Saturday, January 29, 2011

Stepmom.


Stepmom (Chris Columbus, 1998)

Category: Sad cancer film. Again with the diseases! I don’t think we’ve done cancer yet, though, which is kind of amazing when you consider how many movies have been made on the subject: Love Story, Brian’s Song, Wit, One True Thing, Life as a House, Terms of Endearment, and Sweet November to name a bunch. Plus that show The Big C, which is not about what I thought it was about.

I would also classify Stepmom as a sad "film for women," in much the same way as the Lifetime channel is "television for women." (A slogan which sure didn't stop me from appreciating Taraji P. Henson's brilliant performance in Taken From Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story.) I've tackled a similar genre with Steel Magnolias (and  also Beaches, I suppose), but in this sense I'm talking more about the target audience of the film than the characters. And I don't think it's too offensive or sexist to assume that the target audience here is women. You've got known women Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts in the lead roles, with known stud Ed Harris providing eye candy. And the film is about emotions and feelings and, I’d imagine, the phrase “you stole my man.” You know, the types of things they teach you in women's studies classes. (Please note: I have never taken a women's studies class, but I imagine them to be quite similar to your stereotypical middle school slumber party.) (Please further note: I do not consider myself to be a "sexist.") In short, there's not a lot for the fellas here. Here are all of the possible reasons why a man would willingly see Stepmom:
1.  He heard there’s a Susan Sarandon-Julia Roberts lesbian scene. (First of all, ew, and second of all, I am nearly certain that there is no such scene in the film.)
2.  He writes this blog.

My familiarity with this issue: Devotees will recall that I wasn't that into Steel Magnolias. But I remain interested in these types of movies (I did like Beaches, after all), especially because I don’t like conforming to gender stereotypes. By this point you’re all aware of my feminine side: my love of Taylor Swift, my shapely legs, my fear of spiders, etc. But let it be known that I still like movies about cars and fighting and things that explode with very little provocation. Moreover, I can check “extensive sports knowledge,” “love of a good bro-out,” and “extremely messy room” off the man checklist. Pigeonhole me at your peril.

It’s important to note that all that buffoonery in the previous section is all jokes, and everything I’ve said about men seeing Stepmom is pure conjecture. I don’t have access to the kind of data that the marketing folks at the movie studios do. But I do think the idea was to create a movie that would appeal to women. It feels like the marketing of movies and the making of movies is pretty much one and the same these days; the studios create movies that are intended to appeal to certain valuable demographic groups, and do whatever they can to feature the things that these groups stereotypically like. That’s how you get the Transformers films, because all 12-year-old boys love things that transform into other things. Stepmom is perhaps less egregious an example of this as Transformers, but it’s no less effective: the movie made $159 million, for crying out loud. (Side note: Stepmom was released on the same day as, and finished second in the box office to Patch Adams on Christmas of 1998. How depressed were we in 1998 that those were the two big holiday films! Good Lord!)

Also, I have never had cancer. Breaking Bad is awesome, though.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: "Anna and Ben, the two children of Jackie and Luke, have to cope with the fact that their parents divorced and that there is a new woman in their father's life: Isabel, a successful photographer. She does her best to treat the kids in a way that makes them still feel at home when being with their dad, but also loves her work and does not plan to give it up. But Jackie, a full-time mother, regards Isabel's efforts as offensively insufficient. She can't understand that work can be important to her as well as the kids. The conflict between them is deepened by the sudden diagnose of cancer, which might may be deadly for Jackie. They all have to learn a little in order to grow together."

What I thought of the movie: Ughhh. It was just so goddamn annoying. And the worst part was that it could have been a good movie! If the characters were at all likeable or relatable, and the dialogue wasn’t almost entirely atrocious, and every single action in the film didn’t feel entirely preordained in a really manipulative way, I probably would have liked it. But those things were very much not the case. (I’d say SPOILER ALERT, but I’ve already said it’s about cancer. And didn’t you just see what I said about everything feeling preordained? Pay attention.)

So Julia Roberts is this young hip flighty fashion photographer who hooks up with Ed Harris (probably at some young hip flighty fashion party), and thus inherits his two AWFUL kids. (I’ll expand on this later.) And Susan Sarandon is the ex-wife whose job it is for the first half of the movie or so to yell and look angry and be a b. (At one point,  talking about Julia Roberts, the little boy says to her, “if you want me to hate her, I will,” and SHE DOESN’T SAY NO. She just like smiles at him! WHAT.) Also Ed Harris plays one of those lawyers who pops up once every like half hour in movies because he’s so busy with his cases, and when he does show up his beeper doesn’t stop beeping because the judge is about to make a ruling on this important case he’s been working on for MONTHS and so no, he CAN’T turn it off right now, actually. And that's all the characters in the film! Each and every one of them a terrible, terrible person.

