Saturday night, I couldn’t find anything decent on television to watch…and I had just achieved a state of comfortability on my couch that precluded my getting up and rummaging through the TDOY archives for a DVD. So I decided to scope out the On Demand channels and see if there was something I hadn’t seen.
Let me state up front that this is the last time I plan on doing this. In fact, last night—due to the cancellation of the Joseph Cotten festival on TCM (in favor of a tribute to the late Van Johnson)—I watched both One, Two, Three (1961) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) rather than taking a chance with On Demand. I also don’t want to disparage the service; I find myself enjoying a lot of the Sundance Channel offerings (particularly if they have a good documentary on I haven’t seen) and occasionally TCM will showcase a short or movie guaranteed to entertain. But some of the others—IFC in particular—are strictly from hunger.
I don’t know how I managed to do it, but I actually sat through Gerry (2002) via IFC On Demand—a film directed by Gus Van Sant that stars Casey Affleck and Matt Damon as a pair of idiots who set out to hike a wilderness trail taking no food, no water, no compass…no anything that might help them should they become lost—which they eventually do. The film—which was written by the two actors and based on a real-life story—ambles on for 103 minutes, allowing the audience to watch the pair slowly succumb to the elements until one is murdered by the other and the killer escapes his fate by miraculously making it to the main highway.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have no experience in the Great Outdoors whatsoever. My idea is roughing it is staying at a motel that has no lounge or restaurant attached. But even I’m not so idiotic that I wouldn’t venture off for a wilderness hike without…well, at the very least taking along a first-aid kit. True story or no, this is Gerry’s flaw from the get-go—you see these two morons start off and you think (or in my case, shout at the screen): “Hey! Haven’t you guys forgotten something?”
The film moves at an excruciating pace (by midway, I was jokingly referring to it as “Gus Van Sant’s L’Avventura”) and it’s so frustrating that not even a half-hour has gone by when you’re rooting for the two actors to be eaten by a bear. One particularly infuriating scene has Affleck stranded on stop of a rock with no apparent way of getting down...this wouldn't be so bad except for the fact that the viewer can plainly see there's no way he could have climbed up there in the first place. The banter (if any) between the two actors is the epitome of ennui (so much for writing the screenplay); it might have gone a little better if Ben Affleck had been in this movie—at the very least, he and Damon could have killed time writing a screenplay (except I probably wouldn’t have sat through that one, either) while waiting to die.
I haven’t seen Van Sant’s Milk (2008) yet, and I don’t want to disparage a movie I haven’t experienced…but it’s been on the receiving end of a lot of audience and critics’ love, and I’d just like to remind them—in case they’re thinking about showering Milk with many awards, Academy or otherwise—of Van Sant’s talent by staging a few showings of Gerry. In my honest opinion, I don’t think the guy has made a praiseworthy film since Drugstore Cowboy (1989). As always, your mileage may vary.
You would think after this experience that I would have risen from my sofa and hied myself to bed…but you misunderestimate my gluttony for punishment. I rolled the dice once more and put on Havoc (2005), a movie starring Anne Hathaway and Bijou Phillips as a pair of teenage girls who want to join a Latino gang “for kicks.” Academy Award-winning documentarian Barbara Kopple directed this fictional outing, and while it’s a darn sight better than Gerry I didn’t care much for this one, either...only because I couldn’t relate to twenty-five-year-old women playing teenagers. (Not to mention Hathaway’s attempts to be a “bad” girl; this movie plays more like “The Princess Diareez ‘n the Hood.”) The late Sam Bottoms has a tiny role as a cop in Havoc, and I recognized a few of the grown-up actors (like Michael Biehn and Laura San Giacomo) but I think I’ll stick with Sundance from now on.