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Screen Grabs: Bad Behavior

Eliot Spitzer's downfall feels like something out of the movies, and there was plenty of bad behavior unfolding on movie screens last week. It showed up in the conclusion of The Wire, the return of Harold and Kumar, the remake of Funny Games, and plenty of other places.
Eliot Spitzer and Tommy CarcettiBad behavior was everywhere you looked in a week in which revelations of unsavory extracurricular activities by the governor of New York felt like something out of a movie—so much so, in fact, that some have already begun casting the Hollywood version. Commenting on Eliot Spitzer's breathtakingly sudden plunge from power, one Internet poster quipped, "Somewhere David Simon is saying, 'Curses! I should've thought of this!'" Sadly, however, Simon's Spitzer-like pol Tommy Carcetti and the rest of the Baltimore characters from The Wire made their final bow Sunday, earning (as always) a great flurry of media attention but few viewers, while leaving their native city as wracked by corruption as ever (much as Spitzer will leave Albany). For those jonesing for more, a full bookshelf of titles exploring similar themes awaits. Meanwhile, upon the occasion of the series finale, the writers for The Wire published an article in Time declaring the war on drugs lost and announcing that if ever asked to serve on a jury deliberating a violation of drug laws that doesn't involve violence, they will vote to acquit.

 

Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Besides, violating drug laws can be funny sometimes, as any Harold and Kumar enthusiast can tell you. The best stoner duo since Cheech and Chong embark on a new misadventures and indulge in more misbehavior in Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantánamo Bay (extended trailer here), which premiered the other day at South by Southwest, delighting some ("Animal House meets Dr. Strangelove") while putting others in ill humor ("lacks the fresh charm that made the first such an unexpected pleasure"). The weed-scented odyssey isn't due out till late next month, but the viral marketing campaign has already begun: Neil Patrick Harris, who goes loco on shrooms in the film, is offering advice online, while George W. Bush, who gets massively stoned with H+K, is sending custom voice messages to your friends. Meanwhile, as if one pot-themed feature weren't enough, a new doc called Super High Me (videos here), which applies the concept of Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me to marijuana instead of fast food, also played SXSW. That film is pioneering its own new form of marketing: in an effort to create positive word of mouth, the filmmakers are allowing potheads too lazy to get off their couches to request a free DVD copy to screen at home. They'll be sent out on April 20, that holy date that is Christmas for stoners and is also the day Super High Me opens in theaters.

 

Michael Pitt In Funny Games Much more sinister forms of bad behavior were also due in theaters in the form of Funny Games, Austrian director Michael Haneke's shot-by-shot remake of his 1997 German-language film of the same title, which depicts Michael Pitt as a sadistic home invader playing a high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse with Naomi Watts and Tim Roth. The film already made one poor unsuspecting critic cry when she saw it at Sundance, prompting one of her colleagues to interrogate Haneke on his intentions; in his responses, Haneke seemed at times to be playing a game of his own. As several observers have pointed out, the real victims of this bad behavior are audiences, and their reactions will likely endure for years. This is, of course, precisely Haneke's point: "A movie is a manipulation," he told the New York Times last fall, "and Funny Games takes this manipulation as its primary subject."

 

Rachel McAdams in Married LifeFunny Games will only add to a recent spate of bad behavior at the movies, as three seemingly disparate films that opened last week—David Gordon Green's Snow Angels, Ira Sachs' Married Life, and Gus Van Sant's Paranoid Park—each explore the ways we're complicit in others' pain through our own misdeeds, as one sharp critic points out. Could this be something in the zeitgeist stemming from guilt over the collateral damage of the war in Iraq, he wonders, or awareness of our connections to one another in the age of globalization? Perhaps. But there's also no doubt that it's more interesting, and more entertaining, to watch people misbehaving on screen than it is to watch people doing what they should. After all, no one would think of Eliot Spitzer as a candidate for the movie treatment without this week's tragic fall.

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