16 December 2014

There's No Surprise Like a Pleasant Surprise -- I Am Pleasantly Surprised by Two Films: Wild and Top Five But First There is a Unrelated Preamble

(This beginning bit was written Monday morning.) It’s raining. I’m off work. I have to go to the dentist in two hours. I ran eight miles yesterday. I’m writing short sentences. This is one of them. Here is another. However this is a longer sentence which reveals that I’m feeling a bit odd right now. I feel very good and a bit melancholy. I am wistful and anxious and content. How is it to feel just one way at a time? To have one over riding emotion? How is it to be totally unambiguous about yourself? There must be a kind of sickness in being so sure, so unequivocal about — of all things — yourself. That’s a special madness all its own. To be without doubt. Like  a mountain lion. I don’t imagine that mountain lions engage in much rumination. They go through life without questioning. Or knowing for that matter. We all know things and learn and grow and evolve or stay mindless conservative republicans.

Christmas is in ten days. I have loved Christmas for as long as I can remember and never because it supposedly celebrates the birth of god’s only son. (By the way, what was the whole point of getting a virgin pregnant? Why not just send an emissary down from heaven? Why have a son and put him through all the crap he had to endure? Why let him die on the cross? Some father. I see a child of mine suffering like that and I’d do some smiting. You hear religious people say that god works in mysterious ways which simply means they have no idea what the fuck the almighty was thinking. Christians can offer explanations — of sorts — for a lot of things but for a lot of others they have no effing clue.) But like I was saying before all that stuff in parenthesis, Christmas has never been a religious holiday for me. That’s what I like about the holiday, you can look at it in so many different ways. I think a lot of people right it off as strictly a christian deal or being too commercial when in fact you can enjoy it without god and without buy, buy buying. If you’ve a mind to. If not…well that’s your deal. Just don’t go around being a sourpuss thinking its okay for you to rain on other peoples’ parades.

One of the great joys in life is having your expectations exceeded. I never go to a movie unless I think I’m going to really enjoy it which makes me picky and results in me mostly seeing films I end up liking. Twice in as many days I’ve gone to a movie theater anticipating a movie worth my $8.50 and not much more and twice in two days I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

Yesterday I saw Wild starring Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed and directed by Jean-Marc Valle who did a nice job last year with Dallas Buyer’s Club. It's one of those movies that makes me want to do things. I wanted to go for a long hike and finish my current novel and start another and read a lot of poetry and become a better person and hug my wife and kids. This is a sign of good film -- the whole making you want to do good things stuff. Or good stuff thing. Anyway. Reese Witherspoon plays a woman who wants to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the top of Mexico to Washington. It is an effort to cleanse herself of a nasty past featuring heavy drug use, sleeping around and unfaithfullness.

The solo hike is interspersed with flashbacks including many with mom and little brother and ex husband and some with multiple lovers and heroin needles and booze. It could have been a corny journey of self discovery story but instead is believable realistic journey of self discovery story. Of course our heroine faces many obstacles along the way which is best not to spoil for you although it it should not be a surprise that they include terrain, the elements and other people. But what makes this an effective story is that the biggest obstacle for Cheryl is Cheryl herself. In the course of one's life the biggest enemy is generally that idiot in the mirror. In large part the movie excels because Witherspoon is up to the task. She is surely one of our most gifted actresses and Valle is proving to be a good director from whom we'll continue to expect more.

Today I saw Top Five written, directed and starring Chris Rock. Speaking of top fives and Rock, he would make my top five all time comedians list. What a delight to discover that he can make a film that, while replete with chuckles, is more than just a comedy. Indeed it is an intelligent film which draws inspiration from the work of Woody Allen. Rock plays Andre Allen a highly successful comic and star of comedy films who is tired of being funny and wants to do serious work. His first effort is a film about the Haitian rebellion in which he stars. Meanwhile he is about to have a very public wedding to a reality TV star (Gabrielle Union). Top Five follows him on the day of the film's premier which is also the eve of his wedding as he is being interviewed by a New York Times reporter (Rosario Dawson). Lo and behold both interviewer and interviewee are recovering alcoholics in their fourth year of sobriety. (Hmmm two films about people struggling with addiction, no wonder I liked them.)

Dawson and Rock have the requisite chemistry to make their relationship work -- wherever it may or may not go. Good sized laughs are interspersed throughout the film but they are never forced. After all this is the story of a very funny many who happens to be surrounded by some incidentally funny people so guffaws are inevitable. Mostly however, Top Five is a look at the artist and the choices she or he has to make and the consequent public reaction. Add to the mix the issues of recovery and love and you've got a recipe for a good movie. Rock the writer and director was up to the task and Top Five -- like many of Woody's films -- asks questions and poses situations amid the laughs. I now have a whole new level of respect for Rock heaped onto the one that already existed.

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