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Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Ya know it could be like this, just like this always.

— Jack Twist

Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain was the seminal movie that ignited my passion for the cinemas. I was obsessed with this movie when it came out. I didn’t see most of the Best Picture nominees that year for that reason. It was the be all, end all for me. It went on to when three Oscars including Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Original Score. The Oscars were on my “shit list” for a long time that it did not win Best Picture, instead of giving it to Crash.

Summer 1963. Wyoming. A gruff rancher named Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and brooding Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) help out sheep herder Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid) move his flock on Brokeback Mountain without the park rangers smelling him out. It seems like everyday is the same with eating beans, watching the sheep; Ang Lee brilliant direction makes it fascinating to watch their relationship unfolded. Jack’s innocence softens Ennis’s tough exterior. He begins to express himself more.

One night, their friendship is changed forever after a night of drinking they have sex. Multiple questions arise: did Jack forced himself Ennis? Did they come together because they were the only humans around? Afterwards, they try to shake it off as a one time only occurrence. They can’t because they are beginning to fall in love with each other.

They thought that they could keep their relationship secret, but it is the worst kept secret. The work they are sent to do suffers as Aguirre’s flock is confused with another sheep herder and a massive snow storm cut their time short. Jack and Ennis have to go their separate. They don’t work to leave each other’s side, but it was a different time in 1963. They can’t run away together and go to Greenwich Village or San Francisco.

Ennis marries his longtime girlfriend, Alma (Michelle Williams) and quickly starts a family with her. Jack tries to get back into the rodeo circuit, but he  meets the forward, Lureen Newsome (Anne Hathaway). I never realized that each guy married a female version of each other. Alma is passive like Jack and Lureen is more take charge like Ennis. They try to lead “regular” lives as fate steps in to turn their worlds upside down.

I remember the first time that I saw the film at the Landmark Theater back in Houston. It was a couple of days after it opened in limited release that December. The line for the movie was around the corner. It was amazing to see straight and gay couples wanting to see this movie. The movie was packed. It sat on the very back of the theater. I wanted to soak the experience in. I’m glad I did. I laughed. I cried. I went on a journey with these characters.

Oh, how I love this movie. Let me count the ways. The beautiful, breathtaking mountain peaks captured on video by Rodrigo Pietro, the haunting score by Gustavo Santaolalla, the excellent acting by Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Williams. I was surprised that the movie only won three Oscars. It boggles the mind.

The movie is not perfect. I did have some troubles with Anne Hathaway towards the end of the movie and some of the small female roles were throw aways like Anna Faris and Linda Cardellini. There was also the conclusion of the relationship. It was a little cliché.

Judgment: This is a prime example of why the Oscars don’t know what the fuck qualifies as the Best Picture of the year.

Rating: 9.5/10

Synecdoche, New York (2008)

I know how to do it now. There are nearly thirteen million people in the world. None of those people is an extra. They’re all the leads of their own stories. They have to be given their due.

— Caden Cotard

Charlie Kaufman’s indecipherable directional debut, Synecdoche, New York has been discussed, examined and picked apart since it came out in 2008. I knew the bare essentials about the plot before watching one frame of the movie. I wanted to love this movie. I wanted to like the movie. I wanted to movie to end.

Kaufman made a pessimistic view of life in general. It’s like that old adage, we die a little bit everyday. Caden Olstad (Philip Seymour Hoffman) exemplifies that perfectly as he obsesses over his own mortality read papers about Harold Pinter dying and bird flu. Certain moments of his life are spent worrying that he has a new disease.

His self-fulfilling prophecy comes true when he was shaving, the sink explodes with a piece hits him on the forehand. Caden goes to get stitches where he learns that he has a “condition” that none of the doctors who say any further. It was never explained what condition he had. Caden thinks he’s dying.

He is dealing with the crumbling marriage to Adele (Catherine Keener). Their marriage counselor, Madeleine Gravis (Hope Davis) is not making things any better with his cold disposition. Caden tries to put all of himself in his production of Death of a Salesman casting younger actors, Tom and Claire as Willy and Linda Loman (Daniel London, Michelle Williams). It gets great reviews, but Adele couldn’t care less.

Adele has an opportunity to show her macroscopic work in Berlin. She goes with her friend, Maria (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and her daughter, Olive (Sadie Goldstein). Before leaving, Adele asks Caden what will be his contribution to the world would be when he dies. Caden becomes obsessed to find his masterpiece when he gets a MacArthur grant. Did I mention there are huge gaps in time here? From 2005 to 2009 when he gets the grant.