The movie builds up this reservoir of hatred (between Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts, and between me and everyone in it) until the scene where we find out that Sarandon has cancer. So now the movie has to make Sarandon and Roberts to finally establish a grudging respect for each other, knowing that Roberts is going to be the mother of the kids after Sarandon kicks it. A not-impossible task, but a difficult one given that the characters basically have to change completely from being what the movie has forced down our throats thus far. But this doesn’t happen right away, and this weird middle part, where we know she has cancer but she still SUCKS, that’s just awful. Julia Roberts has the idea to take the girl to a Pearl Jam concert on a school night, and Sarandon says no way, it’s a school night, are you crazy, AND THEN STEALS THE IDEA! Two scenes later, she’s like "hey let's go see Pearl Jam! PS screw you, Julia Roberts." But at this point we know about the cancer, and in case that scene made us forget that we’re supposed to be nice to people who have cancer, even if they are evil, the VERY NEXT SCENE is set at the doctor’s office. It’s SO SHAMELESS.

How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: I feel that I am generally a nice, likeable person, and that I generally surround myself with nice, likeable people. And so I could not relate to this movie.

I really want to discuss the kids, though. I like kids, but I hate kids in movies. With few exceptions, child actors are really, really weird. The boys have dumb haircuts, the girls are prima donnas, and the fact that you know that they didn’t really choose to get into show business makes everyone uncomfortable. It’s not a good situation. The two kids in Stepmom (played by Jena Malone and Liam Aiken) are maybe the two worst, most annoying kids I have ever seen in a movie. I cannot tell you the number of times I wrote horrible, horrible things about Jena Malone’s character while taking notes during the movie (almost as many times as I wrote “OOOOO, CATTY!”). Julia Roberts gets the kids a dog at the beginning of the movie (trying to buy their love), and the girl goes, “I’m allergic to dogs.” Fine. BUT THEN THE DOG IS THERE FOR THE REST OF THE MOVIE, and the allergic thing isn’t mentioned again. Did she lie? Did she get shots or something? WHAT THE HELL. And then when Susan Sarandon tells the family that she has cancer, the girl flips out because Sarandon had known for a while and didn’t tell her right away. Look, I understand that 12-year-old girls are terrible, and so maybe this characterization is realistic. But it’s not good when you want to reach into a movie and strangle a young child.

The boy is one of those mischievous kids who runs away all the time and is interested in magic, as seen in this photoDon’t you just want to punch him in the face. I mean, seriously. Look at that dumb haircut and those dumb freckles and that dumb grin. Jesus Christ. And everything he says during the movie is supposed to be cute and it's just vomit-inducing. Awful. And I love kids! They can be so cool! This afternoon I went to a basketball game, and the young kid behind me was chanting “DEE-FENSE,” but he was too young to get the concept of the “DEE-FENSE” chant, and so he did it when both teams were on defense. It was ADORABLE. So don’t try to tell me that I’m mean because I don’t like the kids (whose #1 hobby is HORSEBACK RIDING, by the way) in this movie. You would hate them too, I promise.

How I felt after the movie ended: I would have felt used if I had all cared about anything that was going on before the rug got yanked out, so to speak. It’s just frustrating that it had to suck that much. It’s really a good idea for a movie. It’s a fairly common, relatable situation, and it could have really shown how people deal with tragedy in their lives; how sometimes when shit gets real you have to put aside all the petty nastiness of your everyday life and become bigger than you thought possible. I would have loved to see a movie that really explored those themes. Instead it’s just another movie designed to make us cry, cheaply. Put it this way: the night I watched Stepmom, I also watched Sammi and JWOWW finally put aside their differences and reconcile on Jersey Shore. Guess which one made me more emotional.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Rabbit Hole.

Rabbit Hole (John Cameron Mitchell, 2010)

It’s usually not the policy of the blog to feud with other blogs, especially when they’re written by friends (of the blog). But he started it, so: check out Power to the Humans for their impassioned and well-reasoned take on my Marley & Me post. And then check out how I burned him in the comments. I just hope our blogs can be friends (of the blogs) after the dust settles. Please contact feudoftheblogs@gmail.com with any and all press inquiries.

Today’s post features a guest take from known Michigander, cardigan-wearer, and friend of the blog AP Carroll. It is the first of hopefully a bunch of posts on Oscar-nominated films that are currently in theaters. The blog is nothing if not topical.

