Tuesday, August 30, 2011

One Day.

One Day (Lone Scherfig, 2011)

Semi-Important Note: So this is the new romantic film with Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. It is still in theatres. The fact that I am writing this post is itself a SPOILER ALERT. Many people have gone and will go to see this movie expecting something that is not Taste My Sad material. I am sorry if you were one of those people before seeing this link and thus realizing that it's actually sad. Don’t read the rest of the post if you don’t want to know why and how it is sad. If you don’t want to see this (OTHER SPOILER ALERT) shitty movie, then read on. I get indignant.

Category: Sad version of When Harry Met Sally. So here’s what I know about this movie (currently in theatres!): it follows two friends through the years, friends who are clearly going to get together at some point (I guess the poster is its own SPOILER ALERT). The clear analogue here is When Harry Met Sally, a classic Woody Allen ripoff romantic comedy. Except this version probably doesn’t end with a romantic New Year’s Eve speech given by a short Jewish Long Island native. Different strokes.

Harry and Sally, as everyone knows, were two friends who turned out to be in love with each other, and figure this out at the end of the movie and live happily ever etc. In Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, Chuck Klosterman awesomely explained why this is a dangerous, unfair thing for people to expect of their platonic friends: “Most of the time, the two involved parties are not really ‘best friends.’ Inevitably, one of the people has been in love with the other from the first day they met, while the other person is either (a) wracked with guilt and pressure, or (b) completely oblivious to the espoused attraction.” Harry and Sally situations, if they ever do work out, are probably very rare and usually not really like what happens in that movie. And most of the time they end terribly and awkwardly and friendship ruining-ly. I’ve written before that romantic comedies can be depressing, and in that regard When Harry Met Sally may take the cake. As Klosterman writes, “Nora Ephron accidentally ruined a lot of lives.”

Also, much like The Trip, this is a deceptively sad movie that happens to be in theatres right now. The blog is nothing if not timely.

My familiarity with this issue: I make no secret about my deep romantic love for just about all my platonic friends, male and female, so as to avoid any potential Harry-Sally (or Harry-Harry) situations. Honesty is the best policy.

Initially I had no interest in seeing this movie, obviously. (Its title did put me in mind of the Barenaked Ladies classic "One Week," a happy-sounding tune whose lyrics are kind of sad, I guess. #foreshadowing?) I’d dismissed it as another dumb romantic comedy for the young Anglophile set. I read that Anne Hathaway, who I actually like, was playing British in this, and I figured that seeing her flit about and hearing her probably-terrible accent would push her dangerously close to what I like to “Paltrow territory” (where all the absolutely insufferable rich famous actresses reside). But then I came across a blog post that talked about how critics were avoiding talking about the sad twist ending. So I figured I’d blog it up. I then discussed the film with FOTB Melissa Passarelli, whose thoughts are presented below.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “Emma and Dexter meet on the night of their university graduation. We see them every year on the anniversary of that date – July 15. Emma is smart but success doesn't come quickly for her, whereas for Dexter, success and women come very easily. Through the years they grow apart as their lives take different directions and they meet other people. But as they grow apart from those other people and their lives start taking opposite directions again, Emma and Dexter find that they belong with each other.”

What FOTB Melissa Passarelli thought of the movie: Under normal circumstances, this movie would have made me very sad. I probably would have cried the first time it was clear that the two main characters needed to get together but couldn’t because the fates are cruel (I’ve been known to start crying within 15 seconds of watching a sentimental commercial). But instead, One Day filled me with ire, not least of all because it foreshadowed that Jim Sturgess will not age well. But seriously, are you kidding me? They finally get their shit together, and then Anne Hathaway literally gets hit by a bus? [Editor’s Note: THAT HAPPENS.] Is that the message you’re trying to send me, that as soon as you find happiness, somebody dies? GAH.

By the time the aforementioned bus scene happens the audience knows that something shitty is about to go down, so I just sat there waiting to be pissed off. And then the movie continues for another 20 minutes, and we’re supposed to feel all bad for Jim Sturgess and hopeful about his personal growth. NO. I thought I was seeing a romantic comedy, or at least a dramatic British version of When Harry Met Sally. If I wanted to watch a realistic story, I would see an independent movie, or an episode of Gossip Girl. End of song.

What I thought of the movie: Agreed. Oof. The thing is that I didn’t totally hate it at all for the first 85% or so. It’s not without its charms. Anne Hathaway’s accent is super-annoying, yes, but the writers give her some good quips. Jim Sturgess’s character is an asshole, yes, but he’s a believable one. The movie doesn’t try to dance around the conundrum that Klosterman talked about. It acknowledges that the two are MFEO (even though it’s hard to understand why Hathaway pines for Sturgess all throughout his Asshole Years), and that she's in love with him pretty much from Day One, but that he needs to go and screw around and take drugs for a while before he can get his shit together. So it’s not unrealistic.

The plot gimmickry is pretty annoying, though. The conceit of the movie, as noted in the plot summary, is that it only shows us what happens on July 15, the date the two meet and almost do the do in 1988 after just having finished school. So each successive scene has to include a ton of expository dialogue to fill us in on where each character is at that point in their lives. "So, you're still doing X, are you?" That sort of thing. There’s really no way around it, but that’s what happens when you’re so reliant on a gimmick. There’s a lot of telling, not showing, which I’m told (shown?) is the wrong way to do it.

And then of course there’s the climactic event in the movie that Melissa talked about. They get married and she’s riding her bike and then she gets pancaked by a bus. It’s just outrageous. I’ll discuss this in greater depth later.

How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: Here’s a question: Was I the only straight man in America to go see this movie by himself on a Sunday afternoon? I obviously don’t have access to that kind of data, but yes, yes I was. While I do usually like going to the movies by myself, I did feel slightly self-conscious about this one. The audience for this film turned out to be a whole lot of single girls (in packs; one group seemed big and enthusiastic enough to be mistaken for a bachelorette party, which I can’t imagine was actually the case), a few young couples, and two middle-aged gay men. And me. 

