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My Life at the Movies (with a Touch of TV)

By RD Heldenfels Published: December 5, 2006

I have been thinking about putting in a cot at a theater up near Cleveland. Heaven knows I have been spending enough time there. Fortunately, though, I won't need the cot, since the leg room is good enough that I can stretch some.

Monday, I was there for about four hours, catching ''Blood Diamond'' and ''Charlotte's Web.'' Today I was back for ''Apocalypto.'' Tomorrow I will be back again for ''Rocky Balboa.''

And what have I learned from all this? For one thing, that too many movies are too freakin' long. I'm tempted to blame that feeling on years spent focused on TV shows, where episodes are usually less than an hour (especially with a commercial-free preview copy, or a recorded version where the commercials can be zipped through). But I can still fall under the spell of a movie on DVD, so it's not just a matter of time management.

More to the point, it's that movies are too freakin' long. At least, ''Blood Diamond'' and ''Apocalypto,'' each of which passed the two-hour mark, were. (So was ''Casino Royale,'' come to think of it.) Both had watch-checking stretches, and scenes that were drawn out too long, and plot threads I could have done without. Not to say I didn't find admirable things in each movie -- just that it could have been better.

(''Charlotte's Web,'' aimed at potentially restless children, was more humane about its running time, although it had some dead spots -- mainly scenes involving humans. I'll have more to say about it after I have rechecked the book. It has been, um, a few years since I read it last.)

''Apocalypto'' and ''Blood Diamond'' make intriguing companions, by the way, since both are about the brutality people inflict on each other. Lots of violence, especially in ''Apocalypto,'' since director Mel Gibson loves the gore. I lost track of how many internal organs, animal and human, were held up for display. But that's a period piece. ''Blood Diamond,'' set in the recent past, suggests that people are just as capable of doing great harm to each other today; the main difference is that some people today have more bloodily efficient weapons for their killing.

But in those long movies, the mind can wander -- probably in directions that the filmmakers did not intend. In fact, if you're going to see ''Blood Diamond,'' you may not want to read the next paragraph, because it could skew terribly how you watch the movie. Suffice it to say I went in a direction that may not end up in the review I write.

It began to strike me as a rough retelling of ''Pinocchio,'' with Leonardo DiCaprio's smuggler/thief deep in lies, misdeeds and general inhumanity, and the aptly-initialed Jennifer Connelly's journalist serving as Leo's Jiminy Cricket.  And a recurring question in the movie involved whether DiCaprio could achieve a moral awakening -- that is, become a real boy. An even more intriguing thought considering the perpetual boyishness DiCaprio cannot erase from his features.

I'll reserve further comment on ''Apocalypto'' because I have to write a review tonight or tomorrow morning, and I'm still sorting out what I will say.

I will say this: The best thing I saw in the theater over the last couple of days was a trailer for ''We Are Marshall.'' (Yes, even at a press screening, I had to sit through a trailer.)

On the TV front, just when I was convinced that ''Studio 60'' would no longer require my attention, it came up with an episode that didn't stink. The New Orleans tribute was genuinely moving. The Ed-Asner-says-go-get-'em scene was utter nonsense, but it was effective dramatically  (not least because of Asner, whom I am sure believed every word he said). It sort of worked the way you could look at a lot of ''West Wings'' and think, ''That would never happen, but wouldn't it be neat if it did?'' Good job by Whitford, although I don't buy the romance, and Perry. And the Santa Claus/''Dateline'' joke was nearly funny.

I could write this off as Aaron Sorkin cranking it up for a Christmas episode, the way he would on ''West Wing.'' But I'll have to come back to be sure.

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