It’s the Little Things

There are so many bits and pieces that go into making a movie really good.  A good script, good director, good acting are all no brainers, I’m talking about the IT factor.  The part of movie making that is just inspired and that is very hard to do on purpose.  George Lucas had no idea that Star Wars would be that big of a hit and that’s just one of the known stories of this phenomena.  It isn’t just about a GOOD director, its about the RIGHT director for the project.  Can you imagine if Frank Cappra was slated to make Gone With the Wind?  Scarlett wouldn’t have been the same Scarlett from the book, that’s for sure.  Or what if James Cameron directed Juno, Yikes.  That would be utter crap.  It’s also about the right cast, the right music, the right editor, the right location, the right cinematographer, and the list goes on.  It really doesn’t take much to make a movie go wrong, and it takes a tremendous amount to make it go right.  It’s just not always clear what is in either category.  Here is a short list of movies that I feel got it right and some of what I think they did right, I tried to keep it eclectic.

1. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I don’t like Westerns.  I’ll just put that out there right off the bat.  I think they’re dull and the same story over and over.  I also hate when a historical movie is way off base with its facts.  Having said that, this is my favorite movie.  I think because it has so much charisma that it makes me not care about the above mentioned dislikes.  I love this movie so much that one time a boyfriend said to me, “you just keep thinking Butch, that’s what you’re good at” and I thought it was the most wonderful thing he’d ever said to me!  I was actually moved that he saw any similarity between me and Paul Newman’s character, that I loved so dearly.  The chemistry between Redford and Newman is the best I’ve ever seen; they are in love with each other in a way that is neither romantic nor creepy.  They are more committed to each other than they are to any women and it doesn’t make them seem any less masculine.  They are brothers in a way that few movies get right.  In real life Butch and Sundance hardly worked together at all, well at least compared to the way the movie paints it. My one complaint about this movie is the score.  Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head is a great song, but I have no idea what it is doing in a period piece about train robbers.  Also the instrumental music is so of the time that this movie was made, not when it takes place that during certain scenes I just cringe.  The classic lines, the twinkle in Newman’s eye when he smiles, and the way the two men ride silently through the landscape with only the sound of the horses hoofs makes this movie so elegant that I can watch it over and over and over, and I have.  Although I don’t recommend that you watch it with me, unless you like to hear someone other than Newman say, “Hell, the fall’ll probably kill ya!”

2. Secretary.  I know an odd choice to follow BCaTSK, not just because of the S & M subject matter, but because few have seen it.  I do have to say right of the bat, I am not into S & M, not that I think there is anything wrong with it.  I worry every time I recommend this movie to someone because I’m wondering “will this person think I’m trying to ‘out’ myself in some way?”  I’ll agree I’m a little twisted, but only in my head, not so much in my activities.  Having said that, I think this is one of the most beautifully romantic movies ever.  It is about being loved for your flaws and finding that person that is right for you and only you.  Maggie Gyllenhaal’s performance made me instantly fall in love with her.  Those eyes are so entrancing (and her brother is the same way).  The whole movie hinges on a couple of scenes going the right way and it’s due to Maggie’s eyes that they do.  There is a scene where everything changes and it’s so subtle and I can feel it in my bones when it does.  The casting of James Spader was inspired too.  He is so believable as a well-meaning sadist, who is deep down a coward.  So many romantic movies show two beautiful people, not ones with kinky faults, fall in love.  They lack true imagination.  Secretary tells a very specific story that I see as more of a hero’s journey that a love story.  I also love the song at the end of the movie.

3. About a Boy.  I am a huge Nick Hornby (the author of the book About a Boy is based on) fan.  It seems that I am always either reading one of his books, just finishing one of his books or asking for one for Christmas.  I know that makes me sound like an incredibly slow reader, he doesn’t have THAT many books.  It’s just that I often volley between five books at any given time depending on my mood.  Hornby, however, is my traveling companion.  I tend to read his novels when I’m on a trip.  Now, knowing that I am a huge fan of the author usually means that I hated the adaptation, About a Boy is a lovely exception.  I did read the book after I saw the movie though, which for as closed as my mind can sometimes be, that’s usually the best course of action.  I thought Nicholas Hoult was so enchanting as the main character and although I am, already, a huge Hugh Grant fan, his performance was so subtle and charming I feel in love with him all over again.  And the MUSIC!  Don’t get me started!  The soundtrack is one of my favorites and several of the songs were played at my wedding including an instrumental one (which incidentally is a really funny story.  The song is called “I love NYE”.  For the life of us, neither my husband or I could figure out what NYE meant until I saw the movie again a couple of years after our wedding.  It is played in a scene at a New Years Eve party.  It means New Years Eve.  Not all that special unless you know that my husband and I met on, you guessed it, New Years Eve.)  The narration switching between the characters of Will and Marcus is so brilliant that it makes you wonder, which of these two is the”boy” the story is about?  Another “love” story that isn’t about romantic love, although that’s in there, I find the perspective wonderfully fresh and unique.  Well done all around.  Also, Toni Collette can do no wrong in my eyes, which brings me to my next picks.

4. Muriel’s Wedding/The Dish.  I’ve lumped these two together because a lot of the things want to say about them is the same.  I love Australian comedies.  I have an Aussie friend who does not understand this, but I’m sure there are American things he loves that I don’t get, so it all works out.  Both of these movies are wonderfully cast, perfectly scored (I love me some ABBA, Yo) and are both light-hearted with tears.  Another thing I love about these two movies is that they are two of my parents’ favorites.  It makes me love my folks even more to know that they “got” these two movies.  I know there isn’t all that much to “get” other than the heart of the movies, but to me that can be a real test of who someone is.   Also my folks are both mad ABBA fans.  Both have themes of loyalty and again (here’s a trend) neither is a romantic love story.  Both are directed like a fine symphony with a light touch and perfect flow, it’s magic!  (Sorry, very corny I know, that was just a little nod to ABBA).

5. Shaun of the Dead.  I know what you’re thinking.  A common horror movie?  I know I don’t tend to like the genre either, but this one is so funny and well written and far from common.  Not to mention that I would follow Simon Pegg into a burning building, were he to ask.  I love British humor and every one of the main actors are funny by themselves.  That is why it is awesome that there are two commentaries on the DVD, one with Pegg (co-writer) and Edgar Wright (director and co-writer) and one with the some of the main cast (Pegg, Dylan Moran, Lucy Davis and I think Nick Frost, but don’t quote me.  I’d check, but as I write this I have loaned out my dvd yet again).  Pegg has been heard describing this movie as a Zom Rom Com because it’s a funny zombie movie (that never uses the “z” word) that has a romance sprinkled in.  He left a few things out, it’s also a slacker film, a bunch of misfits ban together to beat the odds movie, a hero’s journey, a nod to Pegg and Wright’s show Spaced, a war film and a touching drama (only for a minute when Shaun’s mom becomes a “z” word.  Hope I didn’t spoil it for you.)  I think the only thing it isn’t is a murder mystery.  For that, check out Hot Fuzz, Pegg and Wright’s follow-up.  This one is definitely good for the writing, acting, directing and great musical moments including a zombie sing-a-long to the song White Lines and the most creative use of Panic by The Smiths that I have ever seen.

I think I need to do another list.  I still have so many movies that I want to write about like, (in no particular order) Eagle vs. Shark, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Princess Bride, Ghostbusters, The Sting, The Breakfast Club, High Art, Donnie Darko, The Shawshank Redemption, LA Confidential, True Romance, The Color Purple, Garden State, Razing Arizona, Walking and Talking, Superman, Shallow Grave, Rushmore, The Bourne Identity and the list goes on and on.

I love movies, they ignite my heart and entertain my mind.  But they only do that when they “work”.  Unique and moving stories are what capture imagination and with the big block busters so prevalent s, those two things are becoming a dying breed.  Support independent film!  They are the best chance at originality.

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Romance=Magic

You may have found yourself wondering at some point, “why do so many woman love romantic comedies?”  Lord knows I have.  I’ve even wondered why against all my brain is telling me, why am I smiling at this dopey, predictable and kind of insulting movie?  Romantic comedies have evolved over time, but currently they seem to consist of an adorable woman out of touch with who she REALLY is meeting a gorgeous manly man who somehow teaches her to get in touch with herself in a way she never thought possible thus culminating in their living happily ever after.  It’s so formulaic, it’s so unrealistic, it’s so lame, it’s insulting to both men and women, and yet many of us fall for it against our better judgment.  It doesn’t matter how many times I roll my eyes through out the transparent story when the guy tells the girl that he loves her, I realize that I am smiling like a little girl.  I hate that I do that, but I would by lying if I said I was immune.  

So, why?  Why do normally smart, even happy women fall for this trick of the cinema?  It’s simple, romance is magic for women.  We love magic (hello Harry Potter), we also love easy, happily ever after scenarios and they are a product of magic.  “You had the power to go home all along” is one of the most magical lines of any movie; it is both true and misleading.  It’s true because we all have inside us the power to create the lives of our dreams.  Misleading because it implies that there is no work involved, it’s just a magical pair of shoes.  It’s also why I think “The Secret” was so popular.  A lot of people heard, “all you have to do is wish for what you want and you will get it!”  Just like Dorothy, wish to go home and BOOM, magic shoes that grant wishes.  I always want to ask those who think “The Secret” is simple, “were you not wishing for any of those things before you heard ‘The Secret’?  What’s changed?”  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big believer in magic, I”ve seen in my life and the lives of those around me, but I’m also a big believer in the work that it takes to bring about that magic.  The Secret is all about manifesting the life of your dreams, much like rom coms, the real secret is a lot less “Poof, there it is”. 

Another thing about movies in general is that a lot of us get a vicarious thrill watching them.  That’s why women love to watch Josh Duhamel, Brad Pitt and George Clooney fall in love with us, (aka, Katherine Heigel, Angelina Jolie, Natalie Portman, etc.)  We not only get to feel like one of those studs finds us interesting and hot, we also get to be interesting and hot!  I think men are put off by them because they can’t related to the guys in the movie because they are purely a female fantasy of what we want men to be like.  Also, men aren’t complicated and women are, why on earth would they want to relive that vicariously for 2 hours?   Men like action movies because the guys are badass and things blow up.  What’s not to love?  I’m not saying that all men only like action movies or that women don’t like them too.  I know many men that I greatly admire that love a good intelligent story too, so do a lot of lovely women that I know.  It’s just that,  let’s be honest, a lot of guys fantasize about blowing things up and a lot of women fantasize about being swept away by a big strong man.  I know that guys also fantasize about other things, but they aren’t as prevalent in mainstream movies as they are in, shall we say, straight to dvd titles.

We also like to feel important and worth the effort because, let’s face it ladies, we put it a lot of effort too with the waxing and the high heels and the exercise, etc.  We like to think that some beautiful man with a brain in his head wants to dedicate his life to making us happy.  That’s an exaggeration, but it’s in there on a subconscious level.  Cinderella was a poor, put upon orphan and she landed the prince just because she had the right shoes (it all comes back to shoes, no wonder we’re obsessed with them.  We were brainwashed from the start.) 

We want to know that Mr. Right was there the whole movie.  We also love to be coddled into thinking that our life is a movie with great music and an even better wardrobe.  Once we meet Mr. Right, everything works out and we don’t have to live with the honeymoon period ending and the actual work that it takes to make a real relationship work.  We also love the magical illusion that when Mr. Right comes along it will be so obvious, well maybe not at first, but there will be no stopping that freight train of love once he’s come into our life.  Movies are just stories to make us feel better about out lives, so what harm does it do to let the ladies soak in a little magic?  None, once the women are grown.  But little girls don’t know how to understand that it’s just a movie and Christopher Reeve isn’t going to travel back in time just to fall in love with you… am I dating myself here?  Okay… Robert Pattinson isn’t going to love you over the thousands of women he’s met the hundred years or so he’s lived as a vampire because all that time he was waiting for you.  It’s nice to have fantasies, but not ones that make the men in the world seem inferior because they are being compared to gorgeous, flawless, attentive 2 dimensional versions of themselves.

Real men are wonderful and interesting and worthy of being on the screen too.  So are real women.  This desire for magical romance is an avoidance tactic.  Putting yourself out there is scary and hard, what if there are no takers?  What if I am so unlovable that I die alone?  I’ll end with a little secret of my own brought to you through some of my favorite Nada Surf Lyrics from their song Concrete Bed, “to find someone you love, you gotta be someone you love…”  Genuinely work on that and you will find magic all around you all of the time.

Never Let Me Go:: Just See It

I know I said that’d I’d write about the Big Bear Film Festival Documentaries, but I just have to say a little something about this new movie I saw called Never Let Me Go.

Never Let Me Go was recommended to me by a friend and fellow movie buff.  She told me to avoid reading anything about it and just go see it.  So I did.  Wow.  If you can keep from hearing anything about the plot before you see it, do, it makes a powerful story so much more powerful.  I intentionally didn’t post the preview that is on IMdb because I feel it gives too much away.  I know that “avoid hearing anything about this movie” seems to include reading this review, but I will be ever so careful to avoid all the important land mines.

What I can tell you is that it stars Carey Mulligan, (An Education and I am completely in love with her ever since her episode of Doctor Who a couple of years back called Blink), Kiera Knightly (Pride and Prejudice, Pirates of the Caribbean) and Andrew Garfield (the upcoming Spiderman 3, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus).  I can also say that it’s based on a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, a Japanese man raised in England.  Ishiguro also wrote The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go is nothing like it in story, only in gentleness.

The casting of the younger versions of the above mentioned stars was impressive, even certain mannerisms and rhythms of speech were subtly present.  I know this is a minor detail but it always takes me out of a movie when I am meant to believe that people who look nothing alike are related and that younger versions of people on screen are really that person.  And I hate being taken out of the story.  I want to believe and I think it’s lazy when the filmmakers don’t go to enough effort to help me out.  Having said that, what are the odds of finding a younger actor that seems like the older actor and can act?  Seems mighty high to me, so maybe I’m being unreasonable.  Having said that Never Let Me Go‘s filmmakers did manage and that I find commendable.

The story is a little slow moving, but that lends itself well to the material.  There is an aspect of the film that is rarely seen in movies these days, more often in novels, that makes you constantly wonder about a lot of things and that seems to keep the audience engaged in the story despite its pacing.  I can’t reveal what it is, but I do hope that I’ve been clear enough here that when you see it, you’ll know what I am referring to.

One last thing I can say is that the concept of this film will stay with you.  I’d love to hear from anyone who’s read the book.  I am curious about any major differences because the story is seamless.  I also think that Carey Mulligan needs to get her dress for the Oscars because I do think she’ll be going yet again.