I began to worry about what would happen if someone gave me a look, or even said something to me about what in the world I was doing there by myself. It would have required me to try to briefly explain the concept of this blog to a stranger. And even in normal social situations in which the blog comes up in conversation with new people, I often have serious difficulty explaining it, what with my crippling social anxiety and all. I suppose I could have also pretended to be gay ("OMG I just LOVE Anne Hathaway"). So neither option was particularly attractive to me. Luckily I didn't have to do either. I got a few strange looks entering the theatre, but nothing more than usual.

How I felt after the movie ended: So there’s a lot of hubbub about the ending of the movie, and it’s pretty well justified. Obviously a movie can do whatever it wants. But there’s a reason everyone is disappointed or weirded out or annoyed by the ending: it's because it doesn’t fit with the rest of the movie at all. Here’s the problem: assuming that the audience was enjoying the movie up until the climactic incident (kind of a major assumption, but still), they were enjoying it as a certain kind of lighter entertainment. Hathaway’s quips, the Britishness, the overwhelming gimmickry of the framing plot device: we are set up to believe that this movie is not Schindler’s List, but is, as Melissa noted, a more dramatic British version of WHMS. Then the bus comes and ruins everything (including but not limited to Anne Hathaway's structural integrity). It’s not even that we’re not expecting it, it’s that it’s wildly out of touch with the tone of the rest of the movie.

A movie like this, somehow, begs the question of what the artist’s duty to his audience really is. I’ve pondered this question a lot with respect to a lot of my favorite TV shows, especially Lost. Everyone freaked the fuck out about the end of Lost. They were disappointed, sure, but moreover they were ANGRY. They felt like the producers of the show had deliberately led them into a maze for the previous six years, knowing all along that the maze had no exit. The phrase “wasted” was used a lot, and not in my usual Saturday-night sense, but rather in the “you wasted six years of my life” sense.

I continue to find this argument patently ridiculous, and not just because I actually liked the last episode of Lost. I’m not saying people didn’t have a right to be disappointed by the ending; many reasonable people were. I’m saying that the reaction was unbelievably unfair and over-the-top. Lost was a singular achievement in television. People were entranced and captivated by the show for some portion of those six years. And I believe that in becoming so entranced and so captivated they relinquished the right to claim that their time had been “wasted.” Once you’ve given yourself over to a piece of art, you can hope for a fitting conclusion, but you can’t retroactively deny how you previously felt. It can't "ruin it for you."

I’m currently similarly entranced and captivated by the show Breaking Bad. I will go on record right now as saying that even if the end of Breaking Bad sucks – even if it ends with Walter White and Jesse Pinkman getting gay-married in upstate New York and becoming candy manufacturers – it won’t take away from the brilliance of the show at large. I could never disavow it. It’s already given me too much for a shitty ending to take away. For Lost and Breaking Bad, the artists had already more than fulfilled their duty to me long before the shows’ (actual or eventual) conclusions.

But a movie like One Day – as its on tenuous ground to begin with – has no such leeway. It can’t afford to believe that it’s something grander or nobler than it is, and it desperately can’t afford a shitty ending. And the climax is just that. It attempts to elevate the movie, to turn it into some sort of Oscar-bait high drama, and that's not possible that late in the game. 

That, I think, speaks to the true duty of an artist to his audience: to always understand/never forget what it is you’re doing. (My fake ending of Breaking Bad would probably qualify as a violation of this rule, to be fair.) The reaction to the climactic event of One Day has been so pronounced because this unspoken contract between artist and audience was, like Anne Hathaway's spine, shattered. It’s similar to how angry I was at the ending of Pay it Forward, a supposedly inspirational movie capriciously transmuted into senseless melodrama due to the filmmakers’ naked desire to manipulate the audience. With One Day, I just think there was a profound misunderstanding of what people were getting out of the pre-bus part of the movie.

I guess it's too late now, but my advice to people who actually would want to see this movie would be to go, make fun of Hathaway's accent, gawk at Sturgess's poor haircuts, etc., and then leave right after they get married. Don't wait for her to get on the bike. Just go, and tell your friends you saw this mediocre British romcom with a weird gimmick and not the worst ending you've ever seen. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Into the Wild.

Into the Wild (Sean Penn, 2007)

Category: When I covered 127 Hours last year, I called it a sad movie about extreme outdoorsy types and the consequences of their extreme outdoorsiness. At the time I talked about my uneasiness with those people and their actions, but obviously still find myself vicariously drawn to stories about them. Any kind of irrational behavior is just inherently interesting, I suppose. It’s why we all watch Jersey Shore.

Into the Wild is also a sad movie with a controversial/douchey protagonist. Christopher McCandless, played in the film by Emile Hirsch, was a very complex and polarizing young man. Opinions about him and his fateful trek have been quite divided since the publication of Jon Krakauer’s book, on which the film is based. Some believe McCandless is a romantic, misunderstood soul whose adventures are comparable to those of the transcendentalists. Others see him as an idiotic, inconsiderate fool, who abandoned his family for a selfish, pointless quest. I guess the sadness of the movie, for you, depends on which side of the line you fall on. No matter where you stand, however, we can all agree that his pseudonym, Alexander Supertramp, is fannnntastic. But we’ll get to my actual opinion later.

Also, for the first time ever on the blog, this is a sad movie based on a book that I have recently read! Reading is fun(damental), everyone. Even when reading sad books! In fact, I’m thinking of starting an official Taste My Sad Book Club, and am currently soliciting dour ladies in the greater DC area to join me.