Category: Sad movie about dealing with the death of a child. This is one of those really sad things that it’s hard to joke about. I mean, I did really rip into The Lovely Bones, but that girl was fourteen, and the kid in this movie was four. And this movie is pretty much entirely about coming to terms with his death, whereas The Lovely Bones was pretty much entirely a piece of shit. I really don’t want to dwell on this anymore for the moment, for fear of saying something awful.

Let’s instead note that Rabbit Hole is a sad movie based on a play. It’s pretty much a fact that all the important plays in history have been terribly sad. Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear. Like I said, all of ‘em. The play on which this film was based was written by David Lindsay-Abaire (another thing about these sad plays: they’re often written by people with three names, because having three names gives a person a real sense of dramatic gravity: George Bernard Shaw, John Patrick Shanley, Sam Fox-Hartin, etc), and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2007. Other recent winners of this award include August: Osage County, about a dysfunctional, incestuous Midwestern family, Ruined, about the “plight of women in the civil war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo,” and Next to Normal, a rock musical about a woman with bipolar disorder. Oof. Basically I’m just saying that Taste My Sad could have existed at any pre-cinema time in history, stretching back to ancient Greece. Oedipus Rex: sad play about doing it with your own mother.

My familiarity with this issue: (I’m so so sorry in advance for where I'm about to go with this.) I have never lost any children. In any sense of that term. (Ughhh.) I’ve discussed my time as a nerd camp counselor on the blog before, and oh my goodness was I scared of losing kids then, at the zoo or in the museum or what have you. I had nightmares about angry parents and lawsuits and Amber alerts. That entire summer, I was constantly dumbfounded by the fact that an actual company, with liabilities and profits and bottom lines and obligations to parents, had deemed me capable of looking after and imparting knowledge to actual children. Had the company (let alone the parents) seen the way I viciously defeated and taunted these children on the basketball court while playing Knockout, or observed the time I told a girl “congratulations” when she told me she had to go to the bathroom (in my defense, I really didn’t care that she had to go to the bathroom), I have a feeling that I wouldn’t have made it to the museum or the zoo in the first place. But everyone was safe and alive at the end of the summer. I counted that as a personal triumph.

More specifically about this movie: I saw an excellent production of the play on which this film was based a few years ago. So I know what happens and all that, although I don’t remember it perfectly. And of course there may be some differences between the film adaptation and the play. FOTB AP Carroll ably portrayed the role of Howie, played in the film by Aaron “Harvey Dent” Eckhart. His thoughts on the film are presented below.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “Becca and Howie Corbett are a happily married couple whose perfect world is forever changed when their young son, Danny, is killed by a car. Becca, an executive-turned-stay-at-home mother, tries to redefine her existence in a surreal landscape of well-meaning family and friends. Painful, poignant, and often funny, Becca's experiences lead her to find solace in a mysterious relationship with a troubled young comic-book artist, Jason - the teenage driver of the car that killed Danny. Becca's fixation with Jason pulls her away from memories of Danny, while Howie immerses himself in the past, seeking refuge in outsiders who offer him something Becca is unable to give.”

What AP thought of the movie: Let me begin by noting that it's an honor to appear on Taste My Sad. As an aspiring writer myself, I have to thank John for exposing me to absolutely no one who I don't already know. [Editor’s Note: …] Also before I begin, I have to clear the air. It's true that Mr. Eckhart did not seek my advice when preparing for the role. It can be hard to fill someone's shoes when you're playing a character they've perfected. Case in point: George Clooney didn't ask Sinatra for advice when he was Danny Ocean. While that might be counterintuitive, it's also brave, and commendable. Now, I'll get to it: after watching the film, I have one bit of advice for those who might decide to go see it. 

Don't bother. 

Just do something else, or if you're already at the theater and just reading this, then buy a ticket for another film (and put your IPhone away). The thing is, you don't need to see it. Why? Because as an accurate, and moving, and highly relatable tale of grief, it's a waste of your time. 

I'm going out on a limb to say I bet most of you readers have lost someone. Not necessarily a child (OK, probably not a child) but still, someone. And ya know what: you already know what it's like to experience the inexhaustible grief of knowing someone you loved is no longer around. For those of you who haven't (lucky ducks), well, you will (for now). If that's the case, why rush it? 

The truth is that the film is pretty self-defeating. It beautifully and subtly makes the point that mourning is different for everyone. Even if you've lost a child, your spouse will probably be going through something wildly different than you are. While you're smoking pot with a floozy and racking up views of your family videos stored conveniently on your iPhone (spoiler alert), your wife will be at home flirting with your child's killer (exaggeration alert). So watching Aaron Eckhart experience loss does you no good, because like him (you will think to yourself) you're going through your own quiet despair, which is nothing like his. This movie might claim to be fictional, but it's also very authentic. It doesn't challenge the notion of grief, or say THIS is what it's like to lose someone, and THIS is how to make it stop hurting, but instead acknowledges that your mourning is your own. 

My favorite moment of the film (aside from a very brief cameo by Gotham DA Harvey Dent) [Editor’s Note: RACHELLLLLLL], and a moment that also occurs in the play, is a conversation Becca (Nicole Kidman) has with her mother (the lady from Edward Scissorhands) [Editor’s Note: Dianne Wiest, two-time Oscar winner] wherein Becca asks if the pain ever goes away. Peg Boggs informs her that it does not. She gives her daughter some hope, in that she describes how (like a jawbreaker or the dignity of a fan of the show Glee), it shrinks until its something that fits in your pocket. You might always have to carry it with you, but it's something you can occasionally ignore. And besides, it's all you really have left from the person who's gone.

Speaking of things in the play versus in the movie (like that segue?), this is a very skillfully adapted piece. Seriously, this was adapted better than Precious (though not as well as Twilight). [Editor’s Note: #getout.] The play takes place entirely within the home of Howie and Becca. The director, or whoever, must have realized that for a movie that might be a little boring, so they decided to mix it up and transplant much of the scenes to other locations and show some things which couldn't otherwise be shown. Most of these changes make a lot of sense, and fit right in with the story. It does have a downside because in the play, the audience is left to decide for themselves what the truth is to what is described offstage. I won't give too much away, but in the film, it becomes very clear exactly who does what with who when their spouse isn't around. This weakens the story somewhat, because as the mid-90s understood, sometimes choosing your own version of a story is more pleasing. 

What doesn't change is the ending. It's just as understated and soft as what you would find onstage. It reminds us all (except for you damn Lucky Ducks) that while our grief might threaten to consume us whole, the only way to survive it is to go on. All the while, though nobody shares your loss exactly, they do share it generally. Without anything better, that's good enough. 

If you haven't figured out by now that I think this is a fantastic film and I need you to go see it, then you don't know me very well (#emotionalcripplewhousessarcasmto talkaboutmoviesaboutdeath). Ignore what I said before. Go see this movie, and learn nothing about loss, but watch it beautifully portrayed.

How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: Having not dealt with a major loss since childhood, it was obviously very difficult to relate to the central conflict in the film. So instead I thought about my relationship with Nicole Kidman. I feel like I’m not alone in saying that she has rubbed me the wrong way for like decades now. I have seen her in several movies – Bewitched, The Interpreter, Cold Mountain, Eyes Wide Shut, and Batman Forever – and she’s pretty much bugged me in all of them. (Except Eyes Wide Shut. Hey now.) I think she frequently comes off, both in her movies and on Access Hollywood, as fake and unlikable, especially when she tries to be cute and frothy, like in Bewitched. And if I’m really being honest here, to borrow a line from the mom of the blog (who has frequently used this line to dismiss such performers as Harvey Keitel and Paul Simon), “I don’t like [her] face.” I feel like it takes a great deal of concentration and effort for her to move her facial muscles, and that is weird to me. But I must say that she won me over completely in this movie. She’s completely authentic and real, even in the facial region, and I totally related to her character throughout the movie.

How I felt after the movie ended: Well I agree with basically everything AP said, so much so that I was too lazy to write my own section about my thoughts on the movie let his thoughts stand for mine. I wholeheartedly agree that the film’s authenticity is its strongest point. The characters are conceived and acted perfectly; there’s no one in the movie who is even remotely a “bad” person, no one who you could point to and identify as the “antagonist.” That’s almost certainly how these things actually work in real life. It’s an incredibly impressive movie to watch, on every level. And it really made me think about a lot of things that I don't usually think about, even since I started writing this blog.

AP sarcastically argued that we needn't bother to see this movie, but it's a view that I think most people would actually agree with (assuming that the majority of people in the world will not actually go to see this movie, which I believe is a fair assumption). It's something that is frequently asked of me when I tell people that I write this blog: why I'm subjecting myself to movies like this. And I’d be lying to you if I said that I would have seen the play if I didn’t have friends involved with the production, or that I would have seen the movie if I weren’t writing this blog. But it is absolutely worth seeing. The movie forces us to think about how we would deal with certain unthinkable things, or how we could have dealt with them differently in the past. Yes, it will almost certainly evoke painful memories. And while that is certainly uncomfortable, I don’t think it’s unnecessary.

AP noted that the movie brilliantly shows how each of us grieve in our own way. I would add that it further explores just how difficult it is to do that nowadays. Recent reports that I just Googled indicate that the annual revenues of the self-help industry in the United States are in the “billions of dollars” range. The people who write these books (many of whom are cynical hucksters, of course) ostensibly believe that there is a standardized formula that exists for how to do any number of things – lose weight, conduct relationships, raise children, and yes, grieve – and that this formula can be replicated on anyone and everyone. I’m sure these books actually do help people on occasion, but the urge that we have, as Americans and as humans, to make things superficially easier at the expense of actual deep personal growth has led to this overarching cookie-cutter approach to (what should be) individual life experiences.

Furthermore (and this is a purely anecdotal observation), there is an almost fascistic tendency among suburban, upper-middle class adults to believe that there is a Way That You Do Things (particularly when it comes to raising children), and that all the barriers of social etiquette and minding your own business fly out the window when you see someone deviate from this Way. The speed with which people offer unsolicited parenting advice is indicative of something deeper: this person has deviated from the way you are supposed to raise your children, and that cannot be tolerated. 

People do it in a gentler way when it comes to grieving, but they still do it. In the movie, Becca and Howie attend a parents’ support group, and when Becca ridicules another parent because of her belief in God, the other people in the parents’ support group stare daggers at her not just because she’s being rude, but because she’s deviating from the way that you are supposed to grieve. There is an unspoken, self-righteous confidence inherent in the existence of this support group that is unbearably oppressive to Becca, and so she stops going, and is judged for it. And all of these people have good intentions. They’re only trying to help by communicating what works for them. But sometimes that is just as unhelpful to a person as not calling them for eight months because you don't know what to say. That's really what Rabbit Hole illustrates so well: that sometimes there's nothing you can do, even when it's with people that you love unconditionally. A simple point in theory, but so complex in practice.

At the end of the day though, I won’t blame you if you don’t see it. (Or if you stopped reading about 1,000 words ago.) Go look at some pictures of Nicole Kidman’s Botox-ed face, and laugh. Or cry. Either is acceptable. And then get on with your life.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Notebook.


The Notebook (Nick Cassavettes, 2004)

Some blog notes first.

1. Quoth me, from my last post, thirteen days ago: “I apologize for the slow bloggin' of late. Holidays and such. But I'll pick it up soon.” The lesson, as always: Never believe me.

2. I don’t know if any of you read this, but Amy Poehler totally just stole my idea. C’MON. But I’ll turn lemons into lemonade here: I hereby invite Amy Poehler to write a guest post about a film of her choosing for Taste My Sad. We’ll see if she’s (wo)man enough to accept.

3. Today’s post features a guest take from stanky leg enthusiast and friend of the blog Sarah Orton! Stay tuned.

Category: Sad movie about Alzheimer’s dementia. (I’m told it’s not clear that she has full-blown Alzheimer’s or whatever. You get the idea.) I discussed Alzheimer’s disease quite offensively in an earlier post about a much less popular movie. Last I checked, it’s still very sad. (Worthy of a 1- or 2-seed for sure.)

Let’s focus today on the fact that this is a sad movie based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks. The Notebook was Sparks’s first novel, and became an instant bestseller upon its publication in 1996. Since then he’s become one of the most widely-known (and widely-ridiculed) tearmongers alive, with six of his sixteen books having been adapted into tearjerker films of varying critical and commercial success: Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, Nights in Rodanthe, Dear John, The Last Song and this one. (FOTB Aly Seeberger points out that the posters/covers for many of these films/books involve instances of face-touching. Which is vaguely creepy.) I hope to cover all of the rest of his films in this blog at some point. I don’t know if Nights in Rodanthe is all that sad, but I do know that Diane Lane is a fox. But pretty much all the others are certified Taste My Sad material, as evidenced by this twitpic of birthday girl/FOTB Lindsay Filardo and friend after viewing The Last Song. (Oof.)

My familiarity with this issue: As mentioned, I’m pretty unfamiliar with Sparks. I have only heard a number of things secondhand about his whole oeuvre. Some positive, some negative. Not to generalize here, but mainly girls like it and guys don’t. There are exceptions of course: some girls don’t like it, and some guys are gay.

I submit that The Notebook is the defining sad movie for people of my generation; that is, if you asked a random sampling of people in their twenties to name one sad movie, The Notebook would be named most often. At the very least, it’s a movie that pretty much everyone has seen, whether fifty times by choice, or that time their girlfriends forced them to. And as such, everyone has an opinion on it. Many people are very vociferous about these opinions; FOTB Ellen Barr was once called “heartless” for not crying at it. It's strange to me that this movie seems so polarizing. To a cynical observer, it might appear like this is your standard dichotomy between people who are susceptible to sappy oversentimentality and those who are "above it." But I have a feeling it’s more complicated than that. I suppose I’m about to find out.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “The movie focuses on an old man reading a story to an old woman in a nursing home. The story he reads follows two young lovers named Allie Hamilton and Noah Calhoun, who meet one evening at a carnival. But they are separated by Allie's parents who dissaprove (sic) of Noah's unwealthy family, and move Allie away. After waiting for Noah to write her for several years, Allie meets and gets engaged to a handsome young soldier named Lon. Allie, then, with her love for Noah still alive, stops by Noah's 200-year-old home that he restored for her, 'to see if he's okay.' It is evident that they still have feelings for each other, and Allie has to choose between her fiancĂ© and her first love.”

What FOTB Sarah Orton thinks of the movie: I have never been able to pass up watching The Notebook while finding something to watch on TV. I get sucked into the sad. There has also never been a time that I’ve watched the movie without crying. Never! How ridiculous is that? So, why do I continue to watch it? If one searched for “the notebook” in my Gmail, he or she would probably end up quite nervous about my mental state. Lines such as, “The tears are starting to form, good God,” “Here are the tears!” and “SOBBBBBBING,” are a slight cause for alarm. The best line I came across was, “We talked last night? Sorry I blacked out because of the sadness.” Unhealthy. [Editor's Note: If I know our Sarah, she may have also blacked out from the drinkin'.]

The Notebook is the quintessential movie of highs and lows. The only reason that people are (at least I am) willing to black out from the sadness is the fact that 5 minutes earlier they were radiating with the happiness of love. I think that’s the reason why I can’t stop watching it either: take the good with the bad. I know at the end of the movie I will inevitably be sobbing while listening to “I’ll Be Seeing You”, but it doesn’t erase the preciousness of Noah and Allie’s sappy story. Also, while I may not be able to relate to the characters themselves, who doesn’t want to relate to that story? Why sure, I’d love to be a stunningly beautiful Southern belle who has to choose between a clean-cut wealthy soldier and my scruffy, yet sensitive, hunk of a summer love. Thanks for those options!  

What I thought of the movie: Well here’s the thing. It’s kind of like there are two different movies to talk about here: the flashback scenes with Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams in the 1940s, and the present-day scenes with James Garner and Gena Rowlands. And I think I agree with GFOTB Julia Falkenstern that it might have been better if The Notebook just consisted of the flashback scenes. That part of the movie is a nice, simple, classic love story kind of thing, and I really enjoyed it. But the movie isn’t content to be a nice, simple, classic love story. It had to shoehorn in some real mawkish old-people scenes and an ending that was, to me, literally laughable.

(I’d say SPOILER ALERT, but (a) ugh and (b) I am the only person alive who hadn’t seen this movie until just now, so whatever.) So James Garner reads to Gena Rowlands, who we find out suffers from dementia, and if there’s any doubt that Garner and Rowlands are the old-people versions of Gosling and McAdams, the movie just up and tells us that at some point. No real suspense there. So the only real point of these scenes is to set us up for the fact that she doesn’t remember him, and then toy with our emotions when she has a moment of clarity that dissipates moments later. Yes, when we find out that she wrote the notebook for him to read to her so that she can “come back to her,” that’s very romantical, don’t get me wrong. But then he has a heart attack, and recovers, and finds her and out of nowhere she remembers him again and they literally lie down together and DIE AT THE SAME TIME. This all happens! C’mon now. They got greedy.

The other thing of note here is that they changed the ending of the book. I was not aware that the book had a different ending until I discussed it with FOTB Allie Hagan. Before she told me what happened, I thought, “Man, I hate when they do that. I bet the filmmakers just wanted to sap it up some more so they went for the double-death thing. The ending of the book had to have been better.” Here is the transcript of the ensuing conversation:

Allie: they don't die. they have old people sex in the nursing home.
me: OOF

How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: At the end of the day, the problems I had with the present-day scenes didn’t really take away from the good stuff in the flashbacks. (I will admit that this is partially because Rachel McAdams is, like, stupid hot. YOWZA.) The Gosling/McAdams story was, for the most part, nice and classic and really relatable. I totally bought the two of them and their summer fling. It was like that song from Grease, only much less homoerotic. Like I said before, it’s quite simple. Boy meets girl, boy and girl have a summer fling, boy and girl almost do the do in a haunted house, girl leaves town, boy writes to girl once a day for a year (by the way, think about how boring those letters must have gotten even like a month into that), girl’s mom is a total b and hides all the (probably boring) letters, girl meets boy #2 while boy #1 is off at war, boy #1 gets all sad and builds a house and grows long hair and a beard, and they get back together eventually. It’s good stuff. I related especially the “growing long hair and a beard” thing. Exhibit AExhibit B. I rest my case.

Say what you will about me, but let no one deny that I enjoy a good romance film. Usually of the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan AOL-related comedy variety, but occasionally the more serious ones too. Love stories are tricky things in real life, and they only really work in movies when they acknowledge and reflect this complexity to a certain extent, while also making things seem simpler and more magical than they actually are in real life. I think the love story in this movie works so well because we believe, from the beginning, that these two are MFEO. Even when Gosling is kind of stalkery. It works because McAdams has this coy smile that says to us, "Yeah I know he's kind of stalkery, but just go with it. It'll be alright."  We believe her, and we are rewarded for this belief when it gets all dreamy later on. But then they bring in the complexity when she faces an actual difficult choice (even though we know who she chooses), because James Marsden is actually a really nice/really rich person. And we cheer when she chooses her soul mate/the poor guy. It's a rare movie that appeals to both my hopeless romantic and class warrior sides.

(Oh and also there’s a dramatic scene where they kiss in the rain. Taylor Swift must have LOVED it.)

How I felt after the movie ended: This whole time I’ve been vaguely confused with the super-ridiculous popularity of this movie (it made $115 million at the box office) in the context of its super-sadness. But seeing it and focusing on the nice romantic parts as I did, I kind of get it. The movie is memorable to the people who watch it for one thing, while being (to me at least) notable/notorious for another thing. And this divide really defined the movie for me, as you’ve no doubt noticed at this point. So while I’m pretty glad that no girls ever forced me to watch it and called me "heartless" when I didn't cry, I’m glad I’ve finally been Notebooked.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Green Mile.


The Green Mile (Frank Darabont, 1999)

(Note: I apologize for the slow bloggin' of late. Holidays and such. But I'll pick it up soon. Forthcoming on the blog: Nicholas Sparks Week, more films about childhood and dogs, and the epic Titanic post with assistance from known cold-weather fan and friend/current houseguest of the blog Ellen Barr. Stay tuned.)

Category: Sad movie about death row inmates. Capital punishment used to be one of the most prominent hot-button issues in this country, but it seems like lately it has been surpassed by a number of other things, including abortion, gay marriage, and the Edward/Jacob debate. At this point it’s mainly one of those conversations that you can always bring up if it’s a slow news day, like whether Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame. The death penalty is legal in most states; fifteen states and the District of Columbia have abolished it, including my home state of New York. (Liberals.) 

Not to get too political here (and I don’t really mean this in a political way, although I am personally opposed to the death penalty, but not in a loud or obnoxious way, I hope, and if for no other reason than this), but it feels kind of shocking to me when I read on the news that someone has been executed in the United States. I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked (there were fifty-two executions in the US in 2009, and over 3,000 inmates on death row as of 2010). It’s just that it’s illegal in pretty much every other developed/Western country. I don’t mean to incur the wrath of the Mitt Romney types who worry about the US turning into France, but France might have something here. (If not anywhere else, those dirty cheese-eaters.)

The Green Mile is, I believe, the first film I have watched for this blog that falls into the category of sad movies that are over three hours long (three hours and eight minutes, to be exact). We’re upping the ante here. Soon to be covered in the blog are Titanic (three hours, fourteen minutes), The Sorrow and the Pity (four hours, eleven minutes), Angels in America (five hours, fifty-two minutes) and Shoah (eight hours, twenty-three minutes). My posts on these films will increase in length correspondingly, as the blog’s policy on eating one’s vegetables is very different than my personal one.

My familiarity with this issue: There’s obviously a great deal of dramatic gravity in the stories of death row inmates. (And in the case of Michael Clarke Duncan in this movie, actual gravity. He’s a hefty one!) I would add that for me, there’s also a certain degree of morbid curiosity that I hold about it: whether or not these people feel remorse or continue to maintain their innocence, the whole eleventh-hour appeals for clemency thing, and of course the actual executions themselves, which are often attended by spectators. (I myself tried to snag tickets for Timothy McVeigh’s execution on StubHub, to no avail.)

