Posted: January 26th, 2009 | Filed under:Uncategorized | Comments Off
Welcome to “Another Movie Guy?”! I review recent new releases, and then mention similar movies worth checking out. If all goes according to plan, you’ll have some new additions to your Netflix queue. Or someone with whom you can angrily disagree.
Memory is an organic thing – it can fill gaps or completely block out trauma. Two people can have full opportunity to observe the same event, and yet recall it in an entirely different ways. The fluid qualities of memory are at the center of Waltz with Bashir, the new documentary about the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre. With his unusual format and stunning visuals, writer/director Ari Folman tells his story in an oblique way. You would think that an animated documentary is a contradiction in terms, but as the story unfolds, Folman justifies his format and provides considerable insight into his subject.
Folman has a late-night drink with a friend, who talks of his ongoing nightmare. Twenty-six dogs chase the friend, demanding vengeance. It turns out that in the Lebanese war, the friend could not kill a man. The squad made the friend kill exactly 26 dogs (their barks warned the sleeping enemy). Upon hearing the nightmare, Folman has a startling dream about the 1982 massacre – one that never occurred before. Folman is shaken by the vision. He talks with fellow soldiers, journalists, and psychologists. The movie chronicles Folman’s attempt to understand how such a brutal episode escaped from memory, and why the vision, dormant for years, was jump-started by a friend’s dream. Along the way, he manages to vaguely construct the massacre, and get accounts from other soldiers who have similarly subjective memories.
Watching the movie, it occurred that an animated documentary is the only way to tell this story. When a soldier hallucinates, for example, the imagery is so bizarre that the objective syntax of traditional documentaries does not apply. Some images, particularly those that involve wounded animals, are simply too harrowing for realism – such horrors merit a stylized vision. This is not to say that movie is totally dreary. The dog sequence has energy that would feel at home in an action movie. There are even scenes of levity, as when Folman juxtaposes war with 80s rock. Even the horrific scenes have an odd beauty – the muted yellows of Folman’s vision are particularly striking. The movie’s style is well-matched by its substance. Interviewees speak in a confiding, matter-of-fact tone. They do not add flourishes to their stories. Folman does that for them. Everything eventually converges upon the movie’s final moments, which are both devastating and poignant.
I’ve recently had issues with subjective memory. It may be an apple-and-oranges comparison, but as a recent juror on a first degree murder trial, I was confronted with unreliable witnesses. I was forced to question the accuracy of supposedly truthful men. Without such an experience, I would not empathize with the subjective memory that both Folman and others experience. As a psychological study, Waltz with Bashir is fascinating. As a study of the Lebanese war, it is important. I doubt you’ll find another documentary so electric and moving.
Here are other humanizing stories about the modern Middle East conflict:
Walk on Water. With possibly Grosse Pointe Blank as an exception, this is probably the most heartwarming movie you’ll see about an assassin. Eyal works for Mossad, and his new mission is to kill an aging Nazi war criminal “before God can get to him.” His cover? Work as a tour guide for the war criminal’s grandchildren, Axel and Pia, who are close in age to Eyal. Of course these three become fast friends, and Eyal’s hidden motive is revealed to the grandchildren. This material could have easily been too melodramatic, but director Eytan Fox goes for understated performances. What prevents Walk on Water from greatness is it consistently forces the audience to reevaluate stereotypes. Look, the German is more disgusted by Nazis than an Israeli! And over there, a hit man finds pity on an aging war criminal! Such obvious developments make it abundantly clear that the writer focuses more on message than on story. Even with an all too neat ending, you probably wouldn’t regret putting this one on your queue.
The Band’s Visit. Released early last year, The Band’s Visit is similar in plot to Walk on Water, but completely different in tone. Eight Egyptian musicians are meant for an Arab Cultural Center in an Israeli town, but through a simple mistake, they end up in a small desert town with “no culture at all.” A bus will come for the band the next day, leaving the Egyptian men to politely converse (in English) with the Israeli locals. Characters of note are Band leader, whose stern demeanor hides old wounds, and a storekeeper, whose tough exterior hides tenderness. Unlike Walk on Water, a movie that focuses on melodrama and thrills, The Band’s Visit is a gentle human comedy. Some scenes, such as when an impatient man eagerly awaits a phone call, are surprisingly funny. Movies like this are easy to overlook. Little happens, the development is subtle, and there are no big speeches. With relatively plausible characters and moments of authentic drama, The Band’s Visit is far more compelling than most movies about the region.
