The tv season is winding down, but since I’m having trouble collecting my thoughts about shows like Lost, 24, and Fringe, I’ll share my thoughts on some movies I’ve watched recently:
- Rain Man – This Oscar-winning movie from 1988 was fun to watch, as much for the 80s cultural references as for the well developed story. Since I was only ten years old when the movie was released, I’m not sure I had ever watched the whole thing before. It was thoroughly entertaining from start to finish. Dustin Hoffmann won best actor, and the movie also won Oscars for best picture, best director, and best screenplay. Most people these days still associate Tom Cruise with his “crazy phase” from a few years ago, with the sofa leaping on Oprah and whatnot. I don’t have much of an opinion about Cruise as a person, but he has been in a lot of good movies that represent a variety of roles. Some of my favorites include Collateral, Minority Report, and A Few Good Men. In this movie, Cruise and Hoffmann are a great team with good acting chemistry. The 80s cars, clothing, music, billboards, etc. were a nice backdrop to a story that would work well during any time period: self-centered Charlie discovers he has an older, autistic brother – Raymond – and during a cross country journey the two brothers develop an unlikely bond and Charlie’s perspective on the situation changes. If you’ve never seen this movie, I’d definitely recommend it, and it’s also worth a second look.
- Soapdish – This campy comedy has been on my rewatch list for awhile, since my appreciation for all things Robert Downey, Jr. has increased over the past couple of years. The character Downey plays (a spineless producer for the show) in this soap opera parody isn’t very likable, but the movie is entertaining and represents the flavor of early 90s cinema (it was released in 1991). It features an appropriately histrionic Sally Field and Kevin Kline, a fresh-faced Elisabeth Shue, and a pre-Lois and Clark/Desperate Housewives Teri Hatcher. The convoluted story, which involves a power struggle between soap divas, a love triangle, and a surprise paternity revelation, is understandably ridiculous – as it is a soap opera parody, but the main characters are just likable enough that it also works as a romantic comedy. I watched this through Netflix Instant Watch – if you are home one night with no tv shows to watch, this is a fun way to pass the time.
- An Education – This movie caught my eye only because author Nick Hornby wrote the screenplay. I always enjoy his books, which include About a Boy and A Long Way Down, so I was curious to see how his knack for creating interesting characters and situations would translate to the big screen. While the movie lacked appealing characters, it definitely presented flawed, complex individuals. The story centers around a 16 year old girl, Jenny, who falls for a much older man, David (he must be in his late 30s). The disturbing thing to me is that her parents actually encourage the relationship. David is a charming guy who sweet talks his way into Jenny and her parents’ lives, and the audience spends most of the movie uncertain about his true intentions/motivations. The title of the movie refers to how this experience affects Jenny’s world: she certainly learns some life lessons, and she also begins to question the goals that had always been straightforward before meeting David – to finish at her prep school, make it into Oxford, and study English. After becoming involved with David, she comes to regard school as boring and leading to a dull future, and regards life with David as exciting and full of possibility. If this movie were set during modern times, it would play out a lot differently (for example, Jenny’s parents would probably have David arrested instead of inviting him over for tea!). But, I can only assume that things were different in 1960s England, which is the time period during which we see Jenny’s story unfold. This is not a feel good movie, but it’s not a complete downer either. It’s worth seeing for the excellent writing and acting, and because it makes you think about the expectations society places on young women when it comes to getting an education and finding someone to marry.
- The Proposal – I was surprised how much I enjoyed this movie. It’s far from Oscar worthy, but its entertainment value is off the charts. I smiled or laughed just about all the way through it. The story is your typical cliched romantic comedy fluff: New York editor Margaret forces her personal assistant, Andrew, to agree to marry her when she finds out she’s about to be deported to her home country of Canada. The business arrangement soon turns into something more as they take a weekend trip to Alaska together to share the “happy news” with Andrew’s family. Not surprisingly, we learn that Margaret isn’t the evil witch that everyone thinks she is, and she learns that there’s much more to Andrew than she had given him credit for. The real fun in the movie can be attributed to the “fish out of water” aspect of city girl Margaret adapting to life in the Alaskan wilderness, whether she’s dancing with Andrew’s grandmother (scene stealer Betty White) in the woods as a tribute to the gods, trying to prevent a hawk from stealing her cell phone, or enduring special attention during a performance by the local male exotic dancer (Oscar from The Office in an unlikely and hilarious role). But Bullock isn’t the only thing to love about this movie. Everyone was well cast, and I was really charmed by Ryan Reynolds, an actor who I had previously written off as someone who specializes in a brand of silly movies I have no interest in. It turns out that in addition to being quite attractive, he is a pretty good comedic actor. The final thing I’ll say about this movie is that parts of it were filmed on location in Rockport, Massachusetts, where I went on vacation a couple of years ago. It is a quaint, scenic little town close to Boston, and I loved it. I recognized the red barn that is a Rockport landmark, in the scene where Margaret and Andrew climb into a boat to ride to his family’s house. Seeing familiar sites in the movie made me happy. As far as romantic comedies go, this one is a definite winner, and one I could watch several more times before tiring of it.
- The X-Files: I Want to Believe – As an avid X-Filer, I should have watched this movie in the theater, but I heard so many negative reviews of it that I kept putting it off. It’s not that the movie was bad – it just wasn’t great. For me, it was enough to see Mulder and Scully together again, investigating a string of mysterious disappearances. It was nice to see them years after the events of the series finale, settled into a comfortable domestic existence, with Mulder “hiding out” from the feds and Scully working as a medical doctor. A supposed psychic’s discovery of a human limb buried in a field, and his insistence that he is having visions of a woman’s abduction, leads the FBI to enlist Mulder and Scully to help investigate a case that involves a serial kidnapper, black market organs, and a connection to the psychic network. Many fans of the show were disappointed that Chris Carter didn’t take this opportunity to provide more answers to the show’s many unresolved conspiracy theories and alien investigations, but I was entertained. I agree with a review I read that the movie played out like an extended “episode of the week.” Was the movie as memorable as X-Files: Fight the Future? No. Is it worth watching again? No. But it was comforting to revisit these old “friends,” so I’m glad that I watched it.
- Where the Wild Things Are – What an odd little movie this was. When the trailers first surfaced on the internet, the buzz among people of my generation was crazy. We grew up reading this book, and now Spike Jonze, the mastermind behind Adaptation and Being John Malkovich, was bringing it to the big screen! When the movie actually hit theaters, the buzz turned into more of a shoulder shrugging, “eh, it was okay” attitude. I even heard some people say it was depressing. There was debate about whether this was a movie intended for kids, or a movie geared toward the 30 somethings who first made the book popular. It seems to be a mix of both. The shenanigans of Max and the “wild things” he meets on the island are very silly at times, but Max’s home life that leads him on his adventure, and his complex emotions about his life and relationships, can only be appreciated by the adult audience. Most kids’ movies don’t delve beneath the surface to explore the reasons that a child is feeling lonely, alienated, or neglected, and this movie did an excellent job of that. However, I think the movie would have been better if Jonze had chosen one specific direction rather than dividing his vision between the two extremes.
- Up in the Air – I had been looking forward to this George Clooney movie for awhile, and was curious to see if it would live up to all the Oscar hype. It was very good, but not at all what I was expecting it to be. The writing, acting, directing, soundtrack, cinematography were all top notch. The story was clever and kept me completely engaged. My husband and I appreciated the business traveler aspect of the movie, since he travels quite often for work and is familiar with the never ending sequence of airport security checks, hotel key cards, airline/hotel/rental car points, etc. It was the tone of the movie that was a surprise. I was expecting it to be a dry comedy, and it was at times, but there was a persistent theme of loneliness, isolation, and even despair that made it difficult to watch, particularly as it neared its end. I wasn’t sure what to take away from such a movie. It left viewers with no hopeful message, and really no message at all. We weren’t sure what to think about where the main characters ended up. As the credits rolled, I just said “huh” and felt a little gypped. Despite my disappointment with the direction of the plot, there is much to appreciate in this movie, so if you can handle your comedy with some twists, turns, and drama, give it a look.
Next on my movie list are Dear Frankie, my current Netflix rental, and Iron Man 2, a necessity for me to watch since it stars my beloved Robert Downey, Jr. What have you seen lately?