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3 Movies I Wish More People Had Seen

Ever make a reference to a movie and no one knows what you’re talking about?  It happens to me a lot, partially because I have a weird memory for obscure quotes, but it’s also because I reference movies like these:


Living in Oblivion (1995)

Tom DiCillo’s comedy about independent filmmaking boasts a cast that includes Steve Buscemi, Dermot Mulroney, Catherine Keener, and Peter Dinklage.  It premiered at Sundance and proceeded to make a measly $1.1 million at the box office.  Despite that, it is a hilarious satire that everyone who likes insider movies should watch.  Instead of portraying the glamorous world of studio films, it follows a production so  low-budget that they can’t even afford fresh milk.  Buscemi plays the would-be auteur who seems to have David Lynch tendencies, and his increasing stress and mania is just a treat to watch.  The film also includes such magical elements as Dermot Mulroney in an eye patch and Peter Dinklage delivering an angry monologue about dwarves in movies.  The fact that this movie hasn’t become a cult classic is mystifying to me.


Songcatcher (2000)

Now, Maggie Greenwald’s Songcatcher is far from a blockbuster.  It tells the story of a 19th century musicologist who ventures into the Appalachians to document folk songs.  While the film has a number of problems – Janet McTeer doesn’t really work as a romantic lead, and a subplot about anti-lesbian hate crimes feels preachy and unnecessary – it’s an interesting exploration of the legacy of folk music and the culture of Appalachia.  It also features a young, pre-fame Emmy Rossum, using the voice that would later sing Phantom of the Opera to perform an a cappella version of “Barbara Allen.” The real reason to see this film are the songs – it has a wonderful soundtrack of country singers performing old hill tunes.  One of my favorite scenes includes Pat Carroll (aka Ursula from The Little Mermaid) performing “Single Girl.”  This is a movie all about the origins of country music, so “I like everything but country” folk will probably not enjoy it, but I find its portrayal of music scholarship fascinating.


Nine Lives (2005)

This last film is one of my all-time favorites, so expect a longer post on it at some point.  I don’t know how Rodrigo Garcia does it, but between Nine Lives and Mother and Child (2009) he has shown an uncanny ability to write from women’s perspectives.  One of my favorite topics to study is female subjectivity, and Nine Lives is all about women and their stories.  It is composed of nine stories, each about a different woman, and each shot in one ten-minute take.  The stories are loosely connected, as supporting characters will sometimes show up in more than one story, but the connections are not the point.  As one character says, “Each woman is a universe,” and the film is primarily interested in spending time in these worlds.  Nine Lives also features an amazing cast, including the amazing and increasingly beautiful Robin Wright, Amanda Seyfried, Amy Brenneman, Glenn Close, Dakota Fanning, and Holly Hunter.  Each section treads different ground, and each woman’s story is utterly real.  Despite its cast and pedigree, this movie only made $500,000 at the box office, and its lack of recognition is one of the many omissions that has made me dislike the awards season.  I cannot say enough about Nine Lives.  Each time I watch it, I discover something new, or I see a story in a new way.  It is a film about subjectivity and experience, and each viewer’s experience of it is different.


Are there any films that were important in your life but obscure to others?

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The Help (2011)

I have yet to read the book (I know, I know, I’m behind the times), but I finally saw Tate Taylor’s movie of The Help on my return flight from London.  Here are my thoughts, in informal bullet points:

The Good:

  • The cast was uniformly excellent.  I had some doubts about Emma Stone in a dramatic role, but she did a good job.  Jessica Chastain was wonderful (and looked amazing) as the spacey outcast, Celia, and Bryce Dallas Howard was deliciously bitchy as the villainous Hilly.  The real star of the film is Viola Davis, who I’ve loved since I saw her almost non-speaking performance in Far From Heaven (2002).  Here, she gets a meaty role that allows her to do subtle but powerful work.  She also gets the main voiceover, which made me very happy from a subjectivity standpoint.  Even though it’s the white woman doing the publishing, the black woman is telling the story.  Also wonderful was Octavia Spencer, who looks incredibly familiar, but I can’t place her in a specific role.  I think I’m just so used to seeing her face in her various bit parts.  Her angry performance brought a great deal of comic relief to the film without undermining the seriousness of her perspective.

