F.I.L.M. of the Week (November 23, 2012)

23 11 2012

It really is a shame that Mel Gibson had to go off the deep end right before the release of “The Beaver.”  The movie is a deeply powerful examination of family and interpersonal dynamics in the wake of an increasingly isolating digital world.  However, if you’ve watched E! any time over the last few years, you’ve no doubt become aware that Gibson isn’t exactly in his right mind all the time.  Thus, they were successfully able to sell Jodie Foster’s excellent film to the public as “that crazy Mel Gibson movie where he talks with a beaver puppet” as if it were autobiographical.

“The Beaver” isn’t the story of Mel Gibson; it’s the story of all of us who ever disappear into our screens at the expense of human connection.  For that reason, it’s my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”  It cracked my top 10 last year, and the more I think on the film, the more pleased I am that I went out on a limb for it.  I think in a few years, when all the tabloids quit running their sensational stories on Gibson, there will be a massive critical reevaluation of “The Beaver.”  And I will be proud to have been a supporter since I first saw the film at an early morning showtime in May 2011.

The titular beaver puppet is actually not a product of the insanity of Walter Black, Gibson’s character.  Well, at least not in the sense that TMZ tries to paint him as insane.  Walter’s been asleep at the wheel for years, failing as a parent and husband.  After a severe bout with depression, he discovers the beaver puppet and begins living vicariously through it.  The beaver becomes a psychological distancing mechanism, allowing Walter to separate himself from the guilt of past deeds that weighs down on him like a rock.

What director Jodie Foster and writer Kyle Killen explore in “The Beaver” with such dexterity is how each of the other characters have their own beavers, so to speak.  Each erect false facades designed to convey a persona that does not match the person underneath.  Walter’s son, Anton Yelchin’s Porter, is trying to project that he is the polar opposite of his dad.  Yet in his evasion, he becomes even further disengaged from his family and increasingly abrasive – the very traits that precipitated his beaver crisis.

There’s also Jennifer Lawrence’s Norah, Porter’s high school classmate who is by all means considered to be the paradigmatic girl of their class.  Yet she’s struggling with dark issues of grief behind closed doors, and she is even willing to pay Porter to write a big speech for her to hide it from others.  While their unconventional romance is a subplot to the larger arc of the 90 minutes of “The Beaver,” it makes a big impact because Yelchin and Lawrence act from such a dark recess of their souls.  They manage what many actors twice their age cannot, a connection on both an intellectual and an emotional level.

So get over Mel Gibson, sit down with an open mind, and watch “The Beaver.”  If you are willing to really think, you’ll find some very interesting questions being raised.  What are the beavers in our life that keep us from loving others?  Jodie Foster shows you those of Walter, Porter, and Norah to devastating effect; it’s up to you to figure out your own.





It was the best of times … 2011

31 12 2011

As the few minutes left in 2011 quickly wane, I wanted to reflect on all the good that has come from this trying year of 2011.  As Lester Burnham said in “American Beauty” – and I quoted on my senior page in the yearbook – it’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world.

No matter the general consensus of film in a year (and I don’t think it takes an expert to tell you this wasn’t a stellar one), the top 10 list is a reminder to all critics and readers that there will always be something to celebrate.  Even amidst all the chaos of the year, we found reasons to be happy … and thus a way to be happy.

Much was said about high profile divorces – Demi and Ashton, Sinead O’Connor, Kim Kardashian – but the whole world tuned in for the Royal Wedding.  Even with the American divorce rate soaring and half of all marriages are unable to last, it was love that brought us together.

Much was said about our military’s inefficacy in Iraq as we pulled out the last troops in December, but Seal Team Six gave Americans something to be proud of as they flawlessly took down the elusive Osama bin Laden.  Failure and cynicism may make for an interesting editorial page, but it was success that captured the attention and the heart of America.

Much was said about the dumbing down of youth with mindless blockbusters like “Transformers” grossing a billion dollars worldwide and mindless literature like “Twilight” flying off the shelves.  Yet the young generation – my generation – proved it was hardly an empty one by turning out in record numbers on the opening day of the final “Harry Potter” movie.  If you couldn’t feel a real magic from the movie, you had to take comfort in seeing that the experiences of reading a book and going to a movie theater, thought be many to be endangered, were alive and well.

So while our president may have abandoned hope and change for 2012, I, for one, am full of it.  I am confident that all will pan out for the future, especially given how willing filmmakers were in 2011 to tackle some of the toughest issues facing our society.  In my top 10, you will see movies committed to showing us how to live, how to love, and – most importantly – how to change.  Like Owen Wilson’s Gil Pender from “Midnight in Paris,” living in the past only works as a fantasy.  We have to live in the now; we have to face its challenges; we have to accept pain as a natural part of progress.

So, without further ado, here were the 10 best movies I saw in 2011:

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