Paradise Now. It is difficult for me to fathom how one decides to become a suicide bomber. Paradise Now, a somber drama about two men who decide to blow themselves up, does not have easy answers. Not for my Western eyes, anyway. Said and Khaled are two Palestinian mechanics who are recruited by a terrorist group, and are given orders for suicide attack in Israel. Director Hany Abu-Assad follows these men as they record their statements and carry out their missions. Along their journey, complications big and small arise. Abu-Assad uses an understated technique, allowing the audience to dispassionately observe and decide what to believe. He uses an interesting technique to humanize the men – banal snafus undermine and delay the gravity of their emission. While decrying Israel on videotape, the camera stops working. It’s interesting how ordinary problems heighten the tension of such a situation. Paradise Now is not a feel-good movie by any metric, but it does humanize suicide bombers – a fact which created some controversy at the time of its release. One may take issue with its message, but here is an important story, one that quietly tells us that two terrorists might be capable of empathy.
Posted: January 23rd, 2009 | Filed under:Uncategorized | Comments Off
Welcome to “Another Movie Guy?”! I normally review recent new releases, and then mention similar movies worth checking out. Thursday morning, however, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released its nominations for the 81st Annual Academy Awards. And as usual, their nominations have spectacular missteps as well as glaring omissions. Looking at the major awards, here a brief outline of the Academy fucked up this year:
As I have noted earlier, The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttonisn’t very good. The movie has a fundamentally flawed premise that undermines any potential emotional payoff. And as others have noted, the movie is too similar to Forrest Gump. Doubt, Revolutionary Road, WALL*E, The Dark Knight, The Wrestler, and Rachel Getting Married are all better choices. Truth be told, I have yet to see The Reader, but I trust Svetlana’s judgment on this one. I have no issue with the other three nominees.
Prediction: Slumdog Millionare. After two years of dark crime dramas, it seems fitting that an unusual crowd pleaser would take the top prize.
You’ll notice a similar theme here. Brad Pitt just couldn’t pull the character off, and the less said about his performance, the better. His work in Burn After Reading is far superior. The most logical substitution is Leonardo DiCaprio for his work in Revolutionary Road, but there other, more inspired choices. Robert Downey Jr. is flawless in Ironman, and Colin Farrell has a great performance in In Bruges. I’m happy to see Richard Jenkins get a nod.
Prediction: Mickey Rourke. Sean Penn’s performance is more nuanced, but he’s already won Best Actor, and Rourke’s comeback performance is the kind of thing the Academy eats up.
Like Sean Penn, Angelina Jolie gets a nomination for crying over her lost child in a Clint Eastwood movie. Bo-ring. Kristin Scott Thomas has a wonderfully understated performance in I’ve Loved You For So Long, and is a better choice. Has anyone seen Frozen River?
Prediction: Kate Winslet. She’s been nominated so many times that her trophy essentially functions as a gold watch. That being said, Anne Hathaway gives the superior performance.
These are all great choices. I’m especially pleased to see Michael Shannon and Robert Downey Jr. get a nomination. That being said, Phillip Seymour Hoffman could spend an entire movie napping and the Academy would still adore him. They love that sad sack of shit.
In retrospect, Henson does a Sally Field impression. The last thing we need is another nurturing old soul who sees the good in her unusual child. Though she was already nominated, I really like Amy Adams in Ms. Pettigrew Lives for a Day. Rosemarie DeWitt is both phenomenal and overlooked in Rachel Getting Married. A more exciting/bizarre choice is Lina Leanderrson in Let the Right One In, but creepy young vampires have never been popular.
Prediction: Viola Davis. Her performance is brief but perfect – exactly what a supporting performance should be.
Christopher Nolan did an astounding job with The Dark Knight. He could easily substitute Ron Howard, who was merely competent. Brawny actions sequences require more directorial skill than a play adaptation. Van Sant and Boyle are both solid picks.
Prediction: Danny Boyle. Best Picture and Best Director regularly go hand-in-hand.
Some final thoughts:
- With a few exceptions, the nominees are pretty boring.
- WALL*E is a lock for Best Animated Feature. Book it. Done.
- Either In Bruges or Milk should win Best Original Screenplay.
- Despite many technical nominations, The Dark Knight really got the shaft.
- Best Documentary has some interesting choices. I preferred Encounters at the End of the World over Man on Wire, but something tells me that the Katrina doc Trouble the Water will win the prize.
- If Eric Roth wins best adapted screenplay, I’m going to be fucking pissed.
That’s it for this special edition of “Another Movie Guy?”! You can view the complete list of nominations here. Anything I missed? Feel free to angrily disagree below.
Posted: January 16th, 2009 | Filed under:Uncategorized | Comments Off
Welcome to “Another Movie Guy?”! I normally review recent new releases, and then mention similar movies worth checking out. For DC residents, however, next week is anything but normal. The inauguration is omnipresent, and there is little else worth discussing. With that in mind, I’m going to focus this post on movie Presidents. There have been many, both virtuous and sinister, who have graced the big screen in past years. Rather than simply discuss the movies themselves, I intend to answer the seemingly impossible question, “Could a fictional candidate defeat Barack Obama?”
Strengths: Manipulative empathy. Like any good politician, Stanton can distort the truth and get the tears flowing. Even hardened political operatives believe his shameless lies. Weaknesses: Women. An obvious amalgamation of President Clinton, Stanton cannot keep his dick in his pants. This is especially true when Stanton encounters women who are uneducated and barely legal.
Could he defeat Barack Obama?: Probably not. They are both democrats, and Stanton won the primary by threatening to tarnish the reputation of another candidate. Unlike Stanton’s opponent, Obama never tried to hide his youthful indiscretions. Besides, for all intents and purposes, the President-Elect already trounced Stanton’s wife.
Strengths: He helped save the world from total annihilation. And his wife died. Voters love that sappy shit. Weaknesses: Under his watch, millions of Americans lost their lives. Given that the aliens targeted major cities, my guess is that only Red States remain. Also, his administration was part of a massive Area 51 cover-up – a fact which would certainly anger the liberal blogosphere.
Could he defeat Barack Obama?: Hell yes. Whitmore hopped into a jet and fired nukes at a flying saucer! Talk about Mission fucking Accomplished. Plus, that impromptu “Today is our INDEPENDENCE DAY!” speech is so much more badass than “Yes we can!” Say what you will about the merits of Michelle Obama, but nothing beats a dead First Lady.
Strengths: He’s Chris Rock. Not only is he hilarious and observant, but his sharp mind serves him well at the debate podium. Oh, and he’s (also) black. Weaknesses: Inexperience. When the party selects Gilliam, he is merely an Alderman for DC. There is little evidence that he understands the inner workings of government, and he definitely didn’t graduate from Harvard Law.
Could he defeat Barack Obama? Nope. Both candidates excel at talking earnestly about American life, but Obama has the wonkish policy knowledge that his opponent lacks. Obama is a smart cookie, and would ably dodge Gilliam’s zingers. That being said, I would vote Gilliam over Obama in a primary. The idea of Chris Rock engaging in diplomacy with Vladimir Putin is too good an opportunity to pass up.
Strengths: He defended his airplane from crazed terrorists. Both his wife and daughter were taken hostage, and Marshall managed to save their lives. Glenn Close is his Vice President, which might play well since it’d be refreshing to see a legitimately bright female VP candidate. Weaknesses: Hawkish foreign policy. After two spectacularly mismanaged wars, our nation may not be ready for Marshall’s dire warnings. The simple fact that terrorists hijacked Air Force One might speak to the incompetence of the administration. At least Whitmore has an excuse – no one ever suspects space aliens.