My familiarity with this issue: Known Alaskan adventurer and FOTB Ellen Barr is currently in(to) the wild, but I trust she and her cohorts have more maps and food and contact with the outside world than Christopher McCandless. Several other FsOTB do enjoy the nature, and I applaud them for that. But, of course, since my year in (wild and wonderful) West Virginia, the furthest into the wild that I’ve personally traveled to is Northeast DC.

Christopher McCandless’s trek into the Alaskan wild was the last part of his two-year-long, post-college odyssey throughout North America. A great deal of that time was spent hitchhiking, which is one of the most terrifyingly stupid things for a person to do, according to me, and every authority figure I knew when I was a kid. Hitchhiking was probably the activity that I was most strongly prohibited from doing, with the possible exception of drunk driving. (Because with drunk driving, at least you're in control of the situation! I'm so sorry.) Sure, hitchhikers apparently write popular guides to the galaxy, but they are also frequently stabbed by the crazy dudes who pick them up. Unless it’s an emergency, I can think of no activity that I would be more wary of doing, save for eating broccoli.

I’m writing this on Friday, so let’s also note that there is a good chance that I will get to experience what it’s like to live in the wild after this weekend #hurricaneirene #myhouseisold. (Update: #thehouseisstillstanding.)

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “Based on a true story. After graduating from Emory University, top student and athlete Christopher McCandless abandoned his possessions, gave his entire $24,000 savings account to charity and hitchhiked to Alaska to live in the wilderness. Along the way, Christopher encounters a series of characters who shape his life.”

What I thought of the movie: It’s crazy good. And real sad. It’s two and a half hours long but never really drags. There’s a lot to cover, and Sean Penn ably covers everything that matters: from the people he meets during his trek, to his desolate final months in Alaska, to the story of his family’s fruitless search for him. This is important, and tricky, but Penn pulls it off via voiceover narration by McCandless’s sister (played by Jena Malone, late of Stepmom, OOF). All the actors in the movie are great, too: particularly Emile Hirsch as the protagonist, and Hal Holbrook as Ronald Franz, his elderly friend in California. (The stuff with Franz was by far the best part of the book, for me, and Penn wisely saves this episode of McCandless’s story until the end, almost two hours into the movie. Seriously, the book/movie are worth reading/seeing for that episode alone.)

I’ve read a lot of reviews that say that the movie is so good because it’s a personal story for Sean Penn. I suppose this implies that many film critics think that Sean Penn is a crazy person. And that might be true. But I think it’s because Penn understands McCandless’s contradictions, and is able to see both sides of the debate over his character. At times, McCandless is depicted as an impetuous child, at others, as a visionary thrill-seeker (in the most virtuous/inspirational sense of that term). It’s clear that Penn (and Krakauer) view McCandless in a positive light, often extremely positive. But the movie doesn’t force us to agree with this view, which I appreciated.

How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: This one is as close to zero percent as we get in this category. Christopher McCandless graduated from college, and occasionally had a beard. That’s basically what we’ve got in common here.

I went into reading the book assuming that I would think McCandless was either a kook or an asshole. I think the latter is far truer than the former. As a sheltered, air-conditioning-dependent white man, I have a great deal of respect for people who have any sort of practical knowledge at all (how to “live off the land” or “fix cars” or “cook food”). McCandless was foolish, yes, but to survive that long, homeless and car-less and often penniless, is something that I could never do. Not that I would ever want to, of course. Having a home has always been one of my core values.

I think the main complaint about McCandless – that he was dumb and not respectful of the harsh realities of nature – kind of misses the point. For the most part, he didn’t really care about other people or what they thought of him. He never asked for help, often turning it down when it was offered to him. He never requested the aid of the government, or emergency services, or anything like that. If he had survived, I can see him having become a Tea Party Congressman from Alaska, not bathing for weeks, stinking up the House building even more than Boehner’s spray tan. So maybe he was dumb, but you can’t kill him for that. There are plenty of dumber people in Alaska.

I’m glad that Penn didn’t give short shrift to the plight of McCandless’s family. He pretty much tricked them into not being able to ever find him again, having his mail held at the post office until months after he departed on his trek, so that he’d have a head start. McCandless’s animosity toward his parents was not unjustified, but it’s no excuse. He was, as mentioned before, an asshole. He toyed with the emotions of his parents and his sister, with whom he was purportedly very close, as he did with the people with whom he came into contact on his journey. McCandless possessed very real charisma. He was a unique, singular force in the lives of many people who he met. Whether he wanted to do so or not, he had a major effect on dozens of people who he met along the way, not to mention his family. And he didn’t give a shit about any of them. I can’t get down with that.

How I felt after the movie ended: And yet, as mentioned, both the book and the movie were transfixing. As a testament to what human beings are capable of, and the documentation of an extreme, they are essential. Especially to people like me. The hurricane has now passed, but if you think I’m going to go outside at any point in the next week, you’re as crazy as Christopher “Ron Paul 2012” McCandless.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Trip.

The Trip (Michael Winterbottom, 2010)

Category: As the title suggests, this is a sad road trip film. Road trips are a fun concept for us clockwatching city-dwellers. It’s Tuesday morning, the coffee machine is broken, and Marcia from accounting nattering on about her kids. Who in that situation wouldn’t prefer to be out on the open road, an old map (or GPS) your only guide, listening to “Life is a Highway” on repeat? Everyone likes a good road trip.

They can get sad, though. Long car rides are prone to occasional fits of melancholy and/or horrific accidents, both of which really tend to suck the fun. The idea of the open road is a very romantic one, but actually being in a car with someone for days on end is less so. Particularly if that person enjoys Funions. And so road trips often start out with a great deal of fun and hope, but end up being very disappointing. Much like marriage. Movies in this genre include Sideways, Little Miss Sunshine, Wild Hogs, and Chuck Klosterman’s Killing Yourself to Live, which is not a movie.

More importantly, however, this is a deceptively sad movie. Hard to see these coming. We’ll discuss this in greater depth later.

