F.I.L.M. of the Week (September 30, 2011)

30 09 2011

Some movies have such a powerful, heartbreaking intensity that you only need to see them once.  They don’t grab you by the shirt; they grip you body and soul.  “Revolutionary Road,” my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week,” is one of these movies if you haven’t already figured that out.  In 2008, it was plagued with what I like to call the curse of the Oscar frontrunner – predestination for incredible levels of greatness that it couldn’t possibly live up to its hype.  But now with that season firmly behind us, we can now see it for its incredible capacity to captivate and move us.

Sam Mendes has a particular knack at peeling back societal façades of contentment and revealing the dark underbelly of suburban society, first with “American Beauty” and then with this adaptation of Richard Yates’ 1961 novel about the 1950s.  Frank and April Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) are a typical couple – meeting after the war, they have big dreams and aspirations.  Yet Frank winds up taking a miserable desk job at his father’s company and moves them out to Connecticut when April gets pregnant.  A few years later, he has almost disappeared into a grey flannel suit and she into an apron.

However, neither can shake the idea that they have bought into an empty illusion, that there has to be more to life than to be just like everyone else.  Roger Deakins’ haunting cinematography emphasizes their Stepfordian conformity and echoes the story’s implication that they are trapped not only in this house but in this life.  However, April refuses to dismiss what Betty Freidan called “the problem with no name” in her manifesto “The Feminine Mystique,” proposing that the family move to Paris to reclaim their livelihoods.  While she brings in the money in a secretarial position, Frank would be able to relax and discover what truly makes him happy.

They start to go through with the plan, and for a moment, this ideal setup revives a failing marriage.  Even in spite of protests by friends and neighbors left aghast, particularly realtor Mrs. Givings (Kathy Bates) and their best friends the Campbells (Kathryn Hahn and David Harbour), they keep their heads held high.  In fact, the only person who seems to see their logic and rationale is John Givings (Michael Shannon), Mrs. Givings’ brilliant but possibly mentally ill son who has the best perspective on the times of anyone.

Nevertheless, the idea becomes just an idea, no longer a plan of action, leaving an embittered Frank and April to confront their problems with a pugnacious brutality.  In their arguments, Mendes and scribe Justin Haythe fully accomplish Yates’ goal of indicting the glorified hollowness of the 1950s.  While “Revolutionary Road” is beautifully written and directed, the film’s aims are best achieved through the tour de force performances by DiCaprio, Winslet, and Shannon.  As first the paradigm of suburban contentment and then its victims, the Wheelers truly needed to be personified by two actors who can fully realize the tragedy.  It just so happened to play out that these two people are world-famous star-crossed lovers thanks to James Cameron’s “Titanic.”

This may very well be the best work in the diamond-crusted careers of both DiCaprio and Winslet, which is saying a lot.  The fact that neither of them received Oscar nominations for the movie is absolutely criminal, although lack of awards recognition should hardly be the ultimate judge of their performances.  They both perfectly calibrate every scene, every emotion, every last movement so that it resonates with a scarily beautiful ring.  Kate Winslet is particularly striking as the active wife defying stereotype and lashing out against the image of the perfect housewife, making her final act devastatingly crushing.  And with powerhouse Michael Shannon as the mouthpiece for Yates and the Wheeler’s foil, the acting of “Revolutionary Road” is what drives that fist of furious emotion right into the gut.

For that very reason, I must warn you that this movie is not for the faint of heart.  Its mind-boggling emotional power doesn’t end when the credits roll; it may linger in the form of a depressing mood or a bleak outlook on life for anywhere from 1-3 days.  But don’t let that keep you from missing one of the best movies of 2008, and for my money, one of the most formidable films on society in recent memory.  You need only see it once to achieve the full effect – although if you want to see it twice like me, it’s still phenomenal.

Random Factoid #529

8 01 2011

If I explained to you the thought process that got me to today’s factoid, I’d be writing an essay.

But something got me thinking of movies watched at really inopportune moments.  I can imagine that if someone watched “Revolutionary Road” in a really sour mood, they might go kill themselves.  Some movies with powerful emotions really shouldn’t be watched in certain moods.

But then I thought of the movie that I watched at the most inopportune time.  The second time I ever left the United States was when I went on a mission trip to Nicaragua (and before that, I had only gone to Canada).  A few nights before, I watched “Taken,” a movie where Liam Neeson’s daughter is abducted while traveling in France without adult supervision.  An attractive man elaborately preys on her at the airport, shares a cab with her, writes down her address, and sends men to kidnap her.  Neeson plays a security guard and goes after, killing everyone with the intensity of Jason Bourne and the mercilessness of Dick Cheney.

Of course, this was a terrible time to watch the movie as I was feeling a little scared about going to a country I knew little about.  I was with a huge group, but what was to stop someone from pulling the same stunt on me or anyone else in the group?  When we walked outside with our bags, some random person walked over and started talking to us.  I didn’t know he was our guide then, so all I could think about was that I was going to end up like the girl in “Taken.”

So lesson learned: look into movies you watch right before you head into a certain state of mind.  Don’t watch something that will make you paranoid if you are going to be leaving familiarity.  Don’t watch something depressing if you are feeling particularly glum.  Movies can alter your mind – so be careful.

Random Factoid #408

9 09 2010

Marriage – there’s one in basically every movie.  And like we’ve been taught since middle school, in order for there to be a plot, there has to be conflict.  Marriages don’t get an exemption. 95% of all movie marriages are, in my estimation, either falling apart or struggling to maintain the façade that they are perfectly happy.

I’ve been lucky enough to have two parents that have been happily married for 19 years, so the only time I get to witness such great marital strife is on the big screen.  It’s there that I get the idea that divorce is this hunky-dory thing that happens to two people when they just can’t get along, and that adultery is perfectly acceptable when marriage isn’t working out.  Just look at us glorifying Brad and Angelina as the perfect couple; he cheated on Jennifer Aniston to be with her, and Hollywood thinks its perfectly OK.

Apparently, I’m not the only person noticing this.  I got this idea (which has now turned into a rant) from Cinematical, who observes this:

I do know about ‘movie marriage’, and I’ve come to the sad conclusion that most movie marriages — for the lack of a better word — suck. This epiphany came to me when I was watching the Tina Fey and Steve Carell comedy, “Date Night,” and I noticed that every time the movie would start to find its rhythm, the fun would grind to a halt as our two lead characters would have a heart-to-heart about their marital troubles (talk about a buzz kill).

I know what you’re going to say: “But there has to be conflict!” Sure, but in the case of “Date Night” we already had a big fat conflict — our lovable duo have been mistaken for a criminal couple and were plopped into the middle of a mob shakedown. Watching masters of wacky like Carell and Fey slow their roll for cliched exposition about how hard it is to keep the love alive was a disappointment to say the least, and I had to ask myself: Whatever happened to the ‘Madcap Marrieds’?

I feel like Hollywood has turned movies of marriage into cautionary tales.  Maybe by showing us enough people who disrespect the covenant of marriage, we will in turn be inspired to choose our spouses wisely.  Heaven knows, I don’t want to end up like Frank and April from “Revolutionary Road.”  The couples that are so bad it’s scary are the only ones I remember; I can’t pull a paradigm of happy marriage from a movie off the top of my head.

So what’s the message you are getting from Hollywood marriages?

Random Factoid #298

22 05 2010

I’ve got a lot of soundtracks in my iTunes library, and I won’t try to hide it.  What I haven’t revealed yet is that I buy a whole lot of songs because I hear them in the trailer of a movie.  I’ll hear a tune and Google it to find out what the song is called.  Click, click, it’s in my library.

Here are some of the songs that are now proudly stored in Marshall’s iTunes library thanks to movie trailers.

“Help Yourself” by Sad Brad Smith, trailer for “Up in the Air”

“You’ve Got Me Wrapped Around Your Little Finger” by Beth Rowley, trailer for “An Education”

“Photograph” by Ringo Starr, trailer for “Funny People”

“The Beginning is the End is the Beginning” by Smashing Pumpkins, trailer for “Watchmen”

“Wild is the Wind” by Nina Simone, trailer for “Revolutionary Road”

“Rock Me Sexy Jesus” by The Ralph Sall Experience, trailer for “Hamlet 2”

“Paper Planes” by M.I.A., trailer for “Pineapple Express”

“Iron Man” by Black Sabbath, trailer for “Iron Man”

“Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)” by Jay-Z, trailer for “American Gangster”

And probably countless others than I can’t remember.

Random Factoid #203

16 02 2010

Just some fun for you all today: some more reviews from before I started blogging.  These come from the MovieTickets.com website, and they were my replies to their friendly day after email requests.

Random Factoid #118

23 11 2009

I love looking through “bargain bin” movies.  A few weeks ago, I discovered “The Wrestler” and “Revolutionary Road,” two of 2008’s finest, for $5 apiece in a grocery store.  If it’s good and cheap, it proves to be an irresistible combination for me, a cocktail for disaster.

REVIEW: Away We Go

12 08 2009

At the request of a dedicated reader, I decided to bump up my review of “Away We Go.”  I drove 45 minutes away to a remote suburb of Houston back in April to be one of the first people to see the movie, and I was not disappointed.  Two months later, I was there to see it again on its first weekend playing at an art house theater in Houston.  So needless to say, I really enjoyed the movie.  It is well-acted, featuring star turns from John Krasinski (Jim from TV’s “The Office”) and Maya Rudolph (TV’s “Saturday Night Live”), but it is really buoyed by its phenomenal supporting cast.  The film features a very heartfelt screenplay from Dave Eggers (author of “What is the What”) and his wife Vendela Vida.

Burt (Krasinski) and Verona (Rudolph) are a gentle, loving couple expecting a baby.  As all good parents do, they want their child to have a better life than they did.  So the two of them set out on a journey to find what they never really could: a home.  They visit old friends and family members, seeing broken relationships, marital tension, and lives that they don’t want to lead.  They discover that all they can do is love each other and hope that everything else works out. Read the rest of this entry »

Random Factoid #7

4 08 2009

I have only been to a movie alone twice.

The first time was in December 2006. It was the last day “Stranger than Fiction,” the Will Ferrell movie, was showing in theater. Finals were over, and I had spent all December studying to boost my grades to have options for high school. And I had relatives in town all Thanksgiving, so I didn’t have a chance to make a break for the theater. One day, my mom and brother decided they were going to see “Unaccompanied Minors.” I checked the showtimes and sure enough, there was a “Stranger than Fiction” that started about 20 minutes later. So I tagged along, sat through 15 miserable minutes of “Unaccompanied Minors,” and then went to my theater.

The second time was this year, at the end of February after practically every Oscar was given to “Slumdog Millionaire.” I had seen that “Revolutionary Road” was performing poorly, and I figured that the theater would probably give it one more week to satisfy Oscar stragglers like me. But the word was it that the movie was a real downer, and I couldn’t get any of my friends or family to go with me. So, rather than wait until June for the DVD, I decide to go on a Saturday morning before rehearsal. It was probably wise not to go with anyone because it gave me some time to reflect on the movie and not spread my depression to other people.

NOTE TO READER: I’m sure you’re wondering, “Why can’t this guy just say ‘I have seen two movies alone’ and be done with it?” Well, to you I say that I have a really strange memory. I can remember lots of details about something that I really love. For some people, this is parties or food, for me, it is movies. And plus, if I get Alzheimer’s, I can look at this blog to factoid #7 or #24601 and get a sense of what I have forgotten. So that is why I make you suffer through incredibly wordy and possibly superfluous factoids. Because I can and I am the writer and I have the power.