Could he defeat Barack Obama? Marshall would lose, but just barely. Before the hijacking, Marshall states, “Never again will I allow our political self-interest to deter us from doing what we know to be morally right. Atrocity and terror are not political weapons. And to those who would use them, your day is over. We will never negotiate.” This just doesn’t ring true nowadays. Coupled with the relatively less spectacular heroics, I foresee a narrow Obama victory. After all, if a President tells a terrorist to GET OFF HIS PLANE and no one is around to hear it, does he make a sound?
Candidate: Dave Kovic aka Bill Mitchell Featured In: Dave
Strengths: Folksiness. If you recall, Dave is an impersonator who fills in for an ailing Bill Mitchell. He’s not a BELTWAY INSIDER, so his warmth and humility is genuine, a fact which would play well with voters. Also, with Charles Grodin as his secret weapon, Dave balances the budget (surely a comforting thought in our trying economic times). Weaknesses: He’s an impostor! Should the snoopy press find out Dave’s little secret, his entire candidacy would crumble. And let’s not forget that Dave’s naïveté might also fall victim to the high functioning Obama political machine.
Could he defeat Barack Obama?Dave wouldn’t stand a chance. Let’s suppose for a moment that Davegate weren’t exposed by either team Obama or the media. You’d have a likable-but-bland candidate up against Obama, a top-notch politician with a steel trap mind. Sure, Obama is likable, but in the battle of nice guy politicians, Obama’s other strengths would ultimately prevail. It is also likely that Dave’s secret would public, so he would resign in disgrace and likely face criminal prosecution. Don’t worry – Obama would pardon Dave’s fraudulent ass.
Strengths: Aaron Sorkin. Shepherd is a creation of the much-lauded West Wing scribe.Sorkin creates nothing but impossibly smart characters that love talking about how qualified they are. It follows that the Shepherd White House is a veritable meritocracy of know-it-alls, the likes of which cannot be replicated in any real-world environment. Also, Shepherd’s wife is dead, and as his press secretary callously notes, “There’s never been any problem trotting [Shepherd] as the lonely widow.” Cynical, yes, but also canny. Weaknesses: Sydney Ellen Wade. Sure, the President is an adult who should have the freedom to choose the company he keeps. But let’s face it, if the single Commander in Chief got a lobbyist girlfriend, Fox News would be all over her like a cheap suit.
Could he defeat Obama? No, but he’d get close. If Shepherd remained single, the race would be one for the ages. Who knows? A single Shepherd might have stood a chance. With a firebrand girlfriend, however, the ensuing gossip and slander would create too much political damage (no matter how unfair it may be). On an unrelated note, the Obama daughters are far more adorable than Shepherd’s daughter, who plays the trombone terribly.
Candidate: President Comancho Featured In: Idiocracy
Strengths: Rhetoric. Comancho’s knows his audience well, and certainly rivals Ronald Reagan as our nation’s Great Communicator. Hell, if Obama came out in front of the Capitol Building and began his inaugural address with “I know shit’s bad right now,” he would enrapture the vast majority of the electorate. Comancho’s professional wrestling background would also be an asset – nothing gets a town hall meeting going like a suplex of one’s opponent. Weaknesses: Uninspired Policy. Comancho is a victim of his time. More specifically, he lives in a dumbed-down American future – the kind of place where proper grammar is systemic of faggotry. His entire platform rests on the brilliance of Luke Wilson, a man who can’t even be trusted to helm a Wes Anderson movie.
Could he beat defeat Obama? Fuck yeah, dude. The debates (or, should I say CAGE MATCHES) between Obama and Comancho would run $75 a pop on pay per view, so all those Prius-driving libtards would skip the chance to see Obama snap like a twig. Furthermore, there is no way Mr. Harvard Elite could come back from, “You talk like a fag, and your shit’s all retarded.”Can you smmmmeeeeeeeellllllllllllll what the Comancho is cooking?
So there you have it, folks! For the most part, Hollywood’s A-game has nothing on our President-Elect. It would take nothing short of saving the world or time travel to defeat Barack Obama. Conservative politicos, take heed! I’ve just outlined your newest platform. Comancho/Whitmore 2012! It’s time to take the “fiction” out of “science fiction.”
That’s for this special edition of “Another Movie Guy?”! Tune in next time when I join the Israeli Defense Force.
Posted: January 12th, 2009 | Filed under:Movies | Comments Off
Edward Zwick‘s Defianceis amazingly tepid. It is based on a true story so rife with drama that it practically begged for a film adaptation. As millions of Jews were slaughtered, Defiance tells the story of four brothers who helped hundreds (if not thousands) survive. There have been a slew of Holocaustmovies lately, and unlike others, Defiance came with the promise of guerrilla warfare. Even with multiple gun battles, the movie has no discernible moments of excitement. It’s a letdown to see an incredible story end up as a movie with no tension or suspense. This is one of the rare times that a movie would benefit from a longer running time.
Nazis invade Belorussia in 1941, and to escape death, the four Bielski brother hide in the forest. Zus (Liev Schreiber) is a cold-hearted realist, so when he encounters a small band of helpless survivors, he insists that no attempt should be made to assist them. Tuvia (Daniel Craig) is more idealistic than his younger brother. He notes that the helpless survivors will certainly die without help, and decides to protect them. Survivors hear of the Bielskis, and others wander into the forest. When not fighting off German attack, everyone prepares for winter. Zus gets word that Germans killed his family, and views vengeance as the only proper response. He leaves the forest to join the Soviet army, and takes a few others with him. Winter meanwhile becomes a deadlier adversary than the Germans, and morale plummets. Tuvia and his younger brother Asael (Jamie Bell) struggle to maintain order, so their methods become cold-hearted. Zus encounters antisemitism among his Soviet comrades, and when not in battle, he feels increasingly estranged from his community.
From the summary, Defiance sounds like it should be entertaining and moving, right? Too bad it’s so shoddily made. A movie can be about the interesting subject possible, but in the hands of a mediocre filmmaker, the final product can be truly tedious. Here the battle scenes are poorly choreographed, and fail to generate suspense. Forest gun battles are fundamentally static affairs, but even when aerial and tank attacks enter the picture, the action remains boring. The emotional scenes, as when Tuvia and Zus learn that Nazis slaughtered their wives, are strangely inert. Perhaps with more of a back story, we could come to care about these people. With no context, personal tragedies remain personal, and do not extend to the viewer. The actors do the best with they can*, but their parts are so under-written that one struggles to care. Zus and Tuvia bitterly fight and eventually reconcile, and the circumstances in which they reunite are so manipulative and unlikely that I laughed. There are some scenes, however, that ring true. When someone brings a captured German soldier back to camp, the solider is beaten to death by angry survivors who are still mourning their lost relatives. Tuvia passively watches because he understands the survivors’ need for catharsis. Powerful scenes like this one are too few and far between. Five minutes of Defiance of memorable, which leaves two hours of unmemorable mediocrity.
If nothing else, Defiance convinced me that Edward Zwick is a hack. He is fond of movies in which white men save fight with an oppressed people. He is fond of flawed of but ultimately virtuous white heroes who learn life lessons from the oppressed. With Defiance, he deviates from the formula only slightly – since the flawed but ultimately virtuous white men are those who are oppressed, there are no life lessons to learn. Zwick substitutes life lessons with one character proclaiming that Tuvia was sent by God. It could have been something more, but Zwick’s rehash of the same formula reveals his laziness and insensitivity.
* With piercing blue eyes and naturally blond hair, Daniel Craig should not be anyone’s choice for an Eastern European Jew.
Here are other violent Edward Zwick movies in which flawed but ultimately virtuous white men fight with an oppressed people:
Glory. This civil war epic is Zwick’s first attempt to tell such a story, and he (mostly) succeeds. Matthew Broderick plays the flawed but ultimately virtuous Colonel Shaw, who led the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts. Many believed that black men would not make decent soldiers, so Shaw faced an upward battle as he trained his men. At one point, Shaw barks at man prepping a rifle, demonstrating how unfit the group is for battle. Sure enough, the members of 54th become competent soldiers, and even demonstrate bravery on the battlefield. Shaw learns his life lessons from Trip (Denzel Washington), who reminds Shaw that once the war is over, “You’ll go back to your big house.” Washington won Best Supporting Actor for his role, and it’s well deserved. He plays Trip as man who has been treated with such cruelty that anger is his only recourse. The fight scenes are well-shot, and give the viewer an idea of what bravery it took to march in battle. Not surprisingly, the movie is only told from Shaw’s perspective, which means the audience does not get a complete picture of what it meant to serve on the 54th. It’s a good movie, but far from great.
