Friday, December 2, 2011

Seven Pounds.

Seven Pounds (Gabriele Muccino, 2008)

Category: Sad film about weight and/or currency. Here is a helpful Venn diagram to show where the film fits in the spectrum of sad films about weight and currency.

This is also a sad Will Smith vehicle. Will Smith is the biggest movie star in the world at the moment, and as such can star in pretty much any movie he wants to. That he chose to star in this sadfest to me validates the existence of this blog. Even Will Smith wants to get his sad on! It’s like when the cool kid in school has the same sneakers as you do. The blog is nothing if not in with the in crowd.

My familiarity with this issue: As a skinny unemployed man, I’m lacking in both weight and currency at the moment. I explored this problem on “Deez Poundz,” the first cut off my failed hip-hop album Dia-Beats. (By the way, Will Smith don’t gotta cuss in his raps to sell records, and I mean, that’s cool, good for him.)

I don’t think Will Smith is a Scientologist, but he may as well be at this point. He has reached a near-Cruiseian level of weirdness in my book, mainly on the basis of how he’s pimped out his young children. This trend started way back with “Just the Two of Us,” and has continued up to his current effort to have his family take over the world. (At twelve, Jaden starred in the remake of The Karate Kid, which I refused to see, and Willow’s burgeoning music career has included the (s)hit song “Whip My Hair,” released when she was NINE years old.)

Meanwhile, Will Smith hasn’t made a movie since this one in 2008. You know, maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I like it when people have easily-defined roles. Teachers teach, writers write, movie stars star in movies. No one cares about your kids, Will. You’re like a mom who keeps posting Facebook status updates about the cute things that the little one did today. Sure, you’ll get a few pity likes out of it, but everyone secretly resents you for it.

Most importantly of all, sister of the blog Lauren Krizel saw this in theaters, and famously said that this movie was the worst she had ever seen. I’m pretty sure I made her tell me what happened, because I was sure that I would never see it. Then I started this blog and here I am. So I kind of know the big twist ending, I think. We’ll see how much I remember.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “Haunted by a secret, Ben Thomas looks for redemption by radically transforming the lives of seven people he doesn't know. Once his plan is set, nothing will be able to stop him. At least that's what he thinks. But Ben hadn't planned on falling in love with one of these people and she's the one who will end up transforming him.”

What I thought of the movie: This movie made me feel many emotions. Anger, chief among them, but let’s not forget about rage. I was bewildered, I was uncomfortable, I was hateful (and I think this movie is about how we should help other people or something like that, but it clearly didn’t work, because I just want to injure everyone involved with it). The movie is morbid, and stupid, and manipulative, and it features the worst ending to a movie I have ever seen. I cannot think of another one that comes close. In short, Seven Pounds tried to do a bunch of different things and failed spectacularly at all of them. In a way, it was perfect.

OK. Where to begin. (I’m going to SPOIL it throughout the rest of this post, but if you intend to see this movie and want to remain unspoiled then I don’t want you to read the blog anymore.) Here we go: the movie stars Jesus Christ Will Smith as a man on a mysterious quest. This mysterious quest requires him to be really serious and look sad all the time. And also to be a huge jerk, and stalk people, and steal his brother’s identity, and I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first thing you see in the movie is Will Smith, looking distraught, having just called 911. “There’s been a suicide,” he says. When asked who the victim is, he replies, “I am.” (Technically incorrect. “There will be a suicide” would have been more accurate. It's not even ten seconds into the movie and they're improperly conjugating verbs.) He says, in voiceover, “In seven days, God created the world. In seven seconds, I shattered mine.” (Seven is a motif.)

So he’s done something bad, and he’s looking for atonement via identity theft, stalking and eventual possible suicide. That’s your film right there. (His brother is an IRS agent, and Will steals his identity to find people who might be “good” and deserving of some mysterious gift that he’s going to give them.) He has to test them, though (because Jesus said testing people was cool and totally the thing to do). We see him berate Woody Harrelson (playing, if you can believe it, a blind vegetarian beef salesman) over the phone to test whether or not he is slow to anger. After this conversation, he hangs up, gets real upset, destroys a chair, and intensely recites the names of seven (MOTIF) people. This is the second scene in the film.

His main target is the lovely Rosario Dawson, a woman with congestive heart failure. He creeps into her hospital room after visiting hours are over, and then sits in a parked car with the windshield wipers going, which, aside from being as creepy as anything, is a real waste of electricity. Why not switch those wipers off, Will? You’re just sitting there doing nothing. You’re gonna drain your battery! (Will Smith’s acting style can best be described as “I really want people to be impressed by how serious I am in this movie.”)

Rosario (and others) are (Microsoft Word says that “are” is incorrect here, because the subject is technically just “Rosario,” but then it would be “Rosario (and others) is,” which sounds stupid, and this is somehow making me angrier about this stupid movie), but yes anyway, Rosario (and others) ARE initially creeped out, but eventually warm to him because… honestly, I don’t know why they do. It doesn’t make any sense. They do because the script tells them to. At one point, when they’ve started to forge a romantic bond, Rosario (who does the best that she can with this tripe) says, smiling, “I don’t really know anything about you or where you came from, but… you keep showing up.” This is exactly what women say to people are stalking them as they are dialing 911.

There’s a lot of other information presented without context. Will has a pet jellyfish. (I don’t even want to talk about the jellyfish. I’m so terrified of jellyfish.) Barry Pepper is in it for like five minutes as Will’s friend. I don’t remember one thing about his character, other than that they had a conversation on a golf course. (Will just walks right up to him and some woman as they’re playing, which was also creepy; it reminded me of when Sayid did that in season four of Lost, when he’s going around being Ben Linus’s personal hitman.) The movie is reliant on nonstop music to cue the moods and establish the tension. At one point they play Muse’s cover of “Feeling Good,” a song that describes the emotional state of exactly no one in the movie (or watching the movie, for that matter).

