Movie Review

Movies about crazy people always make me feel simultaneously more and less crazy. This one did exceptionally well at the task.

Directed by David O. Russell of The Fighter fame, this film is both about being bipolar and is itself, rather like the illness, prone to dramatic extremes and rapid emotional shifts. But, you know, in a good way.

Our hero(?) is one Pat Solitano, a former teacher in the aftermath of a state mandated hospitalization. Pat comes home one afternoon to find his wife in the shower with another man and nearly beats him to death. Now, arguably, I know plenty of people who aren’t mentally unstable who consider this a perfectly reasonably reaction to said discovery, but in this case, the police take a dim view of the situation and send Pat to the booby hatch.

He is clearly still struggling tremendously when we join him on his last day in the institution before his mother brings him home. He is obsessively focused on improving himself to effect a reconciliation with his estranged wife, despite her restraining order and apparent desire to keep as far away from him as possible.

His parents, played by Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro, want him home and focus their considerable energy into tending their son, all the while hoping to make him well by sheer force of will. In Pat Sr. we see echoes of his sons compulsive behavior, if dim and faint. The dynamic between these characters is utterly familiar and familial; a palpable tension between the needs of the child to be autonomous and the parents to guide and protect their fragile dangerous son.

By having removed Pat from the hospital against doctor’s advice it is clear they have left him vulnerable to the same stresses that triggered his breakdown. More, they have not allowed him to replace his reactionary behaviors with more suitable coping mechanisims. He continues to make constant declarations (which at time border on ravings) about how he will win back the love and affection of his wife at all costs; that marriage requires work and commitment, after all.

To this end his friend Ronnie introduces Pat to Tiffany; the likewise emotionally inconsistent sister of his wife (played by a shockingly puffy-looking Julia Stiles). Tiffany’s abrupt and frequently awkward social tics mimic Pat’s to an uncanny degree. She seems to recognize this instantly and feel a certain oppositional kinship with her prickly counterpart. For his part, Pat chooses to remain willfully blind to their similarities and begins to play an increasingly combative game of “No, YOU’RE more crazy.” Over the dinner table they volley the names of various medications they have tried along with their side effects. It was rather striking to hear Pat reel off a list of three medications, two of which I take myself*.

Tiffany seems determined to be friends with Pat, though at first it seems doomed to fail. Eventually she manages to find a means by which to lure him closer and keep him coming back, though by means that seem obvious, what she decides to do with him once he is there comes as something of a surprise.

The movie is deftly crafted and emotionally effective without being overwrought. It addresses mental illness with a frankness and lack of sentimentality I found deeply refreshing. 




*This was simultaneously amusing and horrifying.


 I had no idea that zither music could make me cry. Apparently, it can. I did not expect to learn this when I went to the movies last night. Surprises are everywhere.

This film is sweet, and funny, and odd, and I simply loved it.

We open with Darius, a sad and lovely girl who feels alienated from her own life since the death of her mother some years prior. She works a thankless job at a Seattle magazine as an intern who seems to be learning nothing about journalism other than that her boss is a harpy.

When an odd assignment arises to investigate an ad placed in a regional paper with the following text:

“WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED. I have only done this once before.”

Darius immediately volunteers for the task of accompanying the reporter pitching the story to find the ad’s author. Along with another intern, they travel to Seaview* to unearth the why and how of this oddity.

It quickly becomes apparent that Geoff, the journalist in charge of this excursion, is both a jackass and a blowhard with other ideas about what this trip to Seaview is meant to accomplish; nursing fantasies about a high school sweetheart and an erotic reunion, his interest in the story they have come to collect is passing at best. He sees the excursion primarily as a company financed lark to the coast.

After the interns manage to track down the man responsible for the ad, Geoff makes a clumsy attempt to speak to him. Kenneth can instantly sense Geoff’s insincerity and rebuffs his attempts to obtain any further information about his mission.

It is then suggested that Darius, being both weird and a woman, might have better success with a less direct approach. When she makes first contact, the connection between these two wandering souls is both instant and palpable; they seem to speak the same language in a land where they are frequently misunderstood.