  • The pacing and writing are generally very tight.  The film is almost two and a half hours but moves along at a swift pace.
  • The film did a really lovely job of portraying the relationships between the black maids and their white children.  Every time Cicely Tyson was onscreen, she brought gravitas and warmth, and Viola Davis’s scenes with her charge were the center of the film.  The most gratifying element of it, from a feminist perspective, is that both Aibileen (Davis) and Constantine (Tyson) are determined to impart messages of strength and self-respect to their girls.  Aibileen repeatedly tells Mae Mobley, “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.” The fact that she worries about the girl’s looks to herself but does not include “You is pretty” in this mantra is significant.  The women in The Help know that looks play an important role in our culture, but they are doing their best to give young girls a sense of self-worth beyond the surface.

The Bad:

  • Why why why why why did they put this hair on Emma Stone???  I get that they’re trying to make her look plain, but it’s supposedly Skeeter’s natural hair, and yet it looks like a terrible perm gelled to within an inch of its life.  There are so many other ways to give her “bad hair” without it being this distracting.


  • A number of plot moments didn’t quite ring true.  Skeeter’s boyfriend, who supposedly loves her for her intelligence and spunk, leaves her because of her book, telling her that she is “a selfish person.” Not only does this not make any logical sense, but he also has not been shown to be particularly embroiled in the establishment before, so his sudden investment in Jackson society makes no sense.  Also, when Celia’s husband suddenly turns out to be the sweetest man on the planet, it feels cheap and undeveloped.  For all we knew, he was a bigot like everyone else and, had they taken the time to establish his character earlier in the film (pretty sure we saw his face once before his encounter with Minny), his incredibly understanding stance would have been more believable.  The uses of both these men was purely as plot devices.  On the other hand, though, it’s a new experience to be saying that about male characters for once…
  •  Nelsan Ellis, of True Blood fame, was criminally underused in this film.  I am the first to admit that True Blood has gotten pretty terrible, but Ellis is an amazing actor, and I would have liked to see more of him in a non-Lafayette capacity.

Although Lafayette is ok too....

The Verdict:

The Help was a very well-made movie, both thought-provoking and entertaining.  It has some treacly lines and silly plot developments, but it does a very good job of exploring ideas of subjectivity, gender, and race.  I know the book has been the target of a lot of debates, so I will have to address that when I read it.  There are problematic ways you could read the “white women helps black ladies tell their story” message, but the movie means well, and it manages to be genuinely moving without hitting you over the head.  At its core, it is a film about harnessing the power of language to gain agency, and that is what these women do.

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5 Movies That Make Me Cry

Everyone needs a good cry once in a while.  Movie crying is one of the most cathartic ways to do it.  These five films never fail to make me weep:

1.  Shakespeare in Love (1998)

John Madden’s Best Picture winner has been one of my favorites since I was twelve. Tom Stoppard’s unfairly clever, beautiful script seamlessly blends the spirit and magic of Shakespeare’s language with modern humor and a gender-confused love story.  Both Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes give heartfelt performances, so much so that in moments like the one above, you truly believe they are head over heels.  The rest of the stellar cast, including poor Colin Firth as the overweight unwanted suitor, make Stoppard’s lines ring with magic meaning.  This movie is one of the reasons I so staunchly defend Ben Affleck whenever his acting skill comes into question.  Yes, he can be wooden in dramatic roles, but his scene-stealing turn here is simply hilarious.  I adore Shakespeare in Love because it makes me cry and also makes me deliriously happy.  Such a beautifully made film cannot help but make a film lover happy.

The Moment That Always Gets Me: Will’s final monologue over the image of Viola walking across the sand. “Not for her a watery end, but a new life, beginning on a stranger shore.  It will be a love story, for she will be my heroine for all time….and her name will be Viola.”

This screencap doesn't quite do it justice, but I couldn't leave you without the image.

