Friday, May 11, 2012

From my queue to yours

More of my time is spent complaining about not having enough hours in a day to watch movies rather than actually watching movies. Over the phone with my dad, I'll tell about some awesome new show or film I've added to my Netflix queue, but then I immediately retreat into naming off all the reasons I'll never have enough time to watch them.

Last night, I saw a pretty great movie called The Yellow Handkerchief. It starred Eddie Redmayne, William Hurt, Maria Bello and Kristen Stewart (please bear with me, I did mean what I said about it being a "great movie").

The film followed two teenagers and an older man who go on a sort of road trip. The girl, Martine (Stewart) has been recently rejected by a boy she likes and so resorts to traveling alongside Gordy, a nerdy and awkward kid played by Redmayne. Once you get passed the idea that Redmayne is a British heartthrob, it becomes easier to accept him in this role - that is, if you can get past it (I personally couldn't).

Anyway, back to the story, Martine becomes disturbed by Gordy's slightly off disposition and when they see him on the side of the road offers Brett (Hurt) a ride home (and a seat in the back as her buffer from Gordy). Along the way, though, we learn that Brett has been recently released from jail for manslaughter. Over the course of the film, the story of his misconduct unfolds as does the history of a romance between Brett and the love of his life, May (Bello).

Usually I wouldn't tell you all about the plot of a movie unless I was reviewing it. It's not really necessary. But this was one of those films that, even though I sat down intending to only watch it to relax after a long day, became something way more than its title, its plot, its cast or even its trailer could represent.

It took me three days to finish The Yellow Handkerchief. Even though it only ran an hour and a half, I put off finishing it, partly because I was busy and also because I didn't want it to end. Films that are as engrossing as this are few and far-between, but when you find them you can't help but want to watch more.

So since finishing, I've thought more and more about how badly I want to watch movies. Even if I have no free time, I need to make some so I can experience more of what I felt as I watched this and other movies that made me feel similarly - Lovely and Amazing, The Squid & the Whale, The Descendants (I could go fact, I will).

I started scrolling through my Netflix Instant queue to figure out what movie I'd try on next. As I did, I noticed some films I've already seen that had the same formula for that Yellow Handkerchief effect. Here are just a few:

1. Paris

There was one day a few months ago that I decided to add as many movies to my Netflix queue with the word "Paris" in the title as I possibly could. I had just watched Paris, Je t'aime and I was on such a French kick that I couldn't fathom seeing anything not set in the City of Lights.

Paris is a really beautiful movie that follows several different characters in their day-to-day lives in the city. It's not entirely obsessed with Paris like a lot of films are (think Midnight in Paris, which, though I love Woody Allen, is more a love letter than a casual depiction of the city), yet it manages to characterize it in the most astonishingly gorgeous fashion.

There is one scene where Pierre (Romain Duris) is in an apartment looking across the street at another apartment, belonging to Laetitia (Mélanie Laurent). When I went to Paris a few months later with my dad, we were walking down a street near the Le Panthéon and we talked about how it reminded us both of that scene. Paris shows you the city from a realistic perspective - in such a way that walking down a random street in the city will remind you of a scene from the movie - but it also conducts itself in such a fanciful way that you begin to love it and never want it to end. For me, never wanting a film to end is an obvious suggestion of its greatness.

2. Breaking Upwards

In Breaking Upwards, a couple is in the midst of a sort-of break-up, during which they decide to spend several days of the week apart and the rest together. They've been in a relationship for so long that they - and their families - can't imagine them ever being apart. But they've also grown so tired of each other that they can't accept the idea of being together forever.

The characters, Zoe and Daryl, are named after and played by the co-screenwriters, Zoe Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein. The story itself is autobiographical for Wein and Lister-Jones who experienced the neuroses involved in going through a period of "seeing other people" after being together for two years, despite being very much in contact with one another during the experience.

It's a really funny and down-to-earth movie, but also incredibly heartbreaking. Even for someone who hasn't experienced the feeling of growing bored with a relationship, the way the characters present their stories on screen is evocative and makes you feel for both of them as if they were your close friends relating their lives to you.

