Five things that impressed, appalled, or otherwise held my attention for more than 15 seconds during the past week:
1. Credit where credit’s due, certainly, to Christopher Nolan, David Goyer, and Christian Bale for making Batman Begins one of the more satisfying movies of the summer. Still, I feel the need to throw a strong shout out to Cillian Murphy, who was my personal favorite part of the franchise re-boot. I can’t imagine it was easy to keep from going over the top as Scarecrow/Dr. Jonathan Crane, yet Murphy imbued the character with a malice that was never cartoonish. You could still tell he was having a ball with it, though, and the creepy-ass effects Nolan used when Murphy would don his lil’ burlap sack mask certainly added to the appeal. Cillian’s quickly becoming one of my favored young actors, though. With a Wes Craven thriller and a Neil Jordan flick out before the year is over, I have little doubt I’ll be raving about him again and soon.
2. The Veronica Mars obsession continues as I’ve got a good half-dozen or so episodes under my belt. I have to give it up for Kristen Bell as the lead. I’m an easy mark for ensemble casts in both the TV shows and movies I enjoy. It’s rare for me to like a lead performer more than the rest of their supporting cast, but on VM it’s Kristen’s show and everyone else is just lending a hand. Not to knock the supporting players – they’re almost all fantastic. It’s just Kristen brings a lot to the table – toughness, cuteness, sarcasm, well-concealed vulnerability, and most importantly, the girl has fun. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is for a woman on television to be having fun while she’s the focal point of an hourlong drama. Much as I love(d) them, Buffy Summers and Sydney Bristow were not laugh-a-minute chicks. Good on the Mars people for remembering that good characters enjoy themselves sometimes.
3. Oh, HBO. Where would I be without your randomly chosen afternoon movies that get repeated ad nauseum throughout the month? For starters, I wouldn’t be sitting here reminiscing about the awful awesomeness (or awesome awfulness) of Can’t Hardly Wait. The end-of-high-school movie released mere weeks after my own graduation has always stuck with me somewhat. But the joy of rewatching comes from observing the virtual parade of soon-to-be-recognizable names and faces that show up on the periphery. I mean, the main stories are basically losers anyway (except for Lauren Ambrose and Seth Green making me fall in love with them again, for the first time, as they sit locked in the bathroom). The real fun is seeing Jamie Pressley and Sean Patrick Thomas as anonymous in-crowders; Jason Segel, Sarah Rue, and Clea Duvall as random undesirables; or –my favorite - Breckin Meyer and Donald Faison as bickering bandmates. Plus, the cavalcade of future Six Feet Under castmates like Freddy Rodriguez and Peter Facinelli, which culminates as Eric Balfour hurls a brownie at soon-to-be onscreen lover Lauren Ambrose’s head. The whole thing is Name That Teen Star and it could not be a more enjoyable way of wasting an hour and a half.
4. My favorite subplot of The Taking of Katie One Two Three has been all the talk about how Tom Cruise initially had Scarlett Johansson in his sights to play the role of "Awestruck Child Bride" that eventually went to Katie Holmes. If you think about it, coming from Cruise’s effed up perspective, ScarJo wasn’t a bad choice: young, hot actress; summer blockbuster (Michael Bay’s The Island) on the horizon; prospective co-star for Mission: Impossible III; and a history of hooking up with older dudes, if the Benicio Del Toro talk of a year ago was on the mark. Of course, Scarlett also has the reputation of being a smarter, tougher broad than Holmes, which is probably why she had the presence to run for the damn hills after getting one look at the swirling pinwheel of mind control known as the Scientology Celebrity Center. I knew there was a reason I liked this girl. And “star of Michael Bay’s The Island" damn sure wasn’t it.
5. I know I already raved about it in ten words, but I’m still buzzing over Tarnation. It really leaves an impression, and as manipulated and faked-up as it feels at times, it’s never for a second anything less than fascinating. The DVD director’s commentary by Jonathan Caouette even adds to the experience. I was struck by how matter-of-fact Caouette was about the ways in which he, say, re-enacted certain scenes that weren’t originally caught on film. This is a story as much as it is a document, in the same way that Jonathan in the film is a character as much as he is a real person. Caouette is dramatic without being all that annoying about it, which makes him sympathetic even as he’s crafting a dramatic motif about angels. It’s a much harder task than it sounds.