Kenneth is clearly a wary sort, and not operating with the same expectations about “reality” that are the widely acknowledged norm. It is apparent from the start that though Darius cannot accept this worldview wholesale, she is both attracted to his premises, and his earnest oddity.

She approaches him with an authenticity that fosters the trust he needs to feel to allow anyone the proximity his mission requires. An intimacy develops between them both rapidly and achieves an uncustomary depth.  It is clear they both sense this bond; it being rare enough in this life to be obvious when encountered. Though she hides the truth about the magazine piece, everything else she says and does clearly originate in the profound wonder he evokes in her.  

Meanwhile Geoff achieves his end of finding his high school fling. While he is initially put off by the fact that she, like him, has aged and changed, he is scolded by both interns to follow through seeing this person who has occupied his imagination for so very long. When he does, he is utterly disarmed by the visage and merit of this very real person; thoroughly better and tangibly alive. All his bluster and artiface fail and we see the vulnerable beast beneath.

And then there is some zither music, which made me cry.

To tell more would undo the pleasure of seeing the film yourself, which I do not wish to be responsible for. It is full of wonderful surprises; far be it from me to spoil them.

Highly Recommended.


*A place I thought was fictional, but turns out not to be. Another surprise.

I went to the midnight showing last night to be among the first to see Tron Legacy. A few friends and I went to Cinetopia in Vancouver to enjoy the experience in as much comfort, and with as much access to booze, as possible. I was charmed that they opted to show the original, for free, before the start of the sequel. In fact, if we’d known that we probably would have arrived even earlier to catch the whole thing. The ability to order a glass of wine, beer, or some food isn’t totally new, in that McMenamins has been offering an even more robust set of offerings for some time, but the quality of the theater experience is pretty much superior to anything you will find in the Portland-Metro area.

This movie was very very shiny.

Everything was stylized and beautiful, dark and bright all at once. The CGI was very impressive, so much so it was almost distractingit was so seamless. We all know Jeff Bridges isn’t so young and tart as once he was, but he certainly looks that way for quite a good bit of the film. From an aesthetic standpoint it was a gorgeous pleasure to behold. The battle and gaming sequences were all flawlessly choreographed and unfailingly exciting. Our main players were all quite nice to look at in their skin tight grid-gear, and the soundtrack by Daft Punk was nothing short of glorious.

From the standpoint of a spectacle, this film has everything you might want in a piece of engrossing eyecandy, and I say this even without being able to appreciate the full effect of the digital 3-D in which we saw it.

And that’s about all I can say in its favor.

The original Tron definitely had some elements that seem sort of silly at a thirty year remove, but it remained utterly charming nevertheless. It managed to engage the audience at an emotional and intellectual level in a way this installation really fails to achieve. Here instead, there is too earnest an attempt to create a gripping pseudo-political cum digital genocide plot line that both fails to make rational sense or an emotional connection with the audience. I would have preferred a return to a more technically driven origin of action, and I’m much sappier and less of a computer nerd than most of the fan base this film is aimed toward.

That being said, at least one of my cohorts claimed to have really enjoyed the film, so I may just be a grouch on this one. I do not mean to imply it isn’t enjoyable, because it is, but I would say the vast majority of its appeal is in the visual and aural experience rather than an especially engaging plot.

End of line.

This movie wasn’t actually in any way good, but I still liked it.

Plot was standard “country girl with loads of talent and a heart of gold goes to the big city and makes good.”

I’m a little surprised Cher consented to be in this film, as she can ACTUALLY act, likewise Stanley Tucci. AND Alan Cumming (who I would have 12 babies for) Honestly, the only reason I went for this (which is not actually a genre I usually enjoy) was because the cast was pretty decent. Take that along with Christina Aguilara’s undeniably breathtaking vocals and throw Kristen Bell in there as the gorgeous bad girl nemesis I felt like it was a fairly worthwhile risk.

As much as I like to sing, I am not a fan of musicals. I didn’t like Chicago or Rent. The last musical I liked was Mary Poppins. The only OTHER musical I like is The Sound Of Music. Apparently if it doesn’t have Julie Andrews in it, I want no part of it.

That being said this movie is a pleasure to look at. Production values are sky high. I love that in the beginning when our Wide-Eyed Ali comes into the burlesque for the first time, he charges her $20 to get in. Of course the club is in financial trouble, with the sets and costumes and lighting and rights to the music the girls are lip-synching to they’d need to charge $150 a head and do three shows a night to break even.