My familiarity with this issue: I’ve been on my share of long car voyages, a few that could be reasonably considered “road trips.” They’ve been generally quite positive, actually. I think this is largely due to the fact that much of the time on these trips was spent reading aloud from choose-your-own-adventure books and memorizing the Ludacris verse of the Justin Bieber song “Baby.” When you’ve got activities as golden as that, life is but a dream. I also used to take a lot of long car rides by myself, and those were great fun as well. Usually people tell you to quiet down when you’re singing Kelly Clarkson at the top of your lungs.

Coincidentally, several friends of the blog have gone on road trips this past summer. Here are some of their views on the subject:

·       Zach Gibson: “Road trips are fun.”
·       Evan Chiacchiaro: “I really liked going on my road trip.”
·       Josh Benjamin: “Some road trip, eh?”
·       Steve Isaac: “I actually did not go on a road trip this summer.”

Thanks fellas.

As for the deceptively sad bit: well, this happens to us all the time, doesn’t it? (FOTB Katie Ross knows what I’m talkin’ about.) We settle in to watch a nice movie that we’re maybe not all that familiar with, and we find that it’s sadder than we expected (or there’s a unexpected twist that smacks you in the face with sadness). At this point, short of leaving the theater so as not to ruin your mascara, you must adjust your mindset to allow for a sadder experience than was anticipated. Recommended ways to do this include stabbing yourself in the leg with a paper clip, or thinking about the time that your dog ran into the street when you were eleven.

Luckily, however, I did not have to go through that ritual for this film. I ran into FsOTB Duncan Marchbank and Alex Kalinowski after they saw the film, and they mentioned its surprising sadness. I had been planning to see it anyway, as I heard there were funny British people in the film. But upon hearing this, my interest took on a second, more blog-related component.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “When Steve Coogan is asked by The Observer to tour the country's finest restaurants, he envisions it as the perfect getaway with his beautiful girlfriend. But, when she backs out on him, he has no one to accompany him but his best friend and source of eternal aggravation, Rob Brydon.”

What I thought of the movie: Well, it was definitely the funniest movie that I’ve watched for this blog (slightly edging out Hotel Rwanda). Coogan and Brydon’s seemingly improvised conversations, impressions, insults, and flights of fancy are endlessly amusing. I say “endless” because I’ve watched this clip about fifty times since seeing the movie and I still can’t stop laughing at it.

Where the sad stuff comes in is a bit trickier to describe. I don’t want to go terribly in depth about this because it’s still in theaters and I think you should see it. But suffice it to say that it’s not one of those movies where some big tragic event takes place and changes the tone. It’s more about the feeling of melancholy that pervades, almost entirely via Coogan’s “character” (they play versions of themselves), and manifests itself in their occasionally very tense conversations. The differences between the two men’s familial status (Brydon happily married with a child, Coogan tomcatting around and trying to salvage a relationship with some American chick) and their success (Brydon has greater mass appeal in Britain, which surprised me, as I’d never heard of him and I love me some Coogan) contribute to the complexity of their relationship.

How I, John Krizel, related to this movie: The movie really explores the relationship between being depressed and being funny. Coogan’s upset about his career and his romantic life; he wanted to take the trip with his girlfriend, but she might not be his girlfriend anymore. So he’s forced to ask the genial Brydon, and occasionally directs his frustrations toward him during the trip by trying to assert his superiority to him in his supposed area of expertise: doing impressions. (Oh the impressions in this movie! They're all pretty fantastic.) It’s not that Coogan dislikes Brydon: they’re not really friends, but they’re not enemies, or even frenemies. He’s plainly jealous of him, but Brydon is too goofy to be a suitable villain. So Coogan is even deprived of having a satisfactory target for his enmity.

There have been dozens of films about misanthropic artists (particularly comedians), and it’s not usually a genre I’m all that into. Obviously it’s hard to feel sorry for people who make a lot of money by pretending to be someone else, even if they’re doing it in a way that forfeits their “artistic integrity.” (Poor people don’t really worry about artistic integrity, as they’re far more concerned with eating food and paying rent.) Still, I couldn’t help but be drawn in to Coogan’s issues.

And again, I think it goes back to how funny he and Brydon are. You pay more attention to people who are funny, because you never know when they’re going to say something funny. It gives them license to be serious sometimes, and allows them to reflect on issues that might seem turgid in the hands of more serious people. Even as I found myself thinking about how Coogan’s problems reminded me of a popular hashtag that I’m trying not to use as much anymore, I accepted the movie on its own terms. It’s not trying to be Schindler’s List, after all.

How I felt after the movie ended: As mentioned, the sad is kind of hidden in this movie (deceptively so!). It’s interspersed neatly among bushels of funny observations about haute cuisine and natural beauty and Michael Caine’s voice. Which is a pretty good form of sad, all things considered. I’m taking both aspects of it away from the movie, by both writing this post, and sending this clip to everyone I know. Gentlemen, to bed.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Way We Were.

The Way We Were (Sydney Pollack, 1973)

Category: Sad star-crossed lovers film. This is a classic genre. From Romeo and Juliet to Gnomeo and Juliet, people from different backgrounds have been trying to get together, with mixed results. Often the villain in these films is “society,” which is in some ways more difficult to fight than alien invaders from outer space. At least with alien invaders you can program a computer virus on their mothership that weakens their defenses, while the President of the United States leads an all-out worldwide fighter jet assault on the rest of their ships. With society, if some old lady sees you hanging out with the wrong person even ONCE, then that is all anyone will talk about for the rest of your life. Welcome to Earth.

I am told this is also a sad movie about the blacklist (the one in the 50s with the Communists, not the one at Hop Sing’s). This was a tough period for suspected Communists, actual Communists, and people with glasses. The search for Communist sympathizers in Hollywood seems now to be one of the most frivolous enterprises that the United States government has undertaken in its history, one that destroyed the livelihoods and reputations of hundreds of people. Seriously though, who gives a crap if Hollywood writers and actors are Communists? They could be fascist anarchists; it still wouldn’t change the fact that I don’t own a car. I am all about the references today. (PS the other movie in this category worth noting is The Front, with Zero Mostel and Woody Allen. Quite a film.)

My familiarity with this issue: The lovers in this film come from very different backgrounds: she a Marxist Jew, he a carefree WASP. I am neither of these, although I’m far closer to one than the other. Nor has the universe ever conspired to keep me apart from someone, unless you define “the universe” as “the haters.” (Try as you might, they gon’ hate.)

They say that opposites attract, and I think that’s a nice idea, although I don’t know how true it is. I think a lot of people don’t really want to know about other kinds of people aside from themselves, and choose their mates accordingly. And of course, other people like challenging themselves when it comes to partners. Although I don't care how Jewy you are, Robert Redford is not a "challenge."

I’ve read a fair amount about the blacklist, one of those ridiculous things, like segregation, that’s all the scarier for how recently it occurred. The fact that the government painstakingly researched people’s pasts, who they’d associated with, what organizations’ meetings they’d attended, etc., is a frightening thought, and an uncomfortable reminder of how precarious our civil liberties still are in this day and age. (Watch the tweets, everyone.) Luckily, my past is not terribly checkered. Whenever I attended meetings of the local Communist party, I always signed a fake name on the signup sheet. (I usually went with “Micah Lubens.”) And short of a youthful dalliance with Bill Ayers and the Weathermen, I’ve managed to avoid bombing any corporations in the past few years (although Lord knows I’ve been tempted). It’s a good thing no one reads this blog.

So obviously I’m not down with McCarthyism, but I do like that the guy got an –ism out of his own name. That’s rarefied air: off the top of my head I can think of Buddha, Darwin and, hilariously, Marx, Lenin and Mao who have done likewise. So let’s say mixed company. Hey here's an idea for all the FsOTB out there: please comment with suggestions on what the ideology of Krizelism might entail. I’m thinking something like very, very neurotic indignation. With a touch of diabetes.

Most importantly: I learned about this movie from my mom, as it is a personal favorite of hers. When I told her I was going to watch it for the blog, she said, and I quote: “If you badmouth this movie, you will be in trouble.” Duly noted.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “Katie and Hubbell are students in the same college but with very different lives. She is a communist compromised against the civil war in Spain and the rise of Hitler in Europe, and has to work to pay her studies. He is more interested in sports and a sceptic about politics. However, Katie is impressed by his charm and she still is when they meet some years after.”

What I thought of the movie: I liked it! I actually, for real, liked it. It’s good not having to lie to your mom.

The movie follows Katie Morosky (no relation to FOTB Kate Meroski) and Hubbell Gardiner (no relation to imaginary FOTB WASPy McSeersucker) from their college days in the '30s to the blacklist days of the '50s. It is fairly romantical, and ultimately sad in a way that I didn’t really expect. I’ll explain in a minute. Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford are interesting and believable enough as the attracted opposites. What the movie does best of all, I think, is balance the dreamy and realistic aspects of the story, such that you are swept up in their love story (because of the swelling music and the boat rides in Central Park), but also understand the difficulties they face.

They meet in college, where she’s yelling about the Spanish Civil War and he’s looking effortlessly handsome. There’s a spark there that remains unconsummated until after World War II, when she puts him up in her apartment in a vaguely creepy series of scenes (for a while he’s just not that into her). But it ends with her winning him over and it’s fairly dreamy for a while. They get married and move to LA so he can pursue his writing career, and it gets potentially blacklist-y. Her history of yelling and Communism is thus troublesome, and her refusal to keep shtum about it causes marital issues. This is the star-crossedness I was talking about. Not exactly Montagues and Capulets, of course, but then again LA is no Verona.

(SPOILERS etc.) And so the sad aspect of the movie was not really what I’d expected. Maybe I’ve just watched too many of these and am now just conditioned to assume that every heroine in a romantic film is going to die, but I kind of thought that Kate was gonna get cancer at some point. That didn’t happen. Instead, the sad stuff is that he thoughtlessly cheats on her while she’s pregnant (a major no-no, in my book). So they break up, after she has his baby, and move on with their lives. And because it wasn’t too melodramatic, it worked. They had some good times, they remembered the way they were, but it just didn’t work out in the end. I’d imagine that’s enough to get a lot of people crying.

How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: Usually I’ll decide which person I side with in a movie like this within like five minutes, but I found myself going back and forth in this one. On the one hand, I appreciate Kate Meroski’s verve and class warrior instincts, but on the other hand, I do like Robert Redford’s face. And also his desire to keep calm, carry on, and not yell at everyone who disagrees with you. Neither was perfect, and neither was always right. That doesn’t necessarily seem like a big deal, but a lot of movies aren’t good at depicting that.

I do really like movies that are set over two or three decades, partially because it’s fun to see older actors pretending they’re in college (like Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, or ol’ craggy Redford playing young Roy Hobbs in The Natural), but also because it’s just cool to have a perspective that doesn’t exist with our own actual lives. (It’s why I enjoy the E! True Hollywood Story program so much.) It’s also a restricting way of doing things, of course; things that are much more complicated in real life get simplified or eliminated completely (in this film, for example, we don’t really know anything about the two main characters’ families). The reason I liked this movie as much as I did is that it plants the seeds early – from the time that Babs and Redford meet, we know what the problems are going to be, and no amount of effort from either of them will be able to eliminate those problems. That’s the real sad part.

How I felt after the movie ended: I was discussing the movie with FOTB and fan of the movie (FOTM) Allie Hagan, and she echoed something I’d thought was weird: he stays with her until she has the baby, and then just up and leaves! They meet again by chance years later, in an epilogue, and they’re both with new people, and he asks how the baby is. The baby who presumably has no idea who her actual father is. That’s weird. I guess it’s what people did back in those days, but jeez.

But otherwise, of course, I was a fan. It kind of reminded me of my favorite movie ever, Annie Hall. Of course no one thinks of Annie Hall as a sad movie, because it’s unbelievably funny. But it’s essentially the same plot (down to the fact that going to LA always ruins everything): two people get together, and then they break up. Thus far in this blog post I have referenced or compared The Way We Were to Independence Day, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Romeo and Juliet and now Annie Hall. A combination of which would probably be the greatest movie ever. And while this movie isn’t the greatest ever, I’m still more than willing to admit that, as always, my mom was right.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Iron Giant.

The Iron Giant (Brad Bird, 1999)

Category: Sad animated film. Animated films afford animals, mythical creatures, and even inanimate objects the powers of speech and song and slapstick comedy. Oh, and crushing, crushing sadness. It’s safe to say that we are living in the Golden Age of the Sad Animated Film. Devotees will recall that the list of films at which I have cried, included in my very first post on this blog, included three recent Pixar films: WALL-E, Up, and Toy Story 3. I don’t know why Pixar, a company that ostensibly makes movies for children, devoted several years of production time solely to the goal of making adults cry. But I am both thankful and quite sniffly for their efforts.

Of course, the sad animated film is nothing new. Bambi is famously one of the saddest movies of all time (at least for non-hunting enthusiasts). I recall being profoundly saddened/freaked out by both The Lorax and FernGully: The Last Rainforest (recycling never seemed so URGENT). We’ve already discussed my distaste for the message of All Dogs Go to Heaven, but it is about dead dogs, after all. And pretty much every classic Disney movie from our childhood features extremely sad elements (Mufasa’s death in The Lion King being the prime example of this). It’s no wonder our generation is so depressed about everything all the goddamn time.

My familiarity with this issue: I’m told that after a few cold beverages I tend to get quite animated. Get out.

The animated films of our youth are one of the few things that snobby young adults, such as me and everyone I know, can all agree on. They remind us of our childhood, and they allow us the necessary ironic distance that we require for everything we claim to like. (I’m told this movie takes place in the 50s, which gives us the added bonus of feeling nostalgia for a period in history that we never actually experienced.) And so it’s pretty de rigueur for people of our generation to revere Disney films (as well as the Nickelodeon shows that are apparently being revived at the moment to great acclaim among my Facebook friends). They were shared experiences that we all had before we knew each other, or before we became who we are now. There’s a safety that comes from saying you love Aladdin, a safety that does not exist when you say you love Mumford and Sons. Plus it’s always fun to get drunk and sing “Colors of the Wind.” As a result, the movies are now imbued with a sadness that was completely absent when we were kids, because we now have jobs and bills and stuff.

There’s another advantage to watching animated films as an adult: namely, that we understand them on a different level than we did when we were younger. The Genie in Aladdin, for example, makes at least twenty references in his first scene alone that I’m sure I didn’t even remotely get when I was seven. (On the other hand, “He’s got the monkeys, he’s got the monkeys” is fun no matter how old you are.) I’ve watched some of the recent Pixar films with actual current children, and I know they’re not getting the same out of it as my friends and I do. It makes me feel superior. (Also incredibly angry when they talk all throughout the wordless montage at the beginning of Up.) But of course it also makes me feel a little sad, knowing that I’ve lost the innocence that the kids who watch them now have.  

This is one of those movies that somehow passed me by when I was younger. At least two reputable sources – FOTB Nate Wolfson and GFOTBOTB Rose O’Malley – have urged me to include it in the blog. Knowing just about nothing of the movie aside from the title, I’ve been pretty skeptical. I maintain a healthy fear of iron giants of all stripes. I don’t care how many feelings they have. I trust that this movie is going to try to change my mind, but I doubt it will work.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: "This is the story of a nine-year-old boy named Hogarth Hughes who makes friends with an innocent alien giant robot that came from outer space. Meanwhile, a paranoid U.S. Government agent named Kent Mansley arrives in town, determined to destroy the giant at all costs. It's up to Hogarth to protect him by keeping him at Dean McCoppin's place in the junkyard."


OK fine so it worked.

This movie is awesome. It was like Super 8 (by which I mean, it was like E.T.), but probably even better. In fact, I found myself thinking of Super 8 a lot during the movie: both involve mystery, nostalgia, kids in trouble, single parents, train accidents, evil government people, regeneration, and small-town charm. So many similarities! But this movie had the added benefit of Vin Diesel providing the voice of a giant robot.

It takes place in Maine in 1957, right after Sputnik (which also made me think of October Sky, awesomely), and centers on Hogarth (Hogarth!), a curious young boy who befriends the iron giant after saving it from electrical wires (with the help of a giant ON-OFF switch, natch). This all makes sense. With the help of his cautious single mom (Jennifer Aniston), and a beatnik (Harry Connick, Jr.) who makes art out of scrap metal (much like the cranky old man from season 4 of Friday Night Lights), Hogarth tries to protect the IG from the evil G-Man (voiced by Shooter McGavin) out to destroy it. That’s all I’m gonna say about it because it’s just too good to spoil. Suffice it to say it is definitely Taste My Sad material. OHHHHHHHHH.

But before the sad stuff (and remember, it's a kids movie so it's not like bleak or Holocaust-y levels of sad), it is just awesome, full of adventures and great cartoon villains and awesome robots. I can’t understand why it wasn’t more popular (by which I mean, why I hadn’t seen it yet): it’s very fast-paced and fun and just wonderful. Seriously. Go see it. I feel like Gene Shalit.