Caden spends all of his time with his play about death doing a Mike Leigh style where the actors interact and Caden takes whatever their reactions into the script. People come in and out of his life like his assistant, Hazel (Samantha Morton) or striking up a relationship with his lead actress, Claire. People die all around him and he is wondering why they have to go before he does. He is too busy preparing to die already. As the year go on, Caden becomes trapped in creating his own world that he can’t see what’s in front of him.

I believe that Kaufman over shot his debut a little bit. He does some far out concepts that somehow if it’s a doorway going into the mind of John Malkovich, a woman finding a savage man raised by apes, retelling the double life of a game show host who allegedly moonlighted as a hitman, actually creating a fictional twin brother, and a machine that would erase your bad memories away. What’s up with the burning house? Caden watching Olive dance? That woman that mistakes him for Ellen? The ending was a head scratcher.

I didn’t hate this movie. I thought it was too ambitious for its own good.

Rating: ***

Shutter Island (2010)

I wonder, is it better to live like a monster, or die a good man?

— Teddy Daniels

Martin Scorsese’s latest movie Shutter Island, which stands as the 197th movie on the Top 250 of All-Time on IMDb, has been getting a bad rap since its studio, Paramount decide to move the release date of the movie from October 2009 to February 2010, because it couldn’t afford the Oscar campaign for the picture. I call bullshit on that. This could mean certain death for a film not being remember a whole year from now. This is the fourth collaboration of Scorsese and lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio. Even though the movie is highly predictable, I still enjoyed the majority of the ride.

Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, former WWII soldier/U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) travel by boat to Shutter Island, which is a home of Ashcliffe, the prison for the criminally insane. They are met by Deputy Marshal McPherson (John Carroll Lynch) who them that they have to surrender their firearms. They take a tour of the complex which has separate wards for men, women prisoners and an old Civil War era, Building C that houses the most dangerous criminals.

The team meets the head psychiatrist of the institution; Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) to investigate the disappearance of a patient that mysteriously escaped from her cell, who killed her kids, Rachel Solando. She is loose somewhere on the island, because there is no way for her to escape the island without drowning.

Searching through her cell, Teddy fines a piece of paper in her room that has “The law of 4. Who is 67?” scribbled on it. In order to try to find out the circumstances surrounding the escapee, Teddy and Chuck want to interview the staff. Dr. Cawley and Dr. Naehring (Max von Sydow) doesn’t want the investigators to rummage through the staffs personal files. Teddy wants to leave immediately.

The more time that Teddy spends on the island he has flashbacks of an incident when he was a soldier in WWII liberating a Dachau concentration camp or his life with her wife, Dolores (Michelle Williams) that was killed years earlier.

A massive hurricane hits the island and the prisoners try to escape the island, Teddy comes to realization when Rachel is found that they are 66 patients on the island, but Rachel implies there is a 67th patient. Who is that patient?

I thought the performances were very good, especially DiCaprio, Jackie Earle Haley and Patricia Clarkson.

I thought that the score was unnecessary in the beginning segments of the film. I guess, Scorsese wanted to set the mood. It was ear deafening. The biggest problem of the movie is the twist. Watching the trailers lately, they talk about the twist ending. The twist you could predict thirty minutes into the movie. I wasn’t a surprise at all, but I was half right about it. There was another sharp turn that I didn’t see coming.

Judgment: This movie was mess with your mind until the very end.

Rating: ****

FB Recommendation: The Station Agent (2003)

It’s funny how people see me and treat me, since I’m really just a simple, boring person.

— Finbar McBride

It has been a long time since I have given an FB Recommendation to a film. This time around I offer actor Tom McCarthy’s debut movie, The Station Agent. When this movie was released in 2003, there was considerable buzz surrounding the film. It was nominated for numerous awards including the Independent Spirit Awards and Screen Actor Guild Awards. Too bad that the Oscars didn’t recognize this gem of a movie.

An introverted dwarf, Finbar McBride (Peter Dinklage) inherits a train depot in Newfoundland, New Jersey when a business partner suddenly dies from a heart attack. Finbar is perfectly content with this lonely existence when he meets Joe (Bobby Cannavale) who sells Cuban food out of his father’s truck. Joe is an annoyance for Finbar who doesn’t want anything to do with him.

Walking down a windy road one day, Finbar is almost run over by Olivia (Patricia Clarkson). Olivia tries to apologize to Finbar, but like with Joe, he doesn’t want to have any contact with her. These three souls come together in an organic way and learn what make each other tick.

The longer Finbar stays in Newfoundland, the more his world expands with him befriending the pregnant librarian Emily (Michelle Williams) or a chubby black girl, Cleo (Raven Goodwin).

This movie is much understated. It’s not trying to jam social issues down your throat. It’s not trying to overtly indie with it’s look or story. A quiet movie has nuanced performances from all of the actors involved.

Rating: ****1/2

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