Somehow I had missed a 2003 film called The Life of David Gale that starred three of my favorite actors: Laura Linney, Kevin Spacey, and Kate Winslet. Who cared what it was about with a cast like that? Turns out it’s about a liberal professor/death penalty opponent (Spacey) who ironically gets sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a colleague (Linney). Days before his execution, he agrees to a final series of interviews with a reporter (Winslet) to set the record straight. Yes, the story is a bit grim, but it unfolds like a mystery thanks to an excellent script, and the final twist made my jaw drop. For me, any movie that can do that is worth watching. As expected, the acting is phenomenal as well. One of the best films I’ve seen all year.
This indie film stars Elizabeth Olsen, younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley from Full House. I discovered Elizabeth in the psychological thriller Silent House, an excellent performance in a so-so movie. Martha Marcy May Marlene describes the Olsen character’s two-year experience with an odd Manson-family style cult, her escape from it, and her struggle to readjust to life on the outside. The structure cleverly switches back and forth between her time in the cult and life afterward, in which she moves in with family temporarily. Time and reality blend together a bit in the girl’s mind, and the constant switching helps the audience feel some of her confusion. The cult’s programming reset most of her social skills, leaving her clueless about traditional social norms. I wanted a bit more character development and a less ambiguous ending, but otherwise I really liked it.
An Oscar-winner for Best Original Screenplay, Sofia Coppola (yes, of those Coppolas) wrote and directed this quirky, moving comedy-drama about two strangers who meet while traveling in Tokyo. Bill Murray plays an aging action star who is adjusting to the fading love in his marriage and fading prospects for his career. Scarlett Johansson is a lonely and neglected wife of a successful photographer and doesn’t really know who she is or what she wants from life. This film focuses much more on the characters and dialogue than plot. Not much really happens except Murray and Johansson develop a friendship, the kind of connection that both of them need but lack. Their interaction fascinated me, and Coppola did a masterful job of conveying some of the nuances of a cross-gender friendship. Few movies I’ve seen this year have moved me as much, but trying to describe it further could ruin the effect.
I loved the original Saw, which I found disturbing but surprisingly clever and well-done compared to the average horror flick. The sequel was OK, definitely a step down. The third installment was just…there. The film makers seemingly decided to replace the wit and morality-play elements of the original with as much gore as they could pack in while maintaining an R. The result is a mess, pun intended. Plot holes, apathy toward the characters, a muddy story, and other problems ensured that I am done with the Saw franchise. One interesting trivia item – one of the stars, Shawnee Smith, played Rhonda the pregnant girl in the ever-quotable 1987 classic Summer School.
This strangely uplifting movie by Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings trilogy) tells the story of a murdered teen girl who gets caught in a purgatory of sorts, watching her killer run loose while her distraught family struggles to move on without her. How could this possibly be uplifting? Two reasons: 1) It’s really a celebration of life and all the beautiful moments that make it up – working on a model ship with one’s father, the anticipation of a first date and first kiss with the person you’ve been thinking about for months, the simple ability to embrace the people you love every day. 2) Jackson’s vision of the in-between state blew me away with its otherworldly color, gorgeous images, and soul-soothing sense of peace. Watch this one on Blu-Ray if you can. Also, in case you’re wondering, the director mercifully elected not to show the actual murder scene.
Yeah, it might be time to move some lighter fare atop my Netflix queue.