A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 549 – Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko – August 31st, 2011

Gee whiz am I glad that I didn’t see this movie when it came out. Not because it’s a bad movie. On the contrary. But at the time it came out I was still dealing with some pretty nasty depression and let me tell you! This movie would not have inspired me to look on the bright side of life. In fact, at the end of it I watched the credits and thought “Well. What a great movie to convince people the exact opposite of It’s a Wonderful Life!” Maybe that wasn’t the outright intent, but it’s certainly a large chunk of what I got out of it.

The movie revolves around a young man named Donnie. He’s had some troubled times in the past year or so. Or maybe longer. I got the impression that it wasn’t more than a year, but not much less either. The movie doesn’t bother to make it clear and that’s okay, because ultimately it doesn’t matter how long he’s been having trouble. What’s important is that just recently he’s started sleepwalking and having hallucinations of a giant grey rabbit. Or a man in a giant grey rabbit suit. Either way. The rabbit’s name is Frank and Frank tells Donnie that the world is going to end soon. In 28 days. And he has things he needs to do. And so Donnie does them. The prior troubles Donnie’s had involved setting an abandoned house on fire and getting suspended and having to see a psychiatrist and take medication, which he doesn’t want to take. And it would be one thing for this movie to be about a teenage boy having a psychotic break and not knowing what’s real or not. It’s an entirely different thing when his sleepwalking and hallucinations keep him out of the house when a jet engine appears out of nowhere and falls right through his bedroom ceiling, crushing where he would have been.

It’s an event like that which lends credence to a paranoid mind’s obsessions. With Frank’s encouragement Donnie floods the school and sets fire to another house. He worries his parents and fights with his sister. At home he seems to be a typical teenage guy. I knew plenty of teenage guys who fought with their parents and acted out. Most of them did not go on to perpetrate enormous property damage. They also weren’t hallucinating and starting to believe in time travel. So, that’s where they and Donnie differ. Anyhow, Donnie’s kind of obsessed with this whole idea of time travel and that he’s seeing things like trails showing the paths people will take. He’s still seeing Frank and Frank is still incredibly creepy. His psychiatrist is growing alarmed at his talk about Frank and the end of the world and his parents are perplexed, unsure of just what to do. Meanwhile, Donnie’s leading sort of a double life. He hangs out with his friends and gets himself a girlfriend – the new-to-town Gretchen Ross – and when he’s not seeing paths or Frank or causing destruction he appears “normal.”

It’s an odd movie, really. Because one could take it as a commentary on the nature of teen angst. It’s full of things like unrequited crushes and bullies and school officials being pressured to fire staff members for their reading list choices. It’s got a smarmy self-help guru the gym teacher’s bought into and Donnie’s a middle child with a cool older sister who’s going to Harvard and a cute younger sister who’s a dance team champ. And there’s Donnie, who had to miss some school and see a shrink and take pills. Of course he’s angry and angsty. And through it all the movie has an almost dream-like quality. It’s early autumn and school’s just starting for the year and Donnie’s not quite entirely present in reality 100% of the time. Thinking back on it now I have this impression that many things happened in slow motion even though I know it can’t be as much of the movie as I’m thinking.

The movie’s ending, which is where the time travel really comes in, is one of those endings that one could take in several different ways. It could be a time paradox, or it could be an alternate reality or it could have been imaginary or it could be all three. I know for a fact Andy interpreted it differently than I did and I hadn’t really considered his interpretation and it’s entirely possible that had I not spoken during the credits he wouldn’t have considered mine. On one hand, that sort of writing can come off as hopelessly pretentious. On the other, if handled well I think it can work without making the viewer feel baffled. And I think this movie handles it well largely because there’s enough material in the movie to work with. And that says to me that the people making the movie considered what people might interpret it as, instead of just being mysterious and hoping people made up their own meanings.

Personally, while I’m not about to tell anyone that I’m right and they’re wrong, my initial interpretation of the movie’s end is rather bleak. Well, bleak for Donnie. I meant what I said about the movie feeling like an anti-It’s a Wonderful Life. With the engine falling on Donnie instead of Donnie being out with Frank when his bedroom is crushed, it changes everything. But instead of seeing what the world would be like without Donnie, we see what it’s like with him. Sure, at least one person gets what’s coming to him, but other innocent people get hurt. Without Donnie around causing trouble the school wouldn’t flood. People wouldn’t die. So Donnie dies. And when he does the ripples through the timeline are felt by all the people affected.

It does leave the question of Frank’s identity and importance and just how he came to be Donnie’s hallucination rather up in the air. But then most interpretations probably would. Certainly the real Frank seems affected by Donnie’s death, but up until the end he didn’t seem to have much of any connection with Donnie. He was just an artist, making a twisted mask for Halloween. Who is he? Who was he? Why did Donnie see him? I don’t know. And to be honest, I prefer not knowing. I like the idea that there’s something supernatural and mysterious at work in this movie. I like the idea that regardless of the science discussed and the technical aspects of time travel, there’s something unknowable at work. For much the same reason I love that the movie is set in the 1980s. Why is it set in the 80s? Who cares? It just is. And it suits the movie. It’s not an overt stereotype of a movie. It’s a sci-fi supernatural period piece. Which works. And apparently it works for people in vastly different ways. And I like that too.