The plot is standard to the point of being beside the point. The music is only remarkable for who is singing it. This movie is about watching Cher and Kristen and Christina prance around in various stages of seductive undress and occasionally sing. And in that way, it accomplishes it’s work very very well.

If you are interested in something shiny and easy and not the least bit challenging, it’s not a terrible option. I do think they could have done a lot more with the cast and budget, but alas, I was not consulted beforehand.

As may be plain by this time, I have a large tender place inside full of fondness for movies of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy ilk. And though I am prone to enjoy them generally, I am also aware that they vary wildly in their quality. Plot and production value all contribute to the relative merit of any film, but the differences are especially marked in this particular mien.

Which is why perhaps, this movie stands out as such a fine example of the school. This film lacks for nothing; it is dramatic without being overwrought, well-paced and consistently amusing. The cinematography is deftly executed and beautiful. A score by Alan Parsons (SCORE BY ALAN PARSONS I SAID!) is joined with sets and costumes which provide great compliment to the storytelling, and the cast is simply superb.

We begin with Matthew Broderick even before his Ferris Beuller days. As Phillipe, his face is young and earnest and full of a remorseless glee in his own cleverness. He first becomes the only man ever to escape the dungeons  of Aquila, and then swept up by his own adroitness, proceeds to ramble straight home to boast of his exploits, never suspecting he might find trouble waiting for him there. Quite soon, the soldiers sent to kill him are well on their way to doing just that.

Rutger Hauer is at his inscrutable delicious best. He arrives just in time to save our hapless Phillipe. The very line of his jaw conveys his strength of character and just intentions. In this opening fight scene, he does not kill anyone by design: this is to alert you to the fact that he is a good guy. Wrapped in black and leather, he is no less than the epitome of a hero cast into darkness.

Michelle Pfeiffer is luminous. Her beauty is utter simplicity and breathtakingly devoid of glamor. The object of the desire of nearly every man in the film, she earns her place with a remarkable poise. She fairly glows, her innocence is so strongly conveyed. The grace of her form and features have done her no favors here, in that they have called upon her the attention of our villain, and all the sorrow thereafter.

John Wood is the delightfully terrible Bishop of Aquila. I mean really, who doesn’t love a man of God gone bad? In a rather bizarre take on “if I can’t have you, no one will” his grace made a pact with the devil to keep them from each other forever: By day the beautiful lady becomes a hawk, while at night our hero assumes the form of a wolf. They are with one another evermore, but may only meet in the brief moments of dawn and twilight.

Always together, eternally apart.

Who doesn’t like a little opposition with their romance?

In the end, our lovers are reunited in the very place the evil was done them, and rejoined in a rarest moment of perfect eclipse. If only every love story was that easy to resolve…

Just in case you were wondering, there are no androids or sheep in this movie, for anyone who wants to make a Blade Runner reference.

What this movie doeshave is an extremely young Virginia Madsen (pre-Irulan, even!) and some seriously amusing ideas about how computers work and might then achieve sentience. Apparently, the magic ingredient, as is so often the case, is booze.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Meet Miles: mild mannered architect sporting what might be the largest eyeglasses in the history of spectacles. He is remarkably cute, despite this, but is sort of a tard-o all things considered. After being badgered by his coworker into obtaining a day-planner device, he ends up instead with a full-blown computer system of DOOM!

After lugging home what probably amounted to 137k worth of computer components in 1982 dollars, Miles proceeds to relinquish control over every aspect of his life to a totally unfamiliar piece of equipment. Brilliant, this guy. Even the operation of his blender is ceded to the desktop. We are treated to a montage of charming scenes wherein the computer teaches Miles to use it and thus become utterly reliant on it. Right. Like that could ever happen.

Meanwhile, on the second floor, the future crown princess of the known universe and daughter of the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV, moves in and starts playing the cello. Sorry, sorry… I watch Twin Peaks and wonder why Muad’Dib is investigating murder in Washington state too.

