Movie Reviews - 2000s postsTuesday January 27, 2009
Two-Minute Review: The Wrestler (2008)
I have little in common with Randy “the Ram” Robinson, the wrestler of “The Wrestler.” He likes what I don’t (‘80s hair metal), lives where I haven’t (trailer park) does what I could never do (wrestles). And yet I wholly identified with him. Maybe it’s because we’ve both reached a certain age. Maybe it’s that sense of hitting a dead end and being unable to see a way out or back. There’s a scene where, out of necessity, Randy moves from doing manual labor in the back of a grocery store to working with the public in the front. You know why he doesn’t want to do it. He was once a star, and now he’s here, and he doesn’t want people to know he’s here. I even identified with that. It reminded me of after high school, after college, the jobs you didn’t want, the things you didn’t want to have to wear when you had the jobs you didn’t want. It reminded me of this thought: Please don’t let anyone see me here. Most of the jobs our economy creates — when it was creating jobs — are those kinds of jobs. Please don’t let anyone see me here.
“The Wrestler” is a hard movie to watch, and, despite the above, and despite some pretty gruesome wrestling scenes, the toughest part, for me, was watching how needy Randy becomes once wrestling is taken away from him. “The Wrestler” is a perfectly titled movie because that’s who Randy is, and once he’s told he can’t be that he doesn’t know how to live. In life you struggle to find a thing you like and do well, and hope you get paid for it, and for a time Randy the Ram was paid well (in money, in fame, in everything that goes with it) for doing the thing he liked and did well. Then he wasn’t. Falls happen. We don’t know why his did, it just did.
Some have compared this movie with “Rocky” — both are about gentle giants, working class bruisers, who make their living in the ring — but the comparisons end there. “Rocky” is about a guy who never made it but is given a chance. “The Wrestler” is about a guy who did make it…and then has everything taken away. That’s what the movie is about. What do you do when everything is taken away? What do you do when you reach the dead end?
There’s an answer.
Movie Review: Marley & Me (2008)
I went to Marley & Me because Patricia wanted to go, and because we were visiting family and it seemed the kind of film the nephews (Ryan, 5, and Jordy, 7) could see as well, but I expected little. I hadn’t read the best-seller on which it was based. Hadn’t friends told me it was sappy? Didn't it play upon our love of cute puppies? You could argue a yellow-lab puppy on a movie poster isn’t much different than a bikini-clad girl on a movie poster: our covetedness of what’s on the poster is in inverse proportion to the movie’s probable worth.
Yet Marley & Me, shockingly, contains something like the messiness of life. It’s a good life, admittedly, and a life that doesn’t exist much anymore. The main characters, John and Jennifer Grogan (Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston), recently married, try to find a place in an industry, newspapers, that’s still thriving in the early 1990s. They’re beautiful and blonde, and live in a sunny state (Florida), but they’re not all sunny. Choices are made but doubts remain. Opportunities are given (a lifestyle column) but original plans die hard.
John wants to be a crack investigative journalist like his friend Sebastian, and he envies the man’s swinging bachelor lifestyle. But Jennifer wants kids. Sebastian, hearing John’s dilemma, suggests a dog, and the couple winds up with the title character, a yellow-lab puppy, the world’s worst dog. Cue misadventures. It’s fun stuff. And who doesn’t love an umanageable dog that’s owned by someone else?
But the movie isn’t really about the dog. Or if it is, it’s about what the dog represents: messiness. Most films excise messiness; Marley & Me doesn’t because messiness is the point.
So John and Jennifer decide to have kids, but she has a miscarriage...on the way to having three kids. It would’ve been easy, as a screenwriter, as a director, to get rid of the miscarriage — it didn’t add greatly to the movie — but they kept it in.
So the neighborhood they live in is dicey — a neighbor is attacked and knifed by her car — and you think, “Ah, this is how Marley shows his worth. He gets the guy preying on the neighborhood.” No. John and Jennifer simply move. To a bigger house in a better neighborhood. Then to an even bigger house in another state. Life keeps happening.
Halfway through, there’s a montage, the “wrote a column about...” montage, that is one of the better examples of the device I’ve seen. Most modern montages borrow from Rocky as a quick way to show the title character improving, but Marley’s montage merely shows life happening and is thus infinitely relatable. Most of us don’t improve the way Rocky improves. (Sorry.) We just wind up in a place where we wonder: “How did I get a spouse and kids and this home and this job? How did I get fat and old? This wasn’t part of the plan.” Marley is like the movie version of that great John Lennon line: Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.
There’s a nice scene near the end between Sebastian, now a star with The New York Times, and John, a reporter for a Philadelphia newspaper, meeting by happenstance in downtown Philly. They exchange greetings, John shows a photo of the family, and there it is: Something like envy in Sebastian’s look and voice. Each envies the other’s life but each is happy enough with his own life. There’s a kind of melancholy in this. It’s not that we make good or bad choices; it’s that everyday, by the choices we make, we kill off other ways we might be. There’s great sadness in this.
Am I making too much out of what is, after all, only a dog movie? I don’t think so. Screenwriter Scott Frank is responsible for writing Minority Report, Out of Sight, Get Shorty; director David Frankel not only directed The Devil Wears Prada (another nice surprise) but is the son of Max Frankel, longtime executive editor of The New York Times, and so knows his way around a newsroom. I’m not saying the movie’s brilliant. I’m just saying that in the battle between sappy and true, more often than not, they opted for true.
We had our own messiness just going to the film. The 5-year-old threw a tantrum and stayed home and a lot of the film was over the head of the 7-year-old. Jordy has his own Marley — Seymour, the world’s most underfoot dog — and we worried how he would take the death of Marley. At the least, he seemed to take it better than Patricia, who cried for the last 10 minutes, but we’re not sure. We talked about it on the way to the car, and in the car, but I was beginning to feel the affects of an attack of bronchitis and wasn’t sharp enough or attentive enough to gauge Jordy’s reaction. More messiness. Anyway Jordy was off in his own world. He was busy making other plans. Most likely about the adventures of Lego Indiana Jones on the Wii.
One-Sentence Review: “Slumdog Millionaire”
Proves that the three universals in our world are love, pain and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”
Two-Minute Review: Quantum of Solace (2008)
Went to see “Quantum of Solace” last night and there were so many quick-cuts in the first two minutes I felt like Grandpa Simpson: Whuzzat? Hoozat? Whassaguy? There were probably more quick-cuts in those two minutes than in all of “Dr. No.” An old complaint, but the movies keep moving away from a story-telling form to a mere sensory delivery mechanism. The point isn't to know who's in which car which is going where but to experience life as faster and more thrilling than it can ever be. “James Bond,” in a way, has never been more superfluous.
SPOILER ALERT. “Quantum” got mixed reviews (65% on Rotten Tomatoes), which isn't a surprise. The surprise is that so many critics liked it. “Casino Royale” was a good movie, a classic reboot, but this thing is just noise. Bond has become the terminator. Does he ever sleep? He wounds now but the wounds don't seem to hurt. And what exactly to make of the plot? This organization (Quantum?) winds up controlling most of the water in Bolivia in order to...double the price of water. Basically they're Standard Oil. They monopolize a product and then raise the price of the product. A far cry from SPECTRE. Dominic Greene seems the leader of this organization but turns out to be just another flunky. And why should Bond leave him in the desert when he could take him back to MI6 and extract information out of him? What happened to delivering the bad guys to justice rather than torturing them in some random way?
Nice Goldfinger homage with Fields. Great Jeffrey Wright cameo. (For the first time, I wanted to see the Felix Leiter movie more than the James Bond movie.) And Daniel Craig on the motorbike looked more Steve McQueen than ever.
BTW: Did he ever sleep with the Bond girl? I forget. Isn't that awful? I should know but it didn't even register. Someone needs to slow these things down before they become movies for mosquitoes.
Two Minute Review: W. (2008)
Oliver Stone’s W. is like our 43rd president’s greatest hits. Here he is chug-a-lugging at Yale and here he is finding Jesus and here he is failing at oil rigs, and oil drilling, and running for Congress. Here he is choking on a pretzel.
Stone intercuts these familiar incidents with the familiar arguments, dramatized over presidential lunches and Oval Office meetings and cabinet meetings, that led us into Iraq. It’s straightforward storytelling — particularly for Stone. Hell, it’s almost breezy. The two hours go by like that, and Josh Brolin, in the lead, is amazing. He gives us a complex portrait of a very simple man.
It’s a father-son film. “You disappoint me, Junior,” Herbert Walker tells him early on. “Deeply disappoint me.” He tells him, “You only get one bite at the apple,” but W. keeps biting and missing. He drinks, carouses, goes after girls. He can’t find himself. Even after he finds Laura, and Jesus, and helps his father get elected the 41st president of the United States, he’s disappointed. Greatness escapes him. Hell, mediocrity escapes him. You go in wondering if Stone’s portrait of W. will be different from our own image of W. and it isn’t. What you see is what you get. Yes, he’s that thick, that muddled, and yet that certain. The film implies that certain Machiavellian types (Rove, Cheney) manipulate W. into going where he already wants to go (into politics, into Iraq), and it feels true, but it’s not like we’re learning anything here. I learned, or re-learned (did I ever know it?) that W. speaks Spanish but that’s the only time I remember being surprised by the title character.
Since so much of the story is familiar, since, like the subject, there’s not much there there, we might have to wait years before we figure out if the movie is any good. It really is too close to us to gauge. It’s a tragedy, certainly, and the tragedy is that in trying to win his father’s love, or outdo what his father did, or make up for his father’s great loss, W. — yes, aided and abetted by a motley crew — put us on a calamitous national and international path... and yet still can’t think of one thing he did wrong. That lack of introspection is his tragedy. The rest of it is ours.