How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: I have found that I am far less curious, and far less willing to hang out with clearly non-human entities, than most child protagonists. Hogarth, who is like nine years old, was home alone, watching a horror film about sentient brains, when he heard a noise outside. All of these things are unacceptable on their own. But then of course he goes to investigate the noise, and that’s where it gets ridiculous. There’s the incident with the electrical wires, and all of a sudden Hogarth’s got himself a new pet. I was about his age when we got our cat, and I was uneasy about that.

He hides the IG in the shed (it’s a good thing he doesn’t have a dad during this part, because the dad would no doubt be tooling around in there at some point, something that a single mom has no time to do), and they go on frequent playdates where he teaches the IG English and they go running around the countryside having adventures, finding metal for it to eat (the IG is on a strict all-metal diet, it seems), and on and on. It’s all very potentially unsafe, and once the government gets involved, it gets actually unsafe (much like this debt ceiling debate, AMIRITE TEA PARTY LADIES). I will admit that the adventures seem like tons of fun, but Hogarth could’ve probably done similar stuff with the local kids about town. Unless they were shunning him for not having a dad. Which is not out of the realm of possibility. (Kids are very mean.)

I’m often told that I would like certain things more if I just gave them a chance. Well that’s fine, and in this case it was right of our Hogarth to give the IG a chance, because it turned out to be the nicest funnest robot of all time. But this was the Sputnik times! It could have just as easily turned out like Red Dawn. And the beatnik stuff is also troubling. I’m assuming Hogarth Sr. is dead (was he in Korea? HISTORICAL), so he needs a strong father figure while his mom is busy working at the diner to make ends meet. But not some unshaven Keroauc who lives in a trailer at a SCRAP METAL YARD “making art.” How shady is that! Give things a chance, sure, but also think about stranger danger, HoJu!

When you think about it, Hogarth is very lucky to have not been maimed by a giant robot, or, um, "manipulated" by some beatnik interloper. I would have made safer choices. If I were the protagonist of this film, it would not have been called The Iron Giant. It would have been called John Sits In His Room And Internalizes His Feelings Of Sadness About His Dead Dad While Another Kid Goes On Adventures With The Iron Giant.

How I felt after the movie ended: Srsly though, this is really the kind of movie I love. Unlike Wednesday’s film, it’s escapism in its best possible sense: nothing at all like how my life was, but the kind of awesome adventure I can get involved with. I intend to watch it again and again and be sad at the ending many times. It will join my Mount Rushmore of Sad Animated Films, joining the last three Pixars. Now if you’ll excuse me, I've just heard a strange noise outside my house, so I’m off to hide under the bed.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Autumn in New York.

Autumn in New York (Joan Chen, 2000)

Category: Sad movie about a May-December relationship. This term is used to define a relationship in which “the age differential between the two adults is wide enough to risk social disapproval.” First of all, I’ve never quite understood the choice of the months here. May isn’t that early in the year. Sure, it’s springtime and all that, but the year’s almost half-over! It’s hardly a nubile month. And saying December is weirder still. When I think of May-December romances, I think of men in midlife crisis, not men who are in the last 8.33 (repeating, of course) percent of their lives. Nowadays, the term is more applicable to relationships involving people of about the same age as Richard Gere and Winona Ryder in this film: men in their fifties and women in their twenties.

Here’s the thing about May-December relationships: they’re weird, gross, and, most importantly, ALWAYS unpopular among friends (provided those friends are not “enlightened” academic types who wear blazers with elbow patches and discuss semiotics and have loose morals). They’re really only interesting or fulfilling to the people involved in them. Now of course, this statement is probably true of every individual romantic relationship. No matter how much they pretend otherwise, no one wants to hear about how happy or sad or confused or unsure you are about your relationship. (They want you to listen to them talk about their relationships.) I mean that the entire genre of May-December relationships is pretty much  abhorrent, or at the very least vaguely unpleasant, by necessity. I’ll get into this more in a bit.

Devotees will recall that this film was the loser of the famous Blog Poll that pitted it against the Keanu Reeves-Charlize Theron fiasco Sweet November, a movie I’m still trying to get my head around. I set up the poll because I couldn’t tell the two movies apart, partially due to the fact that this film, as well as Sweet November, is a sad movie about a terminally ill Manic Pixie Dream Girl. One can only hope that this is where the plot-related similarities end, because if I have to see a naked Richard Gere grunting pump-up mantras to himself immediately after having sex at 7 AM, I’m going to need another blog hiatus while I seek treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

My familiarity with this issue: No matter how much younger the girls I date are than me, I’m still not in May-December territory. May-June, at the very worst.

Don’t get me wrong here: I think people should be allowed to do whatever they want, or at least whatever makes them happy. I don’t actually mean to unfairly judge people here. But most movies are supposed to invite us into a world in which we feel comfortable, and the concept of a May-December relationship is just inherently uncomfortable. Think about it: if you’re a man in your fifties, and you start going out with some girl in her twenties, the MOST positive reaction you will get from friends is a halfhearted “Way to go, man!” They’ll just secretly resent you for it, as they’re probably all married with kids. If they meet the girl, they’re not going to have anything in common with her, and would either just undress her with their eyes all night, or make awkward references to the fact that their kids are around her age. So everyone’s just going to be uncomfortable here.

And if you’re a girl in your twenties, and you start dating some dude in his fifties, your friends will rightly say, “Ew, that’s creepy.” Chances are you’re one of those girls that says things like, “I’m just too mature for boys my age,” in which case your friends probably hate you anyway. (Not to mention the boys your age.) So no one’s happy, except ostensibly the two people involved, and the word “happy” loses all meaning in the impenetrable morass of mortality/Daddy issues that these relationships often involve.

The weight of the weirdness of these relationships is usually too much to bear for them to be dramatically interesting in movies. Now, there certainly are good movies that feature May-December romances (including two of my favorite movies ever, Manhattan and Ghost World). But in those movies the relationships are not necessarily celebrated, or they’re secondary to the larger plot, or they’re used to try to make the same kind of point I’m trying to make. A movie that wants us to root for a May-December couple is usually setting itself up for failure.