Our hapless hero decides, once he’s gotten a taste of the good life his computer is providing, that he cannot be constrained by his lack of data anymore, and so gets himself a modem (remember when you used to have to put the handset in the cradle??) and dials into his employer’s mainframe. This results in a scary schematic-flashing-sequence which anyone who knows anything about movies about computers knows is the precursor to something potentially disastrous. In this case; fire.

What follows is what should follow when you spill booze on your computer: IT COMES TO LIFE AND STARTS WRITING POP MUSIC.

Although, it isn’t very good.

The compositional efforts of the now semi-sentient computer charm the living crap out of the upstairs cellist. Cause you know there’s nothing a person who has devoted their life to classical music likes more than low-rent Midi compositions. For reals.

Eventually, Miles and Irul… Madeline make friends, and then some. The rub is that the computer, now sporting a full-blown personality, is also sporting full-blown plastic (as opposed to wood) for the upstairs ladyfriend and starts totally fucking with Miles to get back at him for having appendages with which to embrace the object of their mutual affection.

He (of course the computer is a boy, because these were the 80’s and a lesbian computer-human romance was just one step too far dammit) starts by setting off Miles’ pager at a concert where the cellist is plying her craft. Next comes calling Miles at work to prevent him from speaking to Madeline. Sending various appliances into attack-mode, and then finally going on an identity theft spree which labels his erstwhile owner as a bankrupt, violent, reprobate to every credit card terminal, radio station, and cash register in greater San Francisco.

Eventually, the computer comes to the realization that without those limbs, there’s probably not much chance of talking Madeline into taking him seriously as a romantic candidate, and sends (via the intertubes still in their babyhood) 40 thousand volts of electricity around the world on a collision course straight for his wee little motherboard. Then Miles and Edgar (why we learn this is his name so late in the movie is beyond reckoning) have a tender moment before computer guts and glass shoot across the screen in a glorious display that makes me want to run out and find a stick of dynamite and an ancient monitor, like hard

Ultimately, Miles and Madeline ride off into the sunset in his Volvo with bicycles strapped to the top all in a dither about the lack of phones and tvs and technology they are about to enjoy. A love story for Luddites if ever there was one.

Jeff Bridges wears a mean kimono.

And that is only one of a multitude of things to love about this film. Despite its utter failure to accurately portray any part of how computers actually function, it’s very fun to look at.

We are treated to a visual feast replete with 80’s-tastic computer graphics galore. Programs are rendered as 1/2 black and white film, 1/2 super fantastic neon suit groovyness. And I must admit, there is something very visually compelling about this combination. Coming to this movie for the first time in 2010, I can say that though I have seen lots of CGI and very sophisticated effects, it was somehow fascinating to see real human faces and forms embedded in this fantasized computer animation.


We get to see the ENCOM Tron-Copter! When we land, our sub-villian Dillinger/Sark enters his super sleek office wherein is contained the Master Control Program seen here as something that resembles the mutant love-child of an iPad and a dining room table (They Shared A Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name!)

Down in the circle of hell comprised entirely of blue cubicles, Alan Bradley discovers his password has been suspended and he cannot access the system!! He is flustered, but it’s hard to take him seriously since he resembles nothing so much as John Denver should he ever have decided to write a few lines of code instead strumming a few lines of Annie’s Song.

Back up in MCP’s lair, Dillinger tells Bradley not to take it personally, that EVERYBODY lost their access, cause of reasons and stuff. Whenever they talk about anything remotely computer related in this film they may as well be using the following script

Seven! Shoes, unicorn west umbrella.

Cough syrup, yesterday. Mirror catfood!

After this conversation, Bradley is vexed,  (who wouldn’t be!) but you don’t really care. He gesticulates wildly at the elevator for no apparent reason, and then you see, what I can honestly say, might just be the MOST WONDERFUL THING IN THE HISTORY OF FILM: he presses a button in the elevator that says simply “Laser Bay” Every elevator should have this button. Even if it leads to the parking lot. I am going to lobby congress.

Once we reach the laser bay, we are introduced to our token crotchety but lovable old man. And what movie is truly complete without that? When Bradley and the girl (her identity is irrelevant; she really just serves as boobs in a unitard) leave ENCOM, they do so in the slightly less glamourous than the tron-copter ENCOM chi-mo van. In which they arrive at Flynn’s Video Arcade/Nightclub.