The Last Samurai. This 19th century war epic is Zwick’s second attempt to tell such a story, and he (mostly) succeeds. Tom Cruise plays the flawed but ultimately virtuous Nathan Algren, who is sent overseas to train a group of Japanese soliders. At one point, Algren barks at man prepping a rifle, demonstrating how unfit the group is for battle. Sure enough, the men become competent soldiers. Algren spends a winter as a prisoner of the samurai. Algren learns life lessons from Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe), who teaches Algren the way of his people as well as the meaning of sacrifice. While living amongst Katsumoto’s people, Algren becomes a man at peace, and develops a sense of purpose. Watanabe deserves recognition for his performance because he convincingly conveys the values that are incongruous with Algren’s Western sensibilities. The fight scenes are well-shot, and give the viewer an idea of what bravery it took to march in battle. Not surprisingly, the movie is only told from Algren’s perspective, which means the audience does not get a complete picture of what it meant to be a samurai. It’s a good movie, but far from great.
Blood Diamond. This conflict diamond war epic is Zwick’s third attempt to tell such a story, and he (mostly) succeeds. Leonardo DiCaprio plays the flawed but ultimately virtuous Danny Archer, a soldier of fortune who goes through war-torn Sierra Leone in search of an elusive pink diamond. Archer learns life lessons from Solomon Bandy (Djimon Hounsou), a simple farmer who buried the diamond. With the help of an American journalist (Jennifer Connelly), Archer and Bandy get deep into dangerous territory, and face nonstop fire from rebels. Along the way, Archer learns about the value of family, and that even a child soldier is capable of finding his lost humanity. Unlike the other two movies mentioned above, Blood Diamond is ruthlessly violent. Zwick is not afraid to show the atrocities of 1999 Sierra Leone – even going so far as to show a boy blasting an automatic rifle indiscriminately into a crowd. With this and The Departed, DiCaprio demonstrates his capacity for gritty roles. His accent sounds more than a little silly, yet he gets bonus point for his consistently ruthless outlook. Not surprisingly, the movie is only told from Archer’s perspective, which means the audience does not get a complete picture of what it means to have one’s life torn apart by rebels. It’s a good movie, but far from great.
Posted: January 5th, 2009 | Filed under:Uncategorized | Comments Off
Welcome to “Another Movie Guy?”! I review recent new releases, and then mention similar movies worth checking out. If all goes according to plan, you’ll have some new additions to your Netflix queue. Or someone with whom you can angrily disagree.
It might just be the recession talking, but as I was watching Revolutionary Road, the new Sam Mendes adaptation of the Richard Yates novel, I thought that the two main characters (at least on the surface) don’t have it so bad. They’re affluent, and have a family. A major conflict occurs when Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) gets a promotion. Imagine how the story would change had it been set during a recession, and he was instead laid off. No matter – it’s to the credit of the entire production that the movie works so well. It feels unflinchingly honest, and is at times brutal to watch.
Frank and April (Kate Winslet) are unhappy. They first met at a party, and he charmed her with stories of Paris. Now they bitterly fight, refusing to focus their intensity inward. April thinks she has a solution – she proposes that the family moves to Paris where she can get a typing job, and Frank can take time to reassess his life. The husband is reluctant, but soon likes the idea. Friends and neighbors are skeptical. Only one man, a supposedly insane mathematician (Michael Shannon), sees the merit of going abroad. Life temporarily improves for the Wheelers, but as Ryan Phillippe once eloquently said in The Way of the Gun, “A plan is just a list of things that don’t happen.” April gets pregnant, Frank gets a promotion, and suddenly Paris seems far less realistic. A neighbor watches the kids as April and Frank try to work things out. The fights are more cruel than ever.
