Though it was fun to watch Little Man experience fireworks for the first time, my personal highlight was being able to see the clear night sky without much light pollution for the first time in a while. And, man, was it glorious to behold.
All that love’s about
It echoed a moment that stood out in our recent rewatch of WALL-E, which we decided to try with Little Man after he gravitated to a WALL-E toy at Target (probably because it looked like a truck).
In the film’s transcendent first act, WALL-E pauses during his garbage collection routine and looks up to the sky just as the otherwise dense smog clears just enough for him to see stars. “It Only Takes a Moment” from Hello, Dolly! underscores the moment, specifically at the line “And that is all that love’s about.”
This is a lovely bit of foreshadowing for later in the movie, when WALL-E and EVE perform their fire extinguisher-fueled space ballet among the stars—a scene I love so much I named it one of my favorite movie music moments. (The movie itself is #2 on my best of 2008 list.)
The robot toddler
Another takeaway from the movie this time around was something I couldn’t have realized before having a kid: WALL-E embodies all the best characteristics of toddlers.
He’s diligent, curious, enthusiastic, loving, loyal, temperamental. He’s a tinkerer who tosses aside a diamond ring because he’s more interested in the box it came in. He’s eager to show EVE all his toys when she visits his home. He basically has two speeds: inching along or sprinting. He’s charmingly clumsy, quick to make friends, and an accidental agent of chaos—but one that ultimately brings life to those around him.
In short, an excellent role model, and not just for kids. Here’s to all of us being more like WALL-E.
Sometimes we as moviegoers have to let movies affect us in ways we cannot explain or control. One of those ways is through music. Whether it is an epic orchestral theme or a lone piano suite, music in the movies can make the difference in how I respond to the story. Listening to a CD of movie themes got me thinking about my favorite movie moments that were made better because of their music. There are many such moments, but here are a few that stand out.
Cast Away: Saying farewell to Wilson
When Chuck (Tom Hanks) finally leaves the island four years after crash-landing there, he is mistakenly separated from his beloved anthropomorphized volleyball but can’t retrieve him. There is no music for the entire film until that time, about 50 minutes in. So when the soft strings finally come in, we feel the catharsis the same as Chuck as he paddles away. The theme itself, by Forrest Gump and Back to the Future composer Alan Silvestri, is so tender and affecting.
WALL-E: Eva and WALL-E’s space dance
I’m glad Pixar has basically locked down Thomas Newman for their film scores, because every one he does its magical, including The Green Mile, American Beauty, The Shawshank Redemption, and Finding Nemo. In a film full of cute moments between the robotic protagonists, the impromptu, extinguisher-propelled ballet may be the cutest.
Lord of theRings: The wholetrilogy
I’d argue the LOTR score is the most necessary and perfect ever. Howard Shore’s compositions are practically supporting characters in themselves. There are many stand-out moments in that trilogy for me, but there are two that would not have worked without a musical backing:
The first is in Fellowship of the Ring after Gandalf falls into the Mines of Moria as the fellowship looks on helplessly. It is a shocking and grievous moment, but the lone mournful soprano voice over the somber choir does not overwhelm it. It allows us to rest on the sadness if just for a moment.
The second is in Return of the King in one of the many endings, after Aragorn becomes the new king and the four hobbits bow to him. He stops them and says, in recognition of their sacrifices, that they bow to no one. Then the whole crowd bows down to them and the main theme of the trilogy swells one last time, representing the grandest end of an epic adventure.
Once: The breakup song
Once has quickly become my favorite film “musical” more so than real musicals because the music interweaves with the story so seamlessly without the awkward transitions between dialogue and song. In a movie with so many good moments, I still have to choose the scene when the Guy plays the song “Lies” while watching home video of him and his ex-girlfriend. He is still heartbroken, and the song backs him up in that.
