My marathon

Kyle Smith

In high school, my friends and I used to hold the “The Columbia (Mo.) Film Festival.” Since no film festival had ever come to CoMo, we would make do by visiting a theater around Oscar time, buying one ticket and seeing all the artsy films that were finally making it to the Midwest. I recently revisited this youthful act of defiance. A diary:

I opened with Thank You For Smoking. In addition to Cameron Bright, aka the creepy-awesome kid from Running Scared, the film stars absolutely everybody in the world: Rob Lowe, Katie Holmes, Adam Brody – I almost thought I was watching Entertainment Tonight or reading US Weekly or something. And I might as well have been. Thank You For Smoking is engaging without being particularly interesting. Or maybe it’s the other way around.

This may have something to do with the film’s decidedly non-antagonistic approach toward smoking. In some sense, it’s buying into the spin-heavy attitude of smooth-talking lobbyist Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), a fine metaphor in theory that’s ultimately redundant. It’s easy enough to imagine Naylor weaseling his way out of everything, and the juxtaposition of his well-rounded character with Dickensian villains like Senator Ortolan K. Finistirre reveals the film’s singular aim: that nothing in today’s talky political realm really means anything. Sigh.

Mostly agreeable, Smoking is on par with the animated Over the Hedge, which I saw next. Nick Nolte voices a real jerk of a bear, which makes Nick Nolte even scarier. The rest of the voice talent is equally revelatory. The recasting of Best in Show’s Eugene Levy and Catharine O’Hara as porcupine parents again justifies Levy’s awkward Jewish father routine. Steve Carell, too, is weird enough to make his character uncomfortably funny, and William Shatner is a possum who refers to a deceiving raccoon as “a ring-tailed charlatan.”

But Over the Hedge’s biggest flaw is that it occasionally abandons its simple story to throw in awkward pop culture references and lewd jokes in an obvious appeal to adult sensibilities. The best way a film can appeal to all audiences is to tell a sincere story in a creative way (see Wallace & Gromit), or to spoof the conventions of mainstream movies – signposts obvious enough that they’ll amuse any crowd.

Next up was the Nick Cave-penned Outback western The Proposition, the best I saw all day. It was also an unusually fitting double-bill with Over the Hedge, as both are heavily concerned with deception, family, and love. The Proposition sees a rural police captain offer to pardon bad boy Charlie Burns if he swears to kill his ruthless, gang-leadin’ brother, Arthur. Charlie retreats to the mountains, gets speared for no good reason, and then begins to lure Arthur, who is constantly stressing the importance of “family” and “love” in between quoting poetry and decapitating people.

Grisly, bloody and filthy, The Proposition drapes its characters with beautiful sunsets and enormous flies. For its obscure setting alone, The Proposition is fascinating, but the strange music (also by Cave) nicely fits a number of haunting, strange and occasionally transcendent scenes: a whipping, a tense Christmas dinner, a beautiful song and John Hurt hamming it up.

I ended the day, predictably enough, with The Da Vinci Code. It was my first layover, so I finally saw a few trailers. M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water may prove that he’s jumped the shark, but it also looks strange and possibly awesome. But my crowd giggled at its trailer, while the laughable, even infuriating World Trade Center was greeted with reverence. Some of the imagery in the second half of the WTC trailer is fairly powerful, but it appears to be the pretty, souped-up Hollywood melodrama we knew we would see. I hope Oliver Stone gives it some bizarre ultra-ironic sheen.

Anyway. Robert Langdon is worthless: Tom Hanks did nothing but walk around, look at old shit and say “No! This can’t be the (blank),” and more than once I thought he and Audrey Tautou pulled a Bugs Bunny and escaped the bad guys by hiding in a painting. Still, I can only register mild complaints against the film. Da Vinci enthralled on a large scale – you know you have a budget when you’re able to shoot an epic within an epic (with ancient battles) – but is smart enough to know that puzzle-solving is better than globetrotting.

It’s actually similar to the experience of reading a paperback thriller – exciting but eventually a little tiresome and stylistically flat, so you skip to the end. Thirty minutes too long, The Da Vinci Code certainly isn’t Jaws, but it tops every John Grisham adaptation.

I emerged from the darkness after eight-and-a-half hours. Seeing four movies in a day is exhausting, especially when none of them suck. Not something I would do regularly, but a reminder that, if I had to do anything in the world, I could still sit in a dark room and watch movies all day.4

Communication senior Kyle Smith is the PLAY film columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]