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Sunday, December 9, 2001

To punish myself for staying up half the night for no good reason, and to escape from a horrible (and horribly over-hyped) football game that I'd been looking forward to all week, I forced myself to finish watching a movie I hated this afternoon. I don't think the punishment fit the crimes, such as they were, because the movie was the execrable Autumn in New York.

I'd avoided it in the theaters last year on principle — the principle being that I didn't want to watch Richard Gere ravish Winona Ryder. Principle turned out to be the least of my problems with the movie, though. I hated pretty much everything else about it even more.

Let's start with what I liked: some of the photography, of street scenes and the old New York skyline. And I enjoyed the performance of Vera Farmiga as — well, I won't say, just in case I'm completely wrong about the film and somebody might be about to watch it and will think it's an exquisite cinematic statement about the power of love to transcend time, or the impotence of love to overcome death, or maybe even something marginally less trite. It wouldn't be the first time my judgment turned out to be off base.

The parts played by Gere and Ryder weren't miscast as much as they simply shouldn't have been played by any actors, no matter how beautiful and talented they might be. I didn't believe a word either one of them said, because the dialog was so stilted and overblown. And I wouldn't have cared anyway, because I didn't recognize these characters as real human beings. Spending two hours trying to interest myself in their relationship was my mistake.

My TiVo remote came in handy during this one, because there are long sequences when nothing happens at all. I can only watch Richard Gere wandering pensively down the street in the rain for a couple of seconds before I push the fast-forward button and make him trot. Even the love-making scenes make a lot more sense in double time.

The best news about all this is that I could (a) say that I'd watched it and cross it off my list, and (2) delete it from the TiVo hard drive to make room for something a little more worthy. Oh, and (c), I could move on to a movie that I didn't think I'd hate. To get rid of Autumn in New York, I watched Wonder Boys today, too.

Hey! Why didn't anybody tell me what a great movie this is? And after the dead-in-the-water melodrama I'd just watched, this sprightly romantic comedy seemed like waking up on a different, more interesting planet. You know, one where the inhabitants actually live and breathe. (Part of that sensation could have been the shift from Richard Gere and Winona Ryder as the couple in question to Michael Douglas and Frances McDormand as the romantic leads.)

When you have a broad farce laced with subtle nuance (not to mention Tobey Maguire, Katie Holmes and Robert Downey, Jr.), you have a movie that'll make me smile. I even laughed out loud a few times, and I haven't done a lot of that lately. Even though it's set in the wintertime (in Pittsburgh), it's a much warmer experience than that Autumn thing.

To sum up: I should have known I'd like Wonder Boys, based on the great cast. Plus: It was written by Steve Kloves, who wrote some movies I already knew I liked (Racing With the Moon, The Fabulous Baker Boys, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone). And: It was directed by Curtis Hanson, whose last film was L.A. Confidential. All of this information was right there in my Giant Movie Guide, if I'd only looked it up.

pink and blue

The horizon at sunset.

By way of coming full circle, I also tried to watch the original version of Ocean's Eleven this weekend, and although I've seen it before I'd forgotten that it really isn't a very good movie. That is, it isn't good as a movie. As a piece of cultural history it does have some value. The current remake (which isn't really a remake but a new film based on the story and characters) almost has to be better.

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