Video unavailable, but here’s the audio:
The Truman Show: The end
The piano-heavy score by Philip Glass and Burkhard Dallwitz mixes classical standards with original compositions, adding whimsy and sophistication to Peter Weir’s allegorical tale. The best moment, though, comes at the end when Truman finally hits the wall, literally and metaphorically. It is a culmination of everything Truman has been through and we as the viewers wait in anticipation for how he handles the moment. It’s as good an ending as I’ve ever seen in any movie.
Remember the Titans: The final game
The music throughout the movie builds little by little, but it isn’t until the final game when the orchestra is at full-blast. Trevor Rabin’s score builds with the tension of the final game, but the moment I always remember is when Coaches Boone and Yost exchange congratulations at the end of the game and hold up the ball together. It is a triumphant moment for the team and for the music.
The Lives of Others (2006) – A German film about a surveillance expert who spies on a playwright in Communist Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Lives of Others won the Best Foreign film at the Oscars and for good reason. Unbearably suspenseful and surprisingly moving, The Lives of Others shows that the best films don’t always come from Hollywood.
Memento (2000) – The woefully underrated and underused Guy Pearce stars as a detective who searches for his wife’s killer after losing his short-term memory. The film plays out in reverse, revealing the story piece by piece like a jigsaw puzzle. Gimmicky to some, the premise demands your attention the more you watch this masterfully chaotic film. Repeated viewings required.
WALL-E (2008) – Of all the post-apocalyptic films I’ve seen, WALL-E is by far the cutest. Two robots—a clunky trash-compactor and a sleek land-rover—meet by chance and fall in robot love? It’s a match made in Pixar heaven. From the skillfully rendered 20-minute wordless opening sequence to WALL-E and Eve’s beautiful ballet in space, WALL-E is animation at its best.
Once (2007) – Boy meets girl. The concept has been overdone, but in Once it’s taken back to basics with two Irish musicians who meet and make beautiful music together and become companions fighting against loneliness. A musical in the most unorthodox way, the deceptively simple songs anchor what is one of the most uplifting and honest love stories I’ve ever seen.
Unbreakable (2000) – Most people prefer writer-director M. Night Shyamalan’s 1999 mega-hit The Sixth Sense but Unbreakable is surely the superior work, if only for its restrained pace and fascinating characters. Subtly structured in the classic comic book superhero frame, everything in the film from the color palette to the redemptive love story makes Unbreakable perhaps the most underrated film of the decade.
Zodiac (2007) – Paranoia and dread permeate this noir thriller from director David Finch about the Zodiac killer of 1970s San Francisco. Based on the book by a cartoonist who tried to solve the murders, Zodiac represents the best in boiler-plate drama with its slow-building tension, superb ensemble acting, and stunning camera work. There’s no happy ending, but there’s no film like it.
In America (2002) – An overlooked film from director Jim Sheridan, In America features an Irish family newly immigrated to New York City drudging through the trials and tribulations of living in near-poverty. Told through the 10-year-old daughter’s point of view, In America shows a family fighting against tragedy and heartache and sticking together throughout it all.
High Fidelity (2000) – John Cusask is Rob Gordon, music snob and man in crisis. After his latest relationship ends, Rob catalogs his five biggest break-ups and the music that guided him through them. Underscored by a top-notch soundtrack, High Fidelity spotlights the vulnerability that stews beneath masculine hubris. Bonus points for the Bruce Springsteen cameo.
Children of Men (2006) – In a not-so-far-fetched future, the terror-wracked world in Children of Men is in chaos after women become completely infertile. Clive Owen plays a world-weary has-been who reluctantly escorts the only pregnant girl on Earth to safety. Featuring groundbreaking cinematography, Children of Men manages to inspire a ray of hope in the darkest of places.
Almost Famous (2000) – A semiautobiographical work from writer-director Cameron Crowe, this 1970s coming of age tale of a teen rock writer who goes on the road with an up-and-coming rock band is funny and serious, nostalgic and brutally honest. Patrick Fugit shines as the boyish protagonist who enters a world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll and comes out the other end a new person.
