for . . . something: Rudolph in Away We Go.
by Sam Mendes
The Player, Robert Altman’s 1992 skewering of the moviemaking
industry, a screenwriter is shown pitching a sequel to The
Graduate. (Trivia: The actor playing the scribe in The
Player is Buck Henry, who was, in fact, one of the writers
of the earlier film.) In keeping with the satirical tone of
Altman’s movie, the pitch comes across as a patently bad one—cynical
even by Tinseltown standards. The power of The Graduate
relies heavily on the pointed, now iconic, ambiguity of its
ending: To follow up on those characters would completely
gut the free-standing force of a classic. Henry’s inside joke
of a pitch is a primae facie crap idea meant as an emblem
of Hollywood’s self-cannibalizing greed.
Sam Mendes’ Away We Go exists, then, as a curious loophole:
To the best of my knowledge, the husband-and-wife writing
team of Dave Eggers (author of A Staggering Work of Heartbreaking
Genius) and Vendela Vida had no specific intention to
create a Gen X continuation of The Graduate, but swap
a couple of character names and some directorial quirks and
it’d work quite nicely as such.
Burt Farlander (John Krasinski) and his partner, Verona De
Tessant (Maya Rudolph), are college graduates living in (slightly
inexplicable) rural squalor. Burt sells insurance futures
(a vaguely obscure profession standing in, perhaps, for The
Graduate’s enigmatic “plastics”); Verona is a freelance
medical illustrator. Their tumbledown house is straight outta
Appalachia: cardboard over the windows, no reliable heating.
Why? Maybe they just suck at what they do? Maybe they are,
as Verona worries, just “fuck-ups”? It’s not really made clear.
In any event, when the couple discover that they are pregnant
and that Burt’s parents (sufficiently, if not brilliantly,
played by Catherine O’Hara and Jeff Daniels) are relocating
to Belgium, they feel they’d better . . . well, find someone
else to help carry them. So, they set out on a cross-country
jaunt of community shopping, visiting an eccentric and varied
roster of former coworkers, friends and relatives to find
their happy place. (They can afford flights and hotels but
not heat? Yeah, I don’t know. Let it go.)
There are some laughs to be found here, the best of them with
Allison Janney and Jim Gaffigan, who are delightfully horrid
as a sodden, desperate and/or embittered couple, haunting
the dog tracks of the American Southwest. Maggie Gyllenhaal
and Josh Hamilton do decent work with fairly clichéd new-agey
characters, and Chris Messina and Melanie Lynskey serve as
the charming, near-perfect modern couple coping with secret
Throughout we see Burt and Verona as bright, personable, well-intentioned
though largely unremarkable people. Rudolph is surprisingly
good and understated; I had a harder time buying Krasinki’s
scruffy doofiness, and missed the underlying intelligence
of his work on The Office. It is a testament, though,
to the writing of Eggers and Vida that the movie largely avoids
big “moments.” The star of this movie seems to be uncertainty
Mendes’ direction reinforces this feeling: The movie’s wit,
the cast of oddballs, the eye for set design and color, even
the use of intertitles put you in mind of Wes Anderson. But
where Anderson is tight to the point of being claustrophobic,
in Away We Go Mendes is open and expansive, as if to
suggest an intimidating variety of choice.
Which is where Away We Go is most beholden to The
Graduate, as spiritual precursor: in its implication that
fraught forward motion is both funny and completely inevitable.
by Nick Cassavetes
Plucked from the pages of a Jodi Picoult bestseller, My
Sister’s Keeper seems more like something you’d find on
Lifetime than at the multiplex, midsummer. Its storyline—an
11-year-old girl refuses to donate a kidney to her cancer-ridden
older sister—almost demands that the filmmakers include the
disclaimer “bring tissues” with every ticket. And the casting
of perennially sunny Cameron Diaz as a controlling, overbearing
mother is, at best, an iffy proposition.
Still, My Sister’s Keeper manages to engage in spots.
Teen Kate (Sofia Vassilieva) has had cancer for most of her
life, the central fact upon which her entire family revolves.
When traditional treatments fail to work, mom Sara (Diaz)
and dad Brian (Jason Patric) resort to engineering a new baby
specifically designed to be a perfect match for Katie. Almost
from birth, little Anna (Abigail Breslin) has been harvested—for
blood, stem cells, bone marrow—to prolong Katie’s life. When
the movie begins, she’s hiring lawyer Campbell Alexander (Alec
Baldwin, trying for sincerity) to assist her to become “medically
emancipated.” Plot twist: Sara is a corporate lawyer, on an
extremely extended leave (the movie leaves you to ponder how
the family supports their big house and medical bills on Dad’s
fireman pay); she takes on her own defense with the same ferocity
she exhibits in trying to maintain Katie’s survival.