OK let’s just cut to the end. After a confrontation with his brother, who realizes something fishy is up, Will does the do with Rosario, and then chooses that moment (right when Rosario has fallen in love with him) to leave and enact his master plan. And here we learn the whole point of the movie: Will Smith once was texting while driving and caused a car accident that killed seven people. In order to atone for this act (for which he was neither arrested nor served any time, if the movie can be believed), he has decided that he will donate seven of his organs to seven people. Organs! Seven of them! (What a motif.) He got the idea for this when he donated a lung lobe to his cancer-stricken brother. He proceeded on to do four more, apparently (some hockey coach, some child services lady, who cares, we don't really get to know them).

And now for his grand finale, he, of course, donates his heart to Rosario Dawson, and his eyes to Woody Harrelson. This, of course, requires him to commit the suicide that he claimed had already committed way back when the movie started. To kill himself, he gets in the bathtub with his jellyfish OHMYGOD WHAT. 

That is what happens. He dies, the others get the organs, and the movie ends. I don't even know what else to say.

How I related to the movie: For most of the film, my anger was borne out of the filmmakers’ choice to withhold vital information: namely, what the hell it is that is happening in the movie. (I kind of knew, from that three-year-old conversation with my sister, what the idea was, so I tried to put myself in the mindset of someone who was going in fresh.) By the end of the film, that anger was replaced by the new anger of actually knowing what the hell just happened in the movie. To be fair, withholding information is often what telling stories is all about. When it's done well, it's really awesome and satisfying to audiences. But this movie is not artful, it's arbitrary. It does not create suspense, but rather unease, and not the good kind of unease.

And the worst part is finally knowing what the filmmakers were trying to do, and hating them all the more for it. Will Smith, as he is in so many of his films, is meant as a messianic figure, but the questions surrounding his capricious quest are numerous. They include, is it fair to decide who gets your organs, if they’re not related to you? If it is, what’s the deal with his random screening process? Who is he to play God and decide who is “good” enough to receive his sweet, sweet organs? And above all this is the fact that he’s just a creepy, overly serious, weird dude who I don’t want to watch for two hours, let alone two minutes. Ughhh.

How I felt after the movie ended: I don't remember. I think I blacked out or something. Good Lord. The ending of that movie is one of the most ridiculous, tone-deaf, unbelievable, over-the-top, crazy-as-balls stupid terrible endings I have ever seen. The protagonist of the film kills himself by sharing a bathtub with his poisonous pet jellyfish. I want you to read that again. And again. 

And then I want you to think about how I willingly put myself through this. I can stop writing this blog whenever I want! (Or just watch better sad movies.) It’s my own fault. And to atone for this, I am going to give seven of you a gift. I hope you guys like really weak, scrawny, diabetic organs.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Like Crazy.

Like Crazy (Drake Doremus, 2011)

We can’t believe the blog has been around long enough to have a 2nd annual anything, but here we are: it’s the 2nd Annual Taste My Sad Oscar Watch! Much like last year, we’ll be tackling the sad new films that are being positioned for Oscar (and other awards) attention. I suppose this feature had a soft launch last month with our review of Weekend (I’m giggling right now at the use of the term “soft launch” in relation to that film), but I doubt that film, although very good, was in wide enough release (giggling again) to receive major attention. (Our post about it hasn’t even gotten any comments yet!)

In any case, let the 2ATMSOW begin! Feel free to read up to the plot summary if you want to remain unspoiled for this film, currently at your local indie theater.

Category: Sad movie about people who are like, crazy. Other films in this genre include Shutter Island and Nights in Rodanthe.

Of course this is actually a sad movie about people who are (like) crazy in love. (Jay-Z and Beyonce are two such people.) I’m running out of things to say about sad romance films. I think we should start a Taste My Sad-sponsored campaign to end all extenuating circumstances that make potential romances sad. Mudslides, shipwrecks, car accidents, time traveling, cancer, etc. (And now with this film, we can add visa problems to the list.) Comment with your suggestions on how to do this, because it seems like it would take a lot of effort. We might need to get the UN involved. Or Bono.

My familiarity with this issue: I remember how annoying it was to get my visa to go to the Czech Republic. I have a feeling I might relate to all that stuff. Embassies are bureaucratic nightmares. It’s almost as if they don’t want anyone to travel anywhere. And the thought of some visa problem keeping me from being with some tasty foreign dish is untenable.

I saw this movie while home for Thanksgiving with fellow Strong Islander, previous blog contributor, and FOTB Melissa Passarelli. I arrived at the theater earlier than Melissa, and was saving us seats in the otherwise-empty theater when an older woman entered and said to me, with a thick Long Island accent, “So I hear this is some kind of romance film.” There were about five minutes until the movie started. In those five minutes, I received several pieces of career advice, the itinerary of her most recent visit to Washington, DC, an exhortation to see the film Margin Call (which she had literally just seen in the adjacent theater), and a plaintive lamentation about the fact that her sons, both of whom work on Wall Street and are doing very well, do not call her enough. It’s just so good to be home.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “Anna and Jacob fall instantly in love when they meet as students at an L.A. university. But Anna is British and when graduation approaches, Anna decides to stay and violate her student visa rather than returning to England. After a visit home, she is then unable to return to the United States. While fighting customs and immigration battles, Anna and Jacob must decide if their relationship is worth the distance and the hardship.”

What I thought of the movie: (SPOILERS HENCEFORTH, OBVS.) I dunno. I liked certain parts of it, and other parts left me cold. I’m all about romance, and the actors were generally good (especially Felicity Jones, who I now believe is the most wonderful girl in the world), but it didn’t really add up for me.

Jones is a British student in LA, who leaves a cutesy note on classmate Anton Yelchin’s car one day. (I hated that, by the way. It smacked of Manic Pixie Dream Girlism, and I was worried it was gonna be one of those movies. But for the rest of the movie she’s pretty normal.) They fall in love. It’s very cutesy, often too cutesy. There are the aforementioned visa problems (she overstays hers to spend another summer in LA and is subsequently not allowed back into the country) and long-distance relationship problems and the various other problems that humans have in relationships, especially when the dudes are kind of jerks. (She’s bright and sunny and supportive, he’s less so on all accounts. There’s no question about who to root for here.)

