Saturday, April 18, 2009
MY DOG SKIP opens with a slow pan across the knickknacks that line the shelves of a WW-II era boy’s bedroom. It’s drenched in the golden light of treasured memory, and an orchestral score glides along in the background.
It’s deadly dull. And the movie doesn’t get any better from there.
Here’s a picture about a boy who falls in love with a dog. This should speak to me. I, after all, was a boy. And I had a dog. But everything’s too precious, every memory too golden, and everything too slow. Watching MY DOG SKIP is like being stuck in a plane with some guy who’s just dying to tell you the story of his life but lacks the ability to make that story interesting. You smile, you nod, you try to change the subject (to yourself because, let’s face it, you’re far more interesting), but on he drones. And on and on and on.
Sure, the movie looks fine. Kevin Bacon and Diane Lane, as the parents, are fine. Frankie Muniz, as the boy, is fine. But I just wanted the plane to land so I could get away.
Friday, April 17, 2009
FREQUENCY is not a great movie, but it has a great core and two central performances that sell it.
Here’s the setup: through the magic of sunspots and HAM radio, NYPD detective John Sullivan finds himself able to communicate with his father, NYFD firefighter Frank Sullivan. Where John’s sitting, it’s 1999. Where Frank’s sitting, it’s 1969. Frank doesn’t believe that it’s his son on the other end of that radio transmission. But when John tells his father all about the fire he’ll fight the next day, and about how he’ll die in it unless he goes against his instinct and zigs when he’d normally zag, Frank’s intrigued. The next day, of course, the son’s prophecies come true and the father believes.
OK, and this is where the movie gets me. Frank comes home, kisses his wife (who tells him she heard he had a close call), and goes upstairs to look in the now 7-yr-old son who, 30 years in the future, will save his life by warning him yesterday. Dennis Quaid, who plays Frank, looks at the sleeping child with an expression that captures everything I feel when I look in on my boys, then adds appreciation and respect for the man this boy will grow up to become. He goes downstairs, contacts his son on the magic radio, and tells him he loves him. “I love you, too, pop.” Then, in the 1969 timeline, the boy comes downstairs, half asleep. Quaid tells him to get dressed: tonight, together, they’re going to master the challenge of riding that bike once and for all.
Waterworks, I’m tellin’ ya. Waterworks. I get choked up even writing about it. Yeah, there’s this whole plot about a serial killer (and really, what ‘90s movie didn’t work a serial killer in there somewhere) and the unexpected consequences of messing with the timeline and chasing and shooting and all that stuff. There’s also a lot of time travel hokum that’s basically just asking the audience to believe in magic and go with it. But the core of FREQUENCY, the love between a father and his son and a boy and his dad, resonates so powerfully with me that I overlook the weaknesses and spend all my time locked into the performances of Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel. What man doesn’t want to be the father Dennis Quaid is in this movie? What man doesn’t want to have the father Dennis Quaid is in this movie? What man doesn’t want his son to grow up to be the kind of guy Jim Caviezel is in this movie?
This picture works, and it speaks to me in a deep and powerful way. Whenever I need to test to make sure the plumbing still works, I need only to spin this one up to make the water flow. FREQUENCY may not be a great movie, but it hits its mark.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
I didn’t know that Sam Rockwell existed before I saw this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J1LWg1jFp4E . It’s amazing how one video can catapult a guy into near – CDNW territory. In CHOKE, an adaptation of Chuck Pahlaniuk’s novel about a historical reenactor / sex addict / possible cloned son of Jesus Christ who, um, well, let’s just leave it at that, Rockwell seals the deal. Ok, I’ve only seen a few of his pictures, and I didn’t even particularly like his portrayal of Zaphod Beeblebrox, but to hell with it – Sam Rockwell Can Do No Wrong.
Why? Because he takes this tragic, deeply flawed, possibly irredeemable man and makes him the funniest comic character I’ve seen since Jason Segel in FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL. And he does it not in a comedy that lurches from set piece to set piece, that works the old rhythm of setup – payoff – setup – payoff, but in a quirky and interesting character study of the kinds of people we avoid in real life but are great fun to hang out with on the silver screen. CHOKE is an adult comedy in that, sure, it has sex and profanity and all that kind of stuff; but CHOKE is an adult comedy because it operates with adult and finds its humor in people, places, and actions that it takes a few miles on the odometer to appreciate.
And Rockwell, he knows how to tread the line between villain and rascal. He knows how to be funny while acting dead serious, and here he creates a character so serious that we can’t help but laugh. I rented CHOKE on the strength of his name on the poster, and he doesn’t disappoint. This is my comedy to beat for 2009.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
There’s this scene in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER in which Tony’s riding in a car with his crew. His friends are complaining about how the game is rigged, about how The Man is keeping them down, about how they’ll never get anywhere because no one will give them a break. Tony’s looking out the window. He’s thinking, “I know thee not, old man.”
OK, he’s probably not thinking those exact words, even if he did take Shakespeare in high school. But he’s thinking something very much like them. You see, Tony Manero is a young man on the cusp of going from Hal to Henry, from potential energy to energy in motion, from boy to man. He’s realizing something that his friends do not know and may never know: what’s worth having is worth working for, and what’s worth working for is too valuable to want someone to give it to you.
Tony’s basically a good boy. Ignored on the street, stuck in a dull job, living at home in a quasi-functional family, he’s nobody. He’s small time. But get him with his crew, and he’s a leader. Get him on the dance floor, and he’s a god. Tony rules Odyssey 2001, the disco where, every Saturday night, he burns through his week’s wages with unfettered joy. But even here, at the beginning of the movie, he’s different. He rehearses. He doesn’t pop or snort. He poses, but he’s essentially celibate (and potentially gay. I think one could make the case for it. I think the film’s “eye” is definitely gay. If you doubt me, notice how the camera caresses Tony’s body just before he awakens in his bed.). He’s in love with dance, with the way he feels when he’s lost in the moment, about the fact that finally, somewhere, he’s the best at something.
But working at a job that gives him just enough money to spend on Saturday night isn’t manhood. Being the big fish in a small pond isn’t manhood. Tony’s got to get out there, he’s got to earn his bones, he’s got to find his way. SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER is the story of how that realization goes from vague feeling to actionable reality. It works because we believe in Tony, flawed and limited though he may be. We understand that when he does that thing he loves, he really is special, amazing. He has something that’s worth working to cultivate, something that can lead to goals worth achieving, something too pure to be sullied by begging for handouts from The Man.
Sure, this movie has issues. There are subplots that go nowhere. Tony does things that are unforgivable. Some of the ADR is downright bad. But at its heart, SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER communicates truths so universal that they speak across decades, taste, and fashion. SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER is about leaving behind childish things, and that’s a theme that speaks to me. Can you dig it? I knew thatcha could.