The movie wends its way back and forth in time, trying to
give us a better picture of the main players and how their
lives have been shaped by Katie’s cancer. The actors go a
long way toward making this material palpable. Patric’s stoic
mien belies his character’s heartache and helplessness. In
contrast, Diaz imbues Sara with steely determination bordering
on dementia. Breslin is expectedly perky and reliable, but
it’s Vassilieva who really delivers, fleshing out what could
have been a one-dimensional saint with spikes of rage, rebellion
and even silliness. Her brief romance with a fellow cancer
patient (Thomas Dekker) is one of the movie’s best moments,
culminating in a bittersweet, heartfelt kiss that’s heartbreaking.
There’s a melodramatic courtroom sequence, then it’s back
to the hospital, where Katie finally gets to have her say
with Sara. Diaz is quite compelling when, at last facing the
truth, she literally dissolves, a croak escaping from her
clenched mouth indicating the extent to which, for years,
she has tried to maintain control. Breslin’s beginning and
ending voiceovers are maudlin pap, but thankfully, Vassilieva
gives us something to stake our emotions on, and her swollen,
pasty, bruised-but-smiling face show us a glimpse of real
courage and humanity.
Revenge of the Fallen
by Michael Bay
Dear Mr. Bay,
I have seen several of your feature films now and I must say
that I have developed a unique appreciation for your work.
Flashy, garish, loud, nonsensical: These are things I generally
don’t look for in a cinematic experience, but you attack
your films with such youthful zeal that I find myself rooting
for your success. I can’t help but think that, had you directed
Moulin Rouge, it would have been a much better film.
Keep the high-gloss sheen, cut the Elton John medleys in favor
of Linkin Park, drop a few huge explosions behind the endless
dance numbers, and voilà—a big, fabulous punch in the
face. But I digress.
Your first Transformers movie was a pleasant surprise.
It was all of the things I mentioned before, but it was a
popcorn flick about shapeshifting alien robots—you had some
wiggle room with the whole reality thing. Transformers
was, in a sense, the culmination of all your previous work:
the day-of- reckoning boom-boom fantasy of Armageddon
mixed with the love story within a day-of-reckoning boom-boom
fantasy of Pearl Harbor, with a dash of the buddy comedy/love
story masquerading as an action picture of Bad Boys.
The film was enjoyable, despite the fact that the last 20
minutes were an incoherent splatter of CGI jack-off. Its indelicate
mix of slapstick humor and hammer-in-the-groin action made
for something approaching the Perfect American Summer Movie.
I was starting to believe in you.
Thus, Mr. Bay, it pains me to address you under these circumstances.
Watching your latest film, Transformers: Revenge of the
Fallen, was akin to having a strobe light flashed in my
eyes continuously for 150 minutes while someone simultaneously
boxed my ears and kicked me in the nuts. Is it possible to
waterboard someone using hot oil? It wasn’t quite that
bad. But: two and a half hours? That certainly borders on
Perhaps you did not receive my previous letter? In it, I explained
how all you had to do was make a few tweaks to the formula—change
the scenery a bit, add a few new characters, let the action
sequences breathe a little—and you’d have an unstoppable franchise.
Instead, you tried to make The Dark Knight. That’s
a noble cause, but you’ve got to know your role. While that
film was loud and flashy and nonsensical, it thrived on human
interaction. Here, the audience has no emotional investment
in Optimus Prime, so his demise early in the film holds no
currency. I can’t even say Fallen would have worked
in abler hands, as it appears to have been made without a
screenplay. It’s an endless barrage of CGI bukkake, intercut
with greasy slo-mo shots of Megan Fox’s boobs (which also
appear to be CGI).
There are so many things wrong with this film, from its comical
jingoism (hey kids, let’s blow up the Pyramids!) to its racial
insensitivity (I don’t really care if the jive-talking “twins”
are supposed to be black, or white kids acting black; bottom
line, they aren’t funny) to its sub-juvenile sense of “humor”
(repeated nut shots, dogs humping, robots humping Fox’s leg),
that it’s easy to miss the one thing that you did right: You
put your name above the title.
Now, future generations will have no trouble remembering that
one of the worst movies ever made was “A Michael Bay Film.”
All the best to you and yours,