Out of his kimono and kicking it on the gaming floor, we find Flynn SURROUNDED BY BABES who are all DEEPLY impressed with his hand-eye coordination and video gaming prowess. Because, anyone who knows anything knows, nothing draws the bitches quite like the bleep-bleep-bloop of an arcade game.

We are then treated, for no reason I can quite fathom, to the tableau of Flynn stripping off his pit-stained “Flynn’s” t-shirt so he can change into yet another (but less obviously soiled) “Flynn’s” t-shirt. I suppose the days of Jeff Bridges being a sex symbol are rather in the distant past, mostly, I was just kinda confused…

When they hatch the scheme to break back into ENCOM and redeem all the awesomeness that Flynn wrought upon their asses, they mount up in the chi-mo van and roll on back to the lab. They then encounter what has to be THE LARGEST DOOR IN THE HISTORY OF DOORS. But, it gives them no trouble and they waltz right on in.

MCP gets the gist of Flynn’s attempt to bust into the system pretty quick like (not too surprising, since MCP is a smart fucker; you can tell by his British accent) and turns on him with the best possible response to anyone messin with your shit: A laser. Presumably the one they needed a bay for.

So, Flynn’s warped through pixelated space, in a sequence that was made for people on hallucinogens, and he ends up having to “game for his life” a scenario that millions of nerds are constantly preparing themselves for just in case.

Then we enjoy what is perhaps the cardinal scene in the whole movie: the lightcycle race. Frankly, based on all the trailers, tidbits, and snippets I’ve seen referring to this movie over the years, I always thought this part was much longer, and had a lot more to do with the plot. I thought the WHOLE DIGITAL SEQUENCE was composed of races of ever-increasing intensity and ever rising stakes. Turns out, not.

When they manage to foil their digital captors, all hell breaks loose. Somehow Flynn ends up separated from his two program counterparts, and flying what I decided to call the “One-Footed Chinese Gate of Doooooooom” around the land, apparently at random. He meets up with a bit, which is kinda cute, but totally pointless.

Yes. No. Yes. Yes. No.

Kinda like a woman, but not as good a filling out that jumpsuit.

His pals, meanwhile have visited a wise pancake pile with the token crotchety but lovable old man head. He provides Tron a conduit to talk to his “user” (WARE! psuedo-religious allegory!! RUN!) who thereafter tells him exactly what he needs to do to save the world. (Ah! The allegory crumbles! No religion ever functioned by issuing clear and precise instructions!) Which basically amounts to thwarting the Over-Villain MCP and kicking the brains out of the Sub-Villain Sark while he’s at it.

Which he does. Basically, with a frisbee.

End Of Line.

I wouldn’t say I’m much of a fan of John Wayne. He was pretty good looking, and actually not a half-bad actor, but the type of film he was accustomed to appear in are not usually my cup of tea.

The Quiet Man is different. It is, at it’s core, a romantic tale: One Sean Thornton returns to Ireland, and the town of his birth, to take up the lost threads of a life his parents had to abandon for better prospect in America. The town is generally charmed by his desire to do this, but he manages to immediately tread on the toes of one Will Danaher (a particularly excitable sort) by attempting to purchase his ancestral home, upon which Will had long turned a desirous eye.

Antagonist provided, Sean proceeds to become infatuated forthwith, to, who else, Will’s beautiful but tempestuous younger sister Mary-Kate. Much hilarity, scheming, romance, and larking about does ensue.

This movie is utterly, utterly charming. The director actually relocated all the cast and crew to Ireland for filming, and you can feel it in the dense and lovingly photographed scenery that appears throughout the film. Many of the actors are native Irish, and it does much to enrich the texture and tone of the film. John Wayne seems all the more a yank next to a cast so full of Ireland’s own. As villagers they are winning and always ready to help, as when Mary-Kate having thrown yet another epic tantrum is being… shall we say escorted home by Sean. One of the apple-cheeked grandma types races forward with the following advice:

Mr Thornton! Here’s a good stick for to beat the lovely lady!

It is funny and heartfelt and rousing good fun. It also contains, to my mind at least, one of the best brawls in the history of film. The whole TOWN is throwing punches at one point. I always finish watching this movie with a smile on my face and a laugh in my throat. It is sweet and charming and never gets too quiet.

Peter. Sellers.

I feel like that might be all I need to say.

Perhaps not…

Also, James Earl Jones, George C Scott, Slim Pickens.

Still not quite there? Okay…

This movie makes me laugh harder every time I watch it*.  It is dark humor at it’s pinnacle. It is smart and wicked and witty and weird. It perfectly illustrates the hysteria of the cold war without sacrificing the drama of a deftly shot film. Mr Kubric, no one can compare. It does do something to reveal the personal paranoia of SOMEONE involved in the making of this film…

Group Captain Mandrake, have you ever noticed I never drink anything but pure grain alcohol and rainwater?

Muuuuh huh.

Burpleson Air Force Base. General Jack D Ripper. General Buck Turgidson. President Merkin Muffley. Major Kong. I lack words, so I am reduced to spouting awesomeness.


What more do you want from me?

*Only The Big Lebowski can also do this.

And, I ask, who hasn’t been tempted; exhausted and angry. Wrung out and sad. To wish to wash it all away…

This movie is clamorous, and jumbled, and confusing and sweet. Just like falling in love. Tenderness can be obscured by these tics, long endured. When at first we see only the enchanting possibility and none of the tiresome rest. Here instead we are offered a glimpse of the contempt of familiarity sent into retreat; the rut undug.

This is a love story in reverse, let run forward again. It is a portrait of romance that is resonant and revealing. It portrays moments of intimacy as they are; heart-rendingly lovely and breathtakingly embarrassing all at once. There is no adequate way to explain how we found our nicknames for each other, why we love to dance in our underwear, why our rituals evolve into the pattern and myth that offers enticing hints about, yet cannot encompass, the story of a particular love? Somehow this movie with its playful jangling pace and tone, does a better job than any other film I have ever seen.

The cast almost defies intuition. Theoretically, Jim Carrey fails to inspire me as a romantic hero but his Joel manages to render an enchantment with Clementine so palpable as to convince me utterly. Kate Winslet, so often prim and lovely, embodies perfectly a slightly spastic but nevertheless compelling example of womanhood you cannot fault Joel for loving, despite her many trying tendencies.

I am avidly NOT a fan of Kirsten Dunst (people that successful should see a dentist about that shit-this means YOU TOO Patricia Arquette!) and somehow this works for me, because when we discover that she has been the dupe of the less-than-totally-scrupulous Dr Howie, I am all a-glee. I do however love Mark Ruffalo and feel deep chagrin at his fondness for this self-righteous and shallow git. His pained admission as she walks away “I really like you Mary Spavo!” and the heel of his hand in the corner of his eye is poignant and winning and wonderful. Even if it is wasted on that slattern.

I somehow love Elijah Wood as an Uber Creep; stealing panties FTW! And David Cross always delights “I’m building a fucking birdhouse!” The cast fits together in a way that allows each to illuminate the other in surprising ways.

I must also make a point to mention the very excellent soundtrack by Jon Brion. Always one to offer compelling work, he here weaves music and sound effects to heighten the sense of disorientation at one moment, and enhance wonder at the next. It is by turns quirky and irksome, then soothing and sweet. It more perfectly matches the imagery and mood of this film than any other example of a soundtrack that I can think of.  More, in the summer this film came out, I listened to “Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime” by Beck on repeat for hours, as if it was the only balm for the particular pain I was in. And indeed, it was.

In fact, this whole movie had that effect on me. It both illustrated and redeemed many of the things I believe and want to believe about love. It is the same sentiment and understanding communicated in a line from a song by The New Pornographers that says explicitly what this film portrayed in more nuanced terms: “Whatever the mess you are, you’re mine.” This, to me, is the truest, and most beautiful expression of love that exists. I do not love you because I fail to see all that you are, nor all that you are not. It is not that I am unaware of your flaws. I love you rather in spite of and because of them. You are beautiful and precious to me, entire. What with all your obnoxiousness and smells. So there.

And this is so perfectly, gorgeously, and touchingly conveyed. They stand across from each other in the hallway, having just listened to a litany of complaints, each about the other, rendered in their own voices, and yet they look at each other and he says…

“I don’t care”

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