“The Player”, “Cypher”, “The Shining” – Am I Wasting My Time?

It’s a bad convergence.  The coming of cold, and sometimes rainy (no snow yet) weather, and the acquisition of our first large screen, high definition television.  I have been tempted to watch movies, when I should be doing things more productive.  And I am not yet ready to break the incipient habit.

It started when I had a few hours to spare last week, and I found myself watching a film from the early 1980s that I had missed when it first came out (I miss most films when they first come out), “The Player”.  What a kick that film is.  It’s a film about the making of films, when the maker gets caught in a thriller which can only happen in a film, which of course it becomes.  Get it?

His job is to listen to ideas from writers and decide which of them could possibly become a film.  He is so overrun with solicitations that he sometimes forgets to get back to the applications to tell them they have been rejected.  One frustrated writer begins to anonymously send him post cards and faxes (it’s the 80s) containing threats.  Thinking he identified he writer, he goes to make peace with him (he’s scared to death), finds him unrepentant (although denying he sent any threats), gets into a fight, goes temporarily nuts, and kills him in the back of a parking lot.  He later finds himself still the recipient of the threatening mail (he got the wrong guy), but also the obvious suspect in the murder, particularly when a witness (a woman who lives across the street from the parking lot) appears.  He is brought by the police before the witness and is put into a lineup – clearly the jig is up.  Who knew that the woman would identify another man in the lineup (in fact a plain closed policeman) to be the culprit!

“The Player” is engaging, and funny, as much about the movie business as about the murder, and you really don’t know where it is going.  It’s directed by Robert Altman, and Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 90% rating.  The major cast members include Tim Robbins as the lead, Greta Scacchi as his new girlfriend (she was the girlfriend of the man he murdered) and Whoopi Goldberg as a Pasadena policewoman (the scene in her office is one of the funniest), among others.  And then there are the cameos (Wikipedia lists about 40), including Cher, Harry Belafonte, Peter Falk, Karen Black, Jack Lemon, and Anjelica Huston.

The more I think of it, the less I think it was a waste of time.

But a few days later, I watched another one.  This one was “Cypher”, an entertaining but someone ridiculous futuristic, science fictionistic film starring Jeremy Northam and Lucy Liu, both of whom are beguiling in their roles (and Liu, of course, is very attractive).  It’s all about Northam getting a new job and a new identity as a corporate spy, who is then recruited by another company to act as a double agent who gives him still a different identity, and he is required to take totally contradictory instructions from the two companies (as well as apparently being medicated and electrified to make him more compliant and less introspective).  But Liu appears and perhaps is going to rescue him, but it turns out that she is working for a mysterious individual who is the enemy not only of both companies, but of another individual who is his ultimate rival.  But what is the purpose of all of this espionage?  It’s unclear not only to the viewer but to everyone in them film, but there is a phantasmagoric underground vault in the middle of the Kansas wheat fields and there is a computer disc that, if fed into a machine there, will download the archives (whatever they hold, again, no one seems to know) and this is the object of the search, espionage and general shenanigans.  How does it end, you ask?  (Or perhaps not)  Let’s just say, Walt Kelly-like.  We have met the enemy and they are us.

More of a waste of time, I guess, than “The Player”, but not the ultimate waste of time.

That came today.

Today, a cold and rainy one, I decided to watch Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall in the 35 year old rendition of Stephen King’s “The Shining”.  Duvall and Nicholson are married with a young son (who has powers to see forward and backward), and they decide to take the position of babysitting a remote (and haunted) Colorado mega-hotel during the 5 months it is closed for the winter (too remote to operate feasibly in the snowy season).  Some years before, another family (this one with two children) occupied the hotel for the winter, but the husband went crazy and murdered his children, his wife and himself.  It looks as if history may repeat itself.

But I must say I don’t know how this one ended.  It was too much for me.  Too silly and too horrific at the same time.  And I turned it off half-way through.  This movie, like “The Player” is very well reviewed (much higher ratings than “Cypher”, for example), but to me…….

“The Shining” was turning into the ultimate waste of time.

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