The movie has both empathy and scorn for the Wheelers. There’s no denying that they are selfish people. Both are unfaithful. Their kids are ancillary – they are props during photogenic moments, and otherwise ignored. In spite of their flaws, there is empathy because the Wheeler’s unhappiness is real. DiCaprio and Winslet deserve much of the credit. When Winslet observes that she and her husband are “just like everyone else,” it sounds appropriately hollow. When DiCaprio observes the similarity he bears to his father, he sounds appropriately resigned. Their only moments of emotional honesty occur when they fight. The fights demonstrate that these two actors still share the chemistry from their Titanic days. Using words as weapons, they say unbelievably hateful things. Of course they don’t mean what they say, but the emotion which provoke such confessions are quietly terrifying. Mendes is a thoughtful director, and here he shows the same attention to detail that he brought to his earlier pictures. Special recognition should go to Michael Shannon, who shows us that in the 1950s, someone was certifiable if they consistently said what they thought.
Some think of Revolutionary Road as a criticism of marriage and suburbia, but I think that’s a mistake. The movie is too smart and complex for such simple conclusions. I haven’t read the novel, but Frank and April have serious issues. April is co-dependent as hell, and projects onto her husband. Frank doesn’t have the same mental instability, yet is complicit in her delusions. When he is not listening to April’s hyperbolic adoration, Franks cuts her down in the nicest way possible. It is clear that he wants to dominate her. Neighbors find some measure of happiness in the same place that suffocates these two. The Wheelers are certainly trapped, but their minds are the prison.
Here are other movies that feature suburban settings and brutal criticism of its characters:
Heathers. High school movies are rarely allowed to be this funny or dark. Veronica (Winona Ryder) runs with the popular girls in her high school, who are all inexplicably named Heather. Soon she meets the new kid JD (Christian Slater), and finds his rebellious attitude irresistible. She confides to JD that she thinks the popular kids would be better off dead, so JD takes it upon himself to kill one Heather, and make it look like a suicide. Of course, this makes the dead Heather (and suicide) more popular than ever. The movie works because of its quotable dialog, and because no character seems to be in on the joke. I would put Heathers up there with Dr. Stangelove and Being There as one of our best satires. There are perfect moments, as when a mourning father loudly announces, “I love my dead gay son!” And like other great high school movies, the movie develops its own unique slang. As a movie reviewer, I do my best to refrain from saying, “Wait, you mean you’ve never seen it?” Heathers is a notable exception.
About Schmidt. Jack Nicholson has become everyone’s lovable lech, and it’s jarring to see him play a character so unlike his persona. Here he is Warren Schmidt, a supremely uninteresting man who leads a life of dull comfort. After retirement and the sudden death of his wife, Warren is at a loss for what to do. He finds some purpose when his daughter Jeannie (Hope Davis), gets engaged to a schmuck. Hopping in his RV, Warren goes to the house of his propective in-laws, and futilely tries to stop the wedding. As I said last week, director Alexander Payne is at his best when he is merciless, and he certainly achieves that here. Jack Nicholson does a great job, portraying a man who is completely devoid of imagination. The other characters are also subject to Payne’s satire – the daughter’s fiance is, indeed, a loser. It’s not the most heartwarming movie, but About Schmidt serves as a dire warning to simply not pass through life. And of course every review of this movie should mention that, yes, a middle-aged Kathy Bates has a nude scene with Nicholson, and you do in fact see her sagging breasts (SFW). Unfortunately for me, that image is burned into my memory.
Little Children. Two years ago, Winslet starred in another adaptation of a suburban ennui novel. Adapating from Tom Perrotta, director Todd Field skewers characters who are not far off from Frank and April. There are two major differences between this movie and Revolutionary Road. The first is that as a modern adaptation, one character is a registered sex offender. Jackie Earle Hayley plays the sad sex offender who cannot stop his depraved compulsions. The second difference is that Little Children features a narrator – he has one of those voices you routinely hear on National Geographic, and his wry observations are sometimes very funny. Field approaches this material in a manner similar to Mendes, but his story has a marginally more hopeful ending. Between this and Revolutionary Road, I must confess that I prefer Little Children. It’s more entertaining, and the sex offender plotline fascinated me. Hayley gives a great, understated performance, and I can’t wait to see him as Rorschach in the upcoming Watchmen movie. Have any of you read the Perrotta or Yates novel? What did you think?