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    Wednesday, August 04, 2004

    Video: Arlington Road (1999)

    This movie didn’t impress when I saw it on its initial release, but I revisited it for two reasons. The great Eddie Muller, in the film noir primer he wrote for GreenCine Daily, names it a favorite recent example of the form. He calls it “timely and timeless, an insightful thriller that didn’t cop out at the end.” It’s also one of the few studio films about terrorism made in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing. I wanted to see how it held up after 9/11.

    The answer is: not very well, for the same reasons I didn’t like the film the first time. Jeff Bridges plays a widowed college professor and single dad who slowly becomes suspicious of his new neighbors (Tim Robbins, Joan Cusack). The script demands that one character be able to predict how another will react at every turn. Credibility goes out the window in a hurry. Plus Bridges’ character is too unstable from the get-go, ranting to his students about government excesses, taking them on a field trip to the site where his FBI agent wife was killed in a Ruby Ridge-style standoff. Working your spouse’s death into the curriculum is not the way to stay on the tenure track.

    Eddie’s right about the ending. It’s bleak and uncompromising. But the movie’s length blunts its impact. You’ve got so much time to think about what’s going on that you can see the twist coming a mile off. And as much as I hate to disagree with an expert I revere, I’m not even sure that I’d classify the movie as noir.

    Considering how upfront Robbins has always been about his politics, is casting him as a potential right-wing extremist intended as some kind of statement? Or a joke?

    Director Mark Pellington does conjure up quite an atmosphere of dread, a feat he repeated in his follow-up movie, 2002’s THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES. With the right script, he could scare the bejesus out of everyone. Although arguably he already did that in the video he shot for Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy.”

    Movie Preview: Suspect Zero

    More serial killer hooey, although with a solid cast (Ben Kingsley, Aaron Eckhart) directed by E. Elias Merhige, who made the ubercreepy SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE. But the movie indulges in one of my cinematic bête noires: the on-the-nose code name. According to the trailer, SUSPECT ZERO’s plot touches on a top-secret remote viewing experiment known as ... Project Icarus. A partial transcript from a staff meeting follows:

    Official #1: What are we going to call this program to push human experience to its very limits?
    Official #2: How about we name it after the mythological figure who flew too close to the sun and plunged to his death?
    Official #1: Done! Next on the agenda, copying costs.

    The worst example of this occurs in the movie version of JUDGE DREDD. (I was a fan of the comic book, all right?) Eggheads set up a cloning protocol called ... the Janus Project. And are then surprised when it produces twins, one good, one evil. I told myself that they changed the project name retroactively so they could pretend they saw it coming.

    This Slate article explains the procedure the military uses to come up with code names. Sometimes the results can be confusing. I initially thought Operation Nimrod Dancer (Panama, 1989) was a reference to Deney Terrio.

    Miscellaneous: Links

    In the Atlantic, Eric Alterman explores Hollywood’s connection to the Democratic party. The Don Rickles fan site thehockeypuck.com says that the videotape I mentioned yesterday is on file at the Museum of Television and Radio. I was just there two weeks ago. Had I but known.


    A good bit of ARLINGTON ROAD was filmed in a subdivision of Pearland, Texas, eight or ten miles from where I live. I drive by it every now and then. But I still haven't seen the movie, and your comments didn't encourage me.


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