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Straw Dogs (2011)
* Spoilers - Don't let them in! - Spoilers *
And in the case of David: when they invite you "in," don't go. One of the themes of this film was xenophobia. If you're not like us, you can't be one of us. Symbolic of that is the local treatment of the man who is retarded. "We take care of our own." Well, no, you don't. Charlie didn't "take care" of Amy in the past, and he's not going to do so in the present or the future. The coach couldn't take care of his daughter; she would get out from under his watchful eye.
Amy and David's "crime" was to "come in" in the first place. They didn't "fit in." To show how they didn't belong, the workman walked into their house, went further in by opening their refrigerator and taking what he wanted. Their bedroom was violated; another interior space invaded: the closet. Further violation was the killing and hanging of the cat and placed in that interior space. The irony part was, "you can't leave, either," when David left the church service- he placed himself further out. He rejects their invitation to come into the circle of men in the booth in the bar because they had almost killed him on the road into town, and he didn't trust them. His rejection pushed him further out, but if he had joined them, he still would have been out. The time he did go with them, hunting in the forest, again, he didn't belong there. Charlie and his friend went into David and Amy's home, and into Amy herself. When they both tried to go "back into" society, attending the football game, Amy's flashbacks prevented her from ever being in with them and by not telling David, she didn't let him in, either. Of course, the home invasion was the last "straw." And David kept them all out in the end.
The Peckinpaugh Straw Dogs was very layered and complicated and he used five editors to make it come together. Hoffman's David was a sociopath who only did things to please himself. Marsden's David was an alien in a foreign land, who made mistakes of dress and language as well as behavior. He had a breezy, almost dismissive way about him; he treated the locals: cheerfully and offhand. He covered his anger with a smile and falsely friendliness. They almost had him killed on the road, and he bought them $100 worth of beer, rubbing it subtly in their faces that he could do it, he could afford it. He tried to kill them with kindness.
James Marsden, please do not participate in another remake. No one will treat you fairly. People will compare you to an actor who played your part two years before you were born.
I think the acting was superb; some were miscast, and one went over the top, but that's his style (James Woods). Contrary to many others' opinion, I thought James Marsden was the standout. My favorite scene is when he played the Cajun song on the phonograph and stood cleaning his glasses on his shirt. He wasn't going to let them in, either, and if they did get in, they'd suffer for it.
Sex Drive (2008)
Tripping Out - *spoilers*
"Sex Drive" is a coming-of-age-self-discovery film which is also a comedy. Ian, the main character, a young man of 18, feels the urge to lose his virginity, but not at home - this hasn't worked. He's never hooked up with a girl, despite his unrequited love for Felicia.
Felicia's true feelings are masked: does she feel love for Lance, or does she secretly love Ian? The third major character, Lance, while seemingly content with himself and attractive to women, (why? I have no idea - he does nothing for me...) also has to come of age. He needs to find steady commitment, and not just jump from girl to girl. These three need to travel in order to fulfill themselves. The fourth major character is Rex. Too old to be living at home and going on motocrosses with his baby brother, he takes out his unspoken frustrations on his younger brother, Ian, challenging his sexuality by teasing him and calling him names.
There are several catalysts in this story. For Ian, his is the girl he's been writing to on the internet, a certain "Miss Tasty". When he reaches his destination, he discovers that she's not genuine but menacing. He also gives up some of his predictability when he throws his shoes onto the "shoe tree." Felicia cannot reveal her true feelings until she is trapped in Ian's situation and has to be rescued by him. She will later help him "visit Grandma."
Lance meets Mary, a girl different from the bimbos he's been associating with (excluding Felicia: she's no bimbo and she's off limits). Mary is Lance's catalyst. Another catalyst is Ezekiel, the Amish auto mechanic posing as a farmer, strictly local and unsophisticated, untraveled and inexperienced dairyman. He provides relief for Ian's mechanical troubles and is a calming influence.
Rex discovers that his brother is more daring than he suspected. He discovers his car missing, and goes after Ian and The Judge with a vengeance, after having a destructive temper tantrum. Another catalyst is the redneck boyfriend of Brandy (a girl of indeterminate virtue who works at a truck stop and accepts random acts of kindness and sex).
Many of the characters come together at a Big Boy parking lot in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Ian becomes a hero,the redneck shows his friendly side, and Lance gets a deserved punch in the jaw, and Rex also gets his comeuppance by Miss Tasty's boyfriend and insight into Ian's bravery and chivalry.
Rex doesn't show all of his true colors and secret until Thanksgiving, after which time Ian and Felicia "visit Grandma". Despite his "true confession," Rex has not forgotten his teasing nature, and seems to have developed a talent for lighting and throwing firecrackers at an inopportune time.
Well acted by all the cast, and a genuinely funny script. Despite all the comparisons to other movies of the genre, it stands on its own and does not take itself at all seriously. It would be a mistake for anyone to do that.
The two most comedic actors are Seth Green and James Marsden. Marsden is barely recognizable in bleached hair and a mustache and goatee. Anyone who tries to typecast him would be foolish; he will try anything and has no fear of making himself look and act ridiculous, doing it brilliantly. Green almost plays himself, but does it well. The rest of the cast are believable and likable. I cannot ask any more than that from an actor in a comedy: help me believe in you and like you, and use your comedic timing and ability. Then we'll all laugh and enjoy it. This happened in "Sex Drive," which probably scandalized many folks. If I were a young man, I could imagine identifying with all these characters.
10th & Wolf (2006)
A story of betrayal masked as a mob story.
Although this movie seems to be a mob story, the theme of this film is betrayal. Tommy, the protagonist-narrator, had a boyhood hero- his father, who was the first to betray him. So when his father was killed before his eyes, his child-mind figured he had it coming to him. He and his brother, Vinny, now orphans, go to live with his cousin Joey's family, and he saw Joey's mother betray her husband and ultimately her son. The first villain was Uncle Matty, who cuckolded Joey's father, and then killed him, lying to Joey as to who did it. Joey depended on Tommy's friendship, but Tommy's angst propelled him into the Marines, where his government and president betrayed him by not crushing Saddam in the first Iraq war.
He winds up in a military prison, faced with long imprisonment. Brian Dennehy's law enforcement "bail-out" was also a lie, because Vinny's involvement in crime was not revealed until it was too late for Tommy to back out of his spying on the family "business" for the FBI, and then he was forced into wearing a "wire."
His family welcomes him home, not realizing his dual role of spy and helper in the "business." He is trying to save them, but he's forced to do it in a backward manner. The only loyalty expressed and lived out was that of his simple brother, Vinny, who pays the ultimate price for his loyalty. The only way Tommy can prove himself with Joey, who has begun to suspect him, is to go into a suicidal mission to try to destroy Joey's head mob enemy, and the prize the FBI wants. Joey dies; Tommy survives.
His only hope now is to leave the area with his new love and her son; her husband was also a victim of mob betrayal. "What doesn't kill you will leave you stronger" is the final lesson from all this and they leave town, hopefully to start over somewhere else.
The acting was universally excellent, marking James Marsden's further display as a serious actor in a serious adult film. Brad Renfro's portrayal of the pathetic younger brother is all the more poignant; he would die not long afterward. Ribisi played his role well. The more famous actors: Dennehy, Hopper, Mihok, and Warren, to name a few, added class and stature to the film. This is my favorite Piper Perabo portrayal: she played a thoughtful and brave and a caring mother, as well as a new bartender in a difficult situation. The direction portrayed moodiness and contrasts of color. One of my favorite scenes was the opera aria, with Ribisi's reaction to it and Marsden trying to keep a straight face. Truly enjoyable file, despite the subject matter.
The Box (2009)
A descent into hell
In "The Box," are three main characters: Arthur and Norma Lewis and their son, Walter. Kelly, writer/director, uses Mathesson's "Button Button" intertwined and parallel to Sartre's Existentialist play, "No Exit," to which there are many references, including an enactment of the play itself. In "No Exit," the three characters have flaws: The man: cowardice and callousness; the man is depicted by Arthur. The first woman understands the man's weakness; a depiction of Norma. The second woman's sins are deceit and murder: also Norma. The valet, with atrophied eyelids, accompanies each character into the room where they're to spend eternity: Mr.Steward. Arthur Lewis is an engineer for NASA; he developed the camera for the Mars probe. Norma is an English teacher in a private school, and their son, Walter, is a student in that school. Events (and beings with superior knowledge and abilities who resent the hubris of mankind's venturing into space and "test" them) conspire to bring this family to destroy themselves, and in doing so, seemingly bring about the murder of "someone they don't know." In "The Box," Norma claims to understand Arthur and Walter, their son. Implied/inferred): she doesn't understand herself. I see no development of the question of whether Arthur understands himself. He's essentially a man of action. Norma thinks he's "still living on Mars." His working experience was to develop a camera for a Martian probe; he now has ambitions to join the astronaut program, but this is denied him. An explanation of the philosophy of Existentialism is that you do not become a true person until you understand yourself. "I think, therefore I am." I see at least three interweaving themes: The story of Kelly's own parents: his father did work on the camera; his mother's foot was injured exactly as described in the film; she was a teacher. A Biblical/theological theme whereby human beings (Adam and Eve as prototypes) reach for what is not right for them and forbidden to them (in Genesis: to be like God; in the film: by pushing the button and accepting the million dollars, they cause the death of "someone they don't know."). There's punishment for their sin, but in the film, forgiveness isn't explicitly stated. Their ambition was for money they didn't earn, to which they weren't entitled. In Genesis, the punishment directly concerns three individuals: the tempter (the serpent), the man, the woman. Like Genesis, their "eyes were opened." See Marsden's wide open stare when Steward reenters the home; then, once they have the money, he decided to reject it, and they never use it or enjoy it. They realize (see) they're next to die. In spite of their Sin, they're decent human beings in a loving family: Arthur makes a prosthesis for Norma's disfigured foot, identical to what Kelly's father did for his own mother's injured foot. In both Biblical theme and in the film, future generation(s) bear the consequences of the parents' sinful act. Their son becomes blind and deaf. "Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand, Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed." Isaiah 6:9b-10 NRSV A problem with the film's plot is there's no prophet to warn them and possibly save them. So there is also the theme of salvation: who is to be saved? And how is one to be saved? Parallel to "No Exit," Arthur races through corridors, chased by ?demons? and finally winds up in a place of knowledge (existential bit): a library. He is then directed to a water gateway of choice. Wrong choices lead to eternal damnation; the right choice brings salvation. Arthur seems to make the right choice: he is drawn into water, taken to a place like paradise, and a place ablaze with light (strangely, Langley), and reunited for a while with Norma. They are then presented with yet another choice: Norma must be killed by Arthur if their son's to regain his senses. In order to save the next generation, sacrifice must be made, and expulsion must take place. In Genesis, expulsion and by implication, dying result. Norma makes the sacrifice-- she must die and Arthur is expelled from their formerly idyllic existence, but he's given an experience of paradise. Water seems to be the vehicle of salvation, which also brings Baptism into play. There's a promise that Walter and Arthur "will be taken care of," and on that ambiguous declaration, the film ends. I love the acting, despite various howls about Cameron Diaz' accent. Kelly's mother came from Texas; Marsden and Diaz met the parents: perhaps the accent was the mother's. I thought she did a great job; her death scene was very moving. James Marsden, despite being called "wooden" by some, was marvelous and developed a beautiful trajectory from seeming callousness to expression of deep love and devotion. Frank Langella was wonderful, playing a quiet sinisterness with his great talent. The support cast was superb. There are many other elements to this film; it's very complicated. The Santa Clauses, for example, what they represented. Arthur C. Clark and scifi. The fact that the time element was Christmas, the year 1976, the bicentennial of U.S. celebration of Freedom. The numerals 2 and 13, possible implications. The Box itself: no accident that the "button" was red (color of an apple?).
27 Dresses (2008)
All those weddings, looking for the right man *Spoiler*
"Bingo!" Kevin Doyle had lost his wife to his college roommate, and perhaps he became a little bitter. As some sort of retribution, he wrote himself into a journalistic corner, reliving and recreating wedding after wedding and countless engagements in sugary prose. Then he meets a woman (Jane/Katherine Heigl) who cannot see past the wedding industry's manipulation of a beautiful event and rite of passage, and worst of all, he was complicit in the sham. Events conspire to bring them together, and he wants to write himself out of wedding prison by finally exposing it all, using the naive woman as the object of his cynicism. The only problem was: she really was interesting, and he was drawn to her. The die was cast, however; the article was written, and his editor demanded it. He extracts a false promise from her, and he was hoist by his own lack of regard. His article subject, Jane Nichols, however, did not return his regard--at first. When she finally begins to trust and to like him, the newspaper article explodes in her face, and all seems lost. But you know, this is a romantic comedy, and all is not really lost. Events will conspire to bring them back together. Kevin will regret what he has done, he will try to be "there for her" when she needs it, instead of looking at events and people with a jaundiced eye. And Jane will see how much of a hopeless, co-dependent romantic she was, carrying a burning torch for a clueless boss. I really don't like Katherine Heigl; her performance reminds me of the petulant behavior and acting of Doris Day. Heigl has to be jollied over and over again by James Marsden, whose charm almost transcends his attempt to be cynical. He betrays loneliness and desperation, which in truth matches hers. I never saw Marsden before this film, and I only saw it on television and in the DVD I purchased. I love his sense of comedy, and his portrayal of underlying sadness. That hint is shown during the display of all the bridesmaid's dresses, when Jane says, "You don't get it." He really does get it, and she would have noticed if she had really looked into his eyes. What doesn't appear readily on television sets: in the hilarious drunken Bennie and the Jets scene is the macho-type man next to Marsden in the bar, whose face reacts to the behavior and conversation of Heigl and Marsden. I'm glad I "discovered" this film. I watch it every time it reappears on TV, and when I really want to feel good about something, I play it. Ed Burns and Judy Greer are good supporting actors; he plays the clueless love object well, and she is a great best friend with the typical witty dialog.