Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Second Annual Taste My Sad Oscar Sadstravaganza.

The Second Annual Taste My Sad Oscar Sadstravaganza.

Welcome, FsOTB, to the second annual Taste My Sad Oscar Sadstravaganza. Last year’s edition was one of the longest things any human being has ever posted on the Internet. I’m virtually certain that no one read all of it. Why are we back? Because we just can’t believe it ourselves.

For those of you who are new to the blog, here’s what I wrote last year by way of explaining what this is and why in God’s name this is happening:

I’ll be going through every category and picking my winners, but I’ll leave the decisions on the 'best' in each category to the actual Oscar voters (you’re welcome), and stick to a distinction that I feel uniquely qualified to bestow: 'saddest.' And if you can’t wait to see how I determine which film had the saddest sound editing this year… well you’ve come to the right place. 
So sit back, relax, crack open a beer or seven, and LET’S GET SAD.

Saddest Short Film, Live Action
The Shore
Time Freak
Tuba Atlantic

It’s for these short film categories that I’ll be doing the most research. And by research, I mean reading their IMDb plot summaries.

I rejected three of the films out of hand. The Shore, directed by Hotel Rwanda director Terry George, seems like a shoo-in from its pedigree, but is described as “equal parts hilarious and moving.” Can’t have any hilarity here! Time Freak (not starring Criss Angel, as I had hoped) is a comedy about time travel. Next. And Pentecost is about a mischievious Irish altar boy who has to serve Mass correctly or else “never watch his beloved Liverpool play again.” First of all, I was an altar boy. It’s not that hard. Second of all, what’s an Irish kid doing rooting for Liverpool? And third of all, as a devoted Everton supporter, I can’t get behind this. Pentecost loses.

The runner-up in this category is Raju, described on IMDb as follows: “A German couple adopts in Kolkata an Indian orphan. Their child suddenly disappears and they realize that they are part of the problem.” India + losing a child = quite sad. But I did giggle at the phrase “part of the problem,” which I’ve famously used to describe employees of Residential Property Management at the George Washington University. (Don’t worry about it.) But so anyway I can’t laugh during the plot summary and pick that movie to win, I don’t think.

The clear winner here is Tuba Atlantic, which I had hoped was about FOTB and tubaist (tubaer? tubasmith?) Erin McLean. I’ll just leave with you with the plot summary to explain why it wins: “Everybody is going to die one day. Oskar (70) is going to die in 6 days. He is now ready to forgive his brother for a disagreement years ago. Will he reach his brother, who he believes live on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, before it is too late?” Good LORD. It starts off with the phrase “Everybody is going to die one day.” Someone’s been reading Taste My Sad! (Note: I seriously don’t know if anyone has been reading Taste My Sad. Like, literally anyone. It’s very possible that no one will read this.)

Saddest Short Film, Animated
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
La Luna
A Morning Stroll
Wild Life

I didn’t bother reading the plot summary of one of these. Guess which one. I refuse to type that stupid title out again.

Sunday is about a boy who puts a coin on the train tracks (UGHH DON’T DO THAT), which apparently has “unfortunate and bizarre results for a passing bear.” I don’t know. It’s a French movie. Let’s just move on. La Luna is about a young boy on a boat ride at night with his grandparents and AYYYYYYYYY PAISAN CHE BELLA CANZONE. A Morning Stroll’s plot summary made me mad: “When a New Yorker walks past a chicken on his morning stroll, we are left to wonder which one is the real city slicker.” I feel like I would hate that movie.

Wild Life is our winner. “Calgary, 1909. An Englishman moves to the Canadian frontier, but is singularly unsuited to it. His letters home are much sunnier than the reality. Intertitles compare his fate to that of a comet.” Comets are the saddest of all the celestial objects. Bonus points for being set in a city that is also the title of a Bon Iver song. It’s a shame that that other acclaimed short animated film, Dingy Cabin in the Woods of Wisconsin, was not nominated.

Saddest Documentary, Short Subjects
The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement
God Is the Bigger Elvis
Incident in New Baghdad
Saving Face
The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

Alright here we go. Documentaries are always sad. I’m already crying just looking at the titles!

We’ll dispense with God Is the Bigger Elvis, winner of the Most Ridiculous Title of Any Movie Ever award. It’s about Dolores Hart, an actress who quit acting to become a nun. Like the opposite of The Sound of Music, if Fraulein Maria had become an actress. The Barber of Birmingham’s title is pretty self-explanatory; it seems like a cool movie about a cool dude. 

