attack of the cab monster: day four

the halfway point of our experiment this week finds us halfway around the world and all the way annoyed.

yes, leo, i was equally horrified. in the wake of becoming king of the world in 1997 and the hearthrob of choice for a legion of adolescents pining for seven minutes in heaven in steerage class (were there titanic moms too?), leonardo dicaprio took a few left turns. i think he should at least be given credit for not falling back on his doomed romantic laurels and cashing in by starring in a series half-assed romantic comedies/period pieces. that being said, it doesn't mean danny boyle's the beach (2000) was a good choice. for anyone. exhibit B this week in my case against rave kids making movies. if what is missing in your life is a stoner version of "lord of the flies" at 120 bpm, then step right up. everyone else would be better off leaving this alone. in what had to be a huge stretch for him, leo plays a smug, spoiled american who, while vacationing in thailand, gets wind of a legendary beach that is paradise on earth. he talks two french tourists into going with him in search of the island - there are two reasons for this. one, he wants to have sex with the girl behind her boyfriend's back and two, he lacks the backbone to do anything alone without whining about it, either onscreen or in voiceover - and they find it, much to my chagrin. it turns out the island is split between a gang of marijuana farmers and the most annoying mutlicultural commune you have ever laid eyes on. they maintain a precarious truce as long as conditions remain beneficial for both sides. well, guess what. leo makes sure things don't stay that way because he has neither common sense nor impulse control. he has sex with the french girl right away and they begin a relationship that has all the passion and fire of a magazine layout, a pack of sharks make for a mild diversion and then the last third of the film descends into a morass of video game graphics and leo doing his best colonel kurtz impression.

hint: his best is not good. still can't fathom why scorsese has put all his eggs in leo's basket. i suspect he will always look like, and have the skills of, a little kid wearing grown-up clothes. watch it if you want, but don't say i didn't warn you.

you know you're having a tough round of viewing when a holocaust film makes you feel better. max färberböck's aimée & jaguar (1999) did just that, though.

this has been on my list of things to see for a long time, so i was very pleased to see that cabby had chosen it and i was not disappointed. leo could afford to take copious notes from these women when it comes to telling the story of an ill-fated love. it's the true account of lilly wust and felice schragenheim, two women living in nazi germany at the height of world war two. lilly is a soldier's wife, casting about for something to give her life meaning and felice is a jewish woman living under an assumed name and working for the underground. felice is the thing that finally wakes lilly from the somnambulance that her life has been until now and the two begin a tender and loving affair that shows them both gilmpses of a life they had never previously thought possible. it would be easy for the choice of love over survival to veer into maudlin, melodramatic territory but that fortunately never happens here. perhaps that is so because of the backdrop of the holocaust. under those circumstances, the audience would have to be blind to not constantly be aware of the potential of the tragic ending. either way, these women are very real and they put a very real light in one another's eyes. you get a true sense of the power love has, through the hope it creates in people, to whittle the impossible down to the merely improbable. of course, sometimes improbable is also insurmountable and this story ends in heart-rending fashion. on what might be the best day of their lives, the nazis capture felice and she is shuttled off to the gross-rosen concentration camp. it is believed that she died on a forced march from there to bergen-belsen. maria schrader and juliane köhler do such a fine job essaying these characters that i was immediately struck by the urge to get erica fischer's book, which contains a number of photos and letters, and get to know these women better. this is the best thing i have seen this week. it's going to be hard for the rest of the list to compete. you never know which time you kiss someone is going to be the last time. make the most of it.

we wrap up our day with bonnie hunt's throwback of a romantic comedy, return to me (2000).

my feelings about the quality of this film will probably vary depending on the day you ask me about it, but right now i lean towards sweet rather than saccharine. it's one of those unlikely scenarios that test my patience right from the beginning. david duchovny's wife dies, minnie driver is in need of a heart transplant, minnie gets david's wife's heart, minnie and david fall in love only to discover this connection they have that threatens to ruin what was otherwise perfect. that nonsense earns you strike one and two. on paper, awful. fortunately, there are plenty of things in the film that transcend this ridiculous premise. for one, this cool dog:

two, set in chicago. alright, film, i am now inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt. what else you got? robert loggia and carroll o'connor? ok, we can be friends. in general, it's just refreshing to see material handled this way in a contemporary romantic comedy. no one has to be sexy, sassy or snarky. it's populated with characters that you'd actually like to get to know. yes, it's polite. yes, all the rough edges have completely been sanded down. in this day and age, though, it's almost a bigger risk to simply be nice. it's definitely a bigger risk to be genuine with your heart than to buy into ironic games that hedge your romantic bets. i also enjoy that duchovny and driver seem to be in no hurry with things, another pitfall of the current crop of edgier romantic comedies. this could just as easily have been made in the thirties or forties, so you know i'm in favor of that. i probably wouldn't watch it again and there may be some days i am rougher on it than others. in the context of today's selections, though, i am willing to see more of the good. for the dog.

i get the feeling that tomorrow i might not feel so charitable.

see you then.

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