Scott Weinberg of Cinematical is recovering from oral surgery, which is of course the perfect time to watch some “comfort movies.”
I often say that movies should be rated on two scales — good to bad, of course (and we can debate forever what that means) and “watchability.” Some movies just go down easy for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with whether they are good or classic or smart or creative. And those are movies that are very good when you’re a little bit feverish or achy.
Of course the choice of “comfort movie” is very personal. Each of us has movies that are special to us just because we loved them when we were younger and have seen them so many times. I agree with some of Weinberg’s choices — “Finding Nemo” and “Princess Bride” will cheer anyone up. But while I respect his affection for “King Kong” (the original), “Raising Arizona,” “Lord of the Rings,” and “The Blues Brothers,” those are all too loud and frantic to be my idea of good convalescence watching. I like “Happy Texas” and “Galaxy Quest” and classic musicals like “Bells are Ringing” and “The Music Man.” I also like to watch some of my favorite television shows when I’m sick in bed. 22 minutes is about right for my attention span when I’m feeling sick. “Mad About You,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “Sports Night,” “Will and Grace,” “Barney Miller,” “30 Rock” — pure video penicillin. I also like to listen to director commentary tracks when I’m sick, something I don’t usually have time for. I especially love the one for “Charade.”
I have loved movies for as long as I can remember but I first began to think about them when I spent the summer in bed with mononucleosis at age 16. Even though I only had a black and white television with just five channels, it was not a bad way to spend the summer — and not a bad way to learn about movies.
Americans take for granted our most precious and vital resource. We assume that when we turn on the tap, the water that comes out will be perfectly safe and more than plentiful, endless. And then there are those rows and rows of pristine water in bottles on our grocery store shelves.
But it isn’t safe and it isn’t endless. If global warming creates floods, many of us can move to higher ground. If we run out of oil, many of us can walk. But if we run out of water, it is all over for everyone just about immediately.
This documentary finds a good balance between terrifying statistics, depressing images, talking heads, and hopeful suggestions. The bad guys, according to the film, are the corporations who sell bottled water, removing it from communities by diminishing their sources for water so they can sell it back to them. And in a telling segment, we learn that the World Bank is better at giving away a billion dollars to build an ineffective water treatment facility that disrupts the local economy and ecology than they are at working toward lower-tech, lower-impact, lower-cost solutions. No one who sees this movie will think the same way again about reaching for that line of clear bottles at the grocery store or letting the shower run while you take a phone call. Ideally, no one who sees this movie will ever vote for a candidate again without finding out what he or she will do to keep our water safe and plentiful.
Alicia Erian’s semi-autobiographical novel about a young girl coming of age has been brought to the screen by writer/director Alan Ball, whose “American Beauty” and “Six Feet Under” explored the darker side of sunny suburban streets. This is the story of Jasira, the daughter of divorced parents, an American mother and a Christian Lebanese immigrant father. When Jasira begins to go through puberty, her mother’s live-in boyfriend responds inappropriately. Jasira’s mother packs her off to go live with her father in a sterile Houston suburb. Jasira has to cope with a range of reactions to her changing body from the bratty boy next door she babysits, who calls her ugly names, to his father (Aaron Eckhart), who treats her both as seductress and prey, her father, who seems horrified and angry but spends most of his time with his girlfriend, and a classmate who wants to be her boyfriend.
Summer Bishil gives a lovely, nuanced performance as Jasira, showing us that she is not just a passive victim but someone who is intrigued by the sense of power she feels from the effect her womanhood has on people. She is drawn to the photos in her neighbor’s Hustler magazine not because she is gay but because she sees in them a strength and freedom that intrigues her and makes her want to explore for herself. It is good to see a young girl in a movie who is allowed to be complicated and have complicated relationships. At least this film respects the power Jasira has as a person and a young woman. It also raises the cultural and racial clashes more thoughtfully than most films. There’s a nice moment when a confused staffer from Jasira’s Texas high school can’t understand why this brown-skinned girl does not speak Spanish. But It is very hard to watch at times, and there are moments when you can’t help wondering if the act of filming and watching is not itself exploitative or abusive.
As we expect from Alan Ball, the performances are breathtaking in their courage and sensitivity, especially Peter Macdissi as Jasira’s father and Aaron Eckhart as the neighbor, whose status as a reservist about to be called to the Gulf War lends an individual and societal element of being on the brink of chaos. In smaller roles, Maria Bello as the narcissistic mother, Lynn Collins as the father’s warm-hearted girlfriend, and Toni Collette as a concerned neighbor with some experience in crossing cultural borders create characters who feel completely real within the context of a story that tries and often succeeds in transcending its particulars for a story about the personal and political struggle to come of age.
Last week, I wrote about movies with all-star casts. Some movies have all-star casts — retrospectively. When they are made, the actors are not well known but soon afterward many or most of them become superstars. One classic example is a movie that is (incredibly) celebrating its 25th anniversary, “The Outsiders.”
One of three movies based on books by teen favorite author S. E. Hinton to be filmed in 1982-83, “The Outsiders” is the story of rival gangs the Greasers and the Socs (for “socials”). Director Francis Ford Coppola, who also cast a group of future superstars in “The Godfther,” put together an extraordinarily talented collection of young actors including Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Ralph Maccio, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estavez, and Diane Lane. Hinton herself appears briefly as a nurse and Coppola’s daughter Sofia, who would become famous behind the camera for “Lost in Translation,” appears as a child.