2.  Children of Men (2006)

Alfonso Cuarón’s dystopian fable is an evocative, thought-provoking exploration of a world without innocence.  When women can no longer have babies and civilizations everywhere are following apart, the citizens of fascist, ravaged Britain are largely dispassionate and hateful.  One such detached citizen is Theo (a beautifully understated Clive Owen), who is given the task of escorting a miraculously pregnant girl to safety with the possibly-fictional Human Project.  Cuarón balances gritty visuals with lyrical moments of writing to give the sense that there is still beauty in this world, and it lies in humanity.  His camerawork emphasizes Theo’s development, trailing behind him at first, in a manner as detached as his psyche, but then following him more and more closely as he becomes increasingly invested in the people around him and the fate of the world.  We go on this journey with him, and when he finally allows himself a happy moment at the end, we cannot help but breathe with him.

The Moment that Always Gets Me: Theo is trying to get Kee and her baby safely through a refugee camp in the throes of battle.  When the baby starts crying, everyone around them grows quiet and stares in awe.  As Kee and Theo walk by, people reach out to touch the baby, murmuring in their different languages and worshiping the child.  Then, when Kee and Theo walk out toward the lines of soldiers, all the gunfire stops.  The soldiers take down their weapons and simply watch, careful not to hurt the baby.  Much of this is done in one long take, and the complete and utter stillness at the sound of a baby makes me cry every time.  Miriam says in the middle of the film, “Very odd, what happens in a world without children’s voices,” and here Cuarón makes you remember that line.

3.  Schindler’s List (1993)

When you need a really hardcore tearjerker, it’s hard to do better than Schindler’s List.  Stephen Spielberg’s Holocaust chronicle is a journey of a film, clocking in at over three hours and taking you through the ghettos and labor camps of Nazi-occupied Poland.  Sir Ben Kingsley’s soulful performance as accountant Itzhak Stern never fails to tug on my heartstrings and even draw out a chuckle or two.  Ralph Fiennes’s terrifying Amon Goethe is one of the most chilling screen villains of all time, his cold reptilian gaze accentuated by the black and white.  The most impressive aspect of the film is its ability to create a strong sense of the ensemble.  The huge cast of characters is hard to remember by name, but Spielberg makes each face memorable enough that we are able to track the journeys of a large number of figures.  In this way, the film succeeds in creating both a sense of scope and a sense of intimacy, which are essential in portraying an event like the Holocaust.

The Moment that Always Gets Me: The ending.  I mean, come on.  When the survivors are walking toward shelter and they dissolve into the real life Schindler Jews, how can you not lose it?  We are finally in color, and everything we have experienced over the past three hours feels so much more real.  Obviously, we all know that these things happened, but to actually see the people whose stories we’ve learned is simply wrenching.

4.  Field of Dreams (1989)

Now, I am not a baseball person at all.  I used to watch the Yankees now and then, and I sometimes catch a game if it happens to be on a television near me.  I have never been one of those people tremendously moved by the sport itself and the institution around it, but I love baseball movies.  Bull Durham (1988) and A League of Their Own (1992) have been favorites of mine for years.  It is Field of Dreams, however, that makes me bawl every time.  Everyone likes to make fun of this movie because of its fantastical nature and its oft-quoted lines, but I always find myself succumbing to its irresistible sweetness.  The sense of magic it creates around baseball carries you away, and you become wrapped up in the fantasy.  Let’s not forget the magic of James Earl Jones either.  “People will come, Ray. People will come.”

The Moment that Always Gets Me: Once again, it’s the ending.  When Ray finally gets up the courage to ask his father for a catch, we see that this field is for baseball dreams great and small.  The innocence of childhood is something we can regain, if just for a moment or two.

5.  Spirited Away (2001)

I grew up on the films of Hayao Miyazaki.  The magic and whimsy of his films, along with their sometimes-veiled environmental messages, never failed to affect me.  I rode the cat bus in My Neighbor Totoro (1988), fought the boar gods in Princess Mononoke (1997), and in Spirited Away I cleaned the muck off the river spirit.  One of the remarkable things about Spirited Away is the fact that its main character, Chihiro, begins the film as an extremely irritating, unexceptional child.  Her journey over the course of the film and the way she eventually gets the entire bathhouse to rally around her never fails to move me and make me long for an adventure like hers.  The cast of imaginative characters and the beautiful music don’t hurt, either.