But then the other three are just the saddest things I’ve ever heard. Incident in New Baghdad centers on an American soldier recounting the story of “the slaying of two Reuters journalists, along with a group of mostly unarmed men, on the streets of Baghdad by American attack helicopters in July 2007.” Yeesh. The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom is, as you’d expect, about Japanese people picking up the pieces of their lives after the tsunami. Oof. (It’s also about cherry blossoms, which is topical for us DC residents, amirite?)

But oh my good Lord does Saving Face sound sad. I thought, oh it’s about someone who committed a faux pas and tries to “save face” afterwards! So it’s a delightful comedy of manners that is also somehow a documentary. NO. It’s about women in Pakistan who have ACID THROWN IN THEIR FACES. WHAT. And I bet none of them turned to coin-wielding villainy like Harvey Dent did! I believe in Saving Face.

Saddest Documentary, Features
Hell and Back Again
If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Some of these I’ve heard of. I saw a trailer for Undefeated the other day, which looks like a real-life Friday Night Lights and therefore I’m going to see it and cry. But high school football, while quite emotional, can’t match some of the other entries in this category. Pina, directed by renowned sadmonger Wim Wenders, is about the choreographer Pina Bausch. I’ve seen some sad dances in my day, but, again, some perspective here. If A Tree Falls is about “the radical environmental group that the FBI calls America's ‘number one domestic terrorist threat.’” Clearly the FBI hasn’t met my buddy Chich.

This is a two-horse race. Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory is about the West Memphis Three, wrongfully imprisoned for nearly twenty years until their recent release. Very sad. But on the other hand… they were just released! And also this is the third in a series of docs about them. What’s the last good threequel you saw? The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift is the correct answer. 

And so Hell and Back Again, about soldiers going to and returning from the war in Afghanistan, wins. Is this a makeup call from the last category, where I snubbed the war doc? That’s not for me to say.

Saddest Visual Effects
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Real Steel
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Bring on the BIG-BUDGET FILMS. Oh by the way, how will we judge which film’s visual effects are the “saddest,” you ask? As arbitrarily as we do everything else on this blog.

All five of these films have legitimate claims for this award. The continued existence of the Transformers franchise is quite sad. And Hugo is about an orphan, or something, and maybe he saw mystical visions of his parents or something. Side note: I have not seen Hugo.

I also have not seen ROTPOTA, but I did consider it for this blog (“sad film about animal cruelty”). So it’s close. Real Steel is close too, because I cried during that movie. (Don’t worry about it.) But our winner is Harry Potter, because I can only imagine how sad-looking the visual effects were in the scene where Harry dies. Side note: I have not read the Harry Potter books.

Saddest Sound Editing
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse

Drive. If only because it’s really sad that this is the only category it’s nominated in. C’mon, Academy. (Also, many, many people are killed in that movie. Killing sounds = sad.)

Saddest Sound Mixing
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse

A two-horse (GET IT) race between Dragon Tattoo (rape sounds are sad) and War Horse (war sounds are sad). I’ll go with War Horse, because horse whinnies, already sad on their own, must be way sadder in the context of war.

Saddest Original Song
The Muppets, “Man or Muppet”
Rio, “Real in Rio”

Muppets duh. That song is DEEP. “If I’m a man, that makes me a muppet of a man.” Words I can relate to.

Saddest Original Score
The Adventures of Tintin
The Artist
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
War Horse

The first nomination we’ve seen for The Artist, which is just way too happy-go-lucky to gain much traction here at TMS. Sorry, Frenchies. Hope all the Oscars will keep you warm. Also I have not seen any of these, except for The Artist, which I slept through the first half of. I am a model moviegoer. Give it to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, because the other movies’ scores are probably either whimsical or inspiring, and Tinker Tailor’s all Cold War-ish, right?

Saddest Makeup
Albert Nobbs
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
The Iron Lady

The Brits love their makeup, apparently. Albert Nobbs is all repression and cross-dressing before it was in style, but I hear from reliable sources that The Iron Lady is very dementia-heavy. Dementia’s hard to beat around here.

Saddest Costume Design
The Artist
Jane Eyre

I hate that W.E. has as many nominations as Drive. UGHHH MADONNA GET OUT. Again, the foreigns dominate this category (three films set in Britain, one in France, one in Hollywood but made by a bunch of Frogs). I didn’t see it, but, in the previews for Jane Eyre, Jane looked a bit dowdy. Let’s go with it.

Saddest Art Direction
The Artist
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Midnight in Paris
War Horse

These are all just blending together right now. What the hell constitutes sad art direction? Why am I doing this. Harry Potter again. Snape dies, right? I'm pretty sure I'm right about that one.

Saddest Editing
The Artist
The Descendants
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I define this one as “movie with the most cuts to sad things.” By that standard, The Descendants is our winner for sure. That dying wife got A LOT of screen time.

Saddest Cinematography
The Artist
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Tree of Life
War Horse

I really wanted to see The Tree of Life, but I haven’t yet. I heard there were dinosaurs in it. DINOSAURS. Crazy shit. And I hear it’s melancholy and all that. But we’re long overdue for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Lots of shots of cold, bleak Sweden. Also, I think there’s been a rape up there! Side note: I have not seen or read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Saddest Foreign Language Film
In Darkness
Monsieur Lahzar
A Separation

Another one where I have to look up what they’re about! RESEARCH. And this category always features stiff competition. (As we all know, foreign people have things much worse off than we Americans do.)

The lightest of the five is Footnote, an Israeli film about a father and son who are both professors in Talmudic studies and have some sort of confrontation. Eh. It’s decently heavy. But this category has a high bar, and that ain’t cuttin’ it. Nor is the plot of Monsieur Lahzar, about an Algerian immigrant hired to replace an elementary school teacher who died tragically. Tragic deaths, yes, but apparently that happens before the main plot does. Sorry, Canadians.

The three remaining films are all TMS material. Bullhead is a Belgian film described as “an exciting tragedy about fate, lost innocence and friendship, about crime and punishment, but also about conflicting desires and the irreversibility of a man's destiny.” HEAVY. A Separation, which I hear is excellent, is about Iranian folks who have to decide whether to stay in Iran to take care of one of their parents (who has Alzheimer’s), or move to create a better life for their child. This is one of those films that’ll make me feel guilty for taking an hour to decide what to eat for lunch.

But step aside, folks: we’ve got a Holocaust film on our hands. In Darkness: a Polish film that tells “the true story of Leopold Soha who risks his own life to save a dozen people from certain death.” In the immortal words of Dirk Nowitzki: “Shut it down. Let’s go home.” (I could watch this video a hundred times in a row and laugh every time. Unreal. Take dat witchu.)

Saddest Animated Film
A Cat in Paris
Chico & Rita
Kung Fu Panda 2
Puss in Boots

Obviously Kung Fu Panda, right? No? It’s not sad? OK then. 

The two non-mainstream films duke it out for this one, and I think the winner is Chico & Rita. It’s about Cuban star-crossed lovers! Cuba is way sad. And plus A Cat in Paris just sounds like the name of an adorable YouTube video where they insert cats into scenes from Midnight in Paris.

Saddest Adapted Screenplay
The Descendants
The Ides of March
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Gotta be The Descendants. As mentioned earlier, Clooney talks to the dying wife a lot. It’s sadder than some computer reciting newfangled statistics, amirite Joe Morgan? (Zing.)

Saddest Original Screenplay
The Artist
Margin Call
Midnight in Paris
A Separation

A Separation, nosed out earlier by that Holocaust flick, takes this award. (See FOTB Joe Kirkwood’s guest post on Schindler’s List for discussion of phrases like “Holocaust flick.” THROWBACKKKKKK.) I’ll even overlook the fact that it’s not written in ENGLISH. I THOUGHT THIS WAS AMERICA, PEOPLE.

Saddest Director
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Martin Scorsese, Hugo

Technically this award is for “Best Directing,” not “Best Director,” but I’m tweaking this a bit:  here we tackle the question of which film’s director is the saddest person. I will not allow the fact that I have never met any of these five men to stand in the way of judging how sad they are.

Scorsese is just a jolly old Italian man, having a great time, making 3D movies about French kids. He's lovin' life. The Frenchman’s probably going to win the actual thing, so he’s doing well too. And Payne’s a young guy, and while he’s made some sad movies in his day (i.e., About Schmidt), he got to hang out with George Clooney in Hawaii for several weeks. There’s no way they didn’t get up to some crazy awesome shit.

That leaves Malick, the notorious coot, and our man Woody. And in something of a surprise to those who love Woody’s movies, particularly the early, funny ones, the answer is clearly him. The man doesn’t give that many interviews, but in every single one he’s given for the past thirty years, his subject of choice is his intense, overwhelming fear of death, and his belief that all art is ultimately meaningless. Take it from someone who’s seen nearly all of his movies and read everything there is to read about the man: he’s probably not a hoot at dinner parties.

Saddest Supporting Actress
Berenice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer, The Help

Here we’re going by the performance, not how sad the people are. That was fun for one round, but I don’t really have any insight on Melissa McCarthy’s view on the human condition. I did enjoy the scene where she took a shit in the sink, though.

We’ll go with Janet McTeer. The Help ladies cancel each other out, like the two sides of a black-and-white cookie (racist?), and the other two are full of lolz. McTeer’s film is all about repression, and while I’ll probably never see it, I’m happy to (possibly wrongly) assume that her performance is fraught with sadness.

Saddest Supporting Actor
Kenneth Branagh, Smash My Week with Marilyn
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

I don’t care that we covered EL&IC on the blog. Von Sydow was sadder in Hannah and Her Sisters (#WOODY). Christopher Plummer wins, for playing someone with cancer. I have not seen that movie yet and I desperately want to.

Saddest Actress
Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Michele Williams, My Week with Marilyn

Some good candidates here: Viola Davis loves crying in movies, Rooney Mara gets raped, Michele Williams goes on to die tragically. But this is where it gets political: having just Nobbsed out in the Supporting Actress category, I’m gonna have to go with the coolest lady of all time, Meryl Streep. Again, I hear there’s a lot of dementia in that film, and we at the blog do love us some dementia.

Saddest Actor
Demian Bichir, A Better Life
George Clooney, The Descendants
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt, Moneyball

I’m mainly sad that FOTB Michael Fassbender didn’t get a nod for his dongtastic performance in Shame, which, all dong jokes aside, was truly remarkable. The actual candidates each have their sad moments: Pitt, when his scrappy A’s keep losing the playoffs (SORRY BRO GO YANKEEEEEEEES); Dujardin, when he’s washed up and sets his apartment on fire; Bichir, when he’s reminded by reporters daily that he’s by far the least famous one in the group; and Oldman, when he doesn’t get there fast enough to save Rachel from being blown up by the Joker. But Clooney really got it done in that movie, a movie that devotees will recall I did not love, but featured a fine, sad performance from one of the sexiest men of all time. (I’m referring, of course, to Matthew Lillard. Oh, and George Clooney was good too.)

Saddest Picture
The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The Help
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
War Horse

Obviously, this award won’t go to the movie that made me saddest this year (that movie was Fast Five, which made me sad that it wasn’t five hours longer). It’s the saddest of these nine, two of which we’ve covered here on the blog. And despite Clooney’s best efforts, it’s extremely/incredibly difficult to beat a 9/11 picture in the sad department. (Yes I know that, not five minutes ago, I wrote the words "I don’t care that we covered EL&IC on the blog." Just leave me alone already.)

Congrats, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. I didn’t like you, but I just gave you an arbitrary award.

I’m gonna go sleep for ten hours. Enjoy the Oscars, everyone!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Vow.

The Vow (Michael Sucsy, 2012)

It’s Valentine’s Day, folks, which means it's time for a new contest that I thought up literally one minute ago: y'all have the rest of the day to comment on this post or email us or Facebook us or tweet at us (good Lord I have a lot of outlets) and tell us why you should be the Official Valentine of the Blog (VOTB)! The winner will receive a shoutout in the next post and a signed picture of me crying.

Category: Sad Valentine’s Day Weekend movie. This movie made over $40 million at the box office this weekend. The price we men pay for the possibility of a little post-film business. Smh.

This is, of course, a sad film about amnesia. I think I’ve written about my fear of amnesia on the blog before, but I can’t remember. I know, right? Anyway, if I did, it would have had to do with The Muppets Take Manhattan and how that movie is terrifying to kids who don’t know that amnesia exists. It’s no big deal. We don’t need to talk about it anymore.

My familiarity with this issue: At last, we are finally getting the full taste of sad that we merely nibbled at when the trailer for this film was released back in November. I don’t know how we made it here alive.

My favorite part about this whole thing is the fact that everyone seems to assume this is a Nicholas Sparks adaptation. FOTB Ben Vipond sent me a blog post about the film and its hilariously bad reviews that basically just assumed that the movie was based on a Sparks novel, and referred to it throughout the post as such. (Here it is, BTW – it’s since been updated to correct the error.)

It’s an easy mistake to make, for a bunch of reasons: the marketing of the film, as detailed in our NMS take, which totally played up its leads’ Sparks bona fides; the Valentine’s Day Weekend release; and the fact that the title is a singular noun after the word “The” (The Notebook, The Rescue, The Guardian, The Wedding, The Choice, and that’s not even mentioning The Lastsong). I think even the real people on whose lives this film is based will forgive us for making that mistake. It’s like fake butter in the butter aisle. The difference is negligible.

Devotees will know my love for the female lead of this film, the lovely Rachel McAdams, but it’s important to note that the blog’s view on male lead Channing Tatum is evolving. (FOTB Pat Ambrosio, who may soon be developing a spinoff of the blog, to be entitled Taste My Tatum, will no doubt be overjoyed at this fact.) At first I dismissed Tatum as a ‘roided-out freak with the widest neck I had ever seen. And I’m not wrong about that, but… he is fairly charming! I thought he did a fine job on SNL, and 21 Jump Street looks like it might be pretty good. (He will also be in every other movie released this year.) Sure, maybe the man should enunciate more, but at a certain point it doesn’t really schlubcsusushahsbcsbs.

So! Two stars I either really like or kind of like. A silly trailer involving hijinks in a museum. A secondtrailer featuring the song “Enchated” by FOTB Taylor Swift. What’s not to like? I’ve got high hopes, folks!

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “A car accident puts Paige (McAdams) in a coma, and when she wakes up with severe memory loss, her husband Leo (Tatum) works to win her heart again.”

What I thought of the movie: Here’s what sucks. I write the first parts of these blog posts before I see the movies. Sometimes I set up a little joke there, like a cliffhanger, before the plot summary. It’s one of my bits. And y'all see what I just did there, right? I was gonna say something like, “Yeah no that didn’t work out,” because obviously I didn’t actually think it was going to be any good.

But it wasn’t that bad. And that just ruined everything.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I liked The Vow. But I liked certain things about it, some of them way more than I thought I would. (I can only blame this on the fact that I have already written a blog post ridiculing it. But of course I was only ridiculing the way the film was marketed, and not the film itself. Which is an important distinction, all things considered.) Anyway. It was a bit simplistic and occasionally howl-inducing, but all in all it was just another mediocre film. Not nearly the calamity I was hoping it would be. (Plus, Channing Tatum's bare ass is involved. And I gotta tell you, it's a nice ass. I couldn't even get mad about it.)

It wasn’t awful because the story was not as conventional as I expected it to be. The tension in the film comes less from Rachel McAdams losing her memory and more from her PRE-FILM TRANSFORMATION: we learn that her character was once a rich whitey-white girl law student from the Chicago suburbs, and that she was engaged to some haircut played by Scott Speedman. At some point, she broke off contact with her folks, dropped out of law school and moved into the city to be a hipster artist type with Channing Tatum. But when she wakes up from her accident, her most recent memories are from the aforementioned rich whitey-white girl days, and so basically she has to choose between Channing Tatum, who she doesn’t remember, and her comfortable pre-hipster life. (We’ll talk about the hipster stuff later.) As plot contrivances go, it’s not all that objectionable.

The problem is that Rachel McAdams’s character is thoroughly unlikeable. For a while, we sympathize with her, because, you know, of the amnesia and all. But the choices she makes as the film progresses are just really annoying and dumb. If it weren't for the fact that I love Rachel McAdams, despite her recent proclivity for playing unsympathetic characters (see also: Midnight in Paris), I’d have been loudly rooting against her and rooting for Channing Tatum, who is just legit and cool for most of the time, to find some new hip girl to bed. Like, even Lana del Rey would have been preferable at certain parts of this movie.

But I don’t know! Somehow it kind of almost works. It’s not great, and it’s not deep, but it held my interest. It was better than your standard Sparks, to be sure.

How I related to the movie: OK the hipster thing. I’m not a fan. I feel like the hipster thing was in the script long before Tatum was attached, like when they were hoping for Joseph Gordon-Levitt to be in this. Or at least someone considerably more pencil-necked. So they have these three friends who wore stupid hats and clothes and acted dumb and I wanted them all to die. And that presented an issue, because McAdams’s choice, therefore, was between a soulless, Stepford Wives suburban nightmare, and an episode of New Girl. Which is a choice none of us should have to make. Luckily, they basically wrote out the friends as the film continued and focused more on Tatum’s earnestness, which was nice.

Here are some other things that were annoying, but somehow didn’t lead me to think that this was the worst film of all time as I had expected to:
  • This is the hat that Channing Tatum wears when he and McAdams meet. I don’t even have anything to say.
  • After she’s released from the hospital and reluctantly comes back home with him, he throws her a big surprise party with all of their hipster friends that she doesn’t remember. First of all, maybe having a bunch of people lie in wait to yell “SURPRISE” at someone who’s recovering from a massive head trauma isn’t the best idea. And second of all, UGHH GET THESE HIPSTERS OUTTTTT.
  • In the hospital, Rachel McAdams says to Channing Tatum, “I just wanted to verify a few things about me.” Which made me burst out laughing.
  • They make it very, very easy to hate the characters from McAdams’s past. Too easy. Sam Neill was just barely less evil than Chris Cooper’s character from The Muppets.
  • There’s some really terrible voiceover narration (covered in the post about the trailer). And I know I’ve said it dozens of times, but it’s worth nothing again how mumbly Channing Tatum is. He makes Tom Waits sound like the Cake Boss.

How I felt after the movie ended: God this is one of those where it seems like I hated it much more than I did. But I swear, sitting in that theater, I was able to overlook a lot of this shit. I can’t rationally explain it.

This all raises a lot of questions. Am I beginning to think that Channing Tatum is the next Stallone (like good early Stallone, basically Stallone in Rocky)? Am I still crushing hard on Rachel McAdams even as she actively tries to make me and the rest of America mad? Am I losing my edge? That’s not for me to say. All I can say is that I almost liked The Vow. Almost.  I'm not sure what I should do now.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Charlie St. Cloud.

Charlie St. Cloud (Burr Steers, 2010)

Category: Sad film about a dead younger brother. We’ve been at this for a while, and in order to differentiate among the many sad movies out there, the blog feels that it is necessary for these categories to start getting more and more specific. Sorry, Saving Private Ryan, but Matt Damon was the youngest of those four. You don’t get to say you’re in the same category as Charlie St. Cloud. Harsh, I know. But it’s time to get tough.

This is also a sad film featuring the star of the High School Musical films. Look for more (Taste My) Efron on the blog when we tackle the upcoming Nicholas Sparks adaptation, The Lucky One, out April 20. We here at the blog are counting down the hours to that day. It’s one of the few things the blog has in common with “people who love to smoke marijuana.” (It’s basically the 4/20 countdown and that we are both often hungry.)

My familiarity with this issue: I was at a party with a kid who looked exactly like Zac Efron once, and I drunkenly yelled at him, from across the room, that I loved him in Charlie St. Cloud. I don’t think I’ve been invited back to that house since.

As for the categories at hand: I do not have a younger brother. I have an older brother and a younger sister, and neither of them is dead. I have also never seen the HSM films. Zefron fans, these are your excuses to bash me if I hate this movie. I’d like to think that this blog is frequently discussed on the Zefron fan community’s message boards. They’ve been waiting for this day for over a year. (Other communities devoted to the blog hopefully include: Sparks fans, the gays, and sad high school girls with LiveJournals).

I honestly know very little about this movie. I know the kid dies, and that’s about it. In preparing for this post, I read some reviews that dismissed it as Nicholas Sparks-esque twaddle. That kind of shit is pretty much like the Bat-Signal for me. I’m pumped.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “Charlie St. Cloud is a young man overcome by grief at the death of his younger brother. So much so that he takes a job as caretaker of the cemetery in which his brother is buried. Charlie has a special lasting bond with his brother though, as he can see him. Charlie meets up with his brother (Sam) each night to play catch and talk. Then, a girl comes into Charlie's life and he must choose between keeping a promise he made to Sam, or going after the girl he loves.” I enjoyed this one. The guy says “his brother” four times before he realizes he can mention the kid’s name.

What I thought of the movie/How I related to the movie: I started to hate it instantly. As in, the first instant that images appeared on the screen. It’s a sailboat race. I hate sailing. I hate sailboats, and I generally hate people who enjoy sailing (except former top GW sailer and FOTB Katie Ross). So it was an uphill climb from the beginning.

Charlie St. Efron and Li’l Sam, who wears a Red Sox hat (UGHHHH another thing to hate already), win the race. They’re not as rich as the other participants (obviously, because then we wouldn’t like them); they also have a single mom (Kim Basinger, who is in the movie for maybe seven minutes) who has to work lots of extra shifts and stuff. (They still have a sailboat, though.) But Efron’s got a scholarship to Stanford for sailing! All is well in the Pacific Northwest.

On the night he graduates from high school, Zef and the bro play catch, and the bro pouts about the fact that Zef seems excited to leave and go to college. (I know he’s only 11, but still, shut up kid. College is awesome.) He promises the kid that they’ll practice baseball every day until he leaves at the end of the summer. The movie wants to establish that they have a close relationship, but in these scenes it actually seems kind of weird and off-putting, like two people in a bad relationship (they hit each other and make each other feel guilty a lot). I blame the kid for this. And not just because he's a Red Sox fan.

Later that night, he’s driving the kid to his friend’s house before going to a graduation kegger. Waiting for traffic to pass before making a left turn, Eff-Eff turns his wheels into the intersection, WHICH YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO DO. The former driver ed teacher of the blog (FDETOTB) Mr. Ott taught me this. You’re supposed to keep your wheels straight so that if you get rear-ended, you won’t be propelled into oncoming traffic. So of course he gets rear-ended (not really intended as a gay joke, but you can have it if you want), and the car gets T-boned by a truck.

Sam’s dead, but Effie White gets revived in the ambulance by paramedic Ray Liotta. This is the conversation that the ambulance driver and Liotta have as they speed toward the hospital:

Driver: “Give it up, the kid’s flatlining. It’s a lost cause.”
Liotta: “There’s no such thing as a lost cause.”

I have never been in an ambulance before, so I don’t really know what paramedics say to each other. But I know they don’t say that.

At the kid’s funeral, Chuck gets all sad and runs into a clearing in the woods, where he sees the kid. Ha-whaaaa? He agrees to keep his promise. I’m thinking, that’s nice, play catch with the ghost of your brother for a couple of months, and then go off to Stanford for free.

Cut to this title card: “FIVE YEARS LATER.”

Now I’m no lawyer, but the promise that Chazz made was only intended to last the summer! Maybe they amended the contract in a deleted scene. Either way, he’s still in town. He’s working as the caretaker at the graveyard where the kid is buried, close to the clearing where they play catch. Every. Day. Even Kim Basinger moved away! Even the grieving mother finds it all a bit much after a certain point. Jeez. (Also, the other graveyard employee is this handsome young British guy. The fact that the two graveyard employees are both handsome young dudes might be the most unrealistic thing in the movie. And this is a movie that is about playing catch with a ghost.) (Also also, he has a conversation with his buddy from high school who went into the military and died. So it’s established that he can see and talk to other dead people aside from just his brother.)

There’s a scene where Liotta runs into Charzef and they have a weirdly tense cup of coffee. Liotta has cancer, and he says to the kid, there’s a reason that I was able to save you and give you a second chance at life, so you need to, like, use this gift and all that. Maybe I’ve been watching too many medical shows these days, but reviving people with those paddles, as Liotta did, seems to be pretty commonplace. Also, that’s a bit heavy to lay on an obviously troubled kid you haven’t seen for five years, isn’t it? Every interaction in this movie is just so laden with unnecessary guilt and unnatural weirdness. It’s tremendously off-putting.

So then there’s this girl, who we see in the initial sailboat race, and at Charizard’s graduation, and she’s gearing up to sail around the world by herself. Which seems unnecessary, but sure! She’s back in town for a few days, and ends up, along with everyone in the town, at the local bar. I should also note that this girl is very toothy. Like, distractingly toothy.

Even known hermit Charlie St. Ash Ketchum is at the bar. There were two rich douchey sailing types from the beginning of the movie who show up as well. One of them is black, by the way, which was more than a little incongruous, and not really what I think Dr. King had in mind, but anyway. He urges our boy Charles to take a Jager bomb, saying, “It’s not like there’s a big demand for you as a designated driver.” Awesome burn, man. Real smooth. (Charlie punches him out, by the way. It was the only time in the movie where I liked him. I hope this means that I am not a racist.)

Fron-Fron and the girl reconnect. He asks if he can make her dinner, and she accepts, I think (the DVD skipped around a little at this part and I did not have the patience to rewind and try to figure it out). The next day, she goes off for a sail, testing out her boat by sailing it into a big storm. This will be important later.

At dinner that night they drink wine and talk about how she doesn’t like baseball (GET OUTTTTT). She seems to deal with the fact that he lives adjacent to a graveyard pretty well. She also seems to deal with the fact that the house is pretty much a shrine to the dead brother pretty well. Fron Swanson points out Sam’s collection of “thousands of vintage Red Sox baseball cards.” I don’t mean to be insensitive, because the kid is dead and all that. But I collected baseball cards. You don’t just collect baseball cards from your own team. You collect all of them. I had tons of Red Sox baseball cards. This kid was an idiot if he was passing up non-Red Sox cards on principle. I bet the Robinson Cano rookie card will totally be worth a ton one day. But I guess you’re dead so it doesn’t really matter anyway.

Charlie (I think I'm out of nicknames) senses that Toothy McGee is down2clown and goes for it, but she stops him, saying that she’s leaving in a few days. She leaves, but moments later changes her mind, knocks on the door and runs away, luring him outside (and causing him to run through a dark wooded area holding a candle aloft; DON’T TRIP, CHARLIE, THIS IS HOW FOREST FIRES START).

It was then that I remembered that he works as the caretaker for a GRAVEYARD. I remembered this fact mere moments before she reveals herself, in the graveyard, and they (presumably) have sex. In the graveyard. They do the do in the graveyard. Outside. Six feet above dead people. This happens in this movie. I'll give you a moment to consider this.


OK. First of all, if George Costanza has taught us anything, it’s that sex in the workplace is always a bad idea. Second of all, HOW CREEPY IS THAT! I don’t care how hot the girl is, I would categorically never do that. Third of all, this guy SEES DEAD PEOPLE. What if his brother’s just chilling there and he catches sight of him at, ahem, a crucial moment? But such are the sacrifices one must make to do it with a toothy girl in a cemetery. The girl sucks, by the way. On the list of my favorite toothy film stars, she ranks far below the current co-leaders, Anna Paquin and the horse from War Horse.

So they hang out the next day, and he loses track of time and is late to his date with his dead brother. The kid is crying. The ghost is crying, rather. It’s not a kid. It certainly plays catch like an actual kid, but we all know the kid is dead. “I could feel you forgetting me,” he says, reproachfully, and it’s here that everyone, if they haven’t already, begins to question what the message of this movie is. If the movie has any idea what “forgetting” means. There's a middle ground between "leaving town and never thinking about the person again" and "being forced to play catch with his ghost every day." And that's the thing. In actuality, Charlie is chained to this thing. He can never leave town, like a much more annoying George Bailey. (Holy God did I just compare Charlie St. Cloud to George Bailey? I need to stop watching movies like this.)

Sam fears he’ll disappear if Charlie doesn’t keep coming back, which is the kind of threat that you’d only expect to hear from either a crazy ex or a ghost. “I can’t lose Sam,” Charlie says when the girl shows up and figures the whole thing out. “The more I’m in your world, the less I can be in his.” One of those worlds is real, and the other is not. One is full of sexy toothy graveyard sex, and the other... actually sounds more attractive when you put it that way, because graveyard sex is just so incredibly weird.

OK THEN BUT WAIT. Because did all that really happen? We find out that her boat went missing three days ago, when we saw her sailing off into that storm from like twelve paragraphs ago. (So she prepared for an around-the-world sailboat journey by sailing directly into a storm like five minutes from her house, and she wrecked. I’m not necessarily questioning her talent here, as I know nothing about sailing. But it strikes me as a little amateurish. Like tripping over the starting line of a marathon and breaking your ankle.)

And then we see her now, walking around town, but no one can see her and she has no reflection. Was she a vampire ghost this whole time? Did Zac Efron have sex with a ghost in a graveyard? Did I just type that sentence?

So Charlie realizes that this is what Ray Cancer Liotta was talking about. (Oh he died, by the way. His wife comes by Charlie’s house with Liotta’s medallion of St. Jude, almost certainly one of Liotta’s most valued possessions, and gives it to Charlie, a kid he’d met twice. It’s almost as if he knew he was in a movie called Charlie St. Cloud.) He knows she’s out there, and the lovely dinner/graveyard sex they had was somehow her way of reaching through the void and making some connection to him so that he’ll go find her when she wrecks her stupid boat. I’m willing to go with it at this point, so long as they wrap this up already.

He gathers up a few one-dimensional supporting characters and goes off searching for her. But it’s a long trip, so he’ll have to miss playing catch with his dead brother! Sam, who is just the most awful annoying kid ever, I know he’s dead, I’m sorry, but oh my God how could anyone stand this kid, anyway Sam finally does something helpful. Understanding that he has to let his brother go, and being a ghost and all that, he transforms into a bright shooting star that guides our hero right to where the girl is. You know, like what happened in the Bible with the Three Wise Men, but if the baby Jesus was some toothy biddy.

He saves her, yay. But then since all the good times/graveyard sex they had together wasn’t real, she’s all reluctant. She says she’s been having vivid dreams about him, which he explains are actually ghost memories that she’s getting after the fact. Like how Yahoo emails you the results of your fantasy draft after it’s over. He didn’t say this, but I feel that analogy would have been super-helpful. Anyway he quotes something that she said to him in the "dream" and she realizes they were MFEO and that ghost memories are totally a thing.

He goes into the clearing one more time to talk to Sam. “Sorry I had to break our deal,” he says. They spout off a lot of hooey about always being brothers, and as the music swells, Charlie says, “I promise.” The end.

How I felt after the movie ended: Couldn’t they have just had that conversation five years ago? Like, what every other person who grieves does? (Except not out loud, because real people can’t talk to ghosts.) Just keep the person in your heart. Think of all the great times you guys had. Allow yourself to pursue relationships with toothy non-ghosts. It would’ve saved Charlie a whole lot of trouble. And it would have saved you a whole lot of time reading this.