August 31, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 392 – Spider-Man 3

Spider-Man 3 – March 27th, 2011

I did not want to watch this tonight. Actually, after the last two movies I didn’t ever want to watch this. The first movie wasn’t great. The second one was thoroughly unpleasant. I mean, it was irritating. And annoying. And from what I had heard, I expected this one to be abysmal. The downward trend seemed a little too steep to correct in the space of one movie. And I can’t believe that anything done in this movie was supposed to make anything better. Much like the Venom symbiont, it amplified characteristics of its host. Negative ones. But not aggression. More like suckage. It has everything I disliked about the first and second and more. In one overlong, overcomplicated morass.

When we start with this movie, Peter is on top of the world. Which is a nice change from the last one, but it’s like he’s a pendulum and we only get to see him at one extreme or the other, never in the middle. He’s either an ego-maniac smarming for his crowds of adoring fans (or horrified onlookers) or he’s Mopey McMoperson, Mayor of Mopeville. But hey, I’ll take what I can get, you know? And what I can get is at least a few minutes where Peter’s not making me wince for one reason or another. Unfortunately, that doesn’t last long. I understand the Venom plot and Peter’s personality getting amped up by the symbiont, but that doesn’t explain his performance in the park when Gwen Stacey gives him the key to the city and they smooch. Basically, the movie is setting him up as a douche. And then it goes and introduces a bigger douche and then gives them both super douche powers. But I’m getting ahead of myself! We’ve got a bunch of other plots to cover before we get to Venom.

First of all, let’s talk about Harry. We left off with him having delusions of his father talking to him and telling him to avenge his murder. So, yeah, Harry’s gone the way of the Goblin and attacks Peter a few times, both physically and emotionally through MJ. Next we’ve got Flint Marko, an escaped convict who, it turns out, was actually responsible for Uncle Ben’s death. But Marko’s a bit of a question mark as a character cause he claims it wasn’t the way it’s been presented and sadly, he doesn’t get much time on screen to be a character. Because before we get to know much more than that he’s escaped from jail and his daughter’s dying, he gets caught up in some particle physics experiment with sand and suddenly we have a walking dune. He wants to get money to save his daughter but Spider Man won’t let him steal it, so what’s a guy to do, right? Then we forget about him for a while because Harry’s got amnesia and can’t remember his vendetta against Peter. Then he remembers it again. Peter gets shut out of a job at the Bugle by the douchetastic Eddie Brock, whom he then exposes as a fraud and who then goes way overboard by wanting Peter dead. Yeah, that’s a healthy response there, Brock.

If all that wasn’t enough, through it all is MJ, whom Peter wants to propose to but he’s never around for her and keeps making everything about himself (douche!). The addition of Gwen Stacey as a pawn in the whole romance plot makes sense, but I don’t really like it. She deserves a little better. At least the movie tacitly admits that when she walks out on Peter after his incredibly gross display in MJ’s nightclub. The whole Venom plot, with Peter’s suit (and Peter himself) getting infected by a nasty symbiont from outer space that amplifies characteristics, specifically aggression (apparently in all forms) ties into this here, with him acting out all over the place. And then it infects Brock, so we get another villain on top of our new Goblin and Sandman. The trouble is, that while Peter’s infected, the only people left to root for are MJ, Gwen and Jonah, who are all given so little time it barely counts. And oh, oh do I weep for the lack of awesome Jonah, who is toned way down in this movie because he’s on blood pressure meds. Yes, really.

What a muddled mess of a movie. The relationship issues with MJ, Harry taking up his father’s mantle then getting amnesia, Sandman, Venom, smug celebrity Spidey, Gwen Stacey? Of course it’s the longest of the three thus far. It would have to be to have all of that. But really, come on. Pick a plotline, or a pair of plots! Run with Harry and Sandman! Or Venom and Stacey! MJ would certainly end up involved with either. But bundling them all together into a single movie doesn’t work. More plot doesn’t mean a better movie. Oh, it’s bodged into a semblance of coherence, with the Venom stuff seeping into the other parts. But it ends up feeling like every plot in the movie is lessened for there being so many plots.

The really sad part? Is that the end, with Sandman and Spider Man and the whole culmination of their plot once Venom and Harry are out of the way and MJ’s safe? It has some good emotional impact and Sandman/Marko and Spider Man/Peter have some similarities that echo nicely. Neither of them asked for their powers. Both of them want to help someone they care about. And the end for Harry and Peter brings things to a nicely bittersweet close. The endings aren’t spectacular, but they work. The problem is that those endings along with the endings for Venom and for Peter and MJ, we had to have four! If the movie had somehow managed to have all of the various plotlines come together for one actual ending with a coda after the fact? I’d have at least had to concede that they’d been tied together. Having to end them all separately is an admission that they were only loosely spun and easily unraveled.

March 27, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 391 – Spider-Man 2

Spider-Man 2 – March 26th, 2011

The beginning of this movie, the first half hour and a bit – was painful for me to watch. Oh, I get that it’s setting up Peter in a downtrodden state so we’re all rooting for him to buck up and do well! But my goodness, this movie goes above and beyond. He loses his job, can’t pay his rent, is failing his classes, misses appointments and dates, crashes his bike, disappoints everyone he loves and respects, etc. On one hand, there are scenes like him in an elevator in full Spidey costume, having small talk with Hal Sparks about how the outfit itches and rides up in the crotch. On the other hand, he leaves pathetic messages on MJ’s answering machine to try and explain why he missed her play. Is it fun to watch Peter get berated by his landlord and his professor? Is it entertaining to see him (and Aunt May) struggle to make ends meet and fail miserably? No. Not for me, anyhow.

I can deal with a certain level of angst from my superheroes. I love me some broody Bruce Wayne and I’m totally down with snarly Wolverine. The Hulk’s not my favorite character, but I can run with the source of his issues. Hell, I’m not well versed on the comic version of Tony Stark, but I’m well aware he’s wallowed a good deal and he certainly had a breakdown in the second movie. The thing is, while there’s plenty of angst to go around for those guys, the difference for me is that they moan and whine and sulk and then they get things done. Peter just mopes. Even when faced with situations where he could help – and does – he still mopes. He mopes before, during and after. It’s tiresome. Isn’t he supposed to be making some wisecracks in between whining? I’m willing to allow him some leeway, what with him not being a gajillionaire like Bruce and Tony (we’re all on a first name basis, of course), but you know, I watch comic book movies for escapism, not to watch a hero cope with bankruptcy and unemployment.

Thank goodness for Alfred Molina as Doc Ock and J.K. Simmons as Jonah. And okay, as the plot goes? It’s pretty decent. Really, I do get the whole deal with giving Peter a reason (okay, several reasons) to doubt his role as a superhero. The pay is shit, it’s physically draining, it’s time consuming and it taxes his relationships with everyone around him. So he decides to quit and hooray, life is better! Not that we ever really see him pay his rent or get a steady job, but there is the general impression that life without Spider Man is far more stable and generally happy and upbeat. We get a montage! A montage set to “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”, at that! And that’s the whole point here. Because we’re supposed to see how hard it is for Peter to choose between a normal life where he gets the girl and the grades and can apparently pay his rent and a superhero life where he can save lives but everything else suffers. There should be a contrast there so we see the stakes and know why he might choose to give it up even though it would seem to be a no-brainer. So I get the concept.

And I like the villain. I like Doc Ock and I like the split personality theme that’s going on here and that went on in the previous movie where the villains are people who might otherwise have been mentors to Peter, but whose hubris causes their creations to take them over. It’s a great contrast to Peter/Spider Man, who’s got no hubris to speak of because he’s never had a reason to see himself as infallible. On the contrary, he’s quite fallible. His powers come from an accident. They were unwanted. He never went looking for them. So I like the choices of villains so far and I really did enjoy Alfred Molina as Doc Ock. He has a nice, if quick, character arc and Molina plays him well both as a sympathetic character and an antagonistic one, which is nice (I mean, much as I loved Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin, he never really struck me as sympathetic).

As for the rest, well, I’ve got to say that the humor content of the first movie balanced it out a lot better than in this one. That’s probably because the humor content is all but nonexistant. We watch Peter struggle for much of the movie. His regular life is a mess because he’s spending so much time slinging web all over New York, and then his powers start to go on the fritz every so often. He’s stressed and tired and finally just gives in, right when Doc Ock is starting to really wreak havoc on the city. MJ’s mad at him, Harry’s a drunken mess and Peter’s given up the hero gig to try and fix his life. He even tearfully admits to Aunt Mae (who’s losing her house, by the way) his role in Uncle Ben’s death. There are no witty wisecracks here. No jokes, no lighthearted moments of humor. The attempts are kind of sad and painful. The only reprieve is Jonah, who is as bombastic as ever and pretty much exactly how I always assumed he’d sound and move. Between Jonah and Doc Ock, there are some good moments here. But the movie insists on continuing to go back to its title character and hang out with him in wet blanket town.

Seriously, Spidey. I get it that your uncle got killed and you blame yourself and your best friend blames your alter ego for his father’s death and your not-girlfriend isn’t waiting for you and life is haaaaaaaard but look at Wolverine! Dude was experimented on and can’t remember his past and you don’t see him staring out the window of his strangely large NYC apartment, pondering whether he’s supposed to be able to be happy. Suck it up or CRY MOAR!

March 26, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment