Life Is A Picture Show...

Number 246: Rain Man

Date of Screening: January 15, 2011

Personally, I don’t know anyone with Autism. I occasionally spend time with an 11-year-old girl who has a very mild form of Aspergers, which is a very mild form of Autism. However, her behavior is nothing like Raymond Babbitt’s, who is classified as a “high-level” Autistic. Though I’d seen this film numerous times, I’d never really been old enough to understand the reality of the situation between brothers Charlie (Tom Cruise) and Raymond Babbitt (Dustin Hoffman), and that reality is  the shuddering fact that Charlie never knows what his brother is thinking. Doesn’t sound like too much of a problem, but think of all of the social cues you’ve learned to read, the different forms of body language that you’ve grasped to observe in order  to gage what a person is truly feeling, and let’s not forget the societal norms that most people live by. Can you imagine speaking to someone who doesn’t observe any of the gestures previously mentioned? Me neither.

Charlie is introduced as a workaholic who happens to be in the middle of a business related crisis. He receives a phone call which informs him that his estranged father has passed away. He drives out east, where he’s from, to attend the funeral and the reading of the will. Once there, Charlie learns that his father’s 3 million dollar fortune has gone into a trust for someone who isn’t him. In fact, all he has received from his father’s will is a 1949 Buick Roadmaster. At this point, I was confused as to why Charlie would even think that his father would leave him anything, on the account that they hadn’t spoken in years, but who am I? On his quest to discover the recipient of the trust, Charlie learns that the 3 million dollars will go on to support an older, institutionalized, autistic brother he never knew he had. Outraged that he will not see any of his father’s fortune, Charlie attempts to “steal” Raymond from the institution, and take him back to Los Angeles until he receives his portion of the 3 million. However, Raymond’s definite aversion to flying turns the adventure into a road trip.

Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise were very adamant about bring the Rain Man script to life. They had to cycle through three directors before Barry Levinson became a permanent part of the production. That dedication to the project is certainly portrayed in the level of skill that is seen throughout the entire film. I feel like I don’t even have to express how phenomenal the acting is in Rain Man, but Hoffman’s performance must be commented on. It is quite a feat to portray someone who has a mental disorder and have it be so believable. After all, they don’t give Oscars to just anyone.

When I begin to analyze a film, the first thing I do is  try to describe it in one word. Rain Man, however, brought a couple of words to my mind. Confine is the first. Rain Man is a film that is essentially about confines, which is why it works so well to establish and stay within Raymond’s confines. Charlie comes with his own set of confines as well. First, he has an inability to love the people in his life. He is also the furthest thing from understanding and has a hard time seeing things from other people’s point of view. Next is change. By the end of the film, Charlie experiences change. While change is present in almost every film known to man, what makes Rain Man stand out is that everything in the film changes but Raymond. In Raymond’s world, routine is everything, and those around him have to learn to adapt. Last, but not least, acceptance. It’s safe to say that Charlie spends a great deal of the film yelling at Raymond. It takes a while for him to realize that nothing can get Raymond to “act normal.” By the end of the film, Charlie finally accepts and loves his brother for who he is, and that’s really all anyone can ask for. 

Number 247: Shaun of the Dead

Date of Screening: December 7, 2010 

Zombie (Zom•be): A soulless corpse said to be revived by witchcraft • A person who is or appears to be lifeless or completely unresponsive to their surroundings • A tall mixed drink consisting of several kinds of rum, liqueur, and fruit juice (In my opinion, zombies aren’t much different than drunken college students, so I thought it was appropriate). From the average person’s perception of a zombie, it’s odd, to me, that they could be considered the subject of a film. Think about it. They walk around unusually slow, which makes their captures seem ridiculous at best, suffer from a vast lack of communication, and have a decaying body full of unhealed wounds and missing extremities. Shaun of the Dead portrayed my thoughts of zombies perfectly because for the first 40 minutes of the film, our protagonist doesn’t even realize the “living dead” all around him. In fact, this movie is more of a Romantic Comedy than a horror film at all. For all intents and purposes, we’ll call it a zom-rom-com. 

Centering around a man whose sole purpose in life is to spend every last second of it in a pub called the Winchester, Shaun of the Dead tells the story of a deadbeat guy, shaun, trying to win his girlfriend back after she left him for the said characteristics. Once he realizes that London is infested with zombies, he and his best friend Ed lead a small group of refugees to the “safest” place in the city…the Winchester, with the ulterior motive of proving to people that they can do SOMETHING right. Where do the laughs come in? I think it’s all in the treatment of the zombies. Edgar Wright, the director of the film, treats the zombies as background pests that continuously gets in the way. Sometimes, you forget that zombies are a part of the equation until their untimely interruptions of the characters “important” conversations pull them back into focus.

The acting in this film deserves a mention, as the characters were portrayed superbly. Included in the knockout cast is Simon Pegg, Kate Ashfield, Nick Frost, Dylan Moran, and Nicola Cunningham. While all those performances were great, my absolute favorite has to be Bill Nightly. Most people know Nightly from the film “Love Actually,” where he played the washed up rockstar trying desperately to make a comeback. Having literally studied that movie (it’s a personal favorite), it’s hard to imagine Nightly in the role that is Shaun’s stepfather. With his overly dry humor and dead pan deliveries, Nightly is absolutely amazing. In fact, when he get’s bit by a zombie, he assures his wife that he’ll be fine because he “ran it under the tap.”

The best part of Shaun of the Dead is that the film maintains this nonchalance that doesn’t really falter until the very end of the film. The danger never seems entirely real or of absolute importance, which makes the comedy aspect really shine out. It’s almost like the film itself is a “slacker” in the realm of zombie movies, and that goes hand-in-hand with most of the inhabitants in Shaun’s world. In all, the movie never really seemed like it was supposed to be a legit horror film, and it worked beautifully for this film. The next time Shaun of the Dead airs on Comedy Central, I’ll probably stick around and watch it, though I’ll be sure to eat before hand this time. I was sadly mistaken when I thought I could handle food while watching the “gore-fest” that is Shaun of the Dead. 

Number 248: Infernal Affairs

Date of Screening: November 17, 2010

I’ll be honest, I was not looking forward to this film at all. I embraced it with more of a “let’s get it out of the way”, rather than my usual “let’s start a new adventure” attitude. I’m still trying to decide how I could have been so foolish, as this movie was awesome!!! It’s not that I dislike foreign cinema. In fact, some of my favorite films come from across international waters (ALL HAIL THE FRENCH NEW WAVE). Directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, Infernal Affairs takes tells us the story of a cop who is actually a gang member, and a gang member who is actually a cop. The story boils down to a race against time as each man tries to discover the true identity of the other. Plot sound familiar? It’s because Martin Scorsese’s The Departed is a remake of this film, and went on the win the Academy Award for Best Picture. How’s that for a fun fact?

Irony is a huge part of this film. The first blast of it comes from the two main characters. Tony Leung portrays the character of Chan, the police officer who infiltrates the mob. His acting is superb and unusually believable as we watch his character’s struggles and inner battles. The same can be said about Andy Lau, who portrays the character Law, the mobster who infiltrates the police force. The film starts with a version of a montage as we watch the younger version of our main characters initiated into their perspective roles. Then the film jumps 10 years when both characters become aware of the existence of the other. The irony comes in the form of self awareness as Lau realizes that he is tired of being the mole for the mob and want’s to actually be a good guy. Conversely, Chan is tired of his undercover life, and just wants to go back to being a normal police officer. Then, another level of irony is introduced as the viewer realizes that both Lau and Chan graduated in the same police academy class, albeit for very different reasons. They only know each other by sight, and the two meet by chance in a stereo store but don’ t recognize each other. This is believable for  the viewer as well because each character was played by a different actor to portray their younger selves. 

Another thing that makes this movie great is that it touches your moral code, and allows you to identify with each of the characters. The plot touches on the war with one’s self in the form of two men living a 10 year long lie, as each man has subconsciously become the other. The unexpected emotions  that this film brings out are foreign to the crime movies that most of us are accustomed to. Although I have agreed not to put any spoilers into any of these reviews, I will say that this movie left me with a lonely, cold, sad, ironic, and unsatisfied feeling. It was not the ending I expected at all. We’ve all had those movie experiences where we keep re-watching the last 10 minutes of the film to make sure that what we saw was real right? If you haven’t, watch Infernal Affairs…and locate the rewind button on your remote. 

Number 249: Changeling

Date of Screening: September 20, 2010

If I could say only one thing about this film, it would be that it takes its viewers on an emotional roller coaster, staggering mostly between anger at the corrupt LAPD and hope that a caring mother will find her son against all odds. Directed by Clint Eastwood, the film is based on the “Wineville Chicken Coop” kidnapping and murder case of 1928. Christine Collins, played beautifully by Angelina Jolie, is a hardworking single mother to a 9-year-old son, Walter Collins. One day, she comes home from work to find that Walter is nowhere to be found. With no immediate help from the LAPD, Christine goes on a frantic search for her son. Some months after the March disappearance, the LAPD announce that they’ve located Walter alive in Dekalb, Illinois. Relived that she would finally be reunited with her son, Christine travels to Dekalb to end the separation. However, there is a problem. As soon as Christine sees Walter, she realizes he is not her son, despite the fact that the LAPD assures that he is and will do anything to quiet Christine’s objections. What ensues is a powerful tale as we watch the up and down battle between a distraught mother and the corrupt law.

Eastwood’s handling of this film is absolutely amazing. Going into it, I was thinking that it would be more of a thriller than anything else. However, Eastwood has managed to tell the story in a way that captures a vast range of emotions and tells a pivoting story that never loses the interest of its viewers. One the subject of cast and crew, we can not forget about the amazing performances that came from this film. Obviously, Angelina has proven once again why she’s one of the best female actresses around today. In my opinion, she deserved the Oscar nomination. John Malkovich had a great performance as well. I was taken aback by his ability to display aggressiveness and delicacy all at one. I don’t want to leave Jeffrey Donovan out of this equation because his performance made me hate him for the duration of this film, and even a couple of hours afterward ( and I actually have a bit of a crush on him, so that says a lot). Through all of this, the standing ovation goes to Jason Butler Harner who portrayed Gordon Northcott. The way Harner brings the sinister killer Northcott to life is inexplicable. His performance makes you feel a tiny bit of sympathy for the mad man, while at the same time, hating his guts. From now on, when I think of evil, insane, sick killer, I’ll think of Harner…not that I’ll be thinking of those things often. 

Overall, this film turns out to be a social commentary on the political situation of the late 1920’s society in Los Angeles. Between the corrupt LAPD and the meek and timid city people, it is definitely a story that I would recommend to anyone who asks. 

Number 250: Arsenic and Old Lace

Date of Screening: August 29, 2010

For all who love comedy and haven’t seen this film…you’re missing out!! Frank Capra has officially been donned as a comedic genius in my book. Staring Cary Grant, the 1944 film focuses on the life of Mortimer Brewster, a newspaperman and author known for his views against marriage. Oddly enough, we watch him being married in the city hall in the hilarious opening scene. What should have been a quick trip home to inform his two maiden aunts, played by Josephine Hull and Jean Adair, of the civil union quickly turned into quite a scene as Mortimer finds out his beloved aunts’ hobby…killing lonely old men and burying them in the cellar!

The plot of the film makes it seem like it should be a dark comedy. However, there is nothing dark about this film. In fact, there’s nothing scary, mean, cruel, or spiteful about it at all. It takes a murderous plot and handles it in a very goofy and hilarious way. 

The glue that holds this film together lies in Cary Grant. In what may have been one of his best performances, Grant was able to show his natural comedic talent with a grace that leaves his viewers wanting more. Grand facial expressions, unusually fast dialogue, and random falls and spills are just a few of the things that Grant does to hold are attention and tickle our funny bones. This film has the perfect mixture of the slapstick comedy, provided by Grant, and subtle comedy, which is shown through Mortimer’s dingbat aunts. Plus, who doesn’t want to stare at Cary Grant for 118 minutes?!?!

This film is definitely a classic and has great reception throughout the film world. I highly recommend!

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