The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (2001) – While Return of the King proved a satisfying conclusion to a grand trilogy, Fellowship of the Ring remains the stand-out installment for its sweeping scope and emotional core. A game-changer in every way, everything from its breathtaking locales to the expertly created creatures makes Fellowship the new standard for the cinematic epic.
Brokeback Mountain (2005) – Sorry, Crash; Brokeback Mountain was the best film of 2005 and one of the best of the decade. Against stunning Western vistas and an elegant score, Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger help turn the “gay cowboy movie” cliché into a tragic and somber requiem of a dream deferred. Forget the Joker; Ledger as Ennis del Mar is the best performance of his short career.
A History of Violence (2005) – The only think more enigmatic than the title is the film itself, a profound meditation on violence disguised as a family drama and gangster movie. Viggo Mortensen proves a wonderfully complex character struggling to maintain his identity in spite of himself, while Maria Bello plays the supportive wife stuck in the middle of it all.
Casino Royale (2006) – For the last few Bond movies, James Bond was a joke. But with Casino Royale, nobody’s laughing at him anymore. Daniel Craig, the best Bond ever, turned him back into a fist-wielding badass with class, and Eva Green’ Vesper Lynd proves a sultry Bond girl who won Bond’s heart against his better judgment. Add to that exciting chases and poker games and you’ve got a Bond movie worth watching.
Into Great Silence (2005) – This is a film nobody saw but should. A German documentary about the monks who live at the Blank Monastery in France, there is hardly any talking at all for the almost 3-hour run time instead, we get to watch what the monks do every day, which is, for 6 days a week, live simple lives in complete silence. It’s an exercise in patience, but very rewarding and immensely gratifying to the soul.
The Best of the Rest
No Country for Old Men (2007), Finding Nemo (2003), Grizzly Man (2005), United 93 (2006), The Dark Knight (2008), Minority Report (2002), Stranger than Fiction (2006), Half Nelson (2006), Pan’s Labyrinth (2007), The Squid and the Whale (2007)
By far the boldest movie of the year. The wordless first half-hour is delectably good and a bit subversive too. The plot sags once the robots leave Earth, but it remains a beauty to behold. I was surprised at how emotionally invested I was in those cute little robots. It’s certainly a better love story than anything I’ve seen humans try to pull off in a long time.
Sally Hawkins plays Poppy, an indelibly optimistic teacher who finds the good in everything around her-her stolen bicycle, her siblings’ rivalry, and even her racist driving instructor. She talks a mile a minute but it’s never overbearing and she’s always funny. This purely happy indie makes the perfect antidote for the depressing year we’ve had.
3. Man on Wire
What a thrill it was to watch this movie. A documentary about French acrobat Philippe Petit’s 1974 high-wire walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center, Man on Wire shows through dramatic reenactments how Petit and his crew snuck to the top of the towers and accomplished a daring feat unlike any other. It gave me something good to think about whenever I see pictures of the Twin Towers.
4. In Bruges
Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson play two hit men sent to the scenic Belgian city of Bruges to hide out after a murder. Farrell’s character hates Bruges, while Gleeson’s loves it. They’re the funniest hit men since Pulp Fiction. The movie blends humor, action, and tragedy perfectly. No one saw this February release when it came out, but you have to see it now.
5. Rachel Getting Married
A good ol’ dysfunctional family flick. Anne Hathaway plays Kym, a narcissistic addict who leaves rehab for the weekend to attend her sister’s wedding. Tensions rise to the surface as old wounds within the family are ripped open. The film honestly and perfectly shows the love/hate dynamic that binds every family together, for better or for worse.
6. Shotgun Stories
Roger Ebert recommended this unknown indie about two sets of half-brothers engage in a deadly civil war in rural Arkansas after their common father dies. The father’s first family, the one he abandoned, takes their hate for their father out on his other sons, and vice versa. It’s a quietly menacing yet ultimately uplifting story that rings true.
