Monday, March 2, 2009

Monday Movie Day Reviews

Changeling (2008): Changeling is a true story. Not based on a true story or adapted from a historical event. It's simply a true story. These three words in the opening credits define the extraordinary and frustratingly bizarre events that occur for the next 2+ hours. In 1920s Los Angeles, a single mother's worst fears are realized when her only son disappears from their home. Months later, the Los Angeles police department create a reunion with mother and son, only to further the nightmare when the mother suspects that the boy they have found is not her son. The frustration continues when the police refuse to acknowledge her complaints, instead choosing to hush her up in any way possible.

Angelina Jolie gives a phenomenal performance as Christine Collins, the resilient mother who seeks the truth about the disappearance and reappearance of her son. Jolie communicates more in the quivering of a lip and the raising of an eyebrow than some actors do in their entire careers. The frustration of the police department's actions towards Collins and her subsequent fight against the entire city of Los Angeles is incredibly frustrating to watch. Even knowing that I cannot do anything, I felt a strong emotional desire to step into the film and right the wrongs that were being done, to stand up for truth and oppose manipulative leadership. A pastor (John Malkovich) does take up her cause, as does one detective working in a corrupt police department. Yet it feels like they are fighting against powers beyond their control, hoping that truth can trump the manipulative deceptions of those in authority.

Perhaps "a true story" means more than "these events actually happened." Perhaps this is a story of how truth can be distorted by those in authority, but that truth also has transcendent power over us to define reality regardless of popular opinion. Even when everyone else tells her that the boy is her son--police, doctors, city officials, people we're supposed to trust--she is committed to the revelation of reality. This is the power of Changeling, that it is a true story, and that truth has the power to change us.

Ghost Town (2008): I see funny dead people. That could have been the tagline for Ghost Town, a romantic comedy that manages to break through the typical rom-com formulas. A disgruntled dentist with an unfortunate name, Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais, the guy who created The Office) enjoys his job because a) people can't talk to him with metal objects in their mouth and b) he can retaliate against the human race for being so incredibly bothersome by...well...putting metal objects in their mouths. Life is bearable for Pincus until he goes in for a colonoscopy and dies on the table for seven minutes. His near-death experience now allows him to see the wandering spirits that inhabit the city of New York as they struggle with unfinished business they had in their previous lives.

One of these ghosts is Frank, an upper-class sleaze-ball who lived in Pincus' apartment building. Frank needs Pincus' help in breaking up the engagement of his widow (Tea Leoni) to a lawyer. The hard part is that Pincus is a jerk, so befriending a beautiful woman might prove to be a bit difficult. At this point, the film sounds like it could fall into formulaic territory. Yet it doesn't become a string of situational gags or comic setups. Instead, there is a genuine depth to the relationships formed throughout the film, and Pincus begins to learn more about himself through his near-death experience. The comedy is based mostly around snarky comments and awkward social situations, both of which are Gervais' strong suits. The comedy in the film slowly builds as the story progresses, and the conversations between Pincus and Frank are some of the highlights as they bag on each other.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this film. I'm not typically engaged by romantic comedies that involve ghosts or the afterlife, usually because they end up being quite corny and theologically out of wack. Ghost Town transcends corniness to be both a witty and heart-warming comedy that has some profound truths about the need for community and self-sacrifice. Plus it has Kristin Wiig. She's hilarious.

1 comment:

  1. I'm about half way through Ghost Town right now and I like it so far. Ricky Gervais is the man. Need to finish it soon.