What excites you?
It is a good question. It is not what makes you happy. It is not what interests you, but what excites you. What generates that Christmas morning when you are five emotions?
This fall there are seven films that do this for me. Will I be disappointed? Possibly. But these films give me hope. In a fall punctuated by school sex scandals, Presidential nominees who cannot remember their speaking points and epic collapse of my Braves AND Red Sox sometimes hope is the only thing we have. Hope for a brief 90 minute escape from a world that disappoints, saddens and at times angers us. These movies are my 90 minutes of hope.
1. Red State – Yes, this is a Kevin Smith film. No, it is not a regular Kevin Smith film. Kevin Smith (Clerks, Dogma, Ben Affleck career) decided that one controversial religious film that caused him to get death threats were not enough, he needed two. I think sometime during the filming he called Martin Scorsese a pussy! This is the only film on this list that I have seen so far. It is the story of a very far right religious cult/church, similar to the Westborough Baptist Church. The film directly states that this church is not like Westborough Baptist. I have a feeling that a lawyer made that line be added. This film does not have the great dialog that usually punctuates Kevin Smith’s films, but it does produce the best performances of any Kevin Smith film. The three that stand out are Kyle Garner who leads a group of three boys into the church’s compound and becomes a hostage leading to the conflict in the film. Kyle Garner is very good. I have seen him in two other projects; as a young serial killer committing his first crimes in the final season of The Shield and as a student who commits mass murder at his school in Beautiful Boy (GO RENT IT NOW. IT IS GREAT, SAD AND BEAUTIFUL). He braches out here and plays a damaged impure protagonist. He is someone worth watching. John Goodman proves that despite rising to fame on the strengths of comedies (Revenge of the Nerds and Rosanne) he is a much better dramatic actor. He plays an ATF agent who is conflicted about having to carry out an order that he knows is wrong in order to protect his job and advance his career. The best performance is by Michael Parks the charismatic, fire and brimstone, mass murdering “Father” of the religious cult (that is not the Westborough Baptist Church). He takes a role that could have been a one dimensional creepy, evil role and gave it depth. You realize that he truly believes that he is saving the souls of his family and eventually the world by removing evil. His acts of vicious violence are counter balanced by seeing him gently working with his grand children. It is a performance that deserves to be recognized. It is one of the best performances of the year. These three characters reflect the overwhelming arch of the film. All three characters do things they either are afraid to do, hate doing, know is wrong but ultimately do the act because they believe it is what is best for either themselves or the people they care about in the long term. These are not initially selfish acts, but painful acts that they believe will lead to an ultimate reward.
2. Martha Marcy May Marlene – This is the OTHER religious cult film of the fall. This is a non-sequential film about a woman Elizabeth Olsen, yeah, yeah, yeah she is THOSE Olsen’s younger sister, who goes by all three names of Martha, then Marcy May and finally Marlene as we view her life before, during and after living in a small cult in northern New York State. Unlike Red State, this films’ focus is on Martha and not on the cult leader, played by the very talented John Hawks (The Perfect Storm, East Bound and Down, Winter’s Bone). Although there are two cult movies this fall, this takes different perspective on the cult and asks questions about “Is EVERYTHING about the cult wrong?, What is it that we want and need from others that we are not getting that leads people to cults?”.
3. Take Shelter – this does not look like a good movie. But it does have a performance that the previews have made me want to see. Michael Shannon (8 Mile, Boardwalk Empire, Lets Go to Prison (it is very funny)) plays a father who has “visions” of a massive storm that is coming and builds a storm shelter that his family truly cannot afford. This is not Field of Dreams underground, this is a man who may or may not be in the beginnings of becoming schizophrenic (sp). Is he crazy? Is he irresponsible? Is he doing whatever it takes to make his family safe? Worst case scenario it will be A Beautiful Mind in the Midwest. Best case scenario it makes us question “What would you do for your family?” “What sacrifices to our mind, soul, and essence will we make to take care of our family?”
4. Shame– I have seen him in two radically different movies this year and Michael Fastbender was perfect in both of them. He was the star of “Hunger” an independent, Irish film about a group of IRA prisoners who starve themselves to death and “X-Men” first class where he stared as Magneto. You saw X-Men. No explanation is needed. X-Men was a comic book movie, but it had soul and Magneto remains one of the most fascinating characters in comic book history. Fastbender reunites with Hunger director, Steve McQueen, in Shame as the story about a Sex Addict in New York City. The story and the presumed twist is being hidden, but Fastbender’s sister is being played by Carey Mulligan who starred in the best film I have seen this year “Never Let Me Go”, the only film that made me cry this year. Mulligan has not made a bad film choice yet. Fastbender’s and Mulligan’s acting and talent for choosing good scripts, now that they really can choose what projects they will work on, makes Shame seem intriguing Dangerous Method - OK, I may be a little fixated on Michael Fastbender. This movie also stars Viggo Mortensen. I wonder if they had a sword fight while on the set. Fastebender was in the movie “300” and Mortensen had a sword when he did those three long films about walking. This film tells the story of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud in the early days of psychotherapy in Vienna. This will be a DVD rental.
5. Like Crazy – this looks like the best film of the year. I have cried after watching one movie this year, Never Let Me Go, and after watching the preview for Like Crazy. This is the story of a British student who overstays her student visa in America because she has fallen in love. When it is discovered that she is here illegally she is deported to England. This tells the story of two people falling in love at a time of your life where you are not jaded by the bad relationships that everyone has in their 20s and you still believe in happily ever after because life has not happened yet. It is the love you can only feel at a time of your life when everything is possible, nothing else is that important and love is true, innocent and honest. This also explores what happens when life interrupts love. How do you handle it when the person you love most is suddenly on the other side of the world? Skype, emails and long distance phone calls are not as intimate and personal as sharing the Saturday morning paper at a Denny’s. How can you stay in love when you no longer truly share a live with that person? You love that person with all of your soul, but distance is a barrier that is difficult to overcome. Watch the trailer: PUT IN TRAILER and decide for yourself.
6. 21 Jump Street – Yes, I said it. 21 Jump Street. It is my blog. 21 Jump Street stars Jonnah Hill who has co-starred in a series of excellent movies over the last several years (Super Bad, Money Ball, Get Him to the Greek and Knocked Up). Hill strikes me as this generation's Phil Hartmen. Very talented but is much better in a supporting role than a starring role. Hill works best when he reacts to the insanity around him. His best performance is probably in Get Him to the Greek. Russell Brand is completely insane. He was perfect as a hard partying rock star. Hill is the perfect dose of normality in a bizarre situation. Hill takes good actors and makes them better than they really are (Ex: see reviews of Brad Pitt’s performance in Moneyball and the career of Michael Serra after Super Bad). Unfortunately, he is stuck with Channing Tatum in 21 Jump Street. Jonnah Hill is the Johnny Depp to Channing Tatum’s Richard Greco. Tatum has been given an opportunity to be a movie star (GI Joe) but he is not that talented. 21 Jump Street looks like a great Saturday afternoon TBS movie. The producer of this movie can go ahead and make plans for Oscar night, but this looks like a nice escape for two hours. Sometimes we do not need questions answered in our movies, sometimes we just need to smile. 21 Jump Street will do that and that will be enough.