Thursday, January 17, 2008

What I've been watching

Here are a few of my recent Netflix rentals. I'd recommend all of them.

Ace in the Hole:
This 1951 black-and-white Billy Wilder film stars Kirk Douglas as a cynical, hard-bitten newspaperman (Is there any other kind?) whose career has hit the skids. He finds himself in a dead-end job at a small New Mexico newspaper and dreams of the story that will get him back to the big time. He gets his chance when a man is trapped in a mine while hunting for Indian artifacts. No one seems to be in a big hurry to rescue the poor guy. The effort to free him becomes a tourist attraction and a media circus. His wife would just as soon have him gone, and is thrilled that business at her roadside cafe has boomed since the accident. Douglas' character uses the man's plight to further his own ambition in a way that is incredibly unbelievable and immoral. I can't imagine any reporter acting that way. Still, I think that Ace in the Hole raises some uncomfortable but still-relevant issues about the relationship between reporters and the stories they cover, and how we've become a nation of gawkers.

Hot Fuzz:
I watched this because actor and cowriter Simon Pegg was a guest at the taping of The Late Show With David Letterman that I attended in April. Pegg plays a straight-arrow London police officer who does such a good job of rounding up the bad guys that he makes everyone else on the force look bad. As a result, he's banished to a picturesque village where nothing ever happens. But as anyone who's ever read Agatha Christie knows, some nasty things can go on in quaint English villages. There's a little too much blood and gore for me by the end of Hot Fuzz. But Pegg, who'll play Scotty in the new Star Trek movie, is very funny as his by-the-book approach clashes with the live-and-let-live attitude of the locals.

The Namesake: I loved Jhumpa Lahiri's novel about two generations of an Indian-American family, so I was really looking forward to the movie version. There's something about immigrant stories that I find really appealing, especially when it involves immigrant parents and their American-born children. Maybe it's the whole clash of cultures, the way that children often rebel against their parents' traditions at first, and then eventually find value in them. Bollywood veterans Irfan Khan and Tabu are the husband and wife in an arranged marriage who leave Calcutta to make a new life in the suburbs of New York City. Kal Penn is their son, Gogol Ganguli, who at various times tries to run from and embrace his heritage, as well as his unusual first name. While the story on screen isn't nearly as multilayered as the book, it's still pretty good.

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