A movie like this is so frustrating because of its flashes of inspiration. The dialogue in the film was, apparently, entirely improvised, which makes the film seem realistic and unplanned, which is cool. Specific scenes really worked as well: their semi-awkward first-date conversation, when he visits her in London and they go out to a bar and he feels out of place around her friends, when she visits him and doesn’t really know what to expect. Those things felt right.

But on the whole I found myself too angry at the characters’ actions to feel all that much sympathy at their romantic plight. And so at the end of the film I found myself wondering what the filmmakers were going for: to try to make us root for them because of their (like) crazy stupid love, to depict something that should have failed, or something in between.

What FOTB Melissa Passarelli thought of the movie: Like John, I had mixed feelings about Like Crazy. It was very true to life, and as such had endearing, uncomfortable, heart-wrenching and infuriating moments. Star-crossed lovers Anna and Jacob were clearly the ones to root for, but I wanted to smack them upside the head half the time. Anna, why couldn’t you just keep it in your pants for a summer so that you wouldn’t end up ruining a bunch of people’s lives down the road? Jacob, I appreciate you trying to make it work with Jennifer Lawrence, but leading her on and dumping her twice for the same girl is gonna give her a complex.

Still, the movie was one of the most relatable stories I’ve ever seen because it shows how one decision can change the course of several people’s lives, how one love can tear others apart, and how that one love can sometimes not be enough. I would also like to note that Anton Yelchin was quite pleasing in this movie and thus deserving of Felicity Jones and Jennifer Lawrence, despite what John thinks. (Editor’s Note: Get out.)

How I related to the movie: Yeah that was the thing. Jennifer Lawrence plays “the other woman,” and she’s as hot as anything, of course. And I personally think Anton Yelchin is eh-looking (and even if he wasn’t he was kind of a knob in this film). You can see how this would upset me.

As I mentioned, you feel for the girl a lot more than the guy in this film. She tries real hard to overcome her visa issues, but he seems unwilling to move to London to be with her. After the several cutesy montages that really drive home the point that they are In Love, that plot point was somewhat inexplicable. Or at least I couldn’t relate to it. I would go to any country to hang out with Felicity Jones.

I realize that not agreeing with the choices the characters make is not a reason to dislike a movie. We’re allowed, often invited, to dislike characters and disagree with them. But that only works when those characters are fully-formed, when we feel like we know them and that we can speak to what's best for them. The characters in this film let us down in this regard. We want to know them and be there for them, but the movie doesn't let us. It's annoying.

How I felt after the movie ended: I was recently discussing the film The Graduate with some FsOTB. Roger Ebert wrote that, when he first saw the film when it was released, he was around Benjamin Braddock’s age, and thus related to that character completely. Upon rewatching it many years later, he found himself sympathizing with Mrs. Robinson. Perspective is everything, I suppose.

Now this movie was nowhere near as good as The Graduate, of course. But might I have enjoyed it more if I were younger and filled with youthful romantic naiveté? Am I already too old and cynical to appreciate one of these storybook romance films? Or should they have just made a better movie? I’m hoping it’s the latter.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Vow. (TRAILER)

Trailer for The Vow (Michael Sucsy, 2012)

Welcome back to our somewhat disgustingly named mini-feature, Nibble My Sad (sponsored by FOTB Zach Gibson), in which I discuss bite-sized pieces of sad, usually found on the YouTubes. Previously on this feature, I made fun of dead people. (Well technically, a dumb montage meant to honor dead people. But still.)

Today we’re delving into sad movie trailers for the first time. Here is the trailer for the upcoming sad film The Vow, starring Rachel McAdams (SWOON) and Channing Tatum (not as swoon for me personally, but for the ladies/gays, SWOON indeed).

 Aww they’re getting married! (Ohhh the VOW. Like wedding vows. I totally get it.) Rachel’s got her bangs workin’. She out-Zooey Deschanels Zooey Deschanel. Full disclosure: I would marry her.

0:11: Channing Tatum is talking now, so I'm leaning closer. The man tends to mumble. There’s a guy in a top hat. Lots of paintings on the wall. This wedding is weird…

0:16: …because they broke into a museum, I guess, and got married there. Security is called and they run away. What the hell kind of wedding is that? Were there even pictures? Music? A cake? Come on now. But yeah I get it. They’re quirky. And probably poor.

0:23: Channing’s doing a bit of voice-over narration, which is not his strength. “Life’s all about moments ashglabsbhjsb.” So mumbly!! I had to rewind it three times to figure out that he says “of impact” there.

0:27: Montage of clips of them being in love. He makes her pancakes with the words “MOVE IN?” arranged in blueberries, to which she says, “You want to go see a movie?” Is she illiterate? Is that why the movie is sad? LET’S FIND OUT.

0:40: OK so here it is. They’re kissing in a parked car in some back alley or something, and a truck plows into them. Every teenager knows not to kiss in parked cars that aren’t protected by other parked cars. It’s not worth it. Very easy to be found out that way. Also, this is kind of their own fault.

0:45: She’s in the hospital. He’s standing over her wearing scrubs, and she says, “Was anyone else hurt, doctor?” I think it’s extremely unrealistic to ask us to believe that anyone, even someone who was just in a car accident, would think that Channing Tatum is a doctor.

1:06: Oh wow what a coincidence that they’re releasing this on Valentine’s Day!

1:08: Channing’s upset, and the nurse/doctor says that Rachel’s memory will improve with time. Now (much like Channing) I’m no doctor, but is that true? Does that happen? Is this going to be one of those movies where they make up some sort of medical condition that’s not real?

