Sunday, April 8, 2007

Some More Movie Reviews

I've recently seen a couple of movies, both years old, but hey, I only saw them last week! Netflix is one of the neatest inventions of the Internet Era; boy, am I dating myself on that observation....

For a year or so, one of my friends kept telling me to see the movie, Big Eden (2001), starring Arye Gross as Henry Hart, Louise Fletcher as Grace Cornwell, and Eric Schweig as Pike Dexter. It's a story about gay city boy, Henry, coming back home to take care of his ailing grandfather in the small Montana town of Big Eden.

There are a couple of reasons to see this film: the scenery is gorgeous. Most of the movie was filmed around Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park. No place on earth looks quite like this. Second, the movie has some wonderful acting. Nan Martin as the Widow Thayer is just a hoot, and a lot wiser than she lets on. Tim Dekay as Dean Stewart, Henry's high school love interest takes off his shirt and looks pretty good in his tighty-whities. The story is about love, place, family, longing, and tolerance.

The place is Montana, home of right-wing militias and strange religious cults with guns who probably don't cotton to homosexuality. But there's no evidence of those prejudices in Big Eden. In fact, this film presents a realistic face of the emotional West: you mind your business, and I'll mind mine. It shows a small town where people know each other's business, but don't intrude, and really care about each other, characteristics that ring true with my own experience growing up in rural Idaho.

The movie also shows a West with some sophistication - a modern hospital, and a cappuccino machine on the counter at the general store. Really, folks, you'll find these things in towns in the West, honest! And the movie is also grounded in the West's myth of the rugged individualist in the character of Pike. He struggles with that myth.

The movie is very slow going for the first half. It's not the most realistic portrayal of Montana, or of people, except that this movie is about myth, heart, and family, all of which are present in abundance in Montana. Watch out for the Thanksgiving Dinner scene. It's a feel good movie, so don't expect anything more.

Of course, everything works out in the end, and it has a happy ending. So I hope that this review doesn't spoil it for you.

Yesterday, Ron and I watched As Good as It Gets (1997). Jack Nicholson won an Oscar for Best Actor in his role as Melvin Udall, a romantic novelist who has OCD.

I've had bad neighbors before, but nothing even approach Melvin. He's awful. His next door neighbor is Simon Bishop (Greg Kinnear) who is an artist. Simon has the world's cutest little dog: Verdell, and Melvin hates the dog. In an early scene, he shoves the dog down the apartment house's garbage chute.

In addition to Verdell, three other characters round out the cast: Carol Connelly, played by Helen Hunt who is a waitress at the cafe where Melvin always eats breakfast, Carol's mother, Beverly, played by Shirley Knight, and Frank Sachs played by Cuba Gooding, Jr. Frank is Simon's art dealer, and friend.

A couple of things I really enjoyed about this film. In a Hollywood way, it shows how crippling mental illness can be, how it severely limits the horizon of the world that the sufferer is in. The movie also shows how effectively Melvin coped with it, and indeed he is a very successful author, in spite of his awful, miserable, and pitiable private life. The other truly enjoyable performance is Greg Kinnear as Simon. He comes across as a real gay man. His situation in the film may be difficult, but he has real in-depth humanity that is a pleasure to watch.

Carol as waitress is a little too earnest. As a lover, she's not believable for a moment. As the star of a romantic comedy, Helen Hunt is a whole lot of sugar for Melvin's coffee. Speaking of sugar, or at least a taste treat, Frank is a wonderful, frenetic, wild man as Simon's art dealer. Cuba Gooding, Jr. gets the performance exactly right. Of course, Jill the dog is priceless as Verdell who steals Melvin's heart, and moves the romance along during the movie.