Monday, February 18, 2008

Two Films and a Confession

Hey, this is my 100th POST!! An actual milestone . . . yay me!

I watched two very, very different films over the weekend, and each of them affected me in very different ways. I loved them both, a lot, and they both resonated in my mind long after the credits rolled. I guess that's really what any filmmaker strives for - that elusive thing that makes a movie memorable, that makes people want to watch it more than once and tell their friends they just HAVE TO see this movie.

The first was Across the Universe. I did NOT want to see this movie. I had seen the previews numerous times, and it just looked too trippy dippy for me. AND, most important, I LOVE the Beatles, and I am a Beatles purist. I really don't want to hear ANYONE sing a Beatles song other than the original Beatles recordings. The Beatles were the soundtrack of my youth - I watched them on the Ed Sullivan show when I was 9 years old and fell in love. Their albums and their films A Hard Day's Night and Help are burned into my memory. Just hearing a few lines can conjure up scenes, people, moments. I remember what I was doing when I heard that John Lennon had been murdered. So, needless to say, the Beatles are on a pretty big pedestal for me, and I don't like anyone messing with their genius.

But, Andy (my 17 year old) saw it, loved it, and had been bugging me incessantly to watch it with him, promising, swearing, that I would love it. Then Lindsay (my 27 year old) started in on me about it, and she had been a huge Beatles fan since she was a young teen. I could not get away from this movie. So finally, I bargained with Andy that I'd watch it with him if he would watch Hairspray with me (a movie I had been bugging HIM about, promising, swearing, that he would love it). Plus, he had finally watched Lonesome Dove with me after many years of refusing (and he liked it - hah!).

I am here to confess - I WAS WRONG. Boy, was I wrong. I was prepared to dislike the music and think the story was silly and cheesy. But from the opening scene where Jim Sturgess sings "Girl," sitting on a lonely, windswept beach, and looking straight into the camera in a closeup, I was hooked. Julie Taymor (the director) has somehow managed to craft a story, weaving in and around many Beatles songs, using the songs to advance or illustrate the story, just like in any musical. She has managed to find amazing singers and has worked with music directors to help her singers interpret these oh so familiar songs in new, fresh, and completely wonderful ways, so that they are not imitations of Beatles tunes, but a whole new vision of them. I was mesmerized, delighted, and awed at the visionary film she created, at turns cute and funny and melancholy and tragic and deep and heartbreaking and joyful. It's a love story at its heart, set in the mid- to late-60s - MY time, a time that shaped who I am.

Cast almost entirely with unknowns (at least to film), except the female lead, Evan Rachel Wood (who has only really done teen roles before now), this film should launch several careers. Most notable is Jim Sturgess, a charming Brit with smiling eyes and a beautiful, pure voice and great acting skills; and Dana Fuchs, who plays a Janis Joplinesque character and just blows off the screen with her larger than life presence and huge bluesy voice. She just tears it up. And Evan Rachel Wood has a gorgeous voice that seems to meld perfectly with the beautiful melodies of Lennon and McCartney, from early pop tunes to the sad Blackbird. There are cameos by Joe Cocker (didn't recognize him but for that voice), Eddie Izzard in a crazy, Monty Python-like musical number, Salma Hayek, and Bono, who also looks pretty different but again, has that familiar voice. If you watch it, be sure to watch the special features about the casting and how Julie Taymor brought her vision to life. This movie was such a delightful surprise, I will be buying a copy, and we've ordered the soundtrack. Who knew? I was wrong. Now to get Andy to watch Hairspray . . .

The second film was Gone Baby Gone. I had wanted to see this in the theaters, but it was only showing in far North Dallas in a couple of theaters. I bought it unseen, which I rarely do, but I had read enough about it to know it was a movie I wanted to own. Ben Affleck directed the movie, and Casey Affleck is the star. He has had a great year in movies, between this and the Jesse James movie (for which he received an Oscar nom, well-deserved in my opinion). It is a melancholy story about a missing little girl, and Casey plays a private eye called in by the family (along with his girlfriend/partner) to help find her. The girl's mother is a woman of questionable moral character - well really, bluntly, she's a really crappy mother. So, though her daughter is missing, it's hard to be sympathetic for her pain, and you even wonder if it's real.

Brilliantly brittle and harsh performance by Amy Ryan (also Oscar-nominated for this film). Morgan Freeman (anything he does is informed by his innate dignity), Ed Harris (one of my personal favorites), and a number of other lesser known actors are all wonderful, but in this movie, the story is the thing. The film is raw and real and populated not only with actors but with some real people from the Boston neighborhood where it's filmed. The Affleck boys grew up in the Boston area, so they know how to make it real on film. The story takes a number of twists and turns, and I won't say much more so I won't spoil it if you haven't seen it. It presents, at the end, a really thought-provoking moral dilemma about which "right" is really the best "right" choice. Does a bad mother feel the same pain of loss as a good one? The choices we make, right and wrong, make us who we are. Not a happy feel-good movie, but a gritty, real film with a complicated story and no easy resolution.

Two very, very different films, but both dealing with choices that, once made, can take life in a different direction, and with stories and characters that will get inside your head and heart. One will make you sing and smile and cry, and one will make you think about what you might do if confronted with a similar dilemma. I'd recommend them both.


hampton said...

you are a blogging machine these days. i love it! i haven't seen either movie so i can't comment, but i did finally seen juno and love love loved it. if you haven't seen it i highly recommend it. maybe not the *most* realistic portrayal of teen pregnancy, but plausible, and smart and sweet without causing the cynic in me to go "oh, whatever, that would SO never happen"

also: i finished reading eat pray love. awesome.

Julie Layne said...

Bring me Gone, Baby, Gone next time you see me! Please?