Monday, August 4, 2008


so here's something many of you may not know about me: when i was fourteen years old, some really great oncology doctors diagnosed me with bone cancer. right there in my left pelvic bone, i'd been carrying around this big piece of cancer for about eight months and never had the slightest clue. when i tell people that i was diagnosed with cancer, they usually say, wow, what'd you do when they said you had it? and the answer is that i don't really know. i just remember very quickly accepting the fact that my life was now rewritten in a way that, at the age of 14, i had never planned. there were a phenomenal amount of emotions to go along with all that; however, resolve is an extremely powerful force when we need it most.

hearing that i had cancer was not actually the hard part. no, the hard part came in the voices of people that visited the hospital, that called to see how i was doing, that checked if i needed anything. there's not much a cancer patient can do strapped to IV poles in a hospital bed. i relied on God and family and friends to keep life in my bones, but i also leaned heavily on entertainment to keep me sane. and people knew this. so when people came and asked, kevin, are there any books you'd like to read or films you'd like to see, i gained the impression that what they were really saying was, cause, you know, you don't have many books or films left, so you may want to consider the significance of the last ones.

for the record: i watched TERMINATOR 2 about thirty-seven times during my 15 months on chemotherapy and always felt pretty good about arnold's farewell thumbs-up melting down into the lava of my last cinematic experience on earth. thirty-seven times over, i felt good about it.

this is the life-experience i brought last night to my viewing of STRANGER THAN FICTION. since i'm, like, the last person on earth to see this film, i will skip over a review and jump straight into my own interaction with it.

first let me say that, being a person who felt the weight of impending death at a young age, i have a special interest in art that explores our perceptions of death. this may be one reason i love horror films - all these people engaging death on various levels is very interesting to me. maybe a bit depraved, but interesting nonetheless. then, over to the side, there is this small camp of films, usually quite artsy numbers, about some poor bloke living a saltine cracker existence met by some twist of fate or romance that turns his life into instant tiramasu. for the most part, i hate these films. nine times out of ten they are pop-psychology bull-ka-ka-scented carpe diem dispensers written by the same drips who think really smart pigs equal instant hilarity in family films. or, even worse to me, in an effort to achieve highbrow art status, the questions and emotions of mortality become utterly lost in a barage of colors and sounds and stimulation which manipulate viewers into thinking they have travelled somewhere great and profound when they have really only experienced a whole bunch of business.

STRANGER THAN FICTION stands out as the one in ten exception. i loved this film. i freaking loved this film. and i think the thing i loved about this film (besides the fact that emma thompson is so dedgum amazing) is the simplicity of the story. here's this boring IRS guy, harold crick, perfectly played by will farrell, who has no idea his life is boring. he thinks he's living. he thinks he's got it under control. and then a voice enters his life. and this voice brings other voices into his life. and harold needs these voices as much as these voices need him.

i love that we never see harold crick doing huge things to change his life. there's no musical montage that shows harold crick in some melodramatic mid-life crisis that we're suppose to feel good about because there's good music behind it. instead, we see harold make small choices and take small chances that are reciprocated by voices that need harold. and we see harold resolve to the life written for him. harold addresses the things in his life that he can change; the things he cannot change, he meets with couragous acceptance. this is how life is well-lived. life does not work in musical feel-good montages: it works in small things adding up to big things. it works in simplicity. it works in knowing what is in our power, what is not, and living with the correct energy in both fields. and while that may sound boring - it's the truth. it's what the narrator calls us to behind the scenes. it's what all those little bald headed kids in all those musically-montaged telethon-mercials had to learn in real life at a very young age. it's that tiny little piece of wristwatch that can save our lives.

STRANGER THAN FICTION earned itself a spot in my top ten favorite films of all time. i give this one 5 queen latifahs out of 5.


John Barber said...

I am in total agreement. An absolutely fantastic film. I almost picked it up today at Best But ($6.99), but changed my mind.

The best scene in the movie:
[as Harold and Ana lay in bed]
Harold Crick: I have to tell you something.
Ana Pascal: Is it a secret?
Harold Crick: Sort of.
[they kiss]
Harold Crick: I adore you.
Ana Pascal: I adore you. Was that it?
Harold Crick: No. I have to tell you this... and I want you to listen very carefully.
[he sits up]
Harold Crick: You can deduct the value of all the food you give away as a charitable contribution. It amounts to more than what you're currently withholding and doesn't break any tax laws.
Ana Pascal: Harold, Harold. The point is to break the tax laws.
Harold Crick: I want to make the world a better place too, Ana. I think that means keeping you out of jail.
Ana Pascal: Okay.
Harold Crick: Okay.

the hamster said...

i never liked the maggie gyllenhaal until this flick. she was magnificent. and i may have crushed on her for about five minutes there.

(please don't tell liv tyler.)

i loved when harold comes to professor (a totally amazing dustin hoffman) and asks him to read his life and tell him what to do, and the professor is enthroned up on a lifeguard stand. i just loved that.

still, emma thompson gets me everytime. some of her facial expressions in this film were enough to make me back up and watch scenes a third or forth time.

myleswerntz said...

i still don't love or even like maggie gyllenhall, but she was great in this.

i loved this review. this is ferrell's best role, by far, including Anchorman, which I watched again yesterday, and loved, again.

Esue said...

Clearly I am behind the times, because i have not seen, nor heard of this this will farrell in a serious role? I'll have to check it out. I'm not going to say I'm glad you had cancer, but I'm glad you survived it, and while I didn't know you before, I think I might like you more than i would have if you didn't have cancer. Or something like that. "shut up! i had cancer" --ks

the hamster said...

myles - i completely agree: this is ferrell's best role ever. please tell me that emma thompson won you over as well. i love her. if you do not love her i will punch you in the ovary. straight to the babymaker.

e sue - though cancer is no, like, walk in the park - i am totally grateful that i walked through the chemo and baldness. (i had the smoothest legs this side of fifth grade.) cancer definitely made me a cooler dude. i mean, i'm freaking awesome. i can't believe people do not throw flower petals in my path. if i had never had the cancer, they would through tar and lit matches instead. i mean, totally ouch, bro!

the hamster said...

e sue - wtf? you're like the biggest will ferrell fanatic i know. you HAVE to see this movie. call me when you do. i'll sit with you on the phone the entire time.

cara harjes said...

i love this post
and i love that you are a better man for having walked through cancer. and i love that you don't have cancer now. and i love that you saw a little redeeming value in my hollywood twin. it is weird, b/c i rarely like her either, but that feels like self-hatred to say such a thing since, she looks and talks just like me. and me like her.

the hamster said...

cara -

seriously, we were sitting in THE DARK KNIGHT and maggie gyllenhaal comes on the screen and i lean over to latonya and whisper, holy mess! that's cara!and latonya goes, no it's not. so i accused her of using narcotics.

then when we turned on the STRANGER THAN FICTION and maggie gyllenhaal busts out with that big bicep tattoo, i say to latonya, holy mess! cara would look SOOO good with a big ass bicep tattoo!

seriously, i think you should do it. big and ass and bicep and tattoo.

ps. i'm glad i don't have cancer anymore either. in three days i will have been in remission for 15 years. not bad, eh?

cara harjes said...

that just means it has been too long since latonya and i have seen each other, that's all. once we hook up again, and she recalls what i look like, talk like, bake cookies like, flex my big ass . . . i mean, my tatoo like, well, she'll realize it is true.

congrats on 15 years.
that deserves a big party!

myleswerntz said...

Emma Thompson won me over in Love Actually when she plays the cuckolded wife: when she gave him the speech about making a fool out of her and then hugged her kids, I nearly lost it.

by the way, dibs on that movie.

John Barber said...

I seriously loved Emma Thompson in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. Beatrice was always my favorite.

the hamster said...

emma thompson won me over in SENSE AND SENSIBILITY. at the end of the movie, thompson has this little breakdown of half joy and half relief when edgar comes to announce his love to her that is one of the greatest moments i have ever seen in film. i rewound that scene several times and could never imagine how she even thought of all that.

by the way, emma thompson won two academy awards for SENSE AND SENSIBILITY: one for lead role and the other for best screenplay. that lady is a smarty pants.

Seth said...

Amber and I were talking about this movie this weekend with someone. We claimed it was his best role (break out if you will) and the person said "Like, no way. Have you totally seen Ricky Bobby?" We are no longer friends with that person.

I love this movie for several reasons, most of which I will not mention here. I loved this movie, in large part, because it seemed to be the cosmic twin to The Truman Show in many ways. Both films where the funny man went straight and did a gorgeous job. Both films about living life. One with Ed Harris (Cristoff), who seems to be a bit more over-the-top version of Emma T. I think these movies would be an interesting tandem review.