written material: Manhunter almost laughably had Dolarhyde living in this bachelor pad with a large poster of Mars on one end of the living room and Japanese screens (all the better to fall through) in another part of the house.

(I may have made that bit about Japanese screens up. You see, this is the great benefit of writing a blog that nobody reads. No smartass can write you emails saying, “Kal, you ignorant sl*t, we learn that Lector is from Lithuania in the book “Red Dragon” on page thirty-seven, in paragraph six, obviously that’s where his odd accent comes from…” or “they were falling though the poster, not a Japanese screen, in “Manhunter”.)

But this movie captured so vividly a time I hold so dear: no wifey-pooh, no Fruits of my Loom, no mortgage, no J-O-B, that to watch it is to, for two hours, be catapulted back to the age of thin ties, stubble, and Ronnie Reagan. Red Dragon just makes me feel like I need a shower.

Final Score: Manhunter 6, Red Dragon 0, Silence of the Lambs 1.

Till next time, sports fans.

Oh – for obsessive compulsive finders of movie trivia: nothing in this posting, as it’s all about movies. Would be sort of redundant, wouldn’t it now?

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

A Boy's First Post

Northeastern called again the other day, ostensibly to make sure I was still getting the alumni magazine, but of course to ask me for money. While I am very grateful to NU for giving me -- er, strike that -- providing me the opportunity to earn a serviceable, if not spectacular, education, it cheeses me off to no end that they are constantly looking for money from me, after I just finished paying $250 a month for my 1/3rd share of college. (okay, I didn't finish paying it off, I rolled it into my mortgage, which thanks to these Great Depression Redux interest rates I raised the extra 20K for about $75 a month). And what the heck do they do with my $10? They build more freakin' buildings like the four-story health club -- that's right, health FREAKIN club -- on Huntington Avenue.

Now, not to sound like my dad, who walked ten miles to school each morning in the snow, uphill, both ways, in July, but when I went to Northeastern (cue music) we ate in a flippin cafeteria. With LINOLEUM. Probably ASBESTOS LADEN linoleum. And if the asbestos laden linoleum didn't kill you, the smoke coming out of the "game room", featuring one archaic Pole Position, a geriatric Asteroids, and perhaps Dig-freakin-Dug, that old whore of a game, would croak you. Like I want to make these kids' college years any more cushy. Screw that.

Anywho, I usually promise to throw them $10 per year, and then have to beg and plead with my wife, who wisely controls the finances, to let me send them a check after about 15 reminder letters from them, the cost of shipping and handling thus exceeding the $10 I eventually, grudgingly, send.

For some reason I was in a bit of an odd mood when the latest pimply faced workstudy student called looking for dough -- it was a guy, which perhaps doomed the effort to failure, as usually the voice of a youngish co-ed fresh from the leafy suburbs of Connecticut will elicit my interest enough to trade Professor McShane stories, after which I will usually promise the half-sawbuck, sort of the equivalent of the money on the dresser the morning after, I guess.

So I tell Mr. Sophomore that yes, indeed, I still get the beautiful alumni magazine. Which I read for the articles, really. Or, rather, would, if the articles were interesting. Which, is, not so much the case. Yes, I say, I get the magazine, which is rather puzzling as I graduated from Boston College.

Stunned silence.

Then, "Uh, you sure?"

Okay, perhaps he was asking if I was sure that I was receiving the Northeastern alumni magazine, not that I was sure I graduated from Boston College. I can understand him perhaps thinking I was addled enough to mistake the BC magazine for the NU magazine, as NU is quickly turning into a leafy green campus with expensive buildings, and the alumni magazine so rarely catches that real essence of Northeastern life, Punters Pub and classes at the Y (complimentary flak jacket included).

I am hoping that Northeastern has not taken to accepting students who would believe that I perhaps was not sure WHERE I HAD ATTENDED COLLEGE. I would have understood had he told me, "hey, you shitting me buddy?", or perhaps "oh yeah, you're the deadbeat who talks to the girls for thirty minutes and then promises ten bucks". But, please, am I aware of where I went to college? What the hell kind of question is that?

So, I said: Yup. BC, class of '93. Brilliant ad lib on my part, as due to Northeastern's patented water-torture-for-five-years I graduated NU in '94, but would've finished a normal school in 1993.

More stunned silence.

"Uh, could you hold?" So he put me on hold for 30 seconds, came back on, apologized and hung up.

So, no $10 bucks for Northeastern this year. Unfortunately, I may also lose my free subscription to the Alumni mag.

Jeez, I wonder if they'd print this story as an article? I'd read that.