7. The Dark Knight
A blockbuster that actually earned its acclaim. Heath Ledger certainly deserves at least an Oscar nod for his role-the best villain in a long time. Repeated viewings revealed the film’s biggest flaw; without the Joker, The Dark Knight would be pretty standard superhero movie fare. Nevertheless, it’s a thrill to watch.
8. Tell No One
A great French thriller about a man who goes on the run after being wrongly accused of his wife’s murder. Simply yet beautifully shot, it seems like any other standard spy movie until the twist-fest of an ending, when things unfold little by little with new reveals one after another. But what won me was the incredible amount of heart and love underneath it all.
9. Encounters at the End of the World
A religious experience. The famed enigmatic German director Werner Herzog tops his last documentary (2005’s Grizzly Man) with this meditative look at Antarctica and the stories of those who brave the elements down South, from the iceberg geologists to the pinniped seals. It’s a beautiful and haunting ode to the great unknown.
Sean Penn plays Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to office in America in 1970s San Francisco. While it follows similar guidelines for the standard biopic, Milk is enthralling, educational, and very moving. It’s also very topical, with California having recently passed a ban on gay marriage. Sean Penn is deservedly bound for another Oscar nod.
Worst of the Year: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Remember when Indiana Jones and his crew were on the quest for the skulls and they were balancing on that gigantic plate in an underground cave? That scene was ripped-off from National Treasure: Book of Secrets. When you’re stealing from a movie that stole its entire style from the original Indiana Jones movies, you’ve got a problem. Add that to the laughable jungle chase scene and ridiculous “it was aliens!” ending and you’re left with a hideous shell of a movie.
Most Underrated Film: W.
While it didn’t make the impact Oliver Stone wish it had, W. manages to make some sense out of our soon-to-be-ex-President; his Oedipal complex, conversion to Christianity, and rational for going to war are all treated fairly and make Dubya a sympathetic character. The political junkie in me loved the parts about his presidency, but I also liked seeing an idea of what it was like growing up beneath the daunting shadow of his father. Here’s hoping for a sequel.
Most Overrated Film: Slumdog Millionaire
In Mumbai, India, a boy from the slums grows up and goes on the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” The film tells his life story through each of the questions he answers. I grew tired of that stagey and predictable framing device early on, and the film’s inexcusable glamorization of the Mumbai slums just wrecked this one for me. Speaking of predictable: guy chases childhood sweetheart? Please.
Guilty Pleasure: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
A pleasant early-in-the-year surprise. I loved the 1930s sets, costumes, and music. Amy Adams shines in any role she takes. The first 20 minutes-a rapid-fire slapstick comedy scenario-were highly engaging. The rest of the movie slows down and falls into a GreatGatsby groove, but it ends up with great depth and heart. Hopefully it will at least pick up a few nominations for costumes and set design, though it definitely deserves more.
Haven’t been on much—camp is keeping me busy. It is nice, though, to be able to unplug from the world for a while and not be able to check your email and keep up on the news even if you want to. Here’s a few thoughts on random stuff:
—The Dark Knight was just amazing. I’m looking forward to seeing it again.
—In regards to the Favre-Packers debacle, the Packers organization I think has done right. Favre has lost all of the goodwill he earned throughout his career by continuing to flip-flop and run his mouth. I’ll always be a Favre fan, but I’m a Packers fan above all. He retired quite tearfully and emphatically. If he wants to come back he has to do it on the team’s terms.
—Ebert & Roeper at the Movies, Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper’s weekly movie review show will no longer be. Ebert and Disney could not come to an agreement about the show’s direction after Ebert’s departure and so both Ebert and Roeper will be leaving the show. I really, really hope they find a way to get back on the air on their own terms because the intelligent and entertaining film criticism it provides week to week is one of a kind.
—The two movies I was most looking forward to this summer—The Dark Knight and Wall-E—did not let me down. I’m not sure what else is coming out this summer that will be worth watching, but I’ll have lots of time after camp to check them out.