Monday, October 31, 2011

Country Strong.


Country Strong (Shana Feste, 2010)

The Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions begins this Wednesday, November 2, and I will be appearing on Friday, November 4. My search engine optimization continues as follows: Jeopardy John Krizel sad movie blog hipster douchebag glasses loser. Get pumped, kids.

Category: Sad movie about country music. The stereotypical country music singer has a lot to be sad about, what with the recent loss of his wife, dog, job, truck, etc etc. If he’s sensitive, he also has to deal with the many thousands of East Coast elite college kids whose Facebook profiles declare their favorite music to be “everything except country.” Not easy, even in these Tea Party times.

This is also a sad movie featuring Gwyneth Paltrow. We’ll get to how I feel about GP, the celebrity, in a bit, but GP the actress has been in some good flicks: The Royal Tenenbaums, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Two Lovers, etc. In those movies, however, she wasn’t the star. We shall see if she can carry a film with both potential sadness AND potential hootenannies. (I may not know a lot about the country music scene, but I do know that that crowd LOVES hootenannies.)

My familiarity with this issue: According to the famous quote by Harlan Howard, “Country music is three chords and the truth,” which to me seems a bit limiting. (There are a lot of great chords out there.) I’ll admit that, short of Taylor Swift’s eponymous first album (featuring the song “Tim McGraw,” one of the stars of this film), I rarely listen to country music. (For the record, I don’t really consider her next two albums “country music.” Tune in next time for another edition of John Arbitrarily Decides What Genre Stuff Is In and Nobody Cares.) For people in my circles, it’s socially acceptable to listen to older country music (like Johnny Cash or Patsy Cline) or alt-country (like Uncle Tupelo/early Wilco), but not mainstream country music, which is regarded as unoriginal or derivative or just annoying.

And again, I’m not above this: I’m turned off by the fact that, to me, most of the artists on country radio stations just sound really similar to one another (which perhaps has more to do with the fact that I’m not familiar with them; I’m sure Pat Robertson couldn’t discern between Tupac and Vanilla Ice). But I appreciate many country artists’ attempts to tell actual stories in their songs. The lyrics of a lot of the non-country stuff that I regularly listen to are rarely very evocative, and hardly any try to tell a story. Country songs are often different. I was once in the car with my mom, and we were listening to “Love Story” by Taylor Swift. The song got to the part where he knelt to the ground and pulled out a ring and said, “Marry me Juliet, you’ll never etc.” And my mom, driving the car, smiles and says aloud, “Awwww he proposed to her!” That’s the power of country country-pop music right there. (UPDATE: FOTB Allie Hagan correctly points out that one paragraph ago I dismissed the album on which this song is featured as not "country music." The blog is nothing if not inconsistent.)

On the opposite end of the Awesome Spectrum from Taylor Swift is Gwyneth Paltrow. Did you know that she is just like you and me? And that she is attuned to the issues of the common people? Well she is. I don’t like Gwyneth Paltrow. Her children are named Apple and Moses. Those are not acceptable names. She claims that the Oscar that she won for Shakespeare in Love is in storage because, quote, “I don’t want that thing in my house. It scares me.” (GET. OUT.) And so the fact that sad things might happen to her in this movie is not that upsetting to me. As the kids are saying these days, “I am sorry that I am not sorry.”

It should be clear to all of you that I am watching this movie to try to lend some authentic red-state credibility to this fancy-schmancy blog. In keeping with this, I have enlisted the support of a true daughter of Dixie and friend of the blog, Suri Cruise Allie Hagan. Her thoughts on the film, which, like the rest of the post, contain SPOILERS (if you haven’t seen this movie already and still want to know why it’s sad then ugh just shut up and read the rest of the stupid post, it’s a stupid movie and you’ll probably hate it), anyway where was I? Oh yeah. Her thoughts are presented below.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “A drama centered on a rising country-music songwriter (Hedlund) who sparks with a fallen star (Paltrow). Together, they mount his ascent and her comeback, which leads to romantic complications involving her husband/manager (McGraw) and a beauty queen-turned-singer (Meester).”

What FOTB Allie Hagan thought of the movie: As a proud southerner, country music enthusiast, and Leighton Meester devotee, I am in the exact demographic that Country Strong should appeal to. But this film was lost on me, due largely to the unlikeability of Kelly Canter. (Casting Gwyneth Paltrow certainly didn't do the character any favors. I mean, have you read her blog?) Yes, I understand that Kelly's troubles are not entirely self-inflicted; Tim McGraw is a hard-ass of a husband/manager who never gave the rehab a chance to work, and Kelly herself has become a broken product of the country music industry. She starts at such a tremendously low point (clumsy-drunk falling off of a stage while five months pregnant) but never even really tries to pull herself up, and this choice (Laziness? Addiction? McGraw-related Stockholm Syndrome?) takes away any potential sadness from her suicide. In fact, I think that was the best part of the whole film. Well, that and when they all sang "Friends in Low Places." Which, by the way, is inexplicably NOT on the 2-volume Country Strong soundtrack. Damn it all to hell.

