Thursday, March 12, 2009

The film experience: Will you still love me tomorrow?

When was the last time you saw a movie that grabbed you hard and wouldn't let you go? You know, one that really made you think.

I don't just mean one with a complicated plot, I'm talking about a film so engaging or compelling that you found yourself daydreaming about it for the next week or two or three (when, let's face it, you should have been working)?

And does that make it a good film?

I guess it depends to a certain extent on what you want to take away from your movie experience. I have friends who just want to zone out for 90-120 minutes, plow through a jumbo popcorn and a Coke and go home. For these viewers, all but the name of the movie may be a distant memory by the time head hits pillow, and that's just fine with them.

I'm not dismissing this type of experience, but I tend to hold most movies to a higher standard. What I really like is when a story gets stuck to me, like a piece of double-sided tape fusing two of my fingers, and I just can't shake it off.

The Oscar nominated "The Reader" is one such story. I admit that I approached this particular movie night with trepidation because of the reviews I scanned (I never read full reviews until after; don't want a spoiler ruining my night!). They were mixed. As I write this, gives it 61% fresh approval rating, meaning 61% per cent of the reviewers the site includes in its consensus ratings offered a positive review. This is quite a low rating for this site; most Best Picture nominees hit well over 80 per cent.

But "The Reader" was superb. I came away with questions about the characters' motivations and actions - and inaction - that kept me going for days. I thought that Kate Winslet and 15-year-old German actor David Kross, who played her lover, were heartbreaking. Ralph Fiennes, playing the 15-year-old as an older man, was wonderful too, and he had to breathe life into a brooding, rather troubled man. I don't believe his Michael Berg character ever cracks a smile.

I found "Slumdog Millionaire" to be a glorious film too. Why? Because I cared deeply for the main characters and I wanted them to succeed, against terrible odds. The visuals, the music, the cinematography in "Slumdog" was superior to the other films I saw in 2008, which helped burn it into my brain. I still think about it often.

Yet I saw several movies last summer that I also loved. "Iron Man" and "The Dark Knight." were both incredibly exciting, offering farfetched but highly entertaining story lines, good acting, frightening villains (especially Heath Ledger's Joker, possibly the most terrifying screen villain of all time) and cool effects. On the comedic side, "Tropic Thunder" was a hilarious send-up of the filmmaking and actor's processes.

The problem is I can't honestly remember much about "Iron Man" or "The Dark Knight" today. I know that they contained excellent action scenes but I can't recall more than a few. I can't even remember their climactic hero-versus-villain battles. Not good - and I have a pretty good memory for such things. And "Tropic Thunder" made me laugh hard, but it feels like a distant memory.

Sure, there are movies that get better upon repeated viewings. They get under your skin because you uncover more layers to them and you like what you're uncovering. You can even learn to appreciate what you first thought was a bad movie. Maybe my three summer movies will get better with age, and another viewing.

But a film that you love right away and think about a lot afterward - like "The Reader" for me - is bound to stay with you the longest. Have a think about your favorite movies of all time. Do they fall into the "acquired tastes" or "thinkers" category? I'm guessing the latter.

So next time you find yourself daydreaming about a movie you saw recently, let your friends know about it. It's probably a good sign.

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Blogger Mary said...

I have to disagree with you Adam. I didn't like The Reader much at all. Sure, the young man who played Kate's lover held my interest (he was the only character in my mind that was worth watching), but I feel Kate overplayed her role and I'm tired of seeing great actors win Oscars for mediocre performances (ie. Pacino for Scent of a Woman or Gywneth for Shakespeare In Love) Her performance kinda reminded me of Nicole Kidman's in Austrialia . . .I know I'm not an actor, but how hard is it to play an over-the-top bitter woman? Kate should have won for much better past performances. . .I hope this means we won't be subjected to her theatrics at any podium for a while.

Whenever I find a film's premise weak, it can ruin the entire film for me. So Kate's character was jailed for 20 years cause she was to afraid to admit she was illiterate. ok, MAYBE I could understand it if she were a lawyer/doctor or banker, but a bus attendent/security guard?? Ok then, one might say, but hey, she was a simple woman, evidenced by her court testimony. But would a simple woman such as her act so proud?
-Unlikely . .but perhaps . . .but I dunno, maybe I just don't like watching films about simpletons that make disasterous choices. . .

And is there a bigger girly-man than Ralph Fiennes?

March 13, 2009 at 10:41 PM  
Blogger Adam Pletsch said...

Thanks for your comments Mary.

What film(s) did stick with you in 2008?

March 16, 2009 at 12:33 PM  
Blogger Mary said...

To tell you the truth, I don't think the last couple of years have been too stellar. I liked a few films, but was never wholly enthusiastic about any. The last time I remember being TRULY excited about a film was for Casino Royale. I LOVED that film. It had everything: action, romance, chemistry & great dialogue.

But in 2008, the films that "stayed" with me were: The Wrestler, Che, Milk and Waltz With Bashir. I heard good things about Frost-Nixon, but didn't get to see it.

I was surprised at how much I liked Che - especially at 4 1/2 hours! I was riveted the entire time. I can understand why the reviews were mixed - it does not provide non-stop action for a war film, but it was fascinating to me nontheless. Maybe I was curious about the infamous revolutionary - what made him tick and how DOES a revolution get started anyways. Benicio Del Toro as Che was brilliant. And maybe I liked it because I tend to like war films, notably Full Metal Jacket, Black Hawk Down, Platoon, Salvador, The Thin Red Line.

The Wrestler - I must admit I've always been a fan of Mickey Rourke - and its sad that his distorted face distracts you from his amazing talent. He deserved to win The Oscar this year, but I thought Sean Penn was also outstanding, so I can't say I was overly disappointed. Marisa Tomei was also solid. I find she and Diane Lane are so "natural" in their acting, you get completely lost in their roles.

I quite enjoyed Waltz With Bashir. Although it certainly does not have a feel-good theme (about the Israeli war with Lebanon in 1982), the dialogue, music and animation(?) is amazing. It reminded me of Waking Life, but better. It put me in a dream-like trance.

In terms of which films I see, I DO rely largely on reviews, but I admit I will see any film by Steven Soderberg, Oliver Stone, Ridley Scott or any film that includes Diane Lane - no matter how cheezy the film may be!

Adam: Do you always check out films that contain your favourite actors and/or directors no matter how terrible the reviews are? and if so, who are they?

March 17, 2009 at 12:41 AM  
Anonymous Melly said...


I almost always see movies with my favorite actors in them, and it's the same thing with directors. But if the subject matter doesn't interest me that much AND the reviews are universally bad, I have been known to give a movie a miss.

Having said that, I'm always interested in what Johnny Depp is doing. Same with Tom Hanks, Amy Adams, John Cusack, Kate Winslet, Paul Rudd, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer, Rachel Weisz, Uma Thurman, Winona Ryder, Diane Lane, Naomi Watts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., Leonardo Di Caprio and Josh Brolin.
When it comes to directors, I can't miss Martin Scorsese movies. Same with films directed by Francis Ford Coppola, The Coen Bros., Ang Lee, Gus Van Sant, David Fincher, Alexander Payne -- and no one will replace Stanley Kubrick.
There are more, but this start.
Thanks for the comment!

March 19, 2009 at 9:15 AM  
Blogger Mary said...


I agree with almost all of your choices! Martin Scorsese and Stanley Kubrick most of all!

I am a new fan of Josh Brolin (I mean, I was for a while), but now even more so after I saw him on a recent Conan O'Brien re-run
(while promoting "W" which I haven't seen yet, but intend to) he was SO hilarious - you have to try and catch that eposide if you get the chance - he is one funny dude!

I think every actor in Doubt was stellar, only I thought the film itself was rather weak . . .

So many movies, yet so little time . . . !!
Thanks for posting,

March 19, 2009 at 1:43 PM  
Blogger geekmonkmom said...

I think the point of this article is not so much do you like the movie "The Reader" but rather, how movies have the ability to affect you on a deep, long-lasting level. Having grown up with an absolute love of movies, I can totally relate to this. Movies can be powerful that way, and that's why there are so many serious movie fans out there. I have mental lists of my favs, and when I re-watch them, they continue to give to me on some level; whether they taught me something I had not known previously, or validated something very personal to me.

March 19, 2009 at 2:10 PM  

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