Thursday, January 8, 2009

JOE BIDEN, GOD BLESS THE GUY, WAS NOWHERE IN ATTENDANCE: Every year, our friend and regular commenter Marsha goes on a one-day movie binge. She files this report:
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Once a year, my husband goes skiing and, for the last few years, takes the kids with him. They go for a week, and I stay home. The original staycation, I suppose. I get to sleep late, eat whatever I want, and do whatever I want, and what I want to do, over and over again, is go to the movies.

Seeing movies in the theater was my first, and in many ways remains my only, casualty of my entry into the ranks of parenthood. I still go to the theater, and baseball games, still go to my book clubs, and still have dinner with friends. But it's almost impossible to justify the cost of a sitter, parking, and two tickets, just to see a movie that will be on one of my 500 cable channels in less than a year (or for $4.99 On Demand in 6 months). Very few movies are worth the hassle and $40 a person. So since Son #1 was born nearly 4 years ago, my husband and I have seen exactly 2 movies together in the theater, and they both started with "Harry Potter and."

So when I'm left to my own devices for one week a year, I go to the movies. But I also go to work, and do other things, so I have to be efficient. Thus, the Day-O-Movies was born. I make lists. I scrutinize the schedules at area theaters. I arrange and rearrange the puzzle pieces to see as many movies as possible. Two years ago I managed to see seven movies in 36 hours, five in a single day. This year, I only managed four in one day - Revolutionary Road, Slumdog Millionaire, Milk, and The Wrestler - in that order.

Each year I send out emails to lots of friends inviting me to join me. Most people join me for one or two of the movies, and nearly all wonder how I can "sit through" that many movies in one day. I cannot understand this mentality. Sit through? I was unhappy that I couldn't manage a 5th movie this year! Four movies in a day is a joy. It is a blessing.

I arrive early. I buy tickets for the first two movies (in case plans change later - I always pay for all my movies). I buy a large soda, because that will give me free refills all day long. I find good seats. I wait for my friends. I pee at the last possible second. I watch many commercials, then many trailers. And I fall in love with movie going all over again.

Watching four movies in a day is not like watching one at a time. It gives you a new perspective. I try to guess what trailers they will show me before a given film, what demographic they think I am likely to be as a viewer based on what commercials I see. I play games to see which trailers I will have seen most frequently at the end of the day. I watch the people who are at each showing - who goes to the 10:20 am showing of Revolutionary Road? Why does the 1:10 pm showing of Slumdog Millionaire sell out on a Sunday five weeks after it was released? How many people seeing Milk gasp at the end, clearly not having known the story before arriving? I wear layers - my sweater goes on and off as the day goes on. I go to the bathroom between every single movie - sometimes twice, if the break is long enough. At no point does my tush hurt; movie theater seats are far too comfortable these days. And I am never bored. Not remotely tired. Not once.

By the end of the day, I am rejuvenated. I smile all day, thrilled to know that there is such good entertainment in the world. I am happy that there are people in the world as beautiful and talented as Kate Winslet, and happy that I can watch brilliant actors about whom I know nothing from other countries about which I know little. I am thrilled to watch Penn and Rourke disappear into characters so deeply that I forget I'm watching Penn and Rourke, and I am thrilled that once a year, I can have popcorn for lunch if I want. the only damper on the day is the same as it is every time - that validated parking at the theater expires after four hours, which means I pay exorbitant parking fees, but also that movie theaters do not imagine that anyone does what I did yesterday. It's a shame. Everyone should do this. it's not something I endure, sit through, or survive. It's something I love. I'm pretty sure, if you're reading this, you would too.
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Revolutionary Road is not an easy two hours at the movies, to be sure, but when you're done, you'll feel just great about your own marriage and parenting skills. Kate Winslet has never looked more beautiful, and both Winslet and DiCaprio put on extraordinary performances. Winslet's, in particular, is a master class in acting - the expressions on her face when her husband disappoints her after a play she's been in are truly marvelous and heartbreaking. But it doesn't take long to for your focus to move from how beautiful she looks (despite her brown eyebrows and blond hair) and how well Leo has matured and how wonderful these two are in these parts into being immersed in their marriage.

This is a painful marriage in so many ways, but in a very different way than most bad marriage movies. There's no abuse, there isn't even an extraordinary circumstance of any kind. This is just two people who are growing apart, or who maybe shouldn't have gotten married in the first place, and they're trying to figure it out without being sure that they want to make it work. That's why it's devastating - because it's easy to see yourself in it. It's easy to feel both empathy and dislike for both Frank and April because at various points in the film, they each represent the best and worst of our own selves and our own relationships.

Mendes has created a beautiful-looking film, and the script manages to surprise us even within the constraints of the New York suburbs - there are so many ways the film could have ended and the one they chose rang very true for both the characters and the time. Mendes created a character study, but in many ways, the character is the marriage, not either of its participants.

For those who have seen the film, I ask this question, which won't spoil anything for those who haven't seen it. Does she love him?

Slumdog Millionaire worked for me when there were so many ways it shouldn't have. Set aside the things it has become known for - showing us a side of India most of us have never seen, the poor-kid-makes-good story, the beautiful cinematography, the fine acting by a cast most of use couldn't pick out of a lineup even after seeing the film. All true.

The thing that worked when it shouldn't have here is the device. We complain all the time in television when there's a plot device that ties A and B stories together. We hate it when the patient of the week on "House" or "Grey's Anatomy" has an ailment that mirrors whatever is going on in the personal lives of the doctors, we get cranky when clever sitcoms like HIMYM or "30 Rock" mess up the tone of their quirky asides. So if you're going to tie the life of a poor orphan tea slinger to the questions on a game show, you'd better do it right.

Thank goodness for Danny Boyle. Slumdog Millionaire gets it exactly right, and I'm honestly still not sure how. While there were certainly surprises throughout, I thought some of the details of the ending were so telegraphed that to call them foreshadowed is laughable. And I still cried and grinned in all the right places. Maybe it's that the device of the police interrogation works so well to tie one to the other, or maybe it's that the newness of the actors allowed me to get more deeply into the story than watching Brad!Pitt! and Cate!Blanchett!, or maybe it's just that after seeing Revolutionary Road anything with an even remotely positive outlook was gonna knock me out of my seat, but damn if this movie wasn't firing on all cylinders. It's a wonderfully visual movie - bright and energetic and fast-moving, showing us a huge variety of locations and taking advantage of every one of them. And despite the fact that this is, at core, a fairly conventional underdog-makes-good story with a love interest component, it feels, at every turn, fresh and new.

I wish I had something to present here to make you all talk a lot in the Comments, but honestly, this film just made me happy. And I don't think I want to overanalyze myself out of that mood.

I also saw Milk and The Wrestler, and we've already discussed them in this space (Matt on Milk, Adam on The Wrestler) so I'll leave them be except to say that I liked them more than those who originally posted about them did. I go to the movies to be engaged and entertained, and all four of these movies did that in spades. All in all, a good day to be me.

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