Armageddon is upon is. Not the movie – well, sometimes – but the looming threat that 2012 may actually be the End of Days. Imminent death often forces introspection, which itself is only possible with breaks taken throughout the day. I know I can never take enough breaks, but what has always helped me cope with life's moments requiring a little extra processing is watching a movie. If I can't figure out my own problems, I can at least watch someone else deal with theirs.
By George Rose
April 14, 2009
This week suggests our little eco system is being shaken by whoever is upstairs. In the last seven days, the temperature has been inconsistent while the weather has ranged from sunny to foggy to full-on monsoon. It hasn't helped keep my mood swings in order, but has helped me remember the wide array of films that suit each emotion.
In moving forward with this article, I hope to inform my few followers (spread the word, guys) that, in the midst of recessions and global warming, you should take five minutes each day to pause and reflect. Enjoy life's little moments, consider but don't dwell on the failures, and do something for yourself. If you can't think of anything – watch a movie. It's what I do, and I... ummm... turned out alright!
The thing is, we as people aren't supposed to make sense. We're complicated; we do many things for the wrong reasons, react inappropriately to things we probably don't understand and enjoy things other people find pretty stupid. I can't tell you why I had a scrapbook growing up of Jennifer Love Hewitt, Katie Holmes and Sarah Michelle Gellar – I know now they aren't really acclaimed actresses – but blind love isn't meant to be explained. Moments in our lives sometimes dictate how we feel about a movie more than its actual quality.
Each week, I will present five films that have in some way shaped who I am as a person, or were in my path of destruction while I was dragging through the education system. These films were the ones I relaxed with, the movies that give me my five minute escape from the poorly directed reality we live in. Whether good or bad, my reasoning right or wrong, they impacted me. With the turbulent week we just had, it's going to be quite the mixed bag of first offerings.
The Craft (1996)
I swear, there must be a crazy bitch – I mean witch – running around. She's probably pissed off about some guy who called her fat when he was drunk once, but that only matters when the girl practices witchcraft. This weather's got me thinking.
When I was in middle school, my screen name on AOL was NeveLover7. Neve Campbell was among the stars in The Craft and one of my biggest crushes. When Scream became a blockbuster shortly after and everyone started talking about Neve, I would roll my eyes assuming I knew her first. Somewhere deep down, I could feel she had put a spell on me.
Beside her in the film are Robin Tunney and Campbell's Scream co-star Skeet Ulrich. Tunney plays Sarah Bailey, a new girl in town who naturally feels out of place. She begins to feel comfortable after meeting three girls – Campbell, Fairuza Balk and Rachel True – who turn out to be followers of (you guessed it) the craft. Witchcraft, that is, and with a fourth member they begin exploring new areas of the practice previously unavailable without the missing element. The fun begins and the coven goes on a spree of séances and love spells – enter Skeet. As it turns out, they should have stuck with Ouija.
Despite the film's limited financial success, the actors were all up-and-coming stars at the time, helping drive its cult status (so funny, I know). I wasn't part of the cool crowd in Middle School, so The Craft was a film I briefly took a little too seriously in my quest for my own clique. As it turns out, buying incense, scented oils and books on Salem weren't enough to invoke my inner warlock.
Like I said, not all reasoning is logical. I wouldn't put this film in a race for any Best Picture awards, but it was fitting for its time. And it's fitting for this awkward week of weather, since we'll never really know if it's caused by a higher power or hormonal teen. The Craft is a fun film to watch when it's stormy outside and you're bored of typical slasher films. The ending gets pretty frightening on your first view – Balk is far crazier than her name already suggests – especially with the lights off. It wasn't long after I started attempting my own witchcraft that I realized it was a waste of time, but the film's spirit lives on.
Definitely, Maybe (2008)
I would be able to get Definitely, Maybe out of my head if it wasn't currently invading HBO. Luckily, the film isn't your average romantic comedy. The cast – Ryan Reynolds, Isla Fisher, Rachel Weisz, Elizabeth Banks and Abigail Breslin– makes for a Craft-like all-star group of names that should be bigger than they are. They have definitely (!) made more of themselves than Neve Campbell ever did – congrats Rachel on your "Constant Gardner" Oscar – but all have failed in becoming bankable.
Hardly a fairy tale, this romance is more mystery with its three relationship sub-plots getting blurred together in a recollection of the past. It touches upon many political pop-culture references – the Clinton era is a focal point – while we follow Reynolds' Will Hayes as he climbs the ladder of his own career. It's refreshing when a "date movie" relies more on plot and story, and less on meet-cutes and pratfalls.
Considering I'm about to take my own next step on the ladder – graduating college in less than a month – I'm not thinking about short, over-hyped relationships. I'm closing doors made in Boston and saying goodbye to faces that I'm sure will pop up again randomly in the future. It's all very stressful, but Will Hayes can do it!
Will is a perpetual proposer, funny and charming, and always falling in love too quickly. Because life could care less about most plans made, complications of sorts prevent any success with a variety of women throughout his 20s. The catch is that he is telling this story – about three possible loves – to his daughter, who must guess which of the women is her mother.
It's a great change of pace to most of the other clones of the genre, and might give you more of an appreciation for Reynolds before his next on-screen outing in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, due in May. It's a great example of how he can only lend a supporting hand to major blockbusters, but Definitely, Maybe might be the preface needed to help him break out afterwards.
American Splendor (2003)
Wolverine isn't my favorite, but I can't get enough of super-heroes and comics. My other BOP column – the monthly Uncanny Update – revolves around them. My moral compass is guided by the magnetic fields of good vs. evil. It's a sick obsession, but any geek or writer will tell you our lonely nature leads to odd habits.
American Splendor was a Sundance darling back in the days when I was just getting into independent films. It's the true story of Harvey Pekar, a file clerk who creates a comic book about himself that becomes surprisingly popular, despite the oddities of Harvey and his new girlfriend. The masses seem to connect with Harvey and his life better than he does, turning the miserable grouch into an uncomfortable overnight celebrity.
This movie was Paul Giamatti's first leading role of overwhelming acclaim. I remember at the time how shocked bloggers and critics alike were when the Academy failed to nominate his performance. Maybe they thought the role was easier to accomplish then it actually was, since Harvey Pekar narrates the film. Giamatti isn't a perfect match, but you can tell there isn't an actor out there who would have come closer. It also garnered attention for its artistic infusion of graphic comic drawings, which bring an extra lighthearted touch to the unique film.
It came out in the middle of the Marvel takeover of Hollywood, so my comic book craving was on overdrive. I didn't know anything about the source material going into it, but still found it touching and hilarious. Harvey's relationship with Joyce Brabner – played by the endearing Hope Davis – is often as funny as the comic within, making this a surprise date movie. It's not the kind you'd watch with a one-night-stand or foreign exchange student, but the kind you can appreciate with someone you care about, someone who wants to pay attention to a clever film that doesn't use half-naked hijinks to portray falling in love.
Who Am I? (1998)
When thinking about Paul Giamatti's career after American Splendor, I can't help but be disappointed that Shoot ‘Em Up wasn't a bigger hit. It was hardly the greatest action experience but still pretty wild. It also stars Clive Owen, who deserves a bigger career. He isn't going to find it with music-video style fight sequences meant to protect the fragile nature of the silver-screen elite. Stunt doubles are over rated and usually noticeable. Then – with another unexpected flash of memory – I remembered the equally insane, but more realistic, action of my youth.
In the 1990s, Jackie Chan was providing all the mindless debauchery a growing boy needed AND was doing his own stunts. I grew up with two brothers – and several cousins – close in age. Most of us were athletes (not me), but all of us were aggressive wrestlers. If there was one star that provided us with possible move sets and intricate battles using household objects, it was Jackie.
Who Am I? is one of the many Chinese imports featuring martial arts – and one of the many from Jackie Chan – but it always held a special place in my heart. He plays a Chinese commando dumped off in South Africa without memory, sending him on a journey back to China to discover who he is. Think the "Bourne" series with humor and voice-overs. Not much is funnier than watching a young, toned version of Chan scurrying around with English-dubbed confusion. As a confused child going through puberty, the question "who am I?" came up a lot. Not being able to answer it for myself, I took a break and let Chan help answer my problems.
He wasn't as popular at the time as he would become with the Rush Hour series, but he also wasn't trying as hard. You can tell he's having more fun in some of his foreign films – Drunken Master, Mr. Nice Guy, the Police Story series – than he is bickering with Chris Tucker or Jennifer Love Hewitt (sorry, my one-time love). Maybe it's because he was more physically able and could push his limits, but the modern day wall-jumper he is doesn't do the man justice. He's clearly best when he's able to communicate with his co-stars, but always better than the future impersonators. Here's hoping he makes Police Story 87 before he gets too old!
I'm dead serious, everyone, make Clive Owen a bigger star. He goes unnoticed far too often – Bent, King Arthur, Children of Men anyone? – but Closer brought him closest (oh yeah, I said it) to the A-list. The rest of the cast is superb as well, with Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman and Jude Law rounding out the group of swingers. Well, they aren't really swingers, but any movie about partner-swapping relationships with people this beautiful is worth two hours of your time. Portman is a stripper! Owen is a sex addict! Roberts keeps having affairs! And Law, well, I've never cared too much for the nanny-knocker.
The film came out just as I was entering college and well into my newfound appreciation of independent films. This release was more mainstream than most indies, given its cast alone, but since I was just starting my first real relationship it quickly became a chapter in my Handbook for Love. More "what not to do" than anything else, the movie revolves around four individuals with large sexual appetites and little knowledge on how to make commitment work. Portman and Owen both won Golden Globes and were nominated for Oscars – hence his critical status boost – for their performances, proving they both deserve a more credit and attention as actors than our wallets have suggested.
Closer is decidedly pessimistic when it comes to relationships, but the tone remains one the audience can connect to, if not at least be turned on by (perfect for a college freshman). It's accompanied by music that both sooths and haunts, with Damien Rice's "Blower's Daughter" headlining. The song was in my iTunes top five for no less than a year. Like the movie, it is beautiful and relaxing, even when the words and plot are void of hope. It's the perfect song to listen to alone while I wondered the late night streets of Boston in the middle of winter.
There are complaints from certain critics – pointless plot, uninspired directing – but none that affected my viewing of it. I can't say it enough, the moments in people's lives and the timing of discovery greatly affect what you might think about a film. When it premiered, it immediately became one of my favorite movies. Ever. And over four years later, I can still watch it on repeat. The cast, their performances (and beauty), and my youthful interest in complicated relationships make this one of my classic recommendations to friends. It won't tell you how to be the best boyfriend or lover, but will make whatever you're going through with your own partner not seem so bad.
With Armageddon right around the corner, who couldn't use a break to feel better about themselves? Take five and rent Closer, or any one of the other recommendations made above. If not, there are plenty more suggestions to come when Take Five returns next week.