Monday, February 16, 2009

Defending my recommendation

I really should call this post "Taking my own advice," or something like that, but that wouldn't be a play on words with the movie title I'm about to discuss, now would it?

I may have selected the poster art for Kissing Jessica Stein for my discussion of potential Valentine's Day movies -- and I swear, I didn't notice it was covered with hearts until afterward -- but when it came down to it, I ended up going with a different choice from my ten recommendations for my own Valentine's viewing. And funnily enough, I do have my own blog to thank for it.

My wife and I were standing in line waiting for our free advanced screening of The International on Wednesday night. Those of you who read my blog closely -- I think I have one or two out there -- may have seen me bag on my prospects for liking The International, and then notice it land in my "Most Recently Seen" section off to the right (where it still resides as of this typing). So I wanted to let you know that a) it was indeed a free screening, thanks to my wife's subscription to Creative Screenwriting magazine, and b) despite some memorable scenes and some great technical achievements, it was, in fact, a ho-hum thriller overall. But as is my custom, I'm digressing.

So as we were hopping around trying to keep warm -- yes, it does sometimes get cold in Los Angeles -- I was telling my wife about some of the selections from that day's post. And I discovered that she hadn't yet seen Albert Brooks' Defending Your Life, in which Brooks also stars with Meryl Streep (and a hilarious Rip Torn). So my gears immediately began turning.

I knew it would be hard to find this at a video store. The brick-and-mortar places tend to stop carrying even great films like Defending Your Life if they stop getting rented. I found this out the hard way when writing a story that required me to revisit The Full Monty. I tried to pick it up at Blockbuster, and expressed my bemusement to the clerk that they didn't carry it. He/she explained that if a title doesn't get rented once within a given year, or some similar time frame, they remove it from the shelves. That seems like a rather draconian standard, but it also makes a certain amount of sense, as there's a finite amount of space on those shelves, and a steady flow of new additions to the inventory.

By Wednesday night it was also too late to get it through the mail from my account (more another time on why I prefer Blockbuster to Netflix), even if I had a movie to exchange for it, which I didn't. So that left the good old library. On Thursday I went online to search for where I could find it, having remembered seeing it on the shelves at one of the two branches I frequent. Sure enough, they had it at the branch closest to my house, and the Los Angeles Public Library website could even tell me that it hadn't been checked out. So I picked it up, setting in motion a low-level giddiness about getting reacquainted with this wonderful film.

That giddiness continued as I sat on the couch last night, filled up with pasta and wine, taking little glances to my right to see my wife with a silly grin on her face for most of the movie. It's a silly grin kind of movie, and I'm so glad she felt the same way, since I'd come dangerously close to over-hyping it in the preceding couple days.

And I got an additional something out of this movie that I hadn't consciously recognized before, which speaks to something I'm working on in my reviews. Among all the little things this film does well, one of the best is its score. It manages to be both sweeping and deliciously light on its toes, in keeping with the tone of the movie in general.

Movie scores are not what they used to be, and I almost never mention them when I'm reviewing films. But it's nice to know that if they are really good -- like Michael Gore's is in Defending Your Life -- I will store that information away in a little place in my brain to refer to later. In checking out Mr. Gore's other credits on IMDB, I was disappointed to see that although he scored some pretty grand films early in his career -- such as Fame and Terms of Endearment -- he hasn't composed a score since the unlikely choice of Superstar, the Molly Shannon vehicle and expanded SNL sketch that came out in 1999. Oh well. I hope he's living large off his early successes somewhere out there.

Now excuse me while I go brainstorm my President's Day posting. Or not.

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