1:15: Obviously it’s weird for Rachel, because she doesn’t remember anything. She sees all these pictures of them together, goes to the apartment in which they live, etc. But at a certain point, if the evidence was that overwhelming, wouldn’t you just go with it? Especially considering how handsome everyone seems to think Channing Tatum is? If I woke up in the hospital tomorrow and Rachel McAdams was claiming to be my wife, I would instantly go with it.

1:20: OK this is by far my favorite part of the trailer. The marketing folks are thinking, "OK, we’ve got two recognizable stars in Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum. People know who they are. BUT. They’re in all kinds of different movies, which might confuse people. How can we really hammer home what kind of movie this is so that people will know what they're getting into. (We'll assume the fact that it’s about a woman who loses her memory and forgets who her husband is hasn’t already tipped people off.) This is how: we'll REFERENCE THE NICHOLAS SPARKS MOVIES THAT THEY WERE IN in the trailer. 'From The Notebook: Rachel McAdams.' 'From Dear John: Channing Tatum.'"

They might as well have said: “From the previous films in which they did their best to make you cry, much like they’re about to do in this movie: Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum. PS this movie is a tearjerker.”

1:25: AND they threw in a shirtless Channing Tatum moment. Women are already lining up for this movie.

1:34: “How do you look at the girl you love and schslcrucbsusbbfsurbs.”

1:37: They show the words “Can a once in a lifetime love find a second chance?” IMMEDIATELY followed by a wedding scene (different from the museum one we had previously seen). So, yes. Yes it can find a second chance.

1:45: A one-second shot of a smarmy-looking guy (presumably one who tries to pick up Amensiac McAdams after the accident), immediately followed by Channing Tatum punching him in the face. (I’m sure he had it coming.)

1:48: She has like ten different hairstyles/colors in this trailer alone. Do amnesiacs do that? Do they just forget what hairstyle looks good on them and keep trying new things?

1:49: Am I wrong, or does it look like they’re in a parked car there? Is it the same one from the accident? If not, HAVEN’T THEY LEARNED THEIR LESSON?

1:51: So there it is. Apparently it’s based on a true story. Will that stop me from seeing it and talking about how unrealistic it is? In the words of Channing Tatum, “frsufrsusrfsmamsfmfs."

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Never Let Me Go.

Never Let Me Go (Mark Romanek, 2010)

SPOILER POLICY FOR THIS POST. This is important. If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, I really encourage you to go read it or see it. A major element of the plot is best left unspoiled, and so I will not spoil it until I talk about what I thought of the movie. So read the first half of the post and then go get the book/movie/both. Plan.

Category: Sad movie based on a book that I really like. There’s a general cultural rule that movie adaptations of really good books will always be at least somewhat disappointing. I’d argue that this is both unfair and inaccurate. It’s unfair because reading a book and watching a movie are two totally different experiences. Reading a book is this entirely personal endeavor, an experience over which you have a fairly high degree of control. You decide where and when and for how long at a time you will inhabit this world, and while our movie-watching options are certainly expanding, they still don’t match our book-reading options. Plus, of course, books can be hundreds and hundreds of pages long and people will still read them. If a movie’s more than three hours or so, everyone starts getting upset.

Added to which is the important fact that some movies are just as good as the excellent books on which they are based: To Kill a Mockingbird, Doctor Zhivago, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, to name but three examples. Although to be fair, it is fun to walk out of a movie and condescendingly say to your date, “Oh the book was much better,” just loud enough for all the other plebes who haven’t read to feel bad about themselves for enjoying the movie.

(As noted, I won't discuss much in the way of plot, other than to say that this is a sad film about kids at a boarding school.)

My familiarity with this issue: I know a few kids, including A Walk to Remember fangirl and FOTB Katie Ross, who attended boarding school in their formative years. Now I don’t mean to generalize here, but I believe that all former boarding school students are freaks. This is generally the case because their minds have been warped by living with other adolescents for four years, while enjoying none of the joys of being at home during the school year (i.e., having your mom put a note in your lunchbox telling you how awesome you are). Furthermore, it’s clear from talking to them that they have been brainwashed very early on into thinking that their schools are just as awesome as Hogwarts, even though, to my knowledge, there are no boarding schools other than Hogwarts that are even remotely magical. I’m not having it. Bunch of weirdos.

As mentioned earlier, I really enjoyed this book. I recall reading most of it on two long Amtrak journeys, during the second of which I sat near a large group of Mennonites. Right before delving into the final chapters, I noticed that one of the kids in the group was eating a Snickers bar. I remember thinking about how strange and out-of-context it was, right before realizing that I was creepily staring at this kid. I honestly could not tell you why that has stuck in my mind for nearly two years. It might be because the sense memories bound up in reading a really good book tend to linger in the mind longer than others. Or it might be because seeing a Mennonite kid eat a Snickers on an Amtrak is like twelve different kinds of crazy.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “As children, Ruth, Kathy and Tommy, spend their childhood at a seemingly idyllic English boarding school. As they grow into young adults, they find that they have to come to terms with the strength of the love they feel for each other, while preparing themselves for the haunting reality that awaits them.”

(OK SPOILER DISCUSSIONS from here on in.)

What I thought of the movie: Before I get to that, let’s discuss the spoiler-y plot elements. The characters in the book/film are, basically, human clones that have been created to donate their healthy organs to non-cloned humans. Therefore, they’re consigned to an early death (in their twenties or so). After graduating from boarding school, the characters grapple with their common fate, trying to figure out ways around it and buy themselves more time. It’s dispensed with fairly early in the movie as compared to the book, so it hardly feels like a spoiler, but the gradual revelation of the nature of this world is one of the joys of the book.

The film explores the relationship among three clones, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy (played as adults by Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield), and the heartbreaking implications of their situation. It’s split neatly into three parts: their childhood at boarding school, their young adulthood, and around the time of their “completion,” when Kathy is working as a "carer" for other clones who are donating their organs (a way for her to briefly delay her own donations). And good heavens is each part is just so so sad. It is a devastating movie, just as good as the book.

The movie tackles the heavy themes of mortality and the morality of cloning, fiercely demonstrating the humanity of the clones as they deal with love and betrayal and friendship and forgiveness and everything else that we humans deal with as we grow up. It’s not easy to take, but it’s so relatable and honest and real. It’s everything that the forcible tearjerkers aren’t.

More than that, it’s not one of these sad movies that you’d never want to see again. There’s so much subtlety, particularly in the beginning of the film: the boarding school scenes are full of stolen glances and meaningful looks and significant gestures. The relationship between the students and the “guardians” at the school is profoundly interesting, as well. It makes you think about the gaps between what we’re told as children and what we eventually figure out as adults, how in those gaps lies so much hurt and betrayal and sadness. There’s a lot going on here, and it’s worth seeing more than once to make sure it all comes through.

How I related to the movie: Usually whenever there’s a sci-fi/alternate reality component to one of these films, I enjoy thinking of how I’d cope in that particular world. Not so much with this one. The thought of being slowly killed, by the state, in my mid-twenties is not all that appealing, to be honest. It’s enough to make me reconsider having checked the organ donation box on my driver’s license, just in case the recession gets really rough and DC becomes one big organ farm. (And if you doubt that they’d start the organ farming here, just remember that we don’t have a vote in Congress.)

This is the kind of sci-fi scenario that has the potential to get people riled up about actual issues (like the Planet of the Apes films and animal testing, or Soylent Green and cannibalism). One can only wonder the kind of anti-stem cell research screeds we’d hear from the Fox News crowd if they’d seen the film or read the book (which would require them to have read a book, so, not as likely). Obviously, I think this hypothetical scenario that I just made up in my own head is unfair. Yes, human cloning is wrong, but the real lesson of Ishiguro’s book, and the movie, is that everyone, regardless of clone status, deserves respect, dignity, the right to love and be loved, etc. I would vociferously argue this point on Bill O’Reilly’s show, only to be told to SHUT UP within seconds.

How I felt after the movie ended: The ending is pretty crushing. We know what will inevitably happen to the three main characters, but hearing Carey Mulligan discuss the implications of this world in voice-over as she just stands there, looking sad, was quite moving to me.

The weather was bleak when I watched this movie, much like the weather frequently was in the film (everything was kind of bled dry of color; it seemed vaguely futuristic, or just British). It’s often a very quiet movie, and I just kind of sat there for a while, not doing much, feeling sad about those poor clones. It's definitely worth seeing, and I do intend to see it again. I'll just make sure to watch it on a sunny day when there are other people around, so as to avoid being sad for the rest of the day.

BUT. I just realized that if I were a real person in the world of the film, I’d probably be cured of my danged diabetes thanks to a pancreas donation from some tasty clone! BOOSH.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Hardball (Brian Robbins, 2001) 

Category: Sad film about a youth sports team. (See also: sad version of The Mighty Ducks, featuring Keanu Reeves as Gordon Bombay.) Apologies for sounding old-fashioned, but I firmly believe that youth sports are one of the foundations of our great nation. (I feel like Teddy Roosevelt and I would have been friends.) If done correctly, there’s all manner of lessons to be learned about teamwork and hard work and camaraderie and not always getting what you want (WHY COULDN’T I JUST PLAY SHORTSTOP EVERY GAME).

So where does the sad come in? This is also a sad film about inner-city kids. It’s a hard-knock life for them. (You have to wonder how much better off they’d be if they lived in the outer-city.) Kids in tough neighborhoods have to grow up so much faster than other kids do. A disproportionate number of them have to deal with family issues, violence, crime, etc. And perhaps most tragic of all, many do not experience the awesome funtimes of youth sports. Thank God for Sad Keanu.

My familiarity with this issue: I could write you a BOOK about sadness and youth sports. Chapters would include, “The Day We Somehow Lost in the Playoffs on a Walkoff Groundout,” “The Day I Got Concussed in a Soccer Game,” and “The Day I Realized Everyone Was Bigger than Me.” Similarly to Michael Jordan, I was cut from my middle-school basketball team. Unlike MJ, I did not go on to destroy everyone in basketball for the rest of my life. I settled for my local CYO team, for which everyone got to play. That was more my speed. 

As sad as my youth sports evolution was, I’m sure it does not compare to the experiences of the kids in Hardball. All of our local teams had uniforms and sponsors and fans. We played on nice fields, one of which had ivy covering the outfield walls, a la Wrigley Field. And our coaches were not degenerates.

I should also note that this is, bizarrely, one of the most-anticipated posts in the history of the blog. Apparently, this film is a cult favorite (a cult which might be more frightening than the one in Martha Marcy May Marlene). Specifically, FsOTB Pat Ambrosio and Ted Lynch have been gunning for this one for months. You’ve gotten your wish. Eat it up, fellas.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: "An aimless young man who is scalping tickets, gambling and drinking, agrees to coach a Little League team from the Cabrini Green housing project in Chicago as a condition of getting a loan from a friend."

What I thought of the movie: I have been converted to the cult. This is one of the great sports movies of all time. Up there with Rocky IV. Just a wonderful time.

Of course at the same a lot of it is just so fantastically ridiculous. Keanu’s character is out-of-control. He is, as mentioned, a degenerate gambler, smoker, drinker and liar, frequently erratic and often apparently emotionally disturbed. Case in point: deeply in debt at the beginning of the film, he gets beat up outside a bar. Mid-beating, he says to his assailants, “You want to kick my ass? Nobody can kick my ass better than I can.” He then punches a car window, rams his head through the bar window, and collapses, waking up the next morning in jail. This is our hero.

Keanu goes to his friend’s fancy office to ask for a $12,000 loan to keep his thumbs unbroken. The friend hands him a check for $500. Keanu is confused. Then the friend says, “You’re going to coach a kids’ baseball team with me.” BOOM. The premise of the film explained in one sentence. It’s like if Obi-Wan said to Luke, “You’re going to become a Jedi, blow up the Death Star, and eventually defeat the Empire, and oh by the way Darth Vader is your dad.”