What I thought of the movie: Yeah it’s really bad. Not the worst thing ever, I suppose. Garrett Hedlund and Blair Waldorf Leighton Meester are actually not bad at all, and the music is occasionally fun and jaunty. But there are a large number of things about this movie that are nonsensical, offensive, stupid, terrible, or some combination of those four things.

The movie is supposedly about a formerly huge country star attempting a comeback, but that’s really not true. She shows very little interest in being involved with the three-show mini-tour that her husband/manager (Tim McGraw) all but forces her to do. And, more importantly, the movie really isn’t about her. It’s about Hedlund and Meester (who plays a character named Chiles Stanton, and thus I will only ever refer to her as Jackie Chiles from now on), and how they fall in love despite their prior attachments to Paltrow and McGraw. And while the parts of the movie that focus on them are also poorly written and conceived, at least GP isn’t onscreen for them.

The movie tries to pile on the drama at every turn, but it just comes off as terribly manipulative and fake. We learn that GP went into rehab because, as Allie described, she “clumsy-drunk [fell] off of a stage while five months pregnant” and had a miscarriage. (More on this later.) She’s screwing Garrett Hedlund behind Tim McGraw’s back (and doing a really terrible job of hiding it), but it’s OK because (it’s implied) Tim McGraw’s having a thing with Jackie Chiles. There are a lot of backstage recriminations and shouting and secret huge bottles of vodka consumed straight, no chaser. GP can barely hold herself together during the tour, falling apart during one show and skipping a second one altogether. And then she finally puts it all together and rocks the third show… and promptly kills herself immediately afterward. For seemingly no reason. More on this later as well.

The characters are terribly clichéd and one-dimensional and often objectionable. Paltrow’s character is especially terrible. Aside from how annoying she is as an actress, I don’t understand why anyone would root for her character in this movie. She is a drunk, she cheats on her husband and drunkenly punches him in the face, she’s an entitled celebrity, etc. Yeah, she had a miscarriage, but it was her own stupid fault. She does one nice thing in the movie: visit with a kid with leukemia (a visit that her handlers have set up for her beforehand, and yes I know that's how it is for all celebrities, but still). The fact that she has human decency in this scene alone isn’t a reason for us to like her. And that the movie gave us this scene right near the end of the film, practically begging us to like her and feel bad for her when she kills herself, was offensive to me.

Another concern is that the choices that the characters make in the movie have no consequences or dramatic weight. Paltrow’s alcoholism is nothing more than a convenient plot device, and it’s not convincingly put forth as a reason for her to kill herself. The machinations of the Hedlund/Jackie Chiles romance are painfully obvious and tiresome. (Early in the movie, one of the band members teases them, saying "Why don't you just sleep together already?" Tell me about it, bro.) McGraw is sinister and Ike Turner-esque in some scenes, and presented as the victim in others. And worst of all, the characters and the choices they make have no real connection to what the movie tries to present as its deeper message (in Paltrow’s suicide note): that it's too difficult for people to have both love and fame, and that, faced with that choice, we should choose love. Of course, having come to this great realization, she doesn’t quit the business to live a quiet life with her husband. She commits suicide. Because that’s what you’d do.

OK let’s talk about that now. Killing off your main character at the end of a movie is a really major decision. It cannot be taken lightly. There NEEDS to be justification for it. You can’t just do it for no reason. This movie does it for no reason. The character seems to do it because it would be a dramatic ending to the movie about her life. If the movie had been good up to this point, the ending would have totally ruined it. It’s almost better that the movie was terrible up to that point, because I wasn’t let down. It was just another brick in the wall.

How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: Honestly, the fact that I didn’t relate to it at all has very little to do with the fact that it’s about country music. (In fact, as stated earlier, I actually enjoyed some of the music! Take that, STEREOTYPES.) There is very little in the way of authentic emotion happening here. Here is one of many examples of this fact.

Imagine you are a famous country singer. You were five months’ pregnant, but you got drunk anyway, because why not, and in Dallas, during a concert in front of thousands of people, you fell and had a miscarriage. PUBLICLY. You PUBLICLY had a miscarriage. Everyone knows about it, it was totally in Us Weekly and everything. Then, a year or so later, at a press conference, a reporter brings up the fact that the last show of your tour is in Dallas. In this exact scenario, GP kind of chuckles and says, “We all know that Dallas and I have a history, and it’s not such a good one.” She's SMILING when she says it. In that scenario, would you EVER in a million years give such a glib response? She just casually refers to her PUBLIC MISCARRIAGE with that comment and a WRY SMILE. WHAT.