So yeah, I have high hopes for this one.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “A May-December romance. He's 48, on the cover of New York magazine, an upscale restaurateur, and a womanizer who rejects ideas of love. She's 22, living with her grandmother, artistic, facing a tumor that's life-threatening, which she tells him about the morning after their first night, when he tells her not to expect permanence from him. Will finds Charlotte unprecedented and unpredictable, and experiences feelings of love, but she packs him off when he's casually unfaithful. He's stung, and he's also flummoxed by the appearance of a young woman from his past. Can he convince Charlotte to take him back, and can he help her through her illness and change his irresponsible ways?”

What I thought about the movie: I fell asleep while watching this movie.

Now I am aware that this is something that happens to the best of us, even while watching interesting movies. Furthermore, my current job requires me to work long hours, making me more prone to mid-film naps. HOWEVER. It’s not like I was curled up on the couch with a nice cup of tea and just drifted off toward the end of Act One. I was sitting in a chair with my headphones in watching it on my laptop, which was placed, as laptops are wont to be placed, on my lap. So as far as this movie is concerned, the fault, dear Brutus, is not in ourselves, but in our stars/how generally shitty the whole first half hour of the movie was. So I made the executive decision to not go back and try it again. I’ve read the Wikipedia plot summary of the rest of the film, and I think I get the idea. Trust me. I go through a lot to write this blog for you people, and to ask me to make two attempts to watch this film is asking too much.

First I want to talk about Richard Gere’s appearance in this film. I concede the fact that Richard Gere was once an incredibly handsome dude. An Officer and a Gentleman, Pretty Woman, etc. A distinguished gent. Heck, even as late as Runaway Bride (only released a year before this movie) he’s not looking too shabby. But in this movie, playing a womanizing restaurant owner, he’s going with the long gray hair, and he looks like a goat. That is all I could think about when he was swishing his way around his fancy restaurant, womanizing. I was waiting for him to start braying, or mention a bridge or a troll or something. Real goat-like, I’m telling you.

So here he plays the hot restaurateur of the moment, recently featured on the cover on New York magazine, and so every woman in the city who subscribes to New York magazine wants to get in there. And I’m not just talking about the restaurant! He’s more than happy to oblige, because as I mentioned earlier, he is a womanizer. That’s all I really learned about him in the first half hour of the film. He’s a singularly unlikable character: rich and spoiled and childlike and womanizing and goat-like. I’m not having it.

So one day he sees young haberdasher Winona Ryder across the restaurant and is transfixed. (Oh yeah that’s her thing; she makes hats. Artsy, hipster hats that seem as sturdy as the crowns from Burger King.) We find out that she’s the granddaughter of Elaine Stritch. Two notes here: 1) not even Elaine Stritch, who is the greatest lady ever, could save this movie the first half hour of this movie, and 2) I was really hoping that, at  one point, Elaine Stritch  would look disapprovingly at Winona Ryder and say, “does anyone still wear a hat?” But that didn’t happen.

We find out Gere had had a thing with Stritch’s daughter/Ryder’s mom. Nothing weird here. It’s universally agreed by every woman in this movie that Gere is the paragon of desirability, even though, to the objective viewer, he appears to be a vapid, pompous windbag with nothing to say and a notorious goat-face. (Also he is a womanizer.) He calls Winona up a few days later and asks her to make him a hat to give to his date for some soiree he’s going to, and if I were reading this out loud you could tell how sarcastic I’m sounding right now because YEAH AS IF that’s his plan. She shows up to his place with the hat and AMAZINGLY his date canceled and so he’s not gonna go, “unless… no, forget it.” HE ACTUALLY SAYS THIS. And she acts as if she has no idea where he’s going with this, and seems flabbergasted at the idea that he would want to go with her. (She says, “I would go with you in a heartbeat. You’re fabulous!” FABULOUS.)

So they go, and she wears this dress that he happened to have ready there that looks like it’s covered with paper clips, and it’s one of those rich New York parties under a big white tent somewhere in Central Park and I could just vomit all over the screen. They dance, and he says, “Mannnn you don’t dance, you float!” Disgusting. That was the last thing I took notes on (writing that line verbatim). They sleep together, she reveals that she has some heart condition, and he feels bad. It’s boring and bizarre all at once. Everyone seems like they’re sleepwalking through their terrible lines. And so my reaction to this part of the movie is brought to you by the letter “z.” As in, “zzzzzzzzzzzz.”

How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

How I felt after the movie ended: [Yawns] What’d I miss?

(I read the rest of the plot summary, in case you’re interested. So Gere's empathy about the girl's terminal illness does not prevent him from sleeping with someone else. Ryder is mad about that, and the fact that Elaine Stritch didn't tell her about his thing with her MOM. But somehow she gets over it, they have a lovely fling, and then she dies. Gere then has a better relationship with his own estranged daughter, having just had an affair with someone about her age. He understands the youth better now!)

Am I upset that I didn't stay awake for the whole film? Kind of. I'm sure I could've been indignant about this movie for about 3,000 more words, and everyone enjoys that. But this movie seems more boring-terrible than fascinating-terrible. Autumn in New York is even worse than your standard May-December romance, in that in addition to being a December, he’s also an asshole. So you’re DOUBLY not rooting for them to work it out. You’re rooting for Winona Ryder to meet someone nicer before she dies. Or at least shoplift her way to happiness. 

Of course the real crime of (what I saw of) the movie was how completely unrealistic it was. Fake people spouting fake lines conjuring up fake emotions about some fakely sick girl. It's about people whose lives not only have no relationship to our own, but no relationship to those of any interesting people who actually exist. It’s the worst kind of escapism.

Tune in FRIDAY to Taste My Sad for the best kind of escapism!!! BLOG CLIFFHANGER.