19 December 2006

The Twinkie Defense

    Now and then, I'm occasioned to temper my cynicism.  Sometimes that's a bit like swallowing one's tongue, especially considering how much this age tends to render yesterday's cynicism into tomorrow's prescience.  Even more oddly, those occasions tend to happen with figures normally dismissed out of hand.  Not long ago, I remember having to concede a few virtues on the part of Justin Timberlake, of all people, when he not only showed class in acknowledging an award he received really belonged to Johnny Cash, but then demonstrated a surprising degree of comic skill on Saturday Night Live.  In both instances, you could have knocked me over with a feather, but suddenly I had to give young Justin not just a new look, but worse--- credit.  He was so easy a target, and then suddenly he's showing glimmers of promise.  One begins to wonder if some bizarre carnivalism is setting in, whereby the good become awful and the awful become good.  It's a good thing, I think.  Proves you can still be pleasantly surprised.  Proves *I* can still be pleasantly surprised.
 
    So it's with a bit of happy trepidation I'm being forced to rethink Leonardo DiCaprio.  For me, he'll always be the little brat they brought in to "young-up" Growing Pains, which was like taking broken-down Lada and painting the bumper.  And of course, there's the stuff he's most famous for, the twinkie stardom of Titanic and The Beach, to say nothing of his plainly risible attempt at Shakespeare in Romeo & Juliet.  By that point, it was easy to deride him as a child-star who finally showed potential (in What's Eating Gilbert Grape? and The Basketball Diaries) and then sold out to setting a-flutter all the hearts he could.  He's still smirk-worthy in many ways, but it finally occurred to me today that the chap's making a Napoleonic assault toward legitimacy.  Since 2002, he has cozied up to Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorcese, and with each film he started to show more and more, wait for it, Genuine Acting Talent.  Gangs of New York was a bit of a mess, but with The Aviator and The Departed, he has been cultivating credibility.  But, I'll admit it; after The Departed, I would probably have said the first of its merits was that he got shot really well in it.  In the head.  From out of nowhere.  By a character we had largely forgotten.  Cooooooool....  All us not-so-pretty boys were not-so-secretly tittering with girlish glee.
 
    Then the bastard goes and does Blood Diamond.  Yes, the movie's preachy and a bit heavy-handed, yadda yadda yadda.  But for the first time, I saw something new in little Leo:  charisma.  Who knew?  It's a solid performance, it staggers me to say; it staggers me further to confess he reminded me of Humphrey Bogart more than a few times in it, and not simply at the level of awkward imitation.  He finds a snarl that isn't just snarkiness or petulance; he finds a menacing charm that's really rather impressive; he finds, forgive me, a leonine charisma that I had not imagined he might be able to convey, much less possess.  And, damn it, he pulls it off.  The movie offers lots of vignettes that seem meant to draw him, or his character at least, against the Bogart model.  There are bits right out of Casablanca (a get-out-of-here goodbye, no less), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (Diamonds!  Diamonds!), The Big Sleep and Key Largo, as if to demand the comparison.  And--- Gawd help me for saying this--- little Leo doesn't come off too badly in the comparison. 
 
    Yes, that is hard to admit, damn it.  If he had failed, just imagine how many African Queen jokes we could have made.....
 
    But, suddenly it seems the boy has mettle, that he's finally going past that boyishness that puts him on magazine covers with despicable regularity.  So, I have to give the chap his props.  Maybe those three films with Scorcese helped him refine his sense of gravity, and to roughen some of those too-too-fine edges.  Colour me impressed, for now.  So I guess I owe little Leo a little mea culpa for the not-so-little fun I've made of him over the years, which I offer now, even if that cynical bastard in me hopes he gets suckered soon into Titanic II: Return of the Waifish Drowned.  Told from the iceberg's point of view, of course....  
 
    (See, eating crow isn't too awful.  Just do it one bite at a time.)

3 comments:

zelda said...

wheeeeeeeeee! i'm hammered!

zelda said...

hey! where's an xmas related post? aren't ya gonna wish da internets a merry christmas?

(yes, i've been drinking. again.)

Vixen said...

Happy Holidays!

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