About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Solitary Man

The third movie I saw this past weekend was Solitary Man. If Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work benefited from a good trailer, Solitary Man suffers from a bad one. It got across the point that the movie starred Michael Douglas and had three other actors who usually do interesting work: Susan Sarandon; Danny Devito, and Jesse Eisenberg. But it also made the movie seem dull, filled with boring talk about boring relationships. In fact, the movie is quite lively, and Michael Douglas gives a nuanced and energetic performance of a role that isn't easily played.

His character's that of a car dealer named Ben Kalmen who took a wrong ethics turn and ended up paying a huge fine. He's trying to get back in the game, but he also has a thing for self-destructive behavior which isn't helping. In particular, he's very fond of hitting on women 30 years younger than he. He's on somewhat decent terms with his ex-wife played by Susan Sarandon, but not on very good terms at all with his daughter, played by Mary Louise-Parker, in part because his grandson is treated kind of like a stuffed animal, supposed to be there when Ben needs him but without any sense that the grandson might have reciprocal needs out of the relationship with his grandfather.

Movies like this can easily be unpleasant. After all, rule #1 of the "plot skeleton" in Scott Meredith's Writing To Sell is to have a likable lead character. And Kalmen isn't likable. But here, he's played by a likable actor in Michael Douglas who makes the character watchable and entertaining in an absolutely horrifying kind of way. There's a definite element of Greek tragedy, which is beefed up when we're given an explanation if certainly not an excuse for the way the character behaves.

Making things even more interesting... for all of the unpleasantness of Ben Kalmen, for all that he deserves whatever comes his way -- oh boy, does he -- the people giving him his comeuppance are a nice bunch of cold fish as well. There are moments when it can be as horrifying to see the joy some people take in seeing the mighty taken down as it is to see what Michael Douglas is doing with his character.

Which makes the movie sound like you're watching horribly unpleasant people for 100 minutes, except you're not. Susan Sarandon has a nice relationship with her ex. Danny Devito plays an old college friend who's a mature version of the "always look on the bright side of life" stereotype. And Jesse Eisenberg is a college student who is taken under Douglas' wing but rises above.

Credit for the nicely textured screenplay goes to Brian Koppelman (interesting but flawed Rounders; Runaway Jury and Oceans 13). He gets solo credit here but co-directed with David Levien, a frequent writing partner of his. It's a good job all the way around, with a good script handled nicely by good actors.

And to continue the combo posts for the week...

In tennis, a well-contested tie-break set can take around an hour. During a typical tournament, a player might do first round on Monday or Tuesday, then have matches on Wed/Thu, Fri, Sat, Sunday. So maybe, if you're winning multiple well-contested best-of-three matches and advancing all the way to the final, you might play 9 hours over three consecutive days and 15 or 18 hours over the course of an entire week. And in the real world, it just doesn't happen that way. Rarely do you play three well-contested matches. Rarely do you win them all if you do, because you end up getting tired. In the grand slams, the men play best of five and can have five hour matches, but there's almost always an off day in-between. You can easily advance to the final of a grand slam with 16 hours on court over your six previous matches, sometimes even less.

You just never, ever, never ever ever, play 11 hours of match tennis over a three-day period.

Until this week, that is, when John Isner and Nicolas Mahut of France played for 11 hours and 5 minutes over 3 days to break every tennis record in the books. And likely never to be beat, any of them.

My eldest brother was at Part 2 of the match on Wednesday and tells me Isner didn't play a good match. Well, I don't know if the circumstances allow it. You're going to play very conservatively in this situation, where each point is very important. You should stick to your knitting and that might not be the best or more exciting tennis around. Honestly, it's the tennis equivalent of a soccer match after a point, lots of points but nobody actually scoring. Not even once did the players exchange breaks, where Isner lost a service game giving a chance for Mahut to serve and win. My brother also tells me you can't have a seat saved on an outer court at Wimbledon, so they sat in their seats the entire match, running out of food and water and no bathroom breaks. If they left, they'd have had to line back up for readmittance to the court. So my brother got to hold it in for several hours, but he certainly won't forget his first trip the All England Club.

And when you think on how unprecedented it is to do 11 hours of tennis over 3 days, you can understand why Isner had nothing left in the tank for his 2nd round match at 10:30 the next morning, around 18 hours after ending his marathon. Sore neck, no skin on his toes which all had to be taped up, no nothing left in the tank. We all turned in hoping to see something special with Isner making it through, and instead we all saw exactly what, deep down, we all could have/should have/were expecting, which was quick, dirty and sad to watch.

Nicolas Mahut did his best "Andy Roddick losing 18-16 in the fifth" imitation and looked totally miserable during the after-match ceremonies. I hope he comes to realizes he probably got the better end of it. His loss won't be forgotten, and he didn't have to drag himself out of bed the next morning to get drummed out of the tournament.

And let me say, I think this business of playing out the 5th set is ridiculous. All tennis matches anywhere should have a tie-break in the final set instead of having matches drag on like this one did. The argument against is that you should have to "play it out," or that you don't want the match to turn on just a few points. Please! If the rules say you play a tie-break, then there's nothing cheap or tawdry about playing it out and winning in a tie-break. The match that ended up ending at 70-68 in the fifth set ended up turning on just a few points, in the 138th game of the set. Let it turn on a few points in a tie-break instead.

1 comment:

Maria said...

EXCELLENT write-up. That just says it all.

The tennis I mean. I didn't even read the movie part yet...