happy birthday, geoff!
out at chez panisse for our anniversary dinner

what i watched last week

A History of Violence. Writing about movies in the abbreviated form of these "what i watched" posts shrinks my ambitions the way Twitter does for communication in general. But it helps me solve one problem with which I've always struggled on this blog: since I tend to watch movies past their sell-by date, I assume everyone has already seen them, forgotten them, formulated their opinions, or whatever. What I'm trying to do with this shorter format is attach some personal reaction ... I don't intend my comments to be definitive, but I like to offer something that might be particular to me. In this case, I come to the movie as someone who isn't a big fan of David Cronenberg. I've liked some of the ones I've seen, and only really disliked one (Videodrome, if you care). But he's not someone I seek out. So when I say I liked this more than any Cronenberg film I've seen, well, one, I haven't seen that many, and two, I appreciate that this is fairly mainstream for Cronenberg, and I don't object to mainstream. I'm also a big fan of Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello (another movie where the acting is top-notch), and they play very well at being married to each other (the first of the two sex scenes is remarkably honest, and funnier than Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie in Don't Look Now, one of the greatest married sex scenes on film). Their casual interaction made me believe in the small-town setting, so I was suckered in by what followed. Cronenberg's attitude towards the "history of violence" was complex enough to make for an excellent movie. #10 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 250 films of the 21st century. 9/10.

Total Recall. Awhile back, I was involved in a discussion about which Arnold movies were the best. I think this is second only to the first Terminator movie, and I'm starting to wonder if it's time to call this one underrated. What are the Arnold movies that people like the best? T2, maybe True Lies, Predator? The voters at the IMDB rank them like this: T2, Terminator, Predator, Total Recall, True Lies. So I guess it's not underrated by fans. Critics aren't as kind. For true Philip K. Dick-iness, this one blows all the other Dick adaptations out of the water except for A Scanner Darkly. (We can argue over the quality of something like Blade Runner, but I don't think it is as Dickian as Total Recall. Until Scanner, there was no scene more like a Dick novel than the one in Total Recall where the doctor tells Arnold, "What's bullshit, Mr. Quaid? That you're having a paranoid episode triggered by acute neuro-chemical trauma? Or that you're really an invincible secret agent from Mars who's the victim of an interplanetary conspiracy to make him think he's a lowly construction worker? Stop punishing yourself, Doug. You're a fine, upstanding man. You have a beautiful wife who loves you. Your whole life is ahead of you. But you've got to want to return to reality.") This is also probably my favorite Paul Verhoeven movie, for what that's worth. 8/10.

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