The Moment that Always Gets Me: When dragon Haku is flying Chihiro back to the bathhouse, she tells him that she remembers where she met him: he was the spirit of the Kohaku River, and he saved her when she drowned.  As soon as she finishes telling the story, Haku instantly changes back into human form, and the two cry as he finally remembers who he is.  In a film filled with issues of naming and identity, it’s a beautiful moment, and the animation of the tears falling upwards is simply lovely.

Well, there you have it.  I’d love to hear your thoughts – what movies tug on your heartstrings?


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The Skin I Live In (2011)

Last night, I saw the new film by Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar, La Piel Que Habito (The Skin I Live In).  I went with the lovely Joanna, who will be doing her own post on the film soon.  We took an Almodóvar class together in college, and we have different preferences regarding his work, so it should be an interesting discussion.  I am a big fan of Almodóvar in his woman-oriented vein, exemplified by films like All About My Mother (1999) and Volver (2006).   Most of his more sadistic, male-oriented films, however, either leave me cold or make me angry. 

The Skin I Live In falls into the latter category.  It tells the story of a plastic surgeon, Robert (Antonio Banderas), who lives in a big, beautiful house in Toledo and does research in his basement.  He also keeps a mysterious, beautiful woman locked in an upstairs room.  Vera (Elena Anaya) does yoga and reads while wearing a supportive body sock, and Robert watches her on an enormous screen in his room (which is next door, incidentally).  As the film goes on, we learn more about Robert’s past and where Vera comes from, along with lots of blood and rape.

The first problem with the film is its pacing.  Especially during the flashback section, some of the sequences are unnecessarily long and feel disjointed from each other.  In the end, it all sort of comes together, but there are definitely some slow moments along the way.  While the mystery setup is good, and the twist works well, the film ends very abruptly, with little to no resolution or catharsis.  It feels as though Almodóvar just got tired of the story and didn’t know how to wrap it up, leaving the viewer unsettled, but mostly annoyed.

One of the best things about Almodóvar’s work in general is that there’s always a great deal to discuss.  The Skin I Live In is rife with interesting topics and ideas, and Almodóvar does a wonderful job of conveying these subjects visually.  The image of Robert’s basement operating room – clean, sterile glass surrounded by crumbling brick walls – conjures up ideas of old versus new, organic versus artificial, and natural versus man-made.  Robert’s newest invention is a type of artificial skin that can be used to heal burn victims, and the notion of getting an entirely new skin is an important one in the film.  What is the relationship between our appearance and our identity?  Where does the self really live?  What makes a person ‘real’?  All these ideas, as well as issues of gender and voyeurism (old Almodóvar favorites), are at play in the film, making it quite thought-provoking despite its mess of a plot.

Probably the most irritating thing about this film was its excessive use of rape.  Almodóvar has previously portrayed rape in many of his films, and he has been criticized for many of them.  The most notable example is Kika (1993), in which a woman is raped for around fifteen minutes while talking to women who walk by, picking up the phone, etc.  The point of the scene is to make rape funny, and Almodóvar does this frequently.  The Skin I Live In contains two lengthy rape scenes, as well as a gratuitous scene of a napkin being shoved deep inside a woman’s mouth, which is clearly meant to evoke rape.  I understand why Almodóvar portrays rape so much, and why he attempts to make it a laughing matter – he’s trying to rob it of its power.  If women can laugh at rape and not be particularly bothered by it, the act loses some of its destructive effect.  I understand it, but I still find it offensive and upsetting every time I see it.  No matter how many Almodóvar films I see, I doubt I will ever be okay with this tactic of his, and it is the primary reason I am not a fan of this newest film.

That said, the cast is fantastic.  Antonio Banderas has always done his best work, albeit usually as a psycho-stalker, in Almodóvar films, and it’s wonderful to see him return to form here.  Elena Anaya, who recalls a combination of Natalie Portman and Penelope Cruz, is both fragile and furious as the beautiful captive.  Almodóvar’s camera loves her, caressing her every feature (sometimes in a fetishistic manner), and draws us into Robert’s obsession as we marvel at her beauty.   Finally, it was lovely to see Marisa Paredes, an old Almodóvar favorite, as Robert’s fiercely loyal housekeeper.

There is much more I could say about this film – like Hitchcock, Almodóvar is nothing if not thought-provoking, but I will leave off for the time being.  I look forward to Joanna‘s thoughts, and hopefully we can get some discussion going.

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The Accused (1988)

“I never got to tell nobody nothin’.  You did all my talkin’ for me.”  This protest is spoken by Sarah Tobias (Jodi Foster) in The Accused (1988), a film about rape and the necessity of telling one’s story.  Directed by Jonathon Kaplan and written by Tom Topor, it tells the story of a young woman who has been gang raped and her attempts to gain recognition and justice for the crimes against her.  When the film begins, she has just escaped the bar where she was raped by three men in front of a crowd of cheering bystanders.  The Deputy D.A. who is assigned Sarah’s case, Kathryn (Kelly McGillis) cuts a plea bargain with the three rapists and gets them convicted of reckless endangerment.

Sarah, however, is not happy with this result, and she is definitely not happy with how it was achieved.  She protests at length that she did not get to tell her story.  To her, the fact that the crime is on the books as “reckless endangerment” means that the wrongs against her have not been acknowledged by the legal system.  To fix this, she and Kathryn launch a case against the men who stood by and cheered it on.  The idea is that, by having this case go to trial, Sarah will be able to tell her story to the court and get the rape on the books.

Although it’s rather dated, The Accused is a compelling and generally persuasive examination of rape and its position in the patriarchal legal system.  The center of the film is Jodi Foster’s Oscar-winning performance, and it is a powerful one.  As the wounded and angry Sarah, she is both fragile and furious.  With her lower-class accent and delivery, she does a wonderful job conveying the chip on Sarah’s shoulder and the inherent sweetness that lies under the tough exterior.  When she finally gets to testify and tell her story, it’s the best scene in the film.  The camera sits quietly and lets Ms. Foster own the screen, haltingly describing her rape as her eyes fill with tears and she begins to tremble.  It’s an amazing piece of acting.

The other significant performance in the film is Ms. McGillis’s.  I’ve only ever seen her in Witness (1984), in which she spends most of her time watching and reacting with her big, soulful eyes.  Here, she is a much more active presence, complete with 80s shoulder pads.  She defies the men at the D.A.’s office, insisting on trying the case, and she and Sarah eventually come to understand each other after many interactions laden with class tension.  The two women have great chemistry, and the film plays them off each other well, contrasting Ms. McGillis’s voluptuous hair and physique to Ms. Foster’s tiny frame.

The film’s main problem lies in its inability to articulate its message.  Is it just trying to say, “rape is bad”?  The rape scene itself, shown during a witness’s testimony, is quite horrifying and well done, so that message comes across loud and clear.  The majority of the film, however, is dedicated to condemning the men who cheered it on and instigated it, so that we almost forget that the rapists are already in jail and will only be there for five years.  As I discussed above, the primary emphasis seems to be placed on Sarah’s need to tell her own story, which is a great point to make regarding female subjectivity and the importance of the female experience.  After she gets to testify, however, the film loses a little oomph.  Yes, we want the rape supporters to be convicted, but it feels as if Sarah has already accomplished her goal to some extent, so the primary conflict is complete.  I’m still trying to figure out exactly how I feel about all the intricacies of the script, such as when Kathryn says that standing by and watching a rape is not a crime (really? Are we justifying this?).  The Accused is definitely worth a watch, if only for two powerful performances by strong women.

Random thoughts:

– It’s amazing how big a factor music is in dating a movie.  Just the sound of a synthesizer chord or a lonely saxophone makes me instantly think “eighties.”

– The film suffers a bit from what Thelma & Louise (1991) is often wrongly accused of – basically all the male characters are bad and misogynistic.  There’s one quietly supportive lawyer, but he barely has any lines.

– Would someone really admit to smoking marijuana in open court?  Isn’t that a wee bit risky?


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Melancholia (2011)

Last night’s NYFF screening was Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, which I’ve been eagerly anticipating since it debuted at Cannes (and not because of his ridiculous Nazi comments).  While not a perfect film by any means, Melancholia is beautiful and mesmerizing.  Clocking in at over two hours, it’s definitely a draining experience, but it’s meant to be; the end of the world should be devastating.