How I felt after the movie ended: Country Strong was dreamed up in the secret laboratory underneath Gwyneth Paltrow’s English castle. She saw that Reese Witherspoon won an Oscar for Walk the Line, so she formulated a country music movie of her own, in which she could sing (oh good LORD does GP love singing these days), and play an authentic American (to try to quiet those who criticize her for pretending to be English, like Madonna), and play a drunkard (Oscar voters love drunkards), and cry a lot and eventually commit suicide at the end (Oscar voters love those things too). And in her ivory tower/secret underground laboratory, it seemed perfect. It would all come off as authentic and heartfelt and brave, and it would win her another Oscar that she could claim to keep in storage when it would really be right next to the other one, on her nightstand. 

She failed, though. The movie didn’t work; critics didn’t like it, and it barely broke even at the box office. But I have no doubt that she’s back in the lab now, convening her focus groups of working moms and Joe Sixpacks, trying desperately to capture that elusive spark of inspiration and manipulate it into something that feels spontaneous and normal and average and cute that we will have no choice but to feel charmed by. And then she’ll be profiled in Vanity Fair and talk about her kids and the difficulty of juggling her family and her career and how cool Steven Soderbergh is, and her faux-goofy smile on the cover will seem to say, “No matter how hard I try, I just can’t help being this adorable.” And I will hate her even more for it.

So! Stay tuned for that.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Weekend.


Weekend (Andrew Haigh, 2011)

Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions. November 4. John Jeopardy sad blog. Hipster glasses. Gay?

Category: Sad gay film. Ahh the gays. True friends of the blog, one and all. They’ve have had it rough in the past (Stonewall, the Defense of Marriage Act, the rise of Rick Santorum), but things are certainly improving (the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, an increasing number of states legalizing gay marriage, the rise of santorum). There’s still a ways to go, of course. This is reflected in modern gay cinema, which as a genre is pretty much dominated by sad films. Such films include Longtime Companion, Philadelphia, and Boys Don’t Cry, covered by this blog what feels like ages ago. (The blog doesn’t remember things as well as it used to, kids.)

It has become far more common for films with overtly gay themes to become mainstream successes (Milk and Brokeback Mountain are two recent examples). BLOG THEORY: gay love stories inherently possess the extra level of societal pressure that conventional straight love stories often lack, and as such have become more popular in recent years. Back in the day, people could write love stories between people of different social classes, or different races, or different warring families, and it was realistic to the times. As our society grows more and more permissive (I hate that word), gay is kind of the last frontier.

This is also a sad British film. It’s often quite gray and foggy over there in the UK, which doesn’t help the national mood. Add to that the fact that they used to run the world and now do not run the world, and you’ve got a country filled with malaise. But they’re good at hiding it. Keep a stiff upper lip, ol’ chap, etc etc.

My familiarity with this issue: We’ve talked about my love for the gays in the blog before. I am also quite the Anglophile. You’ll scarcely find a straight American with a greater affinity for the gays and the Brits. I am the president of my local chapter of the Graham Norton Fan Club.

I believe that Weekend is another of these low-budget realistic independent sad films (much like Blue Valentine), the ones with the hand-held camerawork and gritty imagery and all of that. I support films like these, basically any movie that can break through the big-studio monopoly and secure a wide release. But they do run the risk of being pretentious. BOTB Tony Krizel famously referred to Blue Valentine as “hipster gosling ukelule blue collar feelings bs.” Worst-case scenario, this film will be that + explicit gay sex. (Oh yeah there’s explicit gay sex in the film too. Goody!)

This film is currently in theatres and was chosen to honor the blog’s commitment to topicality. I went to see the film with a friend of the blog who, for several reasons, will remain anonymous in this post. (If you’re dying to know who he is, here’s a picture of him.) This Mystery Homosexual FOTB will provide a gay perspective on the film that I personally lack.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “On a Friday night after a drunken house party with his straight mates, Russell heads out to a gay club, alone and on the pull. Just before closing time he picks up Glen but what's expected to be just a one-night stand becomes something else, something special. That weekend, in bars and in bedrooms, getting drunk and taking drugs, telling stories and having sex, the two men get to know each other.”

What the Mystery Homosexual FOTB thought of the movie: In keeping with the necessity of keeping his identity a secret, the MHFOTB's voice syntax and appearance font have been altered. For further security, certain portions have been redacted.