As mentioned before, I feel that I'm pretty solidly anti-death penalty. And while I suppose I would want to kill someone if they did something terrible to my family or friends, it’s probably not a good idea, in that situation, for the government to allow me to make that decision. Like in one of the presidential debates in 1988, they asked the supposedly soft-on-crime Michael Dukakis: what if somebody raped and murdered your wife, would you support the death penalty then? Which is just such a fundamentally unfair question to ask in a presidential debate that it seems laughable now. It’s one step above, “if you like it so much why don’t you marry it?” The point is that we have laws, which are informed by morals and all that, and the idea that the state clearly says that murder is moral in some cases does not sit well with me. Added to which is the list that I linked to earlier; the idea of killing someone who was later found to be innocent is unfathomably awful. Basically what I'm saying here is that I am the sort of person who archives e-mails in Gmail rather than deleting them.

Many movies on the subject have been critically acclaimed, and for good reason. I recall being very moved by Dead Man Walking when I watched it (although that may have been during my high school Susan Sarandon fangirl phase), and I will be watching Monster’s Ball for this blog in the near future. (I hear there’s a hot hot Billy Bob Thornton sex scene!)

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “It's just another normal day on the Green Mile for prison guard Paul Edgecomb. That is until huge John Coffey is sent there. Unlike the hulking brute that Coffey looks like, he is in fact kind at heart. Whilst watching over Coffey, Edgecomb learns that there is more to Coffey than can be seen.” I love how this starts. Makes it seem like a wacky comedy. Here comes huge John Coffey with his hijinks! Good Lord these are terrible.

What I thought of the movie: Well it’s quite slow. As can be expected from a movie that is over three hours long. But there’s some good stuff in it. All in all I definitely liked it. This is the movie that Frank Darabont made immediately after making The Shawshank Redemption, also a prison film based on a story by Stephen King, and so the comparisons here are kind of obvious (even though they’re about different things, at heart). And obviously it falls short of Shawshank, as the vast majority of other movies that exist do. I’d say The Green Mile is less successful partially because the material just isn’t as good (i.e., no baller narration from Morgan Freeman), and partially because, in general, things are never as good the second time around. Plus it’s just SO LONG.

But like I said, there’s a lot to like about it. Tom Hanks is awesome, as always. (He’s even charming while suffering from a urinary tract infection. Yes, that is a major plot point in this film.) Michael Clarke Duncan and Sam Rockwell are particularly good playing characters that could have easily been caricatures. There is a cute mouse named Mister Jingles. I liked the spiritual/supernatural elements of the story, although sometimes the visual effects are kind of laughable. The real heavy stuff at the end resonates very well, and that kind of makes the whole three hours worth it. Also, a character actually says, “What happens on the mile, stays on the mile.” Who knew the Vegas tourism bureau was a friend of the blog?

How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: As a renowned claustrophobic with a healthy fear of authority, I have done everything possible in my life to stay out of prison. So far I’ve been successful. But as this movie shows, it is possible to be thrown in prison for a crime you didn’t commit, which is just about the scariest proposition of all time to me. I’ve seen movies, like The Fugitive, where the wrongfully accused person stoically maintains their innocence (occasionally getting emotional, but remaining calm for the most part). I cannot picture myself doing that. I can picture myself screaming, non-stop, from my arrest through my incarceration, trial, sentencing, everything. Just non-stop wailing. Michael Clarke Duncan gets scared of the dark in this movie, but aside from that he’s pretty calm.

I do really enjoy movies that feature Christ figures, because figuring out all the allusions to the story of Christ makes me feel smart. Like Duncan’s character, John Coffey. Look at those initials! That can’t have been an accident. And also he literally heals people by touching them and brings mice back to life. I don’t remember whether or not Jesus brought mice back to life, but I’m sure He could have if He wanted to. The portrayal of John Coffey was actually kind of controversial at the time, with Spike Lee citing it as an example of the “Magical Negro” archetype (defined as “a supporting, sometimes mystical stock character in fiction who, by use of special insight or powers, helps the white protagonist get out of trouble”) I’m literally terrified to type anything more on this matter. I love the song “Magic” by B.o.B. And I do love Spike Lee’s films. 25th Hour is one of the great Taste My Sad films (here is an open invitation for all friends of the blog who have not seen it to see it and write a guest post about it). So, take that as you will.

How I felt after the movie was over: The last half hour or so of the movie packs a good wallop. So while I was certainly sleepy, I was also quite moved for a little while. Then I started thinking about how much I want to watch The Shawshank Redemption again. I feel bad slagging off this movie in comparison to Shawshank, but at the end of the day it just feels like a less talented sibling. Not untalented, just less talented. To which celebrity can The Green Mile best be compared? You guessed it: Frank Stallone.