The film follows a young woman named Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and her family as the earth is approached by a recently-discovered planet that has been hiding behind the sun.  Like most of von Trier’s films, it’s divided into sections.  The first major section (after the prologue) portrays Justine’s wedding reception.  She has just married a sweet, not-too-bright man named Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) and, although everything seems fine at first, we slowly begin to get the sense that all is not well with her.  Her smiles are a bit too bright, her sister (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is a bit too worried, and her new husband is trying a bit too hard.  The shaky, handheld camera in this sequence jumps around from guest to guest, nervously looking back and forth between Justine and Michael as if the camera itself is hoping everything is going to work out.

I won’t spoil things by going into what the second part entails, but the major problem with the film is a marked difference in tone and pacing between the two parts.  They feel almost like separate films, two mood pieces that happen to be about the same people.  That said, however, both sections are beautiful in different ways, and they are tied together formally and thematically by the prologue.  Filmed in extreme slow-motion so that the shots look almost still, the prologue is one of the highlights of the movie.  Each shot takes your breath away with its rich colors and compositions that echo famous paintings (one of which is the poster above). Here’s an example, although the colors in this still don’t do the shot justice:

Shot compositions like these kept the film utterly mesmerizing, despite its uneven pacing and disparate sections.

Performance-wise, Melancholia is impeccable.  Kirsten Dunst gives the most subtle performance of her career, using minute changes in her facial muscles to slowly betray her creeping depression.  Charlotte Gainsbourg, as her long-suffering, slightly neurotic sister, is both soulful and brittle.  You sense she has been weathered down to the bone by her trying sister and arrogant husband, played with a touch of dry humor by Kiefer Sutherland.  As Michael, Alexander Skarsgard is the exact opposite of his True Blood avatar, Eric Northman.  He is awkward and utterly sweet, trying desperately to make Justine happy, and Skarsgard makes him completely believable.  His father, Stellan Skarsgard, gives an amusing performance himself as Justine’s obnoxious boss.  The cast is rounded out by John Hurt, Charlotte Rampling, and Jesper Christensen (the “Surgeon of Birkenau” in The Debt).

In the end, Melancholia left me feeling drained and awed by the power of its images, many of which are still haunting me a day later.  It has its problems, but it’s the most beautiful apocalypse any of us is likely to see.

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A Dangerous Method (2011)

When director David Cronenberg introduced A Dangerous Method at the NYFF tonight (accompanied by the wonderful Michael Fassbender), he implied that the film is very different from his earlier work.  It is true that this most recent effort does not contain mutant babies or twin gynecologists, and it lacks the visual flair of his usual films.  It is, however, clearly a Cronenberg film as far as subject matter goes.  Its exploration of the darker side of human nature and the visceral urges we attempt to repress fits in perfectly with his previous work.

The film follows Dr. Carl Jung (Mr. Fassbender) and his relationships with a masochistic patient, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) and the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen).  The small cast is uniformly excellent.  I have always been anti-Keira Knightley, but her performance here is surprisingly good.  Her reed-like, fragile physique and wide eyes make her the perfect image of a broken, battered child who, over the course of the film, gradually composes herself but refuses to soften.  The character is all hard edges, demanding and incisive in her ability to read human behavior.  Despite the fact that she is the masochist, you get the sense that she is the one who holds the power over Jung, not vice versa.

Jung’s relationship with Freud is similarly fraught.  Beginning as a mentoring relationship, it eventually turns into a battle for the future of psychoanalysis.  No matter what the viewer may think about Freud and Jung’s theories (I have my problems with them, of course), their discussions over the course of the film are gripping and genuinely thought-provoking.  A Dangerous Method is, appropriately, a very talky film, but the content and performances kept me interested.  Mr. Fassbender employs his subtle, visceral style to make Jung the slowly-crumbling center of the film.  He is on camera almost the entire time, making every small change in his facial expressions and body posture count.  Viggo Mortensen, an old favorite of mine who has been doing excellent work with Cronenberg over the last decade, brings a dry wit and quiet consideration to Freud.  The character could have so easily become cartoonish, with his perpetual cigar and prosthetic nose, but Mortensen makes him an intriguing and humble intellectual presence.