I walked away from this film telling John that I knew it was “great,” but I couldn't figure out exactly what it was that made it so good. I am still having that problem, but a couple points stand out. First, this movie is an almost perfect retelling of a weekend as you would remember it. Think about what you did last weekend, or the weekend before, or the weekend before or some other weekend. You will find you don't remember everything (unless, of course, you are an elephant), but certain parts of the time stick out in your mind. That's true for this movie, and in a way that makes so much sense it's hard to describe. Whoever edited this script did a great job. 

One of the reasons I really wanted to see this movie was because it didn't appear to me to be a movie about being gay, but which had gay characters. Everybody made a fuss about Brokeback Mountain (probably because of its star-power), but honestly, that was a “gay movie,” whereas this is just a movie. There is nothing wrong with a “gay movie,” but it's good to see any movie that has great gay characters and deals with other things. Weekend is a movie about how two people met and fell in love, and that was the story. No one was going through an identity crisis, or about to come out to  their parents, or wearing glitter. These were just two dudes blokes.

The blokes also had real conversations, and the dialogue was hugely authentic – especially the gay dialogue. You might be thinking, “wait a minute, you just said...” and you are right. (Also, shut up.) Even though the movie wasn't about the tragedy of being gay, or whatever you want to call it, it very accurately portrayed the gay conversations gay couples have when they gay talk about being gay. Glen is a real firecracker, and says things like “don't feed into the system” and is angry about the place of gay people in society. He worries that, even when we have “rights,” we will still be a sideshow no one wants to discuss, and never will. He also compliments American gays for fighting for their rights. (U-S-A! U-S-A!) Russ is more subdued, less angry. This is a source of some tension between them, and it can be a source of tension between the gay couple nearest you. I know it's a source of tension between this MHFOTB and the BFOTMHFOTB (a more immediate source of tension is probably me using that joke...). (Editor's Note: I'm sure the pictures helped, though.) Displaying an authentic conversation between a couple is never a stereotype, and I appreciated how these conversations were handled.

The weakest point of the film for me was how at some parts Glen’s character is a little bit of a wannabe starving artist type, an over-angsty, manipulative drama queen (no pun intended). It makes the profound speed with which Russ and Glen grow close a little implausible. I overcame my concerns for Glen’s behavior, because it's clear Russ has his concerns too, but falls for Glen anyway. Also some of Glen’s anger apparently comes from a previous relationship that ended badly, and a fairly implausible and arbitrary plot point that I will not reveal here. But as frustrating as I found Glen, there were still redeeming moments. Somehow I believe, perhaps because Russ believed (and this is really his story) that the rough edges and emotional distance wasn't an original part of Glen, and the rest of it (the angst and manipulation) was fading as the weekend progressed.

I also don't know how I feel about the sex scenes. All movies have them, so why not a gay film? But it's tenderness and reality were a little bold, and led John to ask if that’s even how it works. (Editor’s Note: Yes, this conversation happened. Don't worry about it.) My main problem was that they went on a little long, but perhaps I'm just not used to watching such explicitly and blatantly gay material in a theatre with mixed (gay and muggle) company. 

As I said before, I am still trying to sort out my feelings on this. But I know I will see this movie again and I know it's good. You should too, but not because it's gay – just because it's good

What I thought of the movie: First, let me agree with most, if not all, of what the MHFOTB said. (And thank goodness that I do, because otherwise this point would be wayyy too long, rather than its current status of “wayy too long.”) I’ll second his theory that calling Weekend a “gay film” is kind of missing the point. (Although to be fair, the theatre in which we saw the film gave new meaning to the term “Motown.”) The thing about really good movies is that they don’t really have a target audience. It’s not that great movies are for everyone, it’s that they can resonate with multiple groups of people. I am not gay, and I am not British, but what this movie had to say about relationships and random hookups and all of that resonated with me, and could resonate with anyone, not just shiftless underemployed “men” in their mid-twenties like me.

I would also concur with the MHFOTB about the seeming authenticity of the conversations that the characters have, even when they are discussing the more hot-button gay issues of the day. Whenever two people talk about bigger social issues, what they say always has more to do with themselves (their personalities and experiences and all that) than what the issues are objectively about. Weekend does an excellent job of not only capturing that fact during the conversations, but also of giving us just enough information and context to interpret and evaluate each character’s views, as we would if two of our friends were arguing about something.

How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: The main takeaway of the movie for me is how realistic it is in depicting the process of getting to know someone. Whenever you meet someone new (and I’m not just talking about potentially romantic meetings here), you have to quickly and usually-not-entirely-consciously decide how to present yourself to this new person. You have to answer, with your words and actions and manner, a hundred questions in a really short period of time: how much to reveal about yourself, what specific things to talk about, what things are important or impressive or significant about you and how many of these things are you going to casually reveal right away, how honest you’re going to be, how much you’re actually going to say what you feel, etc. At the same time, you’re also judging everything they say and how they act and all that. And so for a lot of people (me) there is a great deal of uncertainty that comes with every social interaction you have with a new person. And then, once you start actually getting to know that person, it only gets more and more complex and scary and weird and, when I think about it for too long, makes me want to never leave the house.

Weekend made me appreciate this process more than any other film I can remember seeing. It’s an unadorned, unvarnished, unassuming depiction of how two people meet and get to know each other one weekend. That is all it aspires to be, really, and it succeeds remarkably well at it. With only one exception (which the MHFOTB alluded to earlier), it sets up a scenario and lets the drama appear, organically, from the circumstances of that scenario. We are privy to the walls that the two characters have put up to defend themselves emotionally, and we are privy to the crumbling of said walls. It's neat.

How I felt after the movie ended: And so, like the MHFOTB (at right), I was really taken by the whole movie. It’s one of those great “nothing happens” movies. It put me in mind of Lost in Translation, and if I’d seen Before Sunrise, it would probably remind me of that too. Lots of talking, and more talking, and occasional drug use and gay sex, but mostly talking. So I’d encourage all straight FsOTB to see the film, and to bring along (mystery) gay friends as well. Not just because it's a good movie, but also so that they can explain just what’s going on in certain parts of the film. It will not be awkward at all.

Friday, October 14, 2011

An Affair to Remember.



An Affair to Remember (Leo McCarey, 1957)

Another friendly reminder: the blog will be appearing on the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions on Friday, November 4. Sad movie blog John Jeopardy handsome beard sweater skinny tie. Hellooooo stalkers ladies.

Category: Sad original version of the Tracy Jordan film A Blaffair to Rememblack, which, incidentally, is up there with Fat Bitch among my favorites in the Jordan oeuvre.

Nobutsrsly, this is a classic sad movie. We haven’t delved too much into the classics here on the blog, which I consider one of the blog’s shortcomings. (Feel free to submit your opinions on the blog’s shortcomings in the comments. I’ll be happy to not take them under advisement.) As often happens in history, the classic tearjerkers of old really laid the groundwork for the weepies of today. Their success established the viability of this particular niche of films. So essentially what I’m saying here is that this film is directly responsible for The Last Song. Thanks a lot, Cary Grant.

Specifically, this is a sad movie about star-crossed lovers, which the blog has been all about lately. Maybe it was seeing the end of Romeo + Juliet (the Leo/Claire Danes version of course) on TV a few weeks back, maybe I’ve been reading the Craigslist “missed connections” section too much lately, or maybe I’ve just been enraptured by the Michaele Salahi-Neal Schon from Journey affair. Whatever it is, the blog is in “doomed romance” mode these days.

My familiarity with this issue: I have not yet been referred to as “classically handsome.” I’m sure it’s just an oversight, though.

I was first made aware of this film, and its status as a classic tearjerker, while watching this scene in the 1993 classic Sleepless in Seattle:


A few things to note here:

1)   Tom Hanks is just the most likeable guy in the history of everything. I would forsake all other FsOTB in order to form a wolfpack with him, Rob Lowe and Jon Hamm. (I am clearly the Justin Bartha of that group.)
2)   Devotees will recall my hatred of most child actors, but that kid is actually not terrible in that movie. He’s not to be confused with the similar-looking kid from The Santa Clause, who was terrible.
3)   So I basically know the plot of An Affair to Remember. Although some of it is hard to make out over Rita Wilson’s blubbering. It does sound like your standard archetypal sad romance film, but it’s OK for classic movies to be standard and archetypal. That’s how we get standards and archetypes, people.

I also just learned that An Affair to Remember is in fact a remake of the 1939 film Love Affair by the same director. (Remaking your own movie seems like a weird way to spend one’s time, by the way.) Both of these were remade again as the 1994 Warren Beatty-Annette Bening version of Love Affair. A little confusing, I know, but the point is: this film’s got legs, baby! (Due to overwhelming popular demand, I plan on talking like an old-timey Hollywood producer in the blog with much greater frequency in the coming weeks. It's the bee's knees!)

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: "Handsome playboy Nicky Ferrante and beautiful night club singer Terry McKay have a romance while on a cruise from Europe to New York. Despite being engaged to other people, both agree to reunite at the top of the Empire State Building in six months. However, an unfortunate accident keeps Terry from the reunion, and Nicky fears that she has married or does not love him anymore. Will he discover the truth behind her absence and reunite with his one true love, or has fate and destiny passed them by?"

What I thought of the movie: It’s generally quite pleasant, interspersed with some sad moments. You can tell why the chicks love it: it’s all about true love and soul mates and overcoming pride and car accidents. Real chick stuff. And while the film occasionally shows its age, that just made it more fun for me along the way. Quite pleasant, I’m telling you.

The film opens with a thoroughly weird montage: news reporters in the United States, Italy and England comment on the fact that Cary Grant’s character, this famous playboy (like George Clooney without the acting? The male 1950s version of Kim Kardashian? I don’t really know) is heading from Europe to America on an ocean liner to get married to a wealthy heiress. To me, this seems to indicate that the news media has been terrible long before the 24-hour news networks got started. This is news? All over the world? A bachelor dandy (and possible drinker of brandy) traveling by boat to get married to some rich broad? I’m very confused.

So he meets Deborah Kerr on the boat and oh my goodness before I could finish typing this sentence he’s invited himself to her cabin! This (engaged) man doesn’t waste time. But she’s engaged (and so is he) so he semi-backs off. What a cad! They hang out though (aww cruise friends!) but then, since he’s on every news program in the WORLD, everyone knows who he is and that the broad he’s chillin’ with ain’t his fiancée, so it gets awkward. They resolve to leave each other alone, but then they jump into the same swimming pool at the same time, so they figure what the hell, might as well hang out purposefully, the gawkers be damned.

They go to visit his French grandma, and she discovers his hidden talent for painting and stuff (which he abandoned because he was too critical of himself, and thus fell into the inexplicably viable field of internationally famous playboying), and he discovers her hidden talent for singing (hidden in that she has not yet sung anything in the two days that they have known each other, nor has she said, “Oh by the way, I sing and stuff”). And so of course during this visit Deborah Kerr sees his more sensitive, artistic, grandson-ish side, and totally falls in love with him. This part reminded me of when Julie Taylor falls in love with Matt Saracen on Friday Night Lights when he sings “Mr. Sandman” to his ailing grandma and hold on I gotta go cry because I just thought about that scene.

So they come up with the famous plan to break it off with their fiancé(e)s, try exercising their secret artistic passions, and meet on top of the Empire State Building in six months. It’s actually a good plan. I bet people get rather easily carried away during a one-week cruise. I can’t imagine how many poor investments have been made because “it seemed like a good idea on the cruise.” Give it some time, some perspective. Walk around on land for a while. Don’t necessarily break off your engagement until you’ve seen if you can remember your cruise friend’s name in a week. Good advice for all of us.

But really they only wait until later that day. Whoops! Five months and thirty days to go before they can hang out again, because them’s the rules. Her breakup is particularly crushing, by the way: this poor sap quickly discerns that she’s fallen in love with Cary Grant, and tries to talk her out of it. He says, “Can’t you see I’m in love?” And she responds, “So am I.” OHHHHHH SNAP. JEEZ. You’re already breaking this dude’s heart, Deborah Kerr, you needn’t be so PITHY.

He gives it a go as a painter, she sings in a nightclub in Boston, six months pass, and, as Rita Wilson predicted, boom car accident. It’s not Hathaway-esque, but I’d imagine to audiences who were unfamiliar with the original film, it was quite surprising. She hallucinates in the hospital, imagining she’s back on the boat with C. Grant, but never gets lucid enough to say to a nurse, “Oh yo call him up and tell him I was in a car accident.” Cell phones would really help here. She could have shot him a quick text from the ambulance: “may be delayed for a bit. hit by car. poss crippled. sry bro.”

So she ends up in a wheelchair and becomes a music teacher. He gets sad and goes to France, and paints some more. (The movie wastes about fifteen or twenty minutes with a lot of faffin’, including a long, pointless musical number with her and her students. Fun fact: in the 50s, every single movie that was released needed to have a bunch of cute kids doing a perfectly choreographed musical number.) Then finally he runs into her at the ballet (each with their respective ex-fiancé[e]s; nice that they all managed to stay friends and such), but she’s sitting so he doesn’t notice the crippledness, and then he comes by her place, and you all know how it ends. It takes too long to get to that point, and when it does come it’s only a few minutes until you start pulling your hair out and yelling at the screen “UGH JUST TELL HIM ALREADY.” But she’s too proud and all that. Finally he figures it out and it’s real emotional.

How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: A lot of the stuff in this movie is out of my reach. The first thing of note here is the cruise, which seemed very nice and all. Making cruise friends, having nice dinners, looking out of portholes: all of that is dandy. But my crippling fear of the ocean and the fact that George gave away all my cruise wear to Rudy’s Antique Boutique mean that I will probably continue to be a landlubber for the foreseeable future.

The Empire State Building stuff threw me off as well, due to my paralyzing fear of heights. If I had to choose a place for a super-romantic meeting with a secret paramour, I’d probably pick a Starbucks, because usually they’re no more than two floors high. You do then run the risk of having the girl go to the wrong Starbucks, what with their ubiquity and all, but of course, cell phones and such. Basically it’s a lot easier to have a romantic rendezvous these days. And safer!

I was also quite confused by the many topical references early in the film; in certain scenes I had pretty much no clue what was being discussed. And as a result of this, I suddenly became worried about the fact that, when this blog is read fifty years from now (bear with me), people will undoubtedly be as baffled as Herman Cain in a high school algebra class TOPICAL ZING.

How I felt after the movie ended: As I said to FOTB Allie Hagan while watching the film, “Cary Grant is one smooth m*****f*****.” He has the rare ability to seem cool even when you know he’s upset about stuff. It’s disarming. And if the opposite of “disarming” is “arming,” then you could definitely describe my incessant whining when things aren’t going my way as quite arming.

It is still kind of annoying that there’s no real reason for her not to tell him about what happened other than “her pride.” It’s not like he was mean to her, or hated her, or whatever. He was kinda bummed! I’m sure he would have appreciated knowing about it. But obviously there’s no movie if she tells him right away, so there’s that. In the end, the other logistical flaws and frequent dead patches of the film fade away, leaving only Cary Grant’s overall smoothness and his sadness while waiting for her on top of the Empire State Building. And a real sense of relief over the fact that I live in the era of cell phones.

Monday, October 3, 2011

What Dreams May Come.


What Dreams May Come (Vincent Ward, 1998)

Note: The blog will be appearing on the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions on Friday, November 4. By this I mean that I will be appearing on the show AND I will be discussing the blog. This may mean that, soon, actually knowing me will not be a prerequisite to reading this blog. Now I did mention the title of the blog during the interview part of the episode, but I’m not sure that the Jeopardy! producers will leave it in. So to make sure that people find the blog, I will be loading up each post I write in the next month with Jeopardy!-friendly keywords. John Jeopardy blog sad movies blog sad blog John.

Category: Sad film whose title is taken from the “To be, or not to be” soliloquy from Hamlet. Other films in this genre include the Bette Midler vehicle Outrageous Fortune and the erotic massage film Ay, There’s the Rub.

Famously, this is a sad movie about the afterlife. Things that are described as happening after something else are generally bittersweet. Clearly the main thing was more important than the after thing, and so during the after thing everyone’s still kind of focused on what happened during the main thing. It’s like aftershocks to an earthquake: interesting on their own, but they’re never as exciting as the main earthquake.

This is what I imagine the afterlife might be like. Hopefully I’ll end up in a place where everyone is happy and not too hot, but I feel like most of the conversations will go like this: “So what did you do?” “I was a plumber. You?” “I wrote a blog about sad movies.” “Weird. How did you end up here?” “Natural causes. You?” “I drowned in sewage.” “Oh yeah, plumber, right. That’s rough.” No matter how much tennis you get to play with the angel Gabriel, you still gotta talk about what you know.

This is also a sad movie with Robin Williams. One of our greatest comedians, Mork from Ork has also played many dramatic roles in his long career. His record of success in these roles has been, shall we say, mixed. I’m not sure on which side of the ledger this movie will fall: the Good Will Hunting side or the Jakob the Liar side.

My familiarity with this issue: As a non-deceased individual, all I can really do is speculate on this issue. This puts me in line with everyone else on Earth, many of whom feel they can do more than speculate.

I remember seeing the trailer for this movie, in which Robin Williams like runs around through a painting or something. That seems nice, if messy. Although if heaven is really a place where anything is possible, I’m not sure that chilling in works of art would be my top priority. More likely I’d spend most of my time at heaven’s replica of Yankee Stadium, hitting home runs and striking guys out left and right. (The designated hitter rule does not exist in heaven.)

I also know from the trailer that part of the film takes place in hell. I do sincerely hope that hell is like this. (I’ve never gotten to say this before: that clip is NSFW! For weird hellish nudity. But it’s really funny, so you should watch it at home. Or just see that whole movie. It’s incredible.) The hell of this movie will be much scarier, I’m sure. Or at least not quite so Jewish.

I can understand why Robin Williams wanted to get into more dramatic roles. I think most people who get pegged as a certain kind of performer want to show people that they can do other kinds of stuff too. But there’s a difference between the straight dramatic roles (like this one, or Insomnia, for example) and the tragicomic bathos that he goes for way too often. Like, I remember watching like five minutes of Patch Adams on cable many years ago, and even then realizing what a manipulative piece of junk it was. (I’m excited to tackle that for the blog as well. In fact, we should just do an irregular series called Taste My Robin Williams! It will go along with the Taste My Sad Keanu irregular series and, of course, the Taste My Sparks irregular series. The blog is nothing if not occasionally serialized.)

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “Chris Neilson dies to find himself in a heaven more amazing than he could have ever dreamed of. There is one thing missing: his wife. After he dies, his wife, Annie killed herself and went to hell. Chris decides to risk eternity in hades (sic) for the small chance that he will be able to bring her back to heaven.” Hades! What is this, Hercules?

What I thought of the movie: It’s hard to say. It was very interesting, and I liked certain aspects of it a lot. It was, for the most part, very sad, but more heavy than sad. It makes you think, sometimes in a good way, and other times in a what the hell happened to Cuba Gooding, Jr., way. And while certain plot elements and the ending are not up to the level as other parts of the movie, it’s still way better than Boat Trip.

The main draw for the movie is the art direction, which is a thing that is rarely said about movies, I think. But the conceptions of heaven and hell are really neat. As I mentioned earlier, Robin Williams spends some time in heaven frolicking through a painting, and it’s awesome. It’s completely original and weird and cool and meaningful (because his wife is an artist and he totes loves paintings). It’s the exact opposite of a superficially similar depiction of heaven in the execrable film The Lovely Bones, famously the angriest I’ve ever been while watching a film for this blog. So that’s the stuff I’ll remember from the movie.

The story is not quite as compelling, although it is very good and epic and such. It doesn’t really waste any time: Robin Williams meets Annabella Sciorra on a boat or some nonsense, they get married, have two kids, the kids die, then four years later Robin Williams dies. This all happens in thirteen minutes! That puts the beginning of Up to SHAME. Then later, Annabella Sciorra kills herself (and I hate to say “can you blame her” because that’s terrible, but she did have a rough thirteen minutes there). Goodness. So Robin Williams, until then busying himself by sloshing about in works of art, tries to rescue her from hell! Cuba Gooding and Max von Sydow are his trusty companions along the way, kind of. It’s interesting.

How I, John Krizel, related to this movie: As I said, this one’s a thinker. There are some legitimately interesting and cool spiritual elements to the movie, things that I think would resonate with people across the religious spectrum. But as so often happens in movies that introduce us to strange new worlds, it gets a bit too bogged down in the rules, in over-explaining things that probably don’t have explanations. Cuba Gooding at one point says, “There are no rules,” which, if true, would confirm my hope that heaven is very much like the Outback Steakhouse. But then it turns out he’s kind of lying, because there are supposed rules, one of them being, “you really can’t go to hell to rescue your wife.” Apparently all suicides go to hell. That's another rule, one that strikes me as a bit Sith-like in its absolutism.

There are also moments when the movie gets a bit too pseudoscientific/New Age-y for my tastes. For example, Robin Williams, living in one of his wife’s paintings, starts seeing things in the painting that she’s added after he died. Certified Heaven Tour Guide Cuba Gooding, puzzled, says that it must be that they’re soul mates, or “twin souls tuned into each other” or some faff like that, and that while he’s heard that it’s possible, he’s never seen it before, and he says it in this astonished tone that calls to mind one of those scientists from a disaster movie who can’t believe that the reading on his instruments is for real, and you almost expect Cuba to push his glasses up his nose and wipe the sweat off his brow and all of that. Like, you don’t need to do that. Just say that it’s a cool thing that means that they must really love each other a lot. Don’t tell me how many midichlorians are in their blood or whatever.

How I felt after the movie ended: (SPOILER ALERT etc etc.) The ending wasn’t the best, either. He finds her in hell, but as he was warned, she doesn’t recognize him. He’s told that he only has a few minutes to spend with her because he might lose his mind if he stays too long (again with the rules!), and so after a few minutes of trying, he decides he’ll just chill with her in hell forever and maybe one day she’ll recognize him. And then finally he reaches her, and they wake up in heaven with their kids again. It’s far too conventional to fit with the rest of the movie. And so the movie left me feeling weird and thinking a lot about death and stuff. I guess that’s something I should be used to after writing this blog for the last year, but this movie tackles death in a head-on way that most of the others haven’t.

But in the end, the movie felt authentic to me (which I know is an odd feeling to have about a movie about the afterlife). Everyone has their own personal heaven, which I think is nice (it supports my Yankee Stadium idea). Robin Williams is actually really good in the movie, as are most of the other actors. It’s the kind of movie that aspires for greatness, and even if it doesn’t quite reach it, I appreciated the effort.