3. Last Night

Last Night is half great and half mediocre. The movie involves a married couple who seem to be in a relatively stable relationship - that is, until the wife Joanna (Keira Knightley) questions whether the husband Michael (Sam Worthington) has been faithful to her despite his apparent flirtatiousness with a co-worker (Eva Mendes).

On the mediocre side are Worthington and Mendes. The two are seen on a work trip together after Joanna questioned Michael's fidelity, and while spending alone time together they discover they do have mutual feelings. It sounds all well and good, until we watch their relationship go from innocent flirting to a selfish affair. Perhaps it was because the two had little chemistry, or maybe it was just that they both seemed scummy, that I hated their story. But I won't waste any more time on that.

The reason to watch this film is for Joanna and her relationship with Alex (Guillaume Canet), an old flame she has reunited with for a friendly dinner while her husband is away on business. She endeavors to keep things completely platonic, even though the two have significant baggage since Joanna had originally been in a relationship with Alex after breaking up with her then-boyfriend Michael. She eventually broke off her relationship with Alex to marry Michael but now, several years later, the chemistry is still in tact.

For the duration of the movie, it is impossible not to feel connected to the Alex and Joanna story. Every time the director switches to Michael and his co-worker, it becomes almost a chore to resist the desire to skip ahead. But in the end, Last Night is an incredibly rewarding watch, however unresolved the final scenes may be.

4. No Impact Man

Breaking away from the independent drama theme, one of my favorite movies that I've ever randomly watched on Netflix Instant was a documentary film called No Impact Man about a husband, wife and their daughter who reduce their energy and consumer product consumption to practically zero over the span of one year. Colin Beavan and his wife Michelle Conlin are both journalists. Beavan is a vegetarian environmentalist who already has the makings of a 21st century hippie, so the transition for him to an energy-free lifestyle is more seamless than Conlin's, who self-identifies as an avid fashion consumer, television watcher as well as a meat and coffee-enthusiast.

In the film, we watch the two of them struggle to stay aligned with their goals which include producing only compostable trash, not using any electricity and eating only locally grown and cultivated foods.

It's a really inspiring look into how much we, as consumers, waste day to day, and how much of that is preventable. It also gives us enough reasons to not want to sacrifice our comfortable lives like Beaven and Conlin do in the film. The reason this film is particularly interesting, though, is the family dynamic that is presented throughout. It doesn't attempt to gloss over the hard times that ensue when the family transitions out of using elevators in exchange for stairs, or when they start keeping a cooler instead of a working refrigerator. Regardless of whether you Netflix it for enlightenment or entertainment purposes, it's worth the watch.

5. Kicking and Screaming

Kicking and Screaming was one of the first films I ever became excited about on Netflix Instant. Noah Baumbach, who directed The Squid & the Whale, wrote and directed the film which involves several people growing out of their school years and having to let go of the frivolity of upper middle class collegiate life.

I had already seen The Squid & the Whale and was desperate to find more Baumbach material to absorb, and this film characterized the aspects of his style that I enjoy most. When I started watching the film, an early scene involved the protagonist, Grover (Josh Hamilton), in conversation with his girlfriend Jane (Olivia d'Abo) about her plans to go abroad to Czech Republic. He talks about the pretentiousness of Prague while simultaneously presenting himself in the most pompous light. As I sat through the scene, I had to pause it so I could go to my dad and force him to sit down and see it with me. A movie as satirical and intelligent as this was something I had to share.

The entire film is an insight into the affectations of its characters. It has no reverence for itself. It spends most of it's time showing us that those who are depicted in the film - which is probably to say those who wrote it as well - are completely ridiculous. But they're also learning. And it does such a wonderful job. Even though Baumbach has done some movies I haven't fell in love with (i.e. Greenberg), he's had enough spot-on black comedies that I can't tire of him.

So where was I going with this? Oh yeah, sometimes it's great to sit down with an amazing movie and just forget about the fact that you don't actually have enough time to watch it. I did it with these five and probably quite a few others. I will also continue to do so with as many Netflix movies as I have time (or no time) to watch in the future.

There's my spiel. I hope you learned something. If not, well then at least you have a few movies you can add to your Instant queue.

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