Alongside the more obvious discussion of human sexuality and psychology, the film also tackles issues of class and religion.  Spielrein and Freud are both Jews, while Jung is Protestant.  Freud is from a lower class and lives in a cramped apartment with his six children, while Jung’s wife is incredibly wealthy and he lives in a country house with his own sailboat.  These differences create a quiet tension that suffuses the characters’ interactions and lends an extra edge to Jung and Freud’s disagreements.  The implications of these differences become very clear in the end titles, which I will not spoil for you.  Suffice it to say, World War II played its part in these characters’ lives.

A Dangerous Method is thought-provoking and well-executed, if mainstream for a man of Cronenberg’s eccentricity.  The dialed-down style makes for a visually bland experience, but in a way it is appropriate for the subject matter.  Just like in Jung himself, all the darker elements lie beneath the surface.

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Warrior (2011)

Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton face off in "Warrior"

Generally, I’m reluctant to watch sports or boxing movies, as I find them formulaic and unsurprising.  I will admit to being a sucker for Remember the Titans (2000), and Dodgeball (2004) has a special place in my heart, but those are special cases.  I would have avoided Gavin O’Connor’s Warrior entirely had my friend not won two tickets to a free advance screening (obviously, this review is a few weeks late).  I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the film.

In its basic plot structure, Warrior avoids the primary trap of sports movies: we always know who will win and, more importantly, who we want to win.  In this film, we’re torn between Tommy (Tom Hardy) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton), since we follow their stories equally.  Brendan is fighting to pay off the mortgage on his house and support his daughter’s medical bills, while Tommy is planning to use the prize money to support his fellow Marine’s widowed wife and children.  O’Connor pays equal attention to both stories and draws significant pathos out of each of them in turn.  Outside their MMA endeavors, both brothers bear the weight of the family baggage; their father, Paddy, was an abusive drunk who drove Tommy and his mother to flee.  Brendan did not come with them, and for that reason Tommy has not spoken to him in years.

The scenes between Tommy and his father are rife with tension.  The film opens when Paddy comes home from an AA meeting and a drunk Tommy shows up on his doorstep.  When the two sit in the den to talk, everything Tommy says is meant to cut.  He slurs out insults and references to past abuse from under his hoodie, taking swigs from a paper bag in between stabs.  The pathos in the scene comes from watching Paddy take the abuse.  Nolte gives a wonderfully subtle performance in this film, his sad eyes and changes in facial expression registering every blow Tommy sends his way.  In the end, he knows he deserves it, and that just makes Tommy hit harder.

The contrasts between Tommy and Brendan in the ring are obvious.  Tommy is raw power, taking out opponents in one punch and storming out of the ring, unwilling to accept any commendation or make a show out of it.  The way Hardy strides around with his head down, showing those crazy back muscles only the most built men have, makes Tommy appear to be some sort of creature, a bull in human skin.  Brendan, on the other hand, is older and leaner, and he fights primarily with persistence and endurance.   The final showdown between the two brothers is brutal and gut-wrenching as their fighting styles clash and emotions run high.

Tom Hardy, who is growing in popularity after his turn in last year’s Inception and in anticipation of his turn in the upcoming Dark Knight Rises, gives a powerful performance as Tommy.  When he does speak, he uses slurred speech patterns that suggest Marlon Brando, creating the impression that Tommy is, in fact, Terry Malloy’s doppelganger.  Edgerton’s performance is quieter, as he plays the reserved family man who has convinced himself his issues are behind him.  Jennifer Morrison is the usual “fighter’s wife” character, complaining and begging her husband not to fight even though they have no other options.  I’m not generally a Morrison fan, but I liked her performance here, even if the character was incredibly cliche.

I have sensory-memory problems with O’Connor’s other sports film, Miracle (2004) – chalk it up to too many field hockey team viewings – but it is widely acknowledged as an excellent example of the genre.  O’Connor is clearly skilled at creating the breathless anticipation and heart-in-your-throat momentum of the sports movie, and it shows here.  The fight scenes are visceral and brutal, producing cheering and cringing in all the right places.  I didn’t expect to like Warrior, but it completely sucked me in, and its probing exploration of masculinity and its relationship to combat makes it surprisingly thought-provoking.

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