Keanu is promised $500 a week to take on this task. Oh and also it turns out that by “with me,” his friend meant “without me." So Keanu, a violent, shiftless, seemingly disturbed criminal, goes to the projects to meet his at-risk youth players. It's fine. All of the kids on this team have names out of Dickens: Jefferson Albert Tibbs, Miles Pennfield II, Wackford Squeers, Andre Ray Peetes. (Only one of those is actually from Dickens.) They seem to have no interest in playing baseball, which presents a problem when organizing a baseball team.

There’s a weird little sidebar where they need more kids to fill out the roster, so Keanu goes to try to sweet-talk teacher Diane Lane to let other kids on the team. She says they can do it if he helps them with their book reports. This, of course, requires him to read the/a book, which seems to trouble him. Hilariously he brings the book to the bar to read it. (The same bar at which he was beat up like ten minutes ago. Why wouldn’t you just go somewhere else? It’s Chicago. All they have there is sports bars.)

It was at this point in the movie I started to ask some serious questions. Such as: does Keanu have a job? Does he do anything other than gamble and scalp tickets with his buddy, Academy Award nominee John Hawkes? Are there no background checks for coaches in this league? Is he illiterate? Is that why this movie is sad? I was baffled.

At "practice," Keanu sits in the bleachers while the kids scuffle with each other. At this point in the film, it is really hard to conveniently forget about what a terrible role model Keanu is. (Eventually he [begrudgingly] gets out there and starts hitting grounders and shagging pop flies.) What I like about this film is that there is no indication of how this team gets better. No series of good practices, no training montages, nothing like that at all. One minute a pop-up literally falls on a kid’s head, the next minute they’re making diving catches and smacking line drives all over the park. Even Jefferson Albert Tibbs, a tubby asthmatic, starts looking like Prince Fielder. It’s incredible.

Before all that happens, they lose their first game and one kid quits, but then they start to turn it around in charming fashion (for example, their pitcher, who never takes off his headphones, bounces along to the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Dead Wrong” “Big Poppa” in order to get into his pitching rhythm). They set their sights on going to the “‘ship” (as in “champion-”). It’s standard sports movie stuff, and its conventionality is a welcome respite from all the crazyballs Keanu gambling faff.

Speaking of which, after getting into more trouble with the bookies because he’s an idiot, Keanu bets his entire bankroll ($12,000) on the Heat... no wait the Bulls. He literally changes his mind while he’s on the phone placing the bet. It’s TWELVE THOUSAND DOLLARS. Wait until there’s something you feel really good about, and then bet on that! Don’t change your mind at the last minute! He is the WORST GAMBLER ever. (He also takes Diane Lane on a terrible date to the sports bar and almost instantly offends her, causing her to leave in a huff. A real winner, this guy.)

Back to the team. In another hallmark of the genre, one of the players is suspected of being too old, so Donald Trump Dr. Jerome Corsi another coach demands to see his birth certificate. The other coach also won’t let the Headphones Guy pitch with his headphones on, which of course robs him of his power. So Keanu throws a tantrum and quits mid-game. His behavior is becoming increasingly erratic, which is saying something when you recall that he began this film by smashing his head through a bar window.

After somehow winning that ridiculous bet, he realizes how important the kids are to him, and vice versa, so he finally swears off gambling (which is a lot easier to do when you've just won a $12,000 bet) and takes the kids to Wrigley Field Tiger Stadium (which in no way resembles Wrigley Field) to see the Cubs play baseball the way adults slightly older kids are capable of playing it. It's nice. Sammy Sosa makes a cameo, which proves that the lesson in this film so far is that all adult role models will eventually let you down. (Also it’s ironic that they go see the Cubs, a team that hasn’t been to the ‘ship since 1945.)

Attempting to get his house in order, Keanu also goes to the school to apologize to Diane Lane for his boorish behavior at their date. Lane accepts his apology, and pretty much offers him a job at the school. First off, she is just a teacher. She doesn’t have hiring and firing power! Second, he is still an erratic, possibly disturbed ne’er-do-well whose basic human decency toward inner-city kids is really his only positive quality. And third, if offending women and then sheepishly apologizing to them days later was an effective way of getting a job, then I would definitely not be unemployed right now.

How I related to the movie: Now this is where it starts to get really good. There’s baseball strategy and heartsrings-tugging and all of that. Try to keep up.

So they have to play the team with the mean coach who just beat them in order to make the ‘ship. It’s a tight, well-fought game, with a montage of great plays set to a hilariously edited version of “Party Up (Up In Here)” by DMX. (“Y'all remind me of a strip club / cause everytime you come around, it's like I just gotta get my [edited out].” Your what, DMX? Your eyebrows plucked? Your tummy tucked? Your corn shucked? I don’t know what you would have said here.)

It’s tied in the top of the sixth (and final) inning, and in a jam Keanu turns to Headphones Guy to preserve the tie. Headphones Guy, of course, can no longer wear his headphones, so he’s wary. Keanu leads the crowd in a rendition of “Big Poppa” to help him out, and he strikes the guy out on three pitches. Magic. We should have tried something like this with AJ Burnett.

(SPOILERS/the reason why this movie is sad coming up.) They put two runners on in the bottom of the inning with two out, and Keanu is forced to pinch-hit the pint-sized but lovable G-Baby (the younger brother of one of the real players) for the asthmatic Tibbs. And in an interesting but effective directorial choice, we cut to after the game. G-Baby and his brother head home to the projects, and find themselves in the middle of a shootout which tragically takes G-Baby’s life. POOR G-BABY! Oh how sad this is!

Yes it’s manipulative and probably unnecessary, like the endings of so many movies I’ve decried on this blog, but you know what? This is different. This is G-Baby. At the funeral, Keanu recounts the story of G-Baby’s heroic game-winning hit. It got dusty in here.

The next day, the players decide they want to play in the ‘ship, which the league was planning to cancel. They want to win it for G-Baby. And they do. Man, what a film.

How I felt after the movie ended: It was an emotional ride, this one. Full of utter nonsense and conventional inspirational-sports-movie tropes and Keanu Reeves acting like a lunatic. Yes, it might be an urban version of The Mighty Ducks with a ridiculous tragic ending tacked on, but it’s somehow more than that. Watching Keanu give the speech at G-Baby’s funeral, I swear I was lifted in that moment to a better place. I swear Keanu lifted the world at that moment. He made me a better person, even if just for that moment. I am forever grateful to Keanu for that.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Nights in Rodanthe.

Nights in Rodanthe (George C. Wolfe, 2008)

Thanks, everyone, for watching me on TV! Sorry I got destroyed. Just in case some folks are a few days behind on their DVRed Jeopardy! episodes: Sad movie blog John Jeopardy Trebek condescending jerk. (The opinions presented in the possible search terms do not necessarily reflect those of the management.)

Category: THE FINAL SPARKS-DOWN. Blog completists will no doubt be aware of my quest to watch all six of the films that have been adapted from novels by known treaclemonger Nicholas Sparks. This quest began almost ten months ago with The Notebook, and continued throughout the year with The Last Song, Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember and Dear John. It’s been a hard slog. I don’t mean to be disrespectful here, but by watching all these films, I now understand what it’s like to fight in a war. I feel like Channing Tatum, sending these missives from the front to Amanda Seyfried/all of you dear friends of the blog back home who are safely protected from the horrors of battle/the standard Sparks lugubrious piffle.

To be frank, I’m not really sure what this one is about. I do know it is a sad movie about a big house on the water in North Carolina, which you could have inferred when I said that it was based on a Nicholas Sparks novel. (SPARKS THEME.) I also know that the film stars Richard Gere and Diane Lane. I famously fell asleep while watching the Gere film Autumn in New York for this blog. I doubt I could ever fall asleep while watching Diane Lane, though, as she is a stone cold fox.

My familiarity with this issue: Honestly, there are few subjects about which I am more well-versed at this point in my life than Nicholas Sparks movies. (I need a job, folks.) I hasten to point out that I have never read any of the man’s books, but I see no reason to. (If only because we’ve never delved into book reviews here on Taste My Sad.) The man has sold a lot of books without my support, and I neither intend to give him any of my money by purchasing one of his books, nor risk the judgment of the woman at the library checkout desk by borrowing one. (In a related story, I can only imagine what the people at Netflix think of me.)

There are three things that are dangerous about the Sparks M.O. The first is his oppressive old-fashionedness. I’ve written in the past that it’s easy to picture Sparks as a hermit, a man who lives away from society (like so many of his characters), hammering out his books on a typewriter, a man in possession of neither a cell phone nor an understanding of how people actually interact with one another in the 21st century. The romantic conflicts at the heart of his stories are the overheated, overwrought, overdone fantasies of a man who spends too much time alone. To imagine your friends acting like Sparks's characters is to immediately imagine yourself seeking new friends.

Second, I’ve also noted that the problem with his obvious disdain for modern things is a problem inherent in nostalgia: the desire to return to a better, simpler time that probably never existed in the first place. The best Sparks stuff I’ve seen are the flashback parts of The Notebook, and that’s because they were actually set in the past. And still it took all of Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams’s collective charisma (and that’s a lot of freakin’ charisma) to pull many of those plainly ridiculous scenes off. His stories are in no way based in reality, and that people buy his books and see the films expecting to learn something about life is a shame.

And that leads into the most important problem of all: Nicholas Sparks probably knows all this. He may not be much of an author, but he’s a fantastic capitalist. He’s carefully developed a formula, written the same goddamn book sixteen times, gotten several of those books made into movies, and as a result he has more money than all of us put together. It's a con, and I'm sure this movie is no different.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “Adrienne Willis, a woman with her life in chaos, retreats to the tiny coastal town of Rodanthe, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, to tend to a friend's inn for the weekend. Here she hopes to find the tranquility she so desperately needs to rethink the conflicts surrounding her – a wayward husband who has asked to come home, and a teen-aged daughter who resents her every decision. Almost as soon as Adrienne gets to Rodanthe, a major storm is forecast and a guest named Dr. Paul Flanner arrive. The only guest at the inn, Flanner is not on a weekend escape but rather is there to face his own crisis of conscience. Now, with the storm closing in, the two turn to each other for comfort and, in one magical weekend, set in motion a life-changing romance that will resonate throughout the rest of their lives.”

What I thought of the movie: I was right. This movie is no different. Oh sweet Lord was it terrible. And, as I said, the worst thing is that it was the SAME. The same miserable, manipulative, grating nonsense as in most of the other movies. I don’t understand how he gets away with it. Do people forget about the other ones? Do they just not care? I've seen all of these now and I still need someone to explain this to me.

The first scene of the movie depicts Diane Lane frantically trying to get her kids ready for when their estranged dad arrives to pick them up for the weekend. One of her kids is played by Ann Veal (her?) Here are three important facts that are revealed about Ann Veal during this scene.

1)  Her hair is dyed black (with hints of red!), thus revealing that she is one of those rebellious teens, like Miley Cyrus in The Last Song. Black hair dye = rebellious.
2)  She has a tattoo on her stomach, a fact she chooses to reveal to her mom for the first time, out of nowhere, as she’s getting ready to go off with her dad for the weekend. This may be the most unrealistic thing in the entire movie.
3)  She has an O.A.R. poster on her bedroom wall.

Diane is flustered because her husband, who had gone off with some other woman, now wants back into the family. She goes off for the weekend to look after her friend’s enormous beach house inn thing in mythical Rodanthe. (Yes I know that Rodanthe actually exists, but because of how the movie depicts the town I’m gonna call it “mythical Rodanthe.” Kind of like Brigadoon.)

We should talk about this house. This is what it looks like. It’s like Nicholas Sparks’s fever dream come to life. He must have pissed himself when the location scouts found it. It is LIT'RALLY on the water. There are a dozen balconies and thirty bay windows and eighty rooms. Lots of space for men to sit and think and write letters and brood. Also, there are hurricane warnings throughout the film, which raises the question of how this house, located lit’rally on the water on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, is still standing. We’ll get to it.

So the only guest for the weekend is a gloomy Richard Gere. He’s the only other person there. Just to be clear, RIchard Gere and Diane Lane are by themselves for the weekend in a huge, impossibly romantic house on the water as a hurricane bears down on them. There are ZERO obstacles to them doing the do. Sure, they’ve got baggage, but we all have baggage. Usually there’s more than baggage, like, her roommate is home, or he lives with his parents, or their families are at war with each other. But these two might as well be in bed already.

After acting like a petulant child for a little bit, he opens up to her. He's sad because he was operating on some woman and she died. Her husband, who lives in mythical Rodanthe, sues him for wrongful death, but then writes to Gere saying he wants to talk. When they do talk, Gere explains what went wrong. The husband asks him what color his wife’s eyes were, which seems like one of those Katie Couric gotcha questions to me, and when Gere can’t answer, the man leaves in a huff. Diane Lane, crazily, criticizes Gere for “defending himself” rather than empathizing with the man. Gere points out that the man is suing him, so, I mean, that’s what you do. I cannot summon the energy to care about any of this.

Then the hurricane comes. They’ve known about it for days, but apparently they forgot to close all the windows, so they go around doing that for a few minutes as the music intensifies. The power goes out and they both look terrified, like it’s a horror movie, and the killer’s just cut the lights. IT’S A HURRICANE. What did you think was going to happen? Then Gere saves Lane from a falling bookcase, and then they make out for the rest of the hurricane, which apparently barely damages the house, which, again, is LIT’RALLY right on the water. Maybe the hurricane was downgraded to a tropical storm or something.

That hurricane makeout sesh is all it takes for them to fall superawesomely in love, of course. Alas, after a magical day together, they have to part. Gere’s son, also a doctor, was fed up with what a shitty father Gere was, and so he went into the mountains of Ecuador and started working in a clinic there to be away from him. So Gere plans to go to Ecuador to get him to stop helping destitute people (as you do) and to also establish a real father-son relationship with him. (Also, the son is played by James Franco. Yes that’s right. He’s in like three scenes. I suppose this was part of his quest to appear in every film ever released since 2008.)

Now this is where it gets extra Sparks-y. Guess what they do to stay in touch when he’s in Ecuador? THEY WRITE EACH OTHER LETTERS DUHHHHH. Lane goes back home, rejects her hubby once and for all, magically establishes a better relationship with Ann Veal (whorebelliously cries a ton in this movie); Gere stays in Ecuador a while, works alongside his son, becomes more selfless, etc. He’s planning to return to the States to reunite with her. He says they’ll never be apart again! She’s over-the-moon excited, puts on her best dress, and waits for him to come on the appointed day.

Let’s play a game. It’s called what tragic deus ex machina does Nicholas Sparks concoct to ensure that this movie has a tragic ending. (Recall the ones he used in the previous five movies: Alzheimer’s, cancer (Greg Kinnear edition), cancer (Mandy Moore edition), a boating accident, autism/war). I was thinking that another bookcase would fall on Lane and this time Gere wouldn’t be there in time to stop it. Or that he would be murdered by Lane's jealous husband. Or even that she'd slip on a banana peel as she was walking to the front door to let him in. But no. It's just that Gere died in a mudslide in Ecuador. Of course.

After five minutes of Lane crying, she returns to mythical Rodanthe one more time to think about their magical weekend together. While on the beach, a herd of wild North Carolina horses (which she and Gere discuss earlier in the film) come a-runnin’ toward her. She falls to her knees in amazement, thinking it’s a sign or some symbol of Gere’s lasting presence even after death, but I swear to God for a split-second I thought the horses were going to trample her to death. It would have been amazing.

How I related to the movie: I came up with a new thing. In this movie, Gere is the male equivalent of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl: the Brooding Sensitive Vulnerable Emotionally Wounded Dream Man. Something terrible has happened to him, and all he needs is to just be alone for a while and/or meet a woman who understands his pain so that he can eventually open his heart to her and then write her beautiful letters. Sparks first used this trope in Message in a Bottle. In tinkering with his magic formula, he discovered that the BSVEWDM is what gets women hot and bothered. It's like if Zooey Deschanel showed up at my huge beach house and started being adorable all over the place.

Honestly though, it was just so boring and predetermined. The only reason anyone would like this movie is if they bought how romantic it was. The two main characters are both troubled, unlucky in marriage and botching surgeries left and right, and they meet and fix each other and all that. But it didn’t take any time at all. They have dinner, they drink wine, and they're already giving each other the eyes. And then when it does happen, it’s like flipping a switch. They're in it for the long haul after five minutes. It's stupid.

How I felt after the movie ended: Every goddamn time I watch one of these, I know that it’s going to end with some manipulative tearjerking nonsense. And every time it makes me mad. If this were based on a true story, that would be one thing. But this is fiction. These people do not exist. Nicholas Sparks made them up, and did not grant them the dignity that actual human beings have. They are pawns, tools designed to make us feel sad and then be discarded.

There are no deep lessons or meaningful truths revealed in this movie. There are two people who fall in love, and at the last possible moment before they go off to live happily ever after, one of them dies. That is not a movie. That is not art. That's just mean.

But here’s the thing. I’m done now. I can now tell people I have seen all six Nicholas Sparks movies, and even though they won’t care, I will know I have accomplished something difficult. I have weathered sappy romantic platitudes and terminal illnesses and endless long tracking shots of the water, and I have survived. Taste My Success.

Epilogue: On April 20, 2012, The Lucky One, starring Zac Efron, will become the seventh Sparks novel to be adapted into a movie. It's a date.