A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 590 – Go

Go – October 11th, 2011

When I was in college I rented this movie from work and brought it home to watch while Andy was out. He never watched it with me and I don’t think I’d have rented it for us to watch together. It was very much a late ’90s movie, which is very much the generation I’m supposed to be a part of. To be honest, none of the experiences in this movie are mine or even close to mine. The closest this movie gets to me is that I worked retail and so do some of the main characters, though not the same sort of retail. That’s what I mean. It’s not my experience. Still, I rented it and I watched it and I really liked the conceit of it and the end of it and so when I decided that this movie collection was far too weighted towards what Andy bought, I grabbed it. And if he didn’t like it? Well, I can think of at least ten movies in the collection that he bought that I subsequently hated. So, I wasn’t really all that fussed over the possibility.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t remember absolutely everything about this movie. I knew it was told in three sections and I remembered how bizarre things got at the end and I remembered the rave and substitute drugs at the beginning, but the middle was a blur to me. What I do remember really liking was how you found out more about what was going on in the first story through the other stories. I like non-linear storytelling, though this isn’t quite Pulp Fiction levels of complexity. I think it probably wishes it was, but it’s not. Instead it starts with a scene from the end of the timeline, then follows three different storylines covering the same general timeline, one after the other. Now, my one real issue here is the choice of opening scene. For one, at the end of the movie the plot continues a fair bit past the scene that opens the movie. For two, as a scene to bookend the movie with, it’s sort of a weak one. Which is a shame, because the last section of the movie is the strongest.

Ignoring the bookend scene, which I’ll return to, the movie begins at a grocery store where main character Ronna has been working a double shift on Christmas eve to try and make enough money to pay her rent. If she doesn’t pay, she’s out on the street. On Christmas. When another employee asks her to take his shift so he can go to Vegas that night, she agrees. Then, when a couple of guys at the supermarket ask her if she can get them any drugs she decides hey, that’s a great way to get the money she needs. And what follows is a comedy of errors without much of the comedy part. Ronna’s inexperienced at this and Todd, the guy she’s trying to buy from, knows it. Ronna gets spooked when trying to sell what she’s got and ends up flushing it all. Ronna has to find a way to get back what she spent on the drugs in the first place. Ronna shoplifts asprin and the like from a pharmacy and heads for a rave, passing off cold meds as ecstasy to stoned raver twerps. Todd finds out she’s selling something after telling him she’d had to ditch it all and goes after her with a gun. Ronna gets hit by a car. Ronna? Is not having a good night.

That is how the movie starts. With someone in dire straits making her own life considerably worse by getting in over her head. As you might guess, it’s not my favorite part of the movie. I think I’ve been pretty clear on how I feel about when movies show miserable people making themselves (and others) more miserable. What saves this movie are two things: One, there’s a decent bit of humor in how this all plays out, with some fun dialogue and Ronna’s determined attitude about passing Tylenol off as E. Two, that’s not the whole movie. That bit finishes with Ronna lying in a ditch and things look pretty bleak and then all of a sudden we’re back at the grocery store with Ronna agreeing to take a third shift so her coworker, Simon, can go to Vegas. And so now we’re off to Vegas with Simon.

Simon, unlike Ronna, is not a miserable guy. He’s snarky and obnoxious and full of himself. He’s also pretty obviously a jackass, so I honestly don’t mind when he ends up getting himself in some real shit in Vegas. I do feel for his buddies, two of whom get food poisoning and end up having to flee Vegas while horribly ill. The other buddy I feel even worse for, since he’s with Simon the whole time and ends up right alongside him when Simon feels up a stripper and accidentally shoots a bouncer and so on and so forth. But they get out of Vegas and head back to LA and all seems well. Except for how Simon used a credit card belonging to another friend of his. A friend he usually buys drugs from. Yes, Todd, the same one who threatened Ronna at the end of the first section. Oops for Simon, huh?

And then we’re back at the beginning again, and this is where it gets weird, because we’re not following Todd or Ronna’s friend Claire or really anyone you might think we would. Instead we’re with the two guys who wanted to score some drugs from Simon and asked Ronna instead since Simon’s in Vegas and actually? They’re actors helping out a local cop who’s trying to bust Simon so he can use Simon to bust Todd. And once you’ve gotten to this point, well, a whole lot of little things from the other plots start to make sense even while this one gets stranger and stranger, with mixed up relationships and allegations of cheating and tube socks and Amway-that-isn’t-Amway and naked William Fichtner. Everyone ends up back at the rave again and there’s Ronna and there’s Ronna getting hit by a car and there’s more details about how that even happened and the absurdity of it is really very well done.

My problem here is two-fold: First of all, the three sections fit together well enough in terms of plot, but they’re uneven in tone by quite a lot. Second, if you’re going to go making something like this, it really should all come together right at the end. But this movie keeps going a good deal after we’ve hit the ends of the other plots. Like they were all unfinished and now here’s the end of all three, but there’s no real dividing line there. It feels sloppy. And then there’s the bookend scenes. We start out with Claire in a diner, talking about how she loves surprises on Christmas and how Christmas presents are great since you shake your present and feel it and think you know what it is but you really have no idea and that’s what life is like! Thank you, Claire Gump. Now, I think I get where that was supposed to go, but it’s such a trite way of attempting to describe the movie itself. Very hamfisted. And since the movie continues well past that at the end, it turns out not to be much of a bookend after all. So why bother with it? Overall it’s a fun movie, especially by the time you hit the third chapter. But it’s also messy and sloppily put together.

October 11, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Movie 345 – Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing & Charm School

Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing & Charm School – February 8th, 2011

I had no idea what to expect from this movie. I mean, I expected that there would be a charm school, but other than that, it was a big mystery. We bought it because of a preview, but the content of said preview is lost to me. I’m pretty sure, however, that it did not accurately represent this movie. Because this movie is not simply about a charm school or dancing. It has comedy sure, but it’s got a far more serious note than I thought it would have. And you know it will right from the start, when the main character, Frank Keane, stops on the highway to help a stranger who’s been in an accident. This is not just a cute little story about a dance class. It is a story about where life takes you and the past and the present and the future.

Early on in the movie I thought two of the characters bore a striking resemblance to each other, so I looked up the cast list, fully expecting to find that they were brothers. And no, it turns out they’re the same person, playing two roles in two films, made 15 years apart. The original Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing & Charm School was made in 1990. It’s a short film, about half an hour long, about a boy and his best friend and how their mothers made them go to charm school in 1962. And while they started off hating it, they soon grew to like it and eventually even started to not hate girls. In fact, they end up liking girls too. Fifteen years later, writer/director Randall Miller expanded upon his short, writing an entirely new present day story around it. And Elden Henson was cast in a minor role as a friend and coworker of Frank Keane. Pretty cool.

The original short is broken up into pieces and peppered throughout the movie as flashbacks. Frank comes across a car accident one day and stops to help. There he meets Steve, who was on his way to meet Lisa, the girl he loved when he was twelve. They promised each other they’d return to Marilyn Hotchkiss’ school on the fifth day of the fifth month of the fifth year of the new millennium, no matter what. Frank promises he’ll go in Steve’s place and tell Lisa what happened. Of course it’s not as simple as that. Frank gets there and is utterly at a loss for what to do. Lisa isn’t there and he ends up staying and learning the Lindy Hop and catching the eye of a young woman, Meredith. And he goes back. Again and again. And as the movie goes we learn about Frank. He’s a baker whose wife committed suicide. He’s lonely and lost and goes to a support group for widowers. But little by little, with the help of the class, he starts to move forward.

The movie is told back and forth. The bulk of the movie is Frank’s story, showing him going to support group meetings, baking, at dance class. But then there are scenes with Steve in the ambulance. And that moment is probably an hour of movie world time, tops, but it’s shown in little bits and pieces. A minute here, two there. And Frank entreats Steve to tell him more about Lisa and the charm school to keep Steve conscious while the EMTs work to save him. And those scenes take us back to 1962 and the short. And every time we go back we learn more about Steve, but we also learn more about the power of this dance class and how it helped people come together and relate to one another. So when we go back to the present day, it’s no surprise that Frank is coming out of his shell. He tells his support group – including a demonstration, which is a fantastic scene where he rehashes the Lindy Hop lesson for the group leader and teaches him how to dance – and soon they’re coming to dance too, one by one.

The present day plot has more going on than can really fit in the confines of the movie. Meredith’s step-brother is a controlling jackass who hits her and slashes Frank’s tires. Marilyn’s daughter has taken over the class but has some sort of long term lack of acceptance that her mother is gone. We only catch fleeting moments about Frank’s wife. And yet, I never really felt that the movie was lacking. It was that those parts weren’t things we were meant to see more of. Because we’re mostly meant to see the dance class. What’s outside the class is in the past, or the future, and we only get to know it in moments, not in swaths. And I like that. Sure, dance seems to fix a lot of problems automatically – the whole plot with Meredith’s brother ties up very neatly and quickly indeed – but other problems are slow in fixing.

I would have to say my only real criticism of the movie is that after the climax, when Frank and Meredith get together and the whole support group has joined the dance class and Meredith’s brother is welcomed back into the fold after punching Frank, the movie goes on a little long. And this is to wrap up Steve’s plot. Because Steve was the impetus for all of this. Frank does indeed find Lisa, but then after he finds her we go back to a different point in time. We go back to just prior to the accident, where we learn what Steve was up to and why he was in such a hurry. And well, I get the point of it. It was an interesting direction to take the character. But I don’t know that it was entirely necessary. Or rather, if it was necessary at that point. It slows things down and hurts the impact of the scene with Lisa, which made me cry, I admit. Which is too bad, really, because the rest of the movie is paced beautifully and has some really wonderful parallels between the short and the new material. The last bit with Steve just sticks out.

The acting is also beautiful. Robert Carlyle as Frank, in particular, is amazing. There are many scenes for him where he says almost nothing. He’s a quiet man. Reserved. Definitely pent up. And he is grieving. And oh, the grief is a cold and palpable thing from him. Carlyle does a wonderful job with Frank and I loved every moment he was on screen. John Goodman has a difficult role as the dying Steve, gasping out his story, but he does a nice job with it. Marisa Tomei is lovely as Meredith, who is just as awkward as Frank and who has a sad story herself, but who is also charming and shy and interesting. They open up to each other, and it’s the sort of romantic story I appreciate. The rest of the cast is peppered with familiar faces. Ernie Hudson, Camryn Manheim, Mary Steenburgen, Sean Astin and Donnie Wahlburg, to name a few. It’s amazing, really, seeing these actors show up in large and small parts, and they all just slip right in, making the movie what it is. Full of humor and tragedy and romance and dance and charm.

When I was in middle school some well-meaning parent of one of my classmates told my mother about “junior cotillion”, which was a dance and manners class that ran every other week or so up at one of the other local private schools. She asked if I wanted to do it and I said sure, why not. I had no idea what it was. But there I learned to do a variety of basic formal dance steps (the box step is all I’ve retained). I wore frilly dresses and white gloves and tried to maneuver myself into the right spot so I could dance with a cute boy, though I later learned that cute wasn’t what mattered. Dancing with a boy who wouldn’t snap my bra strap was more important (I smacked the first one who tried it). Ah, cotillion. Watching this movie tonight, with its flashbacks to a childhood charm school class, I found myself right back there, hands clammy in those stupid gloves, awkward and shy and wondering what the hell I was doing. And yet, regardless of the awkwardness and oddity of it all, I still have fond memories of it. It’s hard to explain the sort of mood that such a class has, but this movie captures it, both in the flashbacks and the modern day. I wasn’t expecting this movie. I wasn’t expecting it at all and I’m really rather glad of that.

February 8, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment