Yesterday I was driving up Kipling.
There's a sandwich shop somewhere around there and, rain or shine,
some unlucky bastard has to stand on the street corner in a big
foam sandwich costume, doing a jig and waving to passing cars. I'm
no marketing wizard, but I guess the thought of some sweaty guy
in tights and a giant loaf of bread makes people start getting hungry.
Every now and then a kid will wave back at Mr. Sandwich and I think,
what the fuck are our schools teaching the Youth of America? That
giant sandwiches are our friends? Kids, never, ever give a giant
sandwich your name, and don't get into their wienermobiles, no matter
how many free cold cuts they promise.
In the summer, Mr. Sandwich staggers with fatigue
before lunchtime and that cheap sticky foam becomes an oven. You
can smell burning flesh, the foam lettuce poking out of his sides
wilts, and sweat drips down his arms and pools on the concrete.
Late in the day, Mr. Sandwich parks his whole-wheat ass on the curb,
tucks his sandwich head between his knees and tosses his Famous
Amoses. I feel bad for the guy in the costume, you know, because
he's got to get out there and make an ass of himself for minimum
In the winter, Mr. Sandwich taps like Scatman Crothers
on crank. The young man is dancing for his life. The sidewalk is
like a block of ice so he can't curl up and conserve his warmth.
I realize it's a privilege I have, and not a right,
to be able to make an ass out of myself for free. No boss is going
to demean me by telling when to dress like a foot-long BMT, or how
to dance. It's like a wise man in Slacker said, "Hey, I may not
live well, but at least I don't have to work to do it." But Mr.
Sandwich isn't so lucky. He does have to work to live poorly.
Anyway, now you know as much about Mr. Sandwich
as I did before yesterday when, as I pulled up the intersection,
two teenagers jumped out of a brand new Mustang in front of me,
cut across oncoming traffic and jumped Mr. Sandwich.
Mr. Sandwich was waving his "Two For One" sign in
the opposite direction when the two punks jumped his back, tore
off his soft crust and started beating the shit out of him. Bits
of fake tomato and baloney flew through the air. Mr. Sandwich hit
the ground and the bigger of the two kids punched him in the face.
The smaller kid kicked him in the ribs. Mr. Sandwich pulled up his
skinny mustard legs, covered his ears with his novelty oversized
white gloves and tried to stem the rush of blood from his head.
I pulled the Galaxie up onto the curb and jumped
out. The light had just changed and I ran across the street. The
two kids had Mr. Sandwich in a headlock when I got there. I pulled
the first kid away. He spat a truly amateurish string of curse words.
"Fucker this!" and "Fucker that!" said the teenager, but he was
smaller than me. Besides, his hands stung from the cold and the
punches he had thrown. I locked eyes with the second kid, who was
pressing Mr. Sandwich's teeth against the concrete. Before I even
got to him, he had backed off. Before I could even he two kids took
off running, yelling "Asshole!" over their shoulders.
I'm not telling this story because I think I'm some
hot shit hero of the working man. I'm not even a hero to me. Seriously,
I'm glad those punks ran away because my fucking heart was in my
throat. I was pretty scared and my mind was flipping through the
photo album in my head, looking at all the after pictures from ass-whoopings
I've gotten over the years. I'm a shitty fighter, the kind of guy
who puts his thumbs inside his fists and has a high center of gravity.
I bleed easy, and I cry even easier. But, Mr. Sandwich needed me,
and I was like one of those grannies that, when necessary, are able
to lift buses off of babies. I felt so bad for Mr. Sandwich. What
could a guy who makes his living impersonating a sandwich do to
deserve a beating?
It turns out, a lot. Holy shit was that guy an asshole.
After I pulled him off the sidewalk and helped him collect the torn
bits of salad, the prick didn't even say thanks. Instead, he called
me a pussy and said he fucked my wife. That was before he hit me
up for 200 bucks and said he might sue me if I didn't give it to
him. He claims I twisted his ankle helping him up. Mr. Sandwich
is a world-class asshole.
The lesson I learned is that even the meekest, weakest
and most humble among us deserves a good beating every now and then.
No matter how simple or average we may appear to be, or what costume
we wear, we can always used a little justice meted out through the
fists of obnoxious teenagers in cars nicer than ours.
This is, in part, the story of The 25th Hour,
the story of an average joe drug dealer played by Edward Norton.
He's not a flashy thug or a gangster. He's more like a plain old
guy who can't resist the riches of dealing shitloads of heroin.
Norton has been busted. Someone told the pigs he had a kilo of El
SeŇor Smack Monkey Horse and a ton of cash stuffed into the nice
sofa in his even nicer apartment. Now he's going to jail for seven
The story takes place on Norton's last day of freedom
as he tries to sort out his personal life. He wants to connect with
his two best friends one last time, and he wants to say goodbye
to his father. But he does not really want to know who ratted him
out to the pigs because for fear that it was his girlfriend (the
unbelievably beautiful Rosario Dawson). Nobody, including Norton,
thinks the pretty boy is going to make it out of prison alive, or
at least with a sphincter that can still close.
The day and night winds through bars and a nightclub
and winds into the following morning. Norton's friend Philip Seymour
Hoffman is a prep school teacher trying to avoid confronting his
urges toward a 17-year-old student, but can't when they are thrown
together drunk at the nightclub. His other friend, Barry Pepper,
is a hotshot stockbroker who lusts after Dawson but is deep down
a decent guy.
If I'm going to spend a night in Manhattan with
a worried guy, I'd rather it were Griffin Dunne in After Hours,
but The 25th Hour is pretty good. It's too long by about
a half hour. But this is the awards time of year, and pretty much
any serious movie takes way too fucking long and ends up being too
obvious for its own good.
Norton annoys me. I see actors falling into two
categories. In the first is people like Philip Seymour Hoffman and
William h. Macy. The character they're playing always comes first
and while you're watching the movie, you watch the character. They
don't puff up like a peacock on the screen. The second type is Norton,
Julianne Moore and John Cusack. These are the actors who make it
all too obvious they are ACTING. You never see the character; you
see them playing the character. Norton is bland, which this role
requires, but he's not bland in any interesting way. He's just in
the center of the screen, ACTING his ass off when he should be fading
in. His character is ultimately an asshole that's human. A guy getting
the shit kicked out of him on the corner, but he deserves it and
nobody should step in.
Director Spike Lee deserves a hell a lot of credit
for making a protagonist who isn't entirely sympathetic. None of
this namby-pamby watering down horseshit. None of this, "Oh, but
he comes from a broken home" crap. Lee gets inside his psyche and
exposes his cowardice, and Norton's redemption is not heartwarming.
Dawson is so fucking beautiful. She's got the prettiest
lips I have ever seen. More than just physical beauty is the intelligence
in her eyes. She's got light inside and it comes out her eyes. I
know that sounds like some sort of soft-headed crap, but I hope
she's reading. She's a very good actress. She doesn't chew scenery
and she's always the smartest person in the scene.
Hoffman is the best part of the movie. His story
is sort of weak. Anna Paquin is more creepy than attractive as the
17-year-old, and the devices used to bring them together feel pretty
forced. But Hoffman is just so fucking good at being a zhlub that
the decisions of his character made me squirm and wish he wouldn't.
The movie also lamely attempts to shoehorn is some
sort of message about New York and September 11, 2001. It's more
opportunistic than organic to the story, and I could see the seams
where they grafted this poignant shit onto the story. It could have
said plenty about New York without the noisome, obvious rant by
Norton about how sick he is of all the different ethnic cliques
in the city. Of course, at the end he realizes that diversity is
what makes the city beautiful. No shit. On the other hand, the movie
really does a good job of showing New York City.
Lee can create moments of beautiful subtlety, only
to follow them by whacking the viewer over the head with a Cool
Hand Luke poster in Norton's apartment or a long speech. He
also shows off way too much. When the way a scene is shot becomes
more important than the content of the scene, I call bullshit. That's
just showing off, and I can't tell you how many times he uses overly
elaborate tracking shots. Just tell the fucking story.
Four Fingers for The 25th Hour. And remember,
don't stop to help someone getting his ass kicked. He probably deserved
to tell Filthy Something?