There are some movies I will watch over and over. To Kill a Mockingbird comes to mind. Others (Crash, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest) get only one viewing. Even though they may be excellent and win prestgious awards, the story line or telling is just too painful to watch more than once. I get the message and have no need to see it again.
I think Brothers, starring Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal and Natalie Portman, might just fall in the second category. Marine Captain Sam Cahill (Maguire) loving husband and father, is shot down over Afghanistan and presumed dead. His family is devastated and black-sheep brother Tommy (Gyllenhaal) steps up to help grieving wife, Grace (Portman), and Sam’s two little girls get through the hard times. Cut to the war zone. Sam is not dead after all but a prisoner. He experiences horrible atrocities and only after several months of this and the death of all his men, he is rescued. He returns to his wife and children a different person. He can’t adjust to “normal” life and sees Tommy being the person he used to be and will never be again.
This movie was billed as a story about “(Sam) learns that his brother has gotten dangerously close to … Grace, and his kids.” And while that is in there, this is really a story about war and how it destroys a person. That the casualties of war aren’t always dead. That coming home alive isn’t easy for the career warrior. Since stories about the current war are box office poison, if this movie was billed as what it is, no one would rent it.
But should you decide to – these three actors were excellent in their roles. The two little girls were precious and Sam Shepherd and Mare Winningham did a great supporting job as the brothers’ parents.
Yesterday, while I waited for the rain to stop, I caught a favorite old movie on Fox Movie Channel. The TV guide in the newspaper doesn’t carry a listing for FMC (why is that?) so that many of the films I watch there are already in progress when I tune in. But I digress.
The movie was No Highway in the Sky with James Stewart, Marlene Dietrich and Glynis Johns. It came out in 1951 and I saw it then in the theater and several times since on television. This story was shot in the wonderful years of film making when airplane seats were as large as recliners and passengers got involved in each other’s lives. Also, during this period, actors did not feign accents. This story took place in England and James Stewart played an aeronautical engineer whose theory predicted this particular model of airplane would have its tail fall off after a specified number of air miles. Glynis Johns was the stewardess and Marlene Dietrich a famous movie actress and a passenger on the flight. Though I am assuming all were supposed to be English, Stewart drawled and stuttered in his usual style and Ms. Dietrich responded in her German accent.
This suspending of disbelief happened often in the movies back then. The thriller Gaslight takes place in London, yet the stars all spoke in their native accents: Ingrid Bergman (Swedish), Charles Boyer (French), and Angela Lansbury (English). Joseph Cotton (American) played the head of Scotland Yard. (It is said that during the making of this film Ingrid Bergman spoke so little English that she learned her lines phonetically and often wasn’t sure what she was saying.)
Back to No Highway in the Sky. The reviews said one would enjoy it much more if one read the book first. So I investigated to find that the novel No Highway was written by Nevil Shute in 1948. He wrote many novels during the middle of the Twentieth Century. His best known work was On the Beach, written in 1948 about nuclear war and the end of the world. This book was made into a movie with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner. Mr. Shute was never happy with the director’s (Stanley Kramer) interpretation of the relationship between the two main characters. (Gregory Peck agreed with the writer.) In the book, the two fall in love but do not consumate their relationship because of Peck’s feelings of loyalty to his dead wife. Mr. Kramer decided the audience would never believe that two people could resist the pull of sexual attraction for a higher feeling of loyalty. Too bad Stanley Kramer had so little faith in our ability to suspend our disbelief.
One night recently, during Turner Classic Movies’ 31 Days of the Oscars, I watched (again) Ordinary People a wonderful film from 1980. I was first introduced to this movie about 1995 when I was training as a crisis line volunteer. The social worker conducting the session used excerpts from this story to show examples of post traumatic stress disorder and the young man’s dramatic breakthrough in his counseling. The few scenes I saw piqued my interest and I rushed out to rent and watch the whole movie. It’s a favorite.
Timothy Hutton plays seventeen year old Conrad Jarrett who survived a tragic accident that killed his brother and he is excellent in this role. At twenty, this was his first film. His early experience was in television – Disney, mostly – but that doesn’t mean he was a novice actor. His scenes are powerful and riveting. He won an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. (I wonder about this, because he seemed like the lead character to me. But I don’t know how these categories are decided.)
The psychiatrist is played by Judd Hirsch, who at the time this movie was made, was starring in the TV hit “Taxi.” This was quite a departure from his usual roles and earned him a nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Ordinary People is from a novel by Judith Guest (her first novel) and won an Academy Award for Best Motion Picture and for Robert Redford as Director. Also, Alvin Sargent won the award for Best Writing for adapting the novel into a screen play. Mary Tyler Moore was nominated for the Best Actor in a Leading Role for her protrayal of the mother. Her performance was outstanding, containing not a bit of the sweet, naive career girl she played on television.
This picture won at the Golden Globes and several other award ceremonies during 1981. But how much more acclaim can a drama about mental illness earn than for someone in the profession to say, “Yes. This is how it is. They’ve got it exactly right.”
One of the many blessings of an unexpected snow day is having a good movie in the house waiting to be seen. I watched The Station Agent twice during the two-day snow break, the second time with two twenty-year-old young men who found it as delightful (though they wouldn’t use that word) as I did.
When his only friend dies, a young man born with dwarfism (Peter Dinklage) inherits an abandoned train station in rural New Jersey. Perhaps to escape what his life is (rude jokes, a stranger taking pictures), Finbar McBride decides to go to Newfoundland, NJ, and live in quiet seclusion. But his solitude is soon interrupted by two locals and Fin reluctantly becomes acquainted with an artist, Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), suffering grief/ depression, and Joe (Bobby Canavale) a talkative, tries-too-hard, Cuban hot-dog vendor.
Fin’s stoicism, Olivia’s I-can-handle-it- no-I-can’t phase of the grief process and Joe’s exuberance that covers underlying tension in his life makes them unlikely candidates for friendship. The story of how their relationship develops is told with tenderness and humor. The tagline for the foreign DVD release was: “Loneliness is much better when you have someone to share it with.”
Peter Dinklage is a fine actor, whose work has been mostly off-Broadway. TV viewers will recognize Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Canavale from their many appearances there.
The Station Agent is rated R for language, but (for me) that did not get in the way of the beautiful story.
This story of a missing child and his mother’s search for him was inspired by an actual event that took place in Los Angeles during pre-depression days, which makes it even more interesting to me. Angelina Jolie plays Christine Collins, a single mother who comes home from work to find her nine-year-old son missing. She challenges first the indifference and then the dishonesty and corruption of the LAPD Captain (Jeffrey Donavan) when he produces a young boy he insists is her son. She finds an ally in a local Presbyterian pastor, played excellently by John Malkovich. Though it is unusual to see Malkovich in such a sympathetic role, when he’s usually scaring us to death.
Directed by Clint Eastwood, this movie has a great cast. Young Eddie Alderson turns in a very good performance in a small but intense role. Alderson is my family name, so what can I say, of course the kid’s a good actor.
Angelina Jolie